By Bob Constanduros
Last week turned out be a busier than even I expected, what with the drive from Spielberg to Silverstone, plus a visit to London for the F1 Live London event. This had been rumoured for some time, but it was kept under wraps for security reasons, and was really only being discussed the week before the event itself. I wasn’t there, of course, but it did seem to be a huge success and I’m really pleased about that. Very sensibly, FOM made it more than just a demonstration, and included several initiatives regarding careers and the fringes.
It seems that the teams really responded well, in spite of the tight schedule, bringing various generations of car so that there was a bit of a history lesson on parade, and of course, all the drivers but one decided to fit it in. It was fantastic that the current World Champion accepted to be present as well; I haven’t spoken to anyone about it but I guess this was an invitation from Mercedes which was accepted.
I have this nagging feeling in my head that Mercedes have lost control of Lewis Hamilton, that he does what he wants. He’s delivering – and that’s what Mercedes wants – even if he’s delivering on his terms, but he’s still delivering… I guess that’s the compromise they’ve come to.
I had a wry smile when I heard that fans booed the name Lewis Hamilton in London. There was the story of the young fan who was distraught that his hero wasn’t there. And then, of course, just a few days later, he was the darling of the crowd, he could do no wrong. No boos at Silverstone, just pure adulation. It’s just part of the mystery that is Lewis: booed one minute, adored the next.
Lewis loves his team and loves his fans. He’s always saying that ‘these fans are some of the best in the world.’ He’s been known to do all he can to avoid them, but he still says that everywhere, which gets a bit repetitive if you’re a cynical journalist, and it doesn’t sound very sincere. This is the nub for Lewis: the bloody media who get in the way. He likes the direct link between him and social media, on his terms, with him in control, not via the smelly hacks in the media centre who have their own interpretation of him, his lifestyle and what he says.
What loyalty do they show? (Maybe this question doesn’t appreciate that the same hacks are meant to be impartial.) He will do things for his fans and for his team but doing things for the media is less popular. But the FIA demands it and so does the beloved team. So he tags along, sometimes tardily. The fans even love this side of him!
Lewis, of course, responded to his fans at Silverstone. I said he would be on fire and he was. He can be so utterly brilliant; fantastic pole position by over half a second around a really challenging high speed circuit. Then a lights-to-flag win plus fastest lap, what the French call a grand chelem, which might be termed a grand slam.
Was it just a week ago that Lewis was saying that the championship was getting difficult? I forget but he had been looking at a 20 point deficit a week previously after Austria, and quite suddenly, after a beach holiday, being battered by the press, his brilliant win and Ferrari’s woes at Silverstone, he was just a point behind Sebastian Vettel. Nothing is ever certain in Formula One – thank heavens.
Perhaps the one worrying thing was that while he had his problem with a penalty in Austria, he could only finish in fourth place. His teammate had a similar penalty at Silverstone, started only ninth but finished second. As I mentioned, there are going to be more and more of these penalties – rightly or wrongly – and managing the vulnerable mechanical elements is going to be a very important part of the strategy in the second half of the season – yes, we’ve only now reached half way.
The good news perhaps, is that Ross Brawn and his team – he’s built up a team of engineers – are looking at the future of the power units, alongside the FIA, of course. This is a much more acceptable regime to the FIA – remember Ross and FIA president Jean Todt worked together at Ferrari – and it looks as though they’re examining the potential of a much less complicated power unit. It’s beginning to be acknowledged that the MGU systems are not conducive to working in a competitive environment.
Talks have been taking place and committees have been set up to work on the new power unit regulations and the talks have included a number of parties who are not currently involved in F1. Among these are Cosworth which is great news because there is definitely a place for an independent power unit supplier in F1. The idea is that the power unit would be cheaper because it’s obviously a massively difficult and costly exercise to produce one of the current units. Cosworth, being based in Northampton, could recruit some of the best brains in the power unit business, because both Ilmor and Mercedes are nearby…
My colleagues’ other obsession is with the driver market, with every driver who is out of contract – and some who are in contract – going everywhere. Actually Jonathan Neale of McLaren summed up Formula One nicely when he said at Silverstone ‘everyone is talking to everyone.’ He was actually talking about teams and power unit manufacturers, but he could also have been talking about drivers. Remember, however, that it starts at the top, so you check Lewis’s commitments, Valtteri’s (out of contract at the moment), Max Verstappen’s, Sebastian’s, Kimi’s (who’s been on a knife-edge since the turn of the century if my colleagues are to be believed) etc and once the big names are settled, you can look at the rest.
But for the moment, we have one more race before the break and a World Championship right in the balance. We’ve just seen how easily the game can change. Budapest next and if my memory serves me well, that was a humdinger last year. My preview will be available in the middle of next week.