The Ben Evans column: Technique

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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27 comments on The Ben Evans column: Technique

  1. George said on 16th May 2008, 9:42

    I think the issues involved are far, far more complicated than that – it’s not really much an analysis of driving technique on that level. As for your comments re: Kimi and Alonso, I’m not exactly sure that they bear out either. Kimi’s exit from the lead of the Nurburgring 2005? Alonso’s plummet backwards down the order with shredded rear tyres at Monaco that same year? And your observation on Massa, whilst correct in that he does lack consistency and throws away points that he doesn’t need to, doesn’t link up with your broader point – Massa didn’t throw away second in Malaysia by being harder on his car or tyres, but simply by beaching it.

    However, I think you are right to raise the issue Ben – it’s an interesting one, and worthy of consideration. Senna was famously harder on his tyres than Prost. Back in ’85 and ’86 he ran his Renault powered Lotus out of fuel on a number of occasions and thus added to his reputation of pushing too hard on his equipment (and leading to speculation that the Renault wasn’t a very efficient engine either). This perception was reinforced by a general belief (based no doubt on historical precedent) that the Lotus chassis must be good. However, when Lotus switched to Honda the next year (which was then the most economical and powerful engine in the field), he continually came off worst for fuel consumption amongst the Honda powered drivers. Which led Peter Warr – at the time the Lotus boss – to speculate in hindsight that perhaps the Renault engine had been a good one, that the Lotus chassis had been dreadful, and that Senna was having to drive it at a super-elevated level to make it quick – hence the fuel consumption problems.

    The point of that rather long anecdote is say that whatever is going on with Hamilton and his tyre wear at the moment (and throughout last season as well) is far more complicated an issue than ‘Lewis overdrives’. The McLaren’s are noted for being harder on their tyres generally than the Ferraris’. I’m also convinced that, in these days of computer analysis and wind-tunnel expertise, the guys at McLaren will figure this out before long and solve the problem.

  2. S Hughes said on 16th May 2008, 10:27

    So Ben, you don’t think Lewis will ever win a championship because of his driving style? Wow, what a statement (which is really what you are saying amongst all the technical guff). I am not at all technical, so cannot dispute your theory, but as a layman, I would assume the McLaren technical team would do their utmost to sort out the “set-up” problems that Lewis has and Lewis will also work to rectify things. He’s determined and not stupid! Let’s face it, it would have been virtually impossible for Lewis to have won in Turkey, and coming second was fabulous, being only a few seconds behind Massa on a 3 stop strategy. Speculating what would have happened if Kovy hadn’t been clipped is futile. He was clipped, and that ruined his race, end of story. People don’t speculate about how well Lewis would have done if he wasn’t relegated 5 places in Malaysia, or didn’t have the poor start in Bahrain. They just accept it as part of the bad luck or otherwise of F1 races. But whenever Lewis’ teammate has a spot of bad luck, there is endless speculation as to how much better he would have been than Lewis if only … The double standards are pathetic.

    I’m frankly fed up of hearing the anti-Lewis stuff that’s bandied about on the internet. He came second last year in the same car as Alonso – how people can still favourably compare Alonso to him is beyond me (yes, I know he’s a 2 time champion), but I’m talking about Lewis and him last year and this year. Lewis has undoubted talent behind a wheel, as he showed through karting, Formula Renault, F3 and GP2. And he showed that same talent last year, and is showing it this year. It amazes me that when Kimi flies off the track, or puts in a lacklustre performance, it’s shrugged off so blithely, but when Lewis puts a foot wrong, the sky falls in and everyone proclaims how rubbish he is and he’ll never win, etc etc.

    I am a Lewis fan, as you can tell, but more than anything, I hope he wins this year to prove his critics wrong. Even if he wins though, there’ll still be those who moan about him because he had a top drive from day one in F1. I think the nastiness towards him has affected his demeanour in interviews – he definitely looks more downbeat and I think that is such a shame.

  3. Sri said on 16th May 2008, 10:36

    First of all, thanks a lot George for information on Senna and Prost. One does not read much about Prost, sadly. By the time i started following up F1, Prost had retired. I would like to read about him. One of these weekends i’ll make it my mission to google it up.

    One small correction though. Bridgestone came to F1 with McLaren. McLaren in the late 90′s were relatively easy on their tyres. One could often hear the commentators wax lyrical about the handling characteristics and engineering of McLaren. They were very very good till 2002 or so. Ferrari on the other hand, they were harder on their tyres. Its only when they designed the F-2000, that they overcame their excessive tyre wear problems.

    “Lewis overdrives”, is a very generic statement and obscures a lot of things. Lewis’s setup/driving style is harder on tyres, is what is more likely an acceptable statement.

    From a technical point of view, between Kimi, Alonso and Lewis, Alonso should be the hardest on his tyres. Alonso has a much sharper turn-in into corners(all that i read about him pointed to this). Lewis is like Kimi/ Schumacher when going into turns. So inference is that he should be relatively easy on his tyres. This in part is then a problem related to setup. Not an issue with McLaren as Heikki does not suffer from this.

    On a funny note, in IT, we say PEBKAC “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”. It is something of that sort. To me Lewis is someone who could drive a car fast enough. Can he make a car fast is another thing and a question mark in my head.

  4. Ben said on 16th May 2008, 10:50

    Ok some really interesting comments. Firstly this is not an anti-Lewis article, it was more a comment on driving style. I personally have no preference over either, it is just interesting to compare and contrast.

    The comments about Senna and Prost are really interesting and make a very good point. I think for a team to be really successful – as McLaren were in the late 1980′s, you need both types of driver – the stunningly rapid (Senna) and the smooth (Prost).

    The points about Alonso and Raikkonen struggling are also valid. The second I hit send, I knew that Germany 2005 would be raised. I guess my counter arguement would be that in that race the problem stemmed from a very specific driving error, rather than continued and systematic workloads being put through the tyres.

    You could well argue that the Hamilton/Alonso pairing at McLaren last year had the same effect. Lewis’ raw pace forced Alonso to up his game, but likewise Lewis was able to benefit from Alonso’s experience in setting-up an F1 car. However I would argue that had it just been Alonso in the McLaren then the team wouldn’t have had the pace, as Lewis’ speed out of the box was fundamental in driving the team forward.

    This year Lewis has had the challenge of maintaining his pace, without a team mate at quite the same level to truly drive the development on.

  5. Sri said on 16th May 2008, 11:21

    What you should have explicitly mentioned Ben, about the 2005 Nurburgring incident, is the fact that Kimi flatspotted the tyre, as a result of a lock-up under braking on one of the corners. This over a period of few laps damaged and then later on ripped the suspension apart. Kimi’s interview revealed as much that a pit-stop would have meant a lost opportunity to win(which did not happen anyways). Let’s face it, **** happens and Kimi dealt with a lot during his late Macca years. This incident however, as you said Ben, is different from general overloading/ excessive wear of the tyres during driving under normal conditions.

  6. Hi Hughes,

    I’m a Lewis fan too. If you are on facebook, look for me – alvin@aigroupholdings.com.

    Regards/Alvin

  7. Sush said on 16th May 2008, 11:39

    Load bearing issue, while Lewis’, Senna, Keke Rosberg’s and Mansell’s driving style is tough on machinery it aids them in that they always heat the tyres up to correct temperature quicker than opponnents, thereby fast laps in less time.

    cool info George!.

    Also happened in 86, Mansell was gonna win the championship… but blew his tyres right after Keke blew his, so Piquet was going to win it…. but came in for a pitstop just in case his tyres would fall apart. Handing the title to Prost.

    guess how Piquet’s tyres were?, they were fine.

  8. the 2nd could have easily be 6th in Turkey if the BMWs did not have their weekend off …

    was not Hamilton’s driving style what ultimately cost him the title last year (I am thinking about Shanghai specificaly) ?

    good you mentioned Massa removing himself from 2nd position in Malaysia – he could have been leading the championship by now …

    I would not say Hamilton does not have a chance to ever win the championship. we only have to look back to 2007 – he was very close and at the end who beat him ? a guy who has had the “car breaker” label stuck to him for quite a while :-) everything is possible even if not probable :-)

  9. Architrion said on 16th May 2008, 12:09

    Well, I wouldn’t say that Alonso’s style is that well known sharp and ultrafast turn in anymore, from what I see from his onboard camera. In fact, after a long way on Michelins he had to change his driving completely last year, so I will let him free of charge if he overdrived at some race while driving the Macca. But the guy named Lewis has been driving that Bridgestone rubbish tyre since he was at GP2, so, no excuses behind him. What happens here is that you started reading the ultrasoft-ultrasensitive Lewis driving article by Peter Windsor tm, and voilá… now you have an opinión to throw everywhere. Ben is right, Lewis is harder on the tyres that anyone of the front pack drivers. If this is good or makes it harder to win the champ is to be seen. And his article has nothing against Lewis, in fact, to be compared with Gilles is nothing but an honorable comparison (just look in Youtube his battle against Rene Arnoux and you’ll find what I mean).

  10. Architrion said on 16th May 2008, 12:14

    Great Sush, you have made my lazy brain to recover that race that I saw when I was 14….. fantastic. I remember that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing… the Mansell blow (I never believed in that guy), Keke, Piquet (How I hated that monster, only to discover how much his history remembers last year Alonso’s drama), and how happy I was when my favourite driver finally made it….

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th May 2008, 12:19

    Architron, I think the slick Bridgestones Hamilton had in GP2 in 2006 were probably less similar to the tyres he’s had in 2007-8 than the grooved Michelins Alonso had in 2006. Do you not agree?

    For example, as I understand, the phenomenon of graining which the McLarens have struggled with a lot recently is not a problem with GP2′s slick tyres.

  12. Architrion said on 16th May 2008, 12:35

    I have to disagree, Keith, because the main difference between Michelins and Bridgestone (from what I’ve read from Alonso and Kubica) is how the flanks of the tyre are constructed. They twist extremely under lateral stress, making his driving impossible because the tyre would be destroyed after two or three laps. This guys have never said a word against the compound, and it seems that taking care of the graining, the temperatures and its durability is part of their own business. In fact, Alonso destroying the rear tyres in Monaco or having that extreme graining in China while Schu and Fisi passed him like rockets is in the same pack that McLaren struggling with graining.

    Ooops, but maybe you’re right… Hamilton delaminating tyres can be seen from the other side… The Bridgestone tyre construction is something that doesn’t suit well to his driving style… So ¿should he change his driving? … I think that this is the question … should we allow a bad tyre to destroy a driver’s reputation????

  13. Terry Fabulous said on 16th May 2008, 12:46

    Sush Rosberg ran out of fuel at Adelaide 86, he didn’t stuff his tyres.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th May 2008, 12:50

    Terry – Roberg pulled up because he thought his engine was about to go but what he actually heard was the noise from a delaminated rear tyre hitting the bodywork. More here: Grand Prix flashback: Australia 1986

  15. Terry Fabulous said on 16th May 2008, 12:50

    Ben this is a great article and I really enjoy hearing your thoughts.
    Although what about San Marino 05 (I think) when Raikonnen did too many practise starts and destroyed his clutch?
    I’m not a believer that Raikonnen lost multiple championships due to unreliable mclarens. More likely he needed to learn how to care for his car… Which he did!
    There has never really been another Prost who was lightening fast when he had to, but generally the kindest on his car.

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