Accelerate. Brake, brake, accelerate, lift, weave. Accelerate. Brake. CRASH! Such are the perils of a Grand Prix dominated by the Safety Car.
I was working the inside of Turn 1 of Fuji Speedway for what I thought would be a maximum of five laps. It soon turned into a succession of slow passes by the field, 19 to be precise, expertly led by Bernd Maylander in his Mercedes Safety Car. Bizarrely, the 6.3 litre V8 finished the day having led almost as many laps as the winner!
While Safety Car periods don’t make for fascinating television, they’re not quite so tedious trackside. Each time the cars pass, one is privy to the fluctuations in throttle and brake use, and the mind games the leader plays out so as to confuse and confound his rivals. Lewis Hamilton mounted these strategies to perfection, causing the following pack to bunch up and slow to a crawl repeatedly. Each and every lap, both into but particularly out of Turn 1, he’d employ a different tactic: sometimes a steady pace; but often a violent burst of power, barely quelled by the traction control, which induced a machine gun-like rat-a-tat-tat as the spinning rubber searched for grip. Of course, later in the race these sort of tactics resulted (arguably) in a race-ending shunt for Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
As we arrived at the impressively updated circuit, Mount Fuji appeared out of the grey morning cloud. As the sun started to shine the gathered photographers, intent on following their briefs to the letter, positioned themselves so as to frame the long-dormant volcano and the cars in the same shot. Results were patchy at best. The lack of snow atop the summit made the usually majestic peak look more akin to a Yorkshire slag heap.
Throughout the weekend, paddock gossip centred on Todt-to-Toyota and Alonso-to-Ferrari rumours. Perhaps if and when Jean Todt works out of Cologne for the lacklustre Japanese outfit, he’ll dissuade his drivers from visiting Serbian so-called game ranches, where one pays for the pleasure of killing animals for fun – as the wretched Ralf Schumacher recently did (according to a public and scathing letter from a prominent animal rights charity).
No trip to Japan is complete without an earthquake, so when a minor tremor gently shook the media centre in the early hours of Monday morning, the late-working scribes barely mis-typed a word. Of course, headlines around the world led with Lewis Hamilton’s stunning win – and his closing-in on an unprecedented world title. Everyone within the sport, and millions outside, continue to be amazed at his rookie season. This groomed-for-success athlete is surely as near to flawless as any top sportsman in any field.
No one will be surprised if a decade of total domination ensues.