F1’s heroes and villains of 2010

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Spy v spy

As we prepare to close the 2010 chapter of life’s book, it always a good time to reflect on the past year and think of the good and not-so-good things you faced. A time of reflection or introspection if you will. As I reflect on the year that was 2010, I have many things that were good and a few things that were not-so-good but such is life and such is F1.

Before we sprint into 2011 as giddy as school girls, let’s take a look back on the 2010 season’s Heroes and Villains.

Heroes:

Mark Webber- Webber was the one man most everyone wanted to win the championship if for no other reason than the notion that he would never get another chance like this. Webber’s tell-it-like-it-is personality resonates with me and I find him a complete delight amongst F1’s sterile environment. Webber’s “number 2” status in the team rubbed many pundits wrong and garnered some new Webber fans where they never existed before.

Kamui Kobayashi- Kamui rapidly made waves in the final two races of the 2009 season and his inclusion in the 2010 season was much anticipated. To be honest, he made very little impact until Sauber made a late season push with a better car and Nick Heidfeld. Kamui re-invented the pass in F1 this year with bravery and bravado and added some much-needed excitement to the season.

Adrian Newey- Little has to be said about a designer who is arguably the most successful in the history of F1. Adrian proved his engineering prowess more this year than any other in his career. Red Bull’s acquisition of Jaguar in 2006 left them with very little to brag about as far as chassis’s go. Newey transformed the car into a world title winner in little more than 4 years and placed a shadow over his world at Williams and McLaren as those operations were well oiled machines and already used to winning.

Jenson Button- Although he was the reigning world champion in 2010, Button left Brawn/Mercedes GP under odd auspices. He landed at a team so categorically behind Lewis Hamilton that many thought him daft for even considering it. Buton managed to seat himself well with the team and garner a good relationship with Hamilton in the process. His approach to racing had a knock-on effect with Hamilton and he ended up being a “big brother” role for Lewis who was facing some serious personal issues off the track. Button managed to put good performances in and has really become a great addition for McLaren win or lose.

Lewis Hamilton- Lewis faced a difficult year in that his car was not on pave with the Red Bull’s (no car was to be honest) and he had just jettisoned his father as his manager. The rift played heavy with the young Brit but he still managed to keep his head in the game and place his car in positions it had little hope of achieving. His maturation has been a welcome sight and his approach to racing is still eleven tenths and that’s what makes him a hero for me in 2010.

Robert Kubica- Robert was in a dodgy spot at the end of 2009 with BMW’s withdrawal from F1. He took a role at Renault and then learned they sold a majority of their stake to a venture capital company in Genii Capital. Not knowing what the future held, Kubica took the team by the scruff of the neck and made a year to be remembered. The team was not the fastest team on the grid but with Kubica’s feedback, work ethic and drive, they managed to fashion a terrific season from the ashes of the Briatore, Symonds, Pquet crash-gate saga of Singapore 2008. This man has yet to be fully heard in F1 and let us hope that Lotus-Renault can offer him a voice.

Nico Rosberg- Nico proved he is a man not to be trifled. He has not had the best car in his F1 career yet but his performance this year proves that should that come to pass, he, like Kubica, may have something to say about the Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel domination of the headlines as F1’s “best”. Roberg quietly and systematically handed 7-time champion Michael Schumacher his arse and did it with no pretense, bravado or bragging. He is one of my favorites on the grid and proved this year that he can hang with anyone given the car and tools to use. He is a PR dream and has the talent to back up his GQ good looks. He is the real deal but Schumacher could verify that or disprove it in 2011.

Lotus Racing- Tony Fernandes took an anemic budget, Mike Gascoyne, Mike Gascoyne’s mouth, two veteran drivers and some green paint and made the best new team in F1. No one can undermine what Tony did and yet the season closes with a huge question mark about just what the team will be called in 2011. Fernandes has done a yeoman’s job of it and driver Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen did exactly what they needed to do. The team was the “little team that could” and it was a heart-warming story for 2010.

Virgin/ Nick Wirth- Virgin started the year with a couple of dollars from Richard Branson, a Virgin sticker for the car and Nick Wirth’s bravado about being a CFD-only designed car. His mouth was writing checks we weren’t sure he could cash with his arse. Besides designing a car with too small of a fuel cell, Nick Wirth managed to complete the season with a goodly amount of respect. The CFD-only car was not the best of the new teams but was not so far off pace that it proved a galactic error on Wirth’s part. He put his money where his mouth was and delivered and that should be commended.

Renault- After being expunged of their technical boss Pat Symonds and team boss Flavio Briatore, Renault looked destined to be the most tragic story of 2010 and yet a young team boss named Eric Boullier and a talented driver named Robert Kubica took the shambles and fashioned a gem. No question the team of people at Renault F1 are sharp and very capable employees but one had to wonder if crash-gate and even an employee suicide on the premises was going to take its toll. They rose above it and fashioned a damn good season for a team that desperately deserved it.

Jean Todt- For not succumbing to the pressure of being a bloviating president of the FIA. He quietly went about his business, stayed out of the media and left sensitive things behind closed doors with sensitive people. He was not found in a Chelsea loft, to my knowledge, and he seemed to take the role quite serious. I will admit his caving to the “green” movement is concerning but all in all, he’s done a decent job of it…so far.

Villains:

Fernando Alonso- I must confess that I find Alonso’s villain status a complete non sequitur. F1 needs its villains apparently and the overwhelming choice is Alonso. I don’t subscribe to the notion nor do I feel it is entirely warranted. It seems to me that it is a knock-on effect of the McLaren era and Lewis Hamilton but then the pass on Massa in the pit lane at the Chinese grand prix and the team orders in Hockenheim may have added to his black hat persona. Whatever the reason, Alonso is the most complete driver on the grid and even in a year that saw the return of F1’s ultimate villain, Michael Schumacher, Alonso still holds the mantle and that’s a shame. Perhaps if you were to view other drivers through a fanboi prism, you would see the villainy in Alonso but I tend to take him on his merits and not the merits of another driver I like better.

Helmut Marko- Marko is Red Bull owners Dietrich Mateschitz’s right-hand man and a Vettel supporter through and through. His outburst at Mark Webber in Turkey was completely uncalled for and gave rise to his public exposure as a Vettel fan and Webber hater. If it were not clear that Red Bull favored Vettel, Marko’s presence, comments and actions were enough to convince even the most obtuse fan. To Webber’s credit, he said nothing of Marko or his approach to team politics.

Sebastian Vettel- Once the charming, toothy-grin wunderkind from Germany now has turned into finger-stabbing brat whose head-circling finger gestures post shunt in Turkey have left him in a media freefall with only Helmut Marko as padding. Sebastian’s victory in Abu Dhabi and his late-season pace as well as mental acuity have all been shadowed by the collisions with Webber in Turkey, Button in Belgium and the finger-stabbing post victory celebration images seared in our minds. Vettel was terrific in the latter part of the season and won the title but he chose 2010 to create a whole new hoard of detractors in the process. The criticisms are mot likely not warranted but that doesn’t sell many newspapers or magazines does it?

Michael Schumacher- The 7-time champion returned from retirement to much fanfare and said he was looking for another title. Mercedes GP trumpeted the return of the king and the Schumacher-hater’s went ballistic. The year panned out to be a non-event for the German and his move on Barrichello was a stark reminder that he, indeed, had returned warts and all. The world of F1 has changed and Schumacher’s inability to get on top of the technical changes have been offered as the reason he was not on pace with his teammate Nico Rosberg. Perhaps the technical as well as the race style have all changed as it was his on-track actions that garnered the most ire and not his lack of pace. He was already a villain before the first grand prix of the season and will continue to be such as long as he participates in the series. The only upside is that Fernando Alonso may have overshadowed him in the villain category taking some of the pressure off of being F1’s Snidley Whiplash.

Max Mosley- For not shutting his pie hole on F1’s inner workings when he should know better. His veiled compliments of FIA President Jean Todt only stand to magnify the notion that his narcissism is alive and well.

Ecclestone attackers- Truly villains in every sense of the word, kicking an 80-year-old man is about as low as it gets in the realm of thuggery. Ecclestone may be rich and have some nice watches but lying in wait so you can humiliate him in front of his girlfriend and nick his watch is just plain idiotic.

Ferrari / Rob Smedley- “OK, so, Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”

HRT / Dallara- HRT for not paying their bills and Dallara for building a dodgy chassis.

Japan- For leaving F1 and claiming it no longer suited their goals. Just when Kamui Kobayashi comes into the sport and stays in the sport on merit alone, the nation of Japan has decided that Honda, Toyota and Bridgestone all have better things to do than prove their worth in the ultimate test of man and machine. They have the man now but lack not only the machine but the rubber as well. Even sponsorship is waning from Japan save versus the kind series endorsement of LG and a few tech companies stickers in nooks and cranny’s on a select few cars. Oh, and I could easily lump BMW and their desire to build a hybrid excuse in here too but they’re not Japanese.

So who are your heroes and villains of 2010? What made you pay attention and gave you some hope or left you scratching your head? Let us know but keep it civilized.

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