Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I will not forget the 2008 Italian GP...

It was a sensational win in treacherous conditions for Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Torro Rosso. But those who have been following F1 for a while will know that before the team became STR, it was known as Minardi. And it was not new to the F1 scene. In fact Minardi entered F1 in 1985, and the first Minardi racer was built as early as in 1979. F1 has, in recent days gone to deserts and Asian nightclubs. But till it was sold to Red Bull in 2005, Minardi was a relic from the past, a nostalgic reminder from a more civilised age. It was probably one of the last surviving traditional fixtures on the F1 calendar. It reminded you of Monza or Silverstone; worn down and unglamorous, but it made you feel at home. A bit like old wallpaper.

Not many would know that the first Minardi racer was evolved from a 1975 championship-winning Ferrari F1 car which was lent to them by the great Enzo Ferrari himself, or that it was a Lamborghini V12 that powered the Minardi in the 1992 season. But even a casual F1 fan would recognise some of the driving talent that Minardi has churned out over the years - Alessandro Nannini, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jos "the boss" Verstappen (who over the years didn't entertain us as much with his driving skills as with spectacular crashes...)

Yet they never had the multimillion dollar corporate culture. They were a bunch of grease monkeys who assembled their car with worn out spanners in an old shed and went racing week after week. For 23 years they chased success, in vain. Always at the back of the grid. Always called the minnows. They never had the funding or the manpower that even the midfield teams enjoyed, yet they raced with passion and commitment. They did not care a toss about money or sponsorship. They were happy to just be there, just performing at the pinnacle of motor racing. Such was their motivation. Nuvolari would have nodded his head in appreciation. Ferrari did. In an age where drivers and teams fight in court over the points left over from the previous race and accuse each other of spying and foul play, Minardi were the among the last of the true racers.

Perhaps it was fitting that their first ever win came with Ferrari V8 power at Monza, the spiritual home of the Italian Ferrari fans, not far from their own HQ. This may never be achieved again. This may go down in history as Minardi's first and only win. Many years down the line, old Franz Tost may look up at the lone trophy in admiration, sitting alone in his drab Italian villa, and close his eyes to relive the glory and celebrations of that memorable September noon when Vettel sprayed champagne on the podium for the first ever time for Minardi, having beat all other cars on the grid, having led and won the race from pole position on pure merit. Its a moment that will be frozen in time.

Sebastian Vettel. He is not the first "raw, natural talent" seen in the past decade. Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were all championship material, but were not exactly in the Senna/Schumacher/Gilles Villeneuve mould. It remains to be seen whether Vettel fulfils the promise.

I believe that Formula One should stick to the traditional circuits: Monza, Spa, Monaco, Silverstone, San Marino, Nurburgring, Montreal, Hockenheim and Interlagos. Maybe Estoril, too. The forest sections of Hockenheim and Nurburgring should be reopened. V12 engines and slick tyres should be allowed again. Michael Schumacher should drive for Ferrari and he should win all the races till the end of time. McLaren and Williams should fight it out for 2nd place. Lotus, Audi, Maserati, Tyrrell, Porsche and BRM should start racing again. And Minardi should win once in a while, even if the corporate prize money goes to Torro Rosso.

But none of these is the reason why I'll remember the Italian GP for a long time. Actually, it is because it was after a really long time that the German and Italian national anthems were played on the podium in succession