Johannesburg - South African motorsport fans’ eyes were fixed like LED beams on just one thing for much of 2016: Bradical Brad.
The shenanigans, tweaking, rule and design changes, politics, techno-exclusion and fuel and tyre-saving of Formula One didn’t stand a chance when weighed against the burgeoning excitement surrounding Brad Binder in Moto3.
The 21-year-old from Potchefstroom blew his rivals away in a record-setting season. He won the championship with the biggest points margin in the history of the lightweight category, with four races to spare.
He started his campaign with three podiums, but went to Jerez for the fourth race still hunting for his maiden victory.
A technical disqualification after qualifying saw him sent to the very back of the starting grid (35th). What followed was Rossi-esque.
He scythed through the field, carrying the commentators, Nick Harris and Matthew Birt, and his fast-multiplying legion of fans with him. Harris and Birt hailed it as the greatest race in the history of MotoGP as Binder powered his way over the finishing line in first place.
Social media exploded with congratulations and celebration, many people describing their pride - and some confessing to watery eyes - at hearing the Rainbow Nation’s anthem for the first time.
It was a race to remember and, once he had that win, he rarely put a tyre wrong, apart from a crash at Brno in the Czech Republic.
Now he’s moving up to Moto2, by all accounts a tough jump. Some of the young stars in the light category have battled to make the transition, and Binder suggested in a recent TV interview he expected a challenge.
He said the KTM team - in its first year in this category - also anticipated it would take at least one season before they could reproduce the form and results of 2016 year. But don’t count out the will of rider and team to be at the top.
Over at MotoGP, the chequered flag welcomed a host of winners. Nobody dominated the top step of the podium, but Marc Marquez (five wins), Valentino Rossi (two) and Jorge Lorenzo (four) - the eventual top three in the championship - made the most trips.
Others who breached their dominance were Cal Crutchlow (twice), Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone, Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa in a season that produced nine different winners.
On four wheels, the Mercedes team dominance carried on virtually uninterrupted. Its two drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, fought it out for the title while the others tussled over best of the rest.
The biggest bombshell, of course, came just days after Rosberg clinched the title when he announced his retirement.
Nobody saw it coming: at 31 years old, he still had a few good years ahead of him. But, as he said, he had climbed the mountain he’d set out to conquer, and did not want to put in the amount of energy and focus needed over the year to stay at the top.
The stunning news sent Mercedes into a tailspin because, at this time of any season, most of the star drivers are already pinned into contracts with other teams.
Of course, no contract in Formula One is “unbreakable” with the right amount of bargaining, negotiating and plain big money speaking.
Top of the wishlist
One of the men who has had this experience before is among the top-of-the-wishlist names as a replacement: Fernando Alonso. He has form with Hamilton, though, and McLaren has already stated its plans to keep the Spaniard.
The team has had another awful season, finishing sixth on the log, and one does wonder how long a driver with Alonso’s talent is willing to put up with midfield results, or lack of reliablility. He has stated his desire to win one more title, (he has two, with Renault in 2005 and 2006) and time is ticking for the 35-year-old.
McLaren has just lost Jenson Button, so expect a big defence if Mercedes comes a-hunting.
After the final, during which front-runner Hamilton slowed down, allowing the chasing Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel (who finished the championship in fourth), to possibly take second place and the title from Rosberg, Hamilton was in danger of losing his own job. Hamilton’s unsportsmanlike ploy to keep the crown, in spite of orders from the pitlane to speed up, led to speculation the team would fire him. Now, thanks to Rosberg, Mercedes will be unable to take stern action against the Briton.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished third, while his young team-mate Max Verstappen set the Formula One world alight with his speed, race craft, and testicular fortitude. He is a certain challenger for the title in 2017.
For 2017: new regulations; new chassis, bigger tyres, more groundforce, and (fans hope) better sounds.
Also, we hope, more competition. Formula One was shaded by MotoGP this year, even without the South African connection. Let’s hope they get their act together next year.