I'm still trying to absorb and process everything that happened in the last season of Formula 1.
We were treated to a spectacular 2021 season. We had different winners. We had crazy wet weather. We had new (and returning) grand prix locations. We saw rookies and a champion retire. We had drama on the track and raw emotion in the garage. We were treated to a titanic fight. The King Kong vs Godzilla vs Mecha Godzilla meme was right, but we're still talking about Wolff versus Horner versus Masi.
Hamilton versus Verstappen? That fight was epic, no-holds-barred, controversial, and went right down to the final race. That was the Thrilla in (kind of) Manila. If you've ever landed at Abu Dhabi International, you'll understand why.
The past season has been unlike any other I have seen in the previous 30. Yes, it was in 1991 when I first learned of F1 when I was flipping through the channels and came upon these cool cars going at such high speed and racing each other. And Ayrton Senna from Brazil had just secured his third championship.
9-year old me was fascinated, but it was a year later that I really started watching F1. By then we had moved to Japan and there they broadcast F1 live over TV. They love their motor racing there too, with many of the famous drivers being on billboards, particularly Senna.
But here, F1 has always been a niche thing. Very few really followed it and saw the commercial value in the Philippine setting. When I was in high school and college, I can only think of a handful of friends that really followed Formula One. Most were into NBA, or pool, or boxing.
That all started to change about a year ago. Friends who I haven't spoken to for years started messaging asking when the next race is, what I thought about the overtake this driver made, or why Merc is so fast. When I joined the F1 Club of the Philippines group (a collection of grand prix fans) on Facebook in 2011, I think there were only maybe a few hundred members. Now there are almost 6000.
The increase in interest is not because the racing somehow got better in the turbo hybrid era. The racing was good, but only Mercedes was playing for all the marbles. If anything, interest actually declined. I used to call it "Formula Yawn" at one point. What made the difference was Netflix and Drive to Survive (DTS).
For decades, F1 has not been an open book. It's an uber-exclusive club, and gaining access to what's going on behind the scenes was tightly controlled. But the post-Ecclestone owners of F1 wanted to change it, and started allowing Netflix to produce a series. DTS gave us an inside look -albeit somewhat sensationalized- into F1. We literally felt like the flies on the walls in the meetings, the garages, and the motivations of the drivers.
It was -and is- fantastic. And just as they set up interest worldwide, the racing that happened this past season sent it out of the park. The promise was delivered, but there has been something noticeable about 2021: the polarization of the fans between Lewis and Max.
There are fans that are quite enthusiastic, but sometimes there are those that take it too far. Sometimes the comments online -be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit- have the same vitriol you'd normally find in the modern political arena in an age of polarized politics. Nasty names, racist comments, so on and so forth; it was pretty bad to see. The last time we saw this was the booing that went on in 2016 when Hamilton and Rosberg were battling it out, but not even that compared.
Maybe part of it was an obsession for a GOAT - Greatest Of All Time. In basketball, that's usually the argument people get between who's better: Lebron or Michael. In racing, it's either Lewis or, well, another Michael. My opinion: It's not right to declare a GOAT if the game -the sport- is still being played, and there are a lot of talented ones out there.
Maybe that's the way it is now, but I certainly hope not. Friends were asking me if I was a fan of either driver. Personally, I was rooting for 33 and not 44, but I'm a fan of both. I'm also a fan of Kimi, of Fernando, of Carlos, of Charles, of all of them. I'm a fan of F1, of Le Mans, of WRC, of NASCAR, of IndyCar, and many more.
I'm a racing fan. I have been ever since I sat down in front of the TV, watching Senna, Prost, Mansell, Berger, Hill, Hakkinen and Schumacher (senior) duke it out. And judging by how last season went with Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Sainz, Russell, Leclerc, Norris, Ricciardo, Alonso, Vettel, Ocon, Gasly, Schumacher (junior) and the rest, 2022 is going to be epic too.