2012 Sept. 10 – MONZA to SINGAPORE trends to look for

Lewis, if he can keep to what he said before Monza, reported by PlanetF1, when asked how it would feel to win at the home turf of the tifosi, “Rather than telling you what it would mean to me, I’ll try and work towards it. If that ever comes true then I can tell you what it means.”  Well, he did that!  And that is very, very good for Lewis Hamilton.  If he can continue to follow this approach and really attain this mind set, then Lewis is definitely my favourite for the championship, so long as McLaren can keep technically on par or an advantage compared to Ferrari; nothing else is critical, just nice-to-have.

I haven’t had a chance to sing the praises of Lewis on these pages; there is so much coverage of his weaknesses, most of them not directly connected to racing in a car.

But the sheer grandeur of what he has actually accomplished in a race car, even if you only consider his F1 career:

2007 Rookie is paired with the personality widely regarded as the best all around driver, and dominant team leader, then as it is now, in Fernando Alonso; first race in F1 Lewis out drags and passes Fernando Alonso in the first lap of his Formula One career!  Continues to battle, at least evenly with Fernando Alonso, over the course of his first season; Lewis is the first driver of any experience to even come close to challenging Alonso in the same equipment, i.e. on the same team.  By itself, this feat alone is no less than shocking!  But there’s more, he fights to the last race for the championship, winning race after race and becoming only the second person, after Jacques Villeneuve, to win more than one race in his rookie Formula One season since the first year of the Championship.  In what may be considered the astonishing come from behind victory in the history of F1, Kimi Raikkonen wins over Lewis by a single point.  It could be considered that inter-team destructive activities, i.e. a qualifying demotion resulting from a complaint filed by Lewis’s teammate, Fernando Alonso, may have been the definitive reason for Lewis losing out to Raikkonnen.

Since then Lewis has always been regarded as a potential winner, regardless whether McLaren have provided him with top-end equipment, or not.

In 2011 Lewis single-handedly provided over 90% of the entertainment of the F1 spectacle (in my opinion); making a contest of it, despite never getting equipment that was on terms with the superlative conceptual and detail executed Red Bull design; the season won easily by Sebastian Vettel, who was in a league of his own.

This year, in 2012, with minimal rules change, therefore no conceptual and technically difficult to adopt advantages on tap from the Adrian Newey Red Bull, McLaren’s key team comparative advantage, in season development capability, has shown critical in the technical development race which is critical to this season’s success.  Only Ferrari, as the seasoned F1 observer would suspect, has been in the same league as McLaren for in-season development, this campaign.

However, over the entire course of this closely fought season, McLaren have struggled with developmental dead-ends and strategic set up difficulties, as well as some bungled race operations, which definitely negatively affected Lewis’s total potential points gathering capability.  Despite that, he has four poles and three victories, including a trend of two victories in the last 3 races.

If McLaren can keep it on track in the development race, continue to provide him with the race operations support of the past three races, and Lewis can be focused on execution of the moment, he is the likeliest contender to beat Alonso and take this year’s championship.
The critical success factors to look for in Singapour:

1. The McLaren machinery continues to be competitive; sometimes, frequently this year, it is not always easy to see how competitive a car is, both single lap (qualifying) and/or race pace; 1st or second in both of these criteria are essential for any race winning here on in.  Singapour is a very different race course from Spa and Monza, will the McLaren still be in the top two proficiencies at this race track?  Based on the net difference between Budapest and Spa and Monza, if the race was held tomorrow, I’d still place them in the top two rankings for both quali and race; but there will be changes to cars between now and then, and the changes in comparative advantage will matter as much as the different characteristics of the track.

2. The McLaren race operations have to continue to be as good as they have been; they are trending favourably, and this is the most likely to be maintained out of the three critical success factors.

3. Lewis’s focus and head space; he’s a flighty, peaky genius, but not always the most stable.  This guy has the talent; when he is on, there is no one better, there may be as good, (Alonso, Sebastian, Kimi) but not appreciably better; when the weight of the minutiae go his way, and against his rivals, Lewis is the dominant driver on the circuit, just like Monza.  The test of his focus will be how little he says, especially predicts, before the race; anything from him differing from what he said before Monza, as represented by the above quote, will be a bad sign.

Good luck Lewis, as much as anybody could have it, your championship fate is in your own hands, seize the opportunity for growth, and take it!  If you can.

Other trends:

Red Bull: I expect that Spa and Monza distorted their existing overall capability.  My suggestion that they were sandbagging didn’t come good, on the surface, but if you look at Sebastian’s progress in the race prior to his stop-and-go penalty, he’d have been fighting for a podium until the end, at the worst track for Red Bull for the season.

Singapour should be in the sweet spot for their car, the twisting and turning, short straights should play to the efficiency and drivability of the Red Bull package.  No team could have designed the base of a car to dominate at all circuits, this year.  However, if you look at the relevant personalities at Red Bull, you find an individual with the greatest proven capacity for conceptual and detail design execution, AND strategic technical development dominance.  The Red Bull in-season development capacity is unlikely to be better than McLaren or Ferrari this year, but their strategic development, based on their known resources is unlikely to be second to any team.

What to look for with Red Bull to predict their success at Singapour, and their championship drive:

1. Red Bull needs to be demonstratably back at the sharp end of the stick in terms of competitive machinery from the get-go in Singapour.  At the equator, Singapour is going to be warm or hot, the only thing in question is the extremity of it.  Hot will favour Red Bull second to only Lotus, based on the teams’ form over the past six races.

2. The Red Bull race pace has been close to the best for the most part of the season, but realistically, if they are going to have a driver win the championship, and hold on to their constructor’s lead, they must get a car into the first two rows for the start; qualifying must be better.  From the first row, I like Sebastian Vettel, if he can drive like he did in Spa, even over Lewis Hamilton, it was that good.

Ferrari: are definitely competitive in all aspects of their machinery, and even have both drivers competitive, as of Monza.  Questions: have the Spa and Monza track characteristics hidden remaining Ferrari comparative disadvantages?  I don’t think we’ll know until qualifying and the race itself, to be perfectly honest.  Ferrari may have to play their hand close to their chest to win, or they could conceivably come with an overall comparative technical advantage, with their development trend this year, anything is possible.

Lotus: what went wrong?

I keep on hoping for a Kimi victory.  Overall, he has been squeezing the most from the equipment and race operations offered; even better than Alonso at Ferrari, in my opinion.  Kimi is very quiet about it, he is the full time practionner of what Lewis Hamilton needs to do to win, focus on doing the things that can be done, that most contribute to winning; Kimi is this personified; talking about it, or anything else, not significantly contributing to actually performing better in the race, is something he does better than anybody; he is the consummate professional racer; and probably the biggest natural thrill-seeker on the grid.

Much of what is written above for Red Bull, and it’s machinery, applies to Lotus and it’s machinery.  Also, they just have not yet been able to put all of the race operations and strategy together for the best weekend!  Lotus lead on race pace in Budapest, both cars were faster than Lewis, at the front, in the McLaren.  At the very least, they need to be as dominant in race pace in Singapour, and they MUST be able to get onto at least the second row in qualifying.

I don’t know how Lotus will utilize their drivers down the straight of the championship.  It seems to me that there has been a slight favouring of Grosjean this year, as the prince in waiting, at Kimi’s expense.  But Eric Boullier has shown a very pragmatic approach this season, and any pragmatic person will have realized Grosjean’s race ban for Monza has ended his realistic championship aspirations.  It will be crucial for Eric Boullier to use every tool at his disposal to propel Kimi towards the driver championship; Kimi is a proven winner, no less a proven strong finisher to capture the championship!  Give him the best car you can, and the best support you can, and he most definitely can win the championship, any way it can be won!

Sauber: I’d love to see a Sauber victory this season, and at least a Kobyashi podium.  I’ll write it again, the most exciting driver pair and team this season.  Kobyashi has been getting slagged in the light of Perez’s impressive feats, but Kobyashi has been doing a great job, also, and a podium would only formalize his achievements of the season.

Mercedes were definitely as close to the hunt as the have been since Rosberg’s utter dominance in the fridged and wet of Shanghai, at the Chinese GP, way back at the beginning of the season.  But they haven’t kept pace with the tire management improvements of the top teams, including Sauber and Williams.  Maybe their double DRS was a wrong turn in the technical race?  But under it, maybe it’s been disguising a fundamentally fast race car.  The Mercedes device had a horrific effect on front tire grip and wear and traction at both ends.  They seems to have the expertise and base to implement a Lotus-style system before Lotus.

Look for the Mercedes out-of-the-box pace to tell whether they have managed to develop the car to contend with a Singapour-style circuit, and the heat; they haven’t been reluctant to show how fast they are, right away, when they are fast.  Let’s face it, Michael likes to be the fastest, at any time, and this has only been moderated during his time at Ferrari, during pre-season testing and development, according to planet F1, he used the ‘Schuey little wooden wedge’ to camouflage the true pace of the car.

Expect next post after second practice for Singapour, but send me an email deancassady.wayward@gmail.com or comment here, should you wish to further discuss in the meantime.

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