Daily #F1 News and Comment: Monday 21st April 2014

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Previously on TheJudge13

On This Day in #F1: 21st April 1985

F1 Race Report: 2014 ChineseGP

F1 Polls: How would you rate the 2014 CHINESE GRAND PRIX?

F1 Polls: 2014 CHINESE GRAND PRIX – Driver of the Weekend


McLaren feeling Whitmarsh effect – Lauda (GMM)

Ricciardo beating Vettel ‘surprise of the season’ (GMM)

Alonso’s smoke and mirrors act against Ferrari

‘Focused’ Hamilton on charge for title – Lauda (GMM)


McLaren feeling Whitmarsh effect – Lauda (GMM)

McLaren is going through a ‘Whitmarsh’ effect, according to F1 legend Niki Lauda.

Just two weeks ago in Bahrain, Jenson Button said the only quicker car in the field was the dominant Mercedes. But in China, both the 2009 world champion and Kevin Magnussen were non points-scoring midfielders. Button sounded particularly frustrated.

“I don’t think (other) people brought that much (new parts) here, so I don’t know what we’re doing really,” he said. “Hopefully back at the factory they can stay positive and update the car because at the moment this isn’t good enough.”

McLaren’s new boss in 2014, Eric Boullier, said he sat with Button and Magnussen after the race in China, because “they are both frustrated. But I can promise you that if you look at the data, you can see that McLaren are coming back, and that’s what is most important,” he is quoted by the Mirror.

Lauda, who is Mercedes’ F1 chairman, thinks that after the depths of McLaren’s 2013 crisis, the British team is now struggling for form in the wake of recent management reshuffles.

“You have to say that last year the McLaren was also not a top car,” said the great Austrian. “So you have to overcome this bad performance from last year and the new formula. If you have the new ingredients, you can be lucky. But if you don’t have them and there is a big change with (Martin) Whitmarsh going and Ron (Dennis) coming back, these things take time to change. They don’t happen overnight,” Lauda explained.

TJ13 comment: Paddy Lowe was gracious after the Malaysian Grand Prix by crediting Ross Brawn as the architect behind the Mercedes success. In itself a pragmatic view but one which would have been noted by the senior management in the team. Anybody believing that the Mercedes W05 was the work of the team assembled under Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff should wait until the 2015 season before crediting them with the work. With Brawn and Bob Bell having already departed and the recent talk of staff cutbacks – it will not be long before Mercedes starts to unravel. Ferrari and Red Bull have had dominant periods over the last 15 years because the nucleus of the team has remained the same.

As to Mclaren, maybe the problem is closer to home than people realise. In 2013 and 2104, irrespective of the car provided by the team, one thing has remained constant. A relatively new driver/ rookie has sat in the opposite car to the team leader.

In mid 2012, Jenson Button lost his way with set-up, and eventually copied Hamilton’s data after some very poor results. Mclaren found they were struggling as they followed Buttons’s design direction and when the focus was switched to Hamilton’s lead they finished the season with arguably the fastest car. With their talisman leaving for Mercedes, Mclaren have been left with a driver who’s input is questionable at best and has not shown spectacularly against either Perez or Magnussen.

A driver of refined ability – he dominated the early part of 2009, but as the car developed around Barrichello’s input he fell back and didn’t win another race, something that Rubens managed twice post-Silverstone. Whilst Santander may find Button uninspiring for their market, maybe Honda who have a high opinion of Button will secure his tenure beyond 2014, although having seen Magnussen walk through the paddock with Santander sponsorship on his fire proof underwear, maybe the Spanish banking giant is keeping it’s fires stoked at the Woking team.

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Ricciardo beating Vettel ‘surprise of the season’ (GMM)

Upping the power of the RB10’s Renault ‘power unit’ is no longer the only problem at Red Bull. The reigning world champion team is now contemplating how to get its quadruple consecutive title winner back up to speed.

Sebastian Vettel has struggled to match new teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s pace in the new turbo V6 era, and in China the German’s mood appeared to hit a new low when he responded to a team order with the words “tough luck”. Team boss Christian Horner insists Vettel is simply yet to find the right ‘feel’. “We know Seb is very sensitive with the car and how it enters into a corner,” he explained.

Dr Helmut Marko, the champion of Vettel’s career since boyhood, is refusing to rush to judgement. “We cannot judge where Daniel and Sebastian are at the moment in terms of their duel,” he said. “It’s too early. We need to find the setup for Vettel so that he can be the ‘tyre whisperer’ again,” Marko is quoted by Der Spiegel.

At the same time, Vettel’s struggle is reflecting brilliantly on Ricciardo’s reputation, having failed to completely prove his worth when he stepped up from Toro Rosso. “For me he has been the surprise of the season,” said former F1 driver Jean Alesi. 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve agrees: “Ricciardo was always a good qualifier but not as quick in the race. But now he’s also a strong racer.” And former Mercedes chief Norbert Haug said: “Going one-up against Vettel is one of the most difficult tasks any driver can do.”

Vettel’s specific struggle aside, Marko admitted that the trend since Red Bull’s calamitous winter season has been generally upwards.

“A podium today was in the realm of possibility,” the Austrian said, referring to Ricciardo’s fourth place, a few seconds behind Fernando Alonso. “But we also see that Ferrari has made significant progress.” Marko thinks part of the secret of Ferrari’s success in China was a new blend of Shell fuel. “We are also hoping to soon get a fuel that is more efficient,” he said, amid reports Red Bull’s current Total fuel may be damaging the mandatory fuel flow sensors. But Haug warned: “Certainly, Mercedes will not stand still and just watch the others get closer.”

TJ13 comment: Over the weekend Horner agreed that Ricciardo has been “outstanding” so far in 2014, but he warned against underestimating Vettel. “The one thing you can be sure of is he will be looking extremely hard at this weekend and this race to understand where the differences are, what he’s struggling with, where we can improve,” he said. “No driver will be working harder in the three week gap to bounce back in Barcelona.”

It’s interesting that the same press who spoke of the Mercedes dossier that had been handed to Rosberg prior to China failed to mention that Vettel would be receiving a similar dossier from Red Bull. It’s common practice between team-mates, if one is struggling for a particular reason the drivers share information, and yet journalists paint a very different picture with select words they use..

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Alonso’s smoke and mirrors act against Ferrari

Flavio Briatore is a well known man within F1 and not entirely trusted (!) yet it’s interesting how two of his former drivers had similar traits in using the media. Alonso is particularly savvy and uses the media in subtle ways to achieve his aims and Mark Webber – managed by Briatore and a friend of Alonso – also knew how to work the media to his favour.

A successful magician has two essential gifts – the sleight of hand and mis-direction. The control of both the surroundings and audience are critical to bringing to life the illusion; the very best leave people in a state of shock, awe and misunderstanding.

From a young age, Fernando Alonso’s passion has been magic and his ability at mis-directing people has served him well in the tumultuous world of Formula One. This behaviour hasn’t been reserved for just Ferrari, it has been evidenced at Renault and subsequently Mclaren with cryptic messages of ‘feeling alone’ with the French team and then the more criminal element of blackmailing Ron Dennis to follow his bidding.

Dennis was never going to bow down to a driver and went directly to Max Mosley, ultimately to his detriment, and last year Montezemolo had had enough of Alonso attacking Ferrari and ‘tweaked his ear’ on his birthday in regards to comments about the Ferrari car.

His comments since have suggested he is committed to the Ferrari cause but seasoned followers have been questioning his words in recent weeks.

Last Thursday during the press conference Alonso spoke glowingly of Domenicali: “I think that Stefano was a great man, first of all. I’m a close friend of his, not just on the circuit. We ski together every January 1st in Italy in the mountains. We still have a close relationship. We’ve been talking all the week long. I think that will continue, because we have known each for many years and we have worked very closely for this couple of years, so that’s important, to separate work from friendship.

“Then, as a team principal, I think he made good choices, good things. Obviously we missed opportunities in 2010, in 2012. They missed opportunities in 2008 with Felipe (Massa). If not, he could probably have three championships in his pocket. I think he brought in Pat Fry, he brought James Allison, Raikkonen, so I think all the things that people ask from him he was giving to them, probably, as I said, the results in the sports are important and the pressure at Ferrari is also quite big, so he made his decision which we respect and we will try to move forward in different directions but try to move forward. I’m happy with the time that we passed together.”

“..important, to separate work from friendship.” What’s maybe important is separating the wheat from the chaff.

As recently as India 2012, Alonso was preparing to fire a warning shot across the bows of both Domenicali and Pat Fry when he wanted to reveal the car had had no updates in almost six months yet management stepped in and suppressed his concerns.

Many suggested that the dismissal of Domenicali had the hallmarks of Alonso behind the decision. It has been reported by the Italian media that Kimi being re-signed to the Scuderia was a Domenicali decision which was not supported by either FA or the team itself. Since his resignation in fact, there has been consistent talk of dismissing Kimi once again.

Does work vs friendship have the same meaning in Spain as ‘it’s only business’ has in the English speaking world? Possibly in the same manner that Horner and Webber could separate their respective business interest as opposed to personal relationship.

Before the confirmation of Domenicali’s resignation, rumours began circulating that Ross Brawn and Briatore had been mentioned to replace Stefano yet with the announcement of Marco Mattiacci one could understand Alonso’s reluctance to welcome him to the team.

Yet Mattiacci said, “Alonso is a great professional, a superb driver, probably the best in the championship. I think Fernando wants to win a world title with Ferrari. First, I need to see what is good in the team,” he told Sky Italia. “I can make interventions, but only if it will for sure give us strong additional value, because we have an excellent team. It is at my disposal to do whatever it takes to ensure a solid future.”

Alonso responded with what could seem to be an inflammatory statement to test the mettle of the new man – “In Bahrain, we were one minute behind the leaders, ninth and tenth and today we are on the podium, seven seconds behind Nico (Rosberg). I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano, as everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts.”

Alonso is not a reactionary man, every move and utterance is designed for particular motives. It may yet be proved that his disapproval of the new arrival is linked to a wish to move teams – as many neutral observers have suggested in recent weeks. A move that Ferrari will not countenance having seen the performance of Raikkonen this season.

Despite his faith in his own abilities, Alonso needs to tread carefully, LdM is a consummate political player. His intentions are without doubt to be winning titles but he would be wise to learn;

you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar..

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‘Focused’ Hamilton on charge for title – Lauda (GMM)

Niki Lauda couldn’t resist a jibe at rivals Ferrari on Sunday after the botched chequered flag incident near the end of the Chinese grand prix. Because an official waved the chequered flag a lap early, the results of the Shanghai race had to be re-jigged. The big victim was Kamui Kobayashi, whose last-lap pass on Jules Bianchi was stricken entirely from the record.

“I was thinking ‘am I seeing things?” said winner Lewis Hamilton, recalling the early chequer. Mercedes chairman Lauda couldn’t resist a dig at Ferrari. “We had discussions in Bahrain and the red team wanted the races to be shorter,” he grinned on German television RTL. “So this was the test,” Lauda joked.

More seriously, the great Austrian added: “It’s ridiculous and shouldn’t have happened. The Chinese people should know how to count the laps properly.” It was among the only minor glitches in Lewis Hamilton’s first-ever F1 hat-trick, as his tally of 25 victories drew even with the great Lauda’s. Lauda said the Briton is on course for his second world title in 2014.

“The only thing he has perhaps sometimes neglected in the past was the full focus,” Lauda said in Shanghai. “He was bringing the dogs to the track, he had a whole entourage of people. When the dogs were there I told him to just focus on himself, drop the baggage and concentrate 120 per cent. Now he is doing the performance you expect from him. If he had not failed in Melbourne, he probably could have won there as well,” Lauda added.

Melbourne was, of course, won by Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg, who still leads the world championship by a few points.

“There is still a lot of races to go,” said former F1 driver turned commentator Patrick Tambay. “With the equal status at Mercedes, Nico has shown to be lacking a little bit compared to Hamilton, but the season is long,” he told France’s RMC. “Before, we saw this very jovial, very smiling Nico, but now it feels a little more tense,” Tambay noted.

“Barcelona is a good guide (to form),” Lauda said. “It has a bit of everything. All the teams will bring updates. When you have opponents like Alonso, and Red Bull as well, you cannot sit back. Adrian Newey was not here, he was sitting determined at home, working hard to catch up,” he concluded.

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33 responses to “Daily #F1 News and Comment: Monday 21st April 2014

  1. You know, I’m starting to think that Hamilton is a far better driver than I give him credit for.

    On the basis of McLaren dropping back, and his performances so far this year I think he may just be equal top with Alonso.

    He’s certainly better than Kimi and Seb.

    I’m also warming to his personality again. When he isn’t being negative or petulant he’s quite engaging and likeable.

    • Kimi is now the elder statesman of the grid.. I’d compare this year for him to Schumi’s in 2005 with the one tyre rules. But Schumi still had that old magic in 2004 and 2006 (even 2012), as evidenced for Kimi by his showings on his return in 2012-13.

      Wouldn’t it be ironic if Kimi exercised his option for a second year, only to be turfed out by Ferrari on a full year’s pay one year early? And a team principal being ‘fired in the crossfire’? History repeating itself.. Though I can’t see Stefano leading the FIA sadly.

    • On Lewis.. there’s no doubting that come 2020 we’ll be lauding him and Vettel as the best of their era, like Raikkonen and Alonso before them. They’re already in the running for ‘Top 10 F1 drivers’ lists, as shown by Lewis moving to 10th on the all-time win list. He’s the only one there with less than 2 championships currently, but this one seems pretty sewn up..

      The real question now is how far can he replicate Schumacher and start winning a few in a row (2000-2002). If you think about it, if Senna lived until 1997, Schumi’s golden patch from 2000 onwards at Ferrari could look a little overdue, a bit like Hamilton’s period now with a dominant car to rocket up the record books.

      But the Judge has noted that to keep winning you need to keep a winning team together. Unless they plan to simply outspend Red Bull from here on out, they could easily be caught and passed once their engine advantage disappears. But if Red Bull get parity and Ferrari do too we could have another 2003 onwards where it’s a three-way battle for the WDC.

      We really do have a period now comparable to the 80s/90s.. with Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton (Piquet, Prost, Senna, Mansell), not forgetting Button, Massa, Webber, Rosberg etc. and the next generation like Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Ricciardo etc. all waiting for a chance to impress like Daniel is now doing, given the opportunity.

      PS. I really do fear that Hulk could be the next Kubica, i.e. with the talent to score multiple wins/WDC contention but always hampered by inferior equipment. Same for Grosjean.. unless they get a chance like Button and Massa to continue a ‘top quartet’ in replacing Kimi/Fernando.

  2. What’s goin on at Ferrari?
    Kimi don’t get heat in the tyres, Fernando going fast while crediting his ski-buddy Domenicali? Look forward to some insights/thoughts on this one.

    • Didn’t it take Kimi the better part of a season to get his steering sorted at Lotus? I think this is just normal adjustment on his part. Once he gets the car working more towards his preferences I think he’ll be much closer to Alonso.

      As far as SD, your guess is as good as mine..

      • I agree. Kimi seems to be a little like Button in that he needs the car tailored to him, then he can perform strongly. Anything slightly wrong seems to dent his performance much more than Alonso or Hamilton, who seem to adapt more readily to less good cars

        • Strange how things change, I remember Reading about Kimi in his younger years, that he drove around problems – which even hid problems with the car.
          I guess it depends on the nature of the problems.

          • I guess it depends on your comparison point. At Macca he was driving against Coulthard who is hardly same league with Alonso. So with a good enough car it didn’t need to be perfect and he could still be fast enough to beat David. To beat Alonso in a car that’s been developed for Alonso’s preferences its certainly gonna take a bit more time.

          • I agree Henrik. People seem to forget these cars are very complex to drive and as you said, the car was developed for Alonso. Seems most multiple champions have the knack to get the car developed for them alone. Schumi, Alo and Vettel all had cars that suited them and their team mates had to make best they could.

            At Lotus Kimi had the car to his liking. It will take time at Ferrari but it will be hard with Domenicali gone.

  3. “After having followed Button’s design direction, Mclaren found their way again[..]”

    Your Honour, did you mean “Hamilton’s design direction”? Otherwise the next phrase on Button’s inputs being questionable is a bit difficult to parse.

  4. I don’t buy the button car development theory. What’s missed out are the better non champ winning seasons such as ’04, ’10 & ’11. I don’t think Sato/Davidson were experienced team mates to copy . 2010 was a joining year and won races ending season not far from Lewis. In 2011 bar Vettel, he beat everyone including Lewis.

    • Don’t forget though Usher, Hamilton had many run ins with Massa that year and had split with his Dad as his manager and had split with Nicole for the first time (of many). Button was consistent in 2011, but Hamilton still won races.

        • Sorry Usher, but Renault won in Monaco, Mclaren in Belgium and Williams in Brazil. Yet the WCC finishing places were Ferrari, BAR, Renault, Williams then Mclaren.

          • Monaco was a freak win, with button unable to pass safely to take it running from 2nd. Schui Ferrari retirement plus the fact it’s Monaco I’d consider that not to be a ‘genuine’ win. Spa was a freak win from 10th again with retirements/safety cars and Micheal not needing to push for win to secure the title. I might give you Brazil however although I’m not sure JPM’s fan power assist might give it ‘genuine’ status 😉 plus last race of the yr and less need for a Ferrari to win it

          • Did BAR muck up the pit stop strategy at Monaco 2004? I seem to remember Button leading then being behind Trulli through one more stop, and anyone knows a 2-stop doesn’t work at Monaco.. but I do agree that Button was unlucky not to win e.g. at Imola, but then again he was also unlucky to lose his debut podium at Malaysia 2002 for Renault.

    • I do think Button can be underrated as a driver, yet his time with Lewis panned out as I somewhat expected (dunno how people could have predicted a trouncing, but they are probably fanboys). Close, but shaded to Lewis on consistent one-lap pace (and youth). Usually we’d see Button closing up in the race and a battle would ensue. There was the odd time where Lewis went the wrong way (Spa 2012), but generally Lewis led each year, only falling back through luck (2010, 2012) or nothing left to fight for (2011).

      I think Davidson is really unlucky, a bit like di Resta or Paffett. There’s only room for so many Brits in F1, and with Chilton in now we can’t see di Resta or Calado staying involved for example. Davidson would probably have done a better job than Sato in his time at BAR, e.g. Takuma only got one podium at Indy 2004. But Sato was unlucky in the 2008-9 Toro Rosso shootout too (for Bourdais).

      Davidson was the test driver that whole time, and is still the Mercedes test driver now.. he was also behind the development of the 2009 Brawn, originally the 2009 Super Aguri.. and when he was on for massive points at Canada 2007, he lost his front wing to a beaver crossing the track, leading to the plaudits falling to Sato, who muscled by Alonso later in the race.. think Herbert or Webber pre-RB!

      Similarly, put di Resta in the Mercedes as reserve driver (HAM or ROS missing a race), and he’d easily score a podium or even contend for the win (if he had gotten sufficient testing mileage with the new powertrains), which would probably up most people’s estimations of the dour Scot. Apart from a few spins last year (over-driving?) his F1 career has been very solid, finally one-upping Sutil last year, who looks pretty finished now, after an impressive run up to 2011.

      • I don’t think Button is underrated. More like the solid type of driver that can become a WDC when given the best car which, quite the contrary to the common belief, is not the case with the 22 current F1 drivers.

        At the same time, I also think he is not the type of driver that could manage to win a WDC title in second’s best car (in my mind there are only two drivers capable of this in the current list and none of them is leading the pack at the moment, FWIW).

        Still a better driver than a third group of drivers which would not win a WDC even in the better car.

        • True.. in my mind, Button is among the foremost ‘one time champions’, where I would place him behind Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi in the win list, near Andretti, Reutemann, Jones and James Hunt (possibly Massa).

          Hill vs. Clark is quite apt to Button vs. Hamilton. He still had to beat Barrichello in the same car to win the WDC, although Rubens was approaching 40 (and still won some races).

          I agree, but surely only Chilton might not win in the current Mercedes over a season, given that the heavier drivers in heavy cars (Vergne, Sutil and Ericsson) are not penalised in this scenario. Even then, Max appears quite strong in the wet, stronger than in the dry, so he could win then..

      • —Usually we’d see Button closing up in the race and a battle would ensue.—

        Through a creative use of pit strategy from the team, propelling Button forwards and Hamilton backwards usually into the path of Massa. Button is a capable driver, but Mclaren did a lot of creative accounting and ended up believing their paperwork. This Withmarsh’s legacy, of over hyping Button, got to such a ridiculous level, one began to wonder what his objectives were.
        But I guess he was hoping Hamilton would stay on and the team carry on with the centralised data policy.
        But it has cost Mclaren dearly now, they’ve lost a good reference, they’ve mixed up their data, and their star driver is not delivering.
        The current car probably has some deficiency, but all the engineers need is a driver who will give them hope they are going in the right direction.
        Great job Mercedes did, rescuing Hamilton from Withmarsh. The Mercedes driver policy is plain to see. Drivers are treated equally. No team principal crush on either driver. And pure competition between both sides of the garage. No funny games, yet they both deliver.
        I don’t think you’ll ever hear, “Rosberg has blow Hamilton away” from any Mercedes top executive.

        • Apart from ‘chuck some more downforce on the car’, it’s hard to know what the McLaren needs exactly from the outside, so I hope that’s the root of Button’s statements. But I agree – it’s obvious that Hamilton should have led the team, while Button played the role of someone like John Watson, or perhaps Niki Lauda (1984.. 2011).

          Now, McLaren has a driver nearing retirement, possibly slowing down or penalised by the new regs for weight, and two fast youngsters snapping on the door to drive. Add in Honda wanting a WDC driver to lead in 2015 and someone will have to back down – McLaren, Honda or Button. Meanwhile, Alonso monitors the situation at McLaren and Ferrari with a keen eye..

  5. I don’t buy the piece on Alonso, but it was fun to read anyway 😉

    It seems that the man is a master of intrigue, and yet he finds the time to get to the chequered flag in a higher position than the quality of the car seems to merit. Race after race, season after season.

    Wandering through the headlines, it came to my attention that “Ricciardo beating Vettel is the surprise of the season” and I thought that another piece could be titled “Alonso beating Raikkonen is the unsurprise of the season”. But that’s just my weird sense of humour, you know.

  6. Sooooo…… Where would Fred fetch up if he skipped teams? McLaren with Honda? I like the way Honda think but remain dubious about McLaren, though they are trying to bring in a big chunk of RB’s aero department.

    Do a straight swap with RB and Vettel? If Adrian is leaving how interested would Alonso be? Not very, as he’s chasing another championship and would want to wind up at a team that will be in with a chance.

    No room at the inn at MB unless Nico decides to leave, which seems unlikely, though he seems to be having a hard time with Lewis so if he thought he could beat him in a different car he might skip. But if that were the case no doubt that’s where Alonso would want to be anyway.

    I don’t know, ATM he doesn’t seem to have many good options, though that could change as the season progresses. And the PU’s will be key, as rumors about who is closest to catching up Merc will be what determines the driver market I would guess.

    • Is it just me or is Rosberg starting to look like DC to Lewis’ Mika Hakkinen? I’m thinking 1998 about now.. DC only got the upper hand in 2001 once Mika had decided to pack it all in.

    • True, if Honda is the only match for them then we could see Alonso suddenly try to out Button/Vandoorne, palling up with Honda and saying they need him more than Button to be their WDC lead driver.

  7. “Many suggested”, “It has been reported”, “there has been consistent talk”, “rumours began circulating”.

    Now that’s a lot of rumours in just a couple of paragraphs.

  8. Did anyone see Lewis teasing nico on the podium with the first place trophy? Hmmm he has got nico covered

  9. Further proof that the piece on Alonso was total BS, La Gazzetta is saying today that Alonso called Domenicali after race, I’m pretty sure that you don’t make a private phone call to someone that you backstabbed a week ago.

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