Vettel’s 14 points behind but should be leading the title race by 59

2010 F1 season

Sebastian Vettel should be going into this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix on the verge of clinching the world championship.

Instead a combination of unreliability and a few disastrous mistakes at the wheel mean he’s trailing championship leader Mark Webber with three races to go.

And with this year’s championship so finely poised any further mistakes by driver or team in the final race could carry a high price.

The ‘what if’ world championship

The points table below was created using race finishing orders that were altered to remove drivers’ mistakes or car failures.

For each race a new finishing order was created based on the original results but with drivers being credited for places or finishes lost due to mistakes or car failures.

For example, the finishing order for Bahrain became Vettel-Alonso-Massa-Hamilton, ‘editing out’ the exhaust failure that dropped Vettel from first to fourth in the real race.

Think of it like one of those science fiction programmes where the characters visit a parallel dimension. In this case one where racing drivers don’t crash and their cars don’t break down. Here’s how the championship might look:

Position Driver Hypothetical points Actual position and points
1 Sebastian Vettel 297 2nd, 206 points
2 Lewis Hamilton 238 4th, 192 points
3 Mark Webber 231 1st, 220 points
4 Fernando Alonso 227 2nd, 206 points
5 Jenson Button 175 5th, 189 points

In some instances it’s difficult to predict a likely scenario for what might have happened. For example, Alonso’s failure to participate in qualifying in Monaco after his crash in final practice.

In those instances I’ve erred on the conservative side. See this Excel file for a complete list of the results used.

Where they lost their points

Using the same data as above we can work out how many points each driver lost – and how.

Car failure Driver error Other
Mark Webber 2 16 14
Sebastian Vettel 48 43 9
Fernando Alonso 4 34 21
Lewis Hamilton 35 12 17
Jenson Button 4 0 12

Vettel has had the worst of both worlds. Car failures in the first two races alone cost him 35 points and two wins.

But he has made some high-profile mistakes as well: the crash with Webber in Istanbul, for example (but remember that just 24 hours earlier anti-roll bar failure in qualifying saw him start third instead of a likely first). Another tangle with Jenson Button at Spa cost him a podium finish.

The other driver who has been hit hard by unreliability is Lewis Hamilton: most recently with his gearbox problem in Suzuka, but also with no-scores in Spain and Hungary.

Alonso is in fine form at the moment, but mistakes earlier in the season at Shanghai, Monaco, Silverstone and Spa have taken a toll.

Webber and Button may not always have got the maximum performance from their cars but they are dependable points-scorers who have generally enjoyed much better reliability than their team mates have.

Racing incidents and plain bad luck are accounted for under the ‘Other’ column: whether it’s getting stuck behind the safety car (Alonso, Valencia) or coming off worse while racing a rival (Button, Spa).

Classifying one collision as ‘driver error’ and another as a ‘racing incident’ is obviously highly subjective.

Again, I’ve tried to be as consistent as possible and erred on the conservative side – for example giving Alonso and Hamilton the benefit of the doubt over their collisions at Melbourne and Singapore respectively. You can examine the raw data here and if you disagree with any of the classifications please explain why in the comments.

The final races

Heading into the final three races of the year any further problems for the championship front runners are likely to be seen as ‘the moment the title was lost’.

The more mundane truth is that championships are won or lost over a whole season’s racing. Retiring from the lead of a race is no less costly in April than it is in October.

Vettel may have lost points through misfortune and mistakes but he’s taken 14 points off Webber in the last three races. If he does the same over the final three we could have a very interesting championship table at the end of the year.

Work out the championship standings over the remaining races using the F1 Fanatic championship calculator

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177 comments on Vettel’s 14 points behind but should be leading the title race by 59

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  1. Raymond Umbara said on 19th October 2010, 9:20

    Can’t seem to download your Excel file Keith. Is there a technical issue or is it just me?

  2. Leave technical failure asides, I don’t think Vettel is mature enough to win the title. He’s quick and only quick when leading from the front. I can’t recall any brilliant overtaking manoeuvres by him really. Webber is showing much more to be a champion. He looks a bit more like a champion now. He needs to do what Alonso does. Give people impression that he’s the number one driver.

    • Julian (@julian) said on 19th October 2010, 9:33

      Leaving all personal feeling about Vettel aside, if his car had been as reliable as Webbers, the Championship would be so much different.. 255 for Vettel if my Maths is right.
      And i completely agree with you about Webber. Its about time his luck turned around and coupled with a fast car he is truly showing his potential as a driver. Pity it couldn’t happen earlier in his career though.

      • plushpile said on 19th October 2010, 10:09

        But they’re getting the same car (Silverstone aside) so why would Vettel have more failures than Webber.
        The sample size really isn’t large enough to draw any major conclusions, but the major variable is the driver – so one could say that Vettel is harder on the car than Webber.
        Looking at the way he bounces the RB6 over the kerbs I don’t think that it’s stretching too much to make the assumption that the driver at least played a part…

      • Joey-Poey said on 19th October 2010, 21:10

        ah, but sometimes it’s the time spent in low places that sharpens a person. The maturity gained by having to really struggle might be playing a big part in what he’s reached now.

  3. Jimbo Jones said on 19th October 2010, 9:23

    Eh, 297 – 238 = 59, not 61.

  4. KateDerby said on 19th October 2010, 9:24

    Fascinating data but you don’t mention the 10 points Webber lost at Turkey.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th October 2010, 9:29

      Sorry that was omitted from the second table, added it in now.

    • DeadManWoking said on 19th October 2010, 9:29

      He only lost 3, he would have been 2nd instead of 3rd if he and Vettel had not crashed.

      • Toby Bushby said on 20th October 2010, 0:16

        But Webber was the man in front before the accident. Getting your nose slightly ahead, then sideswiping the other driver doesn’t constitute an overtake in my book. Webber 1st, Vettel 2nd.

    • Daniel said on 19th October 2010, 9:32

      Yes, I can’t open the Excel file, but it seems to me he was leading in Turkey when Vettel ran into him. So that goes in the ‘other’ column. He eventually finished 3rd, which is worth 15 points, when he should have had 25 based on your rationale. So KateDerby is correct, he needs another 10, and presumably some correction to the others in Turkey too.

  5. Ronman said on 19th October 2010, 9:31

    well i didn’t bother go through the details, but out of the 5, Jenson looks to be the most consistent and makes the least mistakes, and vettel seems to be the most inconsistent and the one that makes all the mistakes he can… but it’s hypothetical and to be honest, i’m even more confused now… i keep thinking what if in terms of what till happen in the coming races, now you got me thinking what would have happened int he other… too confusing…

  6. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 19th October 2010, 9:32

    I came up with one that went like this:

    Vettel 290
    Hamilton 228
    Webber 222
    Alonso 192
    Button 185

    I don’t have Excel so I can’t see where we differed, but I never counted Monaco (Alonso’s crash), Silverstone (Vettel’s puncture) or Valencia (Alonso caught behind the SC) because I deemed them too complicated to accurately work out the “true” result. Vettel might have come 3rd in Silverstone, or he might have won; I don’t know (though I guess I should at least give him 3rd). Also, I gave Hamilton 3rd in Singapore but not in Monza, although he could very well have got a podium there too. There’s a lot of room for interpretation (though you’ve probably made a better educated guess than I).

    Is the SC “luck” anyway, or a part of racing – in which case, aren’t retirements and incidents also? Why is it okay to have the best car to give you wins, but not okay if that car can’t last the distance? This is no stab at your choice of title Keith, I just don’t really deal in “should” when it comes to F1. I preferred it when you said “what if” to describe the situation.

    By the way, shouldn’t it be (297-238=)59 points ahead?

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 19th October 2010, 9:36

      Whoops, it’s already fixed.

      What might be interesting is to have a corresponding table showing how many points drivers have gained through their rivals’ misfortunes. I suspect Webber and Hamilton would be the biggest beneficiaries.

  7. Lustigson said on 19th October 2010, 9:45

    Interesting thought exercise, these what-if scenarios. Thumbs up! This one shows that Vettel and Hamilton suffered way more from unreliability than others.

    It would be interesting, too, if not more plausible, to just look at mechanical failures for an alternate WDC, leaving driver errors as they are.

    There is a thin line, of course, because some mechanical failures could be down to a hard/harsh driving style.

  8. Spa09 said on 19th October 2010, 10:02

    Great article. And thats why i like Vettel. He does human errors but the greatest winners always drive in the limit.
    Even he has done mistakes if his car was reliable he would still be leading with margin.

    • Skett said on 20th October 2010, 14:33

      Maybe so, but hes a driver that can only win when he’s in the best car. Look at Alonso or Hamilton, they’ve been known to win in cars that weren’t necessarily the best due to their skills at fighting it out

      • No. Vettel ended 2nd in the WDC last year and beat Rubens in what was clearly the best car the first half of the season. You just haven’t seen him fight realistically for the WDC in a car that is not the best or too far behind to win. Last year their car became fast enough but the unreliable Renualt engine ruined their chances of winning and this year the car is the best but he has been unlucky and stupid. Give him some time. This is his first season in real contention for the title. And so is it Webbers, but Alonso and Hamilton have had several.

        • Skett said on 20th October 2010, 19:59

          I dunno. I’d say that the red bull was quicker than the brawn for more than half the year last year, though admittedly reliability problems did let them down (though I don’t think that was down to the engine – renault themselves had far fewer problems).

          What I really meant was that Vettel’s ridiculously quick when he’s by himself, but he’s not very good at attacking or defending other people. On top of that he tends to let his frustrations get the better of him when he can’t get by. So in reality he has to be out there by himself to win, which means he needs to qualify at the front, which means he (usually) needs the best car (or something to happen in quali).

  9. This calculations just shows who has ball = prone to mistakes and those who don’t have = Smooth driving uninteresting and snoozing.

    • Maciek said on 19th October 2010, 10:43

      Except that that doesn’t work out. Being aggressive doesn’t equal being prone to making mistakes and being conservative doesn’t make you immune from them. Hamilton has the second lowest points lost through error, but I would argue that he’s the most aggressive driver on the grid (maybe barring Alonso). Conversely, I wouldn’t describe Vettel as aggressive, yet he’s made the most mistakes, by far.

  10. Eggry (@eggry) said on 19th October 2010, 10:15

    Very Interesting. Obviously Vettel has the highest ground this year due to his talent and the fastest car, but also he couldn’t manage points well. even if you took poll as many as possible, you’re not elegible to be called champion if you couldn’t finish well.

    I think reliability issue is disappearing at the final stage of the season(though Hamilton suffered from gearbox at Suzuka) but there’s still room for mistake or crash. Vettel and Alonso have reduced their mistake recently but who knows? It’s so tight and except 2 Red bulls no one has reasonable advantage on the championship. even Red bulls have to fight each other for the title. May be we could see another Turkish cannibalism soon!

    They should be very aggressive or depensive(when he is P1), and it means there would be many crash and mistake or penalty too. So you must be aggressive but not much as got penalty or crash. It’s very complicated situation. I think Vettel and Hamilton and Alonso would be very aggressive and Button too even though it’s not his style but he has nothing to lose. choice of Webber should be very interesting.

    and definitely Alonso is unluckiest guy on the ground! may be Webber take his luck lol

  11. LewisC said on 19th October 2010, 10:18

    Fascinating that Jenson actually comes out worse in this hypothetical scenario (OK he’s still 5th, but very distantly and with fewer points).

    All we need is for JB to get pole and take the win in Korea with Webber having a car failure, and Button could win the title thanks to others’ misfortune :D

    • Todfod (@todfod) said on 19th October 2010, 11:08

      I found it pretty hilarious that Jenson actually has lesser hypothetical than actual points. It just goes to show that despite putting in 110%, and having a lot of good fortune, Jenson is at best #5 in the championship. Kind of feel sorry for him, as I cannot see him performing any better in the future. There is no way he is gonna win another WDC, I could bet everything I own on it.

      • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th October 2010, 11:30

        Indeed, leaving Mercedes was a mistake after all, there he’d have a car designed for him and the chance to really make a crack at it. Here? Not so much.

        • Todfod (@todfod) said on 19th October 2010, 12:17

          I really do not think that the Mclaren is designed completely around Lewis’ driving style. Over the season we have seen that it can play to the strengths of both the drivers.
          Even if Jenson stayed at Mercedes and got a little more personal attention to designing a car around him, he wouldn’t be able to match Rosberg. I feel it boils down to raw talent at the end of the day, and Jenson just doesn’t have the skill that the top 3-4 drivers on the grid do.

  12. I usually don’t like the ‘what if’ game. After 2008 I decided to leave that thinking behind because it just drove me crazy! :P However, this is fascinating.

    If Webber seems to be cashing in what luck owes him this year then Lewis is being visited by the debt collector. I don’t think it was until A. Dhabi last year that he had a retirement with his Mclaren due to a car issue so it’s about time he got some failures as harsh as that is. He has had some good luck (been in the right place when things have gone wrong really as I don’t like luck much) such as Bahrain and Turkey.

    Vettel does have these reliability gremlins a lot but I think there’s a whole lot less sympathy for him because of things that have happened on track and this image of Horner always cuddling him. It’s not really fair as if it wasn’t for his failures it’s clear he’d be giving Mark a headache but it’s really damaged his image.

    Fernando seems fairly lucky too. He had Bahrain, that race in Germany and Spain all came together for him but he’s chucked away many a point too. Although he hasn’t actually had as many failures so is still getting the points he does still have a reliability headache. While people have a DNF and then move on he’s constantly managing his engines and had that scare at Singapore. It all just shows how bonkers this year is.

    Button has to have had the most daft DNF this year though at Monaco. I really feel for the guy who left that blanket it. I wonder if he’s still alive…

    • Eggry (@eggry) said on 19th October 2010, 10:33

      I noticed something after reading your comment, Steph. I said Alonso is the unluckiest guy but after reconsidering your opinion he has had fair luck too. He has been pretty bad luck sometimes but also fairly lucky other times.

      I thought the idea based on the table of the article, but it doesn’t contain getting points due to luck but losing points due to luck. I think that is why.

      • Yeah, Alonso’s actually been very lucky at times this year. Safety cars in Melbourne, Shanghai and Monaco gave him a get out of jail free card, and then he benefited from others’ attrition in Bahrain and Spain.

        • damonsmedley (@damonsmedley) said on 19th October 2010, 12:58

          Remember when Alonso said he could still win the championship after his lacklustre weekend at Silverstone, anyone? I do – and I also remember how mad a lot of people (including myself) thought he was to have such an optimistic outlook, especially considering the incredible pace Red Bull was dominating with.

          So with a bit of luck, Steph, and a huge amount of consistency, (barring Belgium)he has quietly fought his way back in to this and now I think a lot of people are considering him the favourite.

          The Ferrari is so unpredictable as to where it performs and where it doesn’t, so with 3 races to go, all of which don’t seem to suit the Red Bulls more so than they do for the Ferraris, I think he who bets on the outcome is a very brave man. Who knows, there could be more unreliability awaiting certain drivers.

          I am not sure about everyone else, but I will be fingernail-less come season’s end if the championship continues as it is! :P

  13. what’s up with alonso’s summer?
    in montreal, he lost 2 positons when he was lapping the backmakers. (unlucky)
    in valencia, he got cheated, i don’t have any other word for it. he had a solid position, didn’t make ANY mistake, and still he lost a lot of position, hamilton got a penalty, he didn’t lose ANY points
    2 weeks alter in silverstone, alonso got a penalty, he lost like 10+ positions for the same penalty. and he made a questionable overtake, which didn’t hurt anybody, cos kubica retired, and when a few laps later he wanted to give the position back, kubica wasn’t around to collect. Q fail in melbourne, malaysia engine, he would have muck more points if he’s clutch would have worked, he didn’t los eonly 2 points. monaco who know what would have been. if he had rain in spa (again, just luck), he would have had a podium for sure, maybe even better. chine mistake (jump start)
    and there is maybe even more. and i’m sure others have a lot more like this.

    reliability is just another important factor of a car. Like downforce or engine power. so what if the RB would have been more reliable, and than have less downforce, i know the two things doesn’t have anything to do with each other, but if you talking what ifs..
    it’s pointless, what if red bull woudn’t have te half a sec advantage for some reason in Q3…
    whatever, i’m still hoping for alonso 3rd WDC

  14. TommyB (@tommyb89) said on 19th October 2010, 11:03

    This interesting championship is another ‘what if’. This is ‘what if they finished where they started’ championship.

    Vettel – 319
    Webber – 281
    Alonso – 195
    Hamilton – 180
    Button – 130

    It shows a few things. Most noticeably.

    1. Vettel’s not capitalised on his starting positions.
    2. Red Bull should be absolutely miles ahead in the WCC.
    3. Qualifying really doesn’t decide the race as much as most people seem to think.

  15. Antifia said on 19th October 2010, 11:08

    This article should ratle the cage of Webber’s fans. I am curious to read their reaction because it kind of shows who is the better driver when it comes to pace alone. True, Vettle is more prone to errors and is strangely emotional when you consider that he is German, but these are fixable things: Being blindly fast, on the other hand, is not something you can really learn – it comes with the genes I guess. It reminds my of Prost and Senna, and it is telling that among all the current F1 drivers, only Webber thinks Prost was the best of that duo. History tends to give a very black and white perspective on things: Of that old Mclaren pair, one is remembered by many as the best driver ever to grace F1 while the other one is all but forgotten (which is unjust, given the excellent driver he was). I wonder how people will remember Webber 10 years from now.

    • trulli dead09 said on 19th October 2010, 11:31

      But remember something Alonso said in 2005 after Raikkonen’s hydraulics failure at Hockenheim: “To win, you must first finish.” So as much skill as Vettel has, if he is making mistakes every grand prix and crashing then he’s not really making the most of the great oppurtunity he has. Mark, on the other hand, is experienced enough to know when to settle for a finish, and as a consequence is leading the championship. :D

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th October 2010, 11:35

        It’s not just driver error though, is it? Vettel’s lost 40-odd more points to car failures than Webber has.

        • trulli dead09 said on 19th October 2010, 11:38

          Yea but still, think of all the bad luck that Mark has had to him over the years: Retiring from his home GP in the lead, retiring from Monaco in a top 3 position, and….being run off the road during a safety car period in 2nd place by none other than Mr Sebastian Vettel.

          • David-A (@david-a) said on 20th October 2010, 15:37

            Retiring from his home GP in the lead

            Was it because he was on the verge of a win? Or was it clearly because the cars in front of him pitted?

        • True, but you can flip that around and say even with the car failures he should be leading. It depends how a person wants to look at that, and that is probably going to be influenced by their feelings towards the driver in question.

          To be honest, my view has always been “There is no What IF world championship”. Speculation is interesting, but at the end of the day the points table is what it is.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th October 2010, 11:34

      I think you just severley underrated Prost in the most ridiculous fashion.

      In 1988, Senna won due to the 11 best finishes rule, in 89 Prost beat him on reliability. They where intensley well matched. Senna was sensational but Prost could match him most days.

      • I agree with Scribe. Those two were so close but just had two very different approaches. Plus Karun (although not technically on the grid anymore) also worships Prost I believe.

        If Webber wins the title he’ll be remembered for the rest of F1′s history.

      • Antifia said on 19th October 2010, 12:30

        Didn’t I say that I find it unjust? But the fact is: Prost is almost forgotten while Senna always come up on top when a “who-is-the-best-driver-ever” polll comes up. And the funny thing is: You know that too, because in my original message I did not name who I was describing…

        • Skett said on 20th October 2010, 14:43

          Because people knew which one you were talking about as “best-driver-ever” means the other driver is all but forgotten? How does that make any sense?

          • Antifia said on 21st October 2010, 12:28

            Yeah, but did I say that Senna was the best-ever and Prost was the forgotten one in the original post? No I didn’t. People could have understood it the other way around: but nobody did – that already says something.

    • Prost is all but forgotten? Hardly.

      The only thing that table says to me is that outright speed isn’t everything.

    • Hyoko said on 19th October 2010, 13:58

      Oh, is Prost forgotten? Sorry, I forgot to forget him.

      • Alex Bkk said on 19th October 2010, 14:17

        If Senna was alive he’d be saying the same as Prost about MSC.

        Sorry, but only a (explicative deleted) would forget Prost or even Webber in F1 history. By the way, Senna had not scored a single point in the Williams prior to his death. MSC and Benneton were eating his lunch.

        http://www.f1reports.com/f1/article/7996/

        • Vishy said on 19th October 2010, 15:07

          That is unfair, I watched those 3 races and I remember Senna and MSC were very evenly matched.

          Senna did not expect anyone to be so fast and lost his composture a bit. He would have regained it in a few races and we would have seen a different season. Unfortunately we were denied a great contest between MSC and Senna.

          You have to realize also that Senna was inherently driving a fast but unstable car.

          • US_Peter said on 19th October 2010, 20:34

            Didn’t Schumacher even say that he only won that title because of Senna’s Death?

          • Hyoko said on 19th October 2010, 21:25

            “Didn’t Schumacher even say that he only won that title because of Senna’s Death?”

            Never heard that before. And I very much doubt that MSC would ever say that. Unless I’m proved wrong, of course.

      • Antifia said on 19th October 2010, 17:07

        Ok perhaps I laid it a bit thick on the “all but forgotten” phrase, but you’d maybe agree that he is spoken about much less than Senna is. In fact, drivers like Gilles Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen, Nigel Mansel many others (that, although also very talented accomplished much less than Prost did) get much more coverage. You see, I did not mean to disrespect the guy. I’m just saying that for a man who won 4 WCs and 51 races, he does not appear in the magazines/specials/post etc much. And why is that? In my opnion it is because, although he was very efficient, his approach to racing was absurdly boring – that is all I meant to say, along with the fact that I think Webber is the same kind of driver (minus a whole lot of accomplishment).

        • Hyoko said on 19th October 2010, 20:53

          I was there in the Suzuka 1990 and I didn’t find Ayrton Senna’s approach entertaining or amusing. We were deprived of a fair fight for the WDC title, and I always thought that he shouldn’t have got away with it. We have seen that -the deliberate ramming of a rival- a few more times since then, but never so deliberately and broadcasted in advance (you could give Michael Schumacher the benefit of the doubt for his move on Damon Hill on 1994).

          Ayrton Senna was no doubt a terrific driver, but he had too much of a reckless streak for his own good, And, arguably, it got him killed.

          • Antifia said on 20th October 2010, 10:21

            Perhaps you were there in Suzuka in 1989 too, when Prost deliberatly threw his car on Senna’s to win that Championship? Because 1990 was payback time. And Senna did not need Jean Marie Ballestre to make his move stick as Prost did the year before. 1994 was so blattant that only a blind fan would give MS the benefit of the doubt – and even among those that did, the smart ones got their doubts put to rest after Jerez 1997. About Senna’s accident, you must be kidding when you try to imply that it was down to recklessness – The Tamburelo was done flat out by everybody, every single time. Blaming Senna for that accident is just a sick thing to do.

          • BeyondThePale said on 21st October 2010, 13:40

            Oh well, that again. Maybe the longest discussion in F1 ever.
            I wasn’t in Suzuka in ’89, but I’ve seen it plenty of times. It was nothing quite so deliberate. Ayrton Senna was on his way to overtake Alain Prost on the chicane but AP moved into his way to block. AS refused to yield and they collided. What Ayrton Senna did afterwards was awesome, getting again into the track, changing his nose and overtaking Nannini for the lead. It was totally unfair that he got a DSQ for cutting the chicane after the crash, he should have got a minor penalty at most (and should have won the 89 WDC of course). But all this is no excuse for the ’90 move.

            I agree that MSC looks guilty as hell for the ’94 and ’97 incidents but again we can’t be 100% sure, and anyway it was not premeditated and pre-broadcasted.

            Tamburello is certainly a flat-out turn in usual conditions but all the drivers had cold tyres after a ridiculously slow SC so it was unsafe then. The official veredict was steering column failure but it took 13 years and it was not really convincing.

            Don’t get me wrong. Senna was the best out there and I was awfully sorry that he died. But still I can accept the ’90 thing.

        • Skett said on 20th October 2010, 14:48

          So they were more exciting, that certainly doesn’t make them better! I don’t understand why you seem to think that ability is rated by the number for fans you have!

          • Antifia said on 21st October 2010, 12:23

            It must be something in my English…. The gist of my message was: Boring racers, even the exceptionally good ones, are remembered less than lesser drivers with more exciting stiles. That is it – read my post and you’ll see it. If you think about it a bit, it is quite an obvious conclusion: For most people, entertainment and excitement come hand in hand.

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