Admit it. Most of the time we rejoice if a Formula One season offers one snapshot moment, one mental image we can savor as time wears on: The Pass, Belgium, 2000. The Defense, San Marino, 2005. Montoya, Brazil, 2001. But 2008 gave snapshots ...
Admit it. Most of the time we rejoice if a Formula One season offers one snapshot moment, one mental image we can savor as time wears on: The Pass, Belgium, 2000. The Defense, San Marino, 2005. Montoya, Brazil, 2001.
But 2008 gave snapshots aplenty: The Flying Glock, Australia. The Kimi Tank Slapper (you know you've got something when you have to borrow a phrase from motorcycling), Monaco. The Stop Light, Canada. The Hamilton Masterclass, Britain. The Fuel Hose, Singapore. The Final Corner, Brazil. And who's going to forget The Final Two Laps, Belgium? And time and again: Vettel.
Once more, we were treated -- or subjected -- to a season in which two teams were technically, mechanically and financially -- especially financially -- superior to the rest. That's practically a script for Snoreville. And it nearly happened. One of those two cars won each of the first six races of the season. After a break for one of those teams having crashed out the other in Canada, we were again shown six victories by those top-spending marques. The three other teams that won races did so through valiant efforts and against the odds. They made us wake up and cheer. That at times, near the end of the season, a second and a half covered the entire field spoke to the brilliance of all of those who strive to compete on any budget.
That we did not see a Schumacheresque grip on the proceedings owes much to Lewis Hamilton's youth and inexperience, and Felipe Massa's national inferiority complex. Some might opine that a drifty world champion played a part as well. But I submit most of us can't appreciate what goes on with Kimi Raikkonen because he's too good for us. He isn't willing to set up diagrams to indicate what it is he does that moves his driving from science to art. That's why so many journos complain that his post-race interviews are monosyllabic and dull. No, they aren't. Or why a certain commercial rights holder complains he isn't a good world champion. Nuts to that. Kimi busted it to retain that title and when the contest slipped away, he backed the effort of his gritty teammate. That he would need to do that demonstrates what an absurd situation Ferrari finds itself in without Michael Schumacher. Two drivers equally capable of winning one championship? Haven't we been shown that tends to end in tears? Luckily, Ferrari likes winning World Constructors' Championships, too.
The I-don't-want-it, you-take-it chase to the FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship was a blessing for showing that humans feel pressure, even the seemingly robotic drivers of Formula One. The 2008 season showed that for all the money involved, it still takes human beings to make cars run: to prepare them, to drive them, and to refuel them.
That 1,000-employee McLaren Mercedes would admit to spending $7 million to gain one-tenth of a second is mind-boggling. Hard to appreciate which is more bizarre, that they spent it or that they admitted it. C'mon, there's silly money and stupid money then there's moronicity. In the end, all McLaren's money had not a whit to do with Toyota's decision not to bring in Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock for wet tires in Brazil. And that decision decided the world driving championship.
How much did 1,000-employee Ferrari spend to learn its mega techy pit-lane lighting system can release a driver too soon as the crew watches him pull away with the fuel rig still attached to the car? As it might have cost a world driving championship, one suspects the thought in Maranello is "too much at any price."
That's why we celebrate the human element in this year's races. One human, Sebastian Vettel, made the OTT budgets look like everything FIA president Max Mosley says they are: over the top. The German wunderkind, younger than the youngest world champ by two years, single-handedly carried Scuderia Toro Rosso up the constructors' table to a sixth-place finish, one ahead of supposedly superior stable mate, Red Bull Racing. Took Vettel a few races to find traction, but when he did he added value every time. He did the most with the machine given him. To win in Italy in a car put together by 160 employees was astounding. Got Red Bull billionaire Dieter Mateschitz to look twice at selling his half of what had been regarded as Red Bull's little sister team. Even better, Vettel had fun doing it and it showed. He's a nice guy. His enthusiasm is infectious. His attitude is terrific. He's the best of F1.
We celebrate the canny use of funds that allowed Renault to improve and win two races, and we lament that BMW Sauber elected to divert attention to next year's car after winning one race. We're glad to see Toyota put two cars in the top half of the field with improved consistency.
The 2008 season showed that taking pole position is not the be-all, end-all to success. Pole holders won races less than half the time. Another stereotype fell, too: That circuits charged as no-passing zones produced passing. We'd like to see teams stop trying to hedge their bets with prerace excuses like this.
Here's a stereotype for you: No strategy is as successful as timing the Safety Car. Season high points came for Nelsinho Piquet and Nico Rosberg using this tried-and-true method. Rosberg even outran a pits-closure penalty. Like comedy, F1 success is all in the timing.
So on that note, we offer high points of a memorable season:
Driver of the Year: Sebastian Vettel
Team of the Year: Renault
Strategy of the Year: Nelsinho Piquet's one-stop in Germany.
Best stewards' decision: Hamilton time penalty, Belgium
Worst stewards' decision: Bourdais time penalty, Japan
Move of the Year: Raikkonen's turn at Hamilton elbow, Canada.
Spokesman of the Year: (tie) David Coulthard, Mark Webber
Most Entertaining Interview: Kimi Raikkonen
Best Corporate Image: Lewis Hamilton
Biggest Waste of Talent: Honda
Saddest Crash-out: Adrian Sutil, Monaco (you knew he wasn't going to be in position to score again and, indeed, he didn't score a point all season)
Class Act: Felipe Massa