It was a photographer’s nightmare. Hundreds,in pink bibs,had positioned themselves just below the podium,around a square cordoned off by white ribbons,large enough to hold three F1 cars.
Having completed their parade lap around the Buddh International Circuit,Nico Rosbergs Mercedes and Romain Grosjeans Lotus parted the photographers and came to a halt,with just enough space between them for the victor’s vehicle. The cameras held their triggers,waiting for Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.
Just then,they heard the man and his machine growl towards them down the straight,and growl right past them. They ran helplessly,tripods in tow,towards where Vettel eventually parked in the middle of the start-finish line. But by the time their shutters went snap-snap-snap,all they captured was puff-puff-puff.
Hungry Heidi had vanished like Harry Houdini. In a ball of smoke.
In front of a roaring grandstand,the 26-year old spun four doughnuts (each spin costing him approximately 600 euros in fines),raising an enormous cloud of exhaust smoke. As in a circus act,Vettel reapeared as the fumes settled,standing atop his beast. He then knelt in front of it,and bowed. Then he took off his helmet,peeled off his gloves and revealed his soul.
Im way too young to understand what this means, he said later,at the press conference,between chugs from a jeroboam (3 litres) of champagne. When Im 60 I might understand,but then nobody will care about all of this anymore. But I will,I will care. Its difficult to realise that this is something nobody can ever take away from you.
In the 60 or so minutes that followed,Vettel went from philosophical to emotional to eventually revealing a vulnerable side never seen before.
For far too long in Vettels career,it wasnt clear where the machine ended and where the man began. Quite like his unerring Red Bull,Vettel had a quest for infallibility. He followed the rules,parked in the right places,smiled for the cameras and said the right things. But on Sunday,when he found the perfection he was looking for in a fourth successive world title,the German driver,drunk on both success and champagne,unburdened himself from the pain of being perfect.
Schumacher (7 titles),Fangio (5),Prost and you (4), said someone. When will it sink in?
Vettel replied: Im a fan of this sport first. I dont know,four is a big number,you know? When you speak to true legends of the sport like Stirling Moss,they actually have the balls to say,F*ck,this guy is better than me. Thats when you know,you know?
In considering Moss,a man with no world titles and four runner-up plaques,his hero,Vettel clearly roots for the underdog. Maybe if I were a fan of McLaren or Ferrari,one of the traditional teams,I wouldnt like it if the same outsider wins again and again, he said. The outsider,an energy-drink brand,has done just that,to jeers from the traditionalists.
Im not,I dont know the world,nachtragend, Vettel trailed off in search of the word resentful. I dont blame people. They boo because they are Ferrari fans. When I take out my helmet to soak in the reception,it hurts when those boos start. But Im clever enough to see that they dont mean it personally. In fact,one guy wrote me a letter after Singapore and apologised for booing. He said it was in the heat of the moment,you know,somebody started,he joined in.
It didnt happen this Sunday,a Sunday that mattered more than any other in his career. Thats why when my engineer called for the usual procedure parc ferme,park the car I said to myself,No,I dont care. Instead,I go there in this special country,a country I never have lost in,and the crowd is great in the main grandstand. So I have some fun there with them.
He went in there all steel and metal. And emerged from the smoke with a heart and a soul.
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