Duel in the desert: Hamilton, Vettel face-off
Let’s not forget that at 19, Red Bull’s Dutch driver, Max Verstappen, is still a boy. In fact, they’re all boys. Playing with their favourite toys. Imagine for a moment that the Grand Prix circus is actually one gigantic toy store. All four World Champions and a future one, run around, gushing inside this fantasy world.
Lewis Hamilton clutches a shiny silver W196 Mercedes scale model in his hands. He remembers Fangio and his many conquests in this dream machine. Then, there’s Sebastian Vettel. He’s staring down the nose cone of a gleaming F2000 Ferrari, still in its box. “It’s Michael’s,” he grins to himself. Kimi Raikkonen picks up one, too. Because it’s red and looks fast. Fernando Alonso contemplates snatching it from Kimi’s hands but is easily distracted by a larger-sized replica. This one’s a collector’s piece. The red and white McLaren-Honda MP4/4, which belonged to the legend, Ayrton Senna! Thrilled with their haul, they set off looking for Max. The young Dutchman hadn’t stopped with them, to drool over toy cars. Instead, he headed to the video gaming section. He stayed there and refused to budge. Not until the lights went out at the Chinese Grand Prix.
After a poor qualifying session in Shanghai, Max was relegated to the back of the grid. But the young phenom made up nine places during the opening lap! On a semi-wet track! “Like a video game!” From P16 to P3 on the podium eventually, meant he’d cement his name in the hall of wet-weather greats. An even bigger plaudit awaited him at the end of the race. He was voted the ‘Driver of the Day’ by fans. Many of whom, definitely belong to Max’s video-gaming generation.
While many of us were left in awe of Max’s skills, up ahead in the distance, a battle for the ultimate prize was unfolding rapidly. Hamilton had to light up the purple sectors as much as he could to stay in the hunt. The whole championship fight could get away if he let Vettel rein him in.Memories of being beached in the gravel with worn tyres a decade ago must’ve hounded him. Instead, he stuck to his game plan of just being flawlessly quick. So quick on fresh soft tyres that the German’s relentless charge in the Melbourne-winning-Ferrari only brought him close enough to witness the win, slip away from him.P2 was the best Sebastian could hope for at a circuit that Lewis Hamilton can now claim as his own.
Next, lurks a duel in the desert of Sakhir. The Bahrain Grand Prix starts in the sunshine and finishes under floodlights. Hot Ferrari vs cool Mercedes! Bring it on!
Ajit Devadason is a racing enthusiast who will be following all the races in the F1 season exclusively for Indulge.