Words: Morné Esben
Thumbnail photo: Renault Media
I found there to be many little sub-plots during the Austrian Grand Prix.
Rumours of Kimi Räikkönen possibly being replaced at Ferrari by the clearly talented Charles Leclerc surfaced in the week leading up to the race, with McLaren there as a safety net for the Finn to fall into. McLaren have moved fairly quickly to throw some cold water on these rumours though. Fascinating story to follow this one.
How will the paddock handle three consecutive races on three consecutive weekends? It’s unprecedented for Formula One and I’d imagine the teams are finding logistics quite challenging as they make their way to Silverstone for the last of the triple-header.
But the thing that stood out for me, especially after the weekend’s race was the “human element” and if fallibility has a place in the sport. Does the human element make the race better to watch?
I refer here especially to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes and the way their virtual safety car (VSC) blunder on lap 15 was handled. Not for the first time this season, Mercedes were caught out by the VSC and how they should play the strategy and in while retrospect, it wouldn’t have changed the result of the race, it did cost him the lead. After a radio message in which Hamilton seemingly criticized his team for the blunder, Mercedes' chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton over the radio after he dropped to fourth, with the Englishman's pain eventually compounded by his first race retirement in 34 races when unreliability struck his car.
Hamilton’s quips were seen by many as “rude”, “childish” and “brattish” but I ask the question, how would you rather him respond in the heat of the moment, with adrenaline coursing through his veins?
For me, team radio is what adds texture to the race-watching experience. When we as the viewers can be a fly on the pitwall. In France, Formula Two driver Arjun Maini had a meltdown of note over the team radio, accusing the team of not doing enough and not having as much desire to win as he did. And yes, while it did come across rude, I give props to the FIA for actually broadcasting the message. To me it shows these drivers give a damn. That they actually care about their craft and that it’s not just a job bringing them a paycheck. Could Hamilton and Maini have responded differently on team radio? Sure. But would it be more entertaining had they given clichéd, rehearsed responses? Would that have made the race better to watch? I think not.
Think back to how much fun we had around the water-cooler the Monday after Fernando Alonso labelled his McLaren Honda engine as a “GP2 engine”. He could’ve been diplomatic and said it’s all part of a process or that everyone is giving it their all to turn things around and to improve. But that wouldn’t have made the water-cooler banter, now would it?
Let’s not chastise the drivers for being human. We all have our feelings towards drivers, which are aligned to our own beliefs, but I’d rather have the raw emotion out there on track no matter how petulant. It adds some entertainment especially during those races where the on-track action is lacking.