Canada, the Aftermath: Testgate and Vettel’s Looming Domination

You know when you get a nasty hunch about something? A hunch that you don’t want to be true but just get tthe distinct feeling it may be so? That is the feeling I got when Vettel crossed the finish line of the Canadian Grand Prix.

It was a brilliant display of dominance from the German, for sure, and one that should have the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes cowering where they stand. It wasn’t the mere fact that Sebastian Vettel dominated the race, though, that was astounding. It was the sheer unexpectedness of the dominance that left us all shocked. There were no signs from the previous two races that Red Bull had this type of performance advantage in them. Their increasing troubles with the Pirelli rubber, highlighted in Spain, cast a shadow on a potential overwhelming title campaign for the season. In Canada, however, Sebastian Vettel and the rest of his team seemed to shake off any preconceived notions that the team was in trouble.

The events which unfolded on Sunday had the eerie similarity to some of Vettel’s Sunday strolls in 2011. For all the nitpicking about Sebastian’s supposed weaknesses we partake in, there is no denying the special quality the triple World Champion has when it comes to racing. I am far from a Sebastian Vettel fan, but even I can’t avoid being blown away at what that man can do in a car. When he is comfortable in a car, he is truly unbeatable, and that is what we saw on Sunday; pure, unadulterated talent.
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This is exactly what has me worried. Deep down it is slightly motivated by my personal desires for the championship outcome, but I worry for the sport as a whole if we come to another season of utter domination by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. The stranglehold both parties now exact over both championships show little to no sign of wavering. If they do, it will be due to dire circumstances unseen by all. Do we want to go back to 2011? Certainly, the races on an individual level had their own certain characters, but most of them had the same outcome: Vettel the victor with Hamilton, Button, Webber and Alonso completing the podium in various orders. This creates the perfect storm for a dominant championship with little to no hope remaining for anyone to topple the leader. This is what happened in the early 2000’s, as we all know. The individual races were thrilling on their own, but that thrill can only carry so much weight before their ultimate results counterbalance the enjoyment we get from them.

This is not to say that I am discouraging Red Bull in any way. That is not my intent. I am merely warning those in the sport that a problem is looming. As much as we all look back at the Schumacher era with gooey nostalgia, I don’t know of many people who want the championship dominated by one driver and one team. While this may not happen this season, we are undoubtedly faced with the possibility after the events in Canada.

Sebastian Vettel has hit a point in the season where all he needs is a string of wins to secure a 4th consecutive title. The podiums to ensure ultimate success will come without worry. Do we really want this again? I don’t. But I am biased, of course.

Sebastian Vettel’s looming domination are not the only topic of discussion at the moment, though. The confirmed date for Mercedes trial at the International Tribunal of June 20th will set the stage for a very exciting British Grand Prix.

While Canada was far from the success story Mercedes was hoping for, there is not denying that they had a good race. Their pre-race tire concerns, while partly justified in the race, can only be ultimately seen as media ploys to diffuse tension about the controversy that surrounds the team. Lewis and Nico were careful in clearly pointing out in any media session that their tire troubles are far from over. But we all know that things, while not perfect, are far from the nightmare the team would have us to believe. In the second free practice session, Mercedes were comfortably one of the top teams on long runs. They didn’t have the consistency of Red Bull or Ferrari, or even Force India for that matter, but there were no Bahrain/Spanish-esque slumps of shame. That was not on the menu.

The fact that Mercedes had a decent race in the aftermath of their secret test will only serve to fuel the fire surrounding the debate that the test helped them out significantly. I am under no impressions that the test was anything but beneficial for the team in terms of how they now understand their car’s behavioral characteristics with the tires. Any time a team can run a current car with a current driver on a track is time spent learning. The increased understanding they have is the hot topic of discussion throughout the paddock and is likely to remain even after the International Tribunal’s verdict.

June 20th is set to be the most important date this entire Formula One season. The trial’s implications are far-reaching and span the breadth of the championship, from the manner in which the title could be decided to how testing is approached in years to come. Some evidence of the latter cropped up during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend as the FIA revealed that four in-season tests are to take place in 2014 after select European races. I will talk about this in more detail in another post, but this can be seen as either significant progress for the sport, or just another thing to add to the tribulations if just being in the sport.

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Anyone guess who’s missing in this picture?

Whatever comes of the Tribunal hearing, you can be sure that the ramifications will he heard in every crevice of the sport. This is an all-encompassing issue, one that will leave a shadow over the championship results for years to come.

What makes this issue even more unfortunate, though, goes beyond the simple act of breaking a rule. The effects of the test, the subsequent tribunal hearing, and its results will all fall in the face of uncertainty; regardless of the hearing’s verdict, there will always be a hint of doubt over the validity of the results of the championship, no matter how much we may try to ignore it. If Mercedes win the drivers’ and constructors’ championships this season, regardless if they are found guilty or innocent in the trial, a nagging sense of doubt will always remain as to whether they deserve it. If Mercedes lose out on both championships and are found guilty, then they will just look stupid. There is no other way to say it. I refuse to believe for a second that the management at Mercedes went into their test under the impression that what they were doing was legal. I refuse to accept that. Mercedes and Ross Brawn are too smart (perhaps not anymore) to take part in a test so easily under the constraints of the FIA’s regulations.

The last thing this sport needs it to be doubtful of its victors. That will only serve to reduce the viability of the sport in the long term. For a sport under constant scrutiny of its wastefulness and excess, its champions need to be unanimously accepted. If not, the sport runs the risk of losing all of its purpose.

Like I said, far-reaching.

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