Man in the know

Are we Lewis Hamil­ton fan boys? Karun doesn't think so

Evo India - - DRIVEN - KARUN CHAND­HOK @karun­chand­hok Now a full-time F1 com­men­ta­tor, Karun Chand­hok is In­dia's sec­ond For­mula 1 driver and the first to com­pete at Le Mans

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

Hamil­ton'

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