The Last Act



Weighing in at Abu Dhabi. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

The opening statement from the Daimler brand website reads: Like no other trademark in the automotive sector, the Mercedes star stands for an unparalleled combination of fascination, perfection and responsibility.

Like its acclaimed road cars, the Mercedes AMG F1â„¢ team has delivered, too. And more precisely, stayed true to the brand’s ethos. The W05 Hybrid has had no parallel on track this entire season wrapping up the Constructors Championship with a huge gap to second-placed Red Bull Racing.

Their drivers, who are the lead characters in the title showdown this year, have played the roles to perfection. Being true brand ambassadors they’ve adhered to the brand’s guidelines like a dream.

Looking back at their rivalry through the season, they’ve provided top notch drama and entertainment on the motorsport’s greatest stage. Through retirements, misjudgements and colossal mistakes they’ve still come through to set up a grand last act. An unparalleled combination indeed.

Before the lights went out at Melbourne, it was interesting to anticipate who Mercedes would prefer as their Champion for the new millennium. Lewis Hamilton’s outright pace and star quality was evident. He is listed among the Top 10 most recognisable sporting faces in the world. He has finished 2013 with more points than Nico Rosberg. But Nico is German. And has been with the team since its inception in 2010. Though he out-performed the great Schumacher for three consecutive seasons, would he have the same effect the seven-time world champion had on the brand in worldwide markets?

Hamilton snatched pole at the very first Saturday of 2014. But on race day, he retired with a misfiring engine. Rosberg began with a head start.

In Sepang, Hamilton claimed pole again but this time with no gremlins, ran away with a win. At Bahrain a fortnight later, it was Rosberg who reigned supreme on Saturday. But Sunday gave us the best race of the season so far with Hamilton proving he hadn’t lost any of his race craft from those sensational karting days!

At Shanghai it was the same story with the momentum strongly on Hamilton’s side of the garage. A lights to flag finish was recorded in Spain, too. And just when the season began to tilt Hamilton’s way, a twist occurred at Monaco.

After claiming provisional pole on the earlier lap a questionable lock-up by Rosberg at Mirabeau, brought out the yellow flags and destroyed Hamilton’s attempt. More than the drivers and team themselves, the world of F1â„¢ fans fell apart. One side crying foul and the other maintaining it was a normal racing incident. Importantly though, for the sport it made the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry fascinating!

This rivalry now moved to Canada, a Hamilton favourite. Nico stole pole from him with a near perfect lap. This was a huge blow for Hamilton and things only got worse during the race when a brake issue led him to retire. Rosberg continued a psychological attack on the Briton with a successive pole and victory in Austria, the next round. He was now 29 points ahead.

A bit of good luck swept by Hamilton in his home race when Rosberg pulled over with a mechanical issue. His first retirement of the season. But Hamilton’s flawless drive saw him bite back into the title chase. It was down to just four points now and at Hockenheim, Rosberg was perfect again. Claiming all 25 points. A German winning his home grand prix in a German car.

Everything seemed perfect for Mercedes with their drivers dictating the pace all season but at Hungary neither driver won. Hamilton disobeyed team orders to hold back Rosberg. It may have cost them the win but the team later accepted it was best for the championship. A brave acceptance that maintained a perfect connect with race fans.

Again at Spa, neither driver won. This time, Rosberg let the team down with an unnecessary collision on Lap 2 ending his teammate’s race and a possible 1-2 scenario for Mercedes. Senior management woke him up to the responsibility of the Constructors Championship that was paramount to the returning German marque.

It was clear that Mercedes would allow both their drivers to genuinely race against each other. This by itself was a huge victory over other teams and manufacturers who don’t accommodate this. The dressing down that their German star received behind closed doors and the subsequent booing from fans in the following races began to affect Rosberg’s performance on track. Hamilton stuck to his racer’s instincts and won five races on the trot!

Monza, Singapore, Suzuka, Sochi and Austin. At Singapore though, Rosberg suffered his second DNF and this turned the championship on its head and back in favour of Hamilton.

Rosberg has returned to his perfect weekend form just in time with a storming display in Brazil, and a few hours ago taking pole at Abu Dhabi for the final round that will decide who will be champion.

The responsibility for a clean and fair fight lies solely in the hands of the two contenders. Will they continue to fascinate with a show of Mercedes perfection? It’s their last performance of the year for their fans and the brand.

A brand that demands – the best or nothing.

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That day at Imola

The most recognised helmet in F1 history. Image Copyright © McLaren Media

The most recognised helmet in F1 history. Image Copyright © McLaren Media

Millions worldwide have vivid memories of that moment in history when Formula One lost Ayrton Senna. Arguably it’s greatest asset.

A few recollections from people all over and a certain 9-year-old from UK.

“I was at home in Mumbai. I did not believe it at all and I refused to. It was hard. He is a legend. He lives on…”
Colston Julian, Advertising Photographer in Mumbai

“I actually remember watching the race on Prime Sports, don’t remember if it was live or a recording. As they went back and showed replays of the crash it was obvious it was not a usual crash. When the chopper landed to medivac him, I remember thinking, that’s it, 2 dead drivers in one weekend, F1 is changed forever. The feed was onboard with Schumi at the time he went off and it is sad that Schumi is in the condition that he is at this time. I am going to Imola this year as a tribute. Will be there at the end of June. I think F1 changed for me that weekend. It all became real. It’s like the moment in time when you discover that riding a bike is not all fun and falling hurts. A little bit of a bubble bursts. Ratzenberger and Senna changed F1 for me forever.”
– Krishnan Menon, Networking & Marketing Professional in Singapore

“Yes i remember. I was watching the race live on TV, and already clouded by the death of Ratzenberger, and the apprehension which Senna seemed to have and then watch the crash, and then the blanket tent…I felt, it was going to be close and then heard the news on TV later and since he was my hero, i couldn’t control my tears, and no one at home could understand especially for a man whom i had never seen in my life except on TV!”
Madhusudan Rhenius, Marketing Professional in Chennai

“I’d heard of his death while doing an Ad for a Tyre brand. In fact I wasn’t into Formula 1 at that time. But I had to read up about this fearless driver. I’d heard of Niki Lauda before.
He was like a hero for me because he’d raced and crashed many times, had his car burnt, his face burnt, part of his ear was gone, doctors had written off his racing career but he came back and raced”
– Deepak Joshi, Advertising Professional in Jakarta

“Yes I think I was at a friend’s place and back in the day when satellite TV was just about there, but I know all of us girls were shocked that he was gone like that in an accident.
I remembered it again when I read of Schumacher some time back…just feel these racers love living and racing on the edge and then it literally takes the life out of them”
Namrata Nandan, Advertising Professional in Mumbai

“I was watching the Grand Prix on TV. I can remember every moment. Did not sleep that night. When I got the news I was shattered and in tears. Senna was my hero. I hated Prost!!! Just before the car hit the wall, I remember asking my brother what Senna was doing going wide. The next ten seconds was slow motion in my head. Will never forget it.
I went close to the TV. Saw his faint quiver and told my brother ‘geyche’ (means gone in Bengali). Then the airlift. Waited for some news. Finally got it on BBC World Service Radio” - Subhabrata Ghosh, Brand Consultant in Bangalore

“I remember being on the college bus when I heard about it the day after – we were doing internal exams or something and none of us had watched it Live. I remember thinking only 34, at least a couple of titles more for sure. For some inexplicable reason, I thought Schumi was the culprit…”
Canice Chandan Pinto, IT Enabled Services in USA

“I remember when I was at University we were all in shock about his death as we all watched Formula 1 together back then.”
Will Tsang, Law Professional in London

“Yup, I do. I was in Class lll then, and I remember watching videos of it on the news, and reading about it in SportStar magazine . I do remember feeling rather sad…for the brilliant racer whose life got extinguished prematurely…”
– Phalgun Reddy, Planning Professional in Gurgaon

“I remember it was early May and I was at Rye House. I had just finished a race and my dad, quietly, came over to me and said, ‘Lewis, Ayrton Senna’s just died…He’s had a terrible crash at Imola…’ I remember how I did not want to show emotion in front of my dad because I thought he would have a go at me and so I walked round the back, where no one was looking, and I just cried. I really struggled the rest of that day. i could not stop imagining what had gone on. I was only nine years old. The man who inspired me was dead. He was a superhero, you know, and that was him…just gone”
– Lewis Hamilton, British Formula One Driver

[excerpt taken from Lewis Hamilton : My Story © 2007 Harper Collins Publishing]



The Buddh International Circuit

Buddh International Circuit Main Grandstand & Paddock. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

Buddh International Circuit Main Grandstand & Paddock. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

Who could have imagined? A name like that. So classic. So unique. And so perfectly exotic in what still remains essentially a European sport. The circuit we hope is our first step to change that.
There is no large Buddha statue looming at the entrance, however, nor red sandstone walls with minarets and turbaned horse mounted guards staring down at you.
Instead, there’s vast open desert-like spaces.
Really vast spaces with new age materials and structures that are foreign to our land.
Serpentine guard rails and swooping grass lawns greet you from the moment you turn off the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway towards the Yamuna Expressway.
In the distance the main Grandstand is visible. It rests like a spaceship. Hovering over tiny mortal beings. A strange shape etched by German modern-era-race-track designer, Hermann Tilke. Nothing about it reflects India’s diverse culture unlike the hibiscus inspired design in Sepang, Malaysia or the Bedouin tent inspired towers in Bahrain. But it does symbolize opulence in a Grand stand sort of way. Tickets to this stand cost thirty five thousand INR for the race weekend!
We duck into a tunnel that burrows under the Grand Prix calendar’s longest straight where champions Vettel and Co. are expected to reach a staggering 320kmph braking down to a mere 90kmph! This is between Turns 3 and 4. The tunnel leads to the main paddock parking.
Alighting from our bus we stand and gaze around in awe at what really is India’s most pampered stretch of road. Pampered with high grip run-off areas, cemented kerbs, safety fences, manicured landscapes, marshal posts, smooth surface and water bodies even!
It measures approximately 5 kilometers in length and about 20 meters at its broadest width. In F1 this means theoretically 4 cars can run abreast. It has 16 turns in all. Turn 5 and Turn 16 mirror each other.
Whilst Turns 6 through to Turns 15 are sections where eager Indian audiences can get a good long look at each of their helmeted heroes for a significant period of time as the cars dance their routine. There’s a violent splash of saffron, white and green through the grandstands of the circuit reminding us every second where we are.
Just incase the heavenly howling of those scarlet cars from Maranello transport us elsewhere.
The Medical center has a helipad for emergencies. And the adjacent Paddock Club has private VIP parking. Passes to this club start at about 2Lakh INR per head for a weekend of hob knobbing with the biggies of Bollywood and chopper owners. And unlimited Champagne. If neither interest you and you’d prefer a picnic weekend with friends on a hill side stand like in Spa, Belgium you could. For a rather reasonable 2,500INR you could battle the elements and savor the sounds of those magnificent machines.
And even shoot a few blurry memoirs.
On a track walkabout the sheer size of this venue comes alive. Its like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s a surreal city by itself. Complete with state of art telecommunications and plumbing lines to spectator car parks the size of football pitches. The Madras Motor Sports Track, until now our only dedicated racing venue of International repute is dwarfed in comparison.  Mercedes Benz has formed a driving academy at the Buddh. Soon big names will follow suit.
Race officials and Track marshals have been imported from Bahrain for our inaugural round. They’re expected to groom local talent over the initial learning years.
The JayPee Sports group behind this exotic sounding venue and venture are a solid bunch. Their civil engineering skills are on par with the western world. One wishes the Buddh International Circuit is a first of many such ventures and that their standards in construction and delivery would set a benchmark in modern India’s rise.
The first ever Formula 1â„¢ Indian Grand Prix is to be run over the weekend after Diwali.
An auspicious time for a first.

It’s the first time a small village town named Dankaur in Uttar Pradesh will be listed up there with another small village town called Silverstone, Northamptonshire where it all began 61 years ago.

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The King returns

Will his young successors welcome him?

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright  © Mercedes AMG

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

After a 36-month hiatus Michael Schumacher has decided to have another crack at winning in his sport.

“More of the same!” he seems to demand from the sport that defined him. The sport that crowned him. Made him a legend. And carved his initials onto gleaming trophies that he proudly brandished so often all over the world. All other competitors were mere actors. It was his stage. His sport.

His sport however, tore him and wore him out too. At the end of the 2006 season his followers began to believe his best days were behind him. Fernando Alonso had dethroned him twice in 2004-2005 and Ferrari, his team, were getting impatient.

They wanted a successor. One who would dominate all over again for them. Finnish ace Kimi Raikkonen brought the World Drivers Championship back to Ferrari in 2007, the season after Schumacher’s retirement from the sport. In the following season, Britain’s Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever World Drivers Champion aged 23, for McLaren. And Jenson Button wrapped up the title last season in the dominant BrawnGP car.

These young champions were imposters to his throne. The new rulers in a new era of Formula One. And now they all want to add to their booty.

Sebastian Vettel, touted by many as the next ‘king’, is in the hunt to claim his rightful throne too. His team Red Bull, had the fastest car last season and have promised him a winner in the New Year. Nico Hulkenberg, another German prodigy, is all set to make his mark as the challenging prince in Formula One.

Meanwhile, the Spaniard, Fernando Alonso is eager to clean up his image after Renault’s Singapore ‘crash-gate’ scandal last year. He along with Felipe Massa, launch a fresh conquest with Ferrari’s complete weaponry in 2010. Ferrari have unveiled an aggressive design approach for their new car after suffering a humiliating season.

Amongst all these fiery intentions and battle plans Schumacher has decided to return to what was once his. Will the announcement of Michael Schumacher’s return worry the new protagonists? Surely any racing driver would want to dice with the legend, go wheel-to-wheel with him, post fastest-lap times and grab pole from him.

Hamilton, Vettel and Hulkenberg have never sat on the grid alongside him before. They have never had the legend as a direct competitor. Would they lift off at Turn 1? Would they brake later than him? To what extreme would they go to win. To beat the king.

One thing’s for certain. Schumacher cannot hide his craving anymore. He’s out in the open. The whole wide world of Formula One racing is staring into his visor anxiously. There are those who believe he would dominate in the new Ross Brawn penned Mercedes. There are others like ex-Grand Prix driver and former teammate Johnny Herbert who believe he will find it tough.

A three-year contract with the legendary German marque who themselves are returning to conquer the sport they once dominated, takes Schumacher’s career full circle. Back to where it all began with Mercedes in Group C Sports cars way back in 1990.

That’s when Michael as a young charger learnt and mastered the art of conserving tyres and fuel. He learnt to endure a race distance. He developed superior race craft, which many years later brought him endless victories in Formula One.

Two decades on Mercedes call on his experience in a bid to maintain the advantage BrawnGP enjoyed in 2009. To rule once more. But can the King no matter how dominant return to his sport and win all over again? Maybe. But with his return he runs the risk of being conquered. Being banished forever. By young successors, who more than ever, will relish that.

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