How to Lose Championships: Mclaren in 2012

Posted: June 29, 2012 by thevillainf1 in Insights

After a very challenging 2011 which saw him frustrated by a dominant Red Bull and being left with a lot of soul searching to do having been involved in too many silly incidents, most of them of his own doing, 2012 saw a new Lewis Hamilton piling up the controlled, calculating drives which saw him propelled into the championship lead having at last taken a win in Montreal. It is fair to say that judging by his outstanding performances this year, Lewis could have been fairly comfortably leading the championship had the team been on par with their main rivals when it comes to the efficiency of the pitcrew and the people on the pitwall, yet time and again Mclaren have failed their driver this year.  But how many points did he actually lose over these first 8 races of the season?

In this article I intend to do some theorycrafting to determine just how many points Lewis has possibly lost due to his team’s errors this year. To make it a bit balanced I will give an optimistic and realistic alternative scenario as to the amount of points Lewis could have picked up if it was down to just the car and his driving. Both alternate scenarios presume smooth pitstops and decent strategies during the race and qualifying, but the optimist scenario is one where everything falls into place, while the realist one does take into account that after all, no F1 race ever goes completely according to plan.

1.       Australia

After a tense winter wait already in practice it was starting to show that the combined engineering might at Mclaren HQ had finally managed to build a car that was challenging for the win from the start of the season. It only got better when they locked out the front row, and while Button had jumped Hamilton into turn 1 as the race got underway, the team looked set to be cruising to a 1-2 finish to start the year with a bang. However a safety car brought on by Vitaly Petrov’s stricken Caterham saw Vettel jump Hamilton through the pits. We should not lay too much blame on the pitwall as nobody can predict when a safety car will happen, and it came at the worst possible moment for them, but had the team not taken the completely unnecessary risk of pulling both their cars in the pits on the same lap, Lewis would have kept his second place and may have even lept Button. The lead driver always gets priority in the pits of course so Button could have been the one hurt by the SC.  There was no need at all to stack their drivers, and while it went off without a hitch, this unnecessary risk taking did lead to the situation where Hamilton was bumped down to third. Had the team not done so, Lewis would have pitted a lap later and still come out ahead of Vettel; and it’s very possible he could have leapfrogged Button too.

He ended up third but the optimistic scenario says Lewis could have gotten the win due to Button pitting first and being hit by the SC– 25 points – 15 = 10 points lost . Realistic would say he’d have just stayed put in 2nd  – 18 -15 = 3 points lost

Number of errors:1 – unnecessary risk of double pitstop

2.       Malaysia

Having secured pole position again, Hamilton was determined not to get trumped by teammate Button again but this time the weathergods and the Mclaren pitcrew saw to it that again he could only convert the pole into another third place finish. Of course the changeable conditions in Malaysia makes this one a bit harder to theorycraft, but Hamilton was leading as he dived into the pits for his first stop of the day to slap on a set of intermediates only to come out behind Button and Alonso. A problem with the rear jack made for the first in what would sadly become a long series of botched pitstops for the Briton. His woes were not over for this Grand Prix, as later on in the race it became really farcical as one mechanic took ages to tear off a piece of  tape from the brake duct. In the end, Hamilton lost a total of 8.5 seconds in the pits to Alonso. Here’s what Hamilton had to say about it: “In general, we lost some time in the pit stops and I was pushed out of the fight somewhat” (source: F1Fanatic)

In reality he nabbed another 3rd place and 15 points. The optimist would argue he lost another win as he may have held off Alonso and Perez had he come out in front of them during his first pistop and not lost time during the second so 25 -15 = 10 points. The realist would say it did not change much as Alonso and Perez had great pace and he would’ve finished third anyway. No points lost.

Number of errors: 2 slow pitstops

3. China 

In China Nico Rosberg took a dominant maiden victory while Hamilton grabbed his third consecutive third place. It started bad for Hamilton as he was hit with a 5 place grid drop due to an unforeseen gearbox change. But these kinds of mechanical problems do happen in F1 so it would not be fair to chalk this one up to a team error. For once there were no problems for Hamilton’s pitstop although the team did fumble with Button, arguably robbing him of a chance to challenge Rosberg for the win. Anyway, since we are focusing on Hamilton here, no points lost for Lewis in his only team-error free race of the year so far.

Number of errors: 0 (for Hamilton)

4. Bahrain

The Bahrain GP saw the end of Lewis Hamilton’s streak of third place finishes as he only managed to pick up 4 points for an 8th place finish. He was hit by not one, but two pitstop failures, which according to F1 Fanatics’ calculations lost him 13.7 seconds over his three stops, a massive amount of time in this extremely tight field of 2012. Having qualified in p2 behind Vettel he stayed put until the first round of stops saw him parked for 10 seconds as the left rear was slow to come on. Shaking his head, Hamilton rejoined having lost many positions. But again, 1 mistake was not enough for the boys from Woking, as they managed to screw up a second time, again with the left rear which saw Hamilton condemned to drive a recovery race ith which he salvaged 8th place.

The optimist would say that he lost at least a third place finish there, as the pace of Vettel and Kimi is likely to have been too fast for the Mclaren – although it’s tough to tell what the ultimate pace would have been for him if he had no traffic to contend with but let’s stick to saying he could have grabbed another 3rd: 15-4 = 11 points lost. The realist would say that both Lotuses and Webber would have still gotten ahead of him for Lewis to finish 5th: 10-4= 6 points lost

Number of errors: 2 slow pitstops

5. Spain

Lewis had looked set to dominate proceedings all weekend, determined to wash away the disappointment of Bahrain with his first victory of the year. In qualifying he produced a flawless performance to grab the pole by a half a second margin over surprise p2 man Pastor Maldonado. However all would soon unravel after qualifying as it started to become clear that Mclaren had made a monumental blunder sending Hamilton out with too little fuel to make it back to the pits with the required 1 liter fuel sample. True to form, Hamilton drove a near perfect lap but was urged by his team to park the car at the start of his inlap. The utter stupidity of the Mclaren pitwall – and Sam Michael in particular – then started to emerge.

It all started with an amateur mistake by a Mclaren mechanic, who for a few seconds had set the fuel tank to drain rather than to fill as the team prepared for Q3. Already this is the kind of mistake that should just not happen in a team like Mcaren, but it is also a mistake which could have been easily corrected by a competent pitwall. As they sent him out, the team must have immediately noticed that if Lewis went for a hotlap, he would not make it back to the pits.

Instead of doing the only sensible thing, which is to call him back in and do what you can from p7 (which is where he would have qualified based on his first run in q3) with a brand new set of options to boot. In any case, it beats the disqualification he suffered which saw him demoted all the way down to the back of the grid and ruining any chance of a good result, on a track notoriously difficult to overtake on. In a very clumsy defense in front of the steward, Sam Michael tried to call ‘force majeure’ – but it was clear to all this could never fall under that category as the team could have at any time made sure Lewis did have the sample. Instead, they chose to risk it all for a pole that was bound to be taken from them anyway. To me, this was the most damning team failure of the year.

As it unfolded, Hamilton drove a remarkable race to salvage 4 points for 8th, but we all know he probably would have taken the win judging by his dominant form all weekend and superb race pace. Therefore, I’m putting both the optimist and the realist down to say he would have won the race. The car was quick and Hamilton was on fire. 25-4 = 21 points lost.

Number of errors: 1 humongous mistake during qualifying

6. Monaco

The Mclaren car disappointed around Monaco as it made for Lewis’ worst qualifying of the year (disregarding the Spanish DSQ of course) in fourth, which will always put you on the backfoot around the tight streets of Monte Carlo, and everything would depend on either the weather or the pitstops. He did catch a break with Schumacher getting his 5 place grid drop so Hamilton could start in 3rd. Since the expected showers only came just after the race had ended, the pitstops would be where the positions could be gained and lost, and judging by Mclaren’s pitcrew form in 2012 we should have know things were going to go wrong. First Fernando Alonso jumped him by staying out a lap longer and putting in a blistering inlap.

Had both cars pitted at the same time this would not have happened. It was the first error of the day, but in line with their recent performance, Mclaren needs to double up on the mistakes of course. Having had a difficult qualifying, Vettel was out of sync with the rest of the contenders as he ran a very long first stint on the primes. With the tyres holding up very well, he managed to put in the laptimes that brought him back into play. Meanwhile the top 5 were merrily cruising around Monaco as nobody saw a passing opportunity as they were pacing themselves to make sure the tyres lasted. Vettel then created the gap he needed to drop back into the fight for the lead and everybody could see it coming from a mile away that if Hamilton was not careful, Vettel would jump himcoming out of the pits.In a damning show of incompetence, apparently Hamilton’s pitwall failed to alert him of the danger Vettel posed to his position, so Lewis’ surprise to see the German slot just in front of him as he exited the pits must have been great. Had Hamilton known the threat surely he could have eked out the few tenths he needed to keep Vettel behind but if your pitwall lets you down like that it was amazing how calm Lewis remained at the end of the race as he finished in 5th.

The optimist would say he lost a third place in Monaco, as with a better pitstop strategy the team could have prevented both Alonso and Vettel to jump him. 15-10= 5 points lost. The realist might argue that judging by Alonso’s stunning inlap, and of course Mclaren not being able to predict when Alonso would come in as he was still behind them, that he would have lost third to Alonso anyway but kept 4th if the team had informed him of the Vettel threat: 12-10= 2 points lost.

Number of errors: 2 strategic mistakes

7. Canada

In Canada Hamilton finally took a well deserved victory, however this was despite another pitstop error which could have easily ruined yet another race for the Brit. As Hamilton was exiting his box, the mechanics on the left rear (yes, them again) did not get the old tyre out of the way in time as Lewis bumped into it and the car had a strange little jump as a consequence. With F1 cars such fragile machinery this could have caused serious problems – and it already cost Hamilton some time which led to him being jumped by Alonso in the stops. Nonetheless, Hamilton made a decisive move on Alonso as the latter was still trying to get his tyres up to temperature to regain the lead. After that, the team sort of lucked into the right strategy by Hamilton stopping twice as Vettel and Alonso tried to make a one stopper work. Showing the incompetence, while 10 laps before the engineer seemed fairly confident the others were also 2 stopping, he had to come back on the radio and say that they may do a one stop after all. An attacking drive by Hamilton made that he still won the race but it could have turned out very differently as the team’s strategy worked out more due to luck, Hamilton’s balls to the wall final stint rather than actual strategic skill on the pitwall..

Nonetheless, Hamilton won so we cannot say he lost any points in Montreal.

Number of errors: 1 pitstop delay

8. Valencia

Up until that penultimate lap in Valencia, Lewis’ seemed to have turned a corner to put the demons of 2011 aside and was absolutely blameless for all the points he had lost during the past races. Then of course came that run in with Maldonado, which as I have posted on the blog before , Lewis could have prevented had he raced a little bit smarter. The stewards agreed that Maldonado was to blame for the incident, yet Hamilton failing to recognize he was fighting for a lost cause could also be seen as Lewis’ first mistake of the year which has cost him valuable points, on top of the bucketload the team and the pit errors have cost him already this year. However as in my discussion about the incident during the live on twitter review, it is another mistake by the Mclaren pitcrew which put Hamilton in the position he was in, when he could have been out in front and far away from Maldonado had the pitcrew not messed up again.

With a clearly struggling Mclaren he managed to drag himself back up from p6 to p2 following another pitstop blunder in which the front jack failed and the pitcrew reacted a bit panicky before a spare jack was put in place. Vettel and Grosjean’s retirements of course helped, but one might argue that if he did not have to fight back from 6th, his tyres may have held up better until the end, as we know that even the slightest of extra stresses running in traffic put on the tyres can make the difference between falling off the cliff and cruising to the finish. With this in mind, the pitstop blunder may have cost him more than those who say he wouldn’t have held on to 2nd anyway as he hit the cliff about 3 laps from the finish.

Optimists would argue that if Mclaren had not fucked up and Lewis coming out ahead of Alonso at the safety car, he would have been able to nurse his tyres more and get to the finish on the podium at least, perhaps even the win – as Alonso was not really able to gap Hamilton until the latter hit the cliff, so their pace was fairly similar during the final stint. The optimists would say it cost him a possible win so 25-0= 25 points lost. The realistic scenario would say he probably would have struggled with the tyres and ended up in close proximity to Pastor with the result we all know. no loss.

Number of errors: 1 pitstop delay


Let’s round off then to see how Mclaren is losing Hamilton the championship this year:

Total points lost in the optimistic scenario: 10+10+0+11+21+5+0+25 = 82

This optimistic scenario presuming 0 mistakes from the team and the luck of the draw falling his way would have bagged Lewis Hamilton a massive additional 82 points. Added to his real tally of 88 that would mean a whopping 170 points total.

Total lost in the realistic scenario: 3+0+0+6+21+2+0+0 =32

While not as shocking as in the optimistic scenario, even if we look at things through a bit less rosy tinted glasses Hamilton is still down 32 points on what he could have had if Mclaren did not keep failing him time and again, bringing his total points haul up to 120, still a handy lead in the WDC.

Of course both thes scenario would see Lewis take points away from his competitors as well so his lead would be even more impressive than compared to Alonso’s current tally of 111.

Mclaren had the fastest car and fastest driver in the first part of the championship but utterly failed to capitalize on it, in part due to Pirelli’s unpredictability but for the most part  through their own mistakes. Now in Valencia Red Bull has shown that they might very well be the car to beat again, and instead of having a healthy margin to defend, Hamilton is just 3 points up on Vettel and 3 down on Webber. With almost a full win seperating him fron the championship lead.

In 8 races Mclaren have managed to rack up a total of 10 race-ruining mistakes for just one of their drivers which is completely unacceptable for such a top rated team. Even the backmarkers would not allow for such levels of incompetence. Finally sporting director Sam Michael is getting under some pressure for this seemingly never-ending series of mistakes, but so far Whitmarsh seems to have somehow been able to stay out of the eye of the storm.

However with contract negotiations coming up, I would bet that Hamilton has these things in mind when he goes back to the negotiating table and may well decide that while Mclaren have given him great opportunities in his career, they have probably also lost him more than any other team would have (and not only this year, remember China 2007…).

All in all Mclaren is giving a masterclass in how to squander your advantage and lose F1 championships. If Hamilton is to stand any chance to challenge for the WDC against a resurgent Alonso and Red Bull, the error in Valencia must be the very last one we see from Mclaren for the rest of the season…and who can honestly say they believe that will be the case?

  1. hun says:

    perfectly right

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