Are we having fun yet? Is everyone enjoying the ride??? Can I get you anything else Sir or Ma’am???
Fun? Most definitely… Enjoying the ride? Oh yes it is very nice – up and down, back and forth. Anything else you ask? Well, how about a bit more reliability and a lot less errors – then this season would be most perfect I rather imagine. Yes, that will do just fine I think.
Of course I am a having a bit of fun at F1’s expense, and actually I am most definitely having fun watching the seesaw change of leads in the championship due to the extraordinary nature of what Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are doing, or not doing as it were. And while the season has not necessarily produced the wheel-to-wheel racing that was promised last year and again this year, what it does have in spades is unpredictability and that in and of itself is fine by me. Now lets see why.
Mistakes vs. Reliability
So far Vettel has made three costly errors and Mercedes has made two extremely costly errors plus one not so costly one. That is three to three if you’re keeping score which apparently I am.
To be fair, depending on which camp you are in and who you like as a team or driver these numbers could easily increase or decrease, for example I could include the safety car issue that robbed Vettel of a victory in China and I could also include the strategy gaffe from the pit wall to Hamilton when they also kept him out during a safety car period in Austria (not that it mattered due to later events for the Silver Arrows such as the fuel pressure issue that finally sidelined the Briton), but the small part of me that is not such a pot-stirrer is trying to keep it simple and a bit more fair than usual. Here is a quick rundown of what I believe there is no argument about:
Vettel – Out-brakes himself in Baku while trying to pass Valtteri Bottas, loses a podium finish and easy points [rookie move if you ask me].
Vettel – Gets too good of a start in France, loses downforce, tags Valtteri Bottas into a spin and receives a five second stop and go penalty, in addition to the time it takes to swap out his front nose and wing on a first lap incident [lame and also a rookie move].
Vettel – while leading the German grand prix in changeable conditions parks his Ferrari into the barriers and DNF’s [not so much a rookie move – slick tires, brake by wire sys, tire temps dropping and rain are not easy to navigate even for a four time champ – but with such a large lead why did the four time championship leader take such a risk of still pushing with everything to lose and nothing to gain?]
I can’t say I am that impressed with the once bullet-proof Silver Arrows either. Yes, for sure there has been a retirement here and there over their 4/5-year domination but this year:
Mercedes – Incurs a double DNF in Austria, which by now we have all been told over and over was the first one since the 1955 Italian GP just in case you have somehow forgotten. [And this was after their extra cautious dyno testing, what gives Toto]?
Mercedes – Canada, was it any surprise that in the following race in France Hamilton cakewalked the race with the type of Ferrari power of the new PU at his disposal? [Conclusion – Mercedes lost Canada due to their reluctance to bring their new PU to that race weekend and suffered the consequences – grade F for the reliability department].
Mercedes – while a hydraulics leak seems to happen to every team from time to time, with all the issues that Mercedes are having reliability-wise, this is an issue that should just not happen. They were put on notice in Austria with Bottas’ car. True, the final result was not affected, Ham still won and put in a brilliant drive from the mid-field but luck had more to do with that then Hamilton’s driving. [I’m just saying].
So where are we at? Right now you could say each team’s and driver’s destiny in most definitely not in their own hands. In Vettel’s case he should still be leading this championship and by a fair amount. However you can just as easily say that Hamilton without the DNF in Austria could, after last week’s result, be even further ahead and if my memory serves me well it may have been the largest points lead Hamilton would have had at this point of the season in any of his championship winning years. Carbon fiber for thought…
We might all be missing something here
It occurs to me as I write this that what really is going on is this: Two equally fast cars, two equally fast drivers and two equally matched teams. Maybe the real reason for this lack of consistency at the top is because there is really only enough room at the top for one driver and one team and in regards to the final result on Sunday afternoon that is of course the case. But when you have two teams and drivers that are so incredibly evenly matched and when all four are pushing to absolute extremes, what else can one expect than those situations, or those errors, that then determine the final outcome at the checkered flag.
Pressure is a funny thing; it can make you do things like miss the easiest lay-up or free throw in basketball (how many times have we seen that one in the playoffs?). It can cause you to all of a sudden lose your breaking ball, which happened to Clayton Kershaw [by his own admission] in game whatever it was against the Houston Astros in last year’s world series. It can make one Pete Carroll not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch for the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl [that one is debatable ;-)].
Pressure most definitely can take a team like Mercedes out of their comfort zone and cause all kinds of mischief; engines not ready for prime time, incorrect strategy calls for both Hamilton and then with Bottas, overlooking the chassis build and then discovering a pesky hydro leak, although since I am not a mechanic do I really know this is something that is preventable? My gut says yes, unless there is a part failure.
For Sebastian’s end, the pressure must be getting to him as well. He’s always pretty cool in his interviews and at the end of the race in the pen where all the drivers must face the journo gauntlet whilst they answer questions on the fly without a real debrief from the team, but he knows winning a championship for Ferrari is very different than winning one for Red Bull.
He knows that Ferrari’s last championship, either one, was ten years ago. He knows that last year the championship was well within the team’s and his grasp, but they let it slip away – in fact they gave it away – both he and the team.
Lastly, Vettel must know that unlike Fernando Alonso, who almost won the championship twice with a race car that was never really a true winner, he [Vettel] has what is now – as Martin Brundle, Paul de Resta, and David Craft tell us every race – what is now the fastest, most stable under-braking, kindest chassis to its tires and recently has the most power between the two rear wheels, race car on the grid.
And it is this kind of pressure that can cause the smallest of errors. I often wonder what the pressure is like to just be an F1 driver, let alone a driver who is racing for Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull. Forget the fact that Vettel is a seasoned pro, has anyone seen the headlines from the Italian press this week? Not pleasant for the wunderkid. I would think some of that press must reach Vettel and despite his professionalism he is only human and as humans no matter how hard we try to not disappoint our friends, co-workers and in this case our fans, it has to have some knock-on effect.
There is a respite in sight
Hungary is this weekend, then the mandatory summer break and if Monaco was anything to go by then the race should be between Ferrari and Red Bull but the way the season is going now there is no sure bet. Hamilton could just as easily sneak in for the win with either a clever strategy or mistakes from either Ferrari or Red Bull and head to the Bahamas with an even greater lead.
Vettel needs to re-focus and put Germany behind him which according to him didn’t even cause him to miss any sleep; that is exactly what I would expect someone to say that is super pissed off at one’s self for throwing away such important points whether it be twenty-five or eighteen or even fifteen.
I mentioned in a post pre-season that if Ferrari and Vettel want to claim their 17th and 5th titles respectfully, then they need to be bullet-proof and millimeter perfect – in fact even better than that because Mercedes has been pretty perfect almost since the beginning of this new turbo era. I said Ferrari lost the championship to Mercedes, not that Mercedes won the championship last year, and if Vettel does not make the small but incredibly important adjustments to correct some of these costly errors it will become more and more difficult to achieve the ultimate prize for team and driver.
Equally so, Mercedes can no longer rest on the laurel of having the fastest car and thus have a buffer by which to absorb mistakes or in their case reliability issues that seem to have become more frequent as the season has gone on. Hungary will not be a track that they can count on to be quick at, but even a third place is consolidating their position while a DNF or a gross strategy call error will all but hand the championship lead back to the reds.
Are we having fun yet?? Oh yes, oh most definitely yes…