2011 F1 Season So Far
(22 September 2011)
So far this year, the man at the top of the class in F1 in terms of results would appear to be Sebastian Vettel. His first six races resulted in five wins and one second place, that particular race, in China, having been won by Lewis Hamilton. The next five yielded only one win, three seconds, and a fourth place.
At the beginning of the season Vettel's Red Bull car, designed by Adrian Newey, was obviously the leading performer of the field. However, as Ferrari and McLaren began to get their acts together with new aero packages and other tweaks, their drivers became more competitive, which affected Sebastian's results accordingly.
There was of course Jenson Button's excellent tyre wear judgement to nail Sebastian on the last lap at the Canadian Grand Prix, and of course his win at the Hungaroring, attributed again, in many quarters, to tyre judgement. There was also Alonso's measured performance at Silverstone, and Hamilton's superb drive at the Nürburgring and in China.
Three other drivers who I think deserves a mention among the potential front runners are Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, and Felipe Massa. Had it not been for his bad luck last year in being hit by Vettel in one race, and then his spin in Korea, Mark could have won the World Championship, and the way that he never gives up until the race is over is very impressive. The same driving qualities also apply to Nico, who gives a fine performance with the equipment that he has.
Massa has also been within a hair's breadth of wining the World Championship once, and has now appeared to have recovered from his unfortunate accident when hit by debris from another car. Unfortunately, although he still drives for Ferrari, it appears to have changed from Schumacher's team to Alonso's with Felipe basically in a supporting role.
One of the most interesting features for me when watching a Grand Prix on television is the "on-car" camera which allows one to observe the various drivers at work, particularly if one already knows the track. It is interesting, when watching the races, how one's reactions can vary between drivers behind the wheel, from sheer admiration, through to comedy, and sometimes utter disbelief, when considering the costs to get them on the track. Watching Vettel and Hamilton, however, should be an object lesson for young drivers.
It was interesting to read recently, in a leading motor sport magazine, a feature by a highly respected journalist on the similar driving techniques of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on one hand, and Jenson Button and Robert Kubica on the other. When discussing Sebastian and Lewis, he spoke he spoke of their ability to "live with rear end instability of the car on corner entry and on the gas early and hard. They also don't have to lean on one end or the other; they are relaxed about reacting to whatever the car does".
Of course they are, since when they use this approach to race driving technique, the car is always perfectly balanced, therefore with every action they take they know in advance exactly what the effect will be. Everything seems to slow down and it is easy to detect what the car is about to do.
There is nothing magic about it. I have been teaching drivers, although not the two in question, this format for over twenty years in every type of car. Every F1 driver I have worked with has not only immediately been quicker in their next race, their car has handled better, and they have had a marked reduction in tyre wear.
With regard to Robert Kubica, I will only say that I am sure that everyone in motor sport will join me in hoping that he will be back in F1 next year.
Apparently Jenson - and many others, I would imagine - "need a strong front and a predictable rear, and if the rear shows any sign of instability, it affects their confidence in carrying speed into a corner". If any driver's "special style" requires his car to be set up in that way, in my view that would be the obvious result. The race engineer then has the unfortunate responsibility of trying to set the car up as best he can, despite the driver’s personal requirements.
Having said that, however, Jenson's driving plus his ability to overtake has improved remarkably this season, and when the pundits put this down to intelligent management of his tyres I feel that it is somewhat more than that.
Another problem this season has been the new tyre rules. It was reported that McLaren were asking their drivers to "attack" at Spa. The first question that comes to mind with regard to tyres is - with what? Prime, soft, intermediate, wets; at Spa, with its unpredictable weather, it could have been anything.
The main problem with Grand Prix racing at the moment is that it is not an out and out motor race or a driver's race any more; it is fast becoming a tyre conservation event controlled by pit strategy. The potential race winners like Hamilton, Alonso, Jenson, Vettel and Mark Webber (the latter showing last season that he was quite capable of winning on any type of circuit) cannot compete against each other on sheer race driving ability.
If, for instance, Lewis is on another driver's tail in a Grand Prix, the latter knows he is coming by come what may. We have seen in the past on some occasions that the results of "come what may" are not quite what Lewis intended, but of late he does seem more disciplined. He is able to show his brilliant capability as a racer in relation to his driving technique and competitiveness, but is still hampered along with many others in my view by the restrictive tyre regulations.
Another driver who shows great promise is Sergio Perez. His basic driving technique is obviously far ahead of the average newcomer to F1 by the way he manages his tyre wear while still providing good results with the equipment that he has. One only hopes that he sticks to his present methods and continues to show that in my opinion he has far above average driving ability.
Next year the F1 races will be shared with the BBC and Sky. A large percentage of the public when interviewed, say that they will not pay the extra revenue to watch them on the latter. If however they still want to watch some sort of circuit racing, they might turn to Moto GP2 on Eurosport. I watch all the races because of my past involvement in motorcycle race coaching. There are about thirty-eight riders and the skill and the racing are incredible. With three laps to go there can be five or more riders covered by less than a second, and changing places all the time, and at the last corner the winner can still be in doubt. Food for thought, maybe?