On the flight back from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, I watched Total Recall. Not the 1990 movie version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the recently-released 're-imagining'. It was perfectly watchable, lurching from one set piece to another and populated entirely by characters motivated only by the necessity to drive the plot to its predictably explosive conclusion.
It was an adequate way to pass a couple of hours and had all the thrills and spills expected of a movie of this type. But it was not a great piece of cinema, or even a particularly good one. It danced around the periphery of the themes of memory, reality and identity that could potentially have made it a more thought-provoking and less superficial experience.
What has this got to do with Formula 1? Well, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was 'high concept' motor racing. The storyline was a straightforward pitch. We had the championship leader coming from the back with plenty of setbacks and mis-steps along the way, a certain winner denied by mechanical troubles, a very satisfying victory for one of F1's most successful comeback kids and a tense finish. It also featured plenty of crash, bang, wallop from the supporting cast, which created the safety cars that played such an important role as a plot device.
But to hear so many people raving about it as a great motor racing? That surprised me, especially after being denounced as if the antichrist by some last week when suggesting that the Indian Grand Prix was a reminder of the one-dimensional grand prix racing caused by zero-degradation rubber in a control tyre era.
I have no problem with people disagreeing on that point and understand exactly where they are coming from, but it is puzzling that some of the same people who complain about 'artificial' and 'contrived' racing as if it's some kind of lottery with Pirelli rubber hold up Abu Dhabi as the race of the season.
Raikkonen's victory capped a remarkable comeback season © LAT
Seeing Kimi Raikkonen win again was certainly a great experience, crowning a hugely impressive comeback season. Sebastian Vettel's charge from the back was an unexpected twist after what happened in qualifying, but examples of great racing were few and far between.
Perhaps the standout moments were in the closing stages, as Alonso closed in on Raikkonen - who ultimately managed the gap to perfection - while Vettel battled past Jenson Button for third. It's no coincidence that all four of the drivers involved are world champions.
If anything, Button's driving, which has been criticised by some as being too soft, was the highlight of the race. Once under attack, he positioned his car well, fought hard in the corner and gave Vettel just enough space. Vettel had the courtesy to do the same. When the Briton realised the game was up, he shrugged his shoulders and accepted it. What he didn't do is cause a shunt.
That is the mark of a classy, intelligent racing driver and is the kind of thing that the greats have excelled at over the years. Fight hard, don't give an inch, but never overstep the mark. He wasn't on the same planet pace-wise as his team-mate, but he certainly carried himself fairly on track.
Charlie Whiting would do well to sit the drivers down and show them the footage of that moment between Button and Vettel when the circus reconvenes in Texas. For the race was largely defined by clumsy, disrespectful driving.
Perez clashed with di Resta twice during the grand prix... © XPB
Sergio Perez was the obvious culprit, pushing Paul di Resta off the track and, moments later, using the fact that he had strayed off the track to take a wide line into the following left-hander and suddenly appear across poor Romain Grosjean's bows. But he wasn't the only one.
Mark Webber was pretty close to the line when he chopped Pastor Maldonado, somehow expecting the Williams to vanish as he headed towards the apex. And while the Australian was guiltless in his eventual retirement, you can see where Felipe Massa was coming from when he complained that Webber should have had a penalty.
While these on-track collisions, and the moment when Nico Rosberg was launched over Narain Karthikeyan's ailing HRT, were memorable, they didn't represent great racing. Quite the opposite, in fact.
It was, frankly, artificial. I'm not saying that the safety cars were contrived, because they were perfectly legitimate. But this was what created the circumstances for such a wild race. Yet the criticism of the dodgem driving that we saw at times in Abu Dhabi is not a patch on the volume of the complaints about the so-called artificiality of high-degradation tyres.
The question of why the race was so incident-packed is an interesting one. There's a temptation to lay the blame at the door of modern circuits. Hermann Tilke gets a lot of stick for his creations, forgetting that, for the most part, he is working to constraints dictated variously by the FIA, geographical constraints and the demands and resources of the track owners. But the big problem with such modern circuits is the runoff.
Could it be that the space gives drivers a false sense of security? After all, if you try a move that leads to a collision on circuits with small run-off areas, perhaps containing gravel or grass, you're far more likely to find yourself upside down heading towards a tyre barrier. That's a hell of a deterrent when it comes to being reckless.
...while Hamilton ran off at Turn 8 early on, but held onto the lead © XPB
This is categorically not an argument for making tracks less safe. It's a morally dubious position to tell racing drivers that removing the risk of having crashes has made the sport worse. But the argument that mistakes should be punished is sound.
Take Lewis Hamilton's lock-up and subsequent off at Turn 8 in Abu Dhabi. On a 'traditional' circuit, that would have cost him more time and the lead. Arguably, it should have done, especially as what marks out the greatest drivers is their ability to run on the limit without making errors.
The trouble is that to punish errors like this in a conventional way by having far less grip on whatever lies beyond the limits of the track, is contrary to the point of the run-off. You need high-grip asphalt to slow cars down if they are in trouble.
This is arguably where there is greatest room for innovation in track design. Could a way be found to treat the asphalt runoff areas so that they do punish mistakes at the same time as allowing speed to be scrubbed off when something goes wrong? It's not an easy question to answer, especially as many tracks also host motorcycling events, meaning that the effect on a rider sliding along the ground needs to be taken into account.
But whatever the reasons for the madness, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a great race in the same way that Total Recall was a great film. It was an under-nourishing blockbuster.
Exciting when in the moment, but once the dust, or should that be sand, had settled it was far from a great race. Gripping, in its way, but not one for the ages.
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