Kimi Raikkonen shed some more light on his steering issues and both he and his boss Eric Boullier reaffirmed that there were no hard feelings after the Monaco debacle where Raikkonen insisted on a new steering system at the cost of the only dry practice session.
Raikkonen said that he is used to cars with very good steering (Ferrari and McLaren). This is a very curious comment as it goes very much against my conception of F1 where the only differentiator was the aerodynamics and the limitations of the mechanical set up of the car.
A situation where more mundane systems like steering can be noticeably different between teams and not be easily rectified suggests that a driver may succeed at one team and fail at another for reasons that have nothing to do with skill or the team’s technical ability. Rather that driver may fail because he is unable to be comfortable in the cockpit.
The alignment between driver and team priorities is so much more important than it seems on race day when aero and set up rule the conversation. We see this at McLaren with Jenson Button where the design philosophy is seemingly incompatible with Jenson’s driving style. We saw this at Ferrari with Raikkonen where the political environment of Ferrari soiled that relationship.
This understanding makes Alonso’s value as a driver infinitely higher, if in the proper circumstances. In a situation where Alonso can force the issue and become the dictator above all team politics, where he dictates the direction of development and ensures that his needs as a driver are filled, he can produce at a profoundly astonishing level. Compare this, however, to his experience at McLaren where Ron Dennis was top dog and refused to allow Alonso the same level of access and we see the results. Alonso is destroyed by the upstart Lewis Hamilton.
Applying these conclusions to contract negotiation and the logical course for all players seems clear. To get the best results, they must be in a team where the philosophies match either because the team dictated to the driver, the driver to the team or because there was an accommodation and compromise.
The importance of a number one driver also becomes apparent in this understanding UNLESS the drivers share similar and compatible philosophies. Though there is no love between Vettel and Webber, both have acknowledged that they have similar requirements from the car.
Red Bull’s job is so much easier in this situation as opposed to Ferrari where Massa has a completely different set up direction to Alonso. Their differing requirements place a greater strain on the technical department than Red Bull ever experiences.
The result is clear. Ferrari is leading the driver’s championship and Red Bull is dominating the constructors, again.