x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Witness something special

You can watch the Formula One today to see rarefied brilliance at a crest, to see this absurdly young Sebastian Vettel at work.

Few non-events in life rate any more uneventful than NBA pre-season or early-season games, yet some people who found themselves in Chicago in the 1990s would scramble towards them and pay big chunks of salary to see them and then talk about them until your ear fell off, and you were sort of glad it did.

These people weren't loopy - well, no more than any of the rest of us who perceive our calendars around sporting events. They just wanted to watch Michael Jordan while they could, to say they had watched Michael Jordan.

They might not remember anything more about the night they spent watching Jordan than a play or two that Jordan made.

They certainly couldn't remember the score as that had meagre significance, anyway. In some cases, they would have to think a bit before coming up with the opponent.

Still, they knew they had watched rarefied brilliance at a crest.

So, there are at least two leading ways to watch sport. You can watch sport for the reasons we watched last year at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, for that heart-in-throat uncertainty, lap by lap in that case, of what might happen, for the drama, for the consideration of all the arithmetical permutations of the end of the 2010 Formula One drivers-title race. Jeez, that was fun.

Or you can watch for the reasons people might watch today, to see rarefied brilliance at a crest, to see this absurdly young Sebastian Vettel at work.

Witnesses might say they saw him at the end of the second of his eight consecutive Formula One driving titles, and while that kind of speculation at this point is ludicrous, ludicrousness can be fun, and Vettel has wreaked it with his stranglehold on a tough, tough sport at age 24.

The spectators might go to Yas Island today, then, for the noise, which always does things to the innards that almost nothing else can (even with the necessity of earplugs), and they might go for the feeling of being at a major event, and some novices might go even for the stunning setting, but they also might go to see somebody unusually great at something simply go to work.

Even if he was not starting today's race from pole, and whatever becomes of his issue with his tyres, he still would go to the starting line as the two-time defending champion, and as somebody who used this race last year as a springboard to a first title, and as somebody who clinched the second by roughly May in Monaco or thereabouts, arithmetic notwithstanding.

After all, some people would go to, say, Old Trafford just to see Manchester United play once, even if that were some friendly, which is a horrendous waste of electricity in a green era, or even if it were some Champions League group match with a knockout berth already clinched. I know some of these people. They would go and they would get a live glimpse of a beloved player - say, Ryan Giggs - running around the field and they could call it a memorable occasion.

Then they would go home to their productive lives.

Many, many people - and I've seen them - would scurry to whatever hole Tiger Woods would be playing, back in the day, and they would cause galling traffic jams at the narrow passageways of major golf courses, and they would gripe and moan about not having a view in the five-deep galleries, and they would complain about the number of media inside the ropes even as Woods counted the money that came from the number of media inside the ropes.

They just wanted to see, to see a person so familiar that seeing him for real almost seemed as if he were superimposed on the setting.

They wanted to see somebody who was the best at something excruciatingly difficult.

Well, here comes that chance again at Yas Marina Circuit, a chance to see somebody who has won 11 of the 17 races this dominant season.

Certainly a driver would never attain the calibre of Jordan or Woods because of his reliance on hardware and engineering and Red Bull Racing, but certainly he takes a place reasonably stratospheric.

The act of driving at such speeds for hours requires a mind-boggling level of concentration, not to mention skill, and Vettel always gets coos from the experts for that concentration, among all else.

A maestro will play Yas, and all the connoisseurs, sports fans and the generally curious will see him at a crest - or, perhaps, at one of his early crests among many, a suspicion possibly both realistic and daunting.


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