BBC BLOGS - Andrew Benson
« Previous | Main | Next »

Crunch time in Korea for McLaren drivers

Post categories:

Andrew Benson | 20:00 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Lewis Hamilton heads to South Korea for the country's inaugural grand prix this weekend predicting that the new circuit "should suit our car quite well". For the sake of his rapidly dwindling hopes of winning the drivers' world championship, he had better be right.

Hamilton's title challenge, like that of team-mate and fellow Englishman Jenson Button, has reached a critical point. Basically, they need to beat their championship rivals at the new Korea International Circuit in Yeongam on Sunday to get properly back into contention. The team have admitted as much themselves, in fact.

Mathematically, it's not all over for Hamilton and Button if they do not win, but realistically it probably would be, a situation that only increases the pressure and anticipation ahead of Formula 1's biggest step into the unknown for years.

Let's get the mathematics out of the way first.

Race-by-race points totals for F1 in 2010

Our graphic shows how the McLaren drivers have dropped back in recent races

After he won the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, Hamilton was leading the championship by three points from Red Bull's Mark Webber. The two had pulled out a substantial lead over the other three contenders - Webber's team-mate Sebastian Vettel, Button and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso - to the point that it was beginning to look like a two-horse race.

Six weeks later - after three torrid weekends for Hamilton and, to a lesser extent, McLaren - Hamilton is 28 points adrift of the Australian, and Button 31, with a maximum of 75 points available in the remaining three races. Webber, meanwhile, retains the lead, with Alonso and Vettel tied 14 points behind him.

After Korea, the available points will go down to 50 - hence the urgent need for Hamilton and Button to make up serious ground this weekend. It is not necessarily all over if they don't - but, alone among the title contenders, both Hamilton and Button could drop out of contention this weekend.

If Webber wins, Hamilton must finish at least eighth to keep alive any mathematical hope of winning the championship and Button cannot be lower than sixth.

It is a discouraging picture but, as you would expect of world-class sportsmen, both McLaren drivers are looking only at the positives.

The track, they believe, should suit their car more than Japan did two weeks ago. The team have two new developments to fit to their car, which - if they work as planned - could make them not only contenders, but front-runners. New tracks throw up variables that make for unpredictable weekends, and McLaren's meticulous preparation could give them an advantage.

There is merit - and holes - in all those arguments.

Korea will undoubtedly suit the McLaren more than Japan, where the Suzuka track - as Vettel himself admitted after he led Webber to a dominant one-two - might have been made for the overwhelming aerodynamic superiority of the Red Bull.

Yes, the new Korean track features an infield section featuring a sequence of long- and short-duration corners that will play into the hands of Red Bull, but it also features two very long straights, one of them 1.2km, where the Red Bull will struggle. In theory, the layout should even things out nicely among the three teams.

As well as a new front wing, McLaren have further developed the 'F-duct' aerodynamic device they pioneered at the start of the season and which has since been adopted by all the major teams, and this could further tilt the balance.

The five title contenders line astern at the Japanese Grand Prix

Korea could be a crucial weekend for the five title contenders. Photo: Reuters

This device works by 'stalling' the rear wing on the straights - reducing drag and therefore increasing straight-line speed. As such, it enables teams to run more downforce in the corners, thereby making the car faster through them, without the normally attendant penalty on the straights. Alternatively, it allows them to keep the cornering downforce where it would normally be, and simply be faster down the straight.

McLaren introduced a new version of the F-duct in Japan which changed the part of the wing that was stalled - previously it was the flap; the new one stalls the main plane, in theory increasing its effectiveness - but they abandoned it because it was not working as well as expected.

It therefore became the latest in a series of advances introduced by McLaren that did not work - at least at first. By contrast, new parts introduced by rivals Red Bull and Ferrari have generally gone on their cars without problems and made them faster.

Equally, it is fair to say that McLaren's meticulous preparations do not always necessarily mean they respond better than their rivals to the unexpected. On the contrary, in fact, there are many people in the F1 pit lane who will tell you that there have been times when what some regard as McLaren's excessively data-driven approach has worked to their disadvantage.

It will be interesting, then, to see how all the title contenders respond to the avalanche of uncertainties that will greet them in Korea.

Usually, F1 teams turn up at a circuit for a grand prix weekend with mountains of data from computer simulations so that when the cars go out on the track, the fundamental set-up work is complete, leaving just fine-tuning to do.

A section of the new Korean Grand Prix track, in Yeongam five hours south-west of Seoul

The new Korean F1 track has only just been finished in time for the race race. Photo: Reuters

They will have almost none of that in Korea. The final layer of asphalt was laid only a fortnight ago, and the track passed fit for competition on 12 October. The teams know the layout, but virtually nothing else.

As a result, the speed of the corners, the gears they are taken in, the optimum downforce level for the track, all these things will become apparent only during practice, the first session of which starts at 0200 BST on Friday.

It is then, impossible to predict how the teams will compare. And much more than usual the success or failure of the teams' weekends will be determined by the quality of their work and the decisions they make on Friday and into Saturday.

As one McLaren man told me: "If the new rear wing developments work, and we work well on Friday, we could finish one-two. If they don't and we don't..."

If they don't, well, it could be all over for Hamilton and Button by Sunday night.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting article Andrew, thank you.

    In the cold light of day, only a Hamilton win with Webber, Vettel and Alonso failing to get a podium would keep Hamilton in the hunt now.

    The fact is the top three are too consistent. Even if Hamilton does win, which looks unlikely based on recent McLaren results, the Red Bulls and Alonso are sure to take the next 3 places on current form, meaning minimal gain.

    Hamilton needs to pray for rain which is Vettel and Alonso's worst nightmare.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes I find myself agreeing with the tenor of that article. I agree Hamilton needs to win. In the interests of making the finale even more exciting I do hope McLaren's latest developments do work, but on past form I do have to agree they have been slow to improve. - Not quite sure why that is, but it seems as though they are lacking some expertise in the current flavour of aerodynamics. - A Hamilton win with a Webber DNF would really put the cat amongst the pigeons, but I suspect all teams will be treading with some care.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting read.

    NEVER under-estimate the McLaren team. They've come back from worse results before, and they COULD have had a podium at Suzuka, but the strategy backfired.

    McLaren KNOW how to win world titles, they've done it many times in the past and will do it many times in the future, without a doubt. Experience may count against Red Bull in these most critical of climactic races...

    There seems to have also been some tittering about Martin Whitmarsh, with some discgruntles fans saying he isn't up to the mark. All I say, is GIVE THE GUY A CHANCE!! McLaren have had worse seasons as recently as 2002, 2004, 2006 and early 2009 - - all of which were under Ron Dennis' leadership. Whitmarsh has lead McLaren through a highly competitive season very well indeed.

    Looking forward to Korea - a huge step into the unknown...

  • Comment number 4.

    actually how many blogs will be entitled "crunch time for McLaren" ? theres one every GP since Belgium!

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice Analysis. I think though that it is perhaps even more brutal than you suggest. I would float the idea that anything less than a Mclaren 1-2 ends any hope of either Lewis Or Jenson winning the title. Even then Webber, Vettel and Alonso would likely fill top 6 positions.

    Of course F1 is IF spelt backwards as Murray always says...so a first lap crash could change things or torrential rain but you only have to look at the odds the bookmakers are offering on the Mclaren boys to know that a Silver championship is less likely in their view than England winning the next world cup! that gives a clue..

  • Comment number 6.

    Not sure how much of an advantage the F-duct is for McLaren anymore, Ferrari are achieving roughly the same top speeds with theirs now and the Red Bull cornering speed pretty much negates most of the straight line advantage McLaren have. If Canada is a reference then don't expect Alonso to be a slouch in Korea, he had the pace of the McLarens for the majority of the race, traffic issues were his only downfall. Without any testing I'll have to go for an Alonso win, a Ferrari 1-2 if Massa can get his act together. They've got the best compromise between grip and outright speed on paper.

  • Comment number 7.

    @6

    I'm sorry to say but Massa has gone at the game. A combo of the accident and being screwed over by Ferrari has finished him.

  • Comment number 8.

    @7 he needs a strong finish to prove himself for another drive. I hope he'll be fired up enough to want to prove himself but I agree, he hasn't been the same since his near fatal crash.

  • Comment number 9.


    The long straights lines should play well for the Mclaren boys..

    I'll be surprised if they dont jump RBs on the first lap!! hope i am wrong though

    @1. errm.. i thought Vettel performs well in the wet

  • Comment number 10.

    For some reason I only see Alonso winning the title. The way he has gone about business in the last few races has been phenomenal and it shows, in my opinion, that he is the best driver all things being considered.

  • Comment number 11.

    @10 i agree, Remember Monza a high speed track with long strates. Ok LH crashed out but Alonso was the quickest by miles.

  • Comment number 12.

    The only driver whose team can't guarantee him the championship is Button, whom three McLaren Button-led 1-2s with Webber in third would leave him one point shy. Three Hamilton-led 1-2s would make Hamilton champion by two points. Vettel and Alonso can guarantee themselves the championship on their own, with three wins (Webber in second would give them the WDC by 7 points) and Webber only needs a win and two thirds, or two wins, to guarantee himself the title.

    We need to be clear though, Hamilton 1.12x a race win and Button is 1.24x a race win behind Mark Webber with three races to go. Raikkonen and Alonso were 1.7x and 1.2x a race win behind with only two races to go in 2007. They needed sustained bad luck to befall Hamilton that year whereas this year Button and Hamilton don't, they can do it on their own (well Button needs a tiny, tiny slip up from Webber in one race).

    I hope I'm allowed to post this link, but I devised an online calculator to help calculate all the permutations of the last few races:

    http://www.randomperspective.com/f1/

    Having played around with it, it is clear that if nothing out of the ordinary happens, the championship is still most likely to be heading to Australia. But one DNF is all it takes for everything to be reset. Hamilton and Button are only 14/17 points drift of Alonso and Vettel which is 0.56x/0.68x a race win. And at that margin they are still very much in it.

  • Comment number 13.

    The interesting unknown quantity in the championship hunt would be Massa. He's the only person in a potentially race-winning car who is out of the title battle at the moment. Although of course he'll be acting as 'rear gunner' for Alonso, it also puts him in the position of being able to take points off of the Red Bulls for McLaren, as much as for Alonso. That's assuming he can find sufficient form to get himself amongst the front runners.

  • Comment number 14.

    Maclarens laid back approach to racing appears to sate Jenson Button's style. It does not however match Lewis Hamilton's. Lewis has had to wrestle with an inferior car and in so doing, in my humble opinion, forced into errors. Maclaren fit new bits on the cars and they, in turn, go backwards. The pit crew aren't up to the mark either, they must be the slowest in the pit lane. Just how I see it and not necessarily fact.

  • Comment number 15.

    Good blog, but I have a criticism about the main F1 section of the site. Too many re-hashed Hamilton articles. I see there is another one today which is just a rehashed version of the one you guys did last week. Oh well, with all those (similar) articles about Hamilton on one page, it is easy to guage his mood over the last couple of weeks just by reading the headlines!

    1 (two weeks ago) Hamilton says title is a tough ask
    2 (last week) Hamilton retains hope over title
    3 (this week) Hamilton still fighting for title

    Interesting in some ways (in that your headlines tell a story over an amount of time), but monotonous in others (in that each article is just a rehash of the last).

    Whats coming next week, do we get the "Button still fighting for title" articles? Come on Beeb, you are far far better than this!

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments so far - some interesting views.

    It's particularly interesting that some of you have picked up on the Massa situation, seeing as he is the only driver in one of the top three teams not in contention for the title, and that he could be crucial to the outcome by taking points off the McLaren and Red Bull drivers, thereby helping his team-mate Fernando Alonso.

    Indeed, Ferrari have, in a rather unsubtle manner, asked him to do exactly that recently. And he has subsequently pledged to do his best to grant their wishes.

    To do so, however, he would have to up his game a bit, and it remains to be seen whether he can.

    Massa has had a very difficult season and has only rarely been able to mix it at the front. But from my sources at Ferrari I don't think that has anything to do with his accident in Hungary last year, as some of you suspect.

    I'm told that the accident, fractured skull notwithstanding, has made no difference to Massa at all, that it's simply not true to say he's physically not the driver he was.

    The facts are that Massa has struggled to get on terms with Alonso all season. The question is why.

    Massa himself has blamed this year's tyres, saying that he struggles to get the front tyres up to temperature. But there are three problems with that argument. Firstly, Bridgestone technical boss Hirohide Hamashima told my colleague Mark Hughes in Japan that he can see no evidence for this from the data. Secondly, that could potentially be a problem in qualifying, but it shouldn't affect Massa in the race - when the combination of a heavy fuel load and the large number of laps should generate temperatures without problem. Yet Massa has been slower than Alonso in the races as well. Thirdly, a top-class driver should be able to adapt to tyres he doesn't initially like - as Alonso did, for example, when he joined McLaren in 2007 and switched from Michelins to control Bridgestones.

    Assuming you believe the claim that Massa is still physically the driver he was, that leaves the psychological aspect. Has Alonso, in other words, 'done his head in'? Perhaps. If so, how? By simply being faster, or by machinations within the team? The point is, it shouldn't matter. Great drivers don't get psychologically battered by their team-mates, only less-than-great ones.

    Before the season started, there was a lot of talk about how Alonso and Massa would compare, with some - including many respondents on this blog - claiming that Massa was seriously quick and that Alonso would find him quite a tough nut to crack.

    I have to say I never believed that, I've always thought Alonso was a far better driver than Massa.

    It's no good just having an opinion, though, you have to gather evidence. In the course of many pre-season chats with F1 insiders on this and other issues, one leading engineer was particularly au point on the subject of how he saw the battle developing.

    "It's obvious," he said. "Fernando will be faster than him, Massa's head will go. End of battle."

    Clearly Massa's motivation will have been affected by the team's decision to ask him to hand victory in the German Grand Prix to Alonso, and it's also certain that has affected the Brazilian's relationship with the team.

    But it shouldn't be forgotten that Massa was only in front of Alonso in Germany because Alonso had been delayed by Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel nearly pushing him into the wall at the start, allowing Massa to sweep past both at the first corner.

    Alonso had been comfortably quicker than Massa in qualifying, and was again in the race. He has been all season.

    There's no shame in that, of course. I can think of only one driver on the grid who could justifiably claim to be faster than Alonso (Lewis Hamilton). And there's only one more (Robert Kubica) who might one day prove to be, but hasn't so far been in a position where you can tell.

    It seems to me, then, that you can, if you like, blame the tyres, Massa's accident, psychology, ructions within the team, whatever. The simple truth is Alonso is faster than Massa. Perhaps next year, on different tyres, he'll prove me wrong. We shall see.

    None of which is directly relevant to the superb battle for the title, but it's an interesting side issue nonetheless.

  • Comment number 17.

    Fair article Andrew.

    I'm looking forward to Korea like a kid before Christmas! This track should shake things up between the title challengers nicely....Yet I can't help but envisage LH and JB being force-fed another sickly helping of RB6 exhaust to all but kill off their title chances...

    As McLaren engineers plot their strategies I'm sure that they will, like many of us, imagine a scenario in which the first 4 corners of the race become critical. By turn five it could all be over for the silver arrows.

    It's hard to see the RB's not topping the grid. Even if the new upgrades to the MP4-25 work, it'll be unlikely that they will be able to beat the Red Bulls' qualifying pace. Which leaves a scenario with the Brits lining up on or around row 2 on sunday morning.
    This could be the only chance they have of being close enough to the RB's, going into the straight section of the circuit, to use their greater straight line speed and pull off an overtake.

    If they don't do it on lap one it could be game over. Sectors two and three will see MW and SV pull away each lap and all the McLarens will be able to do will be close the gap through sector one before it widens again....

    Of course I'm being simplistic. Who knows what will happen? Pit stops may shake up the order; the upgrades might actually work for once and the Brit Boys might actually top the grid; the ever present Alonso will undoubtedly get amoungst it; and who knows? anybodys wheel could fall off ala Kubica in Suzuka....
    ...but I'll be keeping a close eye on turn 4...

  • Comment number 18.

    @12 are you Carol Vordermann?

  • Comment number 19.

    The Massa situation is an interesting aside, and is vaguely relevant. I think the reversal of positions at Germany which helped lift Alonso back into the title hunt as a sign of what had been happening in Ferrari since Alonso joined. I think it’s pretty clear that from the moment Schumacher retired, Ferrari have been looking for another driver who can take charge of the team, and galvanise their efforts around him. Massa is a good driver, but I doubt that he has the will or the strength of character to be able to fill that role. Raikkonen also, never really seemed bothered enough to spend hours at the factory getting to know every mechanic and engineer.

    With Alonso though, they have a driver who has both a natural talent behind the wheel, and the sort of character that naturally gets people behind him. We as viewers saw Alonso firmly taking apart Massa on the track, but what we haven’t seen is how Alonso has also taken a team which had a sense of sentimental obligation to get behind Massa, and turned it around to the point where it is very much focused on him now as the number one driver.

    It’s not to say that if Massa has a complete turnaround in form next year that things couldn’t change, but it’s something that at the moment is seemingly out of his reach. For now he’s got to keep his relationship with the team alive, and make sure that if he does manage to turn around his form for next season, he hasn’t already burnt too many bridges already.

    But anyway, that’s probably a discussion for another blog.

  • Comment number 20.

    Interesting that no one has mentioned the possible scenario of Red Bull imploding… again. Vettel has clearly been the quicker of the two in the last few races and Webber has admitted himself that he needs another win – I can't really see him doing it. Therefore, if Webber finds himself immediately ahead of Vettel on the track in any of the remaining races, he may get very defensive in the desperate way he was with Hamilton in Singapore. No one will persuade me that Hamilton's retirement was not entirely down to Webber keeping his foot in on the dirty inside line and although highly unlikely, I wouldn't completely rule out another Red Bull 'Turkey' which opens it all up again before the season's end.

    afterends (no.14) You mention Hamilton wrestling with an inferior car and being forced into errors. He made an unforced error at Monza when his car had the pace to win. As mentioned above, Singapore was absolutely not a Hamilton error, he was ahead on the racing line and Webber took him out.

    Japan's practice shunt was Hamilton's second needless error this year. But all the other top five drivers with the exception of Button (who's been the slowest on average) have made as many, if not more, errors than Hamilton… which brings me on to killahtron's (no.10) comment on Alonso 'phenomenal' approach. I assume you're talking about since he binned it at Spa? If he has the fastest car, then he has a chance but the way the Red Bulls controlled him in Japan and the fact that Hamilton was catching him before succumbing to gearbox troubles, suggests that the Ferrari may now struggle to lead another race. And Alonso's recent approach has been matched at various points in the season by all the other leading drivers, plus Kubica. In fact, in many ways, Kubica has been the driver of the year.

    The fascinating end to this year's championship is too close to call and it's interesting that Korea and Abu Dhabi – where Hamilton dominated last year before brake problems – both have long straights that could favour the McLarens.

    Personally, I think that Webber will just about hold on to nick it!

  • Comment number 21.

    Whilst I don't expect a different story at Korea to the season narrative so far I still think Massa is a dark horse for Interlagos as he has dominated at that circuit on his last 3 visits. Being there seems to give him a massive confidence boost and psychologically he is always strong there. I can see him more than making up the difference on Alonso there and unless Alonso is second to him then I can see Massa taking the victory. He was faster than both Raikkonen and Schumacher there, so I can see this being the one track that he is able to beat Alonso on it.

  • Comment number 22.

    Anyone fancy an upset this weekend, with a Renault/Mercedes on the podium?

  • Comment number 23.

    If a Mercedes gets on the podium now I will eat my own arms

  • Comment number 24.

    I can see Kubica putting a cat amongst the pigeons at some point between now and the end of the season, which may yet prove decisive. A podium at one of the next three Grand Prix could push the championship Red Bulls way. Not entirely sure the works team will be that happy about the customer team winning the championship though...

  • Comment number 25.

    Hey 12. At 09:51am on 21 Oct 2010, Ben

    I just ran your predictive calculator, and no matter what scenarios I inputted, Alonso won the championship.
    Are you Flavio Briatore?
    ;)

  • Comment number 26.

    I'll be hoping to see a red car finish first as always.

    McLaren has always taken a studious approach to their development, but I cannot understand these constant claims of massive gains in the development pipeline, even going as far as to put a figure on how much faster you will be or even (in this article) to claim you could finish 1-2, to do so is simply making a rod for your own back.

    If we have a normal end to a perhaps un-normal season, then there realistically ought to be no way back for Messrs Button and Hamilton. Alonso FTW Forza Ferrari

  • Comment number 27.

    Fair article Andrew,

    I do also believe that anything less than a win for McLaren this weekend realyl will result in both the McLaren guys admitting defeat & McLaren resources being moved to develop the 2011 cars. It sounds harsh, but if the GP finished like anything close to what it did in Japan then it may look like this, at least this is my prediction:

    Race Championship standings
    1st - Vettel Webber - 232 points
    2nd - Alonso Vettel - 231 points
    3rd - Hamilton Alonso - 224 points
    4th - Webber Hamilton - 207 points
    5th - Button Button - 199 points

    If the race ends this way, which it very well could, this includes Webber finishing behind a McLaren, then Lewis is still a race win behind Webber & Button 33 points back. Even if LH won the last to GPs it's only good enough for a gain of 14 points over the next best guy, and that wouldn't overhaul Alonso so it would then require a miracle of Renault engine failures, or badly managed teamates.

    I can see this years title going to Alonso because of the infighting at Red Bull, and the McLarens being too far back, their attitude in the build up this weekend is inspiring, but I believe it may be one weekend to late. I hope I am wrong and made to eat my words, but it's just the run of the felt at the moment.

  • Comment number 28.

    People. There is only one question.
    Will Red Bull do it to Webber?
    Knowing F1, yes.
    Hamilton still beleives he lost the 07 title fairly and on the track, when it was clear at the time and still is that Mclaren were instructed to throw the title having already been thrown out of the costructors over that spying nonsense. What was it 17 points from 2 or 3 races left Raikkenon needed. Yeah right, ok.
    How could the FIA have ruined the spectacle of its own product by removing both the Mclaren drivers from what was a hectic and intense battle for glory. They couldnt. Hense some very strange incidents befalling Hamilton in the last few rounds that year.
    My point is that there is as much going on off the track as there is on it in F1, and even though it is sometimes so wrong, it is always exciting.
    The Mclaren is too slow and weak, the development speed from last years dog has been nowhere to be seen.
    Alonso i beleive can only win if Vettel gets panicky and desperate to beat Webber, so the only question that remains as i said is will Red Bull do it to Webber? Knowing F1, i would say that if there is a chance of them manipulating the result and positions of their drivers without losing ground or any advantage to the other 3, i say they will unquestionably do so because as we all know, Vettel is the one they want to bring home the bacon.
    For this reason, i have wanted Webber to win ever since i realised it is actually only between the two red bull drivers, and that is fair because their car has been awesome this year.
    C'mon Mark, dont even give them a chance to do it to you.
    One ace performance and it can be yours.
    Watch this space.

  • Comment number 29.

    Re the Massa concerns, I find it very interesting for Massa to be citing the same issues as one M Schumacher...a former tutor to the young Brazilian.

    I don't think there is much truth in this issue, it may well be the tyres aren't to Massa's preference, but I think a lot of it will be down to his lack of desire this year. I think it will be back next year but I think a lot of performance is that Massa doesn't want to give it 110% every weekend because he feels like there is no point. He wants to be winning races, but why try if he's told that he can't if Alonso's directly behind him?

    Add that to a car that is being developed for the title challenging team mate & his head may not be gone, but definetly dropped this season. His talk of giving it all for the Scuderia may just be a realisation that he needs to save it from happening again next year if he's to stay at Ferrari.

    It's a shame that he's not looking to leave with Rob Smedley to another team anymore, I think they would have worked well at Renault or Williams, the former choice probably the better option.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    Interesting Read Andrew, and a good 'sub' article too on Massa, which i actually preferred.

    In many ways, Massa is a key player in this Championship, as is Kubica, as they both have the capability to take points off the Championship contenders.

    Interesting comments you made about Alonso 'doing Massa's head in', making him have a dip in form this year.

    In terms of Team Mates doing each others 'heads in', its strange that Alonso dominates his Team Mates, with the exception of Hamilton who did Alonso's 'Head in' at McLaren, and yet Button doesn't at all seem bothered by Hamilton and his form hasn't suffered. He probably knows he's not as quick week in week out, but seems quite happy with the situation, whereas Massa, who's in a similar situation doesn't. I guess the fact that Button knows he's allowed to win races helps, which in turn means both Drivers are happy and, crucially, fast.

    Therefore Ferrari's policy of having a blatantly number one Driver is making the second Driver slower and ironically, unable to help the number one in the hunt for the Championship.

  • Comment number 32.

    One thing is for sure, Sunday is going to be one of the most exciting races in a while.

    This title is still wide open for me. Although obviously some people need a bit of luck where others have it in their hands.
    Agrred that Hamilton/Button need a win or 1-2. Now, if they acheive this then it's certainly no forgone conclusion that Alonso/Webber/Vettel will take the following positions.

    Massa should be up there, as well as Kubica. Rosberg can get in it too. Yes, Massa will be helping Alonso but all it takes is maybe a mistake by Alonso, who drops back and has to work his way up while Massa then could take points off him! it works both ways.
    Kubica could well be in for a 3rd-6th finish, Rosberg could very well end up around there too maybe just nicking infront of a title contender.

    I hope the outcome is Button, Hamilton, Kubica, Vettel, Alonso, Webber or something along those lines. That will even things up nicely with 2 to go.

    I predicted the podium result at Suzuka correctly and my head says this weekend will be:
    1. Alonso
    2. Hamilton
    3. Vettel

  • Comment number 33.

    Just to clarify a point I was making earlier, on the subject of whether Massa's performance has been affected as a result of the psychological weight of having Alonso as his team-mate.

    I don't know whether Alonso has 'done Massa's head in', as some would put it, although there is a school of thought that he has. Even if he has, I don't think that is what is making Massa slower than Alonso. As I said in my earlier response, I think what is making Massa slower than Alonso is that he is slower than Alonso. If his "head has gone", as my engineer predicted, that is as a result of that, it is not the cause.

    The engineer I quote didn't mean: "Fernando will be faster (because) Massa's head will go. End of battle." He meant: "Fernando will be faster. Massa's head will go (as a consequence of that). End of battle."

    Anthony Davidson put it well on 5 live a few races ago: "I can sum up Massa's problem in two words - Fernando Alonso. He has destroyed him mentally. Already. And I think that started at Turn One in Bahrain. Alonso passed him around the outside and out-raced him, and he has continued that ever since. Every time he goes out there, Alonso's gone faster. You think you're driving hard, but in the back of your mind you're thinking: 'Yeah, but I bet Fernando has gone faster.' And you get back to the pits and he has. It does get you down."

  • Comment number 34.

    Really enjoyed the Massa sub piece.

    Thought it a fair an interesting take on the how/why Fernando has been able - in his first year at Ferrari - to take charge so convincingly on and off the track at the Scuderia.

    Must admit I did chuckle when deep into your opinion, suddenly and without warning, another drivers name appeared totally unrelated to the piece; the "only one driver on the grid who could justifiably claim to be faster than Alonso..." seems to be standard practice in any English site, like a "Fernando is good - perhaps great - but our local boy is better" kind of thing. Must be a tax of some sorts that I'm unaware of.

    Aside from that one odd and inevitable detour, it was a good read.

  • Comment number 35.

    Alonso may be third fastest because as well as Hamilton, as I suspect Vettel may be at least as fast as Hamilton, but perhaps needs to hone other skills, but his qualifying performance can be absolutely stunning. That said Kubica is a driver who has not been able to demonstrate his skill in a top performing car but his day will come no doubt.

  • Comment number 36.

    Alonso and Hamilton would blitz Kubica. Kubica got outclassed by Heidfeld in 2009, the first time he had a decent team mate, of course people overlook this.
    Kubica had 2 chances of victory this year and showed why he is not a champion:
    1- Monaco - fluffed his start and ended up stuck behind Vettel
    2- Spa - got all crossed up on Eau Rouge and lost a place to Button, nearly took Vettel clean off the track at 160mph

    Kubica is fast, but not in the big league. Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel are all faster. Nico Rosberg not far behind.

    As for the race, I think it will be really even. Hopefully it will be all Ferrari and McLaren in the top four, so the championship can close up again. The circuit looks like it isn't going to favour one team in particular, this implies we are in for another exciting race weekend.

  • Comment number 37.

    The speculation here is quit fantastic, albeit slightly tinged with a pro Hamilton bias. Everyone has conveniently forgotten he was very lucky at Spa when leading, he almost stuffed it into the wall. He missed it by inches and even admitted as much. So Lewis is a little prone to make mistakes as are the others to a greater or lesser degree, except for JB who has been consistent if not particularly fast when compared with the others in the top 5.
    No one has made mention FA is nursing his engines and might have to take a grid penalty at some stage. Ditto Webber is on his last engine and does not have a fresh one available. That gives a decided advantage to SV, LH and JB.. All very fascinating and which together with a green track should prove not only a thrilling end to the season, but to this Sunday's race as well..

  • Comment number 38.

    "People. There is only one question.
    Will Red Bull do it to Webber?
    Knowing F1, yes.
    Hamilton still beleives he lost the 07 title fairly and on the track, when it was clear at the time and still is that Mclaren were instructed to throw the title having already been thrown out of the costructors over that spying nonsense. What was it 17 points from 2 or 3 races left Raikkenon needed. Yeah right, ok."

    Bit early to be drinking isn't it?

  • Comment number 39.

    Regarding the Mclarens. Hamilton seems to have the better
    'chance' but every step they make to improve their
    performance. The Red Bulls and Ferrari move forward too.
    Unless Hamilton wins in Korea, which I doubt after the
    qualifying results, it's over for the McLarens in 2010.

    Personally, I do not think Alonso is faster than Massa.
    It seems forgotten already how Massa in 2008 proved he
    could well and truly keep up with Hamilton, who in turn,
    blitzed Alonso in an identical car!
    When Alonso & Massa were on similar points, Ferrari
    'clearly' chose Alonso as the driver to take presidence
    in the drivers championship. Although, admittedly Massa
    had a slow start to this season. Generally, Ferrari did
    too! But this, in my opinion, is what as messed with
    Massa's head.
    Yet, I think if Kubica were in a Ferrari, Alonso
    would once again be shown up as he was at McLaren!

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.