The Sporting Chameleon

an absolute cheesecake of a sports blog

Off-track action dominates again in Abu Dhabi

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FORMULA 1’s global circus finally reaches its conclusion this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Jenson Button arrives in the Middle East with the world title already tucked in his pocket and thus it would make sense if that was the sole focus going into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

But this being F1 it is not.

Off-track shenanigans have dominated the sport’s headlines at least as much as the on-track action has this season.

Lewis Hamilton’s Liegate scandal was the main story to emerge from the season opening Australian Grand Prix, after Hamilton and his McLaren team lied in a post-race stewards inquiry.

This continued into the Malaysian Grand Prix, as Hamilton threatened to quit the sport over Liegate.

The race in Malaysia was also overshadowed by a row about its scheduling, which caused its abandonment mid-race.

After China and Bahrain, the season headed to Europe and the Spanish Grand Prix, which prompted Rubens Barrichello to begin his early-to-mid-season discontent at his Brawn GP team, after Button leapfrogged him to claim victory.

The reality at that stage of the season was not that Brawn were favouring Button, but that Button was considerably quicker than his teammate.

The British Grand Prix was a sideshow to the row between the sport’s administrators, the FIA, and the Formula One Team Association (FOTA) – that is that the teams were threatening to break away from the sport and form their own series.

Mark Webber picked up his debut win at the German Grand Prix and it was here Barrichello chose to stage part two of the attack on his own team, saying “It was a good show from the team of how to lose a race”.

The German Grand Prix also played host to the resolution of the FIA’s conflict with FOTA.

The Hungarian Grand Prix deservedly took a backseat to fears over Felipe Massa’s health, after he fractured his skull in a qualifying collision with first a metal spring from Barrichello’s car and then the crash barrier.

Michael Schumacher’s mooted return to the cockpit as Massa’s replacement dominated the run-up to the European Grand Prix.

The races in Belgium, Italy and Singapore all played host to the season’s biggest scandal.

Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Crashgate rumours first emerged at Spa-Francochamps, were confirmed at Monza and by Singapore everyone was mulling over the consquences of Renault team boss Flavio Briatore’s lifetime F1 ban.

A perennial headline stealer is F1’s driver market and its turn finally came later than usual at the Japanese Grand Prix, following the announcement of the secret that everybody already knew – that 2005 and 2006 world champion Fernando Alonso will drive for Ferrari in 2010.

It was race 16 of 17 when the the racing was finally the big story.

Even then at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Mark Webber’s race victory was overshadowed by performances further down the field, as fifth-placed Button clinched the world title.

And it seemed with all the off-track drama over and the championship sewn-up, Button, his rivals and everybody else could finally concentrate on the race in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

But now Donington Park has realised it does not have £135 million after all and the future of the British Grand Prix is the sport’s primary story, in the British media at least.

Politics and skulduggery is part of F1’s appeal, but it should not detract from a great season of racing and a worthy world champion.

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