McLaren are a championship winning team. They currently have 8 constructors titles to their name, and their drivers have won 11 championships over the years. They came close in 2007 to extending those numbers, but internal politics and inter-team troubles almost certainly distracted the squad for a while. I’m not suggesting McLaren would have wiped the floor with Ferrari last year, just that their car and driver package was capable of taking both titles. This season, the performance between the top two teams is just as close, but currently Lewis Hamilton is sitting in third (joint-second, but officially third) in the drivers’ title race with 28 points. The leader, Kimi Raikkonen, has earned himself 35 points, seven clear of his team mate and Hamilton. Is this margin going to increase as the season continues, or will Hamilton be able to respond and claw his way back to the top of the tables?
As Ago mentioned in a recent comment, last year went much better for Hamilton. By the end of the fifth round in 2007, the McLaren driver had accrued 38 points, although had yet win a race. His consistent podium finishes proving to be valuable as the season went on. Conversely, Hamilton’s chief rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso faired less well, although they had won three races between them. After the fifth round, Raikkonen had earned 23 points, Alonso 38. Hamilton’s poor results in Malaysia and Bahrain this year have clearly hurt him.
However, seven points isn’t that much, is it? Well, if the car is good, then no, seven points isn’t an impossible target. No tat this stage of the championship anyway. But given the level of competition between the top two teams, and throwing in BMW who could spoil a party or two later on in the year, and all of a sudden seven points becomes a little more serious.
As discussed in a previous article, opinion on Hamilton is divided. Some people are suggesting the man is very talented, others say he has created problems for himself that have resulted in more question marks being placed over the driver. What is for certain though, is that Hamilton needs to comeback strong over the course of the mid-season if he is to be within ear-shot of the title in the final few grands prix.
In a fortnight we have the Monaco race, an event that Hamilton drove well at last time around. However, just because the driver appears to revel in the challenge of the Monte Carlo circuit, it doesn’t mean he will be able to repeat his second-place success, or even improve upon it. Of course, if all goes well in the build-up to the race, I think it is fair to say a win could be on the cards. Ferrari last won in the principality in 2001.
After Monaco the Formula One circus moves over the Atlantic to Montreal, Canada. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve saw Hamilton’s first victory last year, the close walls and fast-flowing nature of the track obviously to the Briton’s liking. 2004 was the last time a Ferrari took victory at the Canadian track, although Kimi Raikkonen did win in 2005 for McLaren.
So in terms of the upcoming tracks, Hamilton is in a reasonably strong position if history is anything to go by. But there is more to a win than simply the driver. The McLaren MP4-23 is looking a little inconsistent at the moment. So far in 2008, Ferrari have taken three victories, two seconds and a third. McLaren have only managed one win, one second and two thirds. Kovalainen has suffered a few issues, notably engaging his pitlane speed limiter while in a strong position and flying off the road in Spain. Hamilton has suffered as well, the PR ‘battle’ resulting from the Turkish Grand Prix strategy being just one example. The end result of all this being that Hamilton’s driving style and the way he controls his tyres are now under increased scrutiny.
The mid-point of the 2008 season lies between the British and German rounds. Will the fans be as hyped at Silverstone this year, or will Hamilton have faded into the background, not managing to better his third place standings in the championship?