Martin Brundle on the Monaco Grand Prix
Reflecting on the Monaco Grand Prix it seems to me that, either consciously or sub-consciously, drivers have opened up their minds to more overtaking.
There were several moves which were unrelated to tyres, KERS, or DRS; I'm thinking particularly at the hairpin where we saw several passing attempts, albeit many of them bodywork crunching.
This brings to the fore the endless debate about whether drivers should be encouraged to make more passing moves rather than always facing penalties. The race stewards are the referees and their judgement is relied upon to know where to draw the line.
In F1 the stewards are rarely the same four people, and since last year have included an ex driver which has been a great success. Even if fans, teams and drivers haven't always agreed with the decisions, I sense that they have been more comfortable that incidents have been fairly and transparently considered.
As in any sport there has to be rules and a code of conduct to prevent unfair results. With copious amounts of data acquisition on the cars and multiple camera angles the stewards really do have a lot of information available to them.
Of course decisions often have to be made under pressure during the race in order to apply appropriate drive through or stop and go penalties.
We know that hard charging and competitive drivers will stretch the boundaries wherever possible in their quest for wins, podiums and points. Give an inch and they'll take a mile.
Lewis Hamilton is the most aggressive and hardest charging driver on the grid today, just as his hero Ayrton Senna used to be. Unsurprisingly Hamilton's style gets him in more trouble than most . Thinking back to Spa 2008, among other incidents, it is certainly possible to build a case that he is punished more than others.
Champion drivers will always create and seize upon gaps and half chances that others don't, it's one of the factors which makes them special. But there has to be a gap to drive into.
“Having seen further footage not available to me in commentary, I do think that Lewis was treated harshly in the incident involving Pastor Maldonado, although that penalty didn't affect his sixth place”
If the stewards condoned such contact passing while severely cutting the inside of the corner they would open up a hornet's nest.
Of course bona fide passing manoeuvres can still end up with contact along with the inevitable 'I was ahead' versus 'he turned in on me'. Everybody has an opinion but only the stewards have the obligation and power to act.
Having seen further footage not available to me in commentary, I do think that Hamilton was treated harshly in the incident involving Pastor Maldonado, although that penalty didn't affect his sixth place.
He was all over the back of Maldonado's weaving Williams down the pit straight and he should not have been surprised to have Hamilton moving alongside him into the corner. He should have left more space or covered the inside better. I would not have penalised Lewis in this incident.
The earlier contact with Felipe Massa is less clear. Massa did turn into the hairpin very early but could well argue that he was aiming inside the wide Red Bull of Mark Webber who was on his nose.
It's also arguable that Massa was too late in defending Hamilton's move, although again he had been very close behind in the corner before, did unquestionably cause contact and damage, and Paul di Resta had already received a penalty for a similar misdemeanour. I said in commentary before the incident that there must be a 75% chance of contact while passing into that hairpin, and I stand by that.
What could have been an 'airplane crash' as Hamilton passed Massa at the kink in the tunnel was only avoided because the Brazilian saw him coming and then surfed the tyre marbles into the wall. That one was wild to say the least and Lewis was pushing both their lucks in the extreme.
The way Lewis handled the whole weekend was a little alarming. He was simply supreme through practice and surely had a great shot at pole and victory.
I'm not entirely convinced that he needed to abandon the qualifying lap where Massa was up ahead of him - and I'm not surprised that Massa was not given a penalty - and the next lap was red flagged. His solo flying lap at the end of the session was penalised when he missed the chicane and that's where his problems began.
It meant a penalised ninth on the grid and blaming his team for qualifying tactics. Hamilton's comments immediately out of the car are almost always diluted heavily or even changed completely in the team's press release.
There is no doubt that Hamilton Lewis is speaking his mind much more this season , although I'm amazed that it appears his new management team did not have a representative at one of the most demanding events of the year.
In the race he was caught napping by Michael Schumacher on the first lap before making some superb passes of his own. But pit stops, safety cars, a red flag, penalties, and finally being run into by Jaime Alguersuari combined to wreck his afternoon. Yet, courtesy of a new rear wing under the red flag, he finished sixth and maintained a 100% finishing record in Monaco.
As he stepped from the car he didn't have the luxury of multiple replays, just the memory of the split second view from his cockpit. He came out with the jokey line about the colour of his skin and also heavily criticised the stewards, which was a moment of madness as the adrenalin subsided and the disappointment and anger grew.
Nothing was his fault it seems. I absolutely support and enjoy Hamilton's attacking style, but his denial of any personal responsibility in some circumstances will cost him more incidents, points and penalties.
I felt for Jenson Button on Sunday. He drove a great race, led beautifully, did absolutely nothing wrong, and finished third . The tyre compound strategy of going super-soft, super-soft, soft made a lot of sense to maintain the leading pace, but would guarantee he had to make a third stop in order to comply with the regulations and use both types of tyre. It would also leave him exposed in a safety car scenario.
The two safety cars and the red flag were very cruel to him. As was the regulation allowing Vettel and Alonso to put on fresh tyres under the red flag, effectively having a free pit stop.
“Monaco will remain one of the greatest sporting challenges...and that means it will remain dangerous too”
Many fans are infuriated about that. Parc ferme rules fall away as soon as the race starts, and the regulations clearly state that the cars can be worked on up until the 15 second warning board for the restart.
We will probably never know if Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso could have kept their long serving tyres intact for the remaining 11 laps to the end of the race without grip levels plummeting. McLaren felt sure their rivals would fall off the 'cliff' of grip. There must be some post race tyre wear data which would give a clue. My guess is that the top three would have remained the same.
The most extraordinary story for me was Red Bull's good fortune from qualifying three until the end of the race. Vettel got his lap in before Sergio Perez clouted the barrier in qualifying while key rivals did not.
Then radio problems in the race meant a slow pit stop for Vettel but more significantly they put on the soft compound tyres by mistake rather than the super soft, as Button had done. Red Bull boss Christian Horner told me that they wondered how to engineer a sensible result from there as he left the pits.
Vettel liked the tyres and he felt comfortable, but this set of would need to cover 62 laps to one stop when it was considered 40 would be a long way. And then the safety car and the 'free' tyre change.
With speed, skill and such luck Vettel is truly unbeatable. Team mate Mark Webber knows that all too well in his curious season. He has delivered the fastest lap in four of the last five races, has yet to finish outside of the top five this season, and yet is 64 points behind the runaway Vettel.
I'm sure they will need to make changes yet again to the tunnel exit chicane run-off area, but Monaco will remain one of the greatest sporting challenges. And that means it will remain dangerous too.