The politics of dancing
He can hardly bring himself to look at him…
Did you see the TV coverage of the pre-podium ‘green room’ from last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix? Illuminating, wasn’t it?
Vettel: all boy-band (bad) bleached blond hair, punching the air in triumph, cheek-splitting smile from ear to ear. Hamilton: happy with the points, friendly, pushing and poking Seb, chatty in a “you were so fast in a straight line, man” way, fumbling with his overalls, ready for the show.
Alonso arrives. All Spanish broody and not very interested in fooling around, choosing which Pirelli cap – nonchalantly flicking the winner’s one aside – he joins the other two only briefly. A quick glance at Vettel – the German nervously glances back while emitting an anxious “yeah” – and the Spaniard is off.
Like the pre-Drivers’ Parade corral, such gatherings give a fantastic insight into just who likes whom – and, of course, who doesn’t.
At the top of Formula 1’s ladder sit the four superstars of our sport: Fernando, Lewis, Sebastian and Kimi. Of these four Räikkönen is really the only one who either refuses to, or is just plain uninterested in, getting involved in any political shenanigans. Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel are quite different.
Arriving on the 2007 F1 scene like a lightning bolt, Lewis Hamilton took everybody by surprise, most of all his then McLaren team-mate Alonso. While (almost) everyone both within and without the racing world instantly fell for the bright-eyed, cherub-faced youngster from ‘home counties’ England, his Spanish rival quickly saw red… And he wasn’t alone.
Just as is the case in any working environment one can name, when a shining star arrives negativity – from the incumbent workers – is the default mind set.
Arriving as he did to super team McLaren – therefore never proving himself in lesser F1 machinery – Hamilton was viewed by some drivers as an upstart kid, nothing more than lucky. They set about embarrassing their new superstar rival with glee. I remember watching a Thursday afternoon press conference at Silverstone 2007. Sitting near me were a top driver’s posse. Knowing full well of their man’s – and another British driver’s – pre-determined plans, they laughed excitedly as Lewis was made to squirm by the pair’s devious antics.
All fair game in the cut-throat world of top-level sport, but also – to witness first hand – more than a little uncomfortable and somewhat disappointing to behold.
Of course Hamilton went on to justify his place at the top table by claiming the 2008 world title, dating a singing superstar and filling his life with – arguably – all the accoutrements that a sporting great needs.
No doubt affected by the bullying, but also by both his on-track and private life choices, Lewis never really appears either particularly fond of, or friendly with, his peers.
Until last Sunday, that is…
Perhaps now that Hamilton’s position as the main focus of envy has been taken by – you’ve guessed it – thrice-champ Sebastian Vettel, Lewis feels a certain empathy with his German rival. And of course, the better he gets on with Seb the more isolated a certain Ferrari-pedalling Spaniard is made to feel…
All puppy-dog smiles, child-like in his mien, blisteringly quick in his driving and finger-wagging in his winning, Red Bull’s main man is a difficult target when it comes to intimidatory targeting.
As was the case with Hamilton, Vettel’s rivals can’t countenance a guy who has never sat in a poor F1 car winning race after race in über-designer Adrian Newey’s finest machines.
Alonso’s post-race behaviour surely shows a guy who feels more than a little down about how things have panned out.
Sebastian isn’t done with winning races or titles yet, and Lewis is heading up the team that will certainly become Formula 1’s next super team, (very) possibly dominating from 2014 on.
Mind games matter in life and are amplified on a global scale when sports stars compete, but it’s a dangerous game to play if the wrong choices are made. Maybe, just maybe, Fernando needs to think of a new strategy very soon.
The intimidating, menacing, pensive, Hispanic performance is wearing a little thin and his rivals know it.
Time for a new act…