The season is well under way, Sebastian Vettel has a commanding lead, and all hope seemed lost for a while. Things have changed. Silverstone showed that the Red Bulls where not invincible. Since then their pace has been lacking. Webber can’t convert decent qualifying results into race pace, and Vettel seems to have lost his mojo. Sure, he got second in Budapest, but that was only due to some mistakes my Alonso and Hamilton deciding to whip his car back and forth.
The next two races will prove key. Seb only needs four more victories before the WDC is locked, but I think with some effort from McLaren they can go all the way to the top. Some of these methods may seem counter-intuitive, not typical McLaren stuff. Still, with an adjusted approach, and a little luck, McLaren can still take this.
1. Don’t take risks with R&D.
McLaren started the season trying some radical new elements, some of which worked well, some of which fell flat on their ass. While this approach may have brought the team to the point where they are now, the time has come where Ferrari level risk aversion may be a good thing. One failed upgrade, losing just a few tenths in a critical race can completely end their chances. At this point the team should stick with incremental upgrades. Blatant copying may not be McLaren’s style, but it could save their championship hopes.
They already have demonstrated superior race pace, and the next two races will be critical. Spa has the high speed corners Red Bull loves, but with enough straights that the McLaren should even the score. Should they fail to perform in Spa, Monza is the last proving ground. The long straights play into the silver team’s hands, and the long run to the first corner can be key should the Bulls’ KERS decide to have it’s “time of the month.” Should McLaren perform poorly at both, I’d pull the plug and divert resources to 2012.
2. Get past Ferrari, at all costs.
Ferrari have emerged as the only other team that can take it to the Bulls, and by that I mean Alonso. No doubt he has had some strong results in the latest GP’s, most notable being a spectacular win in Silverstone. The problem is how the team handled the early season, and their driver mentality. My opinions on Massa aside, I really feel bad for the guy, being part of a team that is devoting almost all resources to their wonder boy. This “all for one” mentality means if Alonso has a shaky result there is no one to pick up the slack.
Both Jenson and Lewis have an equal chance at surpassing Vettel should they start turning in dominating performances. Additionally, the same uber-conservative strategy that can make McLaren competitive for the title has damned Ferrari. Consistent podiums are great so long as the guy you’re trying to beat isn’t getting them as well, especially with a 89 point deficit. If Button or Hamilton find themselves behind Alonso, they need to get by him at all costs. This is directed at Button. Lewis is already (in)famous for very… let’s call them bold maneuvers. Button on the other hand seems to race extremely methodically. He may have light the burners if he wants to launch his team into the title race. This is not a situation where picking up consistent points is enough.
3. No team orders.
This seems a little odd I’ll admit. Typically in this kind of situation you’d expect a team to channel all time, resources, and favors towards one driver. In some cases this makes sense, like when a team has one driver who’s obviously faster than the other. McLaren is a bit different. Both drivers, despite polar opposite driving styles, seriously push each other when racing. I’ve noticed that both drivers get quicker and more precise when racing each other. Both are skilled enough to keep it clean in a fair fight, and their lap times benefit from it. The only orders that should be used would be when approaching a Bull. In this case, let the trailing McLaren use the leading one as a willing slipstream partner, launch past the Bull, then delay him enough to let the other to catch and pass. Beyond that, let the stronger driver rise to the top.
There is a single exception, one where I would be willing to let blatant “faster than you” orders fly. Should it come down to the wire, where the trailing car can win the WDC but the leading one mathematically cannot, I’d be willing to let a position swap order go.
4. Preserve tires if lacking quali pace.
We’ve seen what having lots of rubbers can do during a weekend. It’s more fun for everyone (mind out of the gutter, sick bastards). We had Webber blitz the field in China thanks to having many fresh Options to go to. Kobayashi has had similar results a few times, and this is something McLaren can use. Use a single set of Options for Q2 and Q3, then evaluate. If the driver is confident he can improve, strap on a fresh set and go. If not, hold station. Having that few extra laps on an Option can make or break a run, and knowing the tire is completely unused makes it easier to predict when the tires will cliff.
5. Bring me on for aero consultations.
Wait, how did this get in here?
The 2011 WDC is not over. Vettel is not invincible. There is a chance, remote though it may be, that somebody can claw back. Attack the Bulls where they are weak, avoid them where they are strong. That is the key to victory.