THE FI­NAL FLAG

Re­tir­ing from F1 is some­thing a few cur­rent driv­ers must surely be con­tem­plat­ing, but it’s a tougher de­ci­sion than most

Car (South Africa) - - COLUMN -

HERE’S a hand­ful of se­nior F1 driv­ers about to un­dergo the ag­o­nis­ing dilemma that af­fects all top sports peo­ple. Jen­son But­ton, Felipe Massa and Fer­nando Alonso have all reached the point in their ca­reers when de­ci­sions have to be made about quit­ting Grand Prix rac­ing, the mo­tor­sport strato­sphere they have known col­lec­tively for 45 years.

Be­tween them, these three will have com­peted in more than 800 Grands Prix, win­ning nearly 60 in to­tal. Wait­ing in the wings is a hand­ful of teenage hot-shoes, just as hungry, am­bi­tious and tal­ented as their se­niors were nearly two decades ago when they also qui­etly wished for some of the old hands at the top to ei­ther stand down or nd them­selves with­out a drive.

The teams cur­rently in­volved – Wil­liams-mercedes and Mclaren-honda – are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sim­i­lar, if less pro­found, long-term predica­ment. Both out ts are ght­ing hard to re­turn to the top of the pile, but the com­pe­ti­tion is so in­tense that a driver’s ex­pe­ri­ence is just as im­por­tant as his in­nate speed when it comes to ei­ther as­sist­ing engi­neers in nd­ing that miss­ing 10th of a sec­ond or us­ing well-honed race craft to steal an op­por­tunist re­sult.

That’s why the stars are paid so hand­somely com­pared with the mod­est salary of a ju­nior be­cause they may even bring in cash in the shape of a spon­sor or sup­port from a man­u­fac­turer such as Mercedes. When it comes to mak­ing a choice, the nal

Tar­biter for the team will be whether or not the sea­soned cam­paigner con­tin­ues to be driven by a de­sire to win that’s so in­tense it hurts.

Watch­ing track-side, it is clear Alonso con­tin­ues to drive his heart out in a Mclaren-honda that, de­spite grad­ual im­prove­ments, will not re­turn the for­mer world cham­pion to the top of the podium in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. But­ton and Massa are less con­vinc­ing, but show no signs of wish­ing to stand down. In­deed, But­ton is ru­moured to re­turn to Wil­liams, the team with which he made his F1 de­but. If the move takes place, it is likely to be at the ex­pense of Massa. In which case, the Brazil­ian – who came within a whisker of win­ning the 2008 ti­tle – may wish to con­tinue with a lesser team, as­sum­ing he gets an of­fer.

It is hard to re­sist just one more sea­son in a world that has no equal be­yond the pad­dock gate. There is ab­so­lutely no sub­sti­tute for the buzz of tak­ing an F1 car to the limit and re­main­ing in con­trol. Only win­ners will un­der­stand the feel­ing of in­tense sat­is­fac­tion that comes from stand­ing on top of the podium and be­ing recog­nised as the best … for that week­end. Then the stim­u­lat­ing chal­lenge is com­pletely re­newed a fort­night later. Be­com­ing a com­men­ta­tor, man­ager or con­sul­tant is never go­ing to be a sub­sti­tute as the for­mer driver joins the com­par­a­tively mun­dane world sup­port­ing the lofty role he once used to play.

The abid­ing frus­tra­tion for all sports

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