This weekend, the 2013 Formula One season draws to a conclusion as the whole shebang zooms into the Brazilian sunset.
In truth, the outcome of this season’s competition was over long ago (along with any real interest for the casual spectator) such was the dominance of this year’s champion, Sebastian Vettel from Germany.
Vettel’s superiority has meant that everyone else appears to be scrapping for second place. Indeed, if he wins this weekend, he will have won 9 consecutive Grand Prix races and will have been World Champion for each for the last 4 seasons.
But despite his dominance, or perhaps because of it, he is becoming an increasingly unpopular winner with booing regularly greeting his appearances on the victory dais.
I don’t think this is a ‘sour grapes’ reaction, rather a disillusionment with an unbeatable competitor with an equally flawless media persona – full of platitudes but not really saying anything and certainly not saying anything remotely controversial. Or interesting.
But it wasn’t always this way.
A few weeks ago, I enjoyed watching Ron Howard’s latest movie, Rush, dramatising the story of James Hunt, the legendary British Formula One driver locked in a titanic battle for the F1 championship of 1976 with Austrian Nikki Lauda.
Whilst Lauda’s story was remarkable – coming back from a horrific crash to continue racing in the same season – for me, it was Hunt who stole the show.
His character was the antithesis of the modern day Vettel. He was a hard drinking party animal with a playboy reputation and a habit of falling foul of authority. He was a handful, but was also a larger than life character and a brilliant, risk-taking driver to boot.
But this contrast between highly-polished, media friendly modern day conformity and yesterday’s edgy, unpredictable non-conformity is not restricted to Formula One.
My childhood football recollections are sprinkled with still vivid memories of some real characters – George Best, Stan Bowles, Frank Worthington, Alan Hudson, latterly Paul Gascoigne and even Robin Friday (who?) – the ‘greatest footballer you never saw’ who thrilled the fans on the terraces of my old hometown team, Reading.
They were all brilliant footballers, but they were also larger than life characters who lived life on the edge in a way that the likes of today’s risk- free ‘personalities’ (Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, et al) could never contemplate.
And many other sports from that era also spawned their own convention-defying stars, whether in cricket (Ian Botham, David Gower), athletics. (Daley Thompson), horse riding (Lester Piggot) or even snooker (Alex ‘hurricane’ Higgins, Jimmy ‘whirlwind’ White)
In an age where many schools are trying to eliminate competition, where rigid coaching structure is favoured over natural flair and political correctness is in danger of replacing true feelings, I can’t help feeling something has been lost along the way
So whilst the purists may celebrate Vettel’s latest achievements this weekend, I’ll politely applaud while secretly hoping we may someday see the emergence of a new breed of of 21st century mavericks – unpredictable, uncontrollable and totally unforgettable.