x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The aura of Sebastian Vettel is punctured

Coronation of Formula One world champion is as flat as his tyre but, boy, what a stirring, goose-bump of a first formation lap that was.

Some people - not sure whom - crowed that this Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix would give Yas Marina Circuit spectators a glowing chance to watch a maestro at his peak, and Sebastian Vettel did not disappoint.

First off, he performed that formation lap so majestically and with such resolve and concentration - such aplomb - that you would have to call it one of the most riveting formation laps in formation-lap history, a sustained goose bump of a formation lap.

The stinging in the eye was, yes, a tear.

Next, there came that indelible Lap 1 stretch after the exit from Turn 1, the right rear tyre flat by the second corner, when Vettel had to "catch the car surprisingly" twice, then spun off, then incurred such damage he had to go to pit and retire straight away in a marvel of punctured-tyre deftness worthy of any punctured-tyre museum.

"Up to that point, we had a very good start," he told the BBC, reinforcing that those first few milliseconds had been magical.

Third came his dejected countenance after retiring without finishing a full-on lap, save for the glorious formation lap, an expression that gave a hint into why he has become so dominant at this, that capacity to still care deeply while having clinched the championship with such decisiveness that one would need a telescope to see everybody else's points totals way in the background.

I might be confused because of a recent infusion of sailing terminology, but it seemed Vettel's No 1 car suffered extensive and various damage in the area around its right stern.

He watched the remainder of the race on a monitor without flipping channels to see if he could find any Eintracht Frankfurt highlights from some Bundesliga 2 channel.

He told the BBC he "used the opportunity to learn a bit on the pit wall", giving certain well-placed fans with binoculars a chance to watch him learn.

Man, it was stirring.

Then, post-race, this wisp of an athlete went zipping through the interview area with that look that suggested, Yay! I'm not on the podium, so I can flee the interviewers and run free!

He did wheel around for the common human lunacy of one autograph, then scrambled on through the buildings in his blue jeans with a gawky gait that bolstered the notion that people gifted in a certain pursuit might have to pay in other areas.

He slipped into the back sliding door of the Red Bull headquarters, soon emerging only briefly out front with the last remnants of an ice cream bar, which goes to show how cavalier and irresponsible people can get once they dominate something.

He had left the race to others, including Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, so Hamilton could reap plaudits for his steadiness and Button could earn admiration for Lap 15 when McLaren asked him to reboot the Kers while driving at 200 mph, and he showed such restraint in refraining from going over to whomever asked him that and running them over.

After three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix with two victories plus one part-lap and one punctured-tyre pageant, Vettel left behind the usual, forgettable storm of social media his retirement wreaked, which luckily we could follow and record for posterity, it being impossible anymore to watch a sporting event without simultaneously following the loosely relevant comments of the malcontents out there.

From the BBC, a post wisely anonymous: "You have no idea how excited we are now that Vettel the Unbeatable has retired! Not through his own fault but that gives the British guys a fighting chance! BUZZING!"

(Whew, now there's a party we'd all like to attend, bunch of blokes hanging around going into a giddy lather over a tyre puncture. That's practically a Rio Carnival they had going. Somebody should have called the fire department to hose down that place.)

From Facebook, with feeling: "I'm so sorry, so sorry for you."

(True, I always try to reserve a vat of sorrow for 24 year olds who clinched the driving title in early October and are so accomplished and so liked and so rich they could not blow it all in a lifetime unless they worked at AIG.)

From Facebook, with derision: "Muahaha".

(Some people do relish kicking the downtrodden.)

And from Facebook, a personal favourite: ":("

(True, we all can agree it can lend gloom to the day when a guy hastily slides from 11 wins in 17 races to an atrocious 11 wins in 18 races. At least we got the scintillating formation lap.)

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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