Images of a Season to come
Explaining his Great Expectations
Article is written by and copyright © 2000 Declan Curran.
by Declan Curran
Yes yes I know. Every year some immutable laws float to the surface of the F1 tide; every season some of the same platitudes make it to the front of the grid. Like…oh let's see, De Montezemolo intoning solemning that this is the year they do it; Irvine winding up anyone within his radar; Coulthard telling us that this year he's really going to go for it and every hack swearing that this season promises to be the best we've seen for years. Except..er…that last one's true. No really, it honestly is. I mean, am I the only one wearing the old rose-tinteds or has each season in the last 3 or 4 years been getting more and more dynamic and explosive? I think they have; and better still this year's gonna top the lot. Wait and see.
So what's the reason for the rich seam of racing which dropped in our laps from the mid-90's til now? Indubitably it has to be Michael Schumacher. He is of course the standard by which all others currently in racing must be judged, but more importantly for us, the consumer (and you note in this instance I don't use the term 'fan'), his progress is the yardstick by which any given season's watchability and entertainment is measured and predicted. Think about it. Which year since 1994 has been the least entertaining in global terms for motor racing viewers? I'd say 1996, the year of the Hill. Yes, of course Damon won the title for himself, Georgie, his dad and the whole of the British Isles, but for those without the British hook to hang their support on, the racing lacked the knife-edge purity and epic struggle characterized by all of Schumacher's key years. The reason was that he had a truly uncompetitive car that season, and as he hauled it round the circuits of the world to an eventual third place in the championship, the sight of two Williams drivers battling for who would get to drop the trophy off at Grove was never going to be as stirring as watching the Red Baron driving to the champagne past the better cars out there, even if Damon's achievement did have the added pathos of finally emulating his father.
So each year, thanks to the elder lad from Kerpen, the racing has been getting simply better and better. And more dramatic. And closer. And more heroic. And the struggle for Ferrari to win their holy grail is getting more and more operatic as we all get older. Superb. And this year? Well this might just be the highlight of our racing viewing lives folks…so we'd better enjoy it.
Why this bittersweet view? Well, consider the facts. This year the seasonal promise might come to pass - Il Cavallino Rampante might actually prance all the way to the record books again, and then those of us with the passion for the underdog will truly comprehend the feelings first of unbridled elation followed by swift anti-climax. For where to then for Ferrari? The obvious answer is naturally to follow it up for 2001, but so what? The second title will be great of course, but the feeling of Maranello breaking a 21 year fast can by definition only occur once in a generation… and probably not even twice a lifetime. This is the big one ladies and gentlemen, and I for one refuse to miss a second of it.
So what of the year ahead? This struggle, notwithstanding any errant injuries a la last year, will be the defining one, and the number of dramatic sub plots to flesh out the main act are the most promising for years as well. Red vs Grey, certainly, but then we have Yellow, Green and White engaged in a bitter battle… Williams on the first stage of a partnership they hope will net them the same longer term results that the Silver Arrows of McLaren-Mercedes have enjoyed, and have at least one absolutely stellar entity in their ranks, and maybe another on the make. Jordan are facing a harder task this year given their engine situation, and with Heinz, the other revelation of last year with Ralf, fighting off an altogether more committed partner than he's had dealt with when dressed in Winfield clothing. And Jaguar? They'll do ok with their next generation Stewart and their 'safe pairs of hands' drivers, but more importantly they'll rattle their mid-field rivals just enough to keep the plot simmering. Either way we win.
Further to this? Well, news has just broke that Flavio is set for a return. I mean, could this get any better??? The man so tempestuous, so extravagant he makes Eddie Jordan look like Adrian Newey, back at the helm of the team he steered to ultimate victory, victories which ironically kickstarted the current 'golden age' era which this article refers to… I'm practically gasping already…
And the third tier of the drama? Well, how about one of the most demonic racers in F1, Villeneuve, on a mission to rescue his honour and his career after the kind of debut season for BAR that way too many journalistic words have been spent on already. Throw into the mix the return of a works Honda engine, the 'juggernaut' Sir Frank speaks of, and things are definitely cooking. There's Button of course, making obviously patriotic waves for Britain as they search for a new Damon and Nigel, but also young enough and gifted enough to divide opinions and then confound them worldwide. Jenson vs Ralf could emerge one of the set pieces of the year, though I know who my money is definitely on. Arrows are on a bit of a roll it seems, the new injection of Telefonica into Minardi could provide some nice surprises and even watching Prost struggle amid the surrounding pyrotechnics will provide some dynamic to the season. Perhaps the internet cash might even propel them past the negative effects of that intransigent motor. On second thoughts, nah it probably won't. But young Heidfeld might.
So let us look at what we're facing, and remember that here and now, after the first race or two of the year, is always a better place to project from than the launch period before Australia. We know enough at this point not to be ill-educated as to what to expect, yet still sufficiently lacking in foresight to have few set preconceptions. And what I see pleases me greatly. Somehow I know we're going to look back at Christmas and reflect on the season of a lifetime… We're so lucky and we don't even know it yet…
At 27, Northern Irish F1 afficionado Declan wishes he didn't have to work at all, so he could spend more time on his yacht in London pretending he was a star driver. His interests include classic cars, travel, his boat and staring longingly at all the foreign women in Central London... and no, he doesn't particularly like Eddie Irvine.
Views expressed in these articles do not necessarilly coincide with those of the F1 Rumors team.