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There’s Domination, and Then There’s Domination

And so we’ve reached another terrible, seemingly endless F1 summer break — that time of year when drivers jet off to the south of France for some quality uninterrupted cavorting with supermodels, journalists make a big show of how great it is to have a few weeks’ reprieve from the terrible drudgery of their work, and fans weep and wail about how empty their lives have become. How empty our lives have become. I’m certainly no exception; I find these breaks in the action to be weirdly excruciating, not quite like anything sports-related I’ve ever experienced. By the time first practice in Spa rolls around, the sound of an F1 engine will be like a healing salve applied to my soul. My very soul, I tell you!

Hyperbole aside, the summer break does suck. One needs something to fill the void, and sitting here next to my TV I have four, count ’em, FOUR season review DVDs from Netflix: 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005. Schumacher domination ahoy! I can only assume that watching the first three of those DVDs will bore me beyond belief and make me want to stop following F1 forever — at least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten, seeing people wail and gnash their teeth in remembrance of the Era of the Schumacher. It was a dark time, that, or so I hear. So dark that the sight of a German winning the first few races of the current season triggered something akin to a collective F1 fan PTSD episode that still hasn’t quite subsided.

No matter, though. From what I’ve been reading, Red Bull’s and Vettel’s domination is “over”! The RB7 is no longer the fastest car — at least not during races, when it really counts. This is even the case at circuits like the Hungaroring, full of the sorts of corners the RB7 normally relishes. Vettel got pole position there, but only just. I obviously can’t take issue with any of these statements except perhaps the first, although I suppose it comes down to how you’re using the word “domination.” People (other than me) will sleep more peacefully at night if Vettel isn’t winning ALL the races — and, if things stay as they are with the RB7 relative to the other cars, it’s pretty likely he won’t.

But Vettel and Webber aren’t going to sit still for an RB7 that isn’t what it could be, and I can’t imagine anyone else on the team is, either. Certainly not Adrian Newey, by all accounts one of the most competitive carbon-based life forms ever to walk the pit lane. Obviously no one is planning to circumvent the forced two-week break — that would be wrong — but, although you might be able to stop factories from churning out bits, you can’t stop someone’s brain from churning out brilliant ideas. Especially not his.

Will Red Bull find a way to resume their total, crushing domination in the face of McLaren’s and Ferrari’s considerable improvements? I’m going to go with a safe “maybe…?” because I’m not feeling cocky enough to comfortably offer up my usual trash talk at the moment. During the past two race weekends, I found myself filled with an unfamiliar sense of dread; this was the case even after Vettel won pole position in Hungary. Something just didn’t seem quite right with the car, and it was like you could read it on the faces of everyone on the team. Or maybe that’s me projecting. Vettel seemed more positive about what the car could have done during that race than I felt afterward, and I suppose he might know better than me. Maybe.

Still, we’re coming up on two circuits that aren’t exactly tailor-made for Red Bull’s car. We could be looking at another disastrous scenario in which Vettel is able to increase his championship lead by only a few points in each race! And see, that’s where one’s particular view of “dominance” becomes relevant. Vettel might be looking at a remainder of the season in which he doesn’t win ALL the races. But which one driver is going to step up and win them instead? That’s where the rest of the field runs into a problem. There simply isn’t one other driver presenting a challenge, racking up the points. It ought to be Alonso, right? Or Webber? And yet . . . no. Instead, four guys are battling it out for the points Vettel doesn’t win, spreading them fairly equitably amongst themselves. If those four guys were able to merge into one terrifying mutant superdriver, then yes, maybe Vettel’s domination of the season would be in some serious danger. As it is, I think it will continue. Perhaps not as spectacularly as at the beginning of the season, but surely and steadily.

The largest margin by which anyone led the championship last year was 14 points. Vettel’s current lead is 85 points. And he’ll continue to learn from every mistake, to adjust his performance accordingly, to do everything in his power to finish every single race, to wring everything possible out of that car no matter what the conditions, building on his lead even if he isn’t able to make it to the very top of the podium every time. That is my firm belief.

The season might not end with the same euphoric, crushed-under-the-heel-of-his-bright-blue-Puma kind of domination we saw at its beginning — but the trophy he wins at the end of it will be just as shiny, and his signature will be on it twice.

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