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LAPS OF THE GODS

 

  There are those brief moments in time when a great driver (or rider) gives free reign to their otherworldly talent and produces a lap, or in a very few cases, a series of laps that enter into folk-law. One of THOSE moments that if you were lucky enough to witness – even on telly – you and others will talk of through the ages. These are the Laps of the Gods. Gilles Villeneuve in torrential rain on a Friday afternoon at Watkins Glen. True the lap was 25 seconds slower than Alan Jones’ dry morning session time, showing just how thoroughly wet the afternoon was, but Gilles was just under 10 seconds quicker than anyone else in that session. A time of 2’01.437 against 2’11.029 set by team mate Jody Scheckter, who you will recall had just wrapped up that seasons championship. Jones, in the stunning new Williams FW07 could only muster 2’37.742. Just wrap your head around that. Jones, who had won four of the past five races in what was now by far the best car, was 36.3 seconds slower than Gilles.

 

  Not that Gilles’ lap there was the (or his) only example. Take Bernd Rosemeyer. The Eifelrennen race at the Nurburgring (the real one) started with rain and at half distance Rosemeyer was 18 seconds down on Nuvolari who was leading. The rain increased and by the start of lap 7 Bernd took the lead. The next time around he was 15 seconds to the good. And only then did he show what he could really do. By the beginning of lap 8 the fog began to set in. It is said that it was so thick that the pits were not visible from the grandstand. So understandably the drivers slowed down. Except Bernd. Lap 8 was 40 seconds faster than anyone else, Lap 9, 41 seconds and lap 10 a mere 36 seconds for the final lap of the race. The final winning margin over Tazio Nuvolari – one of motor sports true greats – was 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Rosemeyer had pulled out 1 minute and 57 seconds in just three laps of the fearsome Nordschleife in fog that brought down the visibility to about 15 metres. The Nordscheife seemed to engender these moments. Fangio overhauling the Ferraris to win his final race in 1957 and Jackie Stewart winning by over 4 minutes in torrential rain in 1968 surely must count as examples of the topic.

 

   Keke Rosberg set the first 160 mph average lap in Grand Prix history at Silverstone in 1985 (before they started butchering it with chicanes) in a Williams Honda, with a deflating rear tyre. And then hopped out and had a ciggie. Michael Schumacher’s series of “qualifying laps” to win the Hungarian Grand Prix in 1998. Moss holding off the Ferraris at Monaco in 1961. Alessandro Zanardi’s last lap lead grab at the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. But not all are laps that produce victory. Some are just stunning because of the performance of the car is transcended. Take Monaco in 1984. And no, I’m not talking about Senna. In ’84 everyone had Turbos except Tyrrell who generally struggled to qualify with their ancient Cosworth V8s. Lap 27. Stefan Bellof overtakes Rene Arnoux’s Ferrari at the Mirabeau – on the footpath - for third place. What would have happened if the race hadn’t been red flagged? Senna was catching Prost but Bellof was catching Senna even faster. Of course we’ll never get to find out and sadly of the three, only Alain is still with us.

 

   I bring this topic up because so far this year there have been some stonking laps that have sadly not been given the prominence that they deserved. For me it started with the Moto 3 race in Argentina. I’d never heard of Khairul Pawi, at just 17 the junior team mate to Hiroki Ono at Honda Team Asia. He had qualified well for the team and lined up 7th on the grid. On dry tyres while most of the field was on intermediates as the track was still wet. You will notice that wet weather often plays a part in these matters. That he led the first lap by a second was superb, but then he proceeded to pull away from the field (again – on DRY tyres) by 3 seconds a lap so by lap 5 he was 13 seconds in the lead. By lap 7 he was 20 seconds in front. In Moto3. Bloody unheard of. From there he started cruising so at lap 18 he was only (gee only) 26 seconds in front. Will he ever reproduce such a performance? We’ll see if they put him on a real front running bike and then some of Marques’ Moto2 and Moto3 heroics may just be relegated from the front rank. Most of the press were rightly enraptured with the dominant performance by Valentino Rossi and his early lap mastery in Spain. Not that I want to down-play that, it was a super ride, but the old dog(ter) is on the best bike and in the best team in a field with really only three competitive teams. Moto3 is vastly more competitive and rarely does anyone even in one of the very top teams put a gap of even 1 second on the field over the course of a race. On drys, in the wet, not on the best bike for the best team, 3 seconds a lap….ye gods.

 

   Nico Rosberg has also pulled out one this year, and again not all that much has been said about it. Most of the talk after the Russian GP was that Hamilton was robbed of a chance of a win due to his water pressure problems. Total and Utter bollocks. True, while Rosberg was dealing with some energy issues of his own and some traffic Hamilton got the gap down to 7 seconds from about 14 and set his best race lap of 1’40.266 on fresh tyres on lap 36. As if to say to Lewis, “wouldn’t have mattered” Nico bunged in an astounding 1’39.094 on knackered tyres on the second last lap of the race, some 1.7 seconds quicker than Hamilton on fresh rubber. That qualifies. Daniel Ricciardo has also transcended his Renault hampered Red Bull twice in qualifying so far this year. Both in China and Spain he produced stunning laps to start 2nd and 3rd respectively, almost half a second quicker than his team mates on both occasions. That’s a lot these days and both times Kvyat and Verstappen were right on the cars ultimate pace. That Max beat Ricciardo to the win in Spain is a great story, but one that owes as much to strategy calls by the team as outright pace. Which Max has in spades. Undoubtedly Max will soon be adding his own legendry moment to this conversation but that’s for another day.

 

 

 

Sam Snape

 

 

 

16/05/2016