Sport is a rare commodity. We’ll endure endless goalless draws for that one game of sensational pass and move football. We’ll look for the high road of moral victory in the defeat to the All Blacks. All for that moment. That one time Geggenpressing results in a 6-1 win. That week where Ireland beat the All Blacks and Munster beat the Maori All Blacks.
Yeah. We can be fickle. There is a lot we’ll put up with while we’re hanging on for the next Senna in Donington ’93. I know. I was there. These moments define sports for the masses. They make you change the rant you were going to have into a rave about that driver when somebody made you sit up and notice with something out of the ordinary. That moment where you remembered a time when you held racing drivers in God like esteem.
I feel like I should confess in all of this. Back to the early 90’s. Back before Senna took over my life. Yeah that’s right. Before I was a Senna fan I was a Prost fan. “Blasphemy”. Yeah that’s right. I said it. Most people that know me will no doubt recoil in horror. “What is this?” It’s a confession, brought on by Max Verstappen. I offer no apology.
Long before Donington 93, I was an Alain Prost fan. This is the tragic truth. In 1989 I shouted at the TV with my dad as Ayrton got back under way after his on-track collision with Prost at Suzuka. I celebrated as he was disqualified, handing Prost the Championship. It didn’t end there. In 1991 I watched as it looked like Andrea de Cesaris would hunt Senna down at Monaco. I screamed with excitement, then collapsed in defeat as it all fell apart for Jordan. Confession time. Before I went to Donington I wasn’t a Senna fan. I bought the Prost T-Shirt. I was set for a Prost win. Then Senna happened.
If you’ve not seen the opening lap of Donington (Why the f**k haven’t you) you need to. It was a defining moment for me as a young Motorsport fan. The driver and team that should lose, fighting back against the behemoth. Winning when the conditions allowed it. Setting lap records in pit lane. Making other Formula 1 drivers look like mere mortals. Donington 93 was the kind of moment that, up until Brazil 16, I thought was a once in a lifetime event. So I’ll skip the monumental heartbreak of the following year. (*Cries*)
F1 2016 needed a boost. Let’s be honest. I have no preference for Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg winning the title. I can’t relate to the would be Rapper or the consistent shade of beige. The fact that Fernando Alonso wasn’t up there wringing the last out of his Renault or Ferrari took away from some of the spectacle for me over the last few years.
For all the Senna/Hamilton comparisons it was a hollow note when put under scrutiny, and it never was because it was a lazy analogy seized on the back of a driver letting on like he was the only person of our generation that was mesmerised by Senna. Leave it out Lewis. We all saw the 1993 Senna. We all felt the heartache of 1994. We are the converted. We worship at the same temple. You are not him though, and the comparison doesn’t match up while you are at Mercedes. Maybe at Silverstone in ’08, but it takes more than that, against more than Nico Rosberg. (Sorry Nico)
Let’s look back at the history of it. Ayrton’s mythology wasn’t found in his titles as such. It was in his moments where he made that McLaren dance like nobody else could. Those times where he brought the car to a level we though impossible. The King at Monaco. The master in the wet in a Toleman. Walking on water in a McLaren, in Donington. That was the difference between Prost and Senna. Prost made it look effortless. Senna made it look impossible. A car performing in a manner that looked doomed to failure, yet resulting in times that looked unreachable. Feats that seemed out of this world.
This is where the Hamilton/Senna comparison has always fallen down for me. We’ve never seen Lewis take the fight to a superior car. In his debut year the McLaren was the cream of the crop. Himself and Alonso falling over each other allowed Kimi in for the title with Ferrari. After that, we can blame Timo Glock all we want for snatching the win from Massa in Brazil but the teams were relatively equal. Following that all of his wins have been in dominant cars with a teammate that, up until this season, and with engine woes excluded, he looked to have the measure of. If Nico has had an upper hand this year it’s been in his consistency. So, for me, the Senna comparisons have been driven by the driver himself (and Sky Sports) rather than a genuine comparison. To be legitimately compared to Senna, or Schumacher for that matter, you’ve got to make a lesser car appear capable of greater things.
Listen to Lewis and you’d be told it was “F1 and Chill” in Brazil. Too easy for him. Nico couldn’t handle what he had in this his place of expertise. If it appeared to be a slap in the face for Nico, who has dropped into “Play it safe for the Championship” Mode, it could also be a plea to those fans who would have seen him paint his helmet in their heroes colours but didn’t care. Didn’t care because they were too busy looking at something else.
The only question that remains over Max Verstappen is where he could have finished if Red Bull hadn’t called it wrong in Brazil, but thankfully they did. What we witnessed was a masterclass in wet weather racing. From 14th on the grid back to 3rd. All that was left were the what ifs. Could he have won or was P2 the ultimate? Often you’ll have a discussion in driver circles regarding racing lines and the wet. Some stick to their guns, and the racing lines. Others, will argue that you need to hunt for the grip. Explore different lines. Race a kart in the wet, on slicks, and you’ll learn pretty quickly about looking for the grip in alternative places, and it was impressive to see that raw hunger still alive and well in Max Verstappen.
Max did all of that, but on another level. If you wanted an advert to keep your kids karting you could probably convince yourself it was Max Verstappen. He hunted down the grip. He put his car in vulnerable positions as others took conservative lines. Yes he was on wets and some were on Intermediates, but the leading Mercs were on wets and he was quicker than them, and lets not forget that move on Nico Rosberg on the restart. When everyone else was losing their heads in the wet at the Brazilian GP, Max Verstappen drove in a manner that belied his age. Even having the mindset to roll off the brakes when it looked like he was heading the same way as Ericsson, Raikkonen & Massa.
This was almost the race that made us curse red flags and safety cars. The same way as Mexico made us curse the “Verstappen Rule” and the farce that revolved around three drivers trading places around the final podium position, while the Mercs did their thing.
None of that mattered though, because this was our moment. That glimpse of genius. When a driver in a lesser car did extraordinary things. Max won in Spain but he arrived in Brazil. While Lewis looked for the plaudits following his win, Max picked up the chalice. That glimpse of sublime talent. That sign before a major rule change. That maybe things are going to change for better and we’ve seen where it’s going to come from. Never mind your wider cars and your fatter tyres. Never mind complaining getting worse unless Pirelli get the new tyres right. Bring back monsoon tyres and hope that in 2017 Red Bull give Max Verstappen a car that allows him to showcase his talent in more than just rain soaked Brazil.
Because Brazil 2016 was that moment. That moment that gave us, those that still see F1 as the pinnacle of Motorsport, hope that 2017 might see the dominance of Mercedes halted. Hope that a genuine title challenge will rise from a new generation.