Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor: Simon Termorshuizen
When I was watching qualifying for the Austrian GP last Saturday I couldn’t help wondering what was going on in the minds of Vettel and Hamilton. Wondering what their mind-set was, which feelings they endured in their cockpits and most important of all; did they feel the pressure of having to perform?
In the break between the Canadian and the Austrian GP Red Bull’s Helmut Marko gave an interview in which he admitted that the team had told Vettel to raise his game after the Chinese GP in April. Marko told Vettel: “There are 50 engineers working on this engine and they can’t sort it out. You’re a top driver, it’s up to you. You have to do it.” So basically they told him to stop his moaning and get on with it. That is some pressure from the team to a 4-time world champion.
And then of course there is Ricciardo. He has outperformed Vettel in every Grand Prix except for his non-finish in Malaysia. Of course Vettel had some problems, but so did his teammate. And furthermore, Vettel was being outqualified by Ricciardo for four races in a row, only breaking this streak in Canada where Ricciardo went on to win the race. So the pressure was on full-throttle for the Austrian GP at Red Bull’s home track.
Vettel should have done better than the 12th starting position, but this was all he managed to accomplish in his two runs on the supersoft tires. “I had two rounds and they were both too slow. I don’t know why.” was his response. This doesn’t bode well for the driver who has been seen cracking under pressure before, like in Canada 2011 and Brazil in 2012. These two examples could be seen as isolated incidents but that cannot be applied to what is manifesting this season. Off track Vettel is constantly nagging about the current formula and he isn’t showing much improvement on the track either.
With Hamilton the story differs quite a lot from Vettel’s. We probably all remember his first two seasons in Formula 1 where he made mistakes that cost him a title in 2007 and he nearly did the same in 2008. Of course he was a rookie then, but his mistakes at the end of that season in China and Brazil, under the eyes of millions of fans worldwide, were his to make. Also in 2008 some crucial errors in Canada and Fuji almost led to a second world championship defeat. Only in the last corner of the last lap in Brazil was he able to do what was necessary to clinch his first F1 title.
The years after his championship were characterized by errors, strange escapades off the track and turmoil in his personal life. It was widely suggested that these issues led to his lack of performance in F1, eventually being beaten for the first time in his career by his teammate, Jenson Button, in 2011. After his move to Mercedes however, it seemed that he finally found the right balance between personal and professional life and there were high hopes in camp Hamilton for 2014 and rightly so it appears, with the Mercedes package being the strongest of the pack at the moment.
But after a strong streak of four wins in the first five races some of Lewis’ old traits surfaced again after qualifying in Monaco, where he openly questioned Rosberg’s error which led to the yellow flag that prevented Hamilton from beating his teammate for pole-position. In Canada things were getting worse for Lewis when his brakes failed and he had to retire. But those brakes also suffered more heavily than Rosberg’s because he was chasing Rosberg, who snatched pole on one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks on the calendar. So with his second DNF of the season the pressure was on for Hamilton to perform well in Austria in order not to fall behind in the championship standings. Instead of performing well he made two major errors in Q3, which effectively cost him the victory and gave Rosberg the opportunity to increase his lead in the championship.
We have seen a lot of drivers doing strange things under pressure in the past. There are Schumacher’s deliberate crashes into Hill in ’94 and Villeneuve in ’97 for example, when he took desperate measures because he was being beaten on track and he knew it. Then of course there was Häkkinen who crashed out of the lead in the 1999 San Marino and Monza GP’s. Was this the pressure of the home crowds, the Ferrari behind him or the fact that he was being hunted in the championship by Irvine, not the most gifted driver ever to race F1? Of course there are hundreds more examples of drivers cracking under pressure, but I think the point is clear.
The question is; what is the real reason that Vettel and Hamilton seem to crack at this stage in the season already? Do they know something we don’t? Is it because perhaps their teammates are incredibly fast?
Hamilton is seen as one of the most gifted drivers of his generation, as is Vettel of course. But maybe Rosberg is perhaps equally as good as Hamilton. After all, he did beat 7-time world champion Schumacher fair and square and was very close to Hamilton last season. Does Hamilton know that even without his DNF’s it will be a hell of a job to beat Rosberg? Perhaps this is something he may not have been expecting when he moved to Mercedes. And Vettel and the blown diffuser were friends for life, now with that gone he needs to adapt and he is noticing that his new and young teammate is perhaps better at it than he is. Combined with Ricciardo’s pace and Red Bull’s inferiority to Mercedes, Vettel is obviously not in a very happy place at the moment.
The second half of this season will be a defining moment for both drivers. Vettel must react in order to prove the critics wrong and show everybody that he can also do amazing things in an inferior car. Hamilton must stay focused and start beating Rosberg on a regular basis, because his fans and perhaps all F1 fans expect nothing more from him than to win his second title this year. Whatever the outcome of these inner team battles, for us, it will be a fascinating show of eleven races still to come!