The Ben Evans column: Perfect day

Is Lewis Hamilton the title favourite after his Hockenheim win?

Is Lewis Hamilton the title favourite after his Hockenheim win?

Sunday was one of those rare occasions when it was almost impossible to find fault with motorsport.

F1 produced its best dry weather race for some time (even if the safety car helped) and the US Moto GP was the best the series has produced for some years.

Throughout the Hockenheim weekend the McLaren/Hamilton combination were simply unbeatable. Lewis Hamilton strung together his most potent qualifying lap for some time – in contrast Ferrari were nowhere near where they should be, or indeed where they were at the start of the year.

As the title race dips into its second half realistically it is a three horse race. Robert Kubica is probably the least flawed of the top drivers, but unfortunately his BMW is, and the one-time championship leader must be hugely frustrated to be racing his socks off for minor placings.

As things stand it is Hamilton in the box seat ?ǣ he has the championship lead, he has the momentum and he has the fastest car – at the moment. There are times, and Hockenheim was one of them, when Hamilton?s pace is breathtaking. But as we have seen in the past raw speed alone is not enough to guarantee championship glory.

If forced to pick holes in the McLaren/Hamilton combination at the moment, I would point the finger at the inability of both to sometimes step back and see the bigger picture, and their predilection for what seems to be collective brain fade. As a driver Hamilton occasionally doesn?t rein in his raw speed for a little common sense and he is aided and abetted in this by McLaren. There are occasions when Hamilton appears to have blind faith in his team and sometimes this is misplaced.

We all know what happened in China last year, and I still believe that on that occasion Hamilton should have ignored the team and come in a few laps earlier. Had the team called him in three laps sooner it was a no-risk scenario and he would have still taken the title that day.

The British Grand Prix, Hamilton?s finest hour, was once again put in jeopardy by the McLaren team. Such was the extent of Lewis? lead that the McLaren team could have bought him in, changed to extreme wets and changed back again without any risk. That they didn?t meant that a locked-in win was placed solely in Hamilton?s hands. Fair enough, except had he aquaplaned off and lost the ten points, the case for a safe pit stop would surely have been made.

Likewise the rigidity with which the McLaren team stuck to their strategy in Hockenheim once again turned a certain win into a desperate dash.

At least McLaren can rely on their man to deliver the goods, pace wise, week in-week out. Unfortunately for closet Italians everywhere Ferrari can?t. When in the mood Kimi Raikkonen is probably the quickest driver in F1, unfortunately when he?s not, he’s painfully average.

Whereas Hamilton is always pushing, Raikkonen if marooned in sixth place is content to stay there coasting around. Only when in with a whiff of a win does Raikkonen charge.

At both Silverstone and Hockenheim he was anonymous, and while France 2007 turned his title charge upwards, Magny-Cours this year appears to have done the opposite. There are the occasional races where you wonder if Raikkonen can be bothered with it at all.

Felipe Massa remains a riddle wrapped in an enigma. When on song he?s very good, but when not, he?s just terrible. His performance in the British Grand Prix (engine mapping aside) was turgid and apparently bereft of any understanding of what the car was doing.

Then on Sunday his defence of Lewis Hamilton was painfully weak. Had he been in a Force India then maybe ceding was understandable, but in a Ferrari? When he’s not driving like a muppet Massa can be stunning and when in the groove he is unbeatable, but once again Massa is unable to sustain race winning form for a full season.

So which of these three will walk away with the glory? At the moment I would probably go with Hamilton. But what makes this years championship contenders so engaging is that all of them are capable of big mistakes, off days and errors. Whatever happens it will be an exciting end to the year.

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21 comments on The Ben Evans column: Perfect day

  1. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr said on 24th July 2008, 13:03

    i seem to notice that no matter what rakkonen does hes never in the wrong. to be that far off massas pace was quite crap really, if hamilton was that far off kovalaienens pace the hamilton bashing would be in full force its sad really, i dont see how you can give kimi credit for a performace like he had on sunday

  2. Ben said on 24th July 2008, 14:14

    I think Massa and Raikkoenen are a bit unusual amongst the top drivers in that they need the car to be spot on to deliver their best. When they don’t have the ideal package I don’t think that either, Raikkonen in particular, finds that extra couple of % that they do when the win is on the cards.

    In contrast Alonso by and large drives the wheels off his Renault, even though he knows 4th or 5th is the best he’s going to get.

    Drivers not giving total commitment when they know that can’t win is nothing new – Nelson Piquet was notorious for being there in body but not mond when he wasn’t in with a shout of winning. In the world of Moto GP – both Luca Cadalora and Kenny Roberts were renowned for not giving anything like 100% to claim 10th instead of 9th, but when everything was going well, both were world title winners

  3. Noel said on 24th July 2008, 14:20

    Of course, Kimi is partly to blame for his terrible showing on Sunday. The rest is down to the car, the setup and the strategy. Some cars, and indeed drivers’ styles, are more suited to particular tracks, and a quick car doesn’t necessarily make a champion. My point was that I feel assured Kimi, and every other driver, puts everything he can into every race. Otherwise their team would drop them, no questions asked.

  4. Ben said on 24th July 2008, 15:14

    I think the other point that some people have raised, is that this years cars really suit a very specific driving style – full attack

    The drivers who are known for being smooth – Heidfeld and Button spring to mind most noticeably, have appeared to struggle disproportionately

  5. Go Hamilton! Awesome year.

  6. Matt said on 26th July 2008, 14:42

    “Magny-Cours this year appears to have done the opposite. There are the occasional races where you wonder if Raikkonen can be bothered with it at all.”

    May I just remind you that Kimi was leading this very race comfortably over Massa before his exhaust problem, causing him to slow down and make sure he picked up valuable championship points. If that’s an indication of someone trying not very hard (leading his teammate comfortably before a mechanical problem through no fault of his own thwarts his efforts) then you are sorely mistaken.

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