Congratulations to Lotus Racing on their ninth race. Not only are they not Team Lotus but even their connection to Group Lotus (who make the road-cars) seems tenuous. I do not want to seem too disparaging as they look to be the most promising of the new teams, with no reason why the years should not bring success. Statistically, I do not think their figures should be lumped together with those for Team Lotus anymore than would happen with the two entirely separate ATS teams (one a 1963 spin-off of disgruntled ex-Ferrari personnel including Phil Hill, and the other racing in F1 from 1978 to 1984 to promote the German wheel-manufacturer that owned the team). Lotus Racing are not the first to re-use the Lotus name to aid sponsorship. The descent of the once great Team Lotus to its F1-extinction after the 1994 season was itself ignominious enough. The Pacific team had entered F1 in 1994, and despite success in every other series they had contested, notched up 22 DNQs, 3 DNSs, and 7 DNFs. In 1995, they did a deal to become, “Pacific Team Lotus”, in the hope it would generate income; they were out of business by 1996.
Johnny Herbert had signed a five-year contract with Team Lotus, racing for them from 1991 to face the years of their decline. Flavio Briatori was running Benetton, and owned 85% of Ligier, when Lotus sold Herbert’s contract to him as a late act of financial desperation. Johnny switched to driving for Ligier for the European GP at Jerez, before switching the next race to Benetton to partner Michael Schumacher for the last two rounds, through to the end of 1995. The deal was done with such haste that Frenchman, Éric Bernard, only found out he was out of his drive after arriving at the Spanish circuit. However, Lotus had not had time to find a replacement, so Bernard, in what proved to be his last F1 race, unexpectedly found himself subbing for the Norwich team, explaining to the media that they were very nice to him.
Anyone reading my first entry on this web-log will know I fall into the anti-Schumacher camp, but may remember I argued against his penalty in Monaco, also making the case that even if guilty the penalty was excessive, so I hope I can be objective. I have always felt Herr Schumacher’s career statistics are better than his outright ability, that his five consecutive titles had much to do with the cars he was given along with a team so very focused around his cause. Conversely, when a couple of World Championships went the way of Renault’s Alonso, I thought it was more to do with performance difference in cars than drivers. When Schumacher’s return with Mercedes was declared, even if he might just be that bit past his best, I predicted he would be competitive, and even as poor results came in, hesitated to write him off without more time to settle in. Today, he finished sixteenth, which is his worst ever classified finish in F1. This result had much to do with safety-car bad luck and Mercedes continuing to fall off the pace. Tyre issues are cited, but aerodynamic downforce, mechanical grip, power, and braking all translate through the tyres, so if they have difficulties working the tyres then they have car problems. Michael has had half-a-season to impose his form and it is looking bleak. Martin Brundle suggested he is over-driving, but then to some extent that used to be the German’s style. More damning was Antony Davidson pointing out in free practice that Schumacher kept hitting the rev-limiter, which race-footage again showed. Drivers even get a dash-indicator to tell them when to flick up a gear, and if a seven-time champion can not manage that, he is not up to the job.
I am inclined to put the blame on Mark Webber for his accident with Kovalainen’s Lotus. He was gracious enough to not blame Heikki but was surprised at the Lotus braking forty metres earlier than he expected. Watching Mark’s in-car footage, he was already approaching the car in front towards a braking zone so quickly it was difficult to envisage where he planned to go if not into it. He pointed out himself a bit more caution would have been wiser. The Australian had already fluffed the start, has had a fast car all season, and as I commented in the last snippets, has had the reliability Vettel has not had, but Webber just keeps intercutting very strong performances with weak weekends too often to assemble a proper run at the title.
The more cynical thought Kamui Kobayashi’s performances in the last two races of last season a bit too good to be true. Firstly, Glock really did not seem to be that badly injured, and the conspiracy theorists suggested Toyota were doing something untoward to give Kamui a more competitive car in a risk-all, last-ditch attempt to dissuade the Japanese paymasters from axing the team by having a home driver doing well. To begin with, I did not subscribe to this as his moves scything past regarded drivers would have been impressive in any car, besides finding an unfair performance advantage without being caught required a level of initiative not associated with the Toyota team. Previously, this season, the Japanese driver’s indifferent performances were making me think there had been something fishy after all, until today. Kobayashi significantly out-paced his team-mate keeping up with the front-runners, and after the stop then muscled his way past two cars in the closing laps. Where has he been since last year? At the risk of being nationalist, there does seem to be a trend amongst Japanese drivers of banging in impressive performances only to have their talents go into hibernation for extended periods. Takumo Sato put in a complete year of rubbish at Honda, mixing accidents with slow performances, between earlier promise for the team and showing much more form at Super Aguri. Also, Nakijima was never super-impressive, but the talent he did have took a holiday last season, apart from one race when not finishing second was no fault of his own.
Misery-guts Alonso did get on my nerves. He had a point about Hamilton essentially getting away with over-taking the medical car but also manages to believe there was nothing undeserving about his Singapore win in 2008. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when he was told the nine drivers punished for exceeding their delta-times were given mere five-second penalties. It is obviously very difficult for the stewards and race-director to be on top of everything with such a plethora of information from a high-speed event, but surely there are ways to streamline this? One would think that a computer could be programmed to automatically log the aforementioned safety-car period violations. With modern telecommunications, a group of assigned observers based anywhere in the developed world could sort through data and video-footage, not making decisions but quickly assembling the relevent evidence for the decision-makers to judge on. Where the heck did these five-second penalties come from? Previous information, such as after Monaco, was that the only available punishment post-race was a drive-through translated into a 25-second penalty.
After Button’s wins earlier this season, Lewis made a comment that Jenson’s approach was giving him easier results whilst he was doing it the hard way, and needed to take that on board. Hamilton has since led two McLaren one-twos and does seem to have hemmed in his naturally aggressive approach. Today, it did not pay. His first-lap attempt to pass Vettel seemed indecisive, the sort of move to either totally go for it or do not, whereas Lewis went half up the inside and unsurprisingly was chopped. His hesitation over if to pass the medical car caused the offence. If he had kept his foot in, he would have reached the relevent line first. Back in 2007 when rookie, Hamilton, was given the drive at McLaren, he told how it was conditional on 1000 hours on the simulator, a heavy gym regime, and learning all the rules thoroughly. He really should have known the rule without thinking to push for the line without hesitation, ready to fall back straight away if not over it soon enough.
Sebastian Vettel has to be favourite for the title. All his major point-sapping problems have been one-off sort of things that he has just had a bad run of. McLaren will have the blown diffuser by Silverstone but Red Bull have the F-duct. Last season, RBR started without the double-diffuser but Adrian Newey embraced the technology very successfully for later in the season. I suspect he will also make best use of the blown-rear-wing concept. Today’s win is the tenth for the RBR team, their first only being China last year.
I was thinking of writing about the blown diffusers but Scarabf1 has written about it better than I could have here.
I do wish the people on the BBC would remember they are doing an F1 programme, not a soccerball show. I am not happy about England losing. I had planned to bet on them going out in the quarter-finals like they usually do.