You wouldn’t trust Formula One with a loaded gun, because it would be sure to shoot itself in the foot. The drivers’ derring-do, the adrenaline, the speed, the glitz and the wealth of the sport are trumped sometimes only by its buffoonery.
The Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday could be Exhibit A in a business school class about how to turn a perfectly good product into unappealing gruel. Tennis champion Serena Williams, a trackside VIP guest, spent chunks of the race typing on her mobile phone, likely asking the questions, “Who are the clowns running this circus?” and “When’s the next flight home?”
A quick summary: The third-placed driver was actually fourth, replaced by the fifth-placed guy who finished third after the driver who was fourth was moved up to third immediately after the race, but only for a few hours, when he was demoted to fifth.
And on his way to his fourth place that became a third place and then a fifth place, Sebastian Vettel sprayed expletives over his car radio. This childlike fit of road rage was prompted by the fact that the driver in front of him, Max Verstappen, was laboring under the clearly mistaken impression that the whole point of an F1 race is that one shouldn’t move over simply because the short-tempered guy behind feels he should be in front.
With Vettel breathing down his neck, Verstappen braked too late, careened off a turn and across the grass before rejoining the track back in front of the German. Post-race, in the first of their confusing changes to the finishing order, stewards demoted the Dutchman from third for that misdemeanor which they previously ignored when race winner Lewis Hamilton did almost the exact same thing.
And was Vettel immediately punished for his beeped-out foul-mouthed televised tirade? Of course not. He was promoted from fourth to third, albeit temporarily, handed a shiny trophy and bottle of Champagne.
The redeeming feature of this otherwise processional and largely dull race, yet another, that Hamilton led from pole position to finish would have been the brief light at the end of the tunnel when Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo fought wheel-to-wheel going into turn four near the end.
Ricciardo, his Red Bull shod with faster soft-compound tires, tried overtaking Vettel’s Ferrari from the left. The German, understandably, didn’t make way, squeezing the Australian into the left-hand turn but not appearing to do anything rash like ramming into him.
The exquisite car-handling skills, to touch at high speed but not crash, were exhilarating to watch; heart-in-the-mouth stuff.
“Brilliant driving from both of them,” former F1 driver Martin Brundle said, commentating on Sky Sports.
But the stewards ruined that, too.
Long after fans in Europe had gone to bed thinking that Vettel was third, having watched his celebrations on the podium with Hamilton and second-placed Nico Rosberg, the stewards nitpicked holes in his driving and demoted him to fifth.
In defending his position on the bend against Ricciardo, Vettel made “an abnormal change of direction” that was “potentially dangerous,” the stewards ruled.
It was impossible not to scoff at the irony. Danger on a track where cars hit hair-raising top speeds of 370 kilometers (230 miles) per hour? Duh. Perhaps next time, they’ll hand out speeding tickets and wring the sport completely dry of thrills.
What else was Vettel to do? Wave Ricciardo through? Miss the bend and drive straight on like Verstappen, only to be penalized for that, too? The sport needs rules, but not rules that stop racers from racing.
Nor did it make sense that Vettel wasn’t pulled over for his radio meltdown. The four-time world champion blamed the heat of the moment – “I was full of adrenaline,” he said – for turning the airwaves beeped-out blue. In football, Vettel would have earned a red card and an early trip to the showers, not a shower of bubbly on the podium.
Shame, really, because this F1 season is heading to an exciting crescendo, with Rosberg close to winning his first world title if he can hold off Mercedes teammate Hamilton in November’s last two races, in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
But the overwhelming impression left by this Mexican Grand Prix of frustrating confusion and poor behavior was that the off-season respite from F1 can’t come soon enough.