As Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport Ross Brawn says, the champion’s almost perfect afternoon highlights not only the incredible strengths of the Briton and his team, but also deficits elsewhere.
But, he adds, the process of addressing those issues is well underway and Hamilton’s keen involvement over the coming months, despite the 2021 regulations announcement being delayed, will only help…
Hamilton Headed for Record Breaking Season
Of Lewis Hamilton’s six wins this year, his Paul Ricard victory was probably the most dominant of all. At no point during the weekend was there the sensation that anyone, even his own team-mate, would put his success in doubt.
Paradoxically, the only ‘P1’ that eluded him – that of fastest lap – was itself a mark of his crushing superiority. In order to beat the mark of 1:32.764s that Hamilton set on 29-lap old, worn and blistered hard tyres, Sebastian Vettel had to put on a set of new softs, and even then he still only managed to beat the time by 0.024s.
Hamilton seems destined to beat every record, both for this season and of all time, setting new standards in benchmarks in that had previously seemed unbreakable.
Of course, Mercedes is giving him a fantastic car that marries perfectly with Pirelli’s tyres and a team whose mistakes are few and far between, but right now Lewis is simply perfect.
We know well that Formula 1 needs to make an important change in direction if it wants to maintain its position as one of the most followed sporting spectacles in the world, with many people already calling Formula 1 boring. All of the key stakeholders agree on the objectives and there is broad agreement on the major principles, such as the introduction of the budget cap and a fairer distribution of the revenue, while on the technical aspects, the FIA have worked together with engineers from all the teams.
The Widening Gap
Fans and pundits have been saying for a long time that there is a need for change and the numbers don’t lie. After the French Grand Prix, the eighth race of the season, the seven teams classified from fourth to 10th place in the Constructors’ Championship have amassed a total of 143 points, less than half the amount accumulated by Mercedes and just six more than the total amassed by third-placed Red Bull.
That’s not the only alarming statistic.
The 12 drivers behind Pierre Gasly, currently sixth in the drivers’ championship, to Romain Grosjean, currently 17th, have together scored seven points fewer than Hamilton.
At Paul Ricard, just five drivers avoided being lapped by Hamilton and only one of them, Carlos Sainz, doesn’t drive for one of the three top teams. If Mercedes keeps up this pace it could seal the Constructors’ Championship by Monza, with a third of the season still left!
Let’s be clear: Lewis, Valtteri and Mercedes are not to blame for a season verging on perfection, and it should be obvious that the rule changes Formula 1 and the FIA want to introduce are not directed against a team that is rewriting the record books.
But we must all understand that the sport we love needs more competition, so that other teams can also aspire to podium finishes and it is not just a few powerful teams that dominate.
In the last 49 races – from 2017 until today – just two of the 147 podium finishers have come from teams other than Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes.
Ferrari Continue Playing Catch-Up
The team giving everything to interrupt the absolute domination of Mercedes is definitely Ferrari. The Italian team has come close to victory twice this year but first reliability and then an incident in Canada that resulted in a penalty for Sebastian has prevented the team from putting one of its drivers onto the top step of the podium.
At Paul Ricard, Ferrari didn’t show the same level of performance that saw Vettel take pole position in Canada – even if Leclerc managed to finish just behind Bottas, who was having a bit of a crisis with his tyres.
It was a positive weekend for Leclerc, who secured the third podium of his career, but we can’t say the same for Vettel. Perhaps the German also paid a price for his frustration at the negative outcome from the events surrounding his Montréal penalty. But more likely he didn’t find the right balance to exploit the potential of the car, especially in qualifying with the soft tyres in Q3, given that he had seemed competitive on the mediums in Q2.
Above all, Ferrari seems to be on a continual quest to unlock the developments that will allow the team to be competitive at every track and not just at those where the strength of its power unit can really be exploited, as we saw in Bahrain, Canada and, in part, in Azerbaijan. What is important is to see they are not easing off in their efforts. Even if the fight for the overall titles is becoming more demanding with every race, we can see that the team has the will to interrupt Mercedes’ series of consecutive victories as soon as possible.
The Silver Arrows’ run of wins now stands at 10 races – the last two of 2018 and the eight this year: one more win and they will equal the record set by McLaren in 1988. It’s strange to think it was also Ferrari which ended the Woking team’s run with the one-two by Berger and Alboreto at Monza. Who knows if history will repeat itself…
McLaren Take Next Step
On the subject of McLaren the French Grand Prix weekend was probably their most positive race of recent years. That’s not just because of the final result – in 2018 Alonso took a somewhat fortunate fifth place at the Australian Grand Prix – but for the consistent performance they showed throughout the weekend.
After a qualifying session that saw Sainz and Norris colouring the third-row papaya, the race also saw the Woking team prove itself to be the fourth-best team – and only a hydraulic problem stopped rookie driver Norris from finishing behind his team-mate. With the 10 points they took home from Paul Ricard the Woking team extended its title lead over the Renault team that provides their engines, in a battle for fourth place that is one of the hardest fought of the year, while Carlos Sainz reduced the gap on Pierre Gasly’s sixth place in the drivers’ championship.
This would be very satisfying for a team that has ambitions of regaining the heights of a past that is really not so far away, and manage to have one of its drivers finish ahead of one of the competitors from the top three teams. But now McLaren has to confirm it can maintain this level of form, and in just a few days at the Red Bull Ring we will see if Paul Ricard was a one-off or if they are now favourites for fourth place. We are not talking about fighting for the podium or, even less likely, for victory, but you have to make a virtue out of necessity…