Saturday 3 August 2013

Further thoughts on the Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis reasserts himself
Last Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix was all about Lewis Hamilton, winning as he did in fine style. And it has, almost unnoticed, contributed to a shift in the bigger picture: namely that Lewis is firmly re-asserting himself in the battle for intra-Mercedes supremacy.

Lewis Hamilton - getting on top
Photo: Octane Photography
Four races ago the talk was very different. Lewis remained ahead of his team mate Nico Rosberg on points - helped by Nico bearing the brunt of unreliability as well as Lewis benefiting from team orders in Malaysia - but the perception was that Nico was making the most waves. He'd claimed three pole positions to Lewis's one, as well as was the first this campaign to seize a race win for the Silver Arrows, in Monaco on a weekend wherein he'd taken Hamilton to the cleaners. And as is the way of many who follow F1, vultures pretty quickly started to circle Lewis.

But since then things have changed. Four race weekends have passed and in each of them Lewis has qualified ahead (indeed, he's qualified of everyone in the last three) as well as outraced his stable mate (only a puncture put him behind at Silverstone).

In the research industry there is a saying: 'if it's interesting then it's probably wrong'. In other words, if your outcome looks surprising then it's most likely that you've miscalculated in some way; at the very least it suggests you need to treat your conclusion with much additional scrutiny and caution. And so it applies to those who were questioning Lewis earlier in the year: to suggest that Lewis had overnight become slow, or else had been hoodwinking us into thinking he was quick all this time, simply was not credible.

This after all is a driver who'd established himself as firmly among the best of the best in modern F1 throughout his career at his level. He's probably the quickest out there, certainly the most instinctively talented and unrivalled at overtaking. And, ever since his win in Abu Dhabi in 2011, he's also been roundly underrated in his ability to think through a Grand Prix, required in the age of the limited-resource Pirellis. Indeed, in the Spanish round of last year Lewis did the longest stint on a single set of tyres of anyone that season, and he was still quick. He's also the man who lest we forget shook the haughty Fernando Alonso to the foundations in his debut year in the sport, as well as has spent much of the time since putting clear daylight between himself and his team mates on pace.

Jenson Button - knows about Lewis Hamilton's pace
Photo: Octane Photography
Instead, even in this most complex of sports the explanation for Rosberg's upper hand was fairly simple: it was that Rosberg was better than many of us thought, in combination with that Lewis was taking time to get used to his new machine. This seemed particularly to do with the brakes, and ability in braking has always been one of Lewis's trump cards. It's helped that the tracks visited since Monaco, Canada aside, haven't featured many big braking zones, but there's evidence that he's getting things more to his liking too.

Jenson Button, who'd witnessed Lewis at closer proximity than most of us, warned us as much a few weeks ago that this would happen: 'Of course Nico is fast, but Lewis has not lost his speed. It is still there and he will come back and then he will shock you all...Lewis is incredibly fast.'

And so he's since proved. Perhaps we should be more cautious before writing him off again.

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