Whether you like or dislike the philosophy behind Pirelli’s tyres, which have been designed to be dodgy, there is one undenable benefit. It leaves those that cannot manage their tyres exposed.
Lewis Hamilton has long had a repuation for ruining his tyres too quickly. Up to this point, it has only bitten him once in a while. The benign Bridgestones were, for the most part, accommodating to Hamilton’s excesses.
But with Pirellis that are designed to drop off in performance quickly, Hamilton may find himself being bitten more often. The McLaren car is performing well, yet Hamilton was only able to finish 8th in the race.
He put this down to having to stop early, then stop early again, and again — and again. And it is that final fourth stop that really sealed Hamilton’s fate. While early stops may not have been ideal, if he only made three of them he could have salvaged a few more points.
But here we come to Hamilton’s second weakness — his lack of strategy nous. Hamilton has been feeling the heat for being weak on strategy and relying on McLaren to call too many of the shots.
What is interesting is that in this instance, according to Ted Kravitz, Hamilton went against the advice of his McLaren strategists. McLaren advised that, despite the excessive tyre wear, Hamilton might have been able to hang on to finish 5th or 6th if he stayed out. However, Hamilton decided to make the extra pitstop nonetheless.
It is not often that we see Hamilton act autonomously like this, but sadly it backfired on him. If F1 in 2011 is going to involve better tyre management and more strategic thinking, this could play right into the hands of Jenson Button.
While tyre management and strategy are two of Hamilton’s biggest weaknesses, they are Button’s greatest strengths. At least twice in 2010 we saw Button use making smart strategic decisions that helped him win races. In Australia he went against the advice of McLaren, and went on to win the race. China, too, saw Button capitalise on good strategy.
If Hamilton seemed overly despondent after the Malaysia Grand Prix, it may be because it was the moment the penny dropped that he is going to find F1 a whole lot more difficult from now on. And it won’t be fixed by having a faster car — because in these conditions, Button will always come out on top.