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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Formula 1: classless meritocracy

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A video board at the airport. A sign in front of the hotel. The flags on the highway. Throughout the state of Bahrain this message: “A new era.” But these are not events at the royal house of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Rather, before the Grand Prix, a new era in Formula 1 spreads.

The biggest rule-cutting in four decades should create something that hardly seems possible: It should top last season, which was one of the best and most dramatic in the history of the premier class. Paradoxically, the feat should be successful with cars that are heavier, stiffer and harder than their predecessors. With novelties that until now have been very difficult to tame.

The aerodynamics of the new generation of vehicles should not only allow for more overtaking manoeuvres, but also ensure that the dual success system of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing becomes a class-less performance partnership in future. Suddenly ten racing teams with a chance of winning? Formula 1 has always been a promise of a better future, but rarely has revolution been promised like it was before the start of the season this weekend, as if the racing series wanted to compete with your favorite Netflix storytellers.

The final sprint to the 2021 title was probably the best Hamilton ever

The creators of the “Drive to Survive” series would probably have put the word “revenge” on the banners, or at least “revenge”. However, Lewis Hamilton does not want to be carried away by those feelings. “That’s not how I move, that’s not how I approach the season. I just want to be the best I can be,” he said on a podium round in the rocky desert of Sakhir on Friday. In the new year of racing, he just wants to improve his performance and be at least as good as the end of the last season from the beginning.

Consider the history of the seven-time champion: the final sprint to the 2021 title was probably the best Hamilton ever. And now an even better version of himself? That could have been again with the new tension. If it weren’t for the unusual problems Hamilton reported during testing. And they even led him to the thesis that he had no chance of winning in this car. Which, in turn, nobody wanted to believe, especially Max Verstappen, who joked that Mercedes actually had a “terrible car”.

Formula 1: "Formula 1 is a tough business.  Lewis will surpass him, he already has seven titles"said Max Verstappen at last season's controversial season finale.

“Formula 1 is a tough business. Lewis will get through it, he already has seven titles,” Max Verstappen said of last season’s controversial season finale.

(Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Man and machine, the story of the eternally ancient relationship in this sport, even after the new age. If this really has gotten as complicated as everyone is claiming, then it’s actually to the advantage if Hamilton no longer thinks too much about what happened in Abu Dhabi in mid-December when Verstappen won the eighth title on the last lap, which was already believed. Sure it could still start after a controversial decision by the race director. The 37-year-old, who hid for weeks to grasp the incomprehensible, puts on a mental protective shield: “I don’t hold a grudge, I don’t have a burden to carry into the new season, because I can’t change the past.”

Toto Wolff, team principal at Mercedes, had just explained in the SZ interview how much the embarrassment in Abu Dhabi would motivate the entire team: “These events and the desire to make amends have certainly released energy,” Wolff announced. “Mercedes and Lewis will always be remembered as the ones who won many titles. And the ones who unfairly took a world championship away from them.” And you will see, Wolff said, how much power this feeling will unleash. Hamilton also argued in an equally offensive direction with the last word of the day: “I’ll be a more aggressive driver this year, you’ll see.” A change of roles to avoid the change of power.

Verstappen not only wants new aerodynamics, but also a completely new era

The opponent, who sat out a different round during the verbal warm-up, would also like to forget last year’s final. But the Dutchman does not know how to do it, since he is always being asked about it. The number one on the car, which is his pride and joy, is a constant reminder of that. For this reason, he emphasizes once again that the controversial final would not eclipse his title: “I don’t see it as the sport having to recover first. Dramatic moments are part of that, and Formula 1 is a tough business. Lewis will get over it. if he already has seven titles.”

Verstappen, who has just been given a pension contract by Red Bull until 2028, sees himself as a pioneer of a new generation, which also includes Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Lando Norris. “We need more who can fight for victory,” the defending champion says confidently. He not only wants new aerodynamics, but also a whole new era.

Formula 1: Is this the way to the dojo or the paddock?  Lewis Hamilton was sent to martial arts by his father when he was a child.

Is this the way to the dojo or the paddock? Lewis Hamilton was sent to martial arts by his father when he was a child.

(Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images)

First of all, it is a journey into the unknown. Exactly what they hate in the premier class of motorsport, which calculates down to the last detail. During test drives, cars jumped like rabbits, as a result of the intake effect. Drivers are forced to adapt, some having to completely change their cherished driving style. Mick Schumacher is looking forward to the new challenge: “It’s like the playground here.” The question of which of the race teams is still veiled or who is really desperate will be cleared up for the first time on Saturday in qualifying.

He doesn’t feel any pressure, Verstappen said in Bahrain: “I have nothing more to prove. Some people who only look at the end forget that I had the most wins last year, I had the most laps in my head and I secured the most number of poles”. The 24-year-old was also the first to wish that Hamilton had to return after the end of the season. Of course, to prove yourself again. It’s more about dignity than burden, and the question of whether he can make the new era his own. He may have achieved everything he could have dreamed of, and yet it’s all just beginning: “The pressure on my shoulders is gone. But the motivation is the same and even greater because I want to keep winning.”

Hamilton, still elated to become the only world champion with an eighth title, appeared in the paddock wearing a white designer jacket with a black belt around it. Black tape! If that’s not a sign. After he was bullied in the schoolyard as a child, his father once sent him to martial arts classes. His tremendous assertiveness probably stems from this moment, known in industry jargon as “Hammertime.” He phrased the message to his social media followers much more poetically: “Let the positive happen…”

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