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