News and views on motorsports

Monday, November 13, 2006

Living Fast

Strange to hear drivers talk these days. Take Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Fernando recently claimed that three world titles would be enough for him before retiring from the sport. And in this story on ITV-F1, Kimi says that his three year contract with Ferrari may be his last. One could contrast this with Senna and Schumacher. Both loved racing and in particular, winning. During their time in Formula 1, both frequently made statements that they would continue doing so until the day came when they were no longer quick enough. Who knows how long Senna would have lasted had he not had that fatal accident? And of course, Michael as everyone knows lasted a mammoth 15 full seasons in Formula 1.

One would think that Kimi at 27 and Fernando at 25 years of age, still have the best part of at least 8 - 10 years left in the sport. But it seems that it is not in their plans to remain that long. Although it must be said that at the end of Kimi's Ferrari contract, he would have competed in 9 full seasons. In Fernando's case and the way he is going right now, he should not have to wait that long for a third world title. Although if one remembers correctly, it took a while before Michael won his third. Say that Fernando does take at a least 3 seasons to win his next (assuming McLaren doesn't recover its form), he would have only done 8 seasons.

Perhaps its not just the age that matters. In 2009 Fernando and Kimi would be 28 and 30 years old respectively. Relative toddlers compared to Coulthard and de la Rosa today. I'm sure they would still have the speed and if we remember Michael, would still be at the top of their game. Perhaps the constant pressure to perform on and off the track are the major factors. Michael made his name and came to prominence at a time when commercial pressures were not quite what it is today. Kimi and Alonso on the other hand have had to deal with it throughout their careers.

One could argue that had Ferrari not enjoyed their superiority in the new millenium, Michael would probably have retired a lot earlier than he did. I don't believe him for one moment that he had Massa's career in mind when he took the decision to retire. I believe the 2005 season did have an effect on him. As Giorgio Ascanelli once said of Senna, a world champion doesn't fight for fourth place. And in 2006, I'm sure the effort it took to try and catch Alonso (which ended in failure) also must have weighed deeply in his mind. Never mind the Spaniard, there were days when even Filipe Massa could easily match and beat him. As was for Senna, I firmly believe that winning was Michael's narcotic. If the events of the past couple of years had happened sooner, I think 2003 or 2004 would have been his last year.

Michael had felt the pressure from younger rivals and I'm sure both Kimi and Fernando are aware of the new breed of drivers coming in. This year itself has seen Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica make an immediate impact. Next year, we'll probably have Lewis Hamilton and sooner or later Sebastien Vettel will surely replace Heidfeld just as Nelson Piquet Jr. seems destined to take a Renault seat once Enstone has had enough of Fisichella. All these new drivers are terribly quick and will exert even more pressure on both Kimi and Fernando. Sentiments? Bah. It all flies out the window these days (and in the pinnacle of sport, why shouldn't it?). I think Michael (but only through his speed and greatness) could command sentiment from the likes of Ferrari and he will be the last. With more young pups so eager to break in to the sport and prepared to do anything to please (and in the case of Hamilton, with the full support of the media), its only a matter of time before an increasingly critical eye is cast on the likes of Kimi and Fernando.

Hopefully, McLaren and Ferrari can both give proper machinery to Fernando and Kimi for it would be a shame to lose either of them to retirement so soon. If despite being in the position they are in, both are already thinking ahead to retirement, I wonder how a certain Jenson Button must feel? I'm quite certain with all the trouble he has caused with contractual obligations etc and with the relative lack of results, the pressure must mount on him as well.

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