At last I have finished my exams so I now have more time to post. There is a huge backlog of issues for me to get through, and I’m not sure if I’ll get through them all. I will attempt by condensing posts and including them as ‘mini posts’ in a series. These little sub-sections could have been posts in their own right had I had the time. This first of my catch-up posts looks at the trouble we have nailing down three front-running drivers.
The mystery of Kimi Räikkönen
Clive wrote a post last month revealing his “gnawing doubt” about Kimi Räikkönen.
Why does he throw it off the road so needlessly sometimes? Why has he not blown Massa into the weeds yet? Why does he look so determined at one race and then apathetic at the next? It is all very well blaming it on his enigmatic personality but that explains nothing. The fact is that he is completely unpredictable and it is probably this that makes me doubt him.
There’s no doubt that Räikkönen blows hot and cold. Just look at the first half of 2007 compared to the end of the season. At the start, Kimi was rather unspectacular — almost anonymous. But as the season finale drew closer he became hyper-motivated, more flawless and quicker. The fact that he overcame a 17 point deficit in the final two rounds just says it all.
But now he is looking a bit more average again. In Australia he seemingly couldn’t keep his concentration, spectacularly throwing it off the road needlessly a number of times. In Bahrain and Turkey, too, we saw little of his foot-to-the-floor attitude we saw towards the end of last season. Clive asks, “Must we admit that Massa is on a par with our hero?”
I think it’s a bit much to say that Räikkönen and Massa are on a par with each other. But unquestionably Räikkönen has not become the race-winning machine some people expected him to become five or six years ago.
My own theory is that Räikkönen is genuinely great. But we became too used to Michael Schumacher’s utter dominance. When he retired, we expected someone to immediately fill a Schumacher-sized gap. It doesn’t happen that way.
Schumacher was exceptional in that he was in close contention for the Championship in almost every year of his F1 career (1999 being an exception due to his broken leg, 2005, 1996 and 1993 due to abnormally inferior equipment). No-one before him can claim that level of dominance, and I see no reason to expect anyone after him to claim it either. Not for a long time, anyway.
The mystery of Felipe Massa
Ah, for the days before Bahrain. It was all so simple then. Massa can’t handle F1 without traction control and Ferrari are looking to replace him ASAP. Not so fast. In the subsequent three races the Brazilian has mounted an incredible fightback under extreme pressure. Dodgy drivers don’t score 28 points from 3 races.
But I’m not a convert. I still think Massa is a sub-par driver who certainly does not deserve a Ferrari seat — at least not with an “equal number one” status. As has been pointed out by plenty of people, this year’s calendar flatters Massa. Turkey has moved to an earlier slot, meaning that most of Massa’s favourite circuits are bunched together.
In fact, this year he has done worse than last year. Last year he won in Spain whereas he could only come second behind his team mate this year. In 2007, Massa scored 37 points at the five circuits where Massa has managed to score 28 this year.
Of the Massa-friendly tracks, only Interlagos remains. Given that it is at the end of the season, Massa will probably be well out of contention by then, and may have to give way to assist Räikkönen’s championship hopes.
Monaco comes next, and Massa’s record there is not so glittering — a sole third place from last year being his best result in the principality. I might find myself eating humble pie here, but I doubt it. It will be business as usual from this Sunday.
The mystery of Lewis Hamilton
The last time I wrote about Lewis Hamilton, it was on the back of a lacklustre Bahrain weekend. Since then he has mounted something of a fightback, with strong performances in Spain and Turkey. But the Turkish Grand Prix yet again brought to the fore that issue that Hamilton appears to have with tyre management.
After the race it was announced by Bridgestone that Lewis Hamilton’s tyres were found to be at risk of internal delamination. Therefore, for safety reasons, McLaren opted to put him on a three stop strategy, thereby minimising the amount of time spent on his tyres, particularly the softs.
I have to take my hat off to Lewis Hamilton for managing to make the best of a bad situation. There seems to be some confusion over the optimality of his strategy. Clive seems to think it was advantageous to be on a three-stopper, but I don’t understand his explanation. He says, “that the three-stop plan was the only way for [McLaren] to stay with the Ferraris and it had nothing to do with tires”. But the explanation for this, as Clive himself goes on to explain, has everything to do with tyres. And if it was the only way for McLaren to go, why was Kovalainen on a two stop strategy?
Mike Gascoyne on Maurice Hamilton’s Inside Line podcast said that the two and three stop strategies are actually equally optimal at Turkey according to the simulations. But if that is so it doesn’t explain why Hamilton was the only person in the entire field to opt for the three stop strategy. If they were really equal, would not more people try it out if only to try and overtake their rivals ‘in the pitlane’?
I conclude that if Hamilton’s tyres could withstand it, he would have gone for a two-stopper. So he had a compromised strategy in Turkey. In this context, Hamilton had a stormer of a race. Even if the three-stopper was his preferred strategy, it was a great fight between him and Massa. On live timing it looked captivating as the pair swapped green and purple sectors throughout the race. And on top of it there was even a genuine overtaking move for the lead!
So hats off for the performance. But is it time for Hamilton to get his act into gear when it comes to looking after his tyres? I have been saying this for a while now. All too often now, Hamilton has been thwarted by shot tyres. You can pretty much squarely blame his championship loss on his worn-out tyres.
The debate has been whether or not Bridgestone should cater for Hamilton’s more aggressive driving style. There is something to be said for this. However, Hamilton should really learn the limitations of his equipment and be able to drive on that limit without exceeding it. Is that not what motor racing is about? For a period of time Kimi Räikkönen became known as a car-breaker because his engine went pop a few times. I think a better case can be made for Hamilton being a tyre-ruiner.
We keep on hearing from a certain man who works for ITV that Lewis Hamilton is “Senna-esque”. Senna was known for being able to make dry tyres work in wet conditions. Hamilton is struggling to make dry tyres work in dry conditions. So until he masters this, I’d like to see less of the Senna comparisons.