Sunday, March 28, 2010

Transformations

There was a poignant moment in the paddock at the Hungaroring on the Friday afternoon. A flood of photographers and television journalists swept across from the grandly titled McLaren brand centre and surrounded Lewis Hamilton as he strode purposefully towards the team garage.

In the crush, nobody noticed Jenson Button as he ducked and weaved a path through the seething mass of humanity, the winner of last year's race here alone and unacknowledged by the jostling onlookers. It was a stern reminder of just how relentless, unforgiving and hard-edged the F1 business can be when it comes to consuming the careers of the vulnerable.
(Alan Henry, Autocourse 2007-2008, p25).

By lap 6 of today's Australian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton had already passed his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button. Thereafter, however, their courses diverged, to the extent that Button won the race and Hamilton trailed in sixth. Understanding the root causes of this divergence will be crucial in determining whether this was merely a one-off, or the harbinger of a pattern to be repeated throughout the season.

Button's victory was clearly built upon his early decision to swap to slick tyres on a still-damp track surface, and this decision was only available to Jenson because of his extreme sensitivity to the amount of grip available in such circumstances. This is a sensitivity denied even to Hamilton, so Lewis immediately found himself a number of places behind Button after his own pit-stop a couple of laps later.

Nevertheless, this was still a race that Hamilton could have won, for he then mounted a stirring charge, passing cars left, right and centre, until he became momentarily becalmed behind Kubica's second-placed Renault. At this stage, McLaren then instructed Hamilton to make a second pit-stop for tyres, a decision which cost him any prospect of a decent finishing position.

So was this decision really the crass tactical blunder that Lewis was suggesting it was by the end of the afternoon? Whilst Button was able to make his solitary set of slick tyres last for the remainder of the race, Jenson has a smoother driving style than Lewis, and his superior track-position meant that he was asking less of his tyres than Hamilton. If Hamilton's tyres genuinely wouldn't have survived the race, then this is an unfortunate omen for the rest of his season.

Lewis, however, has claimed that his tyres were "great" at the time he pitted, so the alternative possibility is that McLaren made yet another bizarrely ill-judged strategy call, comparable to China 2007 or Germany 2008. If so, then it is perhaps time for Lewis to finally take control of such strategy decisions, and veto any recommendations from the team which seem so counter-intuitive.

Either way, Lewis Hamilton will come away from the Australian Grand Prix weekend with plenty of food for thought.

3 comments:

XiXiDu said...

Since there seems to be no other way to contact you, I'm going to ask here.

I'd be interested to hear your take on the Self-Indication Assumption:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Indication_Assumption

There has been some buzz about it lately, at least in the spaces that I'm usually exploring. Here is a roundup:
http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/to-sia-or-not-to-sia/

And here is a bit more, including the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA):
http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/sia-or-not-the-gods-coin-toss-thought-experiment/

Looks like it used to support such diverse ideas as doomsday arguments and the multiverse theory.

Patrick said...

Interesting race - it strikes me that there's nothing wrong with modern F1 that couldn't be solved by trackside water sprinklers.

Like you, I found myself wondering whether Mclaren really had any choice but to pit Hamilton. Or maybe they were covering their bases, unsure whether *anyone* would manage to go the whole distance without changing tyres and keen to pit their one of their men earlier rather than later.

Gordon McCabe said...

I'll take a look XiXiDu, once I do something about the usual sleep deficit induced by Australian Grand Prix weekend!

Agreed Patrick: sprinklers need to be turned from a facetious suggestion into F1 reality.