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GP Week : Issue 20
GPWEEK OPINION >> his backside on the pit exit. He is the complete racer: intelligent, tactical, brave, skilful, artistic and totally unforgiving. Fit to stand alongside Mike Hailwood, and sure to be remembered in the same way. But what does the future hold for Valentino, now 29. He’s tasted title defeat twice now, though he doesn’t count 2006, when unreliability cursed his year. But Stoner actually did thrash him in 2007, and while he didn’t like this new taste, he managed to smile through it and come back for more. Which makes him a good loser as well as a good winner. Another accolade, and well-deserved. He’s still the main man, but the opposition’s getting pesky. His journey from racing’s cheeky monkey to roguish elder statesman has inevitably exposed him to the pestilence of eager youth. Right now it looks tough for Valentino. Stoner’s on a run, the Ducati’s uncatchable. Pedrosa’s dangerous. Lorenzo’s coming up fast. And they’re all so young! It’s only going to get worse. It’s easy to forget, in all this praise, that behind the charm there is a special kind of darkness. Rossi is a ruthless competitor, and will do almost anything to win. Remember the notorious pass on Gibernau at Jerez in 2005, punting him onto the dirt on the last corner? Remember the ritual humiliation of poor defeated Max Biaggi? Can he find the pleasure when he’s no longer able to win and win? Well, here’s what he said at Laguna. “After a lot of years with a lot of victories, I need to enjoy [racing] also, and not just worry about the results.” If that’s how he thinks, then it’s not only Dorna that should be pleased he’s definitely staying on. We all should. back, how he managed to keep Fernando Alonso behind him at the pit-lane exit … all these things didn’t just leave his current boss Gerhard Berger enthusiastic. The Austrian did not fall short of praise for the youngster: “He is unbelievably mature for his age, he did a really great job here. I am very, very happy about his performance and how he is developing.” ‘Baby Schumi’, as he was named by German tabloids from the beginning of his career, seems to be becoming the new darling of German race fans, especially those who feel a little bit like orphans after Michael Schumacher´s retirement. Having risen to the top of the drivers in Toro Rosso’s relative position, he currently puts Nico Rosberg in the shadows, a driver who seemed to be destined for the role of crown prince for some time, but now runs the risk of having his career somewhat sidelined due to the fatal combination of Williams going backwards and, most likely, no better vacancies available elsewhere. Whether Vettel’s rise is fast enough to bring the fans back to the German race tracks in the numbers needed to keep Formula 1 in the country in the long term remains to be seen. Hockenheim had to deal with a 3 Million Euro (US$4.7m) loss in 2006, and looking at the grandstands on Sunday did not raise many hopes of a better balance this year. Contract-wise the race is secure for 2010, but there are still debts to be dealt with from the past and there are some doubts about how this might affect the future. Moving the German GP completely to the Nürburgring does not seem to be an alternative: “It is quite obvious that we cannot afford to run the race every year”, Nürburgring CEO Dr. Walter Kafitz has already admitted. With Vettel’s star in the ascendency, what a loss it would be were he not able to race in front of his home fans. 21