La Festa di San Gregario

The Feast of San Gregario – Alberto Antonini

Following a powerful script, Red Bull confirmed Sergio Perez as an official driver for another two seasons, thus putting another step in a still largely vacant drivers market. I remember Checo from when he was still a driver of the newborn Ferrari Academy, at the time run by Luca Baldisserri, who collided irreparably with the character of the Mexican boy. I also have memories of his years at Sauber: when, surprisingly, he conquered the podium at Sepang 2012, an equally surprising race won by Alonso’s Ferrari, and had himself portrayed (Sergio, not Fernando) languidly lying on a sofa, wearing the fireproof suit but barefoot. I also remember his single season at McLaren, when he had an argument with Button, his teammate, and Kimi Raikkonen wanted to punch him in the face. I interviewed him at a Grand Prix and at a certain point he blurted out: now enough with this reputation of ‘bad’ that I wear. Many years have passed and ‘Checo’ has certainly matured; he calmed down and even reproduced (three times, if I’m not mistaken). Maybe few have noticed it, but he is one of the veterans of this Formula One. He won little, but he won, and always with merit. And when he had the opportunity, like Sunday in Monte Carlo, he made no mistakes.

Net of the character, a very good driver. But it’s not Max Verstappen: and Red Bull knows this, Max knows and Sergio probably realizes it too. I think his team did the math well, putting an end to the nerve-wracking swing of teammates and stabilizing the situation. Chris Horner and Helmut Marko will be able to count on a pair of drivers where the roles are defined, so to speak, by nature. In Spain, the low wall asked Sergio to swap positions with his partner. Will he happen again, the same thing, with reversed roles? I doubt it: unless a situation like Schumacher-Irvine is repeated in ’99, or Raikkonen-Massa in 2008. That is a series of circumstances for which the destined wingman becomes the owner because he is better placed in the world rankings. They are called “rules of engagement” and I think they exist in all teams: they are necessary, but not always sufficient. And they are based on the assumption that even in the most individualistic sport after golf, individualisms must disappear facing the possibility of a world title.
Now someone will think that he wants to draw an ungenerous comparison with what happened, again in Monaco, between Ferrari and Sainz. I really can’t care less. It is useless – and even a bit stupid – to blame all the blame on Carlos’ ambitions, when the problem occurred on the command line of the wall, where many speak and few decide. I also understand that Sainz jr. wants to clarify with the media what actually happened, even if in this case it should be Ferrari and not his entourage who call the journalists. A question of roles. I don’t know if John Elkann internalized his discontent, but I would understand if he wasn’t satisfied. These are things that a smart guy like Carlos will have to understand, better sooner than later: when you join Ferrari, that’s your family. And within this family, I say and subscribe, there is a firstborn son named Charles Leclerc. And today there is a situation for which the chase for the title has become a delicate matter, to be entrusted to those who, at least on paper, give greater guarantees.

Cynicism? But no, nature. Natural leaders have always been there. When Berger ran in McLaren alongside Senna, he knew very well what his role was. That’s not to say he didn’t constantly try to be faster than his teammate, shutting his brains off at Spa’s Eau Rouge (which was a difficult corner at the time) in order to make it all the way through. Only then to discover that Ayrton, at that point, took his foot off the gas, then recovered in the next sector. Gerhard and Senna got along well on this basis. They once saw them sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Montreal hotel, late in the evening, engaged in a conversation that had cut them off from the world and went on for hours. Berger made his teammate pay for his psychological subjection jokes on the edge of the penal code, like throwing his briefcase with documents out of the helicopter or filling his hotel room with giant frogs. Nigel Mansell, on the other hand, once told us with ill-concealed satisfaction of when, after a pole lap at Silverstone (when he was riding, you wondered if the Williams had the brakes) Riccardo Patrese had knelt in front of him like an ancient knight, holding out a hand towards the crotch of the pants “because he wanted to hear how much they weighed”.
F1 is a beautiful but selfish sport; and it is also a great cinema. In which no one wants to admit to being a number two (Hill and Webber’s psychological discomforts come to mind), but everyone is aware of their value towards their teammate. A value that is not made only of speed, but also of constancy, charisma, leadership, the ability to interact with work colleagues. In short, a decent metaphor for life. In which, as in the Giro d’Italia, the subordinate occasionally has the opportunity to win the stage. Then, if the foreman gets distracted, if all of a sudden his legs get soft, then Viva San Gregario.

FP | Alberto Antonini


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