Formula One // Canadian GP Reflection and Other News


It’s all 4’s for Lewis Hamilton

It was a weekend of jubilation for Lewis Hamilton a fortnight on from the catastrophe in Monte Carlo which saw him claim pole position and the win at this years Canadian grand prix. The driver of Car 44 took his 44th career pole, his 4th win at this circuit, 4th win of the season and also beat Nigel Mansell’s record of amount of laps led by a British driver.

Despite the race being a rather disappointing and subdued affair, Hamilton should be praised for his professionalism in the way in which he conducted himself over the course of the weekend. His demeanour showed that he had gotten over the disappointment of Monaco and that he was in Canada to just get on with the job, which he did. He wasn’t over exultant at his narrow win over second place man and team mate, Nico Rosberg but he had done what he’d set out to do. He looked immediately calm after the race, satisfied on the podium and happy during post race interviews. He conceded that Rosberg had kept him honest and that the balance of the car wasn’t as good as it had been at other points during the weekend but nevertheless, he’d won and it seemed reasonably comfortable.

There was a lot of weight on Hamiltons shoulders going in to this weekend. The media were interested to see how he would react after the saga of Monaco and the spotlight was firmly on him and Mercedes. If any such drama had occurred I’m sure the media were ready to pounce with their already drafted headline blurbs ready for Monday mornings papers but no such thing happened.

As well as the ever present media pressure, a number of F1’s “big names” spoke highly of Hamilton before the race to add yet more pressure. F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone stated in an interview that Lewis Hamilton was “the greatest champion that Formula One had ever had”. This is a very interesting comment. It’s arguable as to who the greatest world champion ever was and in fact it’s impossible. F1 is always at the pinnacle of cutting edge technological developments and because of this, each era is defined by the technology available at the time so it’s impossible to state that Hamilton is a better champion than Fangio of the 1950’s or Senna of the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. Hamilton is undoubtedly the best of the field at the current time.

Bernie Ecclestone is alluding to Hamiltons world wide appeal and most significantly the attention that he draws to the brand that is Formula One in an advertising sense; Lewis Hamilton is to Formula One what talking meerkats are to the ‘Compare the Market’ brand. Not saying he’s a meerkat(!) but at the moment, when you think of F1, you think of Lewis Hamilton and car #44. Hamilton is becoming a role model and he is developing the right balance of media/advertising commitments and his racing. He’s reacting a lot more calmly to situations that in the past he would have lost his cool over. It’s obvious that he knows he’s the refined package that keeps on improving yet he is not arrogant, he’s thankful for the opportunities he has and realises that it’s not solely down to him.

The extent of Lewis Hamilton’s activities outside of F1 in terms of his promotion of it is not widely known to me but the Hamilton “effect” seems to have been great for Britain and Formula One in the way that Fernando Alonso boosted Formula one in Spain. He is a much more open world champion and utilises his appeal in the correct way. He attends award ceremonies and takes part in TV interviews and chat shows. British fans are extremely proud of their Formula One world champions and great cars that have delivered championships for many more. Hamilton has become the epitomy of what British fans want in the sport.

Formula one champions of the past don’t seem to have been able to create this level of popularity. Recent champions like Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikonen were very subdued. Kimi hardly seemed bothered that he’d won it in 2007 and during Vettel’s dominant era, his own fan base at Hockenheim and the Nurburgring began dissipating as early as 2010, seemingly not keen to watch their dominant countryman win races, unlike they were for Schumacher before him.

Britain hasn’t seen a world champion quite like Hamilton in decades. Our last three champions, Jenson Button, Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell were popular and Mansell was even heroic but they all struggled to keep momentum and failed to defend their titles and struggled to challenge for a second. Mansell shot off to Indycar in 1993 after becoming champion in 1992, Hill fell out with Williams and left for back of the grid team Arrows in 1997 after his 1996 title win and Button won the 2009 title but left for McLaren in 2010 which by then was beginning to struggle to compete against Red Bull. Hamilton, like Alonso seems to always be there somewhere and is rarely not a title contender, no matter what car he’s driving.

BBC pundit Eddie Jordan claimed that Hamilton is now firmly the man to beat and that he is the one that no driver has any answer for. This is a reputation that is deserving of a double world champion but one that needs to be managed cautiously. If Hamilton can remain consistent then I believe he will be come the full package and the “real deal”.

Canada sadly subdued…a sign of the times?

Current F1 rules, regulations and costs have all meant that we currently have a quieter, more economically aware and more expensive formula to watch. True fans of F1 quickly learn to cope with major rule changes and will always see the positives in the changes that are made, despite their reservations they may have. I would like to question whether F1 has finally gone too far and if the current changes and regulations have diminished the “show” that we so often hear about.

Since the dawn of time there have always been compromises that drivers and teams have had to make due to rules and regulations. During the “noughties” there was a time where cars had to complete a race on a single set of tyres so a driver would have to manage this carefully in order to finish the race competitively.  What seems apparent in F1 is that there always seems to have to be a consequence for speed. Fans watch it because they want to watch the best drivers drive the fastest cars wheel to wheel yet there always seems to be an obligation or even obsession that F1 cars need to be slowed down or compromised in some way.

At Sundays race, the “racing” was over on lap 40 of 70 when the current world champion, driving the fastest F1 car in the world was ordered to “lift and coast” to save fuel. Unfortunately his team-mate (Nico Rosberg) who was in the only position in which to challenge and race Lewis Hamilton was ordered to do the same. Coupled with excessive brake wear the drivers were in not so many words, told to hold station and this was because the current regulations wouldn’t allow it. It is important to remember that although teams have a 100kg fuel weight limit, the teams try to use as little as possible. It’s often faster to fuel lightly then ask the driver to “lift and coast” at certain stages of the race in order to ensure that the fuel lasts the whole race distance…fuel management not racing then?

Fans never want to feel conned, especially if they choose to spend money on buying live race tickets or paying the amount that SKY charge for their sports package but currently each race is beginning to lack a little excitement. The “big wigs” have spent millions on trying to improve the show aspect on F1 and despite trying they are failing. They are failing in their environmental quest and not finding the correct balance that F1 needs to be more eco friendly and fast at the same time.

It’ll be easy to forget after watching a re-run of Hamilton and Rosbergs titanic Bahrain battle from last year that F1 can still be exciting, high octane and adrenaline fuelled….but tune into Youtube and watch Senna V Mansell at Monaco in 1992 and you will immediately sense that F1 has changed significantly since then and unfortunately for the worse (perhaps?).  The footage from 1992 shows F1 cars that are faster, noisier, louder and much more difficult to drive. The drivers were tortured by their terrific drives with both of them visibly shattered. Mansell, one of the toughest drivers in history had to be held up right and physically helped to the podium by a Williams mechanic such was the impact of driving those ferocious F1 cars.

Who can forget Ayrton Senna’s first victory at Brazil in 1991 where after driving the final laps of the race with his McLaren stuck in 6th gear, he had to be lifted out of his car after passing out due to extreme muscle cramps and spasm pains. We currently have 4 former world champions racing for McLaren and Ferrari and one in a Mercedes. Wouldn’t we be having a very different debate if all three teams were as competitive and as reliable as the other?

We have some of the best drivers ever to grace the sport in todays Formula one but it’s difficult not to feel sorry for them. Formula one is becoming too watered down and it’s unnecessary. F1 should be focussing on sharing the money more equally, supporting the less wealthy teams to turn a profit, creating rules that allow for louder, faster engines and there should be greater variety in new circuits that are being added to the calendar every odd year. “Tillkedromes”….the common phrase now commonly used to describe chief F1 circuit designers new circuits, Herman Tilke, connotes that a circuit is likely to be wide, open and profoundly dull. For F1 to improve it needs to make an about turn and force itself back through the way from which it came.

Woe for Red Bull

Red Bull experienced their worst weekend thus far this year. Last year, Daniel Ricciardo was the next best man to the broken Mercedes cars and deserved his debut victory…this year he finished a lapped driver.

The evidence is bleak but the facts are that since the end of 2013, Red Bull have continued to regress into the midfield. From time topping, race winning super heroes whom everybody wanted to beat but rarely could, to midfield strugglers.

The drivers are exasperated and it’s easy to see why. Two years ago as a Toro Rosso driver, Daniel Ricciardo watched on with envy as Sebastian Vettel trounced the field in a dominant Red Bull. He was champing at the bit to jump into the sister car, realise a dream and challenge for a title himself but it never happened and by the time he replaced Mark Webber, the superiority of the Red Bull was gone.

To some extent this was the same for Danil Kvyat, a one year rookie promoted to Red Bull from Toro Rosso. Sadly for him the car is worse than their 2014 effort and the kick in the teeth is that both Kvyat and Ricciardo are being outraced by the sister team rookies in a car that is supposed to be slower than their own.

The trouble with Red Bull at the moment is that they are completely lost. The team are fed up with Renault, Renault are fed up with them and Red Bull seem to becoming increasingly fed up with Formula One. Rumours continue to circulate that Renault will pull out or start (perhaps re-ignite) a Renault works team. It seems that Red Bull haven’t completely closed the door on teaming up with Audi to power their cars in the future either.

Despite changes being put in place for 2017 it seems unlikely that Red Bull and Renault will want to work with each other again. The only reason they are trying to compromise and achieve results is because they are bound by a contract.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner does have a point that F1 teams need to work together to ensure that engines can be developed to enable everybody to raise their game but he continues to throw toys out of the pram along with Dr Helmut Marko and Dietrich Matteschitz. Red Bull have been childish in the way they’ve carried on. Traditionally the entire field will complain about a team with a significant advantage in order for any opportunities that they can force opinion and then the FIA in to making changes that make the rules fairer for everyone, naturally the team at the front opposes this but is often forced to compromise. Mercedes made a compromise in agreeing the use of engine tokens for engine development but Red Bull are still complaining.

I feel Red Bull have handled their demise abysmally. Some could argue that McLaren and Ferrari, who have not had it easy the past five years are the model professionals in that despite their failure to make significant progress on beating Mercedes, they remain positive with a strong work ethic…Red Bull come across as being the spoilt, annoying child crying to himself in the school playground because he’s lost his prize toy that made everyone notice him.

McLaren misery continues

McLaren Honda are an absolute mess at the moment. OK, they’ve kept their heads unlike Red Bull but the strain is beginning to show. After Buttons point scoring finish at Monaco, the team were relieved to get points but knew that the high speed circuit of Montreal would not do them any favours…and it didn’t.

In what has become a defining moment in Mclarens plight, Fernando Alonso exclaimed that he would not save fuel and “look like amateurs” when asked to slow and save fuel to prevent Felipe Nasr in a Sauber challenging him from 16th place. Lets put that into perspective on why this tiny radio message represents a significant development.

Alonso is a double world champion who is receiving £20 million + in wages. He is driving for McLaren Honda who together produced some of the most dominant F1 cars in history and who had two of the best drivers to ever grace the sport in Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. McLaren are one of the most fiercely competitive teams and in Alonso have one of the most fiercely competitive drivers. Challenging for 16th place and having to slow down in order to save fuel highlights two prevalent issues that formula one has. Number one is that despite engine tokens being introduced, for whatever reason,. Honda are still the most uncompetitive engine supplier and Number two, the drivers are fed up at having to save fuel, tyres and their own sanity.

Before the race Honda declared that they were quietly confident of making significant progress. The opposite was more apparent. After spending up vital tokens on engine upgrades, a problem was immediately found with Alonso’s which meant that it had to be replaced with another. During Saturday practice Jenson Buttons car stopped almost immediately out on track, bringing the session to a brief close. The repairs that were required were outside of the permitted regulations and so Button had to take a penalty. To compound the misery, neither car finished the race the following day.

Ron Dennis has imposed a media ban on himself and Eric Boullier. There is no more obvious a sign that patience is wearing thin. Yasuhisa Arai, Honda F1 boss, endured a painful interview at the hands of the sports media over the weekend where Alonso and Button, who were sat next to him, did their utmost to avoid eye contact in the hope that they could avoid the awkward questions about Honda’s lack of progress.

The continued positivity that Alonso, Button, Boullier and even Dennis continue to preach during interviews is not unfounded. The McLaren is actually a very good car with a very good chassis. Drivers have complained that they could use more grip but apart from that it is widely viewed that the McLaren chassis is as good as, if not better than the Ferrari chassis. This idea begins to make sense of the frustrations that we saw last weekend. The Honda engine is at least 75bhp down on their nearest rival and this is a gaping void. It is believed that Honda have upgrades for Austria and Silverstone and it’ll be interesting to see if progress has been made.