Year of the underdog

In the America of the 60s, there was a smart car rental company called Avis. However, it was a distant No.2 behind Hertz. Avis knew it was better, but people thought Hertz was the better one. Why else would it be No.1? So, Avis did the unthinkable. “We’re No.2. That’s why we try harder,” screamed their ads. And try they did. That changed people’s perception. In the end, Avis tripled its market share and earned itself a place in advertising folklore.

Something similar is happening now in Formula One. The B-teams are beating the factory teams and the No.2 drivers are beating the No.1s. Toyota-engined Williams are beating the real Toyotas, Renault-engined Red Bulls are out-qualifying the real Renaults, and worse – big brother Honda’s country cousin is turning out to be really Super!

The boffins at Toyota must’ve choked on their sushi as Takuma Sato forced his way past Ralf Schumacher in the dying moments of the Canadian GP. The feeling must’ve been worse back at the Honda headquarters. It’s nothing bad karma. Why else would the two biggest spenders in Formula One face such shame?

They got greedy. They wanted to win at any cost. Even at the cost of the sport. Not surprisingly, the likes of Sir Frank raised an alarm regarding B-Teams. Their argument was that the auto majors would deploy surrogate teams and turn privateers like Williams into endangered species. The threat was imminent, and the argument valid. Strangely though, the strategy is turning out to be detrimental to the biggies themselves.

The only one to escape such ignominy seems to be Ferrari, as both Toro Rosso and Spyker are where they were meant to be. But Ferrari is suffering a different kind of problem – indigestion. Their much-hyped, highly-paid star Kimi Raikkonen is turning out to be a damp squib, and it hasn’t gone down too well with Maranello. Felipe Massa meanwhile has kept a low-profile and worked harder. No wonder questions are being raised about driver compensation.

One gentleman in particular would have a lot of answering to do – Signor Montezemelo. The inside news is that, he had bulldozed his way through to hire Kimi Raikkonen at an astronomical salary despite resistance from Jean Todt, thus forcing Schumi into premature retirement.

But hey, Kimi is not the only one in trouble. Some of his counterparts are suffering too – but of a different kind. Rookies. Lewis Hamilton at Mc Laren is clearly unsettling the double world champion Fernando Alonso. Heikki Kovalainen at Renault is fast accelerating Giancarlo Fisichella towards retirement. And Adrian Sutil at Spyker is calling the bluff on Christijan Albers.

Clearly, the underdogs are doing better because they are trying harder. And the top dogs have their task cut out. Perhaps, they should pay attention to Ricky Ponting. When asked what the secret behind Australia’s winning streak is, he said, “We simply think that we are the second best team out there.”

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