Tuesday 17 July 2018

Mystified by moralisers gunning for Hamilton

Expect rivals to close gap on Mercedes when campaign resumes

A few journalists in the British press appear to have it in for Lewis Hamilton following his race in Hungary
A few journalists in the British press appear to have it in for Lewis Hamilton following his race in Hungary

David Kennedy

Racing will resume in under three weeks; in the meantime it's holiday time for the Formula One troupe. Now is a good time to take stock of the momentum that is building at this hiatus in the calendar.

Aficionados were buoyed up by Ferrari's resurgent form as they took the battle to Mercedes in Hungary. Whoever you support, the prospect of the Italian marque being right up there in the second half of the season is a tantalising one. Mercedes lost out to Ferrari in the second race of this season and again last weekend, Sebastian Vettel winning both. When the Maranello team hit the beach with their buckets and spades, building sandcastles in the sky won't seem so delirious after all.

Curiously, a few journalists in the British press appear to have it in for Lewis Hamilton following his race in Hungary, with one suggesting he was driving like someone who was "on their way back from the pub after eight pints". As I understand it, alcohol dulls the senses, whereas Hamilton was in full battle mode, trying to win vital points. Maybe an exciting race is foreign to a moralising eye.

I know who I'd rather be driven by after a visit to the local and it wouldn't be the naysayer who went on to describe Hamilton's driving as "self-destructive, a danger to others and weaving willy-nilly". Another hack questioned whether Hamilton was worthy of being called one of the greats. Let's not forget the guy is aiming to become a triple World Champion, which would put him up there with acknowledged greats like Brabham, Stewart, Lauda, Piquet and Senna.

Six drivers have stepped onto various steps on the podium this season: Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo. Three drivers have won races: Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel, while two teams shared the spoils: Mercedes and Ferrari. King of pole positions has been Hamilton, with nine to Rosberg's one. Hamilton and Rosberg shared the glut of fastest laps, with Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen taking two apiece. There are nine races to go after the recess, with the addition of the new venue in Mexico. In 2014, Rosberg dominated the post-summer races, with a pole position ratio of six to one, but it was the title winner, Hamilton, who won the majority of the races, five to three.

Star of Hungary was Ricciardo. He or Rosberg could have won the race, save for a tangle. The 2014 Hungaroring winner also won the opening race of the second half of last season in Spa. The Aussie has been highly impressive this year and a win must surely be imminent. His team-mate, Daniil Kyat, drove a stormer to finish second, vindicating Red Bull's employment of the Russian.

McLaren celebrated a double points score in Hungary, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button fifth and ninth respectively. The new Honda collaboration is taking time, but there's no reason why they can't do a Mercedes and be at the front in due course. Patience is in short supply in F1, but you can be sure that Honda are working overtime to fulfil the potential they undoubtedly have. For sure, Alonso didn't envisage this struggle and he's a man without superfluous years to play with in his quest for a third world title.

In a straight exchange of Finns, Bottas will surely replace Raikkonen at Ferrari. However, Williams are asking a king's ransom for handing over their talent and Ferrari are playing hardball. But the Prancing Horse will have to stop their shenanigans if they don't want to lose him to another team, so they better get the chequebook out quick and practise writing 12 million.

Renault will decide this week whether to stay with Red Bull, buy the Lotus team or get out of F1 completely. Ironically, this comes just when they've experienced their best result with RB. I'd wager they will buy Lotus.

Jules Bianchi was buried last week. His unnecessary and tragic death nine months after his accident in the Japanese Grand Prix is a stark reminder of how dangerous the sport is. It was a decent gesture of Bernie Ecclestone to fly his family to Hungary for the Grand Prix, an event that must have filled them with the sadness of what might have been for their talented son. Condolences to his family, friends and the Manor F1 team.

Speaking of the Manor F1 team, Belfast-born Stephen Fitzpatrick helped to rescue the team at the end of 2014, when Marussia owner Andrey Cheglakov pulled the plug. When Fitzpatrick is not busy looking for backers, his day job involves being boss of Ovo Energy. The team's chairman is former Sainsbury's CEO Justin King, whose son currently races in GP2 and is reserve driver for the team.

They've done a lot better than predicted and although they still qualify at the back, their drivers Will Stevens and Robert Merhi have had fewer retirements than Raikkonen. Team chief John Booth has a wealth of experience, as well as the tenacity to drag it up the grid. They've taken on former McLaren/Mercedes Bob Bell as technical consultant. Toro Rosso's Luca Furbatto is head of design and Gianluca Pisanello is chief engineer. But all that costs money.

Like a lot teams struggling to balance the books in this ludicrously expensive sport, the real race is getting sponsors on board. Hopefully they will survive and F1 budget cuts, if they happen, will play into their future plans.

Who will be ready to spring into action at the ultimate racers' track, Spa, after the break? No longer is it exclusively the Hamilton/Rosberg show. It's taken half the season, but the interlopers are closing in. Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams will be all ready to pounce. They'll be sharpening their pencils and their swords for an assault in part two of the season. It will be no holiday for some.

Sunday Indo Sport

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