Guest blog: Ed Gorman on Hamilton's triumph, Ferrari chaos, Button's doubts
By Ed Gorman, Times F1 Correspondent 2007-10 So Lewis is champion again.
By Ed Gorman, Times F1 Correspondent 2007-10
So Lewis is champion again. The surprising thing is how long it has taken. We all got massively carried away by his precocious talent, his virtuosity when he first arrived in Formula One and there were few people who doubted at Interlagos in 2008 that he was destined to become a multiple champion.
But it has taken a lot longer than predicted for the second title to come along, a commentary mainly on the indisputable fact that in Formula One you need a driver on top form and a car. Hamilton was supposed to be the youngest record-holder in all areas but that turned out – in many categories - to be Sebastian Vettel.
It is interesting that Hamilton should say in his moment of triumph that this title feels so much better, so much more important than the first. But I would beg to differ there. It is one of his traits to always hail his latest wins as his greatest. Clearly becoming a two-time champion is nothing to be sniffed at but the real breakthrough was six years ago, when he scraped home giving him critical experience to build on. One of the big differences between him and Nico was that Lewis had won a title before; he knew he could do it under the greatest pressure the sport has to offer.
Which brings me to that start. Was that the best launch of a Formula One car from the front row ever? As one observer rather amusingly pointed out, Lewis was “in Dubai” before Nico had even got his Silver Arrow in gear. Notwithstanding Hamilton’s brilliant getaway, it is too easy to say that the start was what won it for Lewis because for the whole of the first half of the race, the result was in doubt. And it was a great pity that Nico was not able to fight for the spoils on the final day. I am sure even Hamilton would have liked to have put on a great racing and driving show all the way to the end.
Hamilton vs Rosberg
The battle between those two men has been fascinating. It has also saved this season. Imagine what would have happened if Nico had been nothing more than a compliant number two and Hamilton had streaked away to the most predictable and dull Formula One championship since…well, some of those notched up by Messrs Schumacher and Vettel. Luckily for us Nico proved a sterner test for the young British superstar than some – though probably not Hamilton himself - possibly imagined. He comprehensively outdrove Hamilton on Saturdays and gave him a real run for his money on Sundays.
But for those of us not attending races, it was all too easy to dismiss much of this season as a Hamilton-Rosberg slugfest. If you happened to miss a race on TV, you only needed the answer to two questions – which Merc driver won and where did his teammate finish? That is a real problem for a sport that needs genuine competitive action deeper into the field than merely what happens off the front row. I guess we all have to pray that Williams continues its renaissance under Claire Williams, giving Felipe Massa a new lease of driving life and offering a wonderful springboard for Valtteri Bottas.
Perhaps fortunately the widely hated double points gambit by Bernie did not prove decisive at Abu Dhabi. But I would say this in its favour. If the object of the exercise was to a), ensure that Abu Dhabi was the decider and b), to ensure that all of us stayed very interested until virtually the last lap of the last race, then Bernie’s device worked a treat. Not sure if it is coming back next year though.
One element that struck me all through the season was that Nico always looked and sounded the stronger of the two out of the car (and often, in it too). He was confident, relaxed, unruffled, whereas Hamilton often came across as the victim of some injustice or someone struggling to keep his head above water. Admittedly he did have grounds for complaint and his season did get off on the wrong foot but you wonder whether the Hamilton camp could look at this aspect of his game for next year. Is it time for Hamilton to broaden his shoulders a bit and take the setbacks a little more in his stride?
If Lewis and Nico saved the season with their battles, it is only right to hail their boss, Toto Wolff, for allowing it to happen. One can only imagine the stresses and strains this must have imposed on the team, cutting it in half where it needed to be strong and unified. But you cannot fault Mercedes motorsport for their approach. There was no quarter given and in the end one driver tasted glory, the other bitter defeat. Nico again impressed with his sportsmanlike behaviour as his dream melted away. The question now is whether this will prove the high point of his career or merely the launchpad for a second successive assault on Mount Hamilton next season.
Mercedes and Williams apart, the travails of the Scuderia never cease to amaze me. Fernando has now left, having convinced himself five years ago that Maranello was where he would finish his career. It is an indictment of the great Italian company that they have failed to deliver a championship-winning car for him in that time and that he is now about to return to the scene of his worst horrors in Formula One – Ron Dennis’s McLaren. (And who would have believed that when he walked out the door in November 2007?)
Ferrari has been making a lot of bad decisions in all areas. Wrong divers (Kimi), wrong managers, poor machinery and so on. Now they are about to welcome a former world champion who has just been comprehensively beaten by his teammate and who is showing every sign of being on the long downslope after his heydays. The Scuderia are going to build their future around Sebastian. Perhaps Sebastian is about to reignite his after-burners, inspired by the Prancing Horse. But next season may well prove that this is another bad move by a team that has lost its ability to think ahead and think courageously.
And that leaves Jenson. If we have seen his last race, I would like to salute him. What an incredible career he has had. Fifteen seasons in Formula One during which he arrived, got heavily criticized for being frivolous and apparently enjoying himself too much, but then knuckled down and eventually found himself at the wheel of one of the best cars ever to take the grid – the 2009 Honda-built Brawn. He took his chance with aplomb, driving with silky smoothness under pressure all the way to his championship. Since then he has turned into something of a national treasure in Britain, a transformative individual who has barely put a foot wrong. A very private one too who is difficult to read behind his habitual protective shield of banter and joshing.
A case study for cost control
A final (heretical) thought. Like many who have collided with Formula One over the years, I have always wondered what would happen if all the drivers were in the same machinery. Who, for example, on the current grid is genuinely the fastest and the one capable of managing his tyres and race strategy the best? Is it Lewis? Is it Nico? Is it Daniel Ricciardo? Maybe it’s Kimi or, perhaps, my hunch, Fernando?
There is an interesting comparison with grand prix sailing here. The Volvo Ocean Race always used to be a design and racing contest but this year, for the first time, the world’s premier offshore championship has chosen to go for identical machinery – identical hulls, rigs and even sails. As a result the racing has been incredibly close and intense. For example, after 25 days at sea and a distance of more than 6,500 nautical miles, the winner of the recently completed first leg from Alicante to Cape Town reached the finish in South Africa just 12 minutes ahead of the second-placed boat.
Translate that into Formula One and you are talking fractions of hundredths of seconds. The Volvo, by the way, decided to go this route in a bid to cut costs and to enable more teams to take part. Could this ever happen in Formula One? I can’t see it ever happening. Bernard Charles loves throwing a curve ball, but this would be radical even for his mischievous mind. But imagine how it would transform the economics of the sport...and the racing.Do you agree with Ed's points? Give us your views below in the comment section
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