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Joe Saward, Hindustan Times
April 03, 2012
You may have read last week about some bizarre stories about world champion Sebastian Vettel calling Narain Karthikeyan "a cucumber" after their collision during the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Each nation has its eccentricities and the Germans have a thing about cucumbers and their pickled brothers, gherkins.

Instead of "a silly season", the Germans have "pickled gherkin time". They wish their children "sweet dreams of sour gherkins" and some of them even hang a gherkin on their Christmas tree. The gherkin/cucumber is considered something silly and somewhat amusing, although Vettel's English translation of his remark as "idiot" was a somewhat harsher word.

Whatever the details, what Vettel was saying was that Narain was "silly" to have collided with him, an incident which damaged the Red Bull's rear tyre and dropped him out of the points. The FIA stewards later gave Narain a meaningless penalty, which I thought was rather harsh. The TV pictures certainly made it look like Narain had given Vettel plenty of space to pass and the impatient German youngster had cut it too fine and had, in reality, done his own damage.

All of this was amusing enough, but I think it was quite an interesting reaction from Vettel. In the last two seasons, he has got used to having everything his way. He has wagged a single finger in the air a great deal and has had the luxury of peace of mind. People have begun to talk of him as something extra special. For me, the sign of a great champion is not what they do in a good car, but rather what they do in a poor one, and it is clear this year that Vettel is facing the less than pleasant reality that he may have to wave four or five fingers in the air at every race.

He is frustrated.

Mind your mind
Frustration is part of the job of being an F1 driver. You cannot always have the best car and when you do not, you just have to live with it and do the best that you can. Fernando Alonso is doing that with considerable style at the moment at Ferrari.

Vettel is not adapting as well. The happy-go-lucky, funny guy has disappeared and we have seen glimpses of the same angry young man who popped up a couple of years ago in Turkey when he ran into his team-mate Mark Webber and blamed it on the Australian. Vettel gets flustered when things are not going his way. In his defence, he is much younger than Alonso. Vettel is 24, while Alonso is a battle-scarred 30. One forgets Vettel's relative youth because of the usual maturity of his driving. However, if one juxtaposes the reactions of Vettel and Jenson Button, who also collided with Karthikeyan in Malaysia, one can see a clear difference. The 32-year-old Englishman took the blame for the crash and said it was entirely his fault. I think Vettel should have done the same.

The other thing that these two incidents show is that in F1 there is little respect for the back-markers. They are there and they are in the way. That is a shame in many respects because the men driving the HRTs are both very capable. Even the so-called "pay-drivers" in F1 are exceptionally talented. In my opinion, Narain warrants his place in the sport. Okay, he's not an Alonso or a Hamilton, but he is a very competent driver and has earned his chance. He is certainly no embarrassment, and I hope that he will be an inspiration for a generation of young Indians in the future. Getting to F1 is no mean achievement, particularly if you come from a country with no great tradition in motor racing. Narain has done that and I do not think it is right for anyone to call him a gherkin - or a cucumber come to that.

The author has attended every Grand Prix for last 25 years.