The Ben Evans column: Technique

Posted on | Author Ben Evans

Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes, Istanbul, 2008, 470150

I sadly missed the Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday because I was racing in the Czech Republic, so I?ve had to rely on race reports to get a full understanding of what happened.

Of all the comment and intrigue from the weekend, the factor that has stood out the most to me, has been the fact that Lewis Hamilton was forced into a three stop strategy because of worries he would suffer a repeat of last year’s tyre failure, whereas his team mate Heikki Kovalainen did not.

Having been laughed out of town during the pre-season for suggesting that Hamilton would struggle to set his McLaren up to win races, I feel that this nugget rather vindicates my view.

It is one thing, after all, to get a car that works for one very fast lap, it is quite another to set it up for a two hour race, something that Hamilton?s driving style turns into a fine art.

Of the really quick men of F1, I would say there are two camps, there are those who are devastatingly fast but can make the car last, and there are those who will go on maximum attack regardless of the potential mechanical damage.

In the former camp I would place Michael Schumacher, who whilst being exceptionally quick, never taxed the machinery more than would be expected. Obviously for some of his wins (or seasons) you could argue that he didn?t need to, but as far back as his days in sportscars there were those who could never reconcile his pace with the fact that the car he brought home wasn?t a steaming pile of metallic junk.

On the other hand there are drivers such as Gilles Villeneuve who lost a number of races but simply pushing the car too hard. Don?t believe me? Watch some footage of his Grands Prix and you will see what I mean. Admittedly it is a massively entertaining and hugely laudable way to drive, but it would never win a championship, or even that many races.

Whilst I wouldn?t say that Lewis Hamilton?s approach to racing is in the Gilles Villeneuve mould, it is fair to say that he is far harder on his machinery than many of his contemporaries. The pit stop strategy in Turkey bore this out, and it was only by driving the race of his life that Hamilton scored the 2nd position. However, had Kovalainen not been tagged at the start, nor Raikkonen having an off day, that 2nd could easily have been 4th.

Felipe Massa is a step further removed from Hamilton, in that while Hamilton knows when to play the averages, Felipe simply does not. Eliminating himself from a safe second place in Malaysia may prove to be very costly come prize time in the autumn.

Conversely Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso are always quick without being car wreckers. I cannot think of an occasion where either driver has had their race strategy compromised by being too hard on the car that an extra stop is required.

For the good of the championship the result in Turkey at the weekend was perfect and I am really looking forward to Monaco as it is always one of the most entertaining weekends of the year. In recent years the principality has been McLaren territory, and really nothing less than an McLaren one-two will do the trick for them.

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Ben Evans

Contributing writer.