Romain Grosjean survived one of the worst accidents we have ever seen. Lance Stroll flipped. Sergio Pérez caught on fire while running third. The Formula Two championship will go down to the wire. Super GT closed its season with a championship coming down to the final corner and the last drop of fuel. Elsewhere, Kevin Magnussen is on the verge of joining Chip Ganassi Racing's IMSA program. The LMP2 grid continues to grow for the 24 Hours of Daytona. Marc Márquez's recovery is taking longer than expected. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.
Period of Redemption
There is something I have noticed in the North American sports world over the last handful of years, and that is it appears we are living in a period of redemption. Notable champions have come after crushing heartbreak.
The notable ones have been in college basketball. First, it was North Carolina, who lost the 2016 national championship game on a buzzer-beater to Villanova, returning to the final the year after and defeating Gonzaga. In 2018, Virginia became the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed, when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County won by 20 points. Virginia returned to the tournament in 2019, as a 1-seed, and won the championship in overtime over Texas Tech.
This year saw the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, one season after Tampa Bay became the first Presidents' Trophy winners, given to the team with the best regular season record, to be swept in the first round. In 2019, Columbus eliminated Tampa Bay in four games. One year later, Tampa Bay was facing Columbus again in the first round and it started with a five-overtime, six-hour epic that Tampa Bay pulled out. Despite this marathon to start its Stanley Cup push, Tampa Bay had enough fire to last two months playing behind closed doors away from their families and earn its second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
After losing the World Series in 2017 and 2018 to two teams who pushed the rules and arguably cheated, the Los Angeles Dodgers earned its first championship in 32 years with pitcher Clayton Kershaw putting his postseason demons to rest. A few years ago, the Kansas City Royals won the World Series a year after losing in seven games to the San Francisco Giants and ending a 30-year championship drought. We also had the Chicago Cubs end its 108-year World Series drought not that long ago.
Even the New England Patriots bounced back from a Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 to win its sixth championship over the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.
Redemption has not been held to just the United States. France lost the UEFA Euro 2016 Final on home soil to Portugal in extra time despite Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo exiting the match in the 25th minute. Two years later, France won its second World Cup.
Liverpool ended its 30-year championship drought this past August, but this championship came one season after Liverpool put up 97 points, at the time the third most points a club had ever earned and lost the championship to Manchester City. How did Liverpool follow up such a painstaking title loss? With a 99-point season and clinching the title with seven games remaining, the earliest a Premier League championship has been claimed.
Let's also not forget to mention that after Liverpool lost the UEFA Champions League Final to Real Madrid in 2018, it returned to the final in 2019 and defeated Tottenham Hotspur.
When looking at how many recent redemption stories in other sports, it got me wondering of whether we have seen any in motorsports of late.
We had Hélio Castroneves earn his first championship a few weeks ago in IMSA, and while that was not a straight up story of redemption from one year to another, it was a fulfillment of a career.
Nick Cassidy lost the Super Formula championship on the final day of the 2018 season when Naoki Yamamoto won the finale at Suzuka and Cassidy finished second. One year later, second would be enough for Cassidy in the finale and he took the title after entering trailing Yamamoto by a point.
IndyCar has hit a period of Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden trading championships, but before that we had a few redemption stories. Simon Pagenaud's 2016 title came after a disappointing first season with Team Penske in 2015, not a horrible season but not a good one either. Will Power's championship in 2014 came after years of heartbreak, including losing the championship after leading entering the finale in three consecutive seasons. In 2012, Ryan Hunter-Reay won the championship after failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 the year before.
Kyle Busch won his first NASCAR Cup championship after breaking his leg and missing the first 11 races in 2015.
The truth is these redemption stories do not feel the same as other sports.
It is not that redemption is not possible in motorsports. It doesn't quite match what is seen in team sports. The heartbreak isn't the same. In motorsports, the finale doesn't always decide the championship and it isn't always a case of it coming down to two drivers battling for one spot to decide it all on the final lap. In other sports, you can boil it down to one moment, North Carolina losing on a buzzer-beater, Virginia losing to a 16-seed, Tampa Bay being swept. In motorsports, while you can look at one moment, an entire season makes up a lost championship.
Taking Cassidy's lost 2018 championship as example, yes, he could have finished ahead of Yamamoto in the Suzuka finale, but he could have earned two more points in any one of three other races. Cassidy was seventh in the Suzuka season opener. A fifth-place finish would have given him two more points and earned him the championship. The Okayama race was rain-shortened, and half points were awarded. Cassidy was fifth at Okayama and instead of getting four points, he only got two. That is another place where those two points could have gone in Cassidy's favor.
We are also in a period of dominance across the motorsports world. In Formula One, it is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes cleaning up every year. Unless you want to consider Nico Rosberg beating Hamilton for the title in 2016 a story of redemption, it really hasn't happened since Jenson Button and Brawn GP stunned the world in 2009.
Marc Márquez was injured this year, but MotoGP has seen Márquez control the championship pretty much since he arrived in 2013. The exits of Porsche and Audi from LMP1 racing left the championships Toyota's for the taking. While I listed three IndyCar championships above, the last four years have been two drivers trading the title.
There is also the case where not every champion is a redemption story. Most aren't. That is the case most of the time in NASCAR. Chase Elliott's championship this year was not some sort of redemption. The same can be said of Kyle Busch last year and Joey Logano the year before that. Martin Truex, Jr.'s championship in 2017 could fit the mold, as his was more a career achievement after having periods of poor results and it was a Cinderella story with Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing winning a title. Before that, we Jimmie Johnson wrapping up seven championships in 11 seasons.
There will be possible redemption stories in 2021.
In NASCAR, the main one will be Denny Hamlin getting his first championship after two seasons making the final four and coming short. Kevin Harvick will be another possibility after he won nine races in 2020 only not to make the final four and not have a shot at the championship in the finale.
Alexander Rossi will look to bounce back and get his first IndyCar championship after 2020 saw him go winless for the first time in his career. The same will go for Rossi in the Indianapolis 500 after he was taken out of contention due to a penalty in this year's race.
Marc Márquez's absence due to injury has created a redemption story after he missed nearly the entire 2020 season. It wouldn't be the most shocking result if Márquez won the title, but it would make up for a season lost.
Formula One is the one place redemption doesn't seem possible next year. With Hamilton's dominance, no one has been hard done. If 2021 were to be Valtteri Bottas' year, it wouldn't really be redemption. It would be Bottas getting his share of success. If Red Bull were to breakthrough, it would be a breakthrough, not really redemption.
Sebastian Vettel could be looking for redemption after his disastrous end with Ferrari. If Vettel were to win the world championship in his first season with Aston Martin, that would be a redemption story. Vettel doesn't even have to win the world championship to earn redemption. He just has to be competitive. Other than Vettel, most are looking to rock the boat, not to make up for something lost.
Next year might not bring the redemption stories that feel kind of regular, but everyone will be gunning to be better. We could see the familiar faces remain on top or perhaps someone will earn a championship that means just a little more than if someone else won it.
Champions From the Weekend
The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino clinched the Super GT GT500 championship with a victory at Fuji. Yamamoto overtook the #37 Team KeePer'sOM's Toyota of Ryō Hirakawa exiting the final corner when Hirakawa ran out of fuel. Hirakawa would have won the championship had he held on to win the race.
The #56 Kondō Racing Nissan of João Paulo de Oliveira and Kiyoto Fujinami clinched the Super GT GT300 championship with a runner-up finish at Fuji.
Winners From the Weekend
You know about Naoki Yamamoto and Tadasuke Makino, but did you know...
Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix, his 11th victory of 2020.
Felipe Drugovich and Robert Shwartzman split the Formula Two races from Bahrain.
The #52 Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota of Kohta Kawaai and Hiroki Yoshida won in the GT300 class in the Super GT race from Fuji.
Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One remains in Bahrain but will run the perimeter circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Super Formula has a doubleheader at Suzuka for its penultimate round of 2020.
Rally Monza closes out the World Rally Championship season.