Monday, 30 May 2011

Post Monaco Thoughts

Well, a weekend that looked full of potential for Mclaren has failed to materialise at every junction.  The Grand Prix was a deeply exciting one, and I don't think I've ever maintained such a high average heart rate whilst watching a Grand Prix.  But unfortunately, as a Mclaren fan absolutely no luck at all seemed to go their way, leaving me feeling utterly deflated on Sunday evening.  So, here's a list of just where things went wrong, generally at no fault of the drivers.  
I do want to say that this article may seem excessively negative, but I thoroughly enjoyed the race, thought Monaco looked absolutely stunning, and I feel this will be talked about for years to come.  Just not by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button or anyone else in the Mclaren team. 

Boats, Babes and F1.  The dream come true. 


It had been looking excellent up until Q3.  Alonso may have been fastest in all the practices, but it was quite obvious that he was absolutely ragging it.  In comparison, Button and Hamilton were looking similarly fast, but without needing to drive quite so close to the precipice.  Things were waiting to be turned up a notch, and indeed, come Q1 and Q2 Hamilton aced both sessions.  Q3 was where it all started to go wrong.

To begin with, the signs were looking promising.  On his first lap, Button had managed a 1:13.997, half a second off Vettels 1:13.556, but Jenson normally is.  Hamilton came out for his first flying lap, with the aim of winding himself up for a three lap run.  His first lap started just as Ferrari released Massa from the pits.  No doubt this was pure chance, but it greatly hampered Hamilton in the climb up Beau Rivage.  

Then, Sergio Perez was unfortunately caught out by the bumps, and took on a barrier sideways.  That this happened within 2:26 of the end of the session caused alarm bells to ring.  Memories of Malaysia flooded in, when Petrovs failure minutes before the end of Q2 forced about ten cars to try and make a run within two or so minutes, with several high profile names failing to make the cut.  

Thankfully, the medics were able to extract Perez from his car, and he escaped with minor injuries.  So, the barrier was repaired, and the session was resumed.  

No doubt with Malaysia in mind, Mclaren sent Lewis out to sit at the head of the pitlane.  This was undoubtedly a smart idea, however he was sent out too early, and so he was forced to sit there cooking, as his engine temperatures rose and tyre temperatures dropped.  He was waiting for about two minutes before getting out, by which time his tyres must have cooled off immensely.  Setting off for his outlap, all was well but as soon as he finished his first sector, he was already 9/10ths of the pace.  By the end of the second sector, he'd dropped another 4/10ths, despite cutting a chicane just after Piscine and his lap time was a disappointing 1:15.280, only good enough for seventh.  But worse was to follow, as the stewards (fairly) decreed that his lap time was invalid, and deleted it.  This left him with no lap time, and he was forced to start from 10th (net 9th, of course).  
Button was in second, which was fantastic, but there's little doubt over who the man to take the fight to Sebastien Vettel is.  So, with a heavy heart, I bided my time until race day.


Another beautiful day in the tax haven of Monaco, and 23 of the fastest machines in the world lined up on the grid.  With DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres surely even Monaco could be a feast of thrills and spills.  
The start was reasonable, with Button getting away nicely and Hamilton getting in front of Schumacher, who had a poor start.    Schumacher, though rammed Hamilton and detaching bits of his rear wing, and then got overtaken by him at the hairpin.  Hamilton hounded Schumacher, and subsequently took the place back with a beautiful dive up the inside of Ste. Devote.

Schumi is too agressive into Ste. Devote

Vettel pulled a reasonable distance over Button, but it was then maintained at around four seconds.  Then, on lap 14 Jenson dived into the pits and strapped on a second set of super softs.  With fresh tyres, and clear air he pumped in a brilliant outlap.  By the time Vettel had pitted, he emerged behind Button.  Worse, his team had made a mistake and given him the softs, rather than the super softs, and so Button was able to tear away at about a second a lap. 
At this point, things were looking beautiful for Button.    With a comfortable lead everything was looking good for a Mclaren victory.  But then, around lap 30 Timo Glock pulled over with damaged suspension.  This was a point of contention, but I believe that Mclaren viewed this as a likely Safety Car, and hence pitted Jenson.  Of course, a safety car didn't come out but Hamilton conspired to bring one out anyway.

Hamilton at this point had pitted and had managed to get behind Massa.  He caught him at around one second a lap, but then got stuck behind.  After trying a few dummies, he tried to send one up the inside, mirroring Schumi's move on him earlier.  Unfortunately, at the same time, Massa was trying to send one up the inside of Webber and the hairpin is not a place for double overtakes.  Massa and Hamilton collided, but both managed to carry on.  Then, Massa got a poor drive into the tunnel, and Hamilton managed to overtake him.  Massa moved onto the marbles, lost control of his car and slapped into the barriers.  This was all two laps after Button had pitted, and in my opinion this once again played into his hands.  Alonso pitted, putting on a set of super softs. Hamilton earned a drive through penalty for his maneouver. 

Once again, Button was up behind Vettel, again on a set of super softs against Vettel on his softs.  However, this second set of softs ultimately proved to be Buttons undoing.  Unable to get past Vettel, and with Vettel told to force Jenson to waste his tyres, Jenson ducked into the pits and got the mandatory soft tyres on.  

At this point, Button had made three stops to Vettels one and Alonso's two.  And with the different strategies all meeting in the middle, the race was truly on.  Alonso caught up to the back of Vettel and started attacking him, whilst Button caught up to the pair of them, although he chose to sit at a respectful distance, whilst they wore each others tyres out.  With Pirelli tyres that tend to fall off a cliff, and Vettels tyres having to run an unprecedented sixty laps if he chose to one stop, Button was looking in a reasonable position.  

Three cars, from three different teams battle it out for the lead

It was at this point that the leading three caught up to the battling midfield, and started lapping them.  Sutil was in fourth, with Kobayashi in fifth and Petrox sixth hunting him down.  Not far behind Webber, Maldonado and Hamilton were all following each other as well.  Kobayashi slipped past Sutil on the entry to Mirabeau, with his front wing making contact with Sutils right rear.  With Webber attacking Sutil, and Maldonado passing Petrov in close proximity, there was little concentration for what was going on around them.  The train of events that led to a safety car began with Sutil running wide, and slapping his right rear tyre into the armco.  Sufficiently punished, it duly punctured causing him to veer wildly.  With Hamilton having got past Petrov, he then attempted to slow down to avoid the wild Sutil.  This took Alguersuari by surprise, who mounted the rear of Hamilton's car, and slid into the Armco.  This equally shocked Petrov, who followed suit.  With two wrecked cars on the track, a safety car was summoned.  

Sutil, Kobayashi, Webber and Hamilton in close formation

Now, things started to look more unsteady for our Mclaren heroes.  With a safety car, Alonso and Vettel would be able to rest their tyres for a bit, giving them less laps on which to fight it out.  And for Hamilton, Alguersuari's detour to his derriere had caused him fatal rear wing damage.  Although he looked as though he was going to stay out, a radio message went out from Mclaren on lap 72 telling him to box.  

Simultaneously, as the extent of Petrovs accident was realised, a red flag was given.  After everyone had worked out exactly what this entailed, they parked up on the grid and the teams slowly started to realise that they were able to work on their cars, including a change of tyres.  This played straight into the hands of Vettel and Alonso, as the teams discovered that under red flag conditions, they were constricted only by time as to what they could change. Everyone discarded their degraded tyres and put on a young set of soft tyres, and with three cars now on the same strategy, with only six laps left, it was at this point inevitable that the lead at the top wouldn't change. 

However, as Buttons hopes faded Hamiltons were given a new lease of life by the same rules.  Images showed his pit crew working flat out to detach his old rear wing, and install a new one that would enable him to complete the race. In the nick of time, Mclaren engineers completed the swap, and the race restarted.  

For the front three it was a standard lights to flag procession, with the order unaltered.  Behind them, further action unfolded.  Hamilton was clearly faster than Maldonado, and took the opportunity to tear up the inside of Ste. Devote.  However, there wasn't space for two cars, and one of them had to give.  Maldonado went spinning into the barrier, and Hamilton flew on his way for a sixth place finish.  But unsurprisingly, cars three and twelve were to be investigated after the race.  All the cars took the chequered flag, and with Mclarens finishing third and sixth, it was neither and unmitigated disaster nor the brilliant success it could have been.  With Mclaren showing race pace that exceeded the Red Bull, had Saturday gone according to plan then it could so easily have been a 1-2 finish. 

Post Race

As I sat there contemplating a return to revision, I noticed Lee McKenzie interviewing Hamilton.  It was evident from his facial expression that he wasn't feeling particuarly happy, and he took the opportunity to unload his feelings to Lee McKenzie.  I've taken this opportunity to repeat and analyse some of his juicier statements.

"Out of six races, I've been to the stewards five times, it's an absolute frickin' joke".

These have been his trips to the stewards, reasons and results, as far as I can work out/recall. 

Australia; Possibly had to see stewards regarding broken undertray. No punishment.

Malaysia; Put in front of the stewards for weaving in front of Alonso.  Penalised twenty seconds, and dropped from seventh to eighth.  Harsh, but not entirely unreasonable.

Spain; Failing to slow under a yellow flag. The flag was on a corner, and Hamilton had just got onto fresh tyres, so he was not really able to lose much speed through the corner, and hence why his lap time was so quick.

Monaco x 2;
1. Cutting a chicane on his Q3 qualifying lap.  Time deleted, and dropped to tenth as a result.
2. Causing an avoidable incident.  20 second penalty, no resulting position change. 

I can't think of the any others right now, although I have a memory of him blocking someone in qualifying somewhere.  But that could be made up.  He's undoubtedly had some bad treatment from the stewards in the past, but this season nothing overly unreasonable.  He does lose marks for use of the word fricking, as well. 

"These drivers are absolutely frickin' ridiculous, it's stupid". [Having described the Massa and Maldonado incident]

I hate to say it, but Hamilton ALWAYS has a somewhat warped view of events.  Apparently, Massa turned in a car length earlier than he normally would, but he had Webber on the outside so of course he would. He was behind Maldonado, so Maldonado had the right to the racing line. Hamilton jumped the curbs, and was lucky not to lose control of his car.  At best, this was a 50/50 incident, and I have a hard time seeing it as Maldonados fault.  

 At this point Lee gave him a perfectly worded question;  "Why do you feel you're so magnetic to the stewards?".  And the most fantastic response was elicited.  

"Maybe it's cos i'm black. [laughs].  That's what Ali G says".

At this point, Lee paused as she realised exactly what response she'd just elicited.  The fact that Hamilton even jokes about it demonstrates that it's something on his mind.  There is the possibility in his mind that the stewards are picking on him, because he's black.  

I find this interesting, because after the Chinese GP (where Hamilton won), a friend of mine's mother (who is also black) observed that the British press never got as excited for Hamilton winning as they do for Button, suggesting that there is latent racism towards him.  As someone who only ever reads the specialist motorsport press, this is something I've never noticed, but maybe there's a grain of truth to that.  Certainly, in 2007 and 2008 Hamilton recieved a certain amount of abuse related to his ethnicity from a certain quarter of Spanish fans, but I refuse to believe that he could see the stewards in this number.  He subsequently went to the stewards to explain that it was an unfunny joke, but it's certainly going to hang in the air for a while. 
"You get done for trying to make a move".

Now here's something I agree with.  When Vettel took out Button at Spa last year, he was given a totally undeserved penalty.   We need drivers to be able to attack other drivers without the threat of punishment if it goes slightly wrong.  A crash and loss of position is punishment in itself.  If a driver pulls an obviously dangerous move, then fair enough, but I don't think a driver losing control in a marginal situation should be punished.  Whether Hamilton's incidents today were marginal is another question. 

Overall, I thought it was one of the best interviews I'd seen in a long time.  It's rare to see a driver really open up and tell it as he sees it, and for this Lewis (and Lee) should be applauded.  

So overall, despite my awareness of what an exciting weekend this has been, I'm left with a sour taste.  Button could have won had luck not favoured Vettel, and Hamilton had one of his most embarressing weekends ever.  Still, onwards to Canada, the scene of Mclaren's last 1-2, and a race that has only ever seen Hamilton starting from one position.  Pole. 

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