As this most fickle of Formula One World Championship seasons reaches its mid-summer break, giving teams a much needed opportunity to refresh and reflect, the importance of consistency remains fundamental.
The two men at the head of the championship have finished every race this season, Fernando Alonso scoring points every time and Mark Webber only missing out once when he finished 11th in Spain. Alonso’s performance for Ferrari is remarkable, and his 40 point lead in the Drivers World Championship the result. The last time he finished a race outside the points at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, and when he arrives in Belgium at the end of August he will have scored points in 35 of the last 36 Grands Prix.
At 31 years of age the Spanish double-World Champion remains at the peak of his powers, and his ability to work closely with the Ferrari team to turn the initially difficult F2012 into a 3-time race winner this season says as much about his work-rate as it does about his talent.
That Mark Webber is second in the championship is in itself a major story of 2012, for although Sebastian Vettel has closed the gap to within two points, the Australian has raised his game this season and banished the memories of a very difficult 2011. Both Red Bull drivers have one win, but Webber’s consistency has been better.
Then we come to Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and McLaren. It is a common view that McLaren ought to be the team leading this championship or at least giving Alonso and Ferrari a much harder time. Mistakes in pit stops, difficulties getting the MP4-27 to optimise its use of Pirelli tyres and a very poor run of results for Button has seen the team struggle unexpectedly.
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, Lewis Hamilton continues to look like a man who sometimes looks both uncomfortable and unhappy. In Hungary he was the Hamilton we remember from 2007 and 2008; in a different league to the others, and totally dominant.
I do not know Lewis Hamilton, but I have worked with and watched top drivers very closely for 30 years and things do not look right. When the results are poor or below expectation, he seems unable to cope. Only when he wins does he seem happy; the problem with that approach is that 90% of the time he is going to be a disappointed man. He has won 19 Grands Prix, but 9 of those came in the first two years and since winning the World Championship in 2008 he has never been higher than 4th. More than ever he must learn from Alonso’s consistency and work-rate within the team. You cannot win every battle.
I have believed for some time that this years World Championship for Drivers would always come down to three people – Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton. Webber has caused an upset by jumping to the front of Alonso’s challengers, but the real surprise is Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn lies 5th in the Championship only 8 points – or one 6th place – behind Webber in 2nd.
As with Webber, Raikkonen has finished every race in the points this season apart from one, and with three 2nd placed finishes a win cannot be far away. He came very close in Hungary. Lotus, a team which has been through some very difficult times in recent years, has flourish this year under the leadership of Eric Boullier. Consistency has lead them to 3rd place in the World Championship for Constructors, ahead of Ferrari and one point behind McLaren, in spite of not winning a race.
If Lotus can continue that form, and Raikkonen find the extra little bit of performance from the Lotus-Renault E20, it could well turn out that Alonso’s biggest rival in the second half of of the season is the man he replaced at Scuderia Ferrari in 2010. Consistency will be key.