A tale of two pit-stops for the two McLaren boys...
McLaren Spoke Badly, Not Hamilton
Did Lewis Hamilton speak out of turn? He certainly did when he announced over his radio as he trailed Fernando Alonso that his tyres had lost their performance because that revelation ought to have been a red rag to Red Bull - and it wasn't as if Mark Webber was in the mood to wait for an invitation.
Hamilton will himself doubtless be attacked for castigating his McLaren team for calling him in for a second pit-stop but, unlike them, he said nothing wrong. The people who made that call are paid big bucks to make the right calls; in Australia, they made a call that was not only costly but verging on indefensible.
The Great Unknown of Australia is whether or not Hamilton could have maintained his race pace had he continued without stopping but there's no reason to believe he couldn't. His lap times were still competitive - he had just driven around the outside of Nico Rosberg and was looming large in the mirrors of the second-placed Robert Kubica who confirmed after the race that "Lewis was much quicker than me, his tyres were in better shape and he had a more competitive car".
Hamilton himself gave no indication that he felt he was losing performance and, most tellingly of all, he had no difficulty in nursing his tyres to the finish in Bahrain. There was almost no good reason at all to pit.
The only plausible explanation for the call is that the team might have been swayed into thinking that once they had stopped Hamilton then the rest would follow because that is what occured earlier in the race when Jenson Button led the way in swapping intermediates for slicks. But the crucial flaw in that mitigation is that it was Button who made the call - and he did so because, in changing conditions, he felt he was on the wrong type of tyres. In Hamilton's case, the team not only made the decision without consulting their driver - though it is hardly a flattering reflection on Hamilton that while Button makes his own calls, he is a mute passenger to the directions given from the pitwall - but also ignored the message of Bahrain that the pre-season expectation of tyre degradation had been overhyped. Moreover, they defied the fundamental truth of modern-age F1 that track position is nine-tenths of the law.
The give-away to the scale of McLaren's error were the post-race commentaries. Robert Kubica was so shocked at Hamilton's disappearance that he assumed he had been punished with a stop-and-go. Fernando Alonso confirmed that "the simulation always says it is better to stay out". Button admitted that the idea of a second stop had never even crossed his mind, while Chris Dyer, Ferrari's race engineer, said that they hadn't considered ordering either Felipe Massa or Alonso into the pits because the numbers just didn't even get close to adding up.
But pride of place in the damning comment stakes goes to Martin Whitmarsh's remark that a three-second performance advantage is required for an overtaking manoeuvre to take place. Three seconds.
So to make a success of the raceplan they gave Hamilton, McLaren were asking their driver to regain the twenty-five seconds they had given back to the field whilst pitting, and then find a speed advantage of another three seconds to round Fernando Alonso. And then lap three seconds faster than Felipe Massa and overtake him. And then lap three seconds faster than Robert Kubica and overtake him.
No wonder Hamilton wanted to know who was the bright spark who came up with the idea. McLaren's error was not a mistake. McLaren's error was asking the impossible.
Button Got Lucky
Jenson has been applauded by his team boss for making a "brave" call when he pitted before anybody else to put on slicks but the truth Button admitted afterwards was that he had no other choice. His intermediates were finished.
The irony of Australia is that Button's victory will be attributed to his ability to nurse his tyres more gently than most when his win was actually the consequence of his inability to make his inters last six laps. He got lucky because they were finished just when the slick-tyre advantage started.
Having effectively gained six places in the pits, Jenson's second slice of luck was the retirement of Seb Vettel. Button's end-of-race pace indicated that he was saving his tyres at the stage of the race when Vettel was increasing his lead, but it's unlikely he would have found a way around the Red Bull even if he had been able to catch Vettel. Just look at the struggle Hamilton had when he caught Alonso. Christian Horner's prediction that Vettel would have achieved a "comfortable" victory was accompanied by the reassurance that he wouldn't have required a second stop for new tyres.
Only The Reckless Or Very Rich Would Bet On Vettel
'Better to be in a fast and reliable car than a slightly-faster but unreliable motor...Given the size of Red Bull's qualifying advantage, the apparent ease with which Vettel was able to pull clear of the Ferraris on soft tyres, and the fact that Mark Webber was waylaid by technical gremlins on Friday, it would be no surprise if the pattern of Bahrain is repeated throughout the season: Red Bull quickest off the mark, only to be caught by Ferrari or caught out by their own unreliability' - PF1's Conclusions From Bahrain.
According to BBC pundit Eddie Jordan, it would take a "brave man" to bet against Seb Vettel winning the title this season. The braver bet, however, would be backing Vettel because an unreliable car has never won a World Championship and never will.
Do Not Be Deluded Into Believing F1 Has Been Fixed
Add a little rain and a Safety Car into the mix and F1 can provide an outstanding spectacle. But nobody should be fooled into thinking that action in Australia means the Bahrain bore will be a one-off. This Sunday's entertaining evidence was purely circumstantial and the failure of Hamilton to pass Alonso despite being two-seconds-a-lap quicker than the Ferrari was a painful reminder of what a drag dirty air is.
The argument provided by the BBC, which of course has a vested interest in urging viewers not to turn off, is that 'there were hints in the Australian Grand Prix that banning refuelling may not be such a bad idea after all because the last few laps of the race were exactly what some had thought the ban would throw up - drivers at the front on older tyres holding off faster cars on newer ones.'
Nice try, but the salient phrase in that extract is holding off. Forget about hints; the message the teams will have received loud and clear from those closing laps around Albert Park is that track position is king. McLaren asked Hamilton to argue otherwise and were pronounced insane.
Hamilton Is No Longer The McLaren Boss' Favourite Son
Just imagine the ensuing ho-ha if Ross Brawn had made the call for Jenson to swap onto intermediates. Or if the booted-on tyres were on the other foot and it was Jenson who suffered the pitwall error that Hamilton did... especially if Ron Dennis was still McLaren's team boss.
But he isn't. The man in charge is Martin Whitmarsh. Who also happens to be the man who made the decision to sign Button rather than Kimi Raikkonen at the end of last season - a decision that tacitly announced that McLaren would no longer be a one-driver team.
Can you see where we're going with this? You certainly would if you saw the BBC's pre-race feature in which Button gave Jake Humphreys a guided tour of McLaren's Woking HQ. Appearances can be deceptive but unless Whitmarsh and Button are actors of Oscar-winning calibre then their relationship is already going strong. Jenson looks to have his feet under the McLaren table and a very good friend in high placesHamilton needs to tread carefully and only in that respect can it be argued with conviction that his post-race criticism of the team was an error. With his father-figure no longer head of the clan, Hamilton's position of favoured child within the McLaren family has ceased to exist and it was noticeable that Whitmarsh refused the invitation to offer the sort of apology for the team's error that Dennis almost certainly would have provided. Left exposed to equality, Hamilton was in danger of looking like a petulant and spoilt brat on Sunday.
Button's victory in only his second race for McLaren can be attributed to many factors, including his intelligence, but perhaps its greatest debt is owed to his nice-bloke character. Without it, Button couldn't have accomplished what he has seemingly accomplished within just a couple of months of arriving in Hamilton's empire: equal billing and equal favouritism.
Webber Is Already Under Pressure
Mark Webber was probably fortunate that Hamilton was able to extract himself from the gravel and take sixth place because the stewards might have otherwise been minded to send him packing to Malaysia with a grid-demotion.
In front of his home supporters, and after the tedium of Bahrain, Webber can be forgiven for an over-exuberant bad day at the office. But after his points-reducing mistake in the first qualifying session of the season, Webber already owed his team. Is it too soon to talk of his seat being in jeopardy? Not when Kimi Raikkonen is out of the sport and Robert Kubica can outdrive his car to such stunning effect.
There Are Some Things Massa Shouldn't Be Told
To the list of lucky boys can be added the name of Felipe Massa. He was lucky to finish in third, lucky that Webber reacted so quickly to his swerving along the straight, lucky that his race engineer also acts as his driving coach, and lucky that his team-mate thought fourth place an excellent result because of Vettel's demise.
After declaring a civil war at McLaren two years ago that allowed Kimi Raikkonen to sneak the title, Alonso's conservatism made sense at this stage of his Ferrari career (and suggested he has learnt a valuable lesson from 2007). If consistency remains the name of the non-refuelling 2010 game then Fernando will still be the man to beat.