#F1 Feature: The heat is on?! Succumbing to pressure

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!

12 responses to “#F1 Feature: The heat is on?! Succumbing to pressure

  1. “and perhaps all F1 fans expect nothing more from him (Hamilton) than to win his second title this year.”

    I don’t expect him to win this years WC. I sometimes wonder what Hamilton would have done if Senna or Schumacher was his team-mate – quit probably.

    • I actually agree with you Cav. I don’t think he’d survive as team mate to Schumacher or Senna in their pomp.

      Then again, I don’t think many (any?) would. The breed them a lot tougher back in the day.

      • The Dutch TT is on this weekend, what do you think, is he going to make it 8 straight?

  2. Dispassionate and well presented. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Thank you, Simon.

  3. My only objection is this: “cracking under pressure before, like in Canada 2011 and Brazil in 2012.”
    Brazil 2012? Are you sure? He overcame a great mishap to win that WC, Not losing is mind, letting the car roll on the downhill to avoid oncoming traffic and then coming back from dead last with a damaged car. That is the opposite of cracking. Best regards.

    • You could argue that he would normally stick it on pole and have one of the best starts. You could argue that the reason why he started so poorly was because he was under pressure…

      • I understand eteroklitos, but I see it the same we as Don_Quixote does. Why didn’t he have a better starting position and why did he have such a lousy start? This was of course not to his standards. His race afterwards was brilliant, nothing wrong with that.

  4. I see your point, but 4th in quali is not bad in a year that RBR was not the dominant force it usually is and a poor starts were not so rare for the bulls either. (remember Webber?). Although, all these little things together could hint to pressure taking it’s toll. You could be right, actually. As always, best regards

  5. Great article Simon!

    The only thing I’d say, is that you omitted to mention Hamilton’s 2012 year. In my opinion he was the best driver making no mistakes that year, he was only let down by the team. So this is the first time since 2011 that he seems to be a bit unsettled. I think the Monaco incident has affected more than he thought, somehow in his head a manifestation starts to form that Rosberg is prone to cheating and team protecting him.

  6. The stats speak for themselves, whilst all this talk of Hamilton cracking makes it more interesting the facts are if not for bad luck he would have a commanding lead. And whilst there may be an argument for his driving being at fault for the retirements, I don’t seem to remember anyone using the same logic for Webbers run of bad luck.

    • Hmmm I think we’ve had loads of discussion on TJ13 on why certain drivers retire more than others… and driving style was one of the things mentioned.

      My team boss used to say “you first got to finish to finish first”. Stuck with me ever since. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts the speed of Hamilton mate, it’s the consistency he lacks.

      Unbeatable when everything goes his way, fall apart when not.

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