When Did You Know You Had Found The One?

Authors note:

For the record I am not a fan of when drivers drive poorly or in a manner that is not becoming of a sportsman. I was no fan of Senna’s crashing Prost out intentionally in the F1 Pantheon regardless of his stature. I was mad as hell at Roman Grosjean for taking out Fernando Alonso at Spa back in 2012 in what surely prevented the Spaniard from winning his third Championship. 

I could not believe my eyes when I watched the opening lap of the just finished Russian GP. Not once but what would end up being twice, Daniil Kvyat crashing into the rear of Sebastian Vettel and forced the Ferrari driver to retire in a race that surely would have produced a podium for him and the team. 

I just finished reading Kvyats’s post race comments and while I think the Russian driver was completely in the wrong most of what he says makes perfect sense. Rear brakes locked up on him in turn two, Vettel slowed more than he anticipated in turn three. He owned up to it and apologized with probably more to come. Good for him, and this is racing after all. 

All drivers make mistakes: Vettel crashing himself and Mark Webber out in Turkey, do you recall the all the times Hamilton seemed to crash into Massa a few years back. Even Alonso uncharacteristically this year took out Haas driver Gutierrez in the season opener in a gross misjudgement while passing him. 

The below post was penned on Friday pre-race. I still think it is relevant…

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When did you know you had found the one? No, not your soulmate, does this look like a love advice column?! When did you fall for a Formula 1 driver so hard that you became an instant fan? What was that defining moment that led you to favor one particular driver above all others? (For some of us, in a manner that is bordering on obsession …)

It doesn’t happen often. For me, just about three times in the 38 years that I have been a fan. The third time was about two weeks ago at the conclusion of the Chinese Grand Prix when I became an instant fan of one Daniil Kvyat. Not because of the fact that he drove a solid race to reach the podium. Not because of his brazen move on four time world champion Sebastian Vettel to take the inside line at turn one, which Kvyat himself deemed as risky but also stated that he saw a gap and took it (like any self respecting race car driver I might add), and his podium result may very well have been due to this and only this aspect of his race and not the ensuing laps and race strategy. Then again, it might have had no bearing on his final position, all things being equal. Nope, not that move, which by the way Vettel referred to as “suicidal.”

What made me a bonafide fan of the Russian was the two or three minutes in the green room post-race when for all the F1 viewing public to see, Vettel and Kvyat “discussed” the first lap move that squeezed Vettel into Kimi Raikkonen leaving Vettel no place to go and with a damaged front wing when all was said and done.

Yes, it was awesome, we were all proverbial flies on the wall as Vettel tried to bully Kvyat into somehow thinking that he had done something wrong and pretty much questioned his right to even attempt to pass the wunderkid. Wake up and smell the carbon fiber Seb, you are not the only driver out there despite your illustrious career thus far and that you now race for F1 royalty.

Back to the point. What made me fall for Kvyat was how cool he played the situation. He had to know that Vettel would be bringing up that critical part of the race, yet the Russian did not show any signs, body language or otherwise, that he would be intimidated. What further was incredibly refreshing to witness was the Russian’s detachment from the whole thing. No ego, no childish over-emotional response or dig at Vettel. I can think of many occasions where Nico and Lewis did not do themselves any justice in the maturity department when things got testy the last couple of years.

Kvyat simply and very straightforwardly stated his case, let the words resonate with the Ferrari driver, and that was it. All the while with a grin on his face, insinuating that the less experienced driver was the one more in complete control right then as well as when entering the first turn of the race.

I loved every minute of it and hit the rewind button several times to fully absorb this real moment between two gladiators during this ‘private’ moment that we as fans are commonly not privy to. It is these moments that reveal just a bit more of the authenticity of the drivers and the sport, that I crave to see, which I am sure you do as well.

As I said, this has only happened to me a few times. As an avid F1 adult race fan, the two names that stand out are Mika Hakkenen and the driver that you have all heard me shamelessly go on and on and on about, Fernando Diaz Alonso.

In the case of Hakkenen, I like his back story, out-qualifying Senna on one of his first outings for the team, then the almost life ending crash in Adelaide. His comeback and then the great dueling with Michael mano a mano for those two years at the end of the nineties. But the day I really became a fan of the Finn would have to be Spa 2000, on drying track, the Ferrari and the McLaren catch the BAR of Ricardo Zonta and one of the best passes in F1 goes down, with Mika putting one over on Michael for the win. Brilliant, as they say across the pond.

As for Fernando, well that one is easy to recall, let us go back to San Marino 2005. In the closing stages Michael dusts off Jenson Button with ease, a classic two or three lap setup and just like that Jenson is in Michael’s rearview mirrors. Next up is the Renault of Fernando but not so fast, my friend. A quick pit stop for both and it is game on. For the remainder of the race Michael tried to attack again in the quick right/left complex that he used to set up Button but the Ferrari driver just could not get it done on Fernando.

Lap after lap Michael tried but could not force the Spaniard into a mistake and more importantly could not find the gap that would have forced Fernando to yield the corner and the position. It was right here that I thought, “This guy is no joke!”. And In that exact moment I became a fan of the driver from Oviedo and nothing has changed since. If anything I am constantly more amazed by Alonso’s determination, race craft, skill set and that elusive quality that all top drivers have. The thing that makes the Vettels, the Hamiltons, the Sennas that much faster and more sought after.

As I write this I am realizing that you and I, we don’t necessarily favor the drivers which are the most successful, although it can happen that way. It is more about how a given driver affects us in the context of the sport. I liked Hakkenen due to the fact that he never bad-mouthed Michael in the two years he battled the Ferrari driver whereas Ron Dennis, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt made no secret of their dislike for each other. Mika in later years would say of Michael’s driving against him that it was amongst the most respectable and fair driving that he has ever encountered as a competitor.

As to Alonso I was taken by his sheer ability to extract the absolute maximum out of himself and whatever car he has at his disposal, which commonly resulted in a win. The things he did with the Renault in his second stint there were amazing. The fact that his Ferrari (that tugger of a car) was even in the mix in 2010 and 2012, well, those years did more to raise my opinon of him than any championship could. Yes, perhaps he has made some questionable career choices but what is not in question is his driving ability (just look up a few opionion polls that are doing the rounds of late) and that is what draws me in each and every time I watch him step into the car.

It is not just drivers which have this effect over the F1 faithful, is it? It can be a specific car, cars or a team that can put the spell on us. There will always be a place in my F1 heart for Brabham and Lotus (the real one) and Williams I will always pull for. There were so many other manufacturers that I was partial to, Tyrell, Walter Wolf, Lighier, the early Jordan’s with the Bitten And Hisses livery and the 7-up green is one of the best designs I have ever seen on a car. Benetton also have great graphics. Sometimes it is that simple … I like the way the car looks so I like the team.

Cars? You bet’cha! Way way too many to name but suffice to say the cars of F1 alone have had some weird voodoo spell over me from a very young age. I think the Brabham BT49 that Piquet drove is the most arresting F1 car ever conceived, but then again I feel that way about quite a bit of F1 machinery throughout all the eras truth be known.

So back to Daniil Kvyat. I have been waiting quite a long time for a driver to do something that catches my eye and in China that is exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I am super interested in Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo currently. They both have great demeanors and driving skills which I like and I admire but am I superfans of them yet? Not quite.

I need something more, I need to make an emotional connection with the drivers that I will follow until the cows come home. I need that little extra that makes me want to cheer them on regardless of if they are fighting for race wins and a championship or just fighting to make it to their grid spot.

The Russian Grand Prix is this weekend and while my heart and mind will as usual be focused on the number 22 car of a particular driver that has had a rough go of it as of late, I will be keen to keep the other eye focused on the hometown favorite and see if there is any magic there.

Who is your favorite driver, team or car and what were the circumstances that led you there?