It’s Not Just Where Will Lewis Go, But Which Top Driver Would Actually Want to Drive for McLaren?

Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren at the 2009...

Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren at the 2009 Turkish Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Way too much is being talked and written about where Lewis Hamilton might lay his sponsor-covered hat from next year.   There has been plenty of speculation – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, Lotus, McLaren, Williams –  but little or no genuine intelligence.  I have not the slightest clue what Hamilton’s favoured option would be and I’m pretty sure no one else has either, other than the Brit and his management.

The focus has been largely on Hamilton’s choices and whether these are now closing off.  Some might celebrate that, but from the evidence of the Canadian Grand Prix, it seems clear that F1 can only be better off with Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton in genuinely competitive machinery.

However, there is another angle on the story – would any of the other top drivers consider beating a path to McLaren’s shiny Technology Centre door?  There was no suggestion that McLaren was on Webber’s radar and I can’t imagine the British Team having to start preparing cartoons of either Alonso or Vettel anytime soon for their Tooned series.

The most commonly suggested replacement for Hamilton is Paul di Resta.  The Scot is a solid prospect, but even Lewis’s harshest critics, and there are plenty of them, would be hard pressed to argue that di Resta is a certain like-for-like swap for Hamilton at this stage of his career.

McLaren has a great name and is still one of the top teams, but it is difficult to imagine it now attracting two of the greatest talents in the history of the sport, as it did with prost and Senna in the late nineteen eighties.  Other than a few races at the end of 2005 (when it was too late) and a few races in the middle of 2007 (when they were about to implode), McLaren has not produced a consistently dominant car in recent times.  In contrast, Ferrari, Renault, Brawn and Red Bull all have.

Ultimately, I hope Hamilton stays at McLaren as it still feels the best fit of any of the available team choices.  But it would be good to see what he might do with a bit of Red-Bull 2011-style unfair advantage.

FORMULA ONE MUM

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Confused by a Season of Contradictions

Nico Rosberg had a good race for Mercedes, fin...

Michael Schumacher – 2012 success and failure Photographer: Adrian Hoskins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The run-up to the British GP, usually close to the mid-point of the F1 season, is traditionally a time for reviewing the lessons of the year so far and the implications for the remaining races.  However, the messages of the 2012 season to date are more confusing than a game of Chinese whispers involving Bane from the new Batman movie.  Here are some of the “push-me-pull-you” stories of the first half of F1 2012:

William’s Pastor Maldonado has matured into a GP winner, genuine front-runner and even, possibly, a potential championship challenger.  He has also taken over the mantle from Lewis Hamilton as F1’s bad boy, with multiple crashes and clashes and more trips to the race control than a man with his y-front elastic trapped on the stewards’ door handle.

The combination of Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS are making for one of the most exciting ever seasons, with closely fought grids and races and unpredictable results.  Pirelli, DRS and KERS are also ruining F1 2012 with artificial factors and uncontrollable drop off in tyre performance undermining genuine competition and forcing drivers to drive to lap times rather than their true potential.

After 3 years away doing reconnaissance work for the Finnish forestry commission, Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 return has gone better than anyone could have expected, with podium finishes secured and a win surely not far off.  The Finn’s F1 return is also turning sour after being shown the way by almost rookie Romain Grosjean, a Monaco practice sulk and too many failures to capitalise on race winning opportunities.

The Ferrari F2012 is the least effective of the cars produced by the font-running teams, often struggling to make it into Q3.  The Ferrari is also powering Fernando Alonso to a healthy lead in the drivers’ championship.

Michael Schumacher is past it, making rookie errors such as running into the back of Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix and dropping over 50 championship points behind teammate Nico Rosberg after just 8 races this season.  Schumacher’s F1 comeback has also, finally, come to life, with the German securing his first pole and podium since Justin Bieber was a foetus, and having his Championship challenge only undermined by mechanical misfortunes.

Despite some pit-stop mishaps, the McLaren MP4-27 is, overall, both the best looking and the most effective of the 2012 machines, locking out the front row in the first two races of the season and qualifying at or near the sharp end of the grid for the remaining races.  The McLaren also struggles for speed in races, not only against the Red Bull and Ferrari, but has also now fallen behind the Lotus and, on occasion, the Mercedes.

Jenson Button is famously gentle on his tyres.  He is also one of the more cerebral drivers, demonstrating during his time at McLaren how race craft and general awareness can triumph over outright pace.  More than any other driver Button has struggled to cope with the 2012 Pirellis, requiring 3 pit stops in Canada, whist others made it home on just one.  The Brit has also confessed to being “lost and confused” about his race performances.

Jean-Eric Vergne is a prodigious talent and future GP winner, who has been marked for racing success since his father bought him his first kart when he was aged just 4, and who scored points in only his second F1 race.  Vergne has also been a huge disappointment, being the most likely driver to join the 3 F1-B class teams in Q1 failure and committing unprovoked GBH on Heikki Kovalainen’s Catterham at the European GP.

Sebastian Vettel has almost certainly signed a pre-contract agreement to drive for Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso in 2014 and has also almost certainly not signed to drive for Ferrari in 2014. A future London city-centre Grand Prix is a definite possibility and definitely impossible.  All the F1 teams have signed the new Concorde Agreement, apart from those that haven’t, and Mercedes are and are not pulling out of F1 at the end of the season.

Based on the season so far, one thing I can predict about F1 2012 is that I definitely won’t be making any predictions.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Battle of the Driver Egos?

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia. Gran...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, I’m not proud of myself, but I needed to find some way of blocking out the seemingly constant coverage of the Euro 2012 football championships.  I have, instead, been watching the television programme Battle of the Brides.  This programme takes what should be the most special and spiritual day of a bride’s life and turns it into the emotional equivalent of a two car head on collision.  Just watching it makes you feel like a rubber-necker.  The premise of the show is that two brides are offered £25,000 to hold a joint wedding, but they must agree to choose the same style of dress, decor and entertainment.  Inevitably, the entertainment value relies on pairing brides with wholly incompatible wedding tastes.  So, for example, a black clad Goth will share her big day with a pink Barbie fan, or a bride who’s always dreamt of a Marie-Antoinette style historical wedding will find herself walking down the aisle dressed in a Star Trek uniform and with her ring being carried by a remote controlled K-9 robot dog.

All this is by way of preamble to a word or two about the current discussion of the unlikely coupling of two of Formula One’s current three leaders of the pack, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.   According to the speculation, Ferrari are reportedly playing a version of “Snog, Marry, Avoid” in deciding their future driver line up.  There has been surprise expressed at current incumbent Alonso’s suggestion that he would be entirely relaxed with sharing the Ferrari motor home with either of his main rivals.  However, this is hardly a shocking revelation.  Which Formula 1 driver would say publicly that he doesn’t want to compete against a particular driver in the same car, even if he is manoeuvring behind the scenes to keep his competitor locked out?  No, the unexpected element of this scenario is that the Ferrari Team would consider this approach.  All suggestions are that Alonso is carrying the Italian team this year, so why upset the famously touchy toreador.  Also, for at least the past 15 years, the Prancing Horse team have been the ultimate exponents of the one trick pony approach to driver couplings.  The first line of any Ferrari no.2 contract since Eddie Irvine’s in 1996 has been “Michael / Fernando is faster than you.”

Alonso and Vettel or Alonso and Hamilton at Ferrari or, possibly even Vettel and Hamilton at Red Bull, would be fascinating, mouth watering prospects, if the various pre-nuptials could be agreed.  However, the previous experience of star driver pairings (Jones & Reutemann, Prost & Senna, Mansell & anyone else) does not bode well for much in the way of loving, honouring or obeying.

Of course the other player in these silly season shenanigans is the poor cast-off current partner, Felipe Massa.  Will he end up in the Ferrari equivalent of the First Wives Club, along with Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer?

FORMULA ONE MUM

Five Signs That You Are a Formula One Fanatic

Photo: By Author

Are you worried that you are becoming too obsessed with Formula One motor racing?  Here are 5 key warning signs that you are taking your fan boy fanaticism over the rev limiter:

  1. When sending your kids off to the local comprehensive school at the beginning of term, do you find yourself sewing on name tags with the Christian names “Fernando”, “Mika”, “Rubens”  or even “Nigel” on them?
  2. When the 2009 financial crash brought devastation to the world’s financial markets; the misery of redundancy and foreclosure to millions of innocent people across the globe; instability to the Euro and national budgets with crippling debts that will take decades of swingeing austerity to clear, was your first thought to wonder how the Williams Team would get by without its RBS sponsorship?
  3. Having watched all three Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions; qualifying; Sunday morning free practice, the race build-up show, full race coverage and after-race analysis, do you find yourself still holding on at the end of the evening news broadcast to see the 20 second summary clip of the race?
  4. Do you own any of the following: George Harrison’s “Faster”; the album “Grand Prix” by the band Teenage Fanclub; “Samurai” by the band Grand Prix; any song by Leo Sayer or a CD of Formula One engine noises?
  5. When the overall clad salesman in your local Kwik-Fit offers you a perfectly serviceable set of tyres from a Korean manufacturer you’ve never heard of or a set of Pirellis for £200 more, do you pause and wonder if you could keep the Pirellis up to temperature better than Jenson Button?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, ask your medical specialist to prescribe the following: “A Complete History of Formula One Racing at Valencia” DVD;  the Kimi Riakkonen autobiography “In His Own Word”; and “Facial Hair Grooming” by Lewis Hamilton.  These should have you back on the road to healthy F1 scepticism in no time at all.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton – Ultimately, Class Wins Through

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamil...

Formula One 2010 Rd.8 Canadian GP: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing), and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) on opening lap of the race. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a different post to the one I thought I might write.  I was going to comment that, for all the excitement of this season, the variability of tyres, team performance and occasional mishaps were making it difficult to assess the contribution being made by the drivers.  Which drivers are really performing and which are being either flattered or frustrated by circumstances beyond their control?

However, I then took a look at the top of the Championship leader board:  Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton.  That looked about right.  You might debate the order, but few would disagree that the three champions have been the most impressive performers of the year.  Raikkonen is just a step further behind, as he has been in the last couple of races, with Webber and Button bubbling under.  It is reassuring that, even in a season of total unpredictability, the cream, ultimately rises to the top.  This was well illustrated at last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.  Alonso took his previously wayward Ferrari to third, then second, on the grid and within a sniff of victory.  Vettel recovered well from a drive through penalty and Red Bull rhinoplasty.  Hamilton responded with maturity to the loss of pole and demotion to the back of the grid, for which he was blameless, and drove a race of beautifully balanced aggression with tyre and pit stop austerity.

The same was true back in 1983.  Prost, Tamby and Arnoux all made a pitch for the title, with Alboreto, Watson, Patrese and Rosberg also in the winners’ circle, but, in the end, Piquet and Brabham were worthy winners of the driver’s crown.

None of the above is to deny Maldonado and Williams their moment of Spanish triumph, which was about as unexpected as Bernie Ecclestone announcing that he is renouncing all his worldly goods and joining the Poor Sisters order.

With Monaco next, Hamilton is the favourite to join the 5 winners so far, but there are at least 2-3 other drivers – Webber, Raikkonen and, possibly, Grosjean – who it would be surprising if they don’t also win a race sometime soon.   Whoever ultimately wins this year’s F1 title (and I’m still betting on one of the experienced champions) will certainly have earned it against a fiercely competitive field.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Lewis Hamilton, the Fantastic Four, Jenson Button and Spiderman – All Missing from Action

marvel's heroes

marvel’s heroes (Photo credit: thewhitestdogalive)

This Sunday we took our boys to see the new Marvel movie spectacular, Avengers – Assembly.  Pitting Iron Man, Captain America, et al, against the Norse God Loki and some space aliens, it was decidedly not based on a true story.  It was outstandingly loud and violent, but also had some good comic touches and was, overall, tremendous fun.   The movie did, however, prompt a pertinent question from my older son.  If the world was in danger and they were bringing the super heroes together, where were Spiderman and the Fantastic Four?  Surely also, the franchise differences between Marvel and D.C. Comics would be set aside in the interest of human preservation.   At least no one asked Ben Affleck’s less than super,red leather clad Daredevil to join in.

This was the second time in the week when heroes were missing from the action.  With their World Championship in mortal danger from technologically superior alien forces (if you count Austria, Germany and Italy as alien) and an evil genius scientist, in the form of Adrian Newey, where were Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at the Mugello F1 test?  Instead, McLaren chose to send their second-string heroes into the fight, Garry Paffett and Oliver Turvey, Hawkeye and Howard the Duck, if you will.

I’ve seen the arguments that Hamilton and Button don’t know the Mugello circuit and McLaren doesn’t have any major updates (why not?), but then all the other teams sent at least one of their regular race drivers, who have experience of the cars in race conditions.

Jenson Button proclaimed himself “relaxed” about missing the test, Lewis Hamilton was, allegedly, less so.  If it all works out and McLaren lead the way in Spain then all should be well.  If it doesn’t, how long can Hamilton keep up his Bruce Banner impersonation and how long before he is rampaging down the pitlane?  “Is it ‘cause I’m green?”.

FORMULA ONE MUM

McLaren F1 – An Omni-Shambles?

York as Logan 5, with blinking red lifeclock i...

Logan 5 watches another McLaren pit stop go wrong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the Chinese and Bahrain double header, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton might be forgiven for launching into a few Malcolm Tucker of The Thick of It style, expletive laden, tirades. 

This post is not intended as further criticism of the Team’s unfortunate right rear gun-man.  Almost every TV show I’ve seen over the past couple of decades, with the possible exception of the Antiques Road Show and Songs of Praise, has at some stage run a Formula 1 pit stop demonstration.  Despite this, I still have not the slightest inkling of what it must be like to be a member of an F1 pit crew in the heat of a Grand Prix.  No, the McLaren Team’s problems run much, much deeper than a few fumbled tyre changes. 

Whilst other teams might wax and wane, McLaren, along with Ferrari, is accepted as one of the Formula One royalty.  Yet, the bare facts are that the McLaren Team hasn’t won a constructers championship since 1998 and has secured just one driver’s title since 2000, and then only by the skin of a Toyota’s Bridgestones.  A significant chunk of this period was, of course, the Schumacher and Ferrari era of dominance.  However, lesser resourced teams such as Renault, Brawn and Red Bull have all secured multiple titles in recent years.

Where is the flaw in the Woking Team’s world?  The fault can hardly rest with the drivers.  Of the 6 current or former World Champions on the present F1 grid, 4 have driven for McLaren during the past decade.  The Team can’t be criticised for its engineering ability or willingness to innovate – just look at the F-duct and the turn-around in their 2009 season.  McLaren doesn’t lack first class facilities – the McLaren Technology Centre and circuit Brand Centre are testaments to Ron Dennis’ unbending commitment to efficiency, presentation and silver paint

 

McLaren is like one of those futuristic utopias in a 1970s science fiction film.  On the surface, all is gleaming perfection, but underneath there is a rotting flaw waiting to undermine the whole edifice.  McLaren is the Logan’s Run of Formula 1.

What all the teams that have succeeded over the past decade have had – whether Ferrari, Renault, Brawn or Red Bull – is a clear philosophy running through from the design to the race tactics.  That may also be the case with McLaren, but it isn’t so obvious to see.

For the sake of a good 2012 season, I hope that McLaren can sort out the problems they have experienced so far this year, post-Melbourne.  If not, they are likely to face some significant criticism.  An attractive car and some funny Vodaphone adverts will only carry good will so far.

FORMULA ONE MUM