REFLECTIONS A s ant case of over-snahng The de gntfu ncorrectness of Sd WatKns
very Decei er, among the Christmas coif ds, one of those duplicated letters Alves. It is from a lady I do not know, now married to a long-departed neighbour, and it tells me — in suffocating detail — of the lives of every member of her family this year past. Her husband apart, I have never met any of them, so it hardly need be said that their activities are of minimal interest to me, and quite why she should assume it to be otherwise I am at a loss to understand. Similarly, I struggle to comprehend the attractions of Twitter, which appears to me to be some sort of human tachograph. How does it illuminate my life to know that Xis ‘just off for a pizza’ or Y is ‘having a picnic by the river with his wife’? I mean, good for them — but why the compulsion to share this information with the world? A presumption that others breathlessly await
detail of what you have been doing in the last 20 minutes strikes me as most odd.
Lewis Hamilton, like other Fl drivers, has long been keen on Twitter, but now, having used it to make a fool of himself twice in recent months, says he is having second thoughts, and no one — save perhaps the dreadful Ashley Cole — could have better convinced me that it is something I should avoid. Many times in life, after all, one says something one regrets almost immediately, but once it’s out there in the ether, it’s out there, and a lot of people have seen it. Alex Ferguson, I’m told, has apparently threatened to ban his Manchester United squad from using Twitter, and certain Formula 1 team principals may understand his motive. Back on planet earth, meantime, in the space of a month — Singapore, Suzuka, Yeongam — the complexion of the season has undergone a metamorphosis. Sebastian Vettel won all three races, and in a manner reminiscent of the 2011 season, which he dominated to such an extent that ultimately
the Gr ands Prix began to seem indistinguishable, one from another, every Sunday ending with yet another Red Bull team victory photograph. My Italian friends continue to assure me that Vettel, whose contract expires at the end of next season, will be a Ferrari driver in 2014, but I struggle to believe it. Yes, I know the new engine regulations come into play then, and
it’s entirely possible — although by no means guaranteed — that Ferrari’s 1.6-litre V6 turbo will be superior to Renault’s, but just as Fernando Alonso is very much dans son jardin at Ferrari, so is Sebastian at Red Bull. That’s one point. A bigger one by far is that Adrian Newey works for Red Bull, and I cannot — for all the allure of Ferrari — understand why any racing driver would voluntarily step away from driving Newey
inspired cars, a conclusion reached a few months ago by Mark Webber when offered the job of partnering Fernando next year. By recent Red Bull standards, this has been an up-and-down season, but as it enters its final phase Vettel again has a car so superior to its opposition that, as in 2011, he can set new fastest laps as the mood takes him. This is a service Adrian was providing for a succession of Williams drivers two
decades ago. Sebastian, for all the schoolboy charm (seen to best advantage when he’s winning), is a hard-headed individual, and ruthlessly singleminded in the manner of all really great racing drivers since Varzi was a boy. Competitiveness comes before all else, and it would amaze me to see him leave Red Bull, even for Ferrari, while Newey
is still on the premises. True enough, in 1996 Schumacher headed for Maranello, after winning two World Championships with Benetton, but it won’t have been lost on Vettel that not MD
until five years inro his Ferrari career did Michael add a third to his CV. Alonso already had a pair to his name when he moved to Ferrari in 2010, and — so far — has rarely had a car comparable with the best.
That said, if I can’t see Vettel leaving Red Bull, neither did I believe that, in the end, Hamilton would leave McLaren. Lewis has already said that he doesn’t expect to win any Grands Prix with Mercedes in 2013, and if he truly believes that it seems an extraordinary decision for a driver, 28 next year, who must once have expected by now to have several World Championships on the board. Lest we forget, he missed it by a single point in his first season, and won it in his second. In signing Hamilton, Mercedes will have F1’s fastest driver on its books, but history shows that speed alone is not enough, and as the
nature of Fl evolves, that becomes ever more true. While I don’t doubt that Lewis’s arrival will galvanise Mercedes to some degree, neither do I detect in him the sort of round-the-clock commitment found in such as Schumacher and Alonso. This is a quality highly valued by Ross Brawn. Ten years ago, when testing was an almost ceaseless activity, and Ferrari was dominant, I chatted to him one day about Michael. “Sometimes,” he said, “you suggest to him, ‘Have a couple of weeks off between the races’, but after a few days you’ll get a phone call: ‘How’s the testing going? Any chance of trying it?’ And he’ll be down! With some drivers, you’ve got to give them a schedule for the whole year, and pick out the days you’re going to need them, and then if you change it, you get, ‘Oh, I’ve made my holiday plans’, or, ‘Oh, I was going to do this or do that…’ I’m afraid my reaction to that sort of thing has always been, ‘Look, mate, this is your job!’ I mean, they get two and a half months off each year, when all they have to
do is keep themselves fit…”
Although I believe that overall both Hamilton and McLaren have lost in this parting, in some ways it was probably inevitable — and, in some ways, too, the best for all concerned. Maybe Lewis needed to get away from the cocoon in which he has lived half his life (albeit a cocoon which had protected him mighty well), and perhaps McLaren folk, too, had wearied of his occasionally tiresome ways.
When Lewis’s management, XIX Entertainment, first began discussions with Mercedes many months ago, rather little progress was made, for at that time the belief was that Schumacher was likely in the end to carry on.
As Schumacher continued to dither, however, Mercedes folk began to get fretful. Nico Rosberg’s place in the 2013 team was not in doubt, but if Michael should decide in November that he was going to stop, what then? Who, that late in the year, was going to be available to take his place?
Meanwhile, with Hamilton unhappy about several aspects of life at McLaren — the PR requirements, the lack of freedom to make personal sponsorship deals, the team’s retention of all trophies, etc — talks began again. If Schumacher laboured over a decision about his future, so also did Hamilton. I confess that, as soon as he put out on Twitter the McLaren telemetry showing his, and Jenson Button’s, best qualifying laps at Spa, I thought, ‘He’s going’, but as late as the Singapore weekend the feeling within the team was that he would stay.
A few days later, though, he informed Martin Whitmarsh that he had settled finally on Mercedes, whereupon McLaren — amid ludicrous stories of ‘heads rolling’ for ‘allowing Lewis to get away’ — activated Plan B, confirming Sergio Perez as Jenson Button’s team mate for 2013. A touch surprising, I thought, with Nico Hulkenberg available, but Perez has occasionally excelled this year, and Carlos Slim casts a formidable shadow.
Schumacher, meanwhile, lost little time in announcing his retirement. What else was he to do? Announcing his decision to quit, Michael said he was eagerly
anticipating his new life, but somehow it rang hollow, just as it did at Monza in 2006, when he was clearly leaving Ferrari — and Fl — before he was ready to go. Although he continued to work for the team, whenever he showed up for a race he looked lost, and one wonders what he will do now. Whatever else, the hope is that he will resist entreaties to join his brother in the DTM. I don’t care to see retired Grand Prix drivers — let alone World Champions
— humbled in lesser series.
As for McLaren and Hamilton, they have lost a hell of a driver, and he has lost a hell of a team. I wonder how it will all unfold. When Lewis’s move was announced, I remembered something Chris Amon once told me about his decision, at the end of 1969, to leave Ferrari for the newly formed March team.
“I absolutely loved driving for Ferrari, living in Italy, the whole thing,” Amon said. “I didn’t leave because I wanted to change teams, but because I was fed up with being blown away on horsepower, and just felt I had to have a [Cosworth] DFV, like Stewart and Rindt. The Old Man begged me to stay, but my mind was made up, and the day I told him was one of the worst of my life. I’ll never forget the moment we shook hands and said goodbye: ‘Chris’, he said, ‘I will win a race before you do…’ I regretted that decision for the rest of my career.”