F1 07 review: Some drivers are more equal than others

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Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | Ferrari MediaThis year’s F1 season was remarkable in that, for much of the season, all four drivers in the top two teams were in contention for the title.

Only in the final two races, when Felipe Massa had fallen too far behind, could one driver count on the support of his team mate.

But while driver equality seemed to cause no major problems for Ferrari, McLaren’s drivers were at war for much of the season and the resulting conflict arguably lost the team both world championships.

For 13 years at Benetton and then Ferrari Michael Schumacher gave the watching world lessons in how to win world championships.

It’s not enough merely to build a fast, reliable car and give it to the world’s best driver. No, he must also have the unquestioning support of a loyal number two, who will sacrifice access to the spare car, forfeit any claim to preferential equipment or strategies, get in the way of the opposition and even hand over a well-earned victory for the greater good.

Neither Ferrari nor McLaren heeded that lesson this year.

Die hard purists may be foaming at the mouths that the ‘number one’ setup has apparently fallen out of fashion. But fans of real racing may rejoice – because when a driver’s beaten a competitive team mate to win a race, you know he’s earned his crust.

Besides which, if every team ran a lead number one and a subservient number two we’d be forever watching drivers hold each other up – precisely the kind of dismal antics that have caused an outcry in the DTM this year.

However there are disadvantages to the policy of equality. And ironically they became most apparent not at Ferrari but McLaren.

A lot of speculation is involved in working out exactly what went wrong between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso this year.

Was Alonso rattled by the competitiveness of his team mate? Or did he join McLaren in 2005 expecting to be number one, and became angry when that wasn’t the case? Was he misled by Ron Dennis?

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Indianapolis, 2007, 2Alonso said the treatment he received was fit for, “Not a double champion, but a normal person.” He gave further insight into what he thought about the notion of equality during the press conference before the Chinese Grand Prix when he refused to deny that McLaren might deliberately change the settings on his car to favour Hamilton.

Later on he justified the claim:

It’s better to be silent than to lie, that’s for sure. And that’s something [Ron Dennis] should do more often and I think the team would do better. Many of the scandals McLaren have been involved in off the track this year have been created by his things.

[Dennis] didn’t promise me anything. You are always hearing about that so called equality in the team, but tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you are lacking.

It’s impossible to have equality in a Formula One team, there’s always a better engine, a better lap to stop in, there’s always a better option.

His last remark – that there is always a preferential timing for pit stops, and that there will often be one component that appears better than another – is certainly correct. But McLaren’s approach is to share the preferences between their drivers. To an extent, Alonso acknowledged that:

I’m not saying it’s not equality, because sometimes it’s one driver’s turn and other times it’s the other’s, but you always hear him talk about that or promising things, and it’s not like that.

So what exactly was Alonso’s complaint about the situation at McLaren? Surely he felt he was not getting a fair share of the ‘preferential’ decisions and that as a result he felt the team were favouring Hamilton.

And that is not something that anyone outside the team can prove one way or another. But when the FIA installed an observer in the pits for qualifying at Interlagos he found nothing untoward, and (not for the first time this year) Hamilton out-qualified Alonso despite having to stop later for fuel on race day.

Perhaps the real reason for Alonso’s displeasure was that he found the team too open. He had no way of keeping beneficial information from Hamilton, and vice-versa, as engineering director Paddy Lowe remarked on halfway through the season:

Within 30 seconds of either McLaren coming to a halt in either practice or qualifying, the driver has a data sheet of information covering every engineering parameter.

He also has a data overlay from the other car. All team debriefs are conducted together. The guys sit feet apart, with engineers and strategists from both sides of the garage.

Discussion, information and planning are free and open. Even if they wanted to hide information, it would be impossible.

There were complaints at some points that Hamilton was ‘stealing’ Alonso’s setups. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter – if at Renault Alonso was used to being able to keep his setup decisions private, but found that was not an option at McLaren, he might well have been infuriated by having to hand them over to a team mate who could then use them to beat him.

Writing in November’s F1 Racing, Peter Windsor lends some credence to the idea that Alonso’s insistence that McLaren were not giving him equal equipment was all in his head. After qualifying in Fuji, Alonso said: “again in qualifying three fuel-burn, Lewis was able to have the extra lap.” The data showed this was not true.

Although Alonso complained long and loud about the situation at McLaren, Hamilton voiced a few complaints of his own. He confessed surprise at the team’s decision to pit him early at Monte-Carlo, effectively handing the race win to Alonso. It later transpired that the team made the call to prevent Hamilton being vulnerable should the safety car have been called for – something that caused Alonso to receive a penalty in the very next race.

French Grand Prix, Magny-Cours, 2006, start, 2Meanwhile at Ferrari both drivers were apparently getting equal treatment and yet neither complained. Why was this?

Before the season started Jean Todt said:

There will be healthy competition between our drivers. But we will be very careful to make sue that this internal rivalry does not become counter productive. Raikkonen and Massa know this law very well.

Raikkonen, like Alonso, had to come to terms with a new car and an unfamiliar team. Yet even as his races in Catalunya and N??rburgring were hit by car failure, or when he lagged behind Massa early in the season, he never suggested the team were trying to disadvantage him.

The most unusual thing about Ferrari’s adoption of equality (apart from the fact they had shunned it for 12 years) was Luca di Montezemolo’s remarks afterwards:

The difference between us and McLaren is that we’re a team and in the last race our drivers helped each other.

This brazenly myopic remark conveniently ignored two crucial facts: that the Ferrari duo took almost as many points off each other as the McLaren pair did in 2007; and that both McLaren drivers were still able to win the championship at the last round.

But it reveals the greatest irony about Ferrari and McLaren adopting equal team practices in 2007.

In the end, one driver finally had to sacrifice a win for his team mate, and that went a long way towards making him champion. Had Alonso or Hamilton been in Massa’s position in Interlagos, it is hard to imagine they would have leant their team mate a hand in quite the same way.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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5 comments on “F1 07 review: Some drivers are more equal than others”

  1. I think Alonso feels that he has brought (or brings) a lot to the team, certainly more than Hamilton, so in a way he there is some sort of sacrifice for the whole of the team on his part.

    At this point he probably thinks he should get some sort of preferential treatment. Fair enough… maybe, maybe not.

    But if you further consider the feeling he may have, that his sacrifice is for the benefit of his teammate only (Ron from what we hear, absolutely does not help with this), his ‘discomfort’ with the team becomes a whole lot more justified.

  2. Discomfort or not, it still doesn’t justify the acts he did. Not just the Budapest pitstop, but also the public moaning that you’d never hear from a Schumi or a Senna.

    Come to think of it, if Lewis benefited from Alonso’s data, surely Alonso also learnt some stuff from Lewis’ data? Such exchanges always work both ways.

    Bottom line: If Alonso was really a good driver, he’d have beaten Lewis, copied setup or not. He didn’t, so he should give it another go next year, not blame your own team in the press for it.

  3. I agree Alonso has been moaning all season long but Lewis hasn’t been quite either. Being polite, nice to the press and smiling all the time doesn’t make all your actions right. I’d rather prefer a sincere person (even if he is rude) than an insincere one with good manners.

  4. Very well said Dave! Hamilton has been indeed puckering up to the media’s (ahem…..) behind, which i must say is/was right under the mistletoe. Let’s no forget Monaco. Also, Budapest culminated as it did, however, it was started by Hamilton. He just as well lied to the FIA(and the world and the donkey), about having no idea whatsoever, of Ferrari information(yeah, right!) doing rounds in Macca.

    Alonso, has not done himself much favours, by speaking out against team, or/and that extended pit-stop. However, he has received his bit of stick from the team & media.

    What about Lewis? Would somebody please put him in his place? Remind him that he is not the greatest(well, let’s see him do seven championships, and then we’ll talk). Also, i would like to remind people that, Villeneuve finished his rookie year p2 just as well. Having lost the championship in the final round only. So, all this hype of Hamilton being the first rookie to come so close to the crown and all… is somewhat denigrating to the achievements of the boy. Do i think he is capable? Yes. Do i think he is a loudmouth? A resounding, YES! Do i think he should manage his affairs better(with team mates & team)? Yes, “go effin’ swivel” comes to my mind immediately.

    I guess, the media has clearly fallen in love with, what was(may be is, let’s see what FIA has to say on it in about a fortnight), possibly a first Brit champ in a decade. I understand the nationalistic fervor(and the boy is a good driver too). However, being obective, one would conclude, McLaren drivers left a lot to be desired.

    Macca should perhaps now spy upon Ferrari’s driver management tactics. Kidding, not!!!!!

  5. Captain Caveman
    1st November 2007, 14:34

    It would have to be said that not all drivers are equal, and not all drivers receive equal support. We all know that not all engines generate exactly the same BHP, not all drivers have the chance to use the same lap to pit stop on etc etc.

    That aside certain drivers do stand out and for me and they are Kimi and Alonso. Perhaps Lewis will fall into this category in due course but after this first year he is still some way off in my eyes.

    How many times have you seen Kimi or Alonso bring home a car that does not deserved to be in the top 4 . And on this issue I am referring to slight damage, lost gears, in essence the ability to cope with a range of circumstances and drive through problems whether they be tyres or mechanical.

    This I believe is the key differentiator between Lewis and the others, Lewis has proved himself when he is at the sharp end of the grid when things go smoothly, but as soon as things start to falter he seems to lack the ability to cope.

    On the issue of Lewis versus Alonso, the fact is that the media have had a field day, UK press have slaughtered Alonso and the Spanish press have slaughtered Lewis. ( most of it unfavourable and unjustified by both parties).

    I still maintain that in my eyes the true personality of Lewis came out when he was interviewed after the first few races by ITV F1 and he referred to some of the back markers and the monkeys at the back…………. You do not need to be an expert in human nature to recognise that these comments are not indicative of a perfect angel with sincere tendencies……

    Anyway, what I want from a season is racing (on the track)… from whom I do not really care but the likes of Kimi, Alonso provide this just like those of Senna, Arnoux and Alessi (on his good days).

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