Excellent theory about what McLaren was thinking in China from an ex Driver....... - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Excellent theory about what McLaren was thinking in China from an ex Driver.......

Driving test for Lewis Hamilton

Martin Brundle

I was nervous about Lewis Hamilton’s Chinese Grand Prix weekend from the moment I heard him say he wasn’t going to be playing the percentage game. He led the drivers’ championship by 12 points with just two rounds to go – basically standing in the mouth of an open goal – and he was talking about winning the race. I admired this attitude enormously but it did make me wonder. Well he did try to win it, and it looked like he was going to win it until he ended up beached in the only pit lane gravel trap which exists at any grand prix circuit. And suddenly his lead is four points going into the final round. It means that in Brazil next Sunday he really does have to drive as normal – flat out.

The disaster in China wasn’t all his fault. The team were quick to hold up their hands and admit they should have brought him in earlier for his change of tyres. It’s easy to be wise after the event, easy to win every race from the commentary box or your sofa. In the heat of the moment, with the world title at stake, decisions had to be made – and they got them wrong ironically by trying not to take risks.

It had all looked so perfect until then. In damp conditions and on intermediate tyres, Hamilton was storming away at the front. He wasn’t taking risks, wasn’t looking ragged, and his car was handling really well, while the Ferraris looked a bit of a handful with understeer. Hamilton’s pace was always going to take it toll on his tyres though.

Then from about lap 10 onwards we saw drivers seeking out unusual parts of the track, trying to keep their wet weather tyres cool. Officially these tyres are known as “wets” but in the trade we call them “intermediates”. They operate in a wide range of conditions and they are designed to give the best grip in cool conditions. Get them just a little bit too hot and they wear out spectacularly quickly, even by F1 standards, where 100 miles on a set of tyres is a long way.

At this moment the teams will have been looking at how they could dovetail these changing conditions with other variables, such as fuel load, weather forecast and track position. They have their own precise weather equipment and could see pockets of rain on the way. It was a question of whether it would fall on the circuit, and when. The game was all about dovetailing a fuel stop with the right time to change to dry-weather tyres. The rain began falling again and the frontrunners stayed with their tried and trusted, if heavily worn, intermediates.

Up front the two title contending teams were looking just to cover each other and, as usual, it would be one of the midfield teams who would take the risk of changing to dry tyres first. Once someone made the change, in this case Alex Wurz’s Williams, the other teams would be monitoring his performance sector by sector. Ferrari had an advantage here because Felipe Massa was out of championship contention and could be used as a guinea pig – and they brought him in early for that reason. It turned out to be three laps premature because although Wurz had gone very quickly at first, another shower then fell.

As the time was approaching for Hamilton’s second fuel stop, the forecasts were predicting, incorrectly, more rain then dry for the rest of the race. At this time, Hamilton was in dire trouble. We saw the white stripe of the canvas on his inside right-rear tyre, and every time he came past the pit entry road and carried on for another lap we were surprised. But Raikkonen and Alonso drove even longer on the original tyres so it wasn’t exactly championship suicide.

It wasn’t a case of getting him into a fuel window – they could comfortably have brought him in and fuelled him to the end. No, they were keeping him out for as long as they dared to give themselves the maximum possible time to make the call on tyres – dry or intermediates. The worry for them was that Alonso in their other car – fuelled for a few laps longer than Hamilton – would benefit from being able to make the tyre call later. Had the shower not ceased and they had put Hamilton on dry tyres, while Alonso had gone onto fresh intermediates, Hamilton would have needed to make a further corrective stop, which would have put him behind Alonso. So you had this extraordinary situation where McLaren were, along with the Ferrari of Raikkonen, fighting their own car driven by a man who has emerged as their biggest obstacle this year. The irony is that the animosity between Alonso and team probably took away their clarity of thinking.

So that band of canvas got wider. The heat and grip in the tyre comes partly from the thickness of the rubber and when you wear it down there is virtually no grip. So Raikkonen passed Hamilton, then Jarno Trulli’s Toyota unlapped itself from him and, unsighted slightly by the Toyota, Hamilton finally headed down the pit entry road. At virtually walking pace the back end stepped out as he braked for the tight left hander. As he corrected he ran out of space and ended up in the gravel. Suddenly the car was on its floor, the wheels had spun away the gravel and he was beached. Hamilton cannot be blamed for asking the marshals to push him out – that comes from the competitive instinct and a situation of pure horror. But his race was run, and he knew it.

It was ironic that after the skill and risk involved in winning in Japan seven days earlier in the torrential rain, he should end his race here with such a minor off. F1 cars are clumsy beasts at low speeds, designed more for cornering at 150mph. It looked pathetic but I can assure you it is very easy to do.

I was impressed by how Hamilton handled himself afterwards. He shook hands with his crew then made his apologies to his bosses on the pit wall. I know from experience how humbling that is. I had to do it once at Spa when I had gone off chasing my McLaren teammate Mika Hakkinen. It was completely my own fault and I felt inadequate as I went up to their backs to say sorry. Hamilton then appeared out of the back of the garage for the cameras and said: “Look, you can’t go through life without making mistakes and I can still win it in Brazil.” And I was convinced by that. It was from the heart, not just PR speak.

So now he goes to Brazil where he really must win or finish second because events in China mean he has lost the luxury of being able to play the percentage game. There will allegedly be an official in the Interlagos pits checking for parity of treatment between the McLaren drivers, but that is impossible to do and almost certainly unnecessary, and, in any event, probably a wholly inaccurate story.

Driving test for Lewis Hamilton - Times Online

Last edited by Jakarta Expat; 10-13-2007 at 07:05 PM.
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