Thursday, 21 June 2007

Exposing the myths

I thought I would post this interesting and welcomed criticism from my friend – an avid Coulthard supporter – in a bid to counter the Hamilton bias that pervades this blog. In this post he explores the issue of driver favouritism at Mclaren, assess the true impact of the ‘Hamilton effect’ and looks at the use of team tactics at the US GP.

Alonso vs. Hamilton

You made reference to the fact that Alonso feels that the McLaren team is giving Hamilton preferential treatment (HERE and HERE). You went onto to claim that Alonso’s got a chip on his shoulder (HERE). I argue that Alonso’s claims are justified. [Cont...]

Hamilton has had an association with McLaren for over seven years. He has grown up and is known within the team. It’s only natural for the benefactor and mentor (Dennis) to want to see his investment succeed. Alonso will never be able to replicate that relationship. It’s very similar to the relationship between Ron Dennis and Mika Hakkinen. Mika Hakkinen’s near death experience in the red and white McLaren created a bond that could never be replicated by David Coulthard, even though neither drivers (at the beginning of a season at least) were shown ‘preferential treatment’.

We shouldn’t loose sight of the fact that very few rookies start their career in the ‘best’ car. Alonso started his career in a Minardi. Kimi Raikkonen started his career in a Sauber. Even the great Michael Schumacher started his career in a Jordan. Although he is an amazing driver, he wouldn’t he breaking records if he wasn’t driving the best car. If you want to measure a driver’s success, you should compare him against his teammate. F1 racing recently published an article comparing Hamilton and Alonso’s qualifying times, after factoring in their fuel load. Alonso out qualified Hamilton in the first five races. You won’t have known it given the media coverage. I don’t deny that Hamilton has produced excellent performances, some in which he clearly out performed his two-time world champion teammate. But he’s doing thing with absolutely no pressure. Yes, expectations are not being formed, but he still has relatively little pressure on his shoulder, compared with Alonso. When you are the reigning champion, you are considered to be the best. That brings a mountain of pressure. So I argue that the ‘chip’ on Alonso’s shoulder is actually pressure.

The Hamilton Effect

I refuse to be drawn into this media run hysteria, which has been labelled the ‘Hamilton effect’. Some may say that perception is reality. Well let me roll out a couple of facts:

(1) After the Canadian GP, the ITV website published a pole asking fans to vote for their ‘Driver of the Day’. You’d think Hamilton would have a landslide win, given that he’s just won his first grand prix. But he didn’t. Sato won the pole quite comfortably, because of his unexpected overtaking manoeuvre on Alonso. The ITV published a similar pole after the US grand prix, again asking fans to vote for their Driver of the Day. During the grand prix, Hamilton resisted Alonso and went onto to win his second grand prix. So you’d think he’d win the pole comfortably. You may be surprise to discover that Alonso was voted the Driver of Day.

(2) You’d think Silverstone would be sold out, given the rise of the next British hopeful. Tickets are still available. This may be due to extortionate ticket prices, but there has been a price freeze this year. And the event was sold out last year.

(3) UK viewing figures for the first three races were down ten percent on last year’s figure (an article in F1 Racing). That absolutely amazes me.

All of this paints a very different impression on the effect Hamilton is actually having. Hamilton is great for F1, there is no denying that, but Hamilton is not mustering up the type of support that the media would suggest.

United States Grand Prix

You commented on how Hamilton ‘nailed’ Alonso fair and square (HERE). Really??!! Before the race it was widely thought that Alonso had enough fuel to run three or four laps further than Hamilton. Alonso couldn’t exploit this, after the team called both drivers in just in case a safety car deployed. Have you every heard anything so ridiculous. Why didn’t any of the other teams have the same concerns? You don’t see the Ferrari calling their cars into the pits to put wet weather tyres, because they ‘feel’ it is about to rain. It could be argued that this restricted Alonso, and prevented him from exploiting his fuel strategy that would have seen him pass Hamilton.

You went on to comment how the drag race on Lap 38 was as a result of Alonso exploiting back markers. You wrote it in such a negative sense, as if Alonso drivers shouldn’t exploit every opportunity.

If we are going to identify negatives, one of Hamilton’s major failing has been his ability to negotiate traffic. It can’t have helped him to call back markers ‘monkeys’. If a white driver had made that remark it would have been regarded as racist. And this comment shows his lack of knowledge of what it’s like to be in a ‘middle of the pack’ team. Hamilton did show a lot of maturity and composure as he resisted Alonso’s challenge. But Alonso showed maturity, by seeing the bigger picture. A person with a chip on his shoulder might have taken both cars out of race in pursuit of the lead. But he didn’t.

You commented on how Alonso is used to ‘relying on team-play at Renault to support him’. That’s a very misleading comment. Alonso was regularly two or three positions ahead of Fisichella’s car, which ruled out any team assistance.

I think you were getting quite excited when you wrote, ‘Wake up Alonso.’ I think McLaren do have a preference who comes first and second. That comes from the seven-year relationship and the amazing journey that Hamilton’s currently on. So that comment could be reversed to say, ‘Wake up Chris!’

Some additional comments about Sunday’s race:

I couldn’t believe Ralf Schumacher had the nerve to claim that Coulthard got in his way on the first corner. That’s completely ridiculous.
I’d be very surprise to see Ralf in F1 next year. He has been under-performing at every race.

I can’t get over the record producer/rapper, Martin Brundle interviewed during his grid walk. I couldn’t believe how much crap came out of one person’s mouth. Only in America!

I also shook my head when I watched his reaction in the McLaren pit, after Hamilton maintained position after the first corner. Anthony Hamilton looked very uncomfortable.

I am very impressed with Vettel. You were quite negative about him during one of your blogs. You can’t compare him to Hamilton. The BMW is not the McLaren. A BMW driver has to deal with a lot more challenging issues in the mid field, than a car at the front does. He did a good job and was closer to Heidfeld than you suggested. He didn’t have much time to prepare for his debut. It’s great to see so many young drivers into the sport.

More has to be said about Heidfeld. He was challenging Kimi in the driver’s championship. He is doing an amazing job for BMW. Arguably has been the driver of the season so far, based on the equipment he has.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good to see such a balanced view from your friend. Thank God for some common sense - even if he is blind enough to support Coulthard - someone who has a cross on his helmet to help his satelite navigation system.

F1 Voice said...

Yes - I will try my hardest not to let this blog turn into a Hamilton fansite. But the guy is a legend!

Paulo said...

Interesting points here. I'll give some of my thoughts:

Before the race it was widely thought that Alonso had enough fuel to run three or four laps further than Hamilton. Alonso couldn’t exploit this, after the team called both drivers in just in case a safety car deployed. Have you every heard anything so ridiculous.

Well, McLaren do have reason to worry. Remember Canada? Alonso said he would have won had the safety car not come out on his in-lap and closed the pitlane. McLaren had to respond to Alonso's complaint and make sure they don't make the same mistake twice. So you can blame the rules, but I think McLaren escapes blame here.

If we are going to identify negatives, one of Hamilton’s major failing has been his ability to negotiate traffic. It can’t have helped him to call back markers ‘monkeys’.

This was right sometimes, but not on that lap where Alonso made his move on Hamilton. Liuzzi was blocking him most of the previous lap, and I didn't see any attempt from Tonio to move out of the way of the leaders. So I wouldn't blame Lewis too much.

You commented on how Alonso is used to ‘relying on team-play at Renault to support him’. That’s a very misleading comment. Alonso was regularly two or three positions ahead of Fisichella’s car, which ruled out any team assistance.

He DID rely on team-play. How? He got Fisi to delay cars behind him. Also, he wanted his teammate to ALWAYS stay out of the way, unless he had major problems. Again, I remember Canada 2005, where Fisi got a better start than Alonso. Fernando kept complaining on the radio about Fisi blocking him, wanting his teammate to move out of the way. Nothing wrong about this for me, but it does make it more difficult for Fernando to adjust at McLaren.

I think McLaren do have a preference who comes first and second. That comes from the seven-year relationship and the amazing journey that Hamilton’s currently on.

If this is the case, why bother hiring a two-time defending champion? McLaren want both of their drivers to be competitive, they wouldn't mind any less if Fernando finished ahead of Lewis. As long as one of the two wins the drivers' title and they win the constructors, they'll be happy about it.

But I will agree on one thing: if Lewis was in anything other than a McLaren, he wouldn't be this good, this competitive, this fast.

Abhinav said...

Paulo,I don't agree with your comment about Fisi holding up drivers.I think that happened only two or three times besides holding up a driver for fourth or fifth place does not do anyone any favors.

Further more,Schumacher was generally running one place behind or ahead of Alonso and Schumacher was the only person challenging Alonso for the title,then what would Fisi gain by holding up someone like Massa or Kimi?Even Fisi had his own race to run.

Paulo said...

Fisi did it firstly for Renault's constructors title. Otherwise, he did it on occasion for Alonso. He tried doing it in China 2006, most notably.

And to clarify and add to my earlier post, teamplay can also be an internal thing. At Renault, Alonso basically made the team gravitate to him and away from Fisi. He hasn't been able to do the same at McLaren.

TTS said...

I have to agree with abhinav. How could Fischella have assisted Alonso two or three positions behind?

But I have to agree that team play can be (and is) internal. But Alonso was so far ahead in the championship (especially during the 2006 season), that it was sensible for the team to gravitate towards Alonso.

Alonso agreed to join McLaren during the off-season, prior to the 2006 season. The team signed Alonso because he's a bloody good driver.
I'm pretty sure that the McLaren team didn't start the season, favouring one driver over another. However, with Hamilton's rise being so unique and monumental (how many rookies can you remember being in a genuine position to win the driver's championship), how could any team resist the natural desire to get behind their long term investment, to see him make history.
I stand by my original comments - the team naturally (whether they want or not) would prefer Hamilton to win!

F1 Voice said...

The debate about the extent Alonso was aided by Fissichella raises the important point: Alonso never really came under that much pressure from Fisichella. He was both quicker than the Itlian and also benefited from his support in the championship.

This could not be more different at Mclaren where he is under intense pressure from Hamilton.

I still think that this transition is hurtin Alonso.