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F1: The perfect, the good and the downright ugly

Bryan Edwards

F1 is fascinating for many reasons: one is the fact that there are days when one tiny event means not winning, when nearly perfect isn't good enough. And there's the fact that it's a brutal sport where fairness goes out of the window as soon as the lights go out at the first race of the season. Just three races into 2019 and it's already clear that even though much has changed, much has stayed the same.

Imagine a driver who makes mistakes or suffers multiple car problems which mean he doesn't achieve the expected potential. He'd end up, like Jolyon Palmer, losing his seat and writing an occasional column for the BBC which doesn't even show F1 races and hasn't for years, even though those years, the Murray Walker years, remain the televised sport's most talked about.

But if you are a brat like Sebastian Vettel, a man who has in the past won championships in a hugely dominant car, but who, even with a competitive car, managed to throw it all away for the biggest name in motorsport, Ferrari, you not only keep your seat but you are favoured against an upstart who, from the beginning of the season, has showed you up.

The fact is that Vettel has been losing his abilities for more than a season. His move to Ferrari did not galvanise the team which was in total disarray both administratively and technologically. If Ferrari thought that bringing in another German would, as with Schumacher, produce a strong team build around a central figure, over-estimated Vettel's ability to engender loyalty. Schumacher, which some racing fans liked and some despised but most respected, bent the team to his iron will (sorry, whoever first said that: it just seemed a thing worth repeating). Vettel is a feather compared to Schumacher. His public dressing down of his team, his in ability to handle pressure, his avalanche of self-inflicted mistakes put Renault's treatment of Palmer, even Red Bull's treatment of Kyvat, in perspective. Vettel is, simply, not up to the job and not worthy of his number on status at Ferrari, arguably not worthy of a Ferrari seat at all.

So, it's all about politics. Again. Even if it means losing possible or even certain points in the hands of the "wrong" driver. The 1000th (depending on how you count) Formula One race showed that Ferrari , in Martin Brundle's words, "sacrificed Charles Leclerc." That's what team orders are for and Ferrari uses them politically as much as strategically. Leclerc needed to be put in his place. The pit wall did it with one, then another, decision that consigned him far enough behind a lacklustre Vettel to enable the team to argue that, in future, Vettel is ahead in the Championship and therefore is the team's number one priority. Ah, Ferrari: you can sack one boss after another but the culture remains the same. Toxic. It's shabby and it's pure Ferrari.

Over at Mercedes, the situation was different. Two drivers are not allowed to race, they are told to. The only rule is don't hit each other. Bottas, on pole for the second of three races this year, made a good start until his car hit the white line marking his starting bay which, for reasons no one will ever be able to explain, broke his rear end grip enough to spin the wheels - and Hamilton's traction remained solid. By the start of the first corner, it was all over. Bottas fumed, even after the race was over. "I lost it on the white line right at the start," he moaned.

But at least he was in with a shout: McLaren saw their race neutralised within a few hundred metres by Torpedo Kvyat, or that's how it seems but, watching the event from various angles and at various speeds, it's not quite as clear cut as the stewards' punishment of the Russian suggested. It's very difficult to see but there is enough of a hint to be suspicious that Sainz ran into the rear wheel of Norris, pushing him wide - and reducing Sainz's leftward movement. Kyvat, overestimating the grip available, then hit Sainz and bounced into Norris who was at that point moving back onto the track. It was all over in a micro-second, in real time, but the stretchiness of digital HD video time, without losing clarity, allows hindsight to see what the participants stood little or no chance of seeing or, if they did, reacting to. If, as the video suggests, Sainz hit Norris' right rear, pushing him over the kerb into no-man's land, then Kyvat was not entirely to blame. "Entirely" is not the test: it's "primarily" but the fact is that the crash may well have already been happening when Kyvat arrived. Sainz is struggling to make his mark against his far younger rival. Norris has arrived, slotted into the team and has the necessary humility and recognition of his own limitations and experience while having the confidence to get in the car and do the best job he can. Sainz, also new to the team, is not new to F1 and his career cannot be considered stellar. Like Ferrari, there's an old man and a boy but unlike Ferrari, they are told they can race.

The three attitudes across three teams is fascinating. It's also not the way careers should be decided. Ask Palmer. Compare his record to the most recent similar number of races by Vettel, then factor in the relative levels of experience. Should Renault have kept Palmer v Ferrari keeping Vettel? Well, it's not going to be Vettel, is it, unless you've got whatever perverse attitude pervades Ferrari. The horse is prancing with frustration, not joy.

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