Mercedes and Lewis Need To Go For Broke Or, The BMW Lesson
Something important is happening behind-the-scenes during the mid-season break in F1 and I’m not talking about silly season or decadent driver’s holidays. Although it must seem to the average person that F1 teams have abundant and possibly excessive cash to spend, in fact they’re all part of large corporations so at some point the bean counters are involved. Just like the department at the company where you work, there is a budget that must be adhered to, its just about a gazillion times bigger than your department budget. And just like any department, at some point the higher-ups might take your department’s budget and re-allocate it in a different way. This is the time of year when many F1 teams may decide to cut their losses on this year’s model and move their focus to the 2014 chassis.
Not everyone has a tough decision. If you’re Red Bull, no question, the championship is yours to lose, throw whatever is required at the 2013 chassis. If you’re Caterham or Marussia, it’s probably time to call it for this year and start focusing on next year, obviously. If you’re Ferrari, you need to turn things around in the second half or possibly lose your Italian citizenship; I think the government is actually allowed to revoke it if you don’t win enough races.
But what if you’re Mercedes? What if you’re the Mercedes accountant and you somehow missed my August 7 post where I picked Hamilton to win it all based on Mercedes’ recent momentum? It’s true, there actually seems to be some discussion in the Mercedes camp that with 2014 seeing such a radical change in the sporting regulations maybe it would be wiser to start concentrating on next year’s car, thus making the decision to stop developing this year’s car.
Nico Rosberg was quoted recently saying he believes the chance of Mercedes winning the driver’s championship is slim but the opportunity for next year is huge. Translation – we are too far behind this year, even now with a truly competitive car, it would make more sense to do everything we can to ensure that we start next year with the best possible car.
Toto Wolf describes it this way: “that is what we need to achieve – consolidation should be the agenda for the second half of the year, not looking at the championships.”
“Consolidation should be the agenda?” I’m sorry, is this not racing? I don’t want to sound insensitive to Mercedes’ dilemma, it is quite a conundrum: keep your foot in it for this year and sacrifice development of next year’s car, or get a head start on next year’s car and show up in Abu Dhabi with a chassis that is dialed in.
But think about it this way. Stop development this year and race around only competing for third through eighth, finish further down the pylon, receive less prize money from Bernie with the hope and uncertainty that your car will be at the front next year (doesn’t everyone think their car will be the best at the beginning of the season?) Or, continue with what you know to be true (if you read my Aug 7 post); that as of right now, as of the last race, you, Mercedes, in the hands of Lewis Hamilton can challenge for pole and have the fastest car.
Question: Does anyone remember when BMW competed in Formula 1 as a works team and Robert Kubica was driving for them? Let me take you back to 2008 and although Lewis Hamilton won the championship that year (by just one turn), BMW and Kubica both recorded their first wins together in F1 not to mention five other podiums to give the impression that this team and this driver were the real deal. At one point in the season, Canada I believe, after his error free drive and victory, a first for a Polish driver, Kubica was in fact leading the championship by four points over Felipe Massa. This was when four points really meant something.
Unfortunately, despite this newfound success, 2008 ended up being BMW’s swan song. After finishing a respectable third in the constructor’s race and fourth in the driver’s championship the Bavarians called it quits after only four years in the sport as a works team. Correction, the board of directors of the Bavarians called it quits. I assume that Mario Theissen and company would have been just fine in continuing their pursuit of perfection – oh, I mean racing. And now you see the lesson. Mario and Robert never got another chance.
Did BMW miss an opportunity to take home the driver’s trophy that year? Of course Mario Theissen could not have foreseen that his board was about to pull the carbon fiber rug right out from under his feet. Maybe he thought he had more time to get to the winner’s circle. I’m paraphrasing but I distinctly remember throughout the year Mr. Theissen saying after every race in which the team and its drivers achieved just a little bit more, something similar to “Our aim is not race wins yet, nor the championship, we have a very defined agenda and check list and we will stick to it. Etc, etc.”
This plan of attack is justifiable, everything in F1 is so difficult. Don’t try to over achieve, if you set your goals too high the fall is quite painful. Slow and steady progress will pay dividends, for many pieces need to fall into place to race successfully at the highest level which is Formula 1.
And yet, I also seem to recall Kubica in interviews hinting that he was surprised and mystified that while BMW was becoming more competitive, the talk in the team was not of more race wins, or a possible championship but only of achieving certain goals the team had set themselves. Here is what Kubica had to say after that breakout year with BMW.
“Last year I was a bit upset because I felt like we didn’t do the maximum to take our opportunity to fight for the championship because I said it might never happen again. Now, what we know one year later, it’s that BMW with me in the car, at least in the near future, never has a chance to be leading or fighting for the championship. But that’s how it is, that’s racing and the sport works. The situation overall is very disappointing, and this decision doesn’t help.”
Like most racers from Europe, Robert’s English could use a little more practice, but if you read between the lines it is clear that although BMW had what looked like a championship winning car, for some unknown reason they decided this was not the direction the team was interested in pursuing.
Here is how James Allen, as you already know one of my favorite pundits in F1, summed it up in a post titled Kubica Learned of BMW Decision By Email: “There is a terrible irony for Kubica about the way BMW’s demise has come about. He was pushing for the team to throw everything at developing the 2008 car as he felt that they had the chance to win the title and that you never know when that chance may come again. I remember his anger as the season ebbed away from him, the corporate non-racer mentality of the management having decided to focus on 2009 and only development that had a carry-over potential. Sadly 2009 never came.”
“Sadly 2009 never came.” With hindsight, it looks to me like just as BMW was on the verge of finally becoming a front runner after two years as a works team and five as an engine supplier to Williams, they somehow convinced themselves out of it. They somehow made the agenda or their checklist more important than what that agenda and checklist was meant to achieve: winning races and contending for a championship.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I was racing, be it the one with my hands on the steering wheel or the one with my hands on the stopwatch, I would be racing to win. Period. Getting through one’s checklist is fine and all, but at the end of the day and especially the end of the race [lol] winning is what counts.
So I am going on record in saying I think that it is a terrible idea for Mercedes to stop developing the 2013 chassis in order to focus on 2014.
Yes, I know what you are all saying, what about the tires? Has Mercedes really and truly solved their issue? Well I say maybe they have and maybe they haven’t, but one thing is for sure the only way to find out is to race to win and that means staying in the game. It’s the here and now that’s important. And right here and right now is the exact time Mercedes should be on the attack. They have Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari right where they want them–on the back foot.
Mercedes has seven pole positions to Red Bull’s three. All of Red Bull’s poles have been in rain-affected conditions, they have yet to claim a pole in dry weather running. Mercedes on the other hand began this pole fandango with Nico Rosberg and at some point Lewis decided that he wanted in on the action and now has the last three poles for Merc in succession.
As I have been telling anyone who will listen, Lewis is dangerous when he has anything resembling a decent car, and I don’t mean that in the pejorative. This is the Lewis that gave world champion Fernando Alonso a run for his money when he was just a rookie, this is the Lewis that captivated his country and became a mega star from the day he got in the cockpit of a McLaren. This is the Lewis that I am sure Niki Lauda had in mind when he persuaded him to jump ship.
Most expect Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel to take a fourth title, he is a brilliant driver, they have a brilliant aerodynamicist that is doing things with the front wing and rear body that is just mind boggling and they are used to winning. But they have to be worried, how has the little team from Brackley been stealing their thunder all season on Saturday and recently even handed out a smackdown on Sunday? What a contest we could see if Mercedes stays in the game!
Of course one of the greatest second half comebacks of all time won’t even be possible if the powers that be decide to call it quits and put all the team eggs in next year’s basket. Mercedes has an opportunity here that has not been available to them in the three years they have been in F1 – to actually win a championship. Most teams never even get close to a win let alone get this kind of opportunity.
This is the moment to act NOT as BMW did in checking off the boxes or sticking to the agenda. Providing the rear end on the Merc is up to it, this is the chance for Ross, Toto, Niki and all of the board members that keep looking at the cost/benefit analysis to do something incredible. Lewis will not give up, nor should they. They should see this season out, and not make the same mistake those other German guys made.
I don’t want to read a quote in a couple months from Lewis similar to Kubica’s about how it’s a pity and how that’s racing and there is always next year. Yadda yadda yadda. Let do this.
-jp- (and don’t get any ideas, I still think Alonso should and could be champion this year. I’m such a sucker…)