It’s kind of difficult to come to a conclusion as to what went on in the closing stages of the Monaco Grand Prix and it is so easy to be proved wrong as Mercedes are meeting right now, as I understand it, and whether we shall find out their conclusions in the next week or so remains to be seen.
The blame, if you can call it that, is being laid on and accepted by the team but I am wondering if they are totally responsible. In the post-race press conference, Lewis said ‘I saw a screen, it looked like the team was out and I thought that Nico had pitted. Obviously I couldn’t see the guys behind so I thought the guys behind were pitted. The team said to stay out. I said ‘these tyres are going to drop in temperature’ and what I was assuming was that these guys would be on options and I was on the harder tyres. So they said to pit. Without thinking I came in with full confidence that the others had done the same.’
Now, I have to explain one or two things here. First of all, there is a huge screen that the drivers can see as they go up the hill out of Ste Devote, and that’s probably what Lewis saw. What he saw was the team out in the pit lane which, under the safety car, is normal procedure for a team, to ready the pit equipment in case there is the need for a pit stop.
In this case, Lewis says that the team initially told him to stay out but he then explained that the tyres would drop in temperature, as we know subsequently that they did. When Lewis said that he was ‘assuming … these guys would be on options’ those are the softer tyres which would heat up quicker.
At this stage, you have to appreciate that Lewis quite often queries the team’s mid-race decisions. We hear him quite often saying how frustrated he is with the team’s strategy. So when he mentions the tyres and that he wants to come in, the team is probably quite happy for him to make the call. There is the case for saying he will do what he wants anyway.
So what I’m suggesting here is that it was not totally the team’s decision to make this stop and that Lewis’s subsequent demeanour may reflect that. Read that quote again: he wanted to come in for the wrong reasons, the team said stay out, Lewis came back saying that his rivals were on tyres that would heat up quicker and the team then said ‘OK, pit (if that’s what you want to do).’
Under a virtual safety car, there was possibly even the time to do that; when that changed to an actual safety car, then the time frame shrank and it seemed it was no longer do-able.
No doubt we shall find out how this all worked out, but let’s also remember that 1) Lewis was the class of the field all weekend and deserved to win, 2) that he always appreciates the team’s efforts, 3) that he has just signed a massive deal for the next three years and 4) that Toto Wolff says ‘we win together and lose together.’ (Well, the team didn’t actually lose because they still won the race and scored a 1-3 whereas it should have been a 1-2).
While I’m writing, I wanted to comment on a number of other things that happened or were talked about during the Monaco Grand Prix. There was a lot of talk about the Strategy Group and its recent recommendations to liven up Formula One, which prompted force India deputy team principal Bob Fearnley to comment that the group is not fit for purpose, that it’s only made one successful recommendation (regarding drivers’ helmets) since its inception.
This is a bit of an old chestnut, in that for many years it has been discussed whether the participants of a sport should make the rules. There is the argument that teams have made a huge investment to participate in the sport and therefore should have a say in it, but then Christian Horner said that rules should be published and if you wanted to take part, you did so and if you didn’t, you didn’t.
He did make some interesting observations regarding the direction the sport should go, that it wasn’t up to the strategy group to decide or the teams but the commercial rights holder and the president of the FIA should be make that decision. One is aged 84 and the other aged 68 or so; are they really the right people?
But the sentiment is correct; only a dictatorship works in this sport. I remember Jean-Marie Balestre’s time as president when he was the dictator. Sure, that policy was unpopular on occasions but it worked. It was so unpopular, however, that when Max Mosley became president, he tried to run it as a burocracy but then discovered that no one could ever agree on anything and that only a dictatorship worked, which it did. Does that ring a bell?
Jean Todt has desperately tried not to make waves and actually is more interested in his role in road safety; he has even confessed that only about 15 per cent of his time is taken up with all motor sport, which is not what any of us in F1 or any other branch of the sport wants to hear, particularly with the problems being suffered in the sport at the moment.
So we need someone to point us in the right direction. But what direction is that? Fan numbers and TV spectator numbers are dwindling, there are fan surveys popping up left, right and centre, most of them centred on what existing fans want, not working out why fans aren’t currently watching the sport on TV or attending in person. These are the questions that need to be addressed. If there is a company who is attempting to work out what is happening with the fans – apparently the FIA commissioned McKinsey – they need to go to the non-glamorous location of the local supermarket not a Grand Prix.
I wrote this second bit having just hosted a fans’ forum on a stage in the Place d’Armes in Monaco on Friday afternoon. It was a great event, if only to see the drivers really engaging with the fans. In the press conference on Thursday, Christian Horner had rather sarcastically said that he looked forward to hearing about the drivers’ survey and how they would give up their time and make themselves more available.
This was somewhat confounded by the fans’ forum the next day. I had chats with eight drivers, only one of which was a bit sticky. One driver cancelled – no names – but everyone else came and really spent time not only chatting with me but having selfies taken and signing autographs. It was a real breakthrough event for me, I loved it, much better than the stuffy press conferences I’ve been hosting for years. The drivers were really engaging with the fans and they were prepared to give up their time and be virtually mauled by the fans. It was a really good event; well done to the ACM for putting it on.
I know that other organisers and promoters have done the same things at other GPs and I’m sure other hosts have written about how successful it’s been. This shows that there is an impetus for drivers to do this kind of thing, and that they are willing to give up their time and make an effort to promote their sport – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fans obviously loved it and will enjoy similar encounters at future Grands Prix. This is a start to engaging with the fans but much more needs to be done and the sport still needs proper leadership. Sad to say that I’m not holding my breath…
By Bob Constanduros