FROM THE LAB
THOSE DAMNED GERMANS
Guest columnist Pr. Victor Haight
You know, I’m not sure what it is with the English. To me, it is almost as though they never got over the Second World War. It’s the only explanation I can come up with over the way they portray German drivers in F1 – or at least those German drivers who win races, and especially the ones that beat the British aces. I mean, let’s face it, the ones that don’t win aren’t worth bothering about.
Michael Schumacher is a case in point. With the possible exception of James Allen, you’ll not hear too many British F1 experts acknowledging Schumacher as the greatest driver of all time (no point discussing here the problems of comparing drivers across different eras, but the statistical facts show Lewis Hamilton will need to win another 34 grands prix and four world championships before he matches Schumy’s record). Rather, in any analysis of Schumacher, they’ll always point to the clash with Damon Hill in Adelaide in 1994, and the Villeneuve shunt and the Monaco qualifying carpark as evidence of a flawed, needlessly ruthless and generally lessthan-worthy [German] champion.
Now that there’s a different German up against an all-time British great, you can see it happening again. In this very publication a few issues ago, a discussion of Lewis Hamilton’s greatness almost idly dismissed Sebastian Vettel as great but, well, just not quite up the standard of Lewis. Really? I accept that Vettel is far from perfect (for one thing, belting Lewis during the Safety Car period at Baku wasn’t really the stuff of a champion, even if he did it at a speed so slow that Seb could even been at the wheel of my old FB Holden).
Daniel Ricciardo got right on top of Vettel in the Australian’s first season at Red Bull – in a sense Ricciardo drove Vettel out of the team, and only one season after the German had won four world championships in a row with Red Bull. And last year at Ferrari, too many times Vettel struggled to outpace Raikkonen, who is generally accepted as being in the twilight of his career and only sometimes interested in really having a go.
And for those who value fair play and correct conduct in their champions, there was the Charlie Whiting swearing incident last year, for which Vettel lost points from his Super Licence (not to mention the odd petulant outburst at Red Bull during the Webber years, and of course us Aussies will never forget Multi 21).
But what about Lewis? He came into McLaren as a rookie and went wheel-to-wheel with poor old Fernando almost from day one. He was world champion the following year. But then came the lean times. In 2010 he had been expected to beat new team-mate Jenson Button so badly that Button would be driven from the sport within a year. Didn’t happen. Hamilton was mostly the faster of the two, but there wasn’t much in it. And tellingly, Button’s experience and subtle touch won the day on several occasions. At times Hamilton made errors borne of frustration; there was a period when he and Felipe Massa didn’t seem capable of contesting the same race without crashing into one another. In the end, it was Hamilton who left McLaren. Button was still there right up until the end of last season.
Going from McLaren to Mercedes in 2011 did not at the time look like the ticket to F1 dominance that it subsequently turned out to be. So Lewis was lucky there, in the same way as Alonso seems to have developed the knack of signing for the wrong team and precisely the wrong moment.
Lewis made the most of the opportunity the resurgent Mercedes offered. Yet while for the most part he was quicker than team-mate Nico Rosberg, it was usually very close.
It’s easy to forget about poor old Britney, as Mark Webber used to call him, after Rosberg’s shock retirement at the end of last year. But let’s remind ourselves that he actually beat Hamilton to the championship in 2016 – Britney is the reigning world champion.
Lewis chose to blame his equipment and bad luck for his defeat, rather than himself (or even acknowledge that Rosberg had driven a pretty good season), and even suggested that ‘higher powers’ (Mercedes? A rogue Merc employee? The Lord?) were maybe conspiring against him (or something) when it came to his Mercedes equipment. The ever- sympathetic British press never really called him on that. But just what did he mean?
Maybe Lewis is the greatest driver ever, but he’s still a long way from actually conclusively demonstrating it.
F 1 RACING SEPTEMBER 2017