You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that Daniil would want to be pushy into the first 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 flags were flying 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 airfield 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 flights 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 difficult 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 difficult 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
Why it’s never too late to go back to school