Rarefied – Not dense; thin: the rarefied air of the high peaks. 2. Belonging to or reserved for a small select group; exclusive: accepted in the most rarefied social circles. 3. Refined or esoteric: rarefied academic theorizing; a man of rarefied appetites. 4. One of David Hobb’s favorite catchphrases.
As the 2018 season gets underway I would like to take a moment and consider a singular aspect of what will surely be a season to remember even if it all goes down exactly as it did last year. As I contemplate this season, I am getting a strange feeling inside. I think I might actually be excited to see Lewis repeat. Lewis Hamilton will be driving for his fifth WDT which would move him one ahead of Sebastian Vettel and two behind Michael Schumacher.
Let that sink in a bit. As if it was not spectacular enough to see Michael and Ferrari dominate for five years running in the early 2000’s, then to see Vettel and Red Bull take the big trophies four years in a row and now to have seen Hamilton (and Nico Rosberg) and Mercedes compete in that same “completely out-raced everyone no matter what the circumstances are” is really mind boggling.
I wrote so many words of copy during the Red Bull era in which I went on and on about how I was fit to be tied because despite all of Ferrari’s and Alonso’s efforts, they, or for that matter McLaren (while Hamilton was still driving for them) could do nothing about the wunderkid and the energy drinks race team.
I remember very clearly always ending my posts with frustration up to my eyeballs, but I always knew deep down inside why me, Alonso, Mark, McLaren, Lewis, Jenson, Ferrari, hell everyone that was not on the Red Bull kool-aid tip were so aggravated. Red Bull and Seb just did a better job than the aforementioned. Period. That is what wins races, that is what wins championships.
I can unequivocally say that despite my feelings those days for Red Bull, C. Horner, Adrian Newey and Vettel, there was never any doubt of the effort these individuals and the entire team put in. Well, (and I always had a sour look on my face when I said it) well done Milton Keyes…
Somewhere in all those four years of the Red Bull “Give You Wings” dominance, when I wasn’t pouting, I was reminded how incredibly difficult it is to win in F1 just once. To win a second time is even harder, just ask Dan Gurney, he won with his American Eagle once in 1967 or James Hunt in a Hesketh, they won once too or Stewart Racing to name a few. All of whom are rightfully famous for just one win. Anything after two wins, that is basically on another planet.
Extrapolating that further; to win several championships like Williams or McLaren or Ferrari is essentially as difficult as traveling to another universe and lastly to put a string of four or more together such as Ferrari did with Michael and then Red Bull with Vettel, well that is hyperdrive and “Scotty Give Me Warp Seven”. Let me run down some facts for you:
Since the sport officially agreed that F1 was a recognized formula in 1947 (I thought going back to 1901 would be just a bit overkill) the amount of teams that have competed in F1 stands at one hundred and thirty-five give or take a few constructors.
[Quick note to all you super unforgiving fact-checkers: I modified this number due to the fact that some teams like Lotus are listed three times, for example Caterham that is listed was also listed as Lotus)
Of these one hundred and thirty-five constructors, only 15 teams have won even one championship and of these 15, only nine teams were able to etch their name in the annals of motor racing history as a two-time or more world constructor champion. 6.67%. Get the picture? Get my drift? You feel’n me my F1 brothers and sisters? Winning in F1 is hard (understatement) no matter the talent behind the wheel or how big the manufacturer is. Mercedes is gunning for their fifth championship this year. Would we be excited to see it? I think so.
Now let’s talk about drivers and records. Lewis Hamilton passed some pretty monumental thresholds last year, not the least of which was surpassing Ayrton Senna’s pole record for which he received the legendary driver’s helmet from the legendary driver’s family (so totally incredible and cool I really don’t even have words to describe it), became the winningest British driver in history and is the second all-time race winner.
If Hamilton goes on to claim more poles, win several more races and his fifth championship this year, Hamilton would really and truly be in a different solar system. Let’s go back to the stats. Out of 33 world champion F1 drivers (like that’s not difficult enough to achieve), only two have won five or more championships. Let me repeat that. Only two drivers, since 1950, have claimed five or more titles. Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Lewis could join that club this year. Rarefied? I think so.
Furthermore, if Ham does take his fifth championship, one can very easily make the argument that Michael’s heretofore umatched record could be matched and given the right circumstances even bettered. Now let that sink in for just a moment. (pause)…
I remember when Michael won his seventh title (maybe we should let that one sink in as well, again) and believe you me when I say I couldn’t really believe it at the time even though it was happening right in front of my eyes. But here is what I was sure would never happen. I was sure that I would never ever see another driver able to match that record and if you said someone would, guess what? I would not have believed you…
Now I’m not so sure. It is still a feat that is far away and yet now I am actually considering the real possibility of this happening.
Usually I don’t like it when the same people or teams win year in and year out whatever the discipline; football – the Patriots; baseball – those Yankees a while back; tennis – first Federer and then Dojokavich. I don’t like it when the same actors win the Oscar on a regular basis, although I am willing to make an exception for Daniel Day Lewis. When the Grammies keep nominating the same artists for the umpteenth time, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce, Jay Z, I just tune out. But the prospect of Lewis matching Michael’s record (and that could include his 91 races wins as well) is something that I could get behind – for who does not like to see such records broken? Especially big ones…
Yes, 2018 is going to be a great year for all the reasons I have underlined thus far but especially this one.
Sometimes I get into a rut saying that F1 is so boring now, it is not like it used to be, blah, blah, blah but then something happens. It can be a regs change or a new rookie that sets the sport on fire – thank you Max.
Every once in a great while it could be something a bit more existential like a record – the setting of one or in this case the breaking of one. It is in these moments the sport becomes less about PU’s or MK – UG’s, or whatever they are, whizzing turbos or team dominance (which btw has been around since the beginning of motor racing).
It is nice to be reminded that as tech-y or complex or difficult to follow as F1 has become, it is still a human being that can be the story. A human being, that thing of flesh and bone and the grey matter that controls them. A human being which is commonly flawed, but within those flaws performs at a rarefied level and maybe just maybe because of those flaws, or in spite of them, begins to achieve what previously seemed impossible. And if I, a human being, can watch another human being enter that rarefied air, doesn’t that make me a little rarefied myself? I think it does.