Why it’s never too late to go back to school

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

You don’t have to be a psy­chol­o­gist to know that Daniil would want to be pushy into the rst cor­ner in Rus­sia. I pre­sume Red Bull would have spent most of Satur­day night re­mind­ing him that it would be a long race and that, above all, he should leave lots of room around him on lap 1. He got away with it in China; it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen again in Rus­sia. If Daniil didn’t have those thoughts echo­ing in his brain on Sun­day morn­ing, when the ags were ying and the fans were cheer­ing, then some­one at Red Bull wasn’t do­ing their job. And by that I mean the driver-man­age­ment peo­ple.

Then there’s the spiky teleme­try. These sorts of er­rors can be al­le­vi­ated by lots of hard, repet­i­tive work at Brunt­ingth­orpe with Rob Wil­son. So why wasn’t Daniil spend­ing time there over the win­ter, erad­i­cat­ing the jolts that have been ob­vi­ous since his For­mula Re­nault days, let alone since he hit the wall at Suzuka last year? You can’t blame Daniil: he’s now an F1 driver (al­beit a de­moted one) with F1 driver’s priv­i­leges, one of which is to be­lieve that he’s bul­let­proof and has noth­ing to learn other than new tracks and teleme­try soft­ware up­dates. Hard work be­tween races? Puh-lease. That’s for the gym, not an aireld cir­cuit where your faults might be ex­posed in front of a mid­dleaged ex-driver who is an­noy­ingly able to lap a Vaux­hall As­tra 0.3s quicker than you over a two-minute lap.

I’m not be­ing cyn­i­cal: in to­day’s world, it’s up to the teams to en­sure their drivers put in the hard work that gives them the fun­da­men­tals around which they can op­er­ate. The job doesn’t end when the air­craft leave for home. The drivers, left to their own de­vices, will go into de­fault mode: gym, de­brief at the fac­tory/over the phone, sim­u­la­tor, spon­sor day, cy­cle ride, gym, next race. It’s the teams who need to book the cheap ights to Lu­ton and the rental car for the drive up to Brunt­ingth­orpe. It’s the teams who need to ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of not blam­ing some­thing as ab­stract as ‘form’ when at the same time they are analysing the car’s per­for­mance down to the last byte.

The prob­lem with motor rac­ing, of course, is that there are too many el­e­ments to take the blame. The hard­est thing of all is to be self-crit­i­cal. Less difcult is the psy­chol­ogy: it’s easy to read a char­ac­ter like Nigel Mansell’s or Lewis Hamil­ton’s or Fer­nando Alonso’s. And yet the teams keep get­ting it wrong. They fail to adapt. They fail to get the best from the driver in whom they the­o­ret­i­cally still be­lieve. When Nigel Mansell en­coun­tered tech prob­lem af­ter tech prob­lem in 1991, key mem­bers of the Williams team were quick to el­e­vate Ric­cardo Pa­trese to ef­fec­tive Num­ber One sta­tus, caring lit­tle about Nigel’s ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive na­ture. The swing sent Nigel into a thun­der­ous mood, do­ing lit­tle for team morale. Pa­trick Head’s re­sponse was that drivers should be ma­ture enough not to sulk; my ex­pe­ri­ence is that rac­ing drivers need more care and at­ten­tion than the av­er­age baby.

Fer­nando Alonso’s sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar. Why did McLaren and Fer­rari choose to re­lease him when Re­nault had treated him like a demi-god? The an­swer is sim­ple: some­thing in Fer­nando’s post-Re­nault brain told him he wasn’t get­ting the treat­ment he de­served – it­self a func­tion of ei­ther be­ing slower than a team-mate (Hamil­ton at McLaren) or fall­ing out with man­age­ment, as was the case at Fer­rari.

The rea­sons are ir­rel­e­vant: the point is that when em­ploy­ing a driver like Alonso you know what you’re buy­ing be­fore he zips up his over­alls. You pre-empt the sur­prise of Lewis be­ing slightly more sup­ple un­der high-speed brak­ing by let­ting Fer­nando run Hit­cos or Brem­bos be­fore he asks for them, not when the damage is done. You make the team work around his foibles; you cre­ate a stage upon which he will act com­fort­ably. It’s not difcult and it’s not magic: it’s just good busi­ness sense.

At the other end of the spec­trum are the drivers who need ramp­ing-up. Lis­ten­ing to Brian Redman at a Brook­lands event to pro­mote his new book, I was struck by his

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