AUSTRALIAN GP QUALIFYING
Nico outqualified Lewis 12-7 in 2014, although it wasn’t always clear cut. In Abu Dhabi, for instance, where he needed only points (rather than the win), Lewis clearly backed away a little. Still, though, there was a pattern – and an obvious message: had Lewis secured more pole positions he would perhaps have won even more races. True, he outraced Nico 11-5 and, of course, secured the 2014 championship in that final race of the season. But 2015 would be another story. Lewis couldn’t assume that things would again fall his way. He needed to cover all the bases.
Thus his work for the winter was clear: he needed to improve his consistency in qualifying. That meant eliminating the mistakes that cost him, for example, pole position in Austria. Easy to say; more difficult to execute.
Many drivers face this issue by leaving slightly more margin. They’re unaware of doing so, but the stopwatch tells the story. Alain Prost was one good example; Kimi Räikkönen is another. Going into 2015, the big question was how Lewis was going to approach Q3. Would he, too, give himself a few extra millimetres in which to work?
Friday in Melbourne was all Nico Rosberg. Lewis didn’t seem completely at home in the new W06; he locked up the inside-front a couple of times and ran wide as the track slowly picked up grip. By the end, he was a tenth behind Nico.
Saturday morning continued the pattern. Lewis again made mistakes. He was quickest, but it was inconclusive. Nico found traffic; Seb Vettel was second fastest in the Ferrari. For qualifying, all bets were off.
Lewis, though, was breathtaking. In Q1 he was 0.4s quicker than Nico (who was P2). In Q2, the margin was 0.2s. Then, in Q3, Lewis drove as quick and composed a lap as you’ll ever see this side of total perfection. Margin? The only margin that mattered was Lewis’s 0.6s gap over Nico…
Lewis’s new system was suddenly clear: make your mistakes – but make ’em when it doesn’t count – on Fridays, on Saturday mornings. Chill. Relax. Prove nothing.
And then, for qualifying and the race, just be yourself. Be Lewis. So it was that the pattern was set.