Man in the know
Are we Lewis Hamilton fan boys? Karun doesn't think so
IT’S BEEN A BUSY FEW MONTHS IN THE world of Formula 1. Red Bull switched engines from Renault to Honda while their star driver Ricciardo has made a surprising switch from Red Bull to Renault. Alonso has made a less surprising but disappointing decision to walk away from F1 after a fairly dire spell with Mclaren while Ferrari have chosen to break away with tradition and give youngster Charles Leclerc a chance in 2019.
In contrast to his demeanour on most race weekends, Kimi Raikkonen has decided that he’s still motivated enough to compete in F1 and has signed a two year deal with the Sauber team where he started his career back in 2001. Elsewhere, Force India went into administration but has come out of it now being owned by Lawrence Stroll and his business partners. Oh and Carlos Sainz and Formula 2 ace Lando Norris have signed for Mclaren. F1’s 2019 ‘silly season’ has been a crazy one!
On track however, the story coming away Monza, and Europe, has really got to be “How did Ferrari, with the fastest car, a front row lock out and huge home crowd support come away from the weekend further behind in the championship than when they went into it?”
Lewis Hamilton really forced his way into the victory this weekend and Mercedes played the team tactics game much better than their Italian rivals. There was a feeling in the paddock that the Scuderia was the quicker car all weekend but the Qualifying battle amongst the top three was closer than everyone expected. It truly was one of the best sessions I’ve seen in a long time.
Valtteri Bottas seemed to suggest after Qualifying that being in front of Lewis gave the Englishman a benefit of a couple of tenths which was exactly what Mercedes wanted him to do. Rightly, they are very clear now that if they have to win the World Championship, they need to start playing the number one, number two card. So, when Raikkonen came out of the pits behind Vettel for both runs in Q3, it was very confusing. Kimi himself seemed slightly unsure of the plan as there was a bit of team radio chat on the final outlap, asking if they stay in that order. Seb got a distant tow from Lewis but Kimi got a much better double slipstream which I’m sure didn’t please their German ace. One thing’s for sure, in the dominant Ferrari era of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Jean Todt, there’s no way that the number two driver would have been given the same freedom.
Ahead of the race, I did wonder if Ferrari had decided to implement team orders. The easiest thing to do would have been to tell Kimi not to fight Sebastian into the first chicane or if they don’t sort it out straight away, then let him past into the second chicane before playing the rear gunner role. This was a golden opportunity to reduce the points gap from 17 to 7 by scoring a 1-2 when they clearly had the pace to do it.
The collision between Lewis and Sebastian was just a typical racing incident that we’ve seen many times at a chicane in Monza – two drivers both charging hard and neither really wanting to give in but with the benefit of hindsight, I think Seb will regret how he played that. Every wheel to wheel battle you do as a racing driver is a game of risk versus reward and it’s clear that Seb would have been better off letting Lewis take the place at that moment. Being third on lap one was going to be a lot better than facing the wrong way.
The next key point of the race came around the pitstops. Kimi and Lewis were driving beautifully up front in that opening stint. Mercedes told Lewis to do the opposite of Kimi on strategy and when the Ferrari man pitted on lap 20, Lewis delivered three very strong laps on his worn Super Softs. This was key to what happened to Kimi later in the race.
With any race tyre, in general, the more gently you use it during the early laps of it’s first heat cycle, the longer they will last. Because Lewis was pushing like crazy and able to deliver some very fast laps, Ferrari was forced to tell Kimi to push hard straight away, not allowing him to bring the tyres in gently. This meant that he started to get some blistering on the rear tyres sooner than they expected and when Mercedes played the team card of backing Bottas up into Raikkonen, Kimi had to battle on in the dirty air which didn’t help the blistering.
It was interesting to see how many people on social media were tweeting with comments like “Lewis only won that race because of the Mercedes team tactics.” I think that’s unfair. He won that race because Ferrari didn’t play the team tactics game as well all weekend and starting with the tyre choices. He won that race by being opportunistic and with calculated aggression on lap one. He won that race because of 'hammer time' in those laps after Kimi’s pitstop and forced the Finn to go too hard too soon on his Soft tyres.
It also really winds me up when people say we’re being biased towards Lewis. Last year, with seven races to go, Lewis led Sebastian by 3 points when Mercedes still had the faster car. This year, he’s 30 points in front when the Ferrari has been more competitive than in 2017. That’s not being biased – that’s just fact. Scuderia is going to need plenty more of Spa like weekends between now and Abu Dhabi to turn around that deficit! ⌧
'It really winds me up when people say we’re being biased towards