The Roar
The Roar

Michael Lamonato

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Joined July 2012

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Michael is a presenter/producer of ABC Grandstand's national F1 programme Box of Neutrals, but his most significant claim to fame came during the 2013 Australian Grand Prix when he angered the French contingent of the paddock by accidentally opening an umbrella indoors. He's also done some other things, none of which are particularly interesting. You can find him every Friday at 10:30AM (AET) on ABC Grandstand, or talking largely to himself at any time on Twitter: @MichaelLamonato.

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The problem is that Vettel left the racing line, which allowed Hamilton to pull well alongside him on the racing line in the braking zone. Once that happened — and indeed once Hamilton nosed ahead — it was up to Vettel to avoid the accident. Truthfully the crash was the result of the error Vettel made on the run down to the corner.

It was risky by Hamilton — like you say, the defending car is liable to make contact — but he was ahead on the racing line, so he was in the right.

Is this the sound of Vettel cracking?

I think it’s fair enough to say that with seven races to go, the title is still open, but certainly Vettel’s up against it now. He doesn’t strike me as a confidence driver, though; I think he’s more affected by how the team is working internally. If the team is in dysfunction, he becomes less competitive, and I think his 2016 season is an indicator of this.

The question is: is his point loss this season down to over-ambition, an inability to handle on-track pressure, a response to internal problems? I think Christian Horner recently alluded to a theory that Vettel was attempting to compensate for internal Ferrari errors, which I found interesting.

Is this the sound of Vettel cracking?

Bang on. It surely would’ve been the same situation as Monaco last year, with Ferrari quietly switching the too — and even if they didn’t, second place would still have closed the championship deficit to 14 points.

Is this the sound of Vettel cracking?

I think that’s fair, and we got a very strong hint of that last season too, particularly in Singapore. Maybe it stems from Vettel underestimating Hamilton’s focus or, at least this season, overestimating Ferrari’s pace advantage and therefore the speed at which he can recover lost ground.

Is this the sound of Vettel cracking?

Yep, exactly right. It’s like pretty much any aesthetic change that’s come to F1 — it looks strange for a couple of races and then blends into the background.

How Belgium put the halo debate to bed

I’m not down on Alonso because he’s leaving Formula One; I’m down that Alonso is is leaving Formula One. I understand completely why he’s leaving, which is exactly as you say — to compete for victories elsewhere in pursuit of the ‘triple crown’, which is giving these years of his career meaning.

To say the F1 is too predictable on his way out is blatant deflection, however, especially given he said it right before he predictably led Toyota to its third successive one-two finish in essentially a two-car LMP1 category — notwithstanding of course that both cars were later disqualified. I suppose no-one could’ve predicted that.

Why Alonso's F1 criticisms are misguided

Exactly right. The fact there are only two teams really capable of winning this season is a major part of the problem. Naturally enough both already have top-line drivers, so there’s no need for them to risk disruption by bringing Alonso into the fold.

Why Alonso's F1 criticisms are misguided

Yeah, there’s obviously a lot of frustration in Alonso’s words, even if he claims he’s completely at peace with his lot in Formula One, and there’s no doubt he wouldn’t be leaving if he were winning or had even a faint prospect of victory.

Why Alonso's F1 criticisms are misguided

He wasn’t “taken out” in Singapore (elaborated on in a comment further down), but in Malaysia and Japan he obviously suffered technical problems. His championship imploded in Asia — or, really, after the midseason break — by a combination of a bunch of factors, only one of which was driver error.

Not being able to pass in Spain isn’t evidence of anything. Go back to 2016 when Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo weren’t able to pass Max Verstappen or Sebastian Vettel respectively despite having newer tyres. The track is too aero-dependent for passing amongst closely-matched machines under latter-day regulations.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

You can’t say it was “in no way Vettel’s fault”. I get that it’s a clumsy first-lap incident in the rain, but him swinging across to defend Verstappen triggered the accident. Verstappen wasn’t in the title fight – in those conditions and with Hamilton further back on the grid he should’ve been more focused than that.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

I think you’re definitely right in picking out 2007 as his defining season. Maybe this is the year he grew cynical, and that cynicism dogged his career thereafter. Would he have been so aggressive behind the scenes at Ferrari had his time at McLaren been smoother? Would he have even ended up at Ferrari in the first place? Hard to say, of course, but Alonso’s career has a bunch of tantalising parallel universes in which you could imagine just about anything happening.

I think Andrew Benson wrote this week that a senior RBR guy told him Alonso had been offered a Red Bull Racing contract at the end of 2007. Imagine if he’d gone — titles from 2009 to 2013 (too bad for Button, who loses his one championship in this scenario!), and then he could well have switched to Ferrari in 2015 and been in Vettel’s position now, vying for his eighth world title. What a different F1 that’d be!

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

Thanks for the message, mate. I think you’ve got it pretty much correct — the Mercedes was theoretically faster but had trouble staying at the limit, which is what Toto meant by his recurrent ‘diva’ commentary. The fact Mercedes blitzed qualifying last year 15-5 is testament to this.

The Ferrari, on the other hand, traded absolute performance for workability. It was more a more consistent car that was easier to understand and set up. This paid great dividends early in the year, when Ferrari was able to capitalise on Mercedes’s struggles, but the longer the season went on, the more consistently competitive Mercedes became.

Both Hamilton and Vettel had reliability problems, though Vettel was the only one to suffer a terminal race issue when he retired in Japan with a spark plug problem. Hamilton finished outside the top five only twice; Vettel only once (excluding his two DNFs).

I don’t think Vettel’s crashes affected reliability, but certainly his crashes counted him out of the championship. I wrote here last year that the majority of Vettel’s points deficit after his retirement in Japan were actually down to driver error rather than technical fault.

Would he have had enough to close the championship thereafter? That’s the debatable question. Hamilton eased off once he’d won the title, so it’s hard to do a straight comparison in the last few races. You’d think it’d have been close, at least.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

I agree he’s not on Hamilton’s level, and I think Rosberg probably does too! But nonetheless it was a closely contested championship that season for whatever combination of reasons. It wasn’t a hollow title win.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

I don’t know if a buy that Vettel is at his best under pressure. There were plenty of cracks under pressure last season — Singapore being the biggest — and also in his past. I’m not saying he always folds when pressured, but I wouldn’t define him by his performances in crunch moments.

Alonso has never been the fastest qualifier, but after the European season Massa outqualified Alonso only twice, in the USA — Alonso was sent out on old tyres, I think, in Q3 — and in Brazil, where Vettel also struggled, so I don’t think you can point to this as a direct comparison with Vettel as an example of relative performances under pressure.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

The 2014 championship fight between Hamilton and Rosberg also went down to the last race. Granted Hamilton’s five in a row in the second half of the season put him in the box seat, but the season was still closely fought. Hamilton really walked to the 2015 title only.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

Yeah, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing with Alonso winning in other cars. Luck always play a part in whether a driver ends up at a quick team, but the fact he’s probably the quickest guy out there yet hasn’t been offered any deals to drive for quicker teams — in fact I heard he offered to return to Ferrari for free — speaks volumes about why he never got a run in those cars.

Interesting comparison with Vettel and Hamilton. Hard to say how accurate it is, but I thought it was interesting that Maurice Hamilton noted Alonso used to be substantially more open inside the team before McLaren 2007, after which he became intensely self-focussed.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

I think to say F1 isn’t sufficiently well stocked with talent to cover Alonso’s loss is more a reflection on Fernando than it is the sport overall. I think we’re pretty lucky at the moment in the sense that every frontrunning driver deserves their place and are kept honest by a bunch of very quick midfield drivers who would warrant a go. The difference is that Fernando, at very least at his best, is probably better than them all, as you say.

I’ve always found it hard to compare eras, but your list is pretty comprehensive!

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

Definitely true! He’s obviously regarded as a talent greater than his haul of championships, so it’s not as if he’s walking away from Formula One without the recognition he deserves. It’s just a shame he hasn’t been able to prolong his impact.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

Absolutely right. I think F1 will be poorer without him, but it was already missing him being in a competitive car.

Alonso bows out of F1 with a mixed legacy

It’s true that some changes have been tactical, but tactical power unit changes come about because the team is already assuming they’ll be taking grid penalties down the line anyway.

Precautionary power unit changes underline how the power unit is either unreliable or still not fully understood.

Certainly what the numbers don’t show is the reasoning behind the high component usage, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Honda engine has been less reliable than the Renault.

State of the 2018 F1 season: The backmarkers

I think it’s fair to call it a punt, but I also think that once the door to Ferrari and Mercedes closed on Ricciardo, his question became whether Renault could be better than Red Bull Racing by the end of 2020 rather than whether he could win a title with either, because neither seems likely to be in championship contention. That’s still a risk given Renault is lagging a fair way behind at the moment, but it’s not as dire as it might look.

Why Ricciardo had to baulk the Bulls

Spot on. I don’t think Red Bull Racing will be in a particularly competitive position in 2019 anyway with a new engine — and Honda has been quietly unreliable this season too — so for at least one year Ricciardo may as well be racing for anyone. In 2020 Renault aims to be in podium and victory contention, which is presumably the space Red Bull Racing will also be occupying. If the team convinced Ricciardo it’s on track to be thereabouts, then wouldn’t he go for the genuine works team where he has an opportunity to be the lead driver?

Why Ricciardo had to baulk the Bulls

Bold call! Not sure I believe it, though. Adrian Newey is involved with Aston Martin via Red Bull Racing too, and he’ll be involved in setting up design outlines for the 2021 machine. If he were to go, it’d have to be this year assuming the regulations timelines are met.

I think it makes much more sense that Red Bull Racing underestimated how much they could push Ricciardo in negotiations. With essentially no cards to play — Mercedes and Ferrari are both closed to him now — the team probably gave him an inferior deal to Max financially and perhaps sportingly. Renault swopped in at the right time, presumably with a lucrative offer and promises of less PR duty and whatever else, and grabbed him.

Why Ricciardo had to baulk the Bulls

Yep, Renault for now is spending approximately half of Mercedes and Ferrari’s budget and around three-quarters of Red Bull Racing is spending, but it’s doing this deliberately on the understanding that a budget cap will be introduced after 2020. By keeping its spend at around about where it is, it won’t be required to dramatically and disruptively downsize.

This won’t exclude it from pumping in short-term funds to try to bridge that gap in the next few years, however, if it feels like that will best place it to be competitive after 2020.

Either way, the steps Renault has made since buying back the team have been impressive. The gap to the frontrunners will be the largest and most difficult step, but its progress to date is promising.

Why Ricciardo had to baulk the Bulls

It’ll be a big year for Nico Hulkenberg to prove his worth. He was, after all, for a time the next big thing, since forgotten as a midfield journeyman. He’s done very well against Carlos Sainz, but I think Daniel should have him covered.

I think wins will likely be too ambitious for Renault next year. Even if the power unit improves — which it should and must — the chassis is obviously the defining weakness given the team’s performance relative to Red Bull Racing, and I don’t know that that large a gap can be closed in a season. Certainly, however, if the team aims to be vying for a title by 2021, you’d think podium appearances would have to be close.

Why Ricciardo had to baulk the Bulls