F1 has become a real guessing game

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IOL mot jun11 hamilton

Reuters

Lewis Hamilton became the seventh grand prix winner this year at the seventh race of the year, in Canada.

Even commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, whose ideal Formula One season would be decided at the very last corner, could hardly have dreamed of a championship like this one.

With just over a third of the distance gone, and an unprecedented seven different winners from the first seven races, the ultimate winner of the 2012 driver's crown is anyone's guess.

Even calling the winner of the next race in Valencia is tough, with two of the six world champions on the grid - Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher - yet to win in this most unpredictable of seasons.

A mere three points separate the top three in the championship standings with the top five split by less than the 25 for a win and 13 races remaining.

WIDE OPEN

“It's absolutely wide open. It's a dream for the sport,” declared America's former champion Mario Andretti after McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won in Canada on Sunday.

“Formula One for so many years has been quite predictable...that's out of the window now. Somewhere the rules are working, something is working. So don't fix it,” he told Sky Sports television.

Just when a team believe they have cracked the code, the Pirelli tyres make them think again.

“This is what is going to be normal for the season,” Hamilton told reporters after being joined by Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Sauber's Mexican Sergio Perez on the podium.

“That's just my feeling, but then again my guess is as good as yours...we're still trying to fully understand these tyres.

“Sometimes you're overheating them, sometimes you're not heating them up enough. We don't understand why sometimes a Lotus is quicker than us, or a Mercedes is quicker than us and then we're quicker than them another time.

“But I think it's great for Formula One, it's great for the fans to see,” said the 2008 champion, while adding that seven was now quite enough different winners.

BETTER HANDLE

After watching his double world champion Sebastian Vettel qualify on pole position for the second year running in Montreal, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner sounded confident enough.

“I feel the Red Bull technical team are doing a great job to try and understand the new regulations,” he said. “We are starting to get a better handle on what these tyres like.”

On Sunday, with Vettel finishing fourth after a late stop forced on him by tyre wear, there was less optimism: “Perhaps we were just a little bit too hard on the tyres,” said the Briton.

The problem for teams and drivers has been finding the balance that allows them to extract the most from the tyres.

Sunday was ultimately a battle between one-stoppers and two-stoppers, with McLaren getting it right for Hamilton with a second stop while Ferrari kept Fernando Alonso on one and paid the price.

But it goes further than that. Grosjean and Perez did just one stop each but were able to reel in Alonso's Ferrari on tyres that still had plenty of life in them.

“We could be really smart here today and say that they messed the strategy up, Ferrari and Red Bull,” said McLaren's sporting director Sam Michael.

“But if you look at Lotus and Sauber, they made that strategy work. I think that one of those cars had tyres that were over 45 laps old.”

Track temperatures play a big part in the equation, as do driving styles and the timing of the stops. But Pirelli are still keeping everyone on their toes.

“I think it's good. The fact that you have to manage your car and your tyres is part of being a race car driver,” said Canada's outspoken 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve.

“The problem is that when they (the tyres) do give up, it's too sudden, too strong, too much of a give up. The drivers feel that the tyres are still OK so they stay out and the team make the decision to try and make it work.

“But instead of losing a second a lap, they then lose four or five seconds a lap. That is wrong. You used to get four or five laps to figure out whether it is going off too much, now you get half a lap.”

Ferrari had a brief window of opportunity, maybe one lap, where they could have pitted Alonso for a second time and kept Hamilton covered. Instead, perhaps reassured by the Spaniard feeling that his tyres were holding up, they took a gamble.

It failed but nobody could say they were entirely sure they had got it right.

“There were times in that race where you wondered have we got it right, are their tyres going to last? All our analysis told us we were doing the right thing but until it unfolds you are never quite sure,” sid McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh. -Reuters


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