Lewis Hamilton’s Singapore GP pole lap was mesmerising, but Karun Chandhok was the architect of even greater visual drama at Goodwood
Advances in technology are often blamed for spoiling the spectacle of motor racing, but it has enhanced my enjoyment immeasurably in one area – the images provided by in-car footage. With modern race cars apparently glued to the track by downforce, these intimate over-the-shoulder views are often the only way we get some true perspective on what our heroes are doing behind the wheel.
In recent weeks I’ve seen two new gems of fresh on-board. Predictably, the first – and the one I suspect most of you will definitely have seen – is Lewis Hamilton’s exceptional pole position effort in Marina Bay, Singapore.
Somewhat more left-field, but certainly no less enjoyable, is Karun Chandhok’s lap in a McLaren M1A Can-Am car at this year’s Goodwood Revival Meeting. Given the dilemma currently facing Formula 1 as it grapples with the shape of its future regulations, these clips couldn’t be more timely.
I’ve watched Hamilton’s Singapore lap many times now (all in the interests of research, naturally) and it gets more impressive with every viewing. The sense of speed is startling – an impression amplified by the proximity of Marina Bay’s hard track limits. But look beyond his blistering pace and it’s the commitment, confidence and pinpoint precision that’s truly jaw-dropping.
It could well be one of this era’s defining laps. But is it thrilling? No, not in the visceral sense of, say, Ayrton Senna’s ‘out-of-body’ qualifying lap at Monaco.
Contrast Hamilton in Singapore with Chandhok’s effort in the shadow of the Sussex Downs and, although the two machines are worlds apart, there are some parallels that make the comparison valid and relevant. Not least the fact that although Goodwood isn’t a street circuit, it might just as well be. Its narrow strips of grass and solid earth banks afford minimal margin for error.
And this in a car you really don’t want to crash.
Chandhok’s lap spoke to me as eloquently as any of his pitlane analyses. He’s not a driver of Hamilton’s calibre, but the way he handles the McLaren shows someone who is blessed with rare speed and smoothness, along with the mechanical empathy to understand how a car wants to be driven. The beauty of his on-board footage is that the McLaren allows us clearly to witness a driver use all his feel and car control to work just beyond its limits, to release its ultimate pace.
Hamilton’s lap is a thing of wonder, but there’s more obvious artistry and jeopardy in the way Chandhok floats the fearsome M1A through the formidable Madgwick, Fordwater and St Mary’s corners, gets the tube-framed missile slowed for Woodcote then neatly teases it through the chicane with deft applications of lock, masterfully modulated throttle and maximum forward motion.
Hamilton’s qualifying lap was stellar, but the capability of the car almost entirely masked its knife-edge nature. It was also the precursor to a tedious race, whereas Chandhok’s lap was typical of a race weekend featuring some of the most exciting racing and impressive driving you’ll see anywhere.
His wasn’t the wildest lap of the weekend by any stretch, but it offered proof that when driven with the meticulous mindset and precision of an ex-Formula 1 driver, cars with more grunt than grip are a true measure of driving skill and magnificent to behold.
The experience clearly resonated with Chandhok, for he wrote this comment to accompany his lap, posted on Twitter: “Wrestling with the McLaren M1A Can-Am car at Goodwood Revival en route to the fastest lap this weekend. Really gave me an appreciation of how much the drivers had to work and how much more the drivers could influence the result when compared to modern racing…”
It’s what many of us have been thinking for years, but it’s great to hear it from someone so well qualified to make the comparison.
F1 has long referenced ‘the show’ being central to its proposition, but rather than take a root and branch approach to improve the spectacle over the years, sticking-plaster solutions such as drag reduction systems and forcing Pirelli to make tyres from white, milk and dark chocolate have been applied.
Both have had significant effects, but rather than address the underlying issues they’re contrivances that deliver titillation and temporary respite from race-long deadlock.
Of course we’ve had a few great Grands Prix in recent years, but they are often the result of adverse weather or quick drivers overcoming grid penalties, not an inherent rightness in the regulations or the cars they create. Despite the brightest engineering brains, finest drivers and near-limitless budgets, come Sunday afternoon our eyelids are all too often forced to wage an unwinnable war against gravity. This is not a battle fought by anyone watching the Goodwood Revival, be they trackside or online.
There are clever people running F1. Far, far cleverer than I. Which is just as well, for there are immensely complex issues of both a technical and political nature that need to be solved.
Still the crux of the matter – at least as I see it – is a simple one, and Chandhok’s Can-Am drive and subsequent social media post smacked the nail squarely on the head.
Oh that those shaping Formula 1 can watch Hamilton and Chandhok’s in-car footage and find a way to provide the world’s best drivers with the tools to demonstrate the dazzling speed of the former and the expressive brilliance of the latter.
Dickie Meaden has been writing about cars for 25 years – and racing them for almost as long. He is a regular winner at historic meetings