F1 waffle

Tuesday 4th October 2011

If you just looked at the statistics, it’d probably seem as if Formula 1 in 2011 is thoroughly dull. Sebastian Vettel is absolutely dominant; in the 14 races so far he’s scored 9 wins, 11 pole positions, has only finished off the podium once, and even then he managed to finish fourth. To win the drivers’ championship he now only needs to score a single point from the remaining five races, which should just about be possible given that the Red Bull he’s driving is by far the fastest car in the field. But that’s only part of the picture, because despite the rather predictable nature of the championship, the majority of the races this year have been fantastic.

One of the fascinating things this year has been seeing how the other top drivers have been coping with not always having the machinery to challenge Vettel. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have both been driving superbly, and have both made the best of what they’ve got to challenge as best they can. Button in particular has put in some stellar performances; in fact he’s probably driving better now than he did in 2009, when he won the championship.  He’s very intelligent about how he structures his race; his qualifying pace isn’t generally the quickest compared to Lewis Hamilton, his team-mate, but during the races Button is very good at working out when to push hard and when to take it easy and look after the car and tyres. The result is a very impressive season indeed.

It’s fair to say that Lewis Hamilton doesn’t have such a measured approach. Hamilton is without doubt one of the fastest drivers in F1, if not the fastest. He’s also one of the most exciting to watch, but that’s not always for the best of reasons. When it comes to overtaking other drivers, a driver like Button is generally quite calm, and only makes the move when they’re sure it’ll work. Hamilton… not so much. He’s very aggressive, and tends to take more risks than some of the other drivers. And to be fair, in the past it’s often worked out for him. But this year it really hasn’t, and so he’s been involved with more collisions with other drivers than he really should have done.

From the outside, it very much looks as if Hamilton is frustrated. Whether that’s a cause or effect of his collisions this year – or perhaps a combination of the two, in some sort of feedback loop – I don’t know. It can’t help that Vettel is running away with the title, and becoming (statistically) more successful than Hamilton in the process. Racing drivers have to think they’re the best in order to perform at the highest level, and so it must be extremely frustrating to be incapable of competing with someone else. Hamilton thinks he’s the greatest driver out there (and for what it’s worth, he very possibly is), yet someone else is getting the wins, the success, the plaudits. And perhaps that frustration is causing him to take slightly bigger risks, to overdrive the car to try to make up some of the deficit, and in the process allow these little errors to creep in.

To be honest, as a fan of the sport, it’s really frustrating to watch someone with such obvious talent have such a poor season (although, when we say it’s been a poor season, lets put this into perspective: he’s taken 2 wins, 4 podiums and 3 fastest laps thus far. That this can be considered to be a poor season sort of shows what we’ve come to expect). Because he is a great driver, and so it’d be much more entertaining to see him giving the sort of performances which we know he can deliver, rather than having silly little mistakes compromise his races.

It’s a pretty tough sport psychologically; as Jackie Stewart likes to remind everyone, a successful driver needs good mind management in order to get the best out of the car, to be able to find it within themselves to push it to the limit of what’s possible, and to then race in close proximity with other drivers. And once a driver lets poor form get to them, it can so easily knock their confidence or make them frustrated, causing more bad results. The contrasting fortunes of the McLaren drivers this year is just the latest illustration of this.

Posted at 2:32 am | Posted In: Motorsport Tagged:

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