Lewis Hamilton will have his work cut out this evening if he’s going to stop Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel becoming the first drivers this year to chalk up two wins. But it’s not impossible. The record books say that pole position is of less significance around the lanes of Montreal than almost anywhere else. So sure, the Red Bull RB8 and the Ferrari F2012 are now more complete cars than the MP4-27. And Vettel was on fire yesterday – three tenths of a second is a huge margin around the Ile Notre-Dame – but frankly, so was Lewis to haul the McLaren on to the front row. But then he’s never been out of the top three this year. 11/10 for effort to Lewis.
But rather less for McLaren we fear. What is going on at ‘Team Perfect’?
It was in Canada a year ago that the tectonic plates in Woking first shifted. A team that had been built to service Lewis Hamilton’s speed and sense of competition (a team that had chewed up and spat out Fernando Alonso don’t forget), suddenly found itself with a new hero to fete. It’s easy to forget that en route to that extraordinary win, Jenson Button drove Lewis Hamilton off the track. (And no, we’re not taking a view on whether he did so with any intention or otherwise). Fact is Lewis lost his voice in the team that day. He could hardly cry foul when the team were celebrating one of the greatest drives in grand prix racing history.
Button of course went on to cement his position, gently wrapping himself ever-more thoroughly in McLaren’s corporate fleece (“Available in three styles!”). When, only weeks later, having secured himself a new contract he publicly urged Lewis to do the same, it was apparent to all that he’d won the battle for the team’s heart. As Lewis’ 2011 went on to fall apart in a series of tiffs with Nicole Scherzinger and Felipe Massa, it was perfectly apparent what had happened. Come Australia this year and Jenson simply out-dragging Lewis, we all thought it could be another pouty year from Stevenage’s fastest son, followed by a contract elsewhere in 2013.
But Lewis has found quite extraordinary strength from somewhere and, despite all kinds of setbacks, few of them of his making, there’s been so sign of last year’s pout. It’s Jenson who’s wearing it yesterday as once again he failed to find the form that took him from front-row to flag in Melbourne. The plates have shifted once again.
It can’t make it easy inside McLaren, and so we are beginning to wonder whether it’s the team and not the drivers that’s suffering in what is starting to look like a dysfunctional, over-crowded marriage. It can’t be easy with loyalties so publicly challenged, so publicly divided. McLaren goes out of its way not to have a number one driver, unlike Red Bull and Ferrari, no matter what the former says. But can it ever really work?
This weekend, in a bid to improve its recently shambolic pit-stops McLaren is experimenting with a new, Ferrari-style swivel-ly front jack. We don’t know about you fellow Sunday Afternooners, but does that make sense when you’ve yet to master the basics? Or rather, forgotten them? Let’s hope they don’t screw up again, because the one part of the team that is working properly right now is Lewis Hamilton.
His luck has to turn this year. He’s more than earned that. So while we do reckon Alonso has what it takes this afternoon, we’re not discounting Lewis. With the effort he’s putting in, while all around him are losing their heads, it would be just wrong to do so. No?