Rather a peculiar thing has been happening to me on Sundays. I keep finding myself sitting in an armchair, glued to Formula 1.
A sport that had become so intensely dull that it was becoming like watching a glorified autobahn.
But now, it is impossible not to be gripped by the battle between the sneaky Kraut/Finn/Monegasques Rosberg and the brazen Brit Hamilton.
You wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with either chap but my sympathy edges towards Hamilton after last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix when Rosberg appeared to drive into the back of the British driver’s car, leaving him with a burst tyre. This eventually forced Hamilton to retire and left him in a more mood akin to Blackbeard.
Only Herr.Rosberg knows his intent. I am no expert but presume he couldn’t have judged exactly where to hit his rival’s tyre with his wing, and guarantee a puncture. In the same way, the thugs of Stoke City didn’t go out to break Aaron Ramsay’s leg – but their reckless aggression led to injury.
Sport by its very nature breeds rivalries – and that is the key element of its appeal. Thoughts of Roger Federer immediately conjure up Rafa Nadal. Stephan Hendry leads to Jimmy White, Sebastien Coe to Steve Ovett, Nigel Benn with Chris Eubank.
Motor racing has had more than its fair share of rivals – to mention but a few Alain Prost had Ayrton Senna, Nikki Lauda had James Hunt, Michael Schumacher had Damon Hill.
Often without their sparring partner the sportsman is rendered into the rest of the pack. Shorn of an elite opponent their elite levels are not raised again.
A few anomalies apart, team rivalries are more tribal, patriotic, and territorial. A team’s main rival is not necessarily its sporting equal but a deep seeded historical enemy. The passionate highlight of the season but not a relevant match in the grand scheme.
The kismet makes individual rivalries so exciting. Two champions peaking at the same time, with only their personal skills and unstoppable drive.
There is the extra special spark of two warriors charging towards sporting immortality – nobody really remembers the ultimate losers.
A true rivalry should combine mutual animosity and respect. The winner should never be certain – unlike in so many sporting contests. There should be an angel and a villain – fans need to be able cheer their hero and boo their villains (even if it is undeserved). When there is a long build up to the inevitable battle the drama is ever greater. Wimbledon was often a two week seduction before Nadal and Federer met at the Palais de Dance.
For the greater good of the sport, the rivalry often becomes a more delicious feast than the sport. As the Rosberg and Hamilton drama continues we have not only seen their brilliance on the track but learned more of their unattractive natures off it. As the lid has come off their visors, we forget about tyres and telemetry and see the humans in the cars. Damn fierce competitive humans.
The racing has shown the steel behind Rosberg’s suave exterior. Hamilton’s very large chip on his shoulder has emerged from his British Bulldog fighting style.
Ironically this Tarmac duel has made me like start to like Hamilton; he has embraced that ever so British characteristic ‘the underdog’. I have begun to relish his Elton Johnesque post race interviews and strops.
The eventual winner will enter history as a great driver and future generations will remember this battle. Perhaps this winner will be remembered with more of a glow than the multi garlanded, but uncontested, Sebastien Vettel.
Lustre and unpredictability has returned to the sport. No longer do I mawkishly watch the first lap in hope for a big crash. I stay glued until the end, with two crazy chaps hurtling around at 200mph with hate in their eyes and upmost skill in their hands.
A strong G n T in my unskilled hands and expectancy in my heart – I will be found on my sofa at 1pm every Sunday, hopefully watching Mr.Hamilton take it home.