A year in review: The 2017 F1 season

A year in review: The 2017 F1 season

The 2017 Formula One season ended with a somewhat passive finale at Abu Dhabi, with Valtteri Bottas taking his 3rd victory of the season in a race that had the end-of-term vibes to it, given both championships were sealed long before the race in the twilight had come around. The race had the Mercedes pairing of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton running away with it at the front, with Ferrari and Red Bull lagging far behind. A microcosm of the hybrid era you may think, although this season was far from the norm we grew accustomed to.

Mercedes were given an actual challenge for the championships by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, and were made well aware of the threat of the Scuderia from the off, with Vettel beating Hamilton by 10 seconds in Australia. Unlike in previous seasons where a non-Mercedes victory was seen as a one-off or even from a mistake by Mercedes themselves, the challenge by Vettel and Ferrari was a bona fide threat that had troubled the Silver Arrows throughout the season. Tussles in Russia, Spain, Azerbaijan, and Belgium showed that Ferrari were more than a match to break the dominance that Mercedes had prided themselves over for the last 3 seasons. It was always going to be a difficult task for the Ferrari to overhaul the Silver Arrows however. With near bulletproof reliability from Mercedes, as well as the underperformance of Kimi Raikkonen, who despite his one-off shows of prowess such as taking pole at Monaco proved he is very much past his prime, Mercedes always seemingly had the edge.

Ultimately however, it was mistakes and errors by Ferrari themselves that cost them their fair chance at glory. A rash error of judgement from Vettel in Azerbaijan cost him a guaranteed podium finish at the very least. A chaotic start at the Singapore Grand Prix, a race they should’ve run away with given their technical advantage over Mercedes at the track, resulted in a double retirement for Ferrari for the first time since Mexico 2015, the first double retirement on lap 1 in Ferrari’s history, and the constructor’s championship gone in a flash. In Malaysia, a turbo failure meant Vettel had to battle from the back to finish 4th, while a spark plug failure at Japan meant the title was gone and Hamilton would win once more. A calamitous Asian leg for Vettel, and his wait for Title No.5 would continue…

Looking further down the field, there was a number of breakthroughs for drivers. Carlos Sainz had a season of tremendous success, consistently scoring decent points finishes for the team and single-handedly secured Toro Rosso 7th place in the championship over Haas, with a 4th place finish at Singapore being his main highlight of the season. His reputation improved drastically over the season, becoming a fan’s favourite and being tipped as a front-runner for the Ferrari seat when Kimi Raikkonen leaves the team. His efforts did not go unnoticed in the paddock, with Renault coming in to secure his services for the final 4 Grand Prix at the expense of Jolyon Palmer, and even managed to achieve a 7th place finish at his first Grand Prix for Renault in the USA. Make no mistake, Carlos Sainz is a phenomenal talent who will go a long way when given the right opportunity.

Another driver whom had a fantastic season was Esteban Ocon in the Force India. Considering it was his first full season in Formula One after his cameo at Manor in 2017, Ocon showed why he’s been touted as one of the future stars of the sport, and why Mercedes prefer him to Pascal Wehrlein in their Young Driver programme. In scoring points in 18 Grand Prix out of 20, with only an uncompetitive car in Monaco and a collision with Romain Grosjean in Brazil diminishing this record, Ocon proved more than a match for his team-mate Sergio Perez in the Force India. While he was involved in some notable in-race incidents with Perez, this did not damage his reputation as one of the most promising talents in the sport, and showed that he can perform from the get-go as long as the car is competitive. Given he’s been touted as Mercedes’ next driver-in-waiting, this season confirmed you can expect some great moments from Ocon in the future.

However, the struggles continued at McLaren-Honda in 2017. Like in previous seasons, McLaren were tormented by constant reliability issues with their Honda engine. It was calculated that Stoffel Vandoorne had over 1 mile’s worth of grid penalties because Honda’s package was so troublesome, while Fernando Alonso made his displeasure of his engine public through his humorous radio messages. It is a shame that McLaren have had to face such problems, because the chassis design was actually a very effective piece of kit. Solid results at Hungary and Singapore, tracks that are not dependent on engine power, showed that the car was decent, yet it was the sheer lack of power that Honda’s engine produced which was holding McLaren back. The relationship between McLaren and Honda reached breaking point, and McLaren decided to end their partnership only three years into a ten-year deal, choosing to use Renault engines from next season. It was supposed to be a match made in heaven given their past glories, but it turned out to be a nightmare scenario.

Away from the track, Liberty Media’s ownership of the sport showed signs of clear progression from the past incarnation under the stewardship of Bernie Ecclestone. Fan engagement is the crucial factor in Liberty’s eyes to pushing the sport to new boundaries, with social media platforms being utilised effectively for the first time in the sport’s existence, and a blessed relief for its eager followers. The street demo in London was an amazing success. Even without Lewis Hamilton’s attendance at his home event, relative newcomers to watching Formula One were captivated by the spectacle it brought to the heart of the UK’s capital city, and people genuinely enjoyed themselves. The ‘walk-on’ entrance to the United States Grand Prix, partnered by the dulcet tones of sporting extraordinaire Michael Buffer, transformed what was a very generic procedure in drivers taking to the grid, even if not everyone liked the concept. Even the sport’s logo has changed to a more modern approach.

All of this is a clear indication that Liberty wants to take Formula One into a completely new direction, away from the stagnant state it was in under Ecclestone’s rule. They want to create a sport which people can enjoy, a sport that is no longer “under-managed and under-invested in” as F1’s commercial director Sean Bratches quite appropriately puts it. Especially when the sport is moving towards Pay-TV deals such as Sky’s exclusivity deal in 2019, securing a fan base in these circumstances is crucial to a sustainable sport, and these initial steps are an encouraging foundation to build on.

When looking back on this season in the future, it may not necessarily stand out amongst the crowd given a Mercedes car won the Championship for the fourth year in succession. However, the back story behind it is a fascinating legacy that will hopefully flourish for years to come. Will drivers such as Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon use this season’s glories to push further forward in their careers? Will Liberty’s initial progression prove to be the building blocks of producing a truly global sport for everyone? Will a team step up their development and be a match for Mercedes all season long in 2018?

Only time will tell.

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Lewis Hamilton: Finding Motivation

Lewis Hamilton: Finding Motivation

It will be interesting to see how Lewis Hamilton prepares mentally for the future, and where he can find the motivation to carry on setting the standard in the sport. Looking back at his 3 previous title attempts, he had an extra reason to push him towards the title. In 2008, he won the title a year after he came within a point of clinching his maiden world title at his very first attempt, in the most agonising of fashions with mechanical issues crippling his attempts at the final Grand Prix of 2007 in Brazil. He showed his mettle when he needed it most, proven by his last-corner, last-lap escapade with Timo Glock to sensationally steal the title from Felipe Massa’s grasp, showing that it isn’t over until the chequered flag. 2014 saw a complete revival of the technical regulations, leaving his Mercedes team well ahead of their competitors in terms of performance. An open goal he had to take given his 5 years of championship anonymity, and one he took despite the year-long battle with his team-mate Nico Rosberg for the title.

In 2015, there was the silencing of the doubters. He had the clear fastest car in the field, he had a team-mate that ran him close to the title the year previous, and he also had critics who believed he wasn’t showing his full potential. How did he answer these critics? By comprehensively beating his team-mate Nico Rosberg in the championship, winning more than half of the season’s races, and only failing to finish off the podium twice the entire season. Decent.

Looking at this season, he came into it with another point to prove. After being beaten by Rosberg to the title in an exhilarating finale at Abu Dhabi, he knew that his main challenger over the last 3 seasons wasn’t going to be a problem, with Rosberg retiring from the sport. Despite this, he faced a great challenge with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the crown, with Vettel himself having something to prove against his long-standing critics since his Red Bull days. It wasn’t a bulletproof season by any means. The very poor weekend in Monaco, together with Hamilton struggling to match the front-runners in Russia, Austria and Hungary, showed it wasn’t plain-sailing for the Brit. For once, Hamilton’s Mercedes looked vulnerable to the competition, yet it was his consistency and opportunism that helped him pull clear of his rivals, sealing glory with a sensible albeit mechanically-hindered performance in Mexico.

And here lies the conundrum for Hamilton. He’s taken Michael Schumacher’s record of all-time pole positions and almost certainly guaranteed recognition as the best qualifier in Formula One history. He’s won Championships in varying different scenarios, whether it be proving the doubters wrong or beating a rival in another team. He’s even managed to win the championship without mechanical issues forcing retirements at crucial stages of the season, as has been the case this season. No matter what scenario, he’s managed to come away from that an even better driver and with a world title to prove it. But what will encourage him from now on? Will it be to match Schumacher’s race win and title records? Because given the strides Mercedes’ rivals have shown in 2017, that will be a very big challenge indeed. Aside from Schumacher’s records, there is nothing distinctive that Hamilton can aim for that he hasn’t already achieved.

However, Hamilton has not leaned towards any suggestions that his motivation will be changed because of his latest title feat, with his immediate comments after winning his fourth world title being: “Four is a great number, but I want number five now”. We now have a Lewis Hamilton that has nothing to prove and everything to gain. He doesn’t have to worry about the strains of an intra-team rivalry because he’s beaten that. He doesn’t have to worry about holding off rival competitors because he’s beaten that. For Hamilton, it’s all about seeing how far up the statistical tree he can climb before he decides to depart from the sport, and his form and own comments suggest he’s got a while yet at the top.

Lewis Hamilton is without question an all-time great in Formula One. He’s almost certainly a Top-5 of all-time and I wouldn’t begrudge you if you had him in Top 3 or even Top 2. He went from marketable athlete 5 years ago to becoming THE product of Formula One that everybody outside of the sport looks out for, recognises and appreciates. With the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry blossoming this season, and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo once again proving their worth at the top-end of the sport, it will be very interesting to see how Hamilton curtails these threats using all the credentials he has prided himself over in his success.

Sky F1: A narrative pushed too far?

Sky F1: A narrative pushed too far?

It’s fair to say Formula One hasn’t had the easiest of weeks, given it’s had to deal with the repercussions of the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and the backlash by many towards Vettel. Many fans have moved on since the incident, while many more chose to move on after Vettel’s hearing with the FIA over said incident, in which he received no further punishment. Despite this, much of Sky Sports’ coverage at this week’s Austrian Grand Prix has focused on the aftermath of this incident. A driver relationship has been scrutinised over and over, as if there is an obligation to delve into the fine details of this and find something to dig at, a desperate attempt to create a narrative for this season.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s fair to say Sky have made Lewis Hamilton the poster boy of their coverage, and it’s hardly a surprise given there is no restrictions into how a private media organisation such as Sky sways in order to appeal to an audience, just take BT Sport’s coverage of MotoGP and their favouring of British riders as proof of this occurring in motorsport. But for Sky desperately trying to make an issue of a non-issue, especially an issue that was proven to be over by the FIA’s own standards, can only be detrimental to Sky’s own coverage.

You can go onto Sky Sports’ website and can see a story over whether Hamilton and Vettel refused to shake each other’s hands after qualifying in Austria, despite there being video footage proving otherwise. It’s as if they want there to be an issue between the pair, tension like what we’ve seen so often in the past with Sky with the intra-team rivalry of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Sky can only go so far in pushing this specific agenda before it turns away viewers, and for the benefit of the sport in this country, that may have long-term problems.

Currently there is a viable alternative to Sky’s coverage of F1, this being Channel 4. However, Sky will eventually gain exclusivity rights over F1 coverage in the UK in 2019, and this comes with an element of responsibility. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable for a British organisation to slightly favour British drivers in the sport, as I’m sure the German & French media do to their respective drivers. Yet to paint certain drivers in a bad light, like we’ve seen with the seeming vilification of Vettel after the Baku incident and its aftermath, is such an irresponsible move for an organisation that will eventually have to lead by example in promoting F1 in this country.

While the ‘hardcore’ F1 fans won’t think twice about subscribing to Sky’s coverage, there is also has to be an appeal to the casual viewer that may plan on watching given there will be no free-to-air alternative for these casual viewers to watch, unless you include “legal” sources. It is already a given that F1 viewing figures in this country will decline should the planned exclusivity deal with Sky go ahead, and this is without considering the casual viewer, not to mention the never-ending saga into the future of the British Grand Prix.

Sky Sports has the potential to define the future of Formula One in this country for a generation. While many (including myself) have expressed concerns over the exclusivity deal, it needs to show itself as a leading partner of F1 & that starts with giving everyone in the sport a fair share of the credit. Of course as a British organisation appealing to a British audience, it is acceptable to focus on the British drivers in the sport. However, to create pantomime villains like we’ve seen so often with Sky, like with Vettel and Rosberg, will only frustrate the fan base. Cracks are already very visible from those aware of the tricks that Sky try to slyly (or not) pull, and this will only deepen further once the pay wall takes full effect in 2019.

Carlos Sainz: The push to glory

Carlos Sainz: The push to glory

When you think of drivers in Formula One who go beyond the ability of their car on a regular basis, you think of the same names every time. Fernando Alonso with his poorly powered McLaren-Honda car, Nico Hulkenberg with his Renault in a team rebuilding to become a force once more, and even Esteban Ocon in the Force India given his lack of experience at the pinnacle of motorsport. But one driver that doesn’t get nearly enough credit that he deserves in my opinion is Carlos Sainz, and let me explain why.

It’s often said that a driver’s main rival is the driver opposite him in the garage in his team-mate. With Sainz’s Toro Rosso team-mate in Daniil Kvyat, Sainz has comfortably come out ahead of him so far this season, with a number of brilliant performances including a 6th place in Monaco where he successfully held off Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the process.

In a team that should be amongst the least successful in the sport given the lack of performance Renault engines has compared to Mercedes power, Carlos Sainz has almost single-handedly carried Toro Rosso to a solid mid-table position in the constructor’s standings, even challenging Williams for 5th place. From a driver standing perspective, it looks even better from Sainz’s perspective. He is ahead of both Williams drivers in the championship, including F1 veteran Felipe Massa. He is only 6 points behind Esteban Ocon in the Force India and only 16 behind Max Verstappen in the senior Red Bull team!

It is obvious that Carlos Sainz has demonstrated his immense talent so far in his career, and many are saying he is ready for the step up into a top team challenging for podiums, wins and even championships. But this step up may not be as simple as first thought. Red Bull have chosen to promote from within for many years and it would be foolish to say that Sainz isn’t top of the list should there be the need to recruit a new driver. But the Red Bull pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen already have contracts for the 2018 season, so they’re not going anywhere soon unless Ferrari follow through with the rumours and try and pick up Ricciardo, although this is unlikely.

There have also been rumours of Ferrari going for Sainz. Again, this may prove difficult given Red Bull don’t want their rivals to take their top talents, but then again Ferrari may choose for someone more experienced to come into the team. While Valtteri Bottas may not be under contract at Mercedes next season, it would be expected that he would receive another deal given his solid performances so far in 2017. The only viable option of an “upgrade” would be for Sainz to go to the factory Renault outfit, but the competitiveness of the team next season would be guesswork at this stage.

I remember saying in a previous article of mine that Daniel Ricciardo’s career was at a crossroads in 2015, with greater clarity needed to show what direction his career was going. Carlos Sainz has exactly the same problem. While Sainz may have time on his hands (He only turns 23 in September), he has a golden opportunity to stake his claim as a future F1 great if he can forge the right career path. But as has been discussed, this won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Unless Ricciardo decides to become team-mates again with Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, the Red Bull door is firmly closed for the 2018 season.

Sainz doesn’t have to act immediately, but he would benefit massively if he was able to establish himself at the top of the sport before he tries to take it by the scruff of its neck. There is zero chance of him claiming any glory at Toro Rosso while he is there, but there may be the slightest chance if he pushes forward at a top team. Hopefully he will get the chance sooner rather than later, otherwise he may become another “What could’ve been”.

The Baku fallout

The Baku fallout

As I write this piece, the FIA have just announced that they are re-opening the investigation into the incident between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton that occurred at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. While Vettel may have received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty during the race, the FIA have decided to investigate the incident further to understand whether Vettel’s actions deserve further punishment. This is a strange move, not only because of the punishments they have already issued Vettel in the stop-and-go penalty as well as 3 penalty points, but because of the potential ramifications it could have on the Drivers and Constructors championships.

While a race ban may not be completely off the table, it would be a remarkable course of action to issue should the FIA choose to do so, at least that’s what I think anyway. A decision to ban Vettel from racing at a Grand Prix would give Lewis Hamilton a free shot at taking 25 points in the championship, essentially free points as Vettel can’t do any damage limitation should he win. Given the driver’s championships are more often than not, decided by the slimmest of points margins, especially when more than one team is involved as has been the case this season, any decision including a race ban could possibly dictate the direction of the championship. That’s a bad precedent that I’m sure the FIA do not want, and I’m sure Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes would not want either should they eventually win their respective championships.

I’ve seen some reactions on social media where many are comparing this decision to investigate further to Michael Schumacher’s disqualification from the 1997 World Championship, where he was found to deliberately crash into Jacques Villeneuve at the European Grand Prix in an attempt to determine the final championship standings in his favour. This incident and Vettel’s has stark comparisons, most notably Vettel’s collision with Hamilton had little bearing on the championship nor was it Vettel’s intention to do so. Moreover, Schumacher did not receive any form of penalty until he was summoned to the FIA meeting after the championship had been concluded, whereas Vettel did receive penalties both in the race and on his racing licence.

Thankfully, Formula One is not used to these situations because they do not happen very often, with the last race disqualification for racing behaviour being Takuma Sato at the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. However this incident was always going to trigger a seismic reaction given Vettel’s indifferent popularity among the British supporters, not to mention his championship rivalry with one of the sport’s all-time leading figures in Lewis Hamilton.

I’m struggling to see any justification for re-investigating the incident, let alone issuing Vettel with further punishment. Any further punishment will likely be met with an appeal from Vettel & Ferrari, if not to the FIA then to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A very similar incident occurred in MotoGP not too long ago, where Valentino Rossi was issued 3 penalty points for deliberately causing a collision with Marc Marquez, forcing him to start from the back of the grid at the final race of the season. Although Rossi’s subsequent appeals proved to be unsuccessful, it set a precedent that many still believe is felt in MotoGP today. Marquez is still “unforgiven” for his part in the incident, with his popularity amongst some Rossi fans still non-existent today. This decision to penalise Rossi had a huge impact on the direction of the championship, regardless of whether the penalty was justified. It was a championship ultimately decided in the court room and not on the track, and you can’t help but think that it would be exactly the same if Vettel does receive further punishment. Let’s hope it does not come to this situation.

 

Vettel vs Hamilton: It’s on…unfortunately

Vettel vs Hamilton: It’s on…unfortunately

The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix turned into a sensational race whatever angle you look at it from. Daniel Ricciardo coming from an early pit-stop, near retirement due to brake issues and leaving him second last, to have a complete reversal of fortunes to win comfortably. Valtteri Bottas, like Ricciardo having to come from the back of the field after a Lap 1 collision with Kimi Raikkonen, stole 2nd place on the line from…Lance Stroll of all people, benefiting from the chaos to claim a simply incredible debut podium finish, becoming the youngest podium finisher in Formula One history at 18 years and 239 days old in the process. Lower down the field, the Force India pairing of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon once again having dramas between each other for the second race in succession, and a McLaren-Honda scored points. Huzzah! (#HondaOut)

But this race won’t be remembered for Ricciardo’s brilliant comeback. Nor will it be for Stroll’s moment to shine. It will be remembered for the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, two perennial rivals that have seemingly finally been able to battle head-to-head despite them both being in their 11th full season in the sport. When Vettel collided with Hamilton as the safety car was coming back into the pits, there was a sense of provocation, a belief that mind-games were being played with a ‘brake-test’ from Hamilton’s part, and an incensed fury from Vettel’s part that resulted in him gesticulating beside Hamilton’s car before bumping wheels, inadvertently or not is up to personal opinion.

But this wasn’t the case at all. The FIA decided Vettel was entirely at fault for the collision, deeming it to be ‘dangerous driving’ and resulted in a 10-second Stop and Go penalty for the Ferrari driver, ending any chance of a crucial victory that would’ve bolstered his championship hopes. Not only that, but the FIA after the race released telemetry of Hamilton’s speed at the time of the incident, showing there was no reduction in speed, no ‘brake-test’, that Vettel was adamant about. A damning justification that left Vettel with what looked like the entire F1 community at odds with him.

But we’ve seen this before, also involving Hamilton. When Nico Rosberg made contact with Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, not only did it end Hamilton’s race but it also made Rosberg a scapegoat. It made a friendly rivalry between team-mates turn into “war”, as if it became a no-holds barred street fight where it was every man for himself, or at least that’s what the British media made it out to be. Despite Rosberg being his normal charming self for the remainder of his career, there was always a small minority that branded him a cheat, still not forgiven for that moment despite it having zero bearing on the final championship standing.

You can’t help but get the same feeling from the Hamilton-Vettel collision that we just saw in Azerbaijan. Two seemingly friendly rivals turned into bitter enemies on the brink of breaking point despite it being nothing more than an error of judgement from Vettel. We’re also seeing the same characteristics from the British media, desperate to create a narrative from this moment and paint Vettel as the heel, and fuelled by Hamilton’s post-race comments where he claimed Vettel “disgraced himself”.

The reaction from fans has only reflected this portrayal. Many during the race were calling for a disqualification for his actions, although the reluctance by race stewards to issue drivers with the black flag (We haven’t seen one for dangerous driving since 2005) suggests this was more complicated than many people think, while many more were demanding Vettel receive a race ban for these actions. While the FIA have further issued Vettel with 3 penalty points, risking a ban from the British Grand Prix should he commit similar actions at the next Grand Prix in Austria, this still hasn’t been well-received by the die-hard Hamilton fans, perhaps reminiscing over the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg in the previous 3 years.

Vettel deserved his penalty at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as well as the 3 penalty points applied to his licence. It may have been an error of judgement, but it was a massive over-reaction to what he believed was a misdemeanor by Lewis Hamilton. But if you are still wishing for a friendly rivalry between the pair, like the one that Hamilton himself was hoping for earlier in the season, it’s fair to say that is very much gone away. Even if the two are together in a positive atmosphere, the media spin will always relate back to that moment in Azerbaijan, where the ‘boiling point’ was at its peak temperature and when it got ugly. We’ve got our narrative for the rest of the season, perhaps longer.

Becchetti’s Managerial merry-go-round

Becchetti’s Managerial merry-go-round

Something a bit different for you today. I talk about all of Leyton Orient’s managers under the maniacal stewardship of Francesco Becchetti. Enjoy!

Russell Slade

Coming off the back of an incredibly successful 2013/14, Orient looked in very good shape under Slade. Fans were happy, players were happy and at the beginning Becchetti was happy to have Slade in charge. However, it turned very bizarre very quickly. Unlike the previous freak season, Slade and his teams usually start very slowly, this season being no different however this wasn’t acceptable in Becchetti’s standards. He was told by Mauro ‘I’m good at my job, honest!’ Milanese that he had a game to save his job, and a rejected approach by Cardiff despite the ultimatum rubbed salt into the gaping wound. As a result, Slade walked away from a club where he was adored and the club has deteriorated ever since.

 

Mauro Milanese

A familiar name to the QPR fans out there, as their former left back comes in to replace Slade. He was at Orient before, signing rather extravagant names for Orient’s stature on rather extravagant wages. One case of this is Andrea Dossena. Remember him? The guy who scored that free-kick for Liverpool to beat Man Utd 4-1 at Old Trafford? That Dossena. Signed by Milanese on a £7,600 per week wage, TRIPLE the wage of any player that narrowly lost in the play-offs the season before, but I digress.

Milanese as manager was about as useful as using a fork for soup, winning two games in his 6 week tenure as manager before he was also given the boot. Oh, and his attempts at claiming wrongful dismissal at Orient also revealed his attempts at unlawfully signing kids for the Orient youth team without parental consent, while making an earner himself. Classy.

Fabio Liverani

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Anybody who played the early incarnations of Pro Evolution Soccer on the Playstation may recognise this name. Liverani came in when Becchetti wanted to make Leyton Orient a brand in Italy and what better way to do that than bring in a 3-time appearance maker for the Italian national team. The only problem about that? He couldn’t speak a word of English. Aided by then goalkeeper coach and future professional recruitment bullsh*tter Rob Gagliardi in translation, Liverani tried to reverse the O’s fortunes and keep them in League One.

It didn’t help when Liverani decided to bring on loanee Ryan Hedges for 45 minutes the day after he’s completed a full 90 for the Wales U21s. It didn’t help when he dropped another loanee Luke O’Neill entirely from the matchday squad for a game despite being named man-of-the-match the game before. It also didn’t help where he persisted on playing Gianvito Plasmati up top and allowing established club icon Kevin Lisbie go out on loan. Things did not improve and Orient were relegated to League Two 12 months after being two penalty kicks away from the Championship, swiftly followed by Liverani’s sacking. Unbelievable.

 

Ian Hendon

But never mind, Becchetti had learned that he needed an experienced manager who knew the lower leagues inside out. Step forward Ian ‘He’s one of our own’ Hendon, a manager with bags of experience. Well…if you’re counting a 16-month spell at Barnet, then sure he’s experienced.

It was looking good for Hendon initially. Won the first 5 league games of the season and got fans confident on winning the league at the first time of asking (I was so confident I put £20 on it!). But alas as we have realised over the years, it’s never that simple at Orient. Performances started to slip, drawing more games than Mourinho’s United side, and the team had to endure a ‘morale-boosting’ trip to the Marriott hotel.

Cue chants of “We’re f*cking bored” at the home game vs Exeter and Hendon was shown the door by Signore Becchetti. He may have been one of our own but Hendon was eventually on his own.

 

Kevin Nolan

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Wait a second. THE Kevin Nolan? The Premier League midfielder who had over 400 appearances in the top-flight? That Kevin Nolan? Yes, after training with Orient to keep his fitness levels up, Nolan saw an open door for the most precarious managerial job in England and thought “I want some of that!”, eventually being appointed player-manager.

On the pitch, it was hardly flawless from Nolan’s Orient but he got them playing a hell of a lot better than we’ve seen at the club for a while, winning a whopping 7 of his 15 games in charge! However, off the field there was problems with Nolan and Becchetti. Becchetti removed Nolan from managerial duties to focus on playing while Nolan wanted the vice versa if anything, while rumours of Nolan’s work ethic away from the club didn’t do him any favours, Nolan was to never appear for Orient ever again.

Not to forget Nolan drunkenly trying to start a fight with youth players at the end-of-season Star Man awards. Oh dear!

 

Andy Hessenthaler

A bit of context is needed here. When Hendon was in charge, Becchetti decided to infiltrate the technical area in a drunken tirade (Surprisingly common at Orient). What happened next? He ended up kicking then-assistant manager Hessenthaler up the backside, getting himself a £40,000 fine and six match stadium ban. Yet Hessenthaler got the manager’s job 4 months later!

Like Nolan, Hessenthaler won 7 games in a near identical record to Nolan. The start of the 2016-17 season wasn’t terrible by any means although having to watch Gagliardi’s greatest Football Manager hits on the pitch every week became an eyesore for every fan going. Again, rumours of interference and a *cough* strenuous relationship with Becchetti resulted in Hessenthaler’s dismissal in September, 6 weeks after the beginning of the season. Gone in the blink of an eye.

 

Alberto Cavasin

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Where the bloody hell did this one come out from?! Alberto Cavasin, an Italian manager who couldn’t speak a word of English (Sounds familiar doesn’t it?), and a manager who hasn’t managed a club since being relegated from the Serie A with Sampdoria back in 2011, ended up trying to steer HMS Orient away from the lower end of the league. Did it work out? This is Orient, so of course it didn’t. This was a man who actually believed that Zan Benedicic and Jens Janse had an ounce of footballing ability, a man who had to use ex-Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa’s son to translate for him in training and at post-match interviews, and a man who somehow managed to make performances even worse than under Hessenthaler earlier in the season.

So after a measly 53 days in charge, a period which covered 2 wins in 10 games and included a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Sheffield United, Cavasin was too shown the door. At least he left us with a parting message, which was nice of him.

 

Andy Edwards

At this point, Becchetti clearly couldn’t be bothered scouring the depths of the Italian Lega Pro for the next Antonio Conte wannabe, so he plumped for someone who knew the club inside out in Andy Edwards. Did fortunes change? Not a chance. Orient’s manager was a man who learned his coaching craft in the youth team, a developer, a nurturer. He wasn’t used to telling Ulrich N’nomo that you have to shoot to score and not do stepovers every 10 seconds. He had his rare moments of glory as well, like his wins over Crawley and Accrington as well as the latest of last gasp equalisers at home to Cambridge, but like his many predecessors it was to no avail.

When Edwards resigned to take a role at the FA’s youth setup, there wasn’t much anger in the voices of O’s fans. He earned his respect amongst the fans, especially as the club was in the midst of a serious crisis. I’d imagine in the future when Orient is back to becoming a dominant force in E10, Edwards would be welcome back with open arms by the fans. Andy Edwards: Brilliant youth team coach, not so brilliant first team manager. I’ll leave you with this ‘fun’ fact about Edward’s reign as manager…

He won as many games as Cavasin. I bet you didn’t know that one!

 

Danny Webb

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Some say he was an estate agent from Romford, some say he was a Billericay used car salesman. All we know is that Danny Webb was next in the hottest of hot seats at the Orient. Chosen by his proximity to Becchetti at the time and not for managerial experience, Webb was given an impossible task. No funds to buy any players, seeing first teamers exiled and even forced out of the club and a reliance on youth teamers to keep Orient in the Football League.

But he got the players working hard, something Orient fans haven’t seen since the Nolan era. Results wise, he got was expected considering the vast majority of his team was playing youth team football at the start of the season. There weren’t good moments, like the 5-0 massacre at Accrington Stanley on a Tuesday evening, the 3-0 defeat at Crawley which I insist is the worst performance I’ve ever seen from an Orient side (Bold claim given I’ve watched a 5-1 home defeat to Yeovil!), and the frantic finger-pointing that we’re used to seeing on Strictly Come Dancing.

However given our plight, the good moments were incredible. A 4-0 battering of Newport County on a rugby pitch is up there (especially as Newport fans were chanting about Webb’s coat being from Poundland), but THAT Valentines night in Plymouth, coming back from 2-1 down after 88 minutes to win is up there with Cox’s free-kick vs Peterborough in my greatest Orient moments. Webb even stood up to Becchetti’s madness! It may have resulted in him handing in his resignation, but at least he tried.

Danny Webb: The closest thing we’ve had to Stella McCartney at Brisbane Road. Although I did like his suit number at the Grimsby game.

 

Omer Riza

And now we’re left with Omer. Trying to save a club depleted of morale and wage, many points behind the dotted line of survival and an even more increased reliance on youth team players (practically senior pros at this point). An impossible job if there ever was one. But he tweets regularly about his ‘lions’ and also seems a really nice guy, so there’s always a positive!

It’s hard to judge Omer’s time as manager because he was given a rowing oar to try and steer HMS Orient away from the iceberg. Anything he tried was only for pride, but amazingly we had that even more in the end than we did at the beginning of Becchetti’s reign.

An open letter to the EFL

An open letter to the EFL

Dear EFL executives,

I trust that you are well. Me? Well like all Leyton Orient fans at the moment, I’m feeling many mixed emotions. Anguish, empathy, resignation, and one we feel most strongly about, betrayal. Now, before I start barraging you with accusations left, right and centre (Don’t worry, that’s to come), let me run you up-to-date as to why we are feeling betrayed. We’ve all heard your excuses as to why the actions of our absconded owner Francesco Becchetti do not fall your ‘remit’, although the lack of contact with the club in nearly a month is frankly ludicrous. We’ve also watched our loyal and undoubtedly dedicated club employees go weeks without wage, some forcing to relocate and some even finding they’ve been replaced while you have just sat back and enjoyed the pleasures of your executive suites and fine dining. The response by the EFL regarding Saturday’s events was a disgrace, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Fans have had enough of Mr Becchetti’s reign of lunacy at Orient. The protest was not only an opportunity to show the footballing world our frustrations, it was a cry for help. A desperate plea for the EFL and the FA to intervene in some form regardless of ‘remits’ or ‘laws’ to save one of English football’s oldest and proudest clubs. Us fans have felt like we have had no support. The seeming implosion of our beloved football club of 136 years is on the verge of being given the last rites, a genuine part of thousands of lives is at risk. The footballing family was almost unanimous in its support for Orient fans’ cause, as they too have realised the state our club has been allowed to crumble into. However, the blatant lies that the EFL orchestrated at the game against Colchester was a stab in the back that Orient fans had experienced for months, but this time it was magnified across the entire country, even the world. Reports in the United States, Italy and even Australia laid bare our predicament so the entire world could see how passionate we are about our club, how much we love our club, and how poor a job the footballing authorities have done in allowing our club to wither away into folklore.

In your infinite wisdom, you decided to lie to fans. You felt it was a ‘moral responsibility’ to finish that fixture. You’d rather say the game was abandoned just so you can achieve your preciously flawed remit. As if you wanted to paper over the cracks and paint the Football League as a shining beacon of footballing glory. Well I’m sorry but unless you’ve are completely delusional then I’m afraid that’s not the case, and hasn’t been for years. Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Charlton Athletic, Coventry City and Nottingham Forest have all had their clubs manipulated under your remit, being made shadows of their former glory. You wanted to ‘maintain the integrity of the competition’. You failed to achieve that when you thought it was best to finish a game with no fans present than to face consequence of fan uproar. If anything, the organisation you herald yourself to be became a laughing stock by that stunt.

If this is the jurisdiction you want to display, then I don’t want my team a part of that. I want my team to be protected from narcissistic owners who think they know better than loyal fans. I want a footballing authority to stand up for the fans who seemingly have no power, not gladly admit their regulations do not protect clubs from owners who are mismanaging the clubs. We’ve been left to self-destruct under your watch, and I am praying there is some remorse there. Hopefully, we’ll see you in a year or two knowing we’ll actually be protected.

Yours Sincerely,

Len

P.S. If you so much as dare impose a points deduction, expect a letter delivered to your offices. Only this time, I’ll be using some more extreme wording only suitable for adult eyes.

The EFL have failed Orient

The EFL have failed Orient

Leyton Orient’s near future is very much in the firing line. The decision to strip the first team squad so threadbare that the majority of the youth team were given the task of avoiding relegation, despite their lack of experience, was nothing short of madness. But the recent reluctance by Francesco Becchetti to pay the staff at the club without appropriate reasoning was simply disgraceful. Not only players but all staff at the club, from the groundsmen to those that run the ticket office, haven’t received any wages since the beginning of March. Intervention by the PFA and murmurs of strike action by the players has been the fan’s primary attention in recent weeks, given the resignation of relegation by many weeks ago. This was a moment for the EFL to intervene in the running of the club, a moment to admit the failings of the system previously in place and to right the wrongs.

Yet we see the EFL turn to the Fans Trust to help rekindle the costs that have been let down by the AWOL owner. That is a shameful turn by the footballing authorities where they would rather see the loyal supporters of all ages bear the brunt of Becchetti’s dirty work (or lack of), but it isn’t at all surprising. We’ve seen a number of clubs, not just of Orient, where ownership crises have distanced the fan base from the figures orchestrating their beloved club’s next move. Charlton Athletic, Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Nottingham Forest have all held protests to not only bring their situations into the limelight, but also to use it as a cry for help to the authorities to intervene in some form.

While no rule has been strictly ‘broken’ in these examples of ownership, there remains incredible pressure by fans to refresh the obviously unsuitable rulings. The ‘fit and proper’ tests for new owners of clubs has in the past 10 years been exposed to be nothing more than based on promise, with the most striking example being of Orient who have fallen 45 places in the Football League ladder since the start of the 2014/15 season, and are destined for non-league obscurity. It’s disgusting that a club of Orient’s pedigree, the second oldest club in London and well respected across the entire country, has been left to seemingly self-destruct because of an owner’s ineptitude while those that herald themselves over their desire to pursue ‘Aspiration’, ‘Credibility’, ‘Community’ and ‘Progress’ (All their own admission!) have simply sat back in their executive offices and watched the club crumble.

I think I speak for all Orient fans when I say this. The ‘intervention’ of the EFL at Leyton Orient has been farcical. We’re not talking about multi-millionaire footballers that can do without wage for a month and not even notice it in their bank balance. We’re talking about ordinary working people. People with bills to pay, families to provide for, livelihoods to live. While it may simply be another club for those at the top, it’s an awful lot more than that for those that care about it more than others.

Top 5: Formula One races of the 21st Century

Top 5: Formula One races of the 21st Century

I thought I’d write up something a bit different to a standard blog post. This being a Top 5 list, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good list to get ourselves thinking?! I’ve been watching Formula 1 for about 16 years now (Started in 2001/02) and in this time, F1 has served out some crazily good races. But what do I think are my favourites? On with the list!

5) 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix

I’ll be honest with you guys now: I am a massive Jenson Button fan, so this is partly the reason why this race is named in this list. But aside from Championship drama, this turned out into a surprisingly entertaining race. Jenson Button went into this race knowing that a 5th place finish would secure his maiden (and what would be, only) World Championship with a race to spare, something he was determined to do before a possible title finale in Abu Dhabi. But the sky unfortunately had other ideas in qualifying, with heavy rain mixing the grid up and leaving Button 14th on the grid, although fortunately his main title rival Sebastian Vettel was behind him in 16th after struggling as well.

The race started and already there was drama. Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli had a coming together on Lap 1 and both retired, something Trulli wasn’t prepared to let Sutil get away with.As well as them two, Fernando Alonso also retired after having a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ moment when Sutil collected his car with him.

Jenson Button had a tremendous start in pursuit of the Championship, going from 14th to 8th by the end of Lap 1. Risky overtakes on Sebastian Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi pushed him ever closer to that elusive title, which was gifted to him so unfortunately by his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello was in what seemed like a millionth attempt to win his home Grand Prix, but a struggling Barrichello failed to capitalise on his pole position before a puncture after an accidental collision with Lewis Hamilton put him behind Button.

This was enough for Button to claim the 5th place he needed to win the championship after 10 seasons in Formula 1. A remarkable achievement given he was without a drive 12 months prior after Honda’s withdrawal from the sport (I bet they wish they stayed away forever!). Somewhat under the radar, the race was won by Mark Webber, dominant after the first round of pit stops to cruise home over 7 seconds clear and take his 2nd career win. Also, Felipe Massa returned in the public spotlight to wave the chequered flag at the end of the race, 4 months after his life-threatening crash in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

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4) 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

We’re back in Brazil for another title showdown, this time between Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, both aiming for their 3rd world title. It was very much advantage Vettel going into the race, with a 13-point lead meaning Alonso needed at least a podium finish to have any chance of winning the title.

The race began under light rain although all cars chose to start on dry tyres. Like in 2009 there was drama from the off, only this time it involved the main title challenger. Sebastian Vettel was tagged by Bruno Senna going into Turn 3, causing him to spin and leaving him stone-dead last and with a damaged sidepod, although this was not sufficient reason for him to retire. Going into Lap 2, Alonso made a sensational double overtake on Mark Webber and his team-mate Felipe Massa, even more impressive given the increasingly heavier rain on track and the dry tyres fitted on the cars.

All the cars came in to switch to intermediate tyres apart from two. Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg decided to take a chance on dry’s and hope the rain eased off, which proved to be an inspired choice. Both cars lead by nearly a minute at one stage, before debris forced a safety car to come out and bunch the field once more. Once the race resumed, Lewis Hamilton overhauled his team-mate Button into 2nd and challenge Hulkenberg for the race, taking the lead from Hulkenberg a few laps later after a mistake by the Force India driver. However, it ended disastrously for the pair. An ‘opportunistic’ lunge at the McLaren driver into Turn 1 damaged the suspension on Hamilton’s car, leaving Hamilton to retire in his final race for McLaren while Hulkenberg served a drive through. The return of the rain, as well as the retirement of Paul Di Resta, meant for a pedestrian end to the race ultimately won by Jenson Button.

Amid all the drama at the front, Vettel performed superbly to recover to 7th place. A poignant moment in his race was with the overtake of Michael Schumacher in the 7-time world champion’s final ever race, a ‘passing the baton’ moment if ever the F1 world saw one.

This race was captivating right from the off. While the championship fight was dwindling once Alonso struggled to keep up with the leaders, it remained a thrilling dry-wet race with a fairytale ending for a certain Red Bull driver.

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil

3) 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix

Formula One went into this weekend in a sombre mood after the news of the death of Jules Bianchi, who died from injuries relating to a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. Everyone was keen to put on a spectacle in honour of Jules, and boy did they not disappoint.

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As the lights went off, the Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen made fantastic starts compared to the Mercedes’ pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in front, both overtaking the pair to lead into Turn 1. Later on in the lap, Hamilton ran wide and came back to the circuit in 10th, an age away from his pole position the day previous.

As the race wore on, Vettel was cruising at the front and setting fastest lap after fastest lap in true-Vettel fashion. Raikkonen followed his team-mate behind, while the Red Bull pair of Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo were ahead of the Mercedes of Rosberg, in a complete reversal of the form book that developed over the last 18 months. Midway into the race, Nico Hulkenberg’s front wing fell off due to damage from the kerbs and the Safety Car was deployed, with Ricciardo challenging Hamilton, who benefited hugely from the preceding Virtual Safety Car, for position after the Safety Car came in. A collision occurred between the two and Hamilton was handed a drive-through penalty, essentially ending any hopes for a win despite his resurgence throughout the race.

With 7 laps to go, a thrilling finish was set up front with Vettel, Rosberg and Ricciardo all being within 1 and a half seconds between one another. As Ricciardo unsuccessfully attempted to pass Rosberg into Turn 1, Rosberg tried to defend going into Turn 2 but caused himself to get a puncture after clipping RIcciardo’s front wing, condemning both of them to the pits and leaving Sebastian Vettel to claim his 41st career F1 win, his 2nd for Ferrari and level with Ayrton Senna for Career F1 wins. Ricciardo recovered to earn himself 3rd place, with the pair split on the podium by Daniil Kvyat, who celebrated his maiden podium finish despite a time penalty.

This was a race that F1 needed BADLY. The passing of Jules Bianchi was devastating for all areas of F1. The dominance of Mercedes over the previous 18 months was turning casual fans away from the sport because of among other reasons, boredom at seeing the same two drivers win every race. Formula One needed a race to spark all that is good about the sport. The drama, the entertainment, the thrills. This race had it all. Every driver had to earn their position despite their advantage. The leader in Vettel was seemingly comfortable at the front, but come the end of the race risked losing all his hard work in the blink of an eye. The coming’s together between drivers was example that tight margins determine the difference between becoming a hero and losing everything. This was to put it simply, a remarkable event to witness.

2) 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

The 2003 season saw regulation change in an effort to cut costs in the sport. One of these changes was limiting teams to one wet compound tyre for a race weekend, these being either the intermediate or full wet tyre. When the 3rd race of the season came around, it was a rainy weekend in Brazil as we have grown accustomed to. Unfortunately for the teams who used Bridgestone tyres, they decided to bring the intermediate tyres to the race, which became more and more unsuitable as the weekend progressed.

The race began under the safety car and showed us one of the worst restarts in living memory for Rubens Barrichello, leaving his restart WAY too late and allowing David Coulthard to take the lead into Turn One. On Lap 18, Ralph Firman’s Jordan had a front suspension failure, sliding halfway down the main straight into retirement, taking Toyota’s Olivier Panis and nearly his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella with him in the process.

Turn 3 proved to be a nightmare for a number of drivers, with the lack of drainage leaving the corner more like a swimming pool rather than part of a motor racing circuit. Drivers including Antonio Pizzonia, Juan Pablo Montoya and even reigning world champion Michael Schumacher were caught out by the treacherous conditions, effectively turning Turn 3 into a very expensive car park!

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On lap 53, Mark Webber lost control of his car going up the hill onto the main straight, crashing heavily into the tyre barrier with half the barrier scattered over the track. This was unfortunate for Fernando Alonso, who hit a lone tyre on the race track and had an enormous shunt into another tyre barrier, being enough for a red flag to be shown and proved to be the end of the race. Thankfully for Alonso, any injury he suffered wasn’t serious, but brought an end to a truly bonkers race…

But that’s not the end of the chaos! When the race was declared, Kimi Raikkonen was considered the winner of the race with Giancarlo Fisichella in 2nd place and the stricken Fernando Alonso in 3rd. The result was eventually confirmed days later by the FIA with Fisichella winning instead, meaning nobody on the original podium was in their original positions. Kimi was on the top step when he finished 2nd, Fisichella vice-versa and Alonso wasn’t even on the podium as he was in the medical centre. Fisichella’s car ended up catching fire in parc ferme, and this ridiculous Grand Prix was brought to an end with a very awkward photo at the next race at Imola of Ron Dennis giving the winner’s trophy to Eddie Jordan. It’s fair to say F1 hasn’t had that many days like that and frankly ever will. However…

1) 2011 Canadian Grand Prix

For me personally, this race had literally everything you can ask for in a Grand Prix. It had my favourite driver having to go through the pit lane six times and STILL ended up winning the race, team-mates and championship rivals colliding throughout, tense drama right to the last lap, the legendary Michael Schumacher pushing so hard for his first podium finish since he returned from retirement. All of this was under the presence of torrential rain, which eventually cleared and left a grandstand finish. We even had a bird watch on Live TV while the red flag was out! (I’m convinced it was an American Robin).

The race began under the Safety Car as a result of heavy rain, with pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel keeping the lead on the restart. Cars behind were dicing for position throughout as they set about finding traction in the treacherous conditions. Drama number one occurred on lap 7. Button and team-mate Lewis Hamilton were fighting for position when Button tried an *cough* ambitious overtake on Hamilton. This left Hamilton with a damaged rear-wheel and subsequent retirement, Button with a drive-through penalty after he sped in the pit lane when pitting for repairs, a Safety Car to come out and a number of teams with carbon fibre stuck in their pit boards.

Lap 20 came around and so apparently did the wrath of the weather Gods. A ferocious weather front arrived at the circuit, so much so that the race was suspended and didn’t restart for two hours. Cue the various TV crews desperately searching for some form of filler in their coverage while the cars sat on the grid, whether it be bird-spotting as was the BBC’s case, making a fuss over Rihanna being at the Grand Prix, or even giving over-the-top media coverage to the backmarkers of Jerome D’Ambrosio and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Anything for TV ratings, eh?

Onwards to Lap 47, Fernando Alonso and Button were fighting for position when disaster struck for the Ferrari man. Another *cough* ambitious manoeuvre by the McLaren spun Alonso and left the Ferrari stricken, leaving Button with another visit to the pits for his troubles and yet another Safety Car. But the troubles for Button didn’t put him off despite being 21st and last place at one point. Another safety car after the expert parking job from Nick Heidfeld after colliding with Paul Di Resta (Seriously, check it out. It’s impressive.) bunched the field once more and a pack of three emerged for 2nd place. Button, Schumacher and Mark Webber all squabbled for the next-best prize in Grand Prix racing but it was Button who came out on top, something he had seemed to be a master of in changeable conditions.

Jenson Button

Constantly eating away into Vettel’s lead, the pressure paid off when Vettel touched the wet part of the track on the final lap and went wide (Good save for what it’s worth), leaving Button to overcome every adversity thrown at him in that race to sensationally win the Canadian Grand Prix!

To recap, Jenson Button won the longest race in Formula One history at 4 hours, 4 minutes and 39 seconds. He won it at the lowest average speed ever recorded at 46.5 mph and with the most pit-stops by a race winner at 6. I don’t think words can truly do this race justice. It had everything a racing fan wants from a Grand Prix, even had rain for extra measure. It had the plot that only Hollywood could ever think about producing, a marvel of sport that would require something biblical to ever surpass. If there was ever a race that was anything close to matching this in terms of a spectacle, then sign me up!