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Hell, Brittania!

Last updated on: July 15, 2004 21:56 IST

The British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, is probably the worst afternoon on the Formula One calendar. Every year, like a big Hollywood summer blockbuster, there is tons of popcorn fodder promised, the James Allens are foaming at their mouths with anticipation, and the teasers look absolutely incredible. It is one of the highest-profile venues just because of the country it is held in, and the tabloid hype it can incomparably generate. There are tantalizing soundbytes galore, and the run up to the theatrical release on Sunday is filled with nuggets of sensationalism. Breath, not losing hope after years of inane mediocrity, decides to let itself get bated.

"The British Grand Prix, at Silverstone."

Then, like a long-awaited sequel to a Wachowski brothers film, the bubble bursts. Painfully. You realise that the trailers, with their claims harkening back to Grands Prix gone by, were essentially the most exciting part of the weekend. Once again, you sit back, sigh through an uneventful race - Blinded by the optimism of a Formula One fan, you hunt for silver linings, for little high points which make the afternoon tolerable. These you inevitably find, moments which, suitably microcosmically, have tons of potential, but fizzle into eventual nothingness. You feel like leaving the theatre midway, changing the channel, but, having paid via willing subscription to all the ongoing hype, listlessly yawn through the entire thing. Reloaded indeed.

"Host to the first Formula One World Championship race!"

The enticements were manifold, this year as well: not just were there `guaranteed' predictions of rain, but the word 'thunderstorm' was used ominously by every motorsport expert; Jenson Briton, sudden sporting hero, was crowing big about a victory; that weary Scot seemed energized, and motivated by Ralf's bagging Toyota a couple of days ago; the Michelins looked far better suited to the track; those niggling rumours about Williams using up another option from that huge pack of wildcards instead of the rather safe Gene bet just wouldn't go away;  Fernando Alonso had a point to prove; Takuma Sato muttered an inexplicable little something about how he needed to go flat out more. In short, gents and womenfolk, a lot to get worked up about.

And then arrived the weekend - When practice sessions saw McLaren's MP419B fly past, uncharacteristically dropping, in its wake, not debris but rival jaws; When the World Champion spun his scarlet machine a la Batmobile in a bizarre Pre-Qualifying session, that saw cars trying to be slow; When they had egg thrown across strategic faces as it didn't rain and plans backfired; When the French tires gripped visibly better and got away smoother; When Kimi Raikonnen, that superb, mousy little Finn, squeaked his way to an impressive Pole; and when  Mike couldn't manage second, or third, position on the grid. Ooh, we were all atwitter for Sunday.

"Where Ferrari won its first ever race!"

The thrills, through the race, came hard and fast: Raikonnen flying off into the distance; Rubens in hot pursuit; Jense staving off Michael; Takuma Sato tangling momentarily with Juan Pablo Montoya; Gianmaria Bruni doing a Montoya and knocking over mechanics during his pitstop; Jarno Trulli somersaulting with a broken suspension, and emerging shaken, stirred, but thankfully unhurt, right in the high-speed Bridge corner; The Safety Car going infuriatingly slow, and throwing Michael virtually in the clutches of the starving Kimi. A smorgasbord of spectacle, surely insinuating a fabulous, unmissable, edge-of-the-seat afternoon, right?


"Home to the greatest battles in racing history!"

As always, it all simmered down to predictable ordinariness. One of the most promising bits of Sunday was when Montoya ran onto the grass in the first lap, and Sato squeezed forcefully past him. This is exactly what we had all been waiting for - Formula One's resident chaosmonger in a head to head tussle with the emerging wild one; a war pitting lost potential against future assurance: very simply put, a `fight'. Fans turned gleeful with anticipation. On Lap 3, Takuma Sato threw himself too hard into the Becketts sweeps, ran appropriately onto the grass, and rejoined the track back in seventh place, behind the Colombian. The bare-knuckle, free-for-all, clash of the maniacs? Um, maybe later.

A screenplay written by John Woo in collaboration with  (post-Madonna) Guy Ritchie, the race died - the kicks cooled off, the buzz ironed out into starchy typicality. Kimi never came close enough to the German to push him into even closing the door, his race largely one of holding off the Brazilian, who has been displaying a wonderful, alarming propensity for last-minute overtaking.  Not, of course, that this happened. Worthy of being called Jenson Beckham, Button is just another in a long string of non-performing English sport heroes - a peculiar breed, prematurely embraced by minimal success and celebrated to high heavens, who delight in giving self-indulgent soundbytes destined never to be fulfilled. Henman, Vaughan, Coulthard - At least Jense still has age on his side.

And, as is the norm, one bloke, much to the chagrin of all those British teams in the paddock, picked up his tenth of the season, without breaking a sweat.

Strange that Britain refuses to rain exclusively when you pray for it to.

"Where excitable vicars can sprint onto the track!"

So Silverstone, tragically, survives another year. The delectable threat of being axed from the calendar seems fated to hang harmlessly and perpetually overhead, like a plastic Damocles' sword. The memorable moments from this race, across recent years, are largely the inconsequential ones: this year, it was Jarno's crash, suddenly leading to safety standards in Formula One being extolled with glowing adjectives, which is interesting considering those very same standards were rather frowned upon after the debacle with Ralf at Indy. Last year, honours went to the weirdly milliner'd activist who ran across right in front of Rubens Barrichello, proceeding to be quite a fly in the ointment.

"Where David pretends to be a man!"

And who can forget that ultimate expression of British sportsmanship witnessed not so long ago when David Coulthard displayed his annoyance with Michael Schumacher?

He gave the German what began to be called `The Coulthard' - lacking a finger from the traditional British style, rather typifying the utter, aspirational McMericanisation of Blairland. Now, with David almost certain to vanish into oblivion, perhaps the ineffectual, frustrated, losing gesture itself should drop the remaining finger. As should the calendar drop the irksome circuit.

"Coming next July."

Again. *groan*

Previous column: Eye Of Le Tiger

Raja Sen