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Alain Prost on Lewis Hamilton

Alain Prost So what does that old master F1 driver Alain Prost think of the current situation in the 2007 Drivers’ Championship?

Here are a few extracts from a recent interview he gave with the UK Mail on Sunday.

“Lewis is a breath of fresh air. He has changed everything in the sport. I love a human story in motor racing and we have one this year, for sure. The fight between two drivers in the same team, one a youngster new to Formula One, and the other slightly older, more experienced and twice the world champion, makes it exceptional.”

Prost likens the Hamilton/Alonso duel with his own against Ayton Senna, also with McLaren. “I can understand just how Fernando must feel. When Ayrton came to McLaren, he was the new guy who everyone wanted. It’s the same now with Hamilton. Fernando really wanted to go to McLaren, he had all these ideas of going there as world champion. But once he got there I think he found it was not like his dreams. In fact, he got there and found out he is not even the No. 1 when the other driver is a rookie.”

“Fernando will be able to deal with any ordinary technical problems but, on top of this, he has discovered that Lewis is quick. He did not expect him to be so fast. From the first race I could see that Alonso was not driving the car in the same way as Hamilton. Lewis is really driving the car perfectly. Alonso, though, is driving too aggressively. He is fighting to find the speed. Lewis is just there with it.

He goes on, “What I like most about Lewis is his attitude. His approach is the best one to have. He seems to possess the whole package. He is the best newcomer the sport has ever seen. Just think, when he’s 25 years old, he’s going to be unimaginably good.”

Rich praise indeed.

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Lewismania at Silverstone

Such is the success of Lewis Hamilton in winning both North American Grand Prix, after a string of podium finishes in his first season in Formula One, the commentators are forecasting “Lewismania” at Silverstone in early July.

The McLarens

He has already been likened to “a cross between Ayton Senna and Alain Prost” and remains the one to beat in Sunday’s French Grand Prix.

With a 10-point advantage over McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, Hamilton is sure to start his home GP as leader in the Drivers’ Championship whatever the result in France. One British newspaper says, “He is the hottest ticket not only in motor sport, but arguably in any sport”.

Given the notorious lack of reliability of British sportsmen over the years, one might expect Hamilton to buckle under the weight of expectation. Somehow, though, we know he won’t. Temperament is everything at the top level, and those comparisons with Senna and Prost — two drivers known as Sr. and M. Cool — we expect Hamilton to sail through his biggest test yet.

Team boss Ron Dennis is well aware of his role : “It’s a new experience for all of us.I’m just trying to use common sense to make sure we handle everything the right way. We’ve all had a bit of skirmish in the early races. … They [Alonso and Hamilton] have to be extra careful how they talk about each other in the press. We want to be thinking about what a great achievement this is rather than waiting to put the next fire out.”

Hamilton was at Silverstone this week where the team will have three days of testing ahead of the two back-to-back GPs in France and Britain.

Dennis said, “It is going to be a great season for us. They will have every opportunity to compete. It’s stressful but manageable. Alonso is behind but in the fortunate position of being in a car that can win.”

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The Excitement of Traction Control

Autosport dot com has a good article on the techies’ view of the ban on traction control from 2008 onwards. It means a lot of re-design work for them but generally they seem content with the decision.

They do not think that the racing will be more “exciting” as a result, however. That may be true but I don’t think that was the FIA’s intention anyway – the idea was surely to allow the drivers’ skills a bit more influence on the race results. Everyone is agreed that the ban will help with that, Williams technical director, Sam Michael, admitting that “those who can feel the rear tyres and the throttle will shine.”

Prost

Alain Prost

Well, yeah. Which means that those who can save their tires by more skillful driving will benefit. Years ago Alain Prost was legendary for being able to take care of his tires and then to challenge strongly at the end of the race when everyone else’s tires were shot. In fact, without that ability, it is doubtful that he could have been quite as strong a teammate to Senna when they were both at McLaren. And it is drivers with the smooth, economical style of a Prost who will gain most from the ban, while the more spectacular but abrasive drivers will have to be more careful.

Certainly, it won’t be more exciting – but we might find the usual order shuffled a bit. Just as an instance, Kimi Raikkonen is rumored to be quite hard on his car and that means tires too. If he has to curb his instincts somewhat, that could put him in range of a lot of pretenders to his crown as one of the three quickest drivers. And they do say that Jenson Button is one of the smoothest drivers around…

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Olivier Panis to Retire

As reported by F1 Racing-live, Olivier Panis will retire from his position as Toyota’s test driver at the end of the year. He is hoping to race in other formulae but has decided that F1 is no longer for him.

Panis

Olivier Panis

Olivier’s career in F1 began with the Ligier team in 1994. He showed considerable promise, driving the uncompetitive car to unexpectedly high positions and, in 1996, he won the Monaco Grand Prix. Admittedly, this was after almost the entire field had spun off or collided in the wet conditions but Olivier avoided the trouble to come through at the end. And that’s what counts.

Panis continued to drive for Ligier after Prost took over the team and renamed it. In 1997 he produced some excellent early results, second in Spain and third in Brazil, but in Canada he broke his leg in a bad accident, thus putting an end to a promising season.

Thereafter, Olivier’s F1 career went downhill. He left Prost at the end of 1998 and signed for McLaren as a test driver. Returning to competition in 2001 with BAR, he found that the car was less than he’d hoped and, after two years, he departed for Toyota’s new team.

Although the Toyota improved steadily during 2003 and 2004, Olivier elected to take on a test driver role for them from 2005 onwards. And now he has decided to call it quits. He leaves F1 with a reputation for being a competent and solid driver. Always honest, Olivier could be counted on for some good quotes on F1 events. I will miss his insights into the Toyota team.

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