Button-Hamilton turnaround exposes sham of F1 driving talent

May 11, 2009

Here Mitch Phillips gives one view of the current state of Formula One while below Alan Baldwin has a different take on the argument.

Imagine if Usain Bolt returned to the track this year only to find that all his rivals had developed new starting blocks and suddenly the triple world record holder and Olympic champion was not even good enough to make the final of this year’s world championships?

Ditto Tiger Woods. After months away from the game recovering from knee surgery, the all-conquering number one looks round to a dozen golfers with new go-longer drivers and unmissable putters and instead on winning majors, he starts missing cuts.

Maybe a welcome back for ex-England cricketer Vikram Solanki, an elegant batsman who made little impact on the international scene despite being highly rated by many well-qualified observers?

But, armed with some mystery technical advance to his bat, he returns to the England team and smashes four centuries in five innings.

Welcome to the world of Formula One, where in this new season the argument has surely been settled once and for all, that, to paraphrase one Mr L. Armstrong, it absolutely is about the car.

Jenson Button, who managed a solitary grand prix victory in his first 155 drives, now sits proudly on top of the driver’s championship having won four of the last five.

His team are suddenly now so dominant that there are allegations they were able to choose which of their drivers won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix (a charge Brawn GP denies).

Lewis Hamilton, world champion last year and feted by some as one of the best drivers of all time, finds himself tootling along with the Escorts and Datsun Sunnys, scrabbling for odd points if enough other drivers crash or fail in front of him.

Maybe it’s time to scrap the drivers’ championship altogether and pour everyone’s energy into the manufacturers’ title. It’s certainly time to stop feting drivers as if they are great sportsmen.

PHOTO: Brawn GP Formula One driver Jenson Button of Britain holds up his trophy on the podium after winning the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at the Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, near Barcelona, May 10, 2009. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino


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Well, I think both Mitch and Alan have made good points and the truth is that F1 is not a pure sport

Is it not the case that the drivers are, as Alan says, talented but also that they are (and probably always have been) a lot closer to one another in ability than the results usually suggest?

Button was written off by most people as not having what it takes – but as Mitch says, it turns it to have all been about the car. That does look really bad for the sport.

Button was never as bad as it looked, Hamilton never as superior as the standings indicated.

Perhaps more credit should be given to the teams than to the drivers. But then it is personalities that excite fans and sell tickets and magazines.

If F1 wanted to be a real search for the ultimate driver (what Mitch wants) – a more pure sport – then all drivers would have the same car, with the same set-up. Then we would find out – over a season – who really was the most skillful.

That obviously isn’t going to happen for commercial reasons and I think that does weaken F1’s sporting credentials and always has.

The real pity is that when you do have two great drivers in the same car with the same set-up, team-tactics come into play. But I think we did at least learn a few years ago that Michael Schumacher was a better Ferrari driver than Rubens Barrichello.

Had Schumacher been in a Red Bull and Barrichello stayed in his Ferrari what would we have found out? That Schumacher wasn’t that good really?

No, simply that Schumacher was a great driver who also needed a great car to win.

Which is what it really comes down to for most drivers.

Posted by Simon | Report as abusive

What a turnaround for Brawn to the JB could have been out of work after Honda pulled out. I still think a sport is more enjoyable with a dominant force and the levelling of the playing field, rule changes and budget caps is going to push people away. People worship sportsmen like Schumacher, Lewis and Alonso especially young people. I am finding it difficult to explain to my 5 year old son why Lewis is not on the podium these days. Imagine Force India on the podium, forbid its like Stoke City winning the champions league.

Posted by James Colins | Report as abusive

Such a spoil sport Mitch! And just when F1 was getting interesting!!
F1 is motor racing, why are you comparing it with cricket (Vikram Solanki was very average) and athletics? The car obviously plays a large part but the drivers are fantastically skilful. This is clearly reflected in the sport having two championships – one for drivers and one for constructors. There aren’t two ashes trophies – one for the team and one for the bat manufacturers. One gold medal for Usain Bolt and one for his Nike trainers!

As long as we appreciate that F1 is a team sport, then praise can be laid at the feet of the winning driver and manufacturer.

Posted by Joe Brock | Report as abusive

Remember­ last year, last race, last corner? Remember how both­ Toyotas posting almost identical times on that last lap­ to use as evidence that there was no foul­ play?

Remember the year before, the 17 points gap that­ evapourated within two races? I speculate Mr E promised­ Ferrari the title in return for keeping the McLaren­ drivers in the show and how Kimi didn’t even look­ excited by achieving his dream of becoming a world­ champion?

Do­ you remember when three drivers (not sure but I think­ in ’97 MS, JV and Frenzen) posted +0.000 in­ qualifying and Murry had to say “trust me there is­ no fix”???

Did you notice how surprised Button­ was when he got pole position yesterday when he clearly­ didn’t expected?

I bet Button asked for #1­ status in return for his 50% pay cut. I bet Ruben was­ told whoever is on Pole would be allowed to win the­ hence his BIG shock yesterday. I bet Mr E manipulated­ the Button’s time yesterday.

Nick Fry said: “We had to split the strategy”
Rubens didn’t have a choice to switch to 2 stopper.

Please­ prove me wrong just so I can enjoy real F1 again­ :(


Posted by Ali Adams | Report as abusive

I’m sure formula one fans are right about the strength and endurance needed but i’m with mitch on this. Stick them all in the same type of car, with no tyre changes or refuelling, if yu want to see who the best driver is … and that’s surely the point of sport.

Posted by Jimbo | Report as abusive

Part of it is that the best drivers prove their worth in the development titles (Karts, GP3 etc) and therefore these guys get the best cars. Obviously if they all drove the same car we’d find out once and for all who was most talented driver, but motor racing is a team sport, and I’m not just talking about the two drivers.

The other important factor is that the best drivers are able to tell the engineers what needs to be done to improve the car. This happens both in races, and also is practice sessions and pre-season testing.

You also need to consider that being able to keep a F1 car on track at speed for 70 laps is an extreme challenge in itself, and shows that all of the drivers out there are talented, the best are the ones who are able to remain consistent and keep their cars in one piece. They are the guys who will be given the best cars.

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

Also, in response to Ali’s comment above, talking about Kimi not looking excited.

Have you ever seen Kimi really excited…or for that matter any Finnish race drivers? Mika Hakkinen comes to mind, as does Tommi Mäkinen.

Perhaps they are really robots built by Bernie to win championships.

But seriously, if you constantly try to find instances of fixing, your probably going to see them, even if they aren’t really there. By your logic above, any sporting event anywhere in the world where two or more competitors finish close together or one unexpectedly beats another is under question.

The unexpected happens in sport, there are close results, impressive come backs, and a Toyota on dry tyres in the rain is going to have to let a Mclaren past. They are just the facts of sport.

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

This story is completely ridiculous. It was mentioned that the Jenson and Lewis switch can be compared to Tiger woods missing cuts and performing badly after a year away from the game. Tiger hasn’t performed well this year, he’s missed short putts, but also hit some good shots. Jenson is an incredible driver along with Rubens, Seb, Mark and Nico. Lewis is doing well, he’s been collecting points and could have had a couple more if he hadn’t lied at Melbourne.

Posted by Alastair | Report as abusive

I just want the FIA to demand the teams equip tyres that can last longer without graining just a couple of laps into the race. This prevents any competitiveness between drivers and teams, and punishes some drivers because of their ‘driving style’. It also makes overtaking either a lot more difficult or very easy. One or two sets of dry ,intermediate and wet tyres will be enough and these should be able to last for a lot longer without graining and ‘falsely’ slowing the cars.

Posted by Alastair | Report as abusive

Of course the car plays an enormous part in the outcome, but with a substandard driver you are going nowhere. Look at Schumacher/Barrichello, Schumacher/Massa, Fisichella was virtually always blown away by his team mate in any team as was Frentzen. Ok so we are not talking about huge time differences, but 1 second per lap adds up to a minute and a half over the length of a race.
Schumacher managed to come 2nd at Spain 94 in the Benetton after spending 2/3 of the race stuck in 5th gear – pit stops included! That brings the driver a little more into play wouldn’t you say.
Then there was Lewis Hamilton on Top Gear’s ‘star in a reasonably priced car’ – he managed to post a previously-thought-to-be unpostable time in the Suzuki Liana, in the rain, whilst singing and larking about…..
Maybe it’s time to just sit back and enjoy the sport and stop finding things to write about just for the sake of filling a blank page.
Journalism / 24hour news channels have become the downfall of modern civilisation, we don’t need to know what is going on 24 hours a day, we don’t need to know that Lewis Hamilton has scratched his nose or that Jordan and Peter Andre are getting divorced. Find something important to write about or just don’t bother writing anything!

Posted by jozmaz | Report as abusive

why there was no such cry when schumacher was churning title after title. everyone thought he was the best driver and barichello was the second. Alonso had different opinion though.

Posted by VIVEK | Report as abusive

You don’t know anything about F1.

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive

Formula 1 racing is a team sport. It needs the supreme efforts of each and every component within the mix including the drivers, engineers, tacticians, pit crews, and on and on…It is not and never will be just one or two elements that wins the championship. These drivers are the best in the world and there is very little difference between any of them. This would become apparent if all other factors could be made equal. Even as it is with the disparity between the other factors, the entire field qualifies within about a second or two of each other. I don’t know of any other motor sport where this level of competition is evident. But after all is said, this is a sport and the rules of the sport are known before the season begins. All the teams are able to prepare for the season and those who prepare the best are going to be the ones who excel during the year.

Posted by Wayne | Report as abusive

To me Formula 1 is both a technology and skill competition.

It is true that sometimes a great driver can’t get results because he doesn’t have a good car and it is also true that some drivers do better than they should because they have a superior car.

If anything I’d like to see technology be a larger part. Simplify and reduce the number of regulations so the teams can innovate.

The best package usually wins races. The package is driver, mechanics, designers, director, etc. Race to race luck has a lot to do with results but in general at the end of the season it is the best overall package that prevails.

Schumacher to me is the greatest F1 driver ever because no only is he a superb driver but he also built a team up from uncompetitive to unbeatable. I do not agree with Schumacher coming back though. There are so many talented young drivers who deserve their time in the sun.

Hamilton and Button are such different styles of drivers that they are an odd mix for the same team. Button is a smooth driver while Hamilton great because of his reflexes. A car that suits one usually wouldn’t suit the other.

Posted by GiantSteps | Report as abusive