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GP Week : Issue 145
99 percent of the time margin enough – but it was not a margin that your average driver would even contemplate. At the start, though, Lewis’s Merc stuttered momentarily. It’s too early to say why: that is a question for telemetry. And the start these days is too mechanical for Lewis to be guilty of, say, ‘over-confidence’ or some other small human failing within what is basically a scientific launch. Or is it? Behind Lewis, Mark Webber – again – made a slow getaway for RBR. The pattern persists. Subtle differences in weight distribution from driver to driver? Taking the RBR analogy, Mark is Jenson and Seb is Lewis, so that doesn’t wash. Slightly different rates of release? It’s not an easy problem to solve... All Lewis could do was wait for Mr Button to turn right and dive in behind him, hoping against hope that Jenson would bobble out of Turn 3 or something, or brake a mile too early into another tight corner. Yeah. And Australians were about to give up their beer on this gorgeous late afternoon. After that, the next phase of Lewis’s race became: sit there, nurse the tyres and see what happens. This is where it got away from him. Jenson, on a full fuel load, on a lean engine map, was able to make his rear tyres last longer for the same lap time. Lewis spoke openly over the winter about having “learnt” from Jenson in “certain areas” and my supposition at that point, I have to confess, was that Lewis had worked intensely on his mid-corner hand- and footwork. Perhaps he did. If so, it wasn’t enough – or the signs in Melbourne suggest that it wasn’t enough. There will come circuits on which Lewis has enough ‘great’ corners on which he can have a sustainable advantage over Jenson; and there will be starts, and races, too, that fall Lewis’s way. On the relatively boring circuits, though – the circuits on which slow left-handers follow rights, and there’s lots and lots of open space, it’s difficult to see how the 2012 Lewis Hamilton is going to beat the 2012 Jenson Button. Not if all the other elements are equal. Which, in Melbourne, they were – almost to an excruciating degree. Their first pit stops were only a lap apart (Jenson first), but Jenson’s margin at this point (thanks to the higher grip levels of his rear tyres over the closing laps of the stint) was already 3.5 seconds. Given equal pit work by Pete Vale and the boys, this was enough to land Jenson again on a free track and Lewis right in the traffic. 3.5 seconds suddenly became eleven. Martin Whitmarsh places much store on McLaren’s driver parity and so for the final stops there was no room for discussion: both drivers would come in on the same lap (36). There was time enough – 10.8 sec – but of course there was enormous pressure on the mechanics. Astonishingly, both pit stops were identical. The gap remained the same – enough, indeed, for Seb Vettel, when a Safety Car was deployed on lap 37, to be able to dive quickly into the pits and to rejoin the track before Lewis. Now, barring a glitch at the re-start, the race was truly in the possession of Jenson. Red Bull put out a radio message to Seb, telling him to “visualise” the re-start; Jenson stayed quiet, unfazed. He had won too many kart races from re-starts, too many F1 races in difficult conditions, for this to be a snare. Big names and not-so-big names visited the grass and astro-turf ... For more of Windsor on F1 watch The Flying Lap live every week on http://smibs.tv 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> AUSTRALIA