Motorsport: Drivers’ race experience is key
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The Formula 1 season continues the run of bizarre races with last weekend’s dramatic German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, producing the unexpected and the farcical.
There was another stunning drive from Lewis Hamilton, from 14th position to eventual race winner. An error from home-town boy Sebastian Vettel ended with his car parked inelegantly in the barriers while having had the race safely tucked away in his pocket.
There was a bit of rain, a lot of dry then a bit more rain to cause tyre chaos. And Brendon Hartley doubled his personal championship points total after a fine, intelligent drive.
On paper, this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix should be a different race, with the outright power of the Ferrari and Mercedes engines hampered by the track’s tight, twisty nature, so would it be too much to expect the Red Bull cars of Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen to join the potential race winners? I hope not.
What does look certain is that the McLaren and Williams teams will not be elbowing their way into the top places.
At Hockenheim, as at many other races this year, those teams were at or near the back of the grid and looking as if that was where they were going to stay.
The 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix will be the 33rd race at the track and, as a reflection on how far Williams and McLaren have fallen, one has only to look at their respective histories in the race for a perspective.
McLaren’s 11 victories at the Hungaroring is the most of any team.
Williams and Ferrari have seven wins apiece and Mercedes and Red Bull have two wins each.
One wonders whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel for either top Hungaroring team given they are fitted with race-proven, and race-winning, power units, Mercedes for Williams and Renault for McLaren.
Both teams are in a mess, almost a meltdown, and each has its own issues — although the common one is the car.
Ill handling, and slow cornering with a lack of aerodynamic effectiveness, results in far too much drag on the straights slowing the cars.
Once you take the corners and the straights out of a race track there are not a lot of options left for improvement.
McLaren, like Williams, does seem to have the collective engineering brainpower to eventually figure things out and it does seem — unlike Williams and despite a lack of income from sponsorship — to have the budget to continue development with drivers who have experience to develop the cars, for the moment at least.
Conversely, Williams has limited funding, possibly set to worsen if the rumours of the main sponsor’s departure are true.
The drivers bring an enormous amount of funding to the team but reports this week have it that the vast sack of cash the family of Lance Stroll donate may well find a new home further up the pit lane at the Force India team.
Perhaps this may be a blessing in disguise as the team — since showing the door to venerable driver Felipe Massa — also suffers from having two inexperienced drivers, in Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, who do not yet have the race craft needed to continually develop the car.
If the driver situation at Williams does change, that team should be clamouring to sign a driver with vast experience. Credentials needed: a track record of car development; being both a fast and able “racer” and able to spend huge amounts of time testing the car; currently active in racing and developing a Formula 1 car; knowledge of the latest developments in engine and chassis technology; and a world champion driver no less. Someone who will not ask for a $40 million-a-year salary.
In fact more than just one team in the pit lane should be seeking Hartley’s assistance — and his autograph on a contract.