Undercut: Summer Camp?

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As of right now Valtteri Bottas is number one on F1’s official website power ranking. He is followed by Fernando Alonso (don’t you worry I have a special post in the works concerning the Spaniard) and Valtteri’s teammate Lewis Hamilton rounds out the top three.

The rest of our usual suspects are scattered all over: Sebastian Vettel is down in fifth, Daniel Ricciardo is eighth, Kimi Raikkonen shows up in ninth and Max Verstappen, the driver I expected to occupy the top spot by now is out of the top ten entirely which is a surprise on the face of it, unless you take into account his inconsistent driving thus far.

Just in case you have not seen this new feature at Formula1.com here is how it works, verbatim from the site:

“In a new feature for 2018, our team of experts assess each driver after every Grand Prix and score them according to their performance across the weekend – taking machinery out of the equation

Our experts’ scores are then combined to produce an ongoing overall ranking which reflects driver form – taking only the three most recent races into account.”

So according to the experts, Bottas is the bee’s knees. Ok let’s run with that for a bit. I can see the reasoning behind this just as I can see the reasoning behind Fernando’s P2 ranking, of course both these rankings will change at some point and P1 and P2 will probably switch back and forth between Sebastian and Lewis for the rest of the season as everyone settles down and the top teams find their groove and this got me thinking. Was it just me or when Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from F1 (having secured his first and now only WDT), did not just a bit of excitement in the Pertronas AMG Mercedes garage disappear and with it a bit of the excitement for F1 as a whole?

This is in no way a dig at Bottas – I have stated many times I like him – a lot – and I so really hope he can raise his game for the arc of the season and take the fight to Lewis, not just a race here and a race there when the Briton hits a slump. However, I just can’t help but miss the tension between Lewis and Nico and the stellar racing that was the result of such intense campaigns over the three years when they had the machinery to challenge for race wins.

And here is my point, F1 needs a bit of tension. As of right now the only real tension the sport is creating is that from the safety car or the virtual safety car (if you’re into the politics of the sport then include the 2019 aero changes that were just agreed on and forced through, not to mention the on-going fight between Liberty Media and Ferrari/Mercedes alliance over spec parts), and while I welcome the uncertainty of a safety car to mix it up and create alternate strategies and opportunities that otherwise would not have existed, it should not be the only thing that provides the story lines on Sunday.

Wait hold on for a sec, I just about forgot, there does happen to be some tension going on in F1 right now and it is courtesy of a certain energy drinks team.

Let me ask you all a question: Is not the Red Bull duo just an absolute gas to watch? I mean is that not what (at least part of it) Formula One is all about? Teammate vs. Teammate? Different drivers in the SAME machinery, if not necessarily the same team support (we all know how it works at Red Bull don’t we?), driving to prove who is faster, who is more complete as a driver, who has the consistency – in a carbon fiber nutshell, who can get the job done?

I have to tell you, I am so over the Ferrari model of only one number one or the McLaren model of the last few years where there was a rookie and a season veteran driving along side each other – the Alonso and Button pairing and further back the Button and Hamilton pairing was more to my liking.

To be specific, it is not necessarily two world champions I am looking for such as Fernando and Jenson or currently Sebastian and Kimi. What I am completely dead set against is this idea of drivers complementing each other or teams that take a driver based on the fact that they don’t want to upset their star driver and therefore no such thing nowadays as a Lewis and Fernando pairing or a Vettel and Lewis pairing.

A further example of this is what we currently have now: Lewis is the jet setter, Valtteri is the quiet one or, Lewis is the aggressive one, Valtteri is happy to drive in Lewis’ shadow (of course it is not really like that – the Finn would not be where he is if he was a softie, but does he have the killer instinct like Lewis, Seb or Fernando???

Vettel is the primary focus of the Ferrari brain trust, and while Kimi says he is just as keen to win another championship it also looks like he is regularly forced into playing second fiddle.

Lastly I ask you – what good is it for McLaren to pair Fernando with Stoffel Vandoorne? Note: I’m not too sure McLaren is in the position to sign a more experienced driver just yet, but the point still stands.

I think the Esteban Ocon – Sergio Perez combo is great – plenty of tension there, I think this year at Haas, Romain Grosjean (if he can ever get his act together) and Kevin Magnussen make a great pair and I expect to see some really great battles between the two and push the team to its best result yet.

While Lewis was a champion already, Nico was not, however there was a feeling at Mercedes, an energy that was electric and it showed each and every time those drivers put on their helmets, and in the press conference and in the paddock. I think that kind of racing and the totality of it is slowly being watered down, diluted. Too much money, too many corporate sponsors, too much at stake is all but making that kind of racing that I grew up with a relic of the past except ironically at one of the biggest corporate companies in the world.

Meanwhile over at Red Bull one gets the feeling that both Daniel and Max are on the absolute limit all the time – that was quite clearly the case in Baku, they calmed down for Spain but the possibility of those two getting into each other’s way again is for real, each and every race weekend.

I don’t want to suggest I am interested in seeing teammates crash each other out or take cheap shots at each other (although it makes the racing that more exciting and also for great reading on Monday) but the Red Bull duo’s driving right up to the point of contact at the entrance of turn one was brilliant and what I live for when I watch motorsport at the highest level.

It is what made Gilles Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell and of course Ayrton Senna, to name a few, so compelling in so many people’s eyes; this unyielding determination to either get around the guy in front or the unyielding determination to keep the guy behind you behind you and all the better when it is your teammate. Both Daniel and Max have this quality in spades.

I don’t like conflict for the sake of conflict, but what I do like is athletes going tong and hammer for the right to say “on this day at this (whatever it is – for me it is racing cars) I was superior.” This is why I am such a fan of Fernando, he is such a tough competitor and again so is Lewis and Sebastian and right now we just don’t have enough of that in F1 in two out of the three top teams.

Over at Ferrari it is a real love fest between Seb and Kimi which Ferrari’s number one is constantly reminding us of. “We’re a good pair, a good match. There’s no problem at all between us, ever. I think that’s a really big bonus for the team and for us to just enjoy our job.” What are they, summer camp counselors?

At Mercedes, Lewis just gave Valtteri his stamp of approval which I guess is good for the team because apparently it is just sooooo bad if the drivers on the team did not get on with each other. By the way here is that quote all shiny and pretty, “If I win, he says I’ve done a better job. If he wins then I look at myself and say he has done a better job.” Is that racing or badminton?

Does anyone really feel we are gong to get a real inter-team battle from either the guys in silver or the ones in scarlet this year??? Please tell me if I’m out of line here. But unless there is some shift in the gravitational pull that is sponsorship, team politics or just out-right talent the racing will be, I’m afraid, destined to be just as it has been the last few years: Lewis vs. Seb with a few one-offs thrown in.

I have written my share of criticism about both Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Christian Horner and in that context, I completely stand by the copy I have written.

However, I don’t know about you but I really welcome these two team leaders letting their drivers race – really race. Of course this cannot be at the expense of the points which translate into millions of dollars at the end of the season and of course it can’t be at the expense of wrecked race cars which also translates into millions of dollars at the end of the season and lastly team principals and several hundred employees do get a bit miffed when all their hard work is for naught when drivers can’t bring the cars home, just as a general rule. I’m just saying, there’s a lot at stake here, let’s not act like there’s not.

Monaco ——— The crown jewel race of the crown jewel of racing. A race that is as unpredictable as it is predictable. Daniel and Lewis have experienced some heartbreak due to team error here. Several drivers have won there twice, in fact of the current drivers attending this year, Seb, Fernando, and Lewis all have two wins, Kimi has one and no one else can claim the unique distinction of winning on the streets of the principality. Daniel, Max, and Valtteri have yet to stand on the top step.

I’m hoping that Kimi is on point and gets his qualifying right this time around, watch out Seb. I’m hoping that Valtteri with his new found status at PR#1 channels that motivation to take the fight to his more flashy teammate, Lewis you’re on notice. And with the Red Bull gives you wings guys, I really hope they drive to the final millimeter but no more because I have a feeling that the RB14 is going to be on song and the drivers evenly matched and that is the recipe for what produces the best racing period.

And since we are talking about tension, no circuit on the F1 calendar creates tension like the narrow almost no run-offs that is this street circuit. Here is hoping that this year it is not only Ferrari vs. Mercedes vs. Red Bull, it is also Sebastian vs. Kimi vs. Lewis vs. Valtteri vs. Daniel vs. Max. Oh and throw in Fernando as well ;-)

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Tim C
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Tim C

I do like tension between drivers. The back and forth between Nico and Lewis in Nico’s title year is what made that season “must watch tv”.