F1: the last few races prove how important the car is for wins!

The last few races prove how important the car is

Following up on my previous post explaining my reasons for believing that Lewis Hamilton is not the GOAT, this post is about how the car is more important than driver skill, based on the last 3 races.

I’m going to start by saying that I believe that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton are equally matched, and given an equal car would be trading wins back and forth. Sadly, the partisan nature of Hamilton and Verstappen fans means that neither side can acknowledge this, believing their chosen one to be the clearly superior driver. As a neutral, I can acknowledge this and I am enjoying the battle for the title, the first ‘real’ title battle since 2016 when then Mercedes teammate, Rosberg pipped Hamilton to the title.

Going back three races to Mexico, Max Verstappen was dominant and took victory ahead of Hamilton, to extend his World Drivers Championship lead, with Hamilton taking a dig at Sergio Perez saying “When you’ve got Checo on your tail, then you know the car is quick..” in post-race interviews, clearly proving that at the time of the Mexican Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing had a clear advantage in terms of machinery.

Roll forward a week to the Brazilian Grand Prix, now called the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, it was flipped on its head after Hamilton took a fresh internal combustion engine (ICE). Suddenly, Hamilton’s Mercedes was 1/2 second faster than Red Bull, we know that Hamilton did not suddenly become a half-second a lap faster driver than Verstappen, so it has to be down to the fresh ICE in the back of his Mercedes.

Not to take away from Hamilton’s performance, driving from 20th to fifth place in the sprint qualifying on Saturday, after a rear wing DRS infringement sent him to the back of the grid. Then, starting from 10th place in the race on Sunday, after serving a five-place grid penalty for the ICE change, to win the race. But, without a vastly superior car underneath him, even Hamilton would not have made up 25 places over the weekend, basically passing everyone but driver’s title rival Verstappen with relative ease.

Moving forward another week to this weekend’s race in Qatar, another 1/2 second gap in qualifying, Mercedes with a clear car advantage over Red Bull. Verstappen qualified second to Hamilton with a 0.455 of a second advantage, which was compounded by Verstappen’s penalty for not slowing enough for waved yellow flags. The way that Verstappen stormed from seventh to second in a matter of laps, and the way teammate Perez was making overtake after overtake shows how much difference the car makes.

Meanwhile, Hamilton, starting from pole position, was easily out front, carrying over the Brazil performance, and teammate Valtteri Bottas was running in third place after dropping to 11th from sixth on the grid before a tire blowout ultimately caused him to retire. Literally, every other car that is not a Red Bull or Mercedes pales in comparison. The only reason Fernando Alonso claimed a podium finish is the late virtual safety car, neutralizing Perez’s charge back to third place after his final pitstop.

Former F1 driver and commentator Martin Brundle suggested that Mercedes should change Hamilton’s ICE again; if it will give the Briton a boost like Brazil for the final two races. This is because Mercedes ICE has a flaw that causes significant degradation with mileage unlike the Honda engine in the back of the Red Bull, which has little degradation, only having to take an extra ICE due to the Silverstone damage.

In my opinion, the penalty system for engine changes is a joke, if a new ICE can allow a driver to make up 25 positions over the course of a weekend, the five-place grid penalty is a complete and utter joke. In Brazil, former F1 driver and world champion Jenson Button said on Sky Sports practice commentary that it’s the wrong way around, a 10 place drop for the first extra ICE, then a five-place drop for additional extra ICE used incentivizes teams to change ICE simply because the benefit far outweighs the penalty.

The bottom line is that we cannot compare drivers in different chassis and engine combos because performance can fluctuate based on the type of track, aero package, or even the newness of power unit components. This is why I would love to see Formula 1 become a spec series, where the difference maker is car setup and driver skill, not who has the best combination of chassis, aero, and power unit.

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