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On Giving the Drivers a Break

I have written before about the pressure the arrival of new and talented young drivers puts on the old guard of F1. Even recent arrivals like Mark Webber must be looking at the hype surrounding such hotshoes as Kubica, Kovalainen, Sutil and Hamilton and wondering where their next drive is coming from.


Lewis Hamilton

The first few races have put some of this into perspective, with Kovalainen and Kubica struggling to make an impact at first, but Hamilton’s amazing form has upped the ante for everyone, including the young ones. Suddenly every team owner wants another Hamilton and the pressure transfers to the new arrivals to prove that they, too, can work miracles.

No doubt reality will break through eventually and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief as Hamilton makes the occasional mistake or suffers a run of bad luck (he had both in GP2 – it will happen in F1 too). But the benchmark for new drivers has moved higher than ever before and will stay there.

Like him or loathe him, Michael Schumacher has become the model for drivers to be measured against now. The extreme levels of fitness, commitment, technical ability, tactical astuteness, public persona and speed he demonstrated are now expected of all drivers and we may have seen the last of the drivers who rely only on a God-given talent to see them through.

Hence the pressure on Raikkonen at the moment; he is seen as supremely talented but uncommitted to his task and his early departure from the Barcelona GP is cited as evidence of this. Rumors abound that Scott Speed is about to be replaced at Toro Rosso (by Vettel, of all people) and the denials by Berger and Tost do little to quell speculation. The pressure on drivers mounts to the point where the message becomes “deliver the goods by mid-season or you’re history”.

It is all faintly ridiculous and ignores the fact that many champions have taken time to find their feet in F1. Nigel Mansell was one and it took Keke Rosberg years to be offered a competitive drive. We need to face the fact that not every potential champion is a Schumacher, that many great talents of the future will have other approaches to their task.

All of which is leading up to another plea for Speed not to be dismissed. I have already pointed out his excellent performance at Barcelona, in spite of bad luck preventing any fulfillment of the promise. Here now are the midday practice times from today’s testing session at Paul Ricard:

1. Webber – Red Bull – 1:29.687
2. Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:30.051
3. Speed – Toro Rosso – 1:30.053
4. Barrichello – Honda – 1:30.108
5. de la Rosa – McLaren – 1:30.457
6. Montagny – Toyota – 1:30.478
7. Rossiter – Super Aguri – 1:30.575
8. Kovalainen – Renault – 1:30.917
9. Kubica – BMW – 1:30.931
10. Wurz – Williams – 1:31.324
11. Winkelhock – Spyker – 1:32.756
12. Albers – Spyker – 1:32.960

Enough said.

Update – Final Times from Paul Ricard, 3rd Day:

Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1:28.833
Speed, Toro Rosso – 1:29.039
Kovalainen, Renault – 1:29.070
Kubica, BMW – 1:29.157
Webber, Red Bull – 1:29.179
Montagny, Toyota – 1:29.205
Wurz, Williams – 1:29.359
de la Rosa, McLaren – 1:29.528
Barrichello, Honda – 1:30.108
Klien, Honda – 1:30.235
Rossiter, Super Aguri – 1:30.286
Albers, Spyker – 1:32.245
Winkelhock, Spyker – 1:32.756

15 Responses to “On Giving the Drivers a Break”

  1. No no, by all means, PLEASE get rid of that ridiculous yankee. Speed. That belongs in the Cheerios Home Depot Target Walmart Ganassi Team, now with super driver Scott SPEED!


    The thing is, with MS and Lewis setting the bar so high, every team principal will demand only THAT of their drivers. If they don’t deliver instantly, they’re no good. That’s sad of course, but the good thing is we will only get to see the very best drivers in the world.

  2. Well, Haplo, Jackie Stewart says that there is only one or sometimes two drivers of that caliber in each generation. We could have pretty sparse grids if everyone has to come up to those criteria!

    As for Speed – like I say, you should give him a break. :D

  3. Got a long one for ya…..

    Timing is everything. Had Hammy made his jump to F1 last year, he would have had an uncompetitive car, he would just be another promising rookie waiting for a chance. Instead, like you said, he has raised the bar.

    As far as Kimi goes, I think that allowing him to leave early was a nice gesture from his employers. It shows that they are not out to get him. Staying for the entire race would not benefit anyone, but allowing him to leave may have increased his moral a bit. Sometimes you wont try as hard out of spite. Not that he wouldn’t try, but he may be more focused now.

    Speaking of moral, Speed’s must be very low. We speak of Kimi have horrible luck but what about S/S? On top of that his team isn’t reassuring him at all. So much more is expected of the Honda drivers and they cant produce, so its blamed on the car. Speed cannot produce but its blamed on him when more often then not it is out of his control.

    I would believe that Bernie would prefer Scott to stick around and get good in a hurry. I don’t think he will ever be an Alonzo, but he could do the same thing for American F1 coverage that Alonzo has done for Spain….. If you want a night street race do it in Los Vegas, its lighter at night then during the day. Plus you could have it at 4A.M. and you could still get a massive crowd.

    Over the last 3 races this is what has happened to Speed (I forget Australia’s results already):

    Malaysia – Button stalled and Scott was collected in the wreck
    Bahrain -Punctured tire
    Spain – Blown tire – does Bridgestone hate America!?!

  4. Well, not America, there are several americans in F1 doing fairly well. Maybe just NORTHamerica. USA. Sorry, that pisses me off to no end everytime I hear it.

    Now, Bernie is about to ditch Silverstone, has ditched Spa and so on. Do you really think he cares the slightest bit about that ridiculously surnamed NORTHamerican?

    He could manage 3 races in the USA even if he banned drivers from that country for 100 years.

  5. Idle thought, but might Mark Webber become the second seriously quick Antipodean to somehow go his whole career without ever winning a race?

    Don’t think Toro Rosso have done a good enough job to allow any sensible analysis of how well their drivers are doing….although if Bourdais became available, I’d take him over either of Liuzzi and Speed, if I were Berger.

  6. Food for thought indeed, Dan. A very good point that Hamilton would not have made such a splash had he arrived last year – and I’ve not seen it mentioned before. So much depends on luck, as you say.

    Speed is not much regarded even in America, probably because he did not race in the standard American formulas and so become known. He won the Red Bull Search for American Talent award quite early in his career and did all of his racing in Europe from then on. But, if you take a look at racing in the States (disregarding NASCAR because they don’t usually graduate to F1), there aren’t many home grown drivers around these days. Most of the series are dominated by Europeans and South Americans and so the only ones coming through from there are non-Americans like Bourdais. Apart from Marco Andretti (who gets his chance mainly through his name, I suspect), can you think of any Statesiders who might make it into F1 in the near future? I can’t.

    So Scott remains America’s one hope for the time being. If his luck were to change, the TR02 become fast and reliable and so enable him to get some decent finishes, he could quickly appear on the American race fan’s radar and do a great service to F1 in the States as a result. If he’s not doing so already, Bernie should be praying for Speed’s success!

    Great idea for a night race in Las Vegas too. But let’s not have it in the Caesar’s Palace car park this time!

    I checked on what happened to Speed in Australia. He qualified ahead of Liuzzi but suffered a tire failure in the race. In Malaysia he “survived a bump from his Toro Rosso team-mate in the opening laps and finished 14th ahead of Ralf Schumacher and Davidson. Liuzzi pitted for a new front wing after clipping Speed into the final turn and would finish 17th.” It was Bahrain where Button collected Speed in the course of his accident. Then the burst tire in Barcelona, of course. How people can say that Liuzzi is doing a better job I do not understand – Scott has done very well, considering the bad luck he’s had.

    Has anyone else had Bridgestone tire failures this year? I can’t recall any. Maybe you’re right about them… ;)

  7. I’m going to come to blows with my friend Clive, but I look at the timing chart above , Scot Speed well positioned at 3rd and Clive states……”enough said.” Well, let’s read this again, WEBBER tops the chart and I (could) say:
    “enough said”. Now we all know Webber’s not going anywhere soon and we all know Speed isn’t either. A good day on the test chart is almost an omen of disaster. May I ask readers to go back to testing during the off season of 2004/2005. Pizzonia topped the charts about 40% of the time and where is he today. A test chart is the WORST place to look for talent.
    Dan M.. states: “Had Hammy made his jump to F1 last year, he would have had an uncompetitive car, he would just be another promising rookie waiting for a chance.” Bull’s Eye! Spot-on Dan! Hammy is good, I’m not disputing that, but it’s the rejuvenated McLaren that has launched Hamilton. Lewis Hamilton in Scot Speed’s car and we likely wouldn’t know the difference!
    I guess that says more for Speed than Hamilton but that’s not far from the truth. And it’s going to get worse friends…….Vettel, Piquet Jr., Senna, Andretti all want to get their kids in the act and now these 14 year olds on Williams and McLaren’s payrolls. My spring is wound tight, don’t get me started !!!!!!!!

  8. Quite right, Haplo, and my apologies – we do tend to talk about Americans when we mean Statesiders. But we would never forget the South Americans. After all, there have been a few quick drivers from that neck of the woods: Fangio, Pace, Piquet, Senna, Montoya, Massa and plenty of others. I’ll try to remember to say Statesiders in future. I’d say Yanks but that tends to be an insult in southern states… ;)

    I think Bernie cares much more about the USA than he lets on – it’s still the biggest market in the world and you know how he loves money. :D

  9. What a terrible thought, Patrick! Mark would probably come out with some awful Australian expletives if he even dreamed that people were beginning to wonder about that… :D

    It looks as though we’ll get our chance to see how good Bourdais is next year. I’ll reserve judgement on him until then, I think.

  10. Actually, I agree that testing times are a poor yardstick, Number 38. But, when you’re trying to defend a driver against the entire world, anything that helps will be used! If nothing else, the time proves that Speed can do the laptimes when the car holds together. If it will do that in the races as well, young Scott just might surprise everyone.

    I’m not sure that I agree with you on Webber, however. When he first came into F1 and scored a point for Minardi in his first race (which made everyone think he was the greatest), I withheld judgment in my customary fashion – let him do it a few more times and I’ll believe, I thought. Well, he didn’t that year and I assessed him as competent but nothing special. Since then he has gradually changed my mind; I like his determination (if not his whining) and he does seem to have a fair turn of speed too (Coulthard has had a hard time keeping up with him this year, in qualifying at least). The guy may be better than his cars have allowed him to show, methinks.

    That’s quite a list of young hopefuls you compiled there, Number 38 – looks as if a new era is coming on and you and I are about to become even older than dinosaurs… ;)

  11. I cannot think of any American born driver that could possibly compete at Speeds level. But I also don’t think you need to be BORN in the states to be attract our interest. All that really matters is that he is a household name. Most of are greatest sports figures are from elsewhere.

    Bourdais will be a great addition to F1, the reason he hasn’t gotten a chance sooner is due to the state of open wheel in America. There is no one to compare him to. He has no equal in his current league and therefor his potential is unknown.

    Marco would then be my second choice, I don’t think he deserves it though because he has yet to really prove himself, especially on a real track (unlike most here, I hate oval racing, although the infield makes for a great spectator road race and easily lit track…. Los Vegas Speedway night race anyone?).

    Haplo, you are correct we are not all of America, but we are also not North America, we are the United States. Referring to us as North America would be like me saying Western Europe when I refer to Britain. Your augment would be valid had you said the States instead of referring to us as North America. Canada has been a staple race of F1 for some time. Also I heard this guy Villeneuve wasn’t too bad ;) .

    Bernie does care about America as a whole… well he doesnt care about anything but money but we have plenty of it. The English will watch the sport regardless of Silverstone being a race. Bernie is trying to get races in areas that need F1 exposure. After the 2005 United States GP he has a lot of work on his hands to make it creditable to the masses here.

  12. That’s the Brits’ problem too, Dan – we tend to be too fair and will support any driver if he’s good enough. But give us a Brit champion and we’ll love him forever (we hide our patriotism but it’s there even so). I suspect the same is true of the States – if a true local boy were to make good in F1, the support would be there in truckloads. Heck, they’re still using old Mario Andretti to suggest checking your tire pressures here. ;)

    As for Bernie, well, when it comes to money, he’s no fool…

  13. Scott went second fastest in the second session, granted this means nothing and most drivers were test drivers. But what is worth noting that he came in ahead of both Webber and Kubica, both of whom have something to prove and would be looking to be at the top of the sheet.

  14. Yes, I was about to post an update, Dan. The likelihood is that Speed’s time was set with low fuel and new tires but the other teams will have tried that too – after all, nobody likes sitting at the bottom of the timesheets at the end of the day. So I think Scott’s time is indicative both of an improvement in the car and his ability when things go right for a change. All he has to do now is reproduce it in the races. ;)

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