Conclusions from the Canadian GP
F1 asks too much of too few, time is running out for Lewis, and Red Bull overcome the Pirellis to thrash the field...
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 11/06/13 4:56pm
F1 asks too much of too few
By common consent, the F1 schedule reached saturation point in 2012 when the calendar was stretched to 20 races. If, as is tentatively predicted, next year's schedule includes 21 races with the addition of high-profile, high-return events in Russia and New Jersey, then the obvious conclusion is that F1 risks spreading too much of a good thing in pursuit of global expansion and extra revenue.
Is money talking too loudly? Perhaps. The extra logistical challenge facing the teams would be formidable, as might be the less-mentioned but perhaps more worrisome human resources juggling-act. If the shortest break between seasons in F1 history is followed by the longest season in the sport's history then burn-out may become 2014's next buzzword. To alleviate the strain, one new measure might be the introduction of 'rotation' into F1 to ease the workload and reduce the risk of mistakes born of physical and mental fatigue. F1's next incarnation may be as a squad game.
Yet there is still a persuasive case to be made for extra races. There is certainly scope; with the current schedule, less than half the weekends over a full year host a grand prix. Compared to football, cricket and a whole host of other major sports, F1 is a relatively idle sport. That ought not to be overlooked. Yet nor should the fears of burn-out be idly dismissed either.
The argument against extra races isn't that we are asking too much of the sport itself, but that the sport is currently asking too much of too few.
Be careful what you wish for
After hankering all season long for the sight of F1 cars operating at their full potential from start to finish, undeterred by any fears of degrading rubber sending the field spiralling over the proverbial cliff, reality bit hard on Sunday. The first result was a devastatingly dominant victory for Sebastian Vettel. The second was the least eventful race of the season. Be careful what you wish for?
The 2013 Canadian GP was by no means a poor race but it might well have been had Saturday's rain not put Fernando Alonso out of position on the grid. Then again, had Alonso been in a position to threaten Vettel the outcome might have been even more ignominious for the rest of the field. Had Vettel really been stretched then at least half of the field might have been lapped more than once. Its power fully unleashed by the durability of the Pirellis, the Red Bull was a scary beast in a different league to all but the Mercedes and Ferrari.
Whether Red Bull can maintain their dominance at Silverstone where the circuit's long, sweeping corners will return tyre preservation to the agenda remains to be seen, but it was starkly apparent in Canada that Red Bull's principal opposition this season is not Ferrari or Mercedes but Pirelli.
Fernando won't win on Sunday unless he stops losing so heavily on Saturdays
Could, or indeed would, Alonso have given Vettel a run for his victorious money in Canada if only he qualified a little further up the grid? His team boss Stefano Domenicali believes so. "To be honest, it would have been a completely different picture," said the Ferrari chief on Sunday night. "I believe had Alonso been on the front-row along with Vettel, it would have been a different story."
Yet for all the admirable defiance, Domenicali's claim is both debatable and a smokescreen because the prospect of Alonso starting a race on the front-row currently verges on the fanciful.
Moreover, it's the longevity and worsening of Ferrari's weakness that is so concerning. Alonso last scored a pole position in the dry as long ago as September 2010 and is fast approaching the anniversary of the last time he started a race on the front-row, so what reason is there to believe a fix for their qualifying woes is imminent? Furthermore, Alonso's average qualifying position for the season is just fourth and for the last three events he has lined up fifth, sixth and sixth again. The math adds up to a stark conclusion: Ferrari's perennial weakness is worsening, not abating.
And then there's another perspective to consider, one alluded to by Martin Brundle in his latest column for the website: 'If only Alonso could qualify better, and that can't all be down to the car.' Anything less than acclaim for Fernando is close to hearsay, but in the desperate circumstances, desperate questions are to be asked: is his driving style partly culpable as well?
In any case, one of the messages received loud and clear in Canada is that no matter Alonso's race speed - which in Montreal was the equal of Vettel's for long stages of the grand prix - he will not be able to slow down his nemesis unless he can avoid suffering such heavy defeats on Saturdays.
Something's up with Lewis
The Mercedes driver's upbeat mood at the start of the year is fading into a distant memory. Having been merely disenchanted with his form in Monaco, not even his thumping defeat of Nico Rosberg in Montreal raised the flicker of a smile. Speculation will abound that something's up with Lewis' life away from the track, but it's hopefully more probable the explanation can be found in the public sphere.
Despite Mercedes' upsurge and Hamilton's best efforts in Montreal - Rosberg finished almost a minute adrift - it is abundantly clear that the W04 isn't adding up to a title-winning car and another championship-less awaits a driver still considered by many observers to be the fastest in the sport. The clock is ticking and Hamilton knows it. "Time is slipping away," he ruefully reflected in an illuminating interview published this weekend. "It's been five years since I won the World Championship."
And there's the rub. Is the frustration of being unable to keep up with Vettel as the Red Bull drivers pursues a fourth successive title beginning to come to the fore? In that context, not even the consolation of leaving McLaren at the right time will provide much solace.
The Force should stay with 2013
Very soon, the trickiest of decisions for Martin Whitmarsh and McLaren will be followed by an unexpected dilemma for Force India: do they delay turning their attention towards 2014 in order to pursue fifth place in this year's championship even if that heightens the risk of the team starting off next year way off the pace? With relatively meagre resources, Force India are more averse to playing catch-up than most.
In football-speak, the Force India dilemma would be described as 'welcome headache'; in strictly F1 terms, the current balance of power merely speaks volumes about the scale of McLaren's regression this term and the team's stunning failure to transform their resources arsenal into on-track firepower. With Canada marking the team's first pointless event in 65 races, and neither Segio Perez nor Jenson Button reaching the Q3 shoot-out, it is clear that the MP4-28 is even further away from the sport's frontrunners now than it was at the start of the season. "There are no positives from this weekend," said Button before admitting: "I don't know if we're going to win a race this year". McLaren's revolutionary charger has taken the team up a dead-end street.
So how long before McLaren give up on 2013? It certainly won't be before Silverstone, and most probably won't be before the mid-season break either. Before trying to find an answer to the 2014 rules revolution, McLaren first need to work out why their MP4-28, triumphed at birth as the best car the team had ever produced, has failed. Tempting as it might be to turn their back on 2013, they can't move on until they are sure the MP4-28 is fixed - or, at the very least, they possess a workable fix.
As for Force India, the overachievers of the year, there's no rush to consider how they should juggle their resources. The current equilibrium suits them perfectly; they are building up a momentum which will surely culminate sooner rather than later into a podium finish, whereas their closest rivals in the championship are stagnating and regressing. As the force is with them, Force India ought not to be for turning.