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

Formula One Teams Boycott Race

Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve (Photo credit: Janex & Alba)

Exactly thirty years ago this week, the Formula One circus was preparing for a race mired in acrimony, with the threat of team boycotts.

There were a number of significant differences from the current situation in Bahrain.  On that occasion 10 of the teams decided that the issue in dispute was serious enough for them not to race.  Amongst the rebels was one B. Ecclestone, then owner of the Brabham team.  The race was the San Marino Grand Prix of 1982 and this was the height of the clash between the teams of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and the sporting authority FISA.  The subject of the disagreement was not about human rights, the struggle for democracy or state repression, but the slightly more prosaic question of whether teams should be allowed to top their cars up with “brake-cooling” water at the end of a GP race.

The water topping up was a clever, if hardly subtle, ruse by the normally-aspirated Cosworth powered teams.  It allowed them to run their cars underweight during the race and, therefore, compete against the more powerful turbo-powered manufacturer-backed so-called “grandee” teams.  The Brabham of Nelson Piquet and Williams of Keke Rosberg were excluded from the Brazilian Grand Prix for using this trick, which was subsequently banned by FISA.   In protest, 10 teams, including Ecclestone’s Brabham, Williams, McLaren and Lotus (mark 1), withdrew from the San Marino event.

Although 14 cars lined up to race at Imola, just 4, the two Ferraris and two Renaults, were genuine competitors.  When the fragile Renaults expired, the Ferrari’s were left alone far out in front.  This was the infamous race in which Didier Pironi duped teammate Gilles Villeneuve, passing the Canadian on the last lap as the Ferraris ran in 1-2 formation.  Villeneuve’s prophecy that he would “never speak to Pironi again” was proved tragically correct two weeks later when the gifted Canadian lost his life in a practice accident at the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.  A few months later, Pironi would suffer a career ending accident himself at Hockenheim, robbing him of a likely World Championship.

It is hardly worth speculating whether the outcome of the San Marino race might have been different had the 10 Cosworth “garagistas” been present to mix up the race between the two Ferraris.

The carnage of the 1982 season largely brought an end to the FOCA vs FISA dispute.  By the end of the 1983 season, almost all the former Cosworth teams,  were running manufacture provided turbo powered engines in their cars.  Ecclestone continued his progress from team owner and representative to the sport’s commercial rights holder and dominant force.

However, as he tours the Bahrain paddock with the Crown Prince and insists that the F1 show should not be distracted by a “few kids” causing trouble, it is worth knowing that 30 years ago, Ecclestone along with Frank Williams and McLaren’s Ron Dennis  were willing to take a different view on standing up on a point of high ”principal”.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Can Lewis Hamilton turn thirds into first?

Formula One 2011 Rd.15 Japanese GP: Lewis Hami...

Formula One 2011 Rd.15 Japanese GP: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari) during race. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the first two races of the Formula One season a key question has emerged – can Lewis Hamilton become World Champion by finishing third in every race?  The Brit’s tactics are becoming increasingly clear.  He starts by qualifying on pole, thereby avoiding any potential trouble off of the start line.  He then works his way back down into third place in the race.  He places himself just far enough behind the leading drivers so as not to be tempted into anything rash and just far enough ahead of 4th place so as not to be under any threat.  By running in 3rd he also ensures that he is nowhere near his 2011 bête noire, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.  If, as happened in Malaysia, he finds himself inadvertently running too near the front, he wouldn’t want to just slow down and risk a possible tangle in being overtaken.  Instead, with a well orchestrated pit stop delay he can quickly and easily slot himself back into the appropriate 3rd place and run safely to the finish.

However, will third place finishes throughout the year be sufficient to secure him the champion’s crown?  The precedents are encouraging.  Using the points systems in place at the time, third spot on the podium in every race would have secured the McLaren driver the championship spoils in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

He would be the first driver to be Champion with no wins in the season, but after recent seasons, I doubt he’d mind.  So roll on China and another trip to the bottom of the podium and another step closer the end of season awards ceremony.

FORMULA ONE MUM