Formula One fans are well aware that in motorsport, it is not always about how good the driver is and that the car plays a significant part in winning and losing. Put four times world champion Sebastian Vettel in a 2015 Sauber and see if he can finish ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari and the significance of the role played by the car in F1 becomes crystal clear.
However, there a two drivers piloting the same car in each team which is why team mate battles during races and throughout the year become fascinating. Barring the odd act of favouritism where the team take say – the front wing from one driver – and give it to the other, when there’s only one of the new spec is available, team mates are in the same machinery and so we know the one who finishes ahead, at that time is the better all-round driver.
Kimi Raikkonen is a case in point. During his first spell at Ferrari, he arrived in 2007, sneaked the drivers title from Hamilton and Alonso by a point by scoring 3 race wins and a podium third in the last four F1 events of the season. Yet thereafter, he was squarely second to Felipe Massa – even in 2009 when Massa retired from the championship, the Brazilian was 22-10 ahead of the Finn past the half way point of the season.
The Kimfosi spread abroad conspiracy theories about how the Schumacher led car development didn’t suit Kimi’s driving style. (Michael Schumacher at the time was believed to be working behind the scenes as a technical advisor to Ferrari). However, those less engaged in the defence of Kimi’s reputation and status pointed to the fact that Kimi was getting beaten week in and week out by Massa in the same car.
Whilst Jenson Button is held amongst drivers and fans alike in high regard, he too has suffered from a reputation of not being able to deliver unless the car is exactly to his liking. During his time with Hamilton at McLaren, this idea of ‘Jenson the sensitive’ was frequently mentioned meanwhile Hamilton was perceived ‘Alonso’ style as the guy who could wrestle anything around a track and get the best out of it.
Lewis Hamilton is inclined to look for blame beyond himself when he gets beaten. He suggested Jenson’s ‘bubble’ was favouring him during their time at McLaren together and of course being summoned to the stewards for poor driving standards 6 times in 7 races we all know Lewis alleged “it’s because I is black”.
Recently the most respected F1 journalist in Italy called Hamilton to account for denigrating the on track skills of his adversaries. Turini pointed out if Sebastian, Nico et al are not very good, then this diminishes Hamilton’s achievements in beating them. Now Lewis is in danger of falling into a similar trap.
At the 2015 F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi, Nico Rosberg claimed his sixth consecutive pole position, something only done by seven other drivers, all of whom are world champions. Whilst Hamilton did concede his team mate was quick on Saturday, he again referred to the his belief that “in the last few races, what I can definitely say is there has been a change in the car.”
Hamilton believes the car has been developed away from his liking and driving style and this is giving Rosberg the advantage. However, this polemic is a risky one because it opens the door to the accusation that the car started the year clearly favouring Hamilton’s driving style and not Rosberg’s. This then debunks the myth that Hamilton can get the best out of anything he drives because of course he and Rosberg are driving the same car.
Having known Hamilton since he was 11 years old, it was notable that Ron Dennis attributed Lewis’ negative behaviour sometimes described as petulant and childish to being a child protégé. “They don’t always emerge with the all the right social process or behaviour or tendencies that you like,” Dennis observed.
Lewis was recently asked his opinion about Sebastian Vettel and his response implied Vettel may not be as good as people think, due to the lack lustre nature of his F1 team mates. However, Sebastian Vettel just won the Race of Champions, which pits drivers from all motorsport disciplines against each other in a range of cars. Vettel conquered all put before him, in whatever the machinery they were both given.
Vettel’s all conquering performance in a range of machinery is in contrast with the current message from Team Hamilton, which has overtones similar to that attributed to Jenson of yesteryear. Lewis now needs the car to be just right – otherwise he can’t win.