Posts Tagged ‘ McLaren

Rancour at McLaren too?

Lewis Hamilton: miscommunication?

Martin Whitmarsh and Lewis Hamilton: miscommunication?

The problem with modern racing drivers is that racing is all they’ve ever known: all that time spent honing their natural, instinctive feel for how to make a car go as quickly as possible, from an early age, leaves them undeveloped in other crucial areas. Chief amongst these is their capacity to form effective relationships with other people.

Of course, even if you’re paranoid it doesn’t necessarily follow that they aren’t out to get you – but for an F1 driver, trapped in their own self-centred bubble from the moment they first grasped a steering wheel, paranoia can be extraordinarily corrosive. The merest whiff of partiality is all it takes; and then, like any message board conspiracy theorist or tinfoil hat merchant, once they have reached their conclusion they shape and interpret all incoming data to suit it, and discard anything to the contrary. It’s all downhill from there.

This mentality is what precipitated Fernando Alonso’s meltdown at McLaren in 2007. Odd, isn’t it, that someone with the inner steel to go wheel-to-wheel with their rivals at 200mph and beyond could so easily be provoked into a destructive sequence of hissy fits? And yet that’s what happened: by the end it didn’t matter whether McLaren really were favouring Lewis over Fernando or not; it was enough that he believed they were (and let’s not forget that Lewis had a tantrum of his own that year, in Monaco, because he felt the team had favoured Fernando over him – sometimes being a team principal must be like herding cats).

As documented in my previous post, a whiff of not-invented-in-Salzburg syndrome is in the air at Red Bull after the Turkish Grand Prix. But what of McLaren? Never have I seen Lewis Hamilton look so unmoved after a race win.

Having inherited the lead after the Red Bulls eliminated one another at Turn 12, Hamilton was challenged by his team-mate at exactly the same spot nine laps later. It was a brief battle, which Hamilton resolved in his favour by edging Button wide into Turn 1 at the beginning of the following lap. And then, as if in receipt of an urgent injunction from the team to play nicely, they held station for the rest of the race.

There were the beginnings of a muttered conversation between Hamilton and Jenson Button in the drivers’ pre-podium ‘green room’, but they broke it off when they realised they were within earshot of a live microphone and camera. McLaren’s race feed on their excellent new website contains no radio conversation pertaining to the events of lap 49.

Questioned later, Hamilton explained that he had been instructed to save fuel and given a target lap time, which he thought was too slow, and which enabled Button to catch him up. He also alluded to a “miscommunication” with the team (given his recent penchant for slagging them off on the air, they can be forgiven for leaning on the mute button for that one). Fleet Street drilled down into this during the official presser. He responded:

For me it was just… the communication wasn’t clear for me. When they suggested ‘save this much fuel’ it was not easy to save that much fuel unless I went particularly slowly. I tried to reach that target and in doing so, Jenson was all of a sudden… he just appeared from nowhere and he was up my tail and then there was nothing I could do.

Button, for his part, said:

For about four or five laps beforehand they were saying you have to save fuel. They didn’t put a lap time on it. They just said you have got to save a bit of fuel. That was quite early in the race I was told to do that, probably about lap 30.

It’s possible that Button, having stayed in touch with the leading trio in the first half of the race without seriously pushing them, had burned less fuel and therefore had more ‘in his pocket’. Does the team’s failure to set him a target lap time, as they did with Hamilton, equate to favouritism? As conspiracy theories go, this is very thin gruel.

Still, as I said, it doesn’t matter whether there is any favouritism or not. What matters is the individual’s belief that it exists. At the end of the FIA press conference there was an illuminating exchange prompted by F1’s pre-eminent banana-eater, Michael Schmidt:

Q: Lewis, what happened at the pit stop because Sebastian was able to jump you. Was there any problem?

LH: I don’t know, I have to…

MW: We put fuel in, I think, at the pit stop.

LH: It seemed to be quite a…

MW: My guys weren’t quick and I thought ‘Lewis’s guys are also having a bit of a break.’

In the toxic mental landscape of the paranoid, even a sticky rear wheelnut can be taken as evidence. Mark Webber clearly has a monkey on his back. Is there one astride Lewis Hamilton’s shoulders too?

Going ga-ga for a poker face

McLaren’s driver line-up came under intense scrutiny today from students of body language the world over. Every physical twitch and vocal tic, every utterance by Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton has been scrutinised for potential evidence of mutual loathing.

Clearly there’s an appetite among fans and media for a replay of the rancour that beset McLaren in 2007 – and, judging by the periodically stiff performance by Lewis Hamilton today, an equal and opposite desire on the team’s part to show absolutely no sign of any such thing (which may or may not have caused a slight case of overbriefing).

There’s plenty to read on this subject elsewhere in the blogosphere. Gridwalk Talk has an interesting view of Lewis, Joe Saward cocks a Chaplinesque snook at the whole performance, and James Allen takes a more charitable view. Fill your boots!

Petronas to be Mercedes GP title sponsor

Mercedes GP announced this morning that Petronas, the Malaysian oil giant, will take title sponsorship of the team from 2010 onwards.

Team principal Ross Brawn said:

Everyone at Mercedes GP is delighted to confirm our long-term agreement with Petronas and we look forward to working closely with our new partner in the future. The collaboration of the premium automotive brand Mercedes-Benz and a company as prestigious as Petronas gives our team a fantastic base from which to achieve our ambitions of competing at the top level of Formula One and building on the success of 2009 which saw the team achieve the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships. Our plans for the new season are progressing well, as is the development of our 2010 challenger, and we look forward to seeing the car run in the new Silver Arrows and Petronas livery at the Valencia test in February.

There had been much speculation in recent weeks that Mobil 1 would either leave McLaren or split its involvement between the two, but it appears that Mercedes were looking for more than just a technical partner. Mobil 1′s financial input into McLaren is relatively modest but the arrangement has been mutually beneficial, so it saw no need to spend more on a title sponsorship. Neither did it wish to transfer its allegiance from a team with which it has enjoyed considerable success.

When synthetic oil was introduced to the market in the 1970s, in the wake of the first oil shock, it was viewed with suspicion by many customers. Mobil 1 conquered this and established itself as a market leader by getting involved in motor sports and demonstrating its product there. It has been involved in over 100 Formula 1 wins, over half of which have come through its relationship with McLaren.

In recent years oil has become an increasingly important development path. The freeze on R&D, and the move to multi-race engines, has increased the demands on the lubricant in two ways: it must protect the engine over a longer duty cycle, but it can also liberate more power if blended to exactly the right viscocity.

It will be interesting to see what effect the move has on Mobil 1′s relationship with Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth.

Dean Smith wins the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award; stand by for ‘Venison-gate’

Formula Renault UK champion Dean Smith is the 21st winner of the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award, bagging a test in a McLaren F1 car, free Puma racewear, a cheque for £50,000 and a watch that’s big enough to see from space. Smith made the shortlist in 2007 but lost out to Stefan Wilson.

The judging was reportedly very tight. The standard of driving during the Silverstone test days was very impressive, as was the aptitude of the candidates during interviews. The decision finally came down to a choice between Smith and his FRenault rival James Calado, and Smith came out on top by dint of being fastest during the test.

Smith is hoping to land a seat in GP3 next year and the prize purse will give him a tremendous boost. The junior formulae aren’t cheap nowadays (a season in Formula BMW will cost you around £120,000) and his career nearly stalled last year when he failed to land the necessary finance for a Formula 3 campaign.

Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis was at the next table along from us, and she made the draw for the annual charity lottery. The prize of a Peugeot 207 S16 went to Mike Conway, prompting one wag to comment, “Only thing he’s won all year…”

Also during the evening Formula 1′s new hanger-on of choice, James Corden, delivered an uproarious comic turn that will have come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen Lesbian Vampire Killers. Then he committed a rather crass diplomatic blunder, following in the footsteps of Martin Brundle last year: while presenting Jenson Button with the British Competition Driver Of The Year gong, Corden made it quite clear that his venison steak had been on the griddle for longer than he considered necessary.

When did it become acceptable etiquette to come to a party and scorn the hospitality of your hosts, even if you’re a demi-inebriated sitcom co-writer? Answers on a postcard, please…