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Only Time Will Tell

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
14/04/2014

Make no mistake, the duel between Lewis and Nico in the closing stages of the Bahrain GP will go down in history as one of the greatest ever. Two drivers on top of their game and in identical cars, though on different tyres.

Where it rates compared to other duels will need some serious pub debate; it cannot be settled over half a pint of lager. This calls for barrels of Old Gruntfuttock's or, in the case of my local which has a microbrewery, Pheasant Plucker's. One race which will have to be considered is the 1953 French GP at Reims when Mike Hawthorn (Ferrari) and Juan Fangio (Maserati) constantly swapped the lead with Hawthorn taking the flag by 20 yards.

They had different cars, but Gonzales (Maserati) was mere feet behind in third which suggests the machinery was closely matched. Then again, Rosberg had pitted for the softer tyre and was assisted by the safety car.

There is plenty to debate, but what is beyond discussion is that we saw one of the best duels ever. A couple of seasons ago, Lewis seemed to have gone off the boil, in Bahrain he was mighty.

Let us not forget either, other battles, like Massa and Bottas and Ricciardo showing that he is not in awe of Vettel. Teams allowed their drivers to race against each other and nobody took his team-mate out.

We saw some great racing because teams trusted their drivers. If there were team orders at Ferrari, nobody noticed. One World Champion led home another and both scored points, three in all. It makes me wonder about the time when Ferrari was able to fix races.

Some hacks have been quick to hail the race as a vindication of the new formula, but one swallow does not a summer make. If Bahrain is a harbinger of a new of a new era of wheel to wheel racing, then all criticism of the formula must be reassessed. Time alone will tell.

The fact is that every formula has produced its great races and these have come about through circumstance, the circuit, the weather and, more latterly, the safety car. It is circumstance, not the formula, which produces great races.

Mercedes F1 is clearly in a class of its own and I think that Paddy Lowe is right to dismiss calls from those who would substantially alter the rules. Teams had a say in framing them and they all had the same time to prepare. Mercedes is superior to other teams which use its engines and that is because the team has got it right.

Current manufacturing methods mean all the engines are identical unlike the days when, say, the works BRMs had superior engines to the customers.

Luca di Montezemolo has been vocal in his criticism, yet Ferrari played its part in framing the rules. It is nonsense, a myth, that Ferrari is somehow essential to Formula One. Unless you are a tifoso, or dedicated to either Fernando or Kimi, you did not notice where they finished in Bahrain, there was so much else to grab attention.

Ferrari sells road cars and is being squeezed by other makers. Lamborghini has taken sales because Audi has ensured that the cars are more than male jewellery, they actually work. Porsche and McLaren have both made hybrids which redefine performance. A problem Ferrari faces is that the more cars it sells, so exclusivity suffers.

There are some things that can be fixed, like raising the overall minimum weight limit for car and driver combined. Marcus Ericsson reckons that he is losing half a second a lap to his team-mate because he weighs 10 kg more. When Mansell and Prost were both at Ferrari Nigel complained that speed traps showed the team was favouring Alain, he did not take account of their different weights.

Combining the weight of driver and car was meant to emphasise skill and the principle holds true. One of the most exciting drivers on the grid is Nico Hulkenberg and it is believed he was passed over for drives because he is of normal size. Nico was blamed because some teams could not get the weight of their cars down.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Skidmarks, 17/04/2014 14:49

"Happy Birthday, Mike"

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2. Posted by Podge, 17/04/2014 14:32

"Personally, I'm struggling to think of a race I have enjoyed more than the 2014 Bahrain GP. Who would have thought that would be possible ten years ago, at what was roundly considered one of the dreariest of the new tracks? As a Hamilton fan, it was nerve-racking, but finally gave a true demonstration of how his race-craft has matured over the years. And to think he is even stronger when attacking for positions!

To address Mike's article, however, I do believe the new formula has given us something in terms of 'racing for position'. Many, many times during the Bahrain GP we saw the cutback overtake used by numerous drivers to good effect; taking the wide line on entry to a corner, so as to allow the car to be straightened up and back on the power sooner. In the aero-dominated years of F1, this move has never been able to be properly executed, because the cars had so much traction, so much grip, that whoever got into the corner first - usually the guy with the inside line - would be able to get on the power without hesitation and they would take the position. But now, slightly slower cars are holding on to their position, simply because the cutback has become a viable option for a defending driver again. The torque of the new engines is so immense, there is a huge benefit to the driver who can get his car settled first

So in effect, we are getting double the overtakes at a single corner; driver B takes the inside line, but is disadvantaged on exit as he nurses the throttle, and so driver A gets back in front as he is able to plant his foot sooner. This keeps cars that are fighting for position closer together, more of the time, and we get more overtaking. Faster cars used to always get ahead and stay ahead, but Hamilton's staunch defense against Nico proved that is no longer an inevitability, and that is a damn good thing as we see driver talent come to the fore.

It seems tyres are less of the prevailing nuisance that they have been in recent years as well. The night race caused cooler temperatures, but every single driver was pushing bloody hard, and "tyre preservation" seemed to have been put on the back-burner so as to give us an exciting spectacle.

I agree time will tell, and I very much doubt we are going to get a Bahrain every race weekend, but until the safety car, it was still a bloomin' good race!"

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3. Posted by PeterJ42, 17/04/2014 11:06

"Happy Birthday Mike. Hopefully many more. Keep up the good work."

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4. Posted by Carugatese, 15/04/2014 10:47

"Ecclestone needs someone to sell sponsorship in F1 : would his task be easier without a "not essential" Ferrari?"

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