In the post I wrote about Lewis Hamilton a couple of days ago, there was an interesting tangential discussion in the comments that I would like to share on the front page. Kathryn S suggested that one of the reasons Lewis Hamilton may be struggling now is that he hasn’t spent enough time in a “shed” of a car:
I think there is something very educational about driving, what I believe Mark Webber once referred to as, a shed around for at least your rookie year in F1. How do you hone skills in a beautifully balanced car? I can only imagine a great driver who learns how to unlock performance from a “dog” car can transfer those skills to even get better performance from a great car. I’ve heard people comment that Lewis has only driven the top cars on the grid for many, many years. Maybe the result of that is what we’re seeing now.
A few other people, including myself, ran with the concept. When you look back through the list of recent World Champions, few of them started their careers in a car that was as good as the McLaren MP4-22. Here is a list of recent World Champions and the team with which they made their début.
- Kimi Räikkönen — Sauber in the midfield
- Fernando Alonso — tail-enders Minardi, then moved to Renault when they were in the midfield
- Michael Schumacher — tail-enders Jordan, then moved to Benetton when they were in the midfield
- Mika Häkkinen — tail-enders Lotus, then moved to McLaren while they were in a slump
- Jacques Villeneuve — the one anomaly, began his career in the dominant Williams
- Damon Hill — the lacklustre Brabham team
- Alain Prost — McLaren in a slump
- Nigel Mansell — Lotus in a slump
- Ayrton Senna — midfield Toleman
- Nelson Piquet — started off in an Ensign for one race then a privately-entered McLaren
- Keke Rosberg — “a variety of complete dogs”
This is by no means scientific. For one thing, we haven’t seen how common it is for World Champions to start their careers in a top car throughout history. This list only goes back roughly to the start of the 1980s.
Another point is that we are ignoring part of Kathryn’s original hypothesis which was that Lewis Hamilton has driven the top car throughout his entire motor racing career. Looking at the start of a driver’s F1 career is only the tip of the iceberg. What cars did these people drive in lower formulae?
Another point that goes against the “Time in a Shed” theory (as Pecker coined it) is the fact that top teams seldom hire rookies anyway! When have, say, Ferrari ever given a race seat to a rookie driver? I can’t think of an instance since I started watching F1 in the mid-1990s.
Even if, say, Fernando Alonso was the perfect driver when he first entered an F1 race in 2001, the chances that Benetton / Renault (or, indeed, Ferrari) would have hired him are very slim indeed. In fact, since Alonso was one of the Flav’s drivers, this is effectively what Benetton / Renault did — give Alonso some experience in a Minardi, out of harm’s way, before committing fully.
Nonetheless, it is an interesting theory to think about. If Hamilton has never learnt how to get good results out of a bad car, can he be getting the maximum out of a good car or a mediocre car?