Reader Q&A with The F1 Times Daniel Chalmers

( Williams F1, LAT Photographic)

19 July 2012 by Daniel Chalmers

In a brand new feature our Features Editor Daniel Chalmers gives his opinions on questions from The F1 Times readers.

Do you think another driver can win a race this season? – Paul Murtagh

Although the season is settling down and the cream is rising to the top, I still think we will see one or two more different winners. Maybe even another three to make it ten winners in one season.

For me Lotus should have won two or three races already by now. They have the car to do it but due to reliability, strategy or the drivers missing their chance it hasn’t happened yet. I think it will happen though. It has to.

I think Hungary will be their next best chance. The E20 is very strong in hot conditions and that is what we normally get in Hungary. Plus the car has strong aerodynamics for the long medium speed corners, and good traction for the slow corners there.

I can see Michael Schumacher winning a race too. The W03 will be very strong in Spa with the long straights, plus this car is better in cooler conditions, which we normally experience in Spa. Mercedes should be very useful in Monza too.

I doubt we will get another shock like Pastor Maldonado’s victory in Spain. However I do fancy one of the Sauber drivers to win if we get another wet race at some point.

Do you think Bruno Senna can improve his season sufficiently to keep his drive at Williams for next season? - @Schuvettelainen

Does Senna need to improve to keep his seat? (© Williams F1, LAT Photographic).

Firstly I don’t think Bruno is having that bad a season. Out of nine races so far he has finished in the points five times compared to Maldonado’s two. If you were to take the Spanish GP out of the equation he would be 18-4 up on his team mate points wise.

Yes, generally Maldonado has been comfortably the quicker driver, but Senna has been the more reliable driver. You have to finish to win points. I was also very impressed by Bruno’s drive in the wet in Sepang.

In the second half of the season if he can focus and improve on his single lap pace, then I think that would make a huge difference to him, because overall his race pace has shown promise.

Will that be enough to keep his seat? His issue is a very talented young driver called Valtteri Bottas who has been making waves every time he has turned a wheel in a F1 car, whether it has been in testing or Friday practise sessions.

He certainly has a very good chance of a promotion, which means either Maldonado or Senna has to make way. Due to the amount of money Pastor brings to the team it’s very unlikely to be him.

That leaves us with a straight fight between Bottas and Senna for the second seat. It’s a close call but if Senna can improve his single lap pace I still think he has a chance to keep the seat. Plus let’s not forget he brings a nice amount of money to the team too

Having said that my gut instinct is that Bottas will replace Senna next season. Williams will want to give him a drive before he gets the opportunity somewhere else.

However I think that Senna will still have done enough to get employment elsewhere.

Do you think with Pirelli now in the game we could take off the DRS and the races would still be as exciting? - @ElenaF1

Is there a need for DRS now Pirelli are involved?.

I think the answer to that is yes and no.

Pirelli have clearly done a brilliant job of spicing up races, with the varying state of driver’s tyres opening up overtaking chances. The strategy in races is also the most interesting I can remember for a long time.

If we removed DRS altogether then I think at most tracks we would still get plenty of overtaking thanks to Pirelli.

However at tracks like Valencia, Abu Dhabi, Hungary, and Singapore I think DRS is definitely necessary.  We would go back to processional races at those circuits without DRS, even with the Pirelli influence.

At circuits such as Spa and Montreal we certainly don’t need DRS as there has always been overtaking at those tracks. In fact in my opinion DRS has made those races a bit of a farce. I think Hockenheim will turn out to be another circuit where DRS is a farce too.

So I would like to see DRS used on the tracks that need it but not on the tracks which have always been good for overtaking. Or as a compromise solution at the overtaking tracks just put DRS on one of the shorter straights, so it doesn’t have too much of an impact.

Looking at it from a completely different angle if the cars had less aerodynamic downforce, and there was more focus on mechanical grip, we wouldn’t need fast degrading tyres or DRS.

However now that we have good racing I sense short life tyres and DRS is here to stay for the time being. Teams are going to be reluctant to make wholesale changes to the design of the cars. For one thing change is very expensive, and Adrian Newey designed cars will dominate.

So we have great racing but whether F1 has gone in the right direction I am not so sure.  Fast degrading tyres and DRS seem to me like a plaster to cover up the real route of the overtaking problem.

Having said that, I would be telling a lie if I wasn’t enjoying what I am watching at the moment.

Do you feel that McLaren will go against their equal driver’s policy and back Hamilton for the championship given Button’s recent form and position in the standings? - @chris_chalmers

Equal status. But for how long? (© McLaren).

That’s a very interesting question.

I can’t see McLaren going against their equal driver policy for the next few races at least. At 79 points behind the championship leader, Jenson isn’t completely out of it if he can put together a strong run and other results go his way. However if Button’s form doesn’t pick up then I think focussing on Lewis is something McLaren will consider seriously.

Ferrari’s championship hopes are focussed completely on Alonso. Massa isn’t going to take any points away from him. Points that Button takes away from Hamilton may prove very crucial and help Alonso.

Also Red Bull’s drivers are taking points away from each other at the moment in what looks like a very tight battle. Therefore if McLaren opted to focus on Lewis it would give him a big advantage over the Red Bull drivers in the championship, which again could prove very crucial.

Let’s also remember that McLaren are trying to get Lewis to sign the dotted line at the moment. If they promised to put 100% focus behind him maybe that might persuade to him to stay? Just a thought.

If I were Martin Whitmarsh I would be making Lewis my number one driver right away. Hamilton is on great form this season whilst the rules (mainly the ban on EBD) and tyres just don’t seem to be working for Jenson, and there is no overnight cure for that.

Button might hit form again, but I think he has too much to do to have a realistic shot at being world champion. He will only take points away from Lewis.

If Button and Hamilton were one-two in Germany I would be making the call to Button to let Lewis pass. It’s brutal on Jenson but you have to be to win titles. There is no room for sentiment in this business. It's the price Jenson has to pay for a poor run of form.

When Massa was told to move over for Alonso in Germany in 2010 it made perfect sense to me. Alonso was the on-form driver that year, and you knew Massa wasn’t going to make an impact on the title race looking at the points table. The state of play this season is almost a replica of that situation.

The only difference being that team orders is now actually allowed by law.

What is Franz Tost going on about? How can they be happy? Why can’t they admit they made a mistake? – @Phil BeckettUk

Were Ricciardo and Vergne a good gamble for Toro Rosso? (© Toro Rosso, Getty Images).

The 2012 Toro Rosso driver choice has been causing huge debate ever since it was first announced. For me I think they did make a huge mistake.

The best thing to do would have been to have a Daniel Ricciardo/ Jaime Alguersuari line-up. The problem with the Ricciardo/ Jean-Eric Vergne pairing is that there is no reference point as both drivers are new.

Had Toro Rosso kept Alguersuari then he would have been a brilliant yardstick to assess Ricciardo’s talents against. If Daniel was regularly 0.5 seconds faster than Jaime, then I think that would have been a brilliant indication that he is a supremely talented driver.

The problem with the team is that I think they expect their drivers to perform to the level that Sebastian Vettel did in 2008, and if they don’t then it is goodbye. Toro Rosso’s performance has dropped a lot over the last few seasons so performances like Vettel’s back in 2008 are now impossible.

Yes, Vettel’s performances were very good but the Toro Rosso was a great car that year. In Monza let’s not forget Sebastian Bourdais qualified right at the front too in fourth place. Vettel wouldn’t be repeating his 2008 heroics in this season’s car.

Red Bull also seem to skip some of their young drivers by the GP2 stage which I think is a huge mistake. GP2 is the ultimate preparation for F1. As Maldonado says in this month’s F1 Racing magazine: "Driving a GP2 car and an F1 car is very similar."

It’s a tough world for young drivers with so much talent in F1 now. Some get the axe before they get the chance to develop. Look at drivers like Button who peaked much later in their careers.

If Button had been born ten years later I am not sure he would have lasted more than two or three years in F1, and we would have lost a future world champion. How many other potential future world champions have been given the axe from F1 recently?

I think maybe Hamilton’s incredible debut season is partly to blame. People now think that if a young driver is destined to be a star they have to be brilliant in their first season. Not true at all. Lewis was just a one in a million.

With the driver market for 2013 looking stable, moving to 2014 who do you think will move or should make the switch? - @JackLeslieF1

Is Vettel key to the driver market in 2014?

I would agree that the market for 2013 is looking relatively stable, but certainly far from dead. I think the best move for Hamilton is to sign a one year contract extension with a 2/3 year option.

He can then see how things play out in 2013 at McLaren and the other key players, and then assess his options again. I think that’s what will end up happening too.

I think the only high profile driver who is very likely to move now is Felipe Massa. My theory is that his improved performances are down to the fact he knows he’s not likely to stay there. Therefore he has relaxed a bit (could be way off the mark with that though).

One other possibility to throw out there is could McLaren bring in Paul Di Resta to replace Jenson Button next year if his bad form continues?

If Schumacher stays at Mercedes for another year which I think is likely, I am not sure McLaren could afford to pass up on the opportunity to sign Di Resta before Mercedes do. I also think Di Resta has a chance of replacing Massa at Ferrari

For the 2014 market one of the big stories will be whether Vettel stays at Red Bull. For me whilst Adrian Newey is still working at Red Bull there is absolutely no reason why Sebastian should go and move to Ferrari (or any other team). Despite his immense talent I also feel he would find the going very tough alongside Alonso.

Vettel has always struck me as being very intelligent so I think he will agree with my assessment. The only way I see Sebastian making the switch is a swap deal with Alonso, which I don’t see happening as Ferrari is the perfect team for Alonso in my opinion. I can't see him leaving before his contract ends.

The only other possibility of Vettel going to Ferrari is if Newey followed him to Ferrari, which is slightly more feasible but my instinct tells me it won’t happen.

Mercedes is maybe another option for Vettel in the future but again, whilst Newey is at Red Bull there is no need to go anywhere. Vettel is still very young so I am sure he will move at some point in his career, but it won't happen in the near future.

I think by 2014 we will see Sergio Perez and Di Resta make the step up to a big team, if they haven’t already done so. I also think Webber might remain at Red Bull for yet another season. I just don’t see a Red Bull young driver graduate making the jump any time soon.

When Red Bull come to replace Webber they might well have to look beyond their young driver programme.

If Lewis does indeed stay at McLaren for 2013 the big question mark will be around him again for 2014. I don’t think Hamilton should stay at McLaren for his whole career. McLaren are a very talented team but something always seems to be missing.

I think if he never moves he may look back on his career and say to himself “what if I was bolder and made a move elsewhere rather than staying safe with McLaren?” Providing they stay in F1 I can definitely see Hamilton driving for Mercedes at some point.

You could go on about the 2013 and 2014 driver market for hours, and I have only discussed the front end of he grid here. There is so much to consider, so many possibilities but I hope that has given some insight in my school of thought as things stand.

Spa 2008, fair or harsh? – George Davies

Fair or not? The infamous penalty. (© McLaren).

Of course I am assuming you mean Lewis Hamilton’s penalty for his pass on Kimi Raikkonen. Overall I do think it was harsh, but not completely unjustified as he did gain an advantage by cutting the chicane.

However if you look at Kimi in that race, his overtakes on Massa and Hamilton both occurred immediately after going wide at La Source. Then in 2009 he went wide at the start and benefited from it, rather than losing a number of positions, which he would have done had it been a gravel run-off.

There is one point I would like to make about F1 stewarding. When a steward investigates an incident they should treat it as if both cars are white, the drivers are driver A and driver B fighting for nth position. Maybe some sort of technology could be created to allowed that to be the image that the stewards see.

I think we would get fairer and more consistent decisions that way. In the case of Spa 2008 if they they didn’t know who the drivers or teams involved were, and that the battle was for 1st place, I am not convinced a penalty would have been given.

I have always thought that the fact that it was a battle between McLaren and Ferrari (very significant after spygate in 2007), Hamilton was involved (not his first incident) and it was for the lead had a significant influence on the stewards decision.

Had this incident occurred between two backmarker drivers for 21st place do you think the penalty would still have been given?

I think my idea of presenting the stewards with white cars, and no clue of the drivers involved or significance of the battle, would reduce inconsistency and bias.