As the American football coach Bill Courtney noted:
“The measure of a man’s character is not determined by how he handles his wins, but how he handles his failures.”
We live in times in which not civility, decorum, respect and tolerance, but nationalism, tribalism and cult hysteria have become the norm, sentiments which have also entered the world of sports.
After tribalism entered the world of soccer years ago also Formula 1 “F1” race driving, long known as a sport where supporters from all the teams would be sociable with each other and could sit between each other.
Today the sport has been infested and some members of the public are showing the same deplorable aggression and culture previously seen in soccer whereby the opponent of the opposing tribe cannot be respected.
The present F1 race season is only half way and up till now has been delightful. The long awaited generational battle between Lewis Hamilton the seven times world champion and the young charismatic bull Max Verstappen, seen as a future world champion, is being fought.
Max Verstappen is the exponent of a completely new generation of young and talented F1 drivers such as George Russell, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon who are knocking on the door, but if they will reach the podium depends if they drive in a competitive car.
By his performance Max Verstappen is fulfilling his promise and after having managed to win five races in a row he has created great enthusiasm and as the Grand Prix of Austria showed the orange tribe madness caused by his supporters has reached unexpected heights.
This year the young bull is looking to take the crown and the mantle of the Emperor, but so far the Emperor is not showing great signs of willingness to abdicate and to pass his crown and mantle on to the next F1 ruler.
After a number of years of Mercedes dominance this is the “battle royal” F1 needed after seven world championships of Lewis Hamilton, the same total Michael Schumacher achieved during his imposing career.
It’s safe to conclude a change of the guard would be good for F1. However the outcome of this year’s competition will be difficult to predict, but hopefully this fascinating contest will be decided not until the last race and the battles will be fair, hard and exciting.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are exceptional drivers, skilled and experienced, and have a competitive car. In their driving style they are both aggressive, uncompromising and drive to the absolute limit not giving an inch.
As a consequence of their driving style and the increased rivalry between the two drivers contact on the track is made when cars drive wheel to wheel and race accidents happen like the collision during the Grand Prix at Silverstone and the unfortunate incident caused at the chaotic start by Valtteri Bottas on the wet Hungaroring in Hungary.
For sure, both racing accidents are unfortunate, but not surprising since the differences are razor thin and most likely have benefited Lewis Hamilton as the pendula swung back into his favour. These events might even be a turning point in the championship and most likely more incidents will follow during the rest of the season.
Since the race at Silverstone emotions and frustrations have been rising and have boiled over into a war of words and reached a unhealthy level, also stimulated by Christian Horner and Helmut Marko who have poured more oil on the already burning flames with their emotional reactions and innuendo, showing their street fighting mentality.
Rejecting the regrets of Toto Wolff after the Hungaroring incident and suggestions by Helmut Marko that it’s hard to believe the accidents caused by Mercedes are a complete coincidence are regrettable and only stir up aggression in the already polarizing tribal climate, in a sport in which the F1 brand and public image is of paramount importance to the organizers.
Add to this the remarkable response by Max Verstappen to questions from a journalist during the pre-race press conference in Hungary makes clear the tensions below the surface are increasing. This are the kind of strains Lewis Hamilton has learned to live with over the years and seems to be able to handle better.
Given the whirlwind of emotions perhaps the summer break can give some reason for refection, stop the mudslinging and result in lowering the heated temperature.
But in F1 racing we have seen passionate battles before with intense rivalry, fatal accidents, incidents, damaged cars and grid penalties which are all part of this sport. Some rivalries turned acrimonious, some were ruled by respect on and off the track.
The rivalry and friendship between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost tops my list, but over the years we have witnessed amazing battles between Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg; Lewis Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso; Ayrton Senna vs Nigel Mansell; Nigel Mansell vs Nelson Piquet; Mika Häkkinen vs Michael Schumacher; Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill; Damon Hunt vs Nikki Lauda; Nigel Mansell vs Alain Prost; Sebastian Vettel vs Mark Webber.
What is not stimulating to watch is the increased tribalism of the orange brigade and the aggression towards Lewis Hamilton. The whistling, yelling, insults and expressions of racism are deplorable and regrettable and are a complete turn off, since the days of tarring and feathering are long behind us. Perhaps the brainless should return to their soccer stadiums where some feel obviously more at home than on the race track.
At this stage of the F1 season and how during the last two weeks the pendulum has swung we will be in for more excitement during the second half of the season with the gloves coming off. Most likely this “battle royal” will intensify during the first two Grand Prix’s of Belgium and the Netherlands in front of the orange coloured tribunes and the dynamic will be exciting to watch.
Although, with 12 F1 on the calendar there is a long way to go with Mercedes in the lead position, the pressure is on Red Bull to respond during the Grand Prix of Spa and Monza where Mercedes should have a strong performance.
But whoever wins the crown this season, be this Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen this “battle royal” is setting itself up to be one of the great rivalries, a great generational battle, which will continue in the coming years.
Today the picture of this “battle royal” has become much clearer after Lewis Hamilton took his third consecutive victory in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. With the championship protagonists now equal on 369.5 points the championship decider race in Abu Dhabi will make for a thrilling final. Who could wish for more.
What has also become clearer, although Max Verstappen is a brilliant and aggressive driver, sportsmanship which makes competition enjoyable is less well represented than the intensity to win, which is a regrettable but reasonable conclusion after the number of controversial incidents and near collisions in the different races between both championship protagonists.
For sure there is a lot at stake for the teams and drivers, but for the neutral viewer rules and sporting codes apply and Max Verstappen drives dangerously close and over the limits which earned him a 10 seconds penalty in the last race. He and Red Bull really should review their driving standards before other drivers get hurt as a result of his frustrations and emotions.
With Abu Dhabi hosting the season finale, there is much to look forward to and hopefully the season will end in style in the spirit of good sportsmanship, with clean driving and without further incidents.
The book of this F1 season has been written and will be closed. to be opened next year. Congratulations to Max Verstappen and the Red Bull team and these congratulations are well deserved.
This has been a remarkable competition between two amazing drivers, but even with my orange spectacles the stench of a donated and manipulated 2021 world title will linger and shall remain for eternity!
There will be many who will claim otherwise and the pro and contra arguments between the tribes will be exchanged increasing the unhealthy polarization.
What remains is the sad conclusion that the unworthy ending of the season leaves a rather sour taste and FIA has done Max Verstappen and themselves a disservice.
Moreover FIA has brought Formula 1 into disrepute, whereby it’s hard to avoid the conclusion they might have determined, not fairness and sportsmanship, but a new fresh face is better for their commercial activities and the bottom line.