Monday, 4 June 2007

Analysis (Part 1): The Hamilton Show

As the F1 circus gears up for its annual pilgrimage across the Atlantic for back-to-back races at Montreal and Indianapolis, Christopher Hayes reflects on the key stories of the season so far. In Part 1 he assess the Hamilton hype and asks if the young rookie has the edge on his team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The golden rule of journalism: begin with that which is most newsworthy and ignore everything else. Even the most non-conformist of writers would be hard pressed to begin this review with anything other than the sensation that is Lewis Hamilton. And for good reason.

Mention F1 to your friends they’ll mention Hamilton. Such has been the impact of the 22-year-old rookie that people don’t even need to be prompted; they simply start talking about him. It’s something I’ve noticed on ITV Sports’ gridwalks hosted by Martin Brundle but also from my own experiences of talking to casual followers of the sport. A string of podium drives – which at one point afforded the Britain the championship lead – and some breathtaking starting manoeuvres have resulted in a media frenzy, particularly in the British press which has its first whiff of a world champion since Damon Hill over ten years ago.

Media interest stepped up another gear this week, not because of the young Englishman’s fifth consecutive podium – a feat no other driver has achieved in his maiden year – but because of a row over the use of team orders at last weeks Monaco Grand Prix. Mclaren Mercedes were investigated by Formula One’s regulating body, the FIA, after they admitted they had asked Hamilton not to race his team-mate Fernando Alonso after the first round of pit stops. The Woking based outfit was eventually cleared of any wrong doing but in the eyes of the British tabloids Hamilton had been robbed of certain victory at the principality. In reality Hamilton would have been hard pressed to win on Sunday. Alonso pulled out some blistering laps when he needed them to build up a cushion which Hamilton never really looked like closing.

It is testimony to the young Britain’s sheer speed that we have such high expectations of him. In and of itself, a second place finish around the demanding streets of Monte-Carlo is an excellent result for a driver in his first competitive season of F1. True, he is racing in one of the fastest cars on the grid at the moment but that should not take anything away from his performances. In many ways what has been so remarkable is not his collection of silver wear but the way he has been able to match the pace of Alonso. So, does he have the edge on the double world champion?

It’s too close to call. Alonso clearly had the upper hand at the opening races in Melbourne and Sepang. Little things: the way he held back slightly from Hamilton in Australia and then steamed right up his gearbox just before the pit stops, and the way he was able to look after his hard tyres in the last third of the Malaysian Grand Prix while Hamilton struggled to fend off Raikkonen. Alonso knows how to win a championship and in my view is by far the most intelligent driver on the grid. Hamilton has nothing to lose at the moment and is clearly enjoying his racing. But you would have to put a question mark over his ability to cope with the pressure in the latter part of the season if a championship was at stake.

Rounds three and four of the world championship at Sakir and Barcelona marked something of a turning point. Although Ferrari’s Felipe Massa went on to win both races from pole position it was Hamilton not Alonso that led the Mclaren challenge. Alonso struggled to match the pace of his rookie team-mate, particularly at Sakhir where he could only manage fifth. You couldn’t help but feel that the Hamilton factor was hurting the Spaniard psychologically. And looking at his interviews Alonso was clearly tired of being asked to rate his team mate.

Hamilton was hotly tipped to maintain his unbeaten record at Monaco and Alonso’s victory at the principality was huge in terms of reinstating his position as Mclaren’s number one. But as I have argued elsewhere in this website (see HERE), while the media has understandably concentrated on the events in Sunday’s race, in my view it is Saturday’s qualifying session that we should be turning to.

An upshot of the FIA’s investigation into Mclaren as that we now know exactly how much fuel Hamilton was carrying: “It is clear from FIA measurements taken after qualifying that Mclaren fuelled Hamilton for five more laps than Alonso,” said the FIA in a statement. “This allowed Hamilton the option of a one-stop strategy should the safety car have come out during his first stint,” the regulating body added. Despite this massive weight penalty in qualifying Hamilton ended up less than two tenths shy of Alonso’s pole lap. Even more impressive was that Hamilton’s lap was set at the beginning of the session when the Mclaren team were anticipating the possibility of rain. On his intended quick lap towards the end of the session Hamilton was seriously compromised by a slowing Mark Webber which prevented him from comfortably taking pole. Had he done so, we might have been looking at a different result come Sunday. And I think this is the real reason for a slightly dejected looking Hamilton on the podium; he knew it too.

I know, I know, it is fruitless to get bogged down in the ‘ifs and buts’ of F1. My point is simply two-fold. First, I think an absolutely sensational lap has been overlooked; I think it would have been recognised in the course of the race had team orders not been implemented (Hamilton was brought in early to pre-empt a safety car scenario). Second, in terms of raw pace, I think Hamilton now has the edge over Alonso. Next week will be a good indicator of the performance gap between the two. Hamilton has never raced at the circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal. I’ll wager that this won’t stop him pipping the Spaniard though.


Analysis (Part 2): Mixed results for the Scuderia
Analysis (Part 3): BMW best of the rest

Analysis (Part 4): 2007’s losers (to be completed later this month).

2 comments:

FreshF1 said...

Hi!

I'm no expert myself but I think one of the most important things is to offer your readers content that they can't find elsewhere, or at least presented in a different way.

I noticed famous F1 journalists' blogs are read because they provide insight. The analysis they make is valuable to their readers. I also noticed they update their blog regularly. So try to do that as well.

I concentrated on bringing Multimedia content and semi exclusive news to my readers - articles that only appear in the local press in Italy, Finland, Germany or Spain - as fresh as possible.

Also let the others know you exist. Read their blogs regularly and comment on your blog what you like about their blog - about an interesting article you see there, etc.

To sum up, the success of a blog is given by how satisfied the readers are. Whether you provide great insight, news or unique content, make sure you update regularly.

Don't forget to have patience for your blog to grow. People have to know you to recommend you. Even if you are good it takes time. Don't forget it's only up to you! If you want to do something just do it! You can!

Cheers and good luck!

Cris aka Wiz Kid
FreshF1.com

f1voice said...

Hi Cris,

Thanks for this advice (and motivation!) - it's much appreciated.

Yes, other people I know who have blogs have stressed the importance of updating regularly. Though I reckon it could be quite hard at times in between races. Even some of the main F1 sites seem to simply just regurgitate press releases from the teams!

But I will do my best.