How cham­pi­ons are made

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - An­thony Rowl­in­son Ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor

We’ve been here be­fore: those pe­ri­ods in an F1 sea­son when the cham­pion-elect hits his groove and leaves his ri­vals whim­per­ing at the road­side, with noth­ing bet­ter to show for their ef­forts than a cov­er­ing of road dust. Michael Schu­macher did it rou­tinely in the noughties; Se­bas­tian Vet­tel closed out 2013 with ten wins from 11 races. And that’s pretty much how it looks for Lewis Hamil­ton right now, de­spite the valiant ef­forts of Seb, Fer­rari and, lat­terly, Red Bull’s Max Ver­stap­pen, to stand strong in the face of the Hamil­ton-mercedes tsunami.

The stats tell their own story: since the Au­gust break, Lewis has won four from five, drop­ping only seven points from a max­i­mum 125 with his P2 fin­ish in Malaysia. In the same pe­riod, Vet­tel has taken only a sec­ond, a third, a fourth and two DNFS. Don’t for­get that he left the Hun­garor­ing in July hav­ing fronted a Fer­rari one-two as Mercedes strug­gled for pace. And he led the world cham­pi­onship all the way from Mel­bourne to Spa, un­til Lewis fi­nally edged ahead at Monza.

It’s re­mark­able how Fer­rari’s ti­tle cam­paign has im­ploded – and I say that with­out glee, for I’d like noth­ing more than to see Lewis and Seb lin­ing up on the front row in Abu Dhabi for an all-or-noth­ing show­down. But the Scud­e­ria have come up against a finely tuned winning ma­chine, bat­tle-hard­ened af­ter four con­sec­u­tive sea­sons of dom­i­na­tion.

Yes, Mercedes’ W08, is “a diva”, highly strung with per­for­mance flat spots Fer­rari have ex­ploited. On tracks re­quir­ing high lev­els of low-speed down­force, such as Monaco, the Hun­garor­ing and Ma­rina Bay, the SF70H has been the weapon of choice. But when the W08 flies, it flies. And the same could be said of Lewis him­self. A global megas­tar, yet some­times not quite ‘at the races’, he is now on a plane be­yond that of his peers. His driv­ing has been pitch-per­fect and he has found a de­gree of har­mony with him­self, his car and his team that he has per­haps never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

The well­spring of his state of grace? The ab­sence of his quick-but-needly former team-mate Nico Rosberg, who beat Lewis to the ti­tle last year us­ing ev­ery trick in the book. As Nico ad­mits this month in our in­ter­view on p32, he had to “mess with [Lewis’s] head” to beat Hamil­ton, and his method un­der­pinned a care­fully crafted strat­egy. Like a part­ner in a long re­la­tion­ship, he knew what but­tons to push to get a rise out of his ‘other half’.

None of that ap­plies now for Lewis, who seems to be winning in an al­most be­atific state. Al­though as our dear chum Mur­ray Walker once noted, in F1, “any­thing can hap­pen – and it prob­a­bly will”.

It’s not over till the diva sings…

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