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Previously on TheJudge13
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.
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..
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..
‘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.