FROM THE LAB

THOSE DAMNED GERMANS

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PRO­FES­SOR VIC­TOR HAIGHT Pro­fes­sor Vic­tor Haight ap­pears cour­tesy of Bathurst – The Great Race mag­a­zine.

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

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