An Open Letter To Sebastian Vettel, Post-2017 Season.

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Dear Sebastian,

You’re unbelievable, you know that?

Honestly, I don’t think I like you very much right now.

Where do I even begin? So you started the season with a win in Australia, and officially broke Ferrari’s drought. That made me hope, so much. The kind of hope that is beautiful, yet dangerous; because while it can move mountains, it can also lead to monumental heartbreak.

Was this the year, finally? Part of me was scared, but you looked so sure, so confident. Gina, your car, was in her element. You took another win in Bahrain and steadily racked up points and podium finishes.

Monaco was weird. I was happy you won but also felt uncomfortable because Kimi somehow felt played by the team. My heart was so confused. But then again, judging from your behavior, It was clear that you had nothing to do with what happened, so I gave you a pass and moved on.

Let’s get it out of the way and talk about Baku and THAT incident. What on earth went through that brain of yours to make you pull that move? I was bemused, and aghast, and so deeply disappointed. It was an opportunity to win that blew up in smoke because of a lapse of judgment in your part. You lost your cool, and things got ugly. I couldn’t even defend you on social media after that. You were in the wrong, and there was no way for me to rationalize that. If I could turn back time, I’d do everything in my power to stop that moment of madness from happening. Sigh.

We all make mistakes, and thankfully, you were not punished harshly, but of course it became a giant blot of stain in your title charge. As early as that point, critics were already questioning whether you deserve the title at all after that…infamous nudge.

Then there was that minor disaster in Silverstone. The Mercs slaughtered the Ferraris in qualifying. And of course you and Kimi just had to get nearly identical tire punctures in the last lap. I wanted to kick things and flip tables but miraculously, you both managed to pit and get back to the track to take the checquered flag. Sure, finishing 7th wasn’t ideal, but every single point counted now that Lewis was making a charge of his own.

History was on your side. Records show that you have not yet lost a title battle that you’ve led. I wanted that record to stand, and although you snatched that win in Hungaroring again from Kimi, I held on to the thought that so far, only the Michael Schumacher has managed to win the Hungarian GP and the Driver’s Title in the same year, and if any other driver can duplicate that rather strange record, then it’s you.

Things seemed to be going smoothly, until Monza, when you first lost the WDC lead. You couldn’t fight for the win that weekend but I couldn’t take it against you. Strangely enough, I wasn’t that worried yet then, I was pretty sure you’d snatch back the lead soon enough. And when you preached to the Tifosi on the podium in Italian, no less? My heart melted in a puddle of emotions. You are truly one of us. You are the driver Ferrari deserves.

But then, the Asian leg happened. So much potential, so much promise. But only heartaches ensued. That Singapore pole was spectacular, I yelled so loudly when you snatched it. You said on team radio that you wanted that one badly, and it showed. You went all in, and it paid off.

It still pains me to think about that Night Race weekend, the weekend where what happened on that track forced me to feel and face all the pain from real life. I was so sad but could not even cry. It was the type of sadness that was beyond tears. Tears could not properly express the desolation that washed over me. It got so bad that I took a break from social media, I could not bear to look at anything F1-related.

Things marginally got better in my life enough for me to regain some calmness and catch the Malaysian GP, but of course there was another disaster in Qualifying that sent you to the back of the grid. The wolves were already salivating at the thought of your title charge starting to crumble, but in my heart, I knew that you’re up to the challenge. And we did indeed see Sebastian The Road Runner that raceday. A charge from the back all the way to P4 that was a sight to behold. It was clear you were not going down without a proper fight, like the Champion that you are.

I had to miss the Japanese GP due to an appointment, but when I checked my phone a few hours after the race and was greeted with various iterations of “Nooooo!!” and expletives, I knew another disaster had befallen on you.

By the end of the Suzuka weekend, my (external and internal) tears have run out. A strange calm took over me and I decided to let fate be. Que sera, sera.

It pained me so much to see how sad you were after Austin. For the first time this season, I sensed your despair. The title was slipping away, and staying in contention was proving to be a Herculean task.

However, you weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel. You pulled an astonishing pole position in Mexico. That fightback in the race? It was so worth staying up until 4:41am for. Unfortunately, finishing P4 was not enough and the Driver’s Championship was decided there. Still, I was so proud of you for the effort you put in. Seeing you so dejected after the race was difficult, but you had enough grace and class to congratulate your opponent and to focus on the positives.

And then you gave us that Interlagos win. Ferrari’s first win there since 2008. I was imploring all gods that will listen for them to let you hang on to the win. You need it. I need it. The Tifosi need it. My stomach was churning, my legs were doing the jiggles, but I could not take my eyes off from the tv. And you did it.

Abu Dhabi was, for lack of a better term, an anticlimax. Both Championships have been decided and the Mercs dominated a nondescript race yet again. I stayed mainly to see you on the podium, and to see the new logo of F1 unveiled.

After all of that, came the…emptiness. the realization that it is finally over.

I had to say goodbye to the 2017 season. I had to say goodbye to Gina, the loveliest and feistiest Ferrari I’ve seen in ages.
I had to say goodbye to your title charge.

I had to look at you and assess just how I really feel.

So yes, I don’t like you very much right now because “like” is not the appropriate term to describe how I feel about you. I don’t like you as a racing driver–I love you, actually. I love you as a racing driver. And I mean that in the most platonic, respectful way possible. It’s a kind of love fueled by gratitude, and admiration, not just for your talent but for you as a whole, as a person.

I love that you’re passionate about what you do, that you put in 100% of yourself, criticisms be damned.
I love that you respect and protect the team. I love that you foster a family atmosphere.
I love that you don’t blame anybody else when the car fails.
I love that you stay away from mind games and unnecessary politicking.
I even love how you’re still such a big kid and that you are, by and large, a monumental dork.
I love that you’re imperfect and that you both own and own up to your flaws.
I love that while you remind me of Schumi, you are very much your own person, too.

Throughout the year, your title challenge with Ferrari was a bright spot in my oftentimes dismal and challenging life. You represented a form of escape, something to look forward to when things aren’t going right. Every emotion–good or bad–was heightened because I wanted it so much for you. We wanted it so much for you.

Let me be clear: I’m in no way, shape, or form, angry at you. How could I be when I know in my heart that you did your absolute best? I never expected you to be perfect or be some kind of Ferrari Messiah, I wanted you to be yourself. You are enough.

You may not have a tangible trophy to hold aloft this season, but there’s plenty of invaluable lessons learned. Setbacks are only prologues to bouncebacks. And you’re pretty damn good at that.

As I’ve said on Twitter: Sometimes in life, you have to go through the 1996-1999 Schumi in order to get to the 2000-2004 Schumi. You will get to it, and soon. I trust you to not give up, because we, your supporters, will never give up on you.

Just be you, Sebastian. We wouldn’t change you for the world. I know I wouldn’t.

Rest up and recharge. We will go again next year. And you know what? I have all the faith in the world that you will win that title with Ferrari. Get ready for it.

Sincerely,

Marj.

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Grazie, Seb.

Michael Schumacher: Meeting The Man and What He Means To Me.

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You have no idea how exasperating it is when I talk to someone about Formula One (sometimes at length, with mostly me talking) and they reduce the whole conversation to, “So you have a crush on Michael Schumacher?”

The short of the long answer is: NO, I do not have, and never had, a “crush” on Michael Schumacher. And I mean that in the best, most respectful way possible.

But in order to better explain my point, let me retrace my F1 history.

I began liking F1 as a prepubescent tomboy, when boys were still gross/annoying and I only wore skirts because they were part of my Catholic school uniform.

I chanced upon his name on a scaled model of his Benetton F1 car. I was a full-fledged Benetton kid/snob, so I immediately fell in love with that colorful car. And then I saw the name by the side.

Michael Schumacher. That sounds like a badass name, my preteen self thought. Surely someone who has a name as badass as that and who also gets to race an equally badass car, should be legitimately badass in real life, right?

And so my F1 story progressed. I scoured the newspapers, went to the library to peruse the magazines, watched the international sports news for snippets, until I finally managed to watch the races on TV. My memory is hazy on when I put a face to his name, but by that time, what he looked like mattered little to me; I’ve already claimed him as my Racing Icon.

Years went by and I fell even more in love with the sport. It was my awesome little secret, growing up in a basketball-crazy nation. I officially defected from the Enstone team the moment Schumi moved to Ferrari, a little bit sad to leave Benetton but secretly delighted that his new main color is my favorite: Red.

Even during his “barren years”, I was never really worried; I knew in my heart that he’s destined for more championships and that he would end up as the Greatest Racing Driver ever.

As a racer, Schumacher was everything I wanted: He was blindingly fast, he was ruthless, hardworking, and insanely focused. Self-contained but surrounded by ride or dies. His hunger to win was insatiable. He toed the fine line between Hero and Villain unapologetically. You either loved him or loathed him. There is no in-between.

I did not support him because he won so much to the point of domination. Something inside me chose him. And the rest is, history.

It never really occurred to me that it’s possible for me to meet him. During the time when budget airlines were still scarce and I was restrained by the duties of finishing my schooling, attending an F1 race was nothing but a pipe dream.

However, everything changed when my mother met Michael Schumacher. Yes, my own mother actually met Schumi a decade ahead of me.

Fate has a quirky sense of humor, at times.

It was during a work trip that coincided with the Malaysian GP. Everything was spur-of-the-moment and a bit of a blur. She didn’t get to have a photo with him but she did get to shake his hand and chat with him a bit. My mother had nothing but good words about him. Most notably, she said he’s really humble and you wouldn’t think you’d be talking to a sporting superstar by the way he put her at ease. “He’s very kind”, she’d repeat over and over again.

I knew he wasn’t the cold, ruthless, heartless, arrogant bastard/machine that the media proclaimed him to be, I thought with a mixture of relief and smugness. I chose my Racing Icon correctly! Ever since then, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I stand a chance to meet him, too. Imagine my disappointment when he announced his retirement from F1 in 2006. My dream was shattered into tiny pieces.

Three years later, as I sat alone in the office, I found out that he’s returning to Formula 1, this time as a driver for Mercedes GP. I’m not ashamed to say I let out a whoop and danced like a lunatic. The dream is alive again!

I finally watched Michael Schumacher race an F1 car in person when I attended my 2nd GP: The 2010 F1 Night Race in Singapore. I remember standing there on the viewing platform by Turn 14 as he drove past, my mouth unabashedly open and my eyes might as well have had cartoon hearts on it. To say it was a joy to see him race again would be an understatement. I felt like I was on some sort of pilgrimage, paying respects to my racing god.

However, It wasn’t until the 2012 F1 Night Race when finally, FINALLY, the dream of meeting him came to fruition. With the help of a fellow F1 (and Kimi) fan, we waited patiently outside the Paddock Entrance/Exit to try to catch the drivers after Qualifying. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to meet Schumi that night (or day, as it was already past midnight in Singapore then); I mean, why would he choose to exit the paddock by feet when he could easily leave via a chaffeured Mercedes car? Also, I was exhausted, hungry, sleepless–I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. Numerous drivers came and went and I even managed a few autographs. There was a lull for several minutes so I stepped back from the throng of fans to drink some water and hopefully catch a breeze, but then there was this gasp from another fan that my ears miraculously picked up.

I was still rooted to my spot when I saw my fellow fans stir. I couldn’t understand why there was a sudden…reverential silence outside the paddock. “Who’s that?” I asked out loud. My friend had no idea and moved towards the crowd. All of a sudden, someone went, “Michael!” which sent my brain into overdrive.

“Holy shit! Michael? THE Michael Schumacher?! No. What? Seriously? NO WAY!!”, my brain screamed.

I surged forward and true enough, there he was, just starting to sign for the small(ish) group of fans gathered behind the barrier. Hilarious but most of them had this “Oh my gosh, it really IS Michael Schumacher” look on their faces, and I bet that not all of them are even fans of his. I wish I had taken a pic of that moment but at that point, I was so awestruck that my motor skills were close to zilch. I managed to take a pic of him, and then proceeded to internally freak out just as he was slowly inching towards my side of the barrier:

There he is! It really is him!

“Shit. What do I do? What do I say to him?”
“Stay calm, FFS. Whatever you do, don’t scream ‘I LOVE YOU, SCHUMI!’ and scare him off.”
“You can do this. Just breathe. Be polite and look him in the eyes, okay?!”

Schumi is getting closer!

A picture of me taking a picture of Schumi. As you can see, I’m already having trouble controlling my camera’s zoom function out of nerves. Ha!

At last, he was right in front of me. The Man Who Was Responsible For My Formula One Love Affair. The world may as well have stopped spinning. The concept of time disappeared.

I meekly held out the orange collapsible fan I had the other F1 drivers sign to him. “Michael, please?”, I managed to say in a prim voice that sounded completely alien to my ears.

“Sure!” He replied cheerfully.
He held a part of the fan while signing, and paused in the middle of it to look at me, probably because my hand was shaking out of nerves and multitudinal feelings. He gave me such a reassuring, “It’s okay, don’t be nervous”-smile and I will never forget the kindness in his eyes. I wish I could have talked to him and told him how important this moment was to me, but I was so overwhelmed that I could only manage a, “Thank you, Michael. Good luck!” along with an “I’m trying my best not to spontaneously combust right in front of you, please forgive my lack of eloquence” smile.

Schumi looked me in the eyes once again, smiled and replied, “No problem at all. Bye!” gave me a farewell wave, and moved on to a group of Japanese girls who immediately and happily encircled him.

I finally got my Schumi autograph!

I couldn’t believe that just really happened. I just had a legit face-to-face interaction with him. And breathe.

I vaguely remember sending out a text blast to my friends screaming in all caps that I’ve met Schumi. I bet they weren’t amused to receive a text at such an ungodly hour but hey ho, no regrets.

In all seriousness, the thing about Michael Schumacher is that he really had that aura of being “somebody” without being arrogant or self-aware about it. He was kind, he was patient, he had time for everyone who was there, he was polite, he was grounded. “He wore his greatness with grace” was how I described him to my friends and anyone who would care to listen to me tell the tale of how I met him.

Before, I wished I’d have done more: I wish I talked to him, asked him stuff, begged him not to retire yet, shook his hand, took photos with him, asked for a hug, gave him a gift or a letter, the list goes on and on. But then, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t devalue the moment by dwelling on regrets. That moment was how it should have been and that is the beauty and uniqueness of it.

Not every racing fan got the opportunity to meet him while he was still a part of the F1 world, and I shall forever hold that memory and experience dear in my heart.

We all know by now what happened to him after he left F1 again, this time for good. Every single day, I wish and pray for his wellness and recovery, as I’m sure thousands (maybe even millions) of his other supporters also do.

He’s a man who shared his passion with thousands of others and became an inspiration to so much more. Mine is one of those lives he had changed and affected in some way; I will always defend him and wish him well, no matter what.

It was a pleasure and an honor to have been in his presence and whoever said never to meet your heroes is absolutely wrong because they’ve obviously never met Michael Schumacher.

He’s more than a racer. He’s a kind, charitable man, a great friend to many and a once-in-a-lifetime type of person.

While there is still a fighting chance, I will never give up. We will never give up.

Keep Fighting, Michael.