Originally Ron Dennis wasn’t going to come to Malaysia as he had to attend “important family business that nobody wishes for” back in the UK. Whatever unpleasantness it was isn’t important here but was important enough to Ron for him to say he wouldn’t be at Sepang. Wouldn’t he?
Well, the McLaren team made all the arrangements and got settled into the swing of things on their own, which I am sure they are very capable of. After all, they are nothing if not one of the most professional of outfits in F1, and always have been.
Meanwhile, Lewis was on Cloud 9 after his performance in Melbourne. He had an ego attack. They say that pride comes before a fall, and all of his interviews since his race win have been those of a proud man under-estimating the task ahead of him. Despite having failed to achieve it in his first year.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a big Lewis fan. I know he was a rookie last year, but in so many ways he was also a seasoned McLaren veteran of 10 years. He knew the ropes. He was probably the best prepared rookie the sport has ever seen. But maybe he has come to believe everything comes very easily to him? With his talent, it probably does, but sometimes (perhaps like his Dad) I worry that he focusses on the wrong things sometimes. I know that he annoys some people who for some strange unfathomable reason seem to admire (yes, I know that is a strange word to use in this context) and believe in Alonso. Maybe it’s for this reason?
On the other hand, Lewis has been looked after and protected since the age of 12, and his Dad still travels to the GPs with him. Well, if I was his Dad, I would too. I mean, c’mon, what a dream job! The only thing missing is you aren’t in the car yourself. But I bet he has been! If Renault can let Richard Hammond into one of their F1 cars, I’m sure McLaren could do the same for Lewis’s Dad.
Heikki Kovalainen is in the car though. And he’s good. So good, that he out-qualified Lewis today. He did a good job. During his qualifying laps. In only his second outing with the team. Amazing. But like Lewis, he is young and needs constant guidance. They haven’t been through the treadmill of the bottom then the mid-ranked then finally after much hard work, the top teams after competing out of the spotlight to learn the GP ropes.
So, when both Heikki and Lewis had finished their hot laps with still over a minute and a half left until the end of qualifying while other cars were still doing hot laps it was the Team’s responsibility to tell them to keep off the racing line, it was the Team’s responsibility to tell them to watch out for fast cars, it was the Team’s responsibility to let them know there were actually still cars out there circulating at racing, nay, qualifying speeds. Going into fuel-saving mode is one thing, but you have to honour the niceties of the sport.
To be fair, I did see Lewis scamper over to the right (off-line) side of the track after Heidfeld flew past him while Heikki didn’t. I suspect Heikki was trying not to hit his speed limiter again. Or he was frantically trying to get it to work now McLaren have changed its mode of operation. I guess both drivers were as surprised as anyone when Nick Heidfeld weaved past them as if on a Super G Slalom course.
Do you know what it’s like to be passed by a loud, fast moving piece of machinery doing more than 200 kph right next to you? From personal experience, I can tell you it’s a shock. No matter how cool you are, how brave, your body reacts before you can think about it. You flinch.
For me, I was walking down the central runway that linked Becketts with Woodcote on the old Silverstone airfield style circuit at the 1976 Formula 750 bike GP. It was a lovely sunny day, practice had ended, and I was just walking back to the driver’s paddock where I was staying with some mates. Out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, ten times World Champion Giacomo Agostini flew past me on his Yamaha 4 cylinder, transverse engined 750cc 2 stroke screamer, as close to me as you would be if you were walking beside me. His slipstream tugged me into his wake, and pulled my T shirt so that it flapped like the Tibetan prayer flag that at that moment I wished it was. Now you don’t hear him, now he’s gone. And you’re deaf on that side.
Oh yes. Fast things are fast. And you get no time to do anything as they come past you – unless you have pre-prepared. Today, it was clear that this was something the McLaren Team had not pre-prepared. Or, in the excitement of Ron’s arrival on Saturday morning, their calm deliberations skipped a beat, because at Turn 4 neither Heikki nor Lewis had moved off the racing line. Until their Agostini moment.
So Heidfeld complained, Alonso joined in like the good moaner he is, and both McLarens lost five places each on the grid after the Stewards took five hours to think about it. Maybe Nick wouldn’t have been so cross if Lewis hadn’t cold-shouldered him so openly after the race in Oz last week. It was plain to see that while Lewis made a huge fuss of Rosberg, from what the TV cameras showed he totally ignored Nick who I think is probably a nice guy if you let him be one.
I know it’s a competition, but there’s an old saying “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. Lewis needs to have another look at his ego – or his feeble attempts at gamesmanship. As I said, pride comes before a fall, and he is beginning to act just a little bit cocky. ITV ran a post-qualifying session interview with him and he was clearly suggesting the Ferraris may present no greater problem than last year when he overtook them both at the first corner.
Well, that’s going to be a whole lot harder from 9th on the grid, isn’t it Lewis?