x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The half-term school report on the Formula One fraternity

As the Formula One season reaches its summer break, Gary Meenaghan gives his verdict on the protagonists and stories from the first 10 races.

Sebastian Vettel, left, showed his ruthlessness when he passed Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia.
Sebastian Vettel, left, showed his ruthlessness when he passed Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia.

Formula One drivers are out of their uniforms and into their shorts and T-shirts, bound for exotic destinations such as Hawaii and Monaco and Venezuela. The F1 motorhomes are packed up and the doors of team factories are slowly, forcefully creaking to a close. The summer holidays have arrived, the mid-season lock-down is about to begin and The National has attained a copy of the half-term report cards.

Teacher's pet

Kimi Raikkonen has hardly put a foot wrong since returning to his favourite playground last season.The Lotus driver finished third in the F1 world championship, despite a two-year hiatus racing trucks, and he has carried that form into 2013.While some of his classmates - his close friend Sebastian Vettel in particular - are renowned chatterboxes, Kimi keeps to himself and works diligently.

His results speak for themselves: one win and five second-place finishes in 10 races means he is second in the world championship standings.

Kimi is popular, but what impresses most about him is his consistently high level of work. He has finished outside the top 10 just once since his comeback last year and is on a run of 27 consecutive races in which he has scored points.

Add to that his respect for others - he refuses to discuss a potential move to join Red Bull Racing - and he is as close to a perfect student as one could wish.

Were it not for threatening violence upon poor Sergio Perez after their clash during the Monaco Grand Prix in May, Kimi's grades would be flawless.

School bully

Red Bull classmates Mark Webber and Vettel are both looking to graduate at the end of this year. While Mark has already secured a scholarship from Porsche to run in the prestigious World Endurance Championship, Sebastian is looking to join an altogether different group.

Seb is determined to enter an elite band of drivers who have won four consecutive world championships - so much so that his unmerciful single-mindedness has seen him lose friends.

During a school trip to Malaysia, he disobeyed team orders to pass Mark and win the race. The move not only saw animosity deepen between him and his classmate, but he was also summoned to the headmaster's office. Observers widely criticised him. Likewise, his complaints about Pirelli's fragile tyres saw him accused of petulance and sourness, and there is little love lost between him and playground rival Fernando Alonso.

During class outings to Silverstone and the Hungaroring, spectators greeted Vettel with jeers, yet fortunately, for all his seeming cold-heartedness, he remains likable, head-strong and undeniably talented.

He is clearly unaffected by classroom whispers, performing perfectly at times to take four wins in 2013.

Being cast as a villain is forever the consequence of being repeatedly successful and he is willing to embrace that to achieve his place in history.

Sebastian is also aware Mark will be gone next year and so long as he is careful not to overstep the fine line between undaunted and underhand, he will be able to influence who his classmate is going to be for 2014.

Does he want Daniel Ricciardo, a younger less-experienced driver who he can try to bully, or does he want to pick a fight with a fellow world champion in the form of Raikkonen? Time will tell.

Skip a year

Joining a new class is never easy, so it was no surprise that when Lewis Hamilton was asked at the tail end of last year whether he expected to be fighting for race wins in his first season with Mercedes-GP, he replied: "No, absolutely not".

As answers go, it was pretty irrevocable and yet during this past weekend's trip to Budapest, he put his car on pole position for the third successive race before leading majestically for all 70 laps.

"Maybe miracles do happen" he later tweeted, having closed the gap to the top of the drivers' championship standings to 48 points with nine races remaining.

Claiming a miracle, however, downplays not only Lewis's own considerable talents, but also the vast amounts of homework, money and dedication that his headmasters have committed in the past 12 months.

A ruthless recruitment plan saw McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe last month added to a Mercedes staffroom that already features Niki Lauda, Ross Brawn and Toto Wolff.

Together, a winning team is being built and Lewis is showing exactly why he was recruited as its star pupil.

In Hungary, the searing temperatures provided a crucial test and while the track was not hugely demanding, Lewis emerged victorious with relevant ease.

Make no mistake, if Mercedes, who with seven pole positions from 10 races have long had a qualifying advantage over their rivals, have now sorted the tyre-wear problems that plagued them in early races, Lewis is ready to become head of the class.

Repeat the year

McLaren-Mercedes arrived in Australia having clearly done the wrong homework.

They had finished last term with seven victories, including the last two races of the year, yet during the winter break chose to overhaul a winning car in favour of a machine that labours simply to finish in the points.

Since then, new recruit Sergio Perez has endured a troubled spell finding his feet, with several observers expressing doubt that he has changed class too soon, while Jenson Button has already given up on this year and is looking forward to starting afresh next term with a new car.

There have been signs of improvement in recent weeks, however, all involved will need to spend the mid-season break with their heads stuck firmly in their studies if they intend to achieve anything come the end of the year.

Dunce

It is true we have had some trouble at the school this year, however, it is difficult to blame any one specific party. Of course, certain people must take some responsibility and have done so.

Pirelli, the official tyre supplier, clearly pushed too hard in their bid to create a rubber compound that makes for exciting racing. It led to accidents in Silverstone and the Italian manufacturers were fortunate nobody had to visit the school nurse.

They deserve a chance to get it right, though, and appear to be getting closer to what they think is required.

The FIA, the governing body, must also take responsibility for its unwillingness to allow for in-season testing. Their rules have been changed from next year to avoid a repeat of such issues.

Teacher, pupils and all those involved with the school hope there will be fewer tyre issues in the second half of the season.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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