The Ben Evans column: Perfect day

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Is Lewis Hamilton the title favourite after his Hockenheim win?

Sunday was one of those rare occasions when it was almost impossible to find fault with motorsport.

F1 produced its best dry weather race for some time (even if the safety car helped) and the US Moto GP was the best the series has produced for some years.

Throughout the Hockenheim weekend the McLaren/Hamilton combination were simply unbeatable. Lewis Hamilton strung together his most potent qualifying lap for some time – in contrast Ferrari were nowhere near where they should be, or indeed where they were at the start of the year.

As the title race dips into its second half realistically it is a three horse race. Robert Kubica is probably the least flawed of the top drivers, but unfortunately his BMW is, and the one-time championship leader must be hugely frustrated to be racing his socks off for minor placings.

As things stand it is Hamilton in the box seat – he has the championship lead, he has the momentum and he has the fastest car – at the moment. There are times, and Hockenheim was one of them, when Hamilton’s pace is breathtaking. But as we have seen in the past raw speed alone is not enough to guarantee championship glory.

If forced to pick holes in the McLaren/Hamilton combination at the moment, I would point the finger at the inability of both to sometimes step back and see the bigger picture, and their predilection for what seems to be collective brain fade. As a driver Hamilton occasionally doesn’t rein in his raw speed for a little common sense and he is aided and abetted in this by McLaren. There are occasions when Hamilton appears to have blind faith in his team and sometimes this is misplaced.

We all know what happened in China last year, and I still believe that on that occasion Hamilton should have ignored the team and come in a few laps earlier. Had the team called him in three laps sooner it was a no-risk scenario and he would have still taken the title that day.

The British Grand Prix, Hamilton’s finest hour, was once again put in jeopardy by the McLaren team. Such was the extent of Lewis’ lead that the McLaren team could have bought him in, changed to extreme wets and changed back again without any risk. That they didn’t meant that a locked-in win was placed solely in Hamilton’s hands. Fair enough, except had he aquaplaned off and lost the ten points, the case for a safe pit stop would surely have been made.

Likewise the rigidity with which the McLaren team stuck to their strategy in Hockenheim once again turned a certain win into a desperate dash.

At least McLaren can rely on their man to deliver the goods, pace wise, week in-week out. Unfortunately for closet Italians everywhere Ferrari can’t. When in the mood Kimi Raikkonen is probably the quickest driver in F1, unfortunately when he’s not, he’s painfully average.

Whereas Hamilton is always pushing, Raikkonen if marooned in sixth place is content to stay there coasting around. Only when in with a whiff of a win does Raikkonen charge.

At both Silverstone and Hockenheim he was anonymous, and while France 2007 turned his title charge upwards, Magny-Cours this year appears to have done the opposite. There are the occasional races where you wonder if Raikkonen can be bothered with it at all.

Felipe Massa remains a riddle wrapped in an enigma. When on song he’s very good, but when not, he’s just terrible. His performance in the British Grand Prix (engine mapping aside) was turgid and apparently bereft of any understanding of what the car was doing.

Then on Sunday his defence of Lewis Hamilton was painfully weak. Had he been in a Force India then maybe ceding was understandable, but in a Ferrari? When he’s not driving like a muppet Massa can be stunning and when in the groove he is unbeatable, but once again Massa is unable to sustain race winning form for a full season.

So which of these three will walk away with the glory? At the moment I would probably go with Hamilton. But what makes this years championship contenders so engaging is that all of them are capable of big mistakes, off days and errors. Whatever happens it will be an exciting end to the year.

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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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21 comments on “The Ben Evans column: Perfect day”

  1. Hamilton does indeed seem to have the edge… as you say… for the moment!

    I know Kimi has a reputation for underperforming sometimes but I can’t agree that last Sunday’s lack of performance was down to anything other than an underperforming prancing horse. His and Massa’s times throughout the weekend were off the pace and I think Kimi’s qualifying spot was an indication of the maximum his car and setup would give. I don’t for one minute believe that Ferrari would let a demotivated, underperforming driver sit in their car until the end of 2009.

  2. Good article though :) more of this!

  3. Jonesracing82
    24th July 2008, 8:37

    good post and a great question!
    Hamo does have the edge at the moment but that can all change!
    i wouldn’t count out Kimi at this stage, his form atm is a bit like Hakkinen l8er in his career with regards to having off days and being great again the next week.
    Kimi just has to find his form again and he could be harder to beat than we imagine!
    one thing in Hamo’s favour is that Heikki isnt challenging him whereas with Kimi and Massa it’s one winning one week the other wins the next!
    watch this space……………..

  4. But the problem for Hamilton is that Heikki should be taking points off Kimi and Massa. The Ferrari boys are keeping in touch despite a couple of dreadful performances. Here’s hoping lewis can take another couple of strong wins with heikki behind him to cement his position!

  5. I wonder if we are we all suffering from “Post Schumacher Syndrome” or something? Every driver has on and off days. Maybe the current F1 just doesn’t have any “great” drivers and as quick as Massa and Raikonnen are we just expect Schumacher performances?
    If we analysed driver performances in the 80’s we’d surely be questioning the drivers the same. I don’t think Massa or Raikonnen would not be pushing hard.
    Massa may have not wanted a DNF at Hockenheim and would rather concede a slender lead to Hamilton rather than allow Raikonnen to gain an advantage over him. Massa must know from the previous season that one single DNF can seriously dent your championship chances.
    With Raikonnen, maybe Schumacher is assisting Massa more via his input at Ferrari, giving Massa the better advice on setup etc.?

    However, at the moment the momentum is with Hamilton and McLaren. Ferrari need to spoil the McLaren party soon. I would expect Hamilton to do well on the new street circuit in Valencia, so a Ferrari turn around at Hungary is essential.

    I’m going for Hamilton this year. I believe he’s on a roll and sees his chance to seriously edge ahead in the championship lead. I can’t wait for the next GP to find out.

  6. “Whereas Hamilton is always pushing, Raikkonen if marooned in sixth place is content to stay there coasting around. Only when in with a whiff of a win does Raikkonen charge.”

    What a pile of rubbish.

  7. I thought the same Sebastian, Kimi was pushing the entire time in a car that couldn’t give him more. Whereas Hamilton in Magny-Cours did nothing after he was given that penalty.

  8. The championship is still as wide open as ever. Lewis has momentum on his side, but that is nothing compared to experience.
    I do not believe that the Mclaren is the fastest car out there, that is still the Ferrari, Lewis’ driving style just helped him round the slower corners where he was making the most of the time, because he could throw the car around the corners he was leaving the others behind. I watched Heikki take some of those corners and he was using the conventional smooth approach yet he was losing a massive amount of time on each lap compared to his team mate.

  9. Hamilton has an unfair advantage.

    He is the fastest and youngest driver that have already lost a title.

    So, he had everything that is needed to win.
    The thing is upon Mclaren. And after last year humiliation they are in the mood to.

  10. I too agree that Raikkonen doesn’t just coast around unless he’s in whiff of a win.

    I wouldn’t place so much empthasis on team McLaren making the wrong decision, Ferrari have been more diastrous this year (not replacing Kimis tyres at Silverstone in those conditions, come on) and seem much less cohesive than in previous years.

    However, I agree with the forecast that Hamilton’s favourite to take it. Not only for reasons cited, but also because he’s still learning and will have learnt from last year (and previous races). Massa will always be Massa, I think he’s hit some mental wall in terms of progression as a driver. Raikkonen…well, he’ll do whatever he wants…and ultimately that is just to drive.

  11. I got excited expecting a bit of MotoGP chat, but no… you big tease !

    I recommend everyone to check out Rossi’s excursion into the gravel at the corckscrew, he kept his bike upright.

  12. I don’t agree with Noel. Kimi was horribly off the pace. Obviously it was setup, but the driver is to blame for that as well. How was Massa faster in the same car? To be off Massa’s pace by that much is an insult to Ferrari. Stop excusing Kimi’s performance.

  13. this attitude is typical English Football mentality, if a driver does well, he’s brilliant…. if he does bad its clearly a problem within the strategy, not his skill.

  14. Sush – I don’t know what football or being English has to do with this?

  15. the way people on this site talk about drivers ability, well it makes sense to me!.

    in football when a player does well, he’s good, but if they fail… its the managers fault.

  16. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    24th July 2008, 13:03

    i seem to notice that no matter what rakkonen does hes never in the wrong. to be that far off massas pace was quite crap really, if hamilton was that far off kovalaienens pace the hamilton bashing would be in full force its sad really, i dont see how you can give kimi credit for a performace like he had on sunday

  17. I think Massa and Raikkoenen are a bit unusual amongst the top drivers in that they need the car to be spot on to deliver their best. When they don’t have the ideal package I don’t think that either, Raikkonen in particular, finds that extra couple of % that they do when the win is on the cards.

    In contrast Alonso by and large drives the wheels off his Renault, even though he knows 4th or 5th is the best he’s going to get.

    Drivers not giving total commitment when they know that can’t win is nothing new – Nelson Piquet was notorious for being there in body but not mond when he wasn’t in with a shout of winning. In the world of Moto GP – both Luca Cadalora and Kenny Roberts were renowned for not giving anything like 100% to claim 10th instead of 9th, but when everything was going well, both were world title winners

  18. Of course, Kimi is partly to blame for his terrible showing on Sunday. The rest is down to the car, the setup and the strategy. Some cars, and indeed drivers’ styles, are more suited to particular tracks, and a quick car doesn’t necessarily make a champion. My point was that I feel assured Kimi, and every other driver, puts everything he can into every race. Otherwise their team would drop them, no questions asked.

  19. I think the other point that some people have raised, is that this years cars really suit a very specific driving style – full attack

    The drivers who are known for being smooth – Heidfeld and Button spring to mind most noticeably, have appeared to struggle disproportionately

  20. Go Hamilton! Awesome year.

  21. “Magny-Cours this year appears to have done the opposite. There are the occasional races where you wonder if Raikkonen can be bothered with it at all.”

    May I just remind you that Kimi was leading this very race comfortably over Massa before his exhaust problem, causing him to slow down and make sure he picked up valuable championship points. If that’s an indication of someone trying not very hard (leading his teammate comfortably before a mechanical problem through no fault of his own thwarts his efforts) then you are sorely mistaken.

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