ON A TENSE INTRA-TEAM BATTLE
The double world champion writes exclusively for F1 Racing
We’re about to enjoy two grands prix that will be exciting for slightly different reasons. Austria, returning to the calendar for the first time in ten years, will have an element of mystery, because whatever data the teams possessed will now be long out of date. This will certainly focus their minds!
They’ll need to be fast straight out of the box and learn as much as they can in the short practise time they have available. Fortunately, the Red Bull Ring is quite a short track, and there aren’t any really fast corners, so the key to success is getting the braking and traction right. That comes partly through mechanical setup and partly through the driver having total concentration – these new cars are a handful when they lose grip, and all that torque can really ruin the tyres if you drive without finesse. Depending on how slippery the surface is, we could have another race like Bahrain…
Silverstone is a very different challenge – a fast and flowing circuit where the cars spend much longer at full throttle. The sensation of speed here is a joy for both the drivers and the spectators – I loved it during my own time in the cockpit and the drivers of today feel the same. Here is a circuit that’s changed through the years but has still retained its character.
I don’t need a crystal ball to see which car will win these forthcoming races, though. Red Bull’s car has a lot of downforce, but Mercedes have the strongest package, and the team’s policy of giving their drivers equal status has created a very competitive situation.
The events of Monaco underlined the tiny margins between winning and losing, when you have two similarly gifted people in equal machinery. Pole is never more important than in the Principality, where the track is so narrow, twisty and slippery. If you start from pole there you have a 90 per cent chance of winning.
People have asked me if I thought Nico Rosberg deliberately went off-track in Q3 to force a yellow flag and defend pole position. Well, it’s hard to judge, even if you have access to the telemetry. You can say he had the means, motive and the opportunity, and that the outcome was beneficial for him – but this in itself does not prove anything. Even with the telemetry, all you can say for sure is that he took a slightly different line out of Casino Square and braked later for the corner.
You need to be very focused at Monaco because everything comes at you so quickly, and the longer you’re driving the more likely you are to lose concentration and make a mistake. It’s rare for people with the talent and focus of F1 drivers to do this, but it can happen. Jack Brabham, whose recent passing we all mourn, went off on the last lap while leading in 1970 – and this year Esteban Gutiérrez clipped the barrier in the same area, and that was the end of the race for him.
Even with the high-pressure situation that’s developing between Lewis and Nico, they’re making very few mistakes. As I sit down to write this, just before the Canadian GP, a Mercedes has won every grand prix this year. It’s difficult not to relate this to the scenario in 1988, when McLaren won every grand prix bar one with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. People forget how dramatic that season was, even though McLaren had the dominant car. We saw two great drivers fighting it out in equal machinery, and given equal status by their team. This is how it should be.
In a few weeks I’ll be returning to the cockpit myself, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I always look forward to this event because the sun usually shines and it’s a great chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. You see cars from the past, present and future. My youngest son is coming, too, and he’s very excited.
Last year I was very interested in the land speed record display, and I was fascinated to speak to the guys behind the Bloodhound SSC project, and its pilot, Andy Green. They’re aiming to hit 1,000mph, and although the car is jet-powered, the fuel pump for the afterburner is actually a Cosworth F1 engine – it was the only thing powerful enough for their purposes.
I’ll have a Cosworth engine behind me, too, because I’ll be reunited with the McLaren M23 – my championship-winning car from 40 years ago. It will be interesting to drive it again after all these years. I’m so glad that these historic cars aren’t just static displays in a museum, and that companies such as McLaren keep them in as-new condition so that everyone can enjoy the sight and sound of them in action. See you there!
Hamilton and Rosberg are demonstrating the kind of domination of a season last shown by Senna and Prost for McLaren in 1988