Mission Impossible

The Mission: Impossible franchise started out in 1966 as an American television series and ran for seven seasons. Today, it has evolved into a billion-dollar movie series with enormous production budgets with box office returns running into hundreds of millions of dollars, making it the 20th highest grossing film series of all time.

The sixth film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, is scheduled to open this week with much anticipated hype, and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) crew led by the franchise star, Tom Cruise (who is also the producer and franchise owner)  are expected to deliver another blockbuster spy thriller filled with amazing stunts, high speed chases and mind bending escapes.

Sport fans, more specifically, Formula One (F1) and golf aficionados, last Sunday were treated to two different previews of the latest sequel in the Mission Impossible series. The first, the German F1 Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring circuit, witnessed the home town favourite, Sebastian Vettel and the Briton, Lewis Hamilton, experiencing the extreme highs and lows of racing.

The race, posited commentator and writer, Martin Brundle, a veteran of 165 Grand Prix races, “was surely F1 at its best? Fast, chaotic, unpredictable, controversial, dramatic and closely fought.” 

Hamilton was the focus of attention heading into the weekend, following the announcement on Thursday of his contract extension with Mercedes until 2020. The deal reportedly will pay Hamilton £30 million, but can reach as high as £40 million with bonuses. Trailing Vettel by eight points in the championship standings, heading into the eleventh race, the midpoint of the season, Lewis’ car experienced a hydraulic leak in the qualifying rounds on Saturday, and he found himself starting in the fourteenth position on the grid.

Vettel, in a Ferrari, had no such problems and grabbed the pole position in qualifying before the large home crowd and looked set to extend his lead in the drivers’ championship. It has been virtually a two- man race all season, with Vettel topping the podium in Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Hamilton’s home town race at the famous Silverstone circuit, two weekends before, and Hamilton doing the honours in Azerbaijan, Spain and France.

Vettel appeared to be cruising to the inevitable victory as he kept an eye on the approaching rain. In the meanwhile, Hamilton was working his way through the field at a fast pace, eventually getting to fifth place, but was still 27 seconds behind Vettel.

Whilst his rivals had pitted early for new tyres, Hamilton hung on until the 42nd lap before opting for new ultra-soft tyres.  It looked as though he had left it too late, but less than two laps later it started to drizzle, than it came down harder and the track became slippery. The conditions were perfect for Hamilton who, like his boyhood hero, the late Brazilian, Ayrton Senna, loves driving in the rain. Hamilton began pushing harder, at times going three seconds faster per lap than those ahead of him. Soon he was in fourth place.

 Vettel, in control of the race with 15 laps to go, committed a tiny error. In the wet conditions, the most difficult for racing at such high rates of speed, the margin for error is minimal, and Vettel, whose tyres weren’t as fresh as Hamilton’s, misjudged turn 13, braked too late and hit the wall in front of the stadium section with the majority of the fans. End of the race for Vettel, opportunity for Hamilton.

The pundits had expected Hamilton to work his way through the field and grab some points with a possible top five finish. Podium? That would have been stretching it a bit. Win? Impossible!

While his rivals pitted for new tyres, Hamilton stayed out on the track while the safety car was deployed, and then jostled with his teammate Valtteri Bottas for the lead when the race resumed. Hamilton was away and held on for the impossible win, which was later confirmed following the stewards’ enquiry.

When Hamilton was asked if he expected to win, he replied, “I did. It’s obviously very difficult from that position but you’ve always got to believe. For those who don’t know me – now you do.”

Over in Carnoustie, Scotland, the home of the staid sport of golf, the final round of the 147th Open, (the British Open is simply referred to as The Open) was in progress, and the usual suspects were near the top of the leader board; defending champion, American Jordan Spieth and Irishman Rory McIlroy, along with an old favourite, who had not been seen in these parts for a long time, Tiger Woods.

 Woods’ off the course marital and medical problems (back surgeries) are well documented, and the last time he won a major golf tournament was the 2008 US Open. Yet, here he was again, sporting his trademark red shirt on Sunday, where many had predicted it was impossible for him to return to, competing for a major title with a few holes to play.

Woods had carded a round of 66 on Saturday, following two rounds of 71, to move into contention.  At the start of play on Sunday, at five under, he was four shots back of the lead trio of Spieth, Xander Schauffle and Kevin Kisner, as +20 mph winds made conditions for golf very difficult, and gave everyone a shot at the title. Woods started with two birdies on the fourth and sixth holes, as his opponents faltered.

On the tenth hole, at seven under, Woods’ name adorned the top of the leader board for the first time at a major tournament on Sunday since the 2011 Masters. For a brief moment, Tiger Woods was at the top of the golf world again. Albeit briefly, as he dropped three shots on the next two holes, and  finished  at five under, tied for sixth, as playing partner, Italian Francesco Molinari played perfectly to have his name etched on the Claret Jug, and nip the four players tied for second by two strokes.

Is Tiger Woods back?  Can the 42 year old Woods, winner of 14 major titles surpass Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18?  The final major of 2018, the PGA begins two weeks tomorrow at the Bellerive Country Club in Missouri, USA?  Will Tiger Woods be contention for his 15th major?

There are still ten Grand Prix races to go.  Who will claim his fifth driver’s championship? Hamilton? Or Vettel?

Mission Impossible opens on Friday, Ethan Hawke, Tom Cruise’s character, and his IMF buddies will most likely save the world from another disaster.  We are waiting for Hamilton and Woods to deliver their impossible feats, once again.

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