Monday, May 30, 2011

Lewis Hamilton's Monaco Grand Prix

"For those regarded as warriors, when engaged in combat, the vanquishing of thine enemy can be the warrior's only concern." (Hattori Hanzo).

There is an abiding tension in Lewis Hamilton's racing psyche. On the one hand, he's a true warrior, and in motorsport terms, being a true warrior means that overtaking the driver ahead of you is your all-consuming concern; nothing matters as much as making that move, putting your opponent to the sword, leaving his entrails strewn upon the track.

On the other hand, Lewis has a desire to win multiple championships; an abstract task, which requires a strategic mindset, and the use of discretion in battle.

These two competing instincts remain unresolved, and Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix was perhaps a case in point.

The source of Hamilton's frustration, of course, was final qualifying, in which McLaren decided that Lewis should make just one run. The idea was presumably to save a set of fresh super-softs for the race, but given that Hamilton had the pace for pole position, and given that no-one else saw fit to make a single run in Q3, this seemed like an odd form of prioritisation. Heavy accidents are hardly unknown in final qualifying at Monaco, and Sergio Perez duly obliged, consigning Hamilton to seventh on the grid.

Hamilton's one and only qualifying lap was then deleted for jumping the chicane at the exit of the swimming pool, and although this dropped him to ninth on the grid, it also gave him the opportunity of choosing which tyres to start the race on. Whilst those ahead were constrained to start with the super-softs they'd qualified on, Lewis chose the harder primes, getting the slower tyres out of the way when he'd be trapped behind other cars anyway.

Hamilton got away to decent start, swerving left to get around Michael Schumacher as the Mercedes driver staggered away from the grid. Going into Ste. Devote, Lewis was eighth behind Pastor Maldonado, but appeared to brake earlier for the corner than those around him, presumably as a consequence of being on harder tyres. This had two effects: Schumacher ran into the back of him, lightly damaging the rear wing of the McLaren, and Vitaly Petrov overtook Lewis around the outside.

So Lewis was ninth. Sensing that the McLaren was lacking grip on the harder tyres, Schumacher then demoted him to tenth with a beautiful move down the inside into the Loews hairpin. Not a great first lap then.

Both Mercedes, however, had poor race pace, and as Schumacher's super-softs went off, Lewis soon began looking for a way past, swerving left and right on the climb up to Massenet each lap. As they completed lap 9, coming into the DRS zone of the start-finish straight, Schumacher had already exhausted his KERS allocation. In contrast, Lewis was able to deploy fully half of his, and combine it with both the slipstream and the DRS. Crossing the line to start lap 10, Lewis briefly dipped into his next lap's allocation of KERS, and dove down the inside of Schumacher under braking for Ste. Devote. It was a beautifully judged move, and although Schumacher briefly looked like he was going to turn-in and cause a collision, Lewis had re-gained the position. Ninth!

So that was the good in Lewis's race. The rest, however, wasn't as impressive. He made a clumsy move on Massa at the Loews hairpin, which Felipe has every reason to complain about. It was, however, just a racing incident. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the stewards had already penalised Paul Di Resta for a similar move.

Now, there's a tendency in Formula One to penalise rookies and younger drivers for mistakes, as if they somehow need to be taught a lesson by their elders, and the penalty meted out to Di Resta falls neatly into this category. Having issued that sentence, the stewards were then, on pain of inconsistency, compelled to issue the same penalty to Hamilton.

Some time later, when the race was re-started after Petrov's late accident, Lewis had a good opportunity to pass Maldonado into Ste. Devote, but rather bungled it. He was perfectly placed into the braking zone, but never got his front wheels further ahead than the sidepod of the Williams. If anything, Lewis just needed to come off the brakes a little and go deeper into the corner, for when Maldonado turned in, Lewis was able to bounce over the bollard and kerbs on the inside without losing the rear end.

And thus, after another penalty from the stewards, we come to Lewis's post-race BBC interview. By now, the successive punishments had probably triggered his persecution complex. In fact, this has likely been simmering gently since he was penalised for his shimmy down the straight in front of Alonso in Malaysia.

Lewis has this interesting habit of being able to swear without technically swearing, using 'frick' in the manner that 'smeg' was used in Red Dwarf, or 'feck' in Father Ted. But how much of Lewis's interview was pure anger, and how much of it was calculation? There'll obviously be quite a bit of squawking from the media, and perhaps even from the FIA, about the fact that Lewis 'played the race card'.

Beyond this, however, such comments must slightly intimidate the stewards of future events, if only on a subconscious level. Footballers instinctively understand this, which is why every decision there is strenuously challenged. In particular, football referees know that if they award a contentious penalty against Man Utd or Chelsea, then they'll be instantly surrounded by an aggressive scrum of irate, physically strong, 6-foot millionaires. If it's a borderline decision, why not give the benefit of the doubt to the team or the individual who'll subject you to the greatest amount of post-event criticism?


Unknown said...

Great post Gordon. It was definitely a mixed race for Hamilton but he was mesmerising to watch as ever; I imagine he's worth more to F1, in pure financial terms, than perhaps any other single driver. I think it's time he took charge a little more on strategy decisions. McLaren can be somewhat overbearing, but I think drivers like Alonso and Schumacher would have simply insisted on an early run in Q3, regardless of team strategy.

Gordon McCabe said...

Cheers Thomas. And yes, it's long overdue for Lewis to start calling the shots.

muzbye® said...

He put too much trust on the team's decisions, but pointed the finger at them when everything went south.

Yeah, it is time for him to decide his own strategy, with the team which is there to give him the options.

Like Button did yesterday, who decided to do 2nd stop regardless the team has ordered him to stay out. It didn't give him victory in the end, but without SC + Redflag, who knows.

Nice post, Gordon.

corner1 said...

Why is there a need for an apology or a retraction?  Did the FIA, McLaren, himself, others rein him in?  Its moments like this, that Senna is especially missed.  It will be interesting to see LH's performance in Canada and could indicate his fighting chances for the rest of his champioship campaign.  He has owned that track since he first entered F1.  It certainly is not Red Bull friendly, void of an Eau Rouge, Turkish Corner 8, 130R, Maggotts-Becketts, etc.  A hairpin at one end, an S at the other, joined by chicanes and straights. got KERS?
P.S. A real racetrack is an hour away. if you dont believe me, ask Sir Jackie Stewart.

Gordon McCabe said...

Cheers Muzbye.

Should he have apologised? Well, he's made his point, and let people know that he won't tolerate being picked out for special attention. And there's no point getting into a feud with someone like Massa or Maldonado; winning is difficult enough as it is.

Patrick said...

Yes, having followed his junior career, I can't help but think that making an enemy of Maldonado might be on a par with getting on the wrong side of Andrea De Cesaris

lalaeuro said...

always great reading your blogs, perhaps the most articulate writer on F1!!!
And Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, Lewis. So disappointing. He sounds more and more like his girlfriend every day. My background is theatre, and I can tell a primadonna, spoilt, self-centred, arrogant 'performer' a mile off. While I understand total self-belief is necessary to reach the top of the pyramid, it's amazing how few 'friends' one can have left while reaching the summit. Lewis was wrong, wrong, wrong about so many of his post-race comments, and the Ali-G statement, for some of us, was just sheer folly. Hope the stewards stay on his case and are not bullied out of doing their job.

Gordon McCabe said...

Thanks lala.

I'm intrigued, though; tell me more about your theatrical background.