Mercedes’ F1 channelling of Chairman Mao makes Lewis Hamilton proud

Briton lifts the lid on problem solving: ‘We have all sat down and every person has been critical of themselves, including me’

Hamilton takes a leaf out of Mao’s book

After a poor performance in Canada Mercedes struck back strongly in France and before the race Lewis Hamilton revealed the methodology behind the improvement. “We as a team have all sat down and each and every person has been critical of themselves, including me,” he said. “When they have their big meetings back at the factory they are very, very openly critical. The cool thing is when you come out of those meetings everyone acknowledges: ‘You know what, there are things I can do better, now I will do better rather than making excuses.’” If this sounds familiar, mandatory self-criticism was a central tenet of Maoist political doctrine and used extensively under The Chairman. Whether the great leap forward for Mercedes was down to the engineers and indeed drivers acknowledging their ideological errors to one another – and what one might now refer to as the party hierarchy in Brackley – or just the upgraded-spec engine may become clearer in Austria and Silverstone.

Mercedes have the momentum

Sebastian Vettel’s mistake into turn one, meant a straight comparison between the pace of his Ferrari and Hamilton’s Mercedes was difficult to gauge but a broad perspective suggests the British driver’s team have the front foot for the remainder of this triple-header. In qualifying pace Hamilton appeared to have gained six-tenths of a second on Vettel since Canada. A variety of factors will have played their part: the new engine, the temperature, the track and even Vettel losing third practice due to rain – the session this season when he has usually superbly fine-tuned his ride. But there was also the use of the 0.4mm-thinner tread tyres, last seen when Hamilton was utterly dominant in Spain. They are employed by Pirelli on tracks where there is a fear of overheating and the Mercedes clearly enjoys the characteristics of this rubber more than the Ferrari. They will be confident going into Austria then but positively beaming in Hamilton’s back yard when the thin tread reappears at Silverstone.

Max turns the tables

With three podium finishes in four races Max Verstappen has gone some way to silencing his critics. Vettel was one, suggesting the Dutchman needed to adapt his driving style after he hit the German in China. It was clearly with not a little glee that Verstappen replied when asked his opinion on Vettel’s incident. “I think next time you see Seb you should ask him to change his style. Because honestly, it’s not acceptable. That’s what they said to me at the beginning of the season. And then, of course, Seb shouldn’t do anything, and just drive again and learn from this and go on. That’s my advice to everyone in this room.” He got a good laugh but shortly afterwards it became clear that the issue genuinely really did still rankle for the young driver. “It just makes me angry, because it won’t be as bad on him as it was for me. But I didn’t change a thing, and now everything is going right. At the end of the day they will never get the last laugh because I know what to do. It’s just annoying.”

Ricard has lessons to learn

The pride of French fans at the return of their grand prix after a 10-year absence was a pleasure to behold on race day, with the grandstands awash in a sea of tricolours but the sellout crowd of 65,000 spent much of their weekend with gritted teeth. Traffic problems plagued the circuit with many fans stuck in queues for hours on end attempting to enter and leave the track. Given that it was funded by seven local authorities to the tune of €14m, more infrastructure investment might have been expected. They are learning the lessons that took Silverstone so long and has largely successfully addressed with efficient traffic management and an extensive park-and-ride system. At Ricard there were disgruntled fans who said they would not return and while the passion in France is clear, guaranteeing an improvement next year is key to the future of the race.

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McLaren meltdown

The weekend began poorly for McLaren when “chocolate-gate” emerged: reports that there was widespread dissatisfaction at the team, epitomised when staff were given 25p chocolate bars as a bonus for hard work. The team were left trying to shift the attention back to racing but on track there was no respite. The car has a well-identified problem in a lack of grip through low-speed corners and at Ricard its shortcomings were manifold. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne had their worst qualifying of the year, with the Spaniard ultimately retiring from last place and Vandoorne finishing in 12th. Alonso’s frustration was clear but their problem goes beyond confectionery. The team’s CEO, Zak Brown, admitted the aerodynamic issue did not show up in the wind tunnel and thus was having to be addressed and fixed on track at race weekends. Which raises the most serious question. How did McLaren, of all teams, allow their design to come so far with such a fundamental issue unidentified?


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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