How good is this?
JUNE 13, 2012
Now the debate really gets going. Was the Grand Prix you saw in Montreal on Sunday a race or a lottery? I think Christian Horner summed it up best when he said: "Lottery is too strong a word. It's.....interesting!"
He should know. Horner was sitting at a table in the Red Bull hospitality area with nothing in front of him but a graph telling the story of the race; a race Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull had started from pole, led for 15 laps and - now comes the 'interesting' bit - eventually finished fourth.
It's interesting because the graph showed Vettel's line of progress take a crucial dip as he made a late stop for tyres. That much Horner could understand, even if it was marginally unexpected. But the bit that was causing him to look at the graph - not in despair but, shall we say, with 'interest' - was the pair of lines charting the progress of Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez into second and third places. They had both stopped once - and made it work, particularly Perez who appeared from the middle of the starting grid.
You could almost read Horner's mind as he continued to examine the sheet and tapped his finger on the tell-tale traces as they crossed the path of his driver. In 2012, you can plan in as much detail as you like, do all the running you can in Free Practice, feed the statistics through the simulator and computer, discuss and examine the detail every which-way during briefings, employ arguably the best driver - and, with 10 laps to go, everything takes a dump as the tyres drop off the edge of the proverbial cliff.
It was the same story at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso having been in front on lap 63 only to find himself fifth when the chequered flag appeared seven laps later. Stefano Domenicali defended the team's strategy when not reacting to Lewis Hamilton's late stop, saying they were going for a win rather than, as has been the case so far in 2012, engaging in damage limitation as the race unfolds.
Maybe so, but you could argue that the unexpected pleasure of being in attack mode skewed their judgement when it came to failing to stop when Alonso's times dropped off by a second a lap; a decision which would cost a podium place. It may sound easy to say that in hindsight but my understanding is that F1 teams these days have sophisticated computer programmes that are constantly adjusting and predicting the pace towards the end of the race and just fall short of making the tea.
This is where McLaren scored in an area where, in the past, the team has come in for criticism. McLaren planned to stop twice, stuck with that strategy and Hamilton reacted brilliantly with the exact lap times needed at various stages. But it was clearly a nerve-wracking 14 laps for team boss Martin Whitmarsh as his driver relinquished the lead, emerged in third place and began to chase down the leaders.
Had Ferrari acted differently, Alonso might have won and McLaren would have been roundly condemned for screwing up their tactics. That's the tight-rope teams are having to walk in 2012.
Is this a good or a bad thing? Personally, I love it. Far better this than the alternative of the Schumacher era when, if Michael led into the first corner, then you may as well go and mow the lawn because, barring mechanical misfortune, he would still be at the front 90 minutes later.
If there is a criticism then it is reaffirmation that DRS is too artificial as one car breezes past another. The tyre degradation alone will assist overtaking, a fact admitted by Hamilton when superior traction was giving all the overtaking impetus he needed out of the hairpin and onto the long straight.
Okay, there are circumstances and locations at other tracks when DRS will help a faster car get ahead and thus avoid the Petrov/Alonso 2010 Abu Dhabi scenario that prompted the need for DRS. But, overall, DRS in Montreal was dumbing down a story of uncertainty that needed no further assistance.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.