I have written before about the pressure the arrival of new and talented young drivers puts on the old guard of F1. Even recent arrivals like Mark Webber must be looking at the hype surrounding such hotshoes as Kubica, Kovalainen, Sutil and Hamilton and wondering where their next drive is coming from.
The first few races have put some of this into perspective, with Kovalainen and Kubica struggling to make an impact at first, but Hamilton’s amazing form has upped the ante for everyone, including the young ones. Suddenly every team owner wants another Hamilton and the pressure transfers to the new arrivals to prove that they, too, can work miracles.
No doubt reality will break through eventually and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief as Hamilton makes the occasional mistake or suffers a run of bad luck (he had both in GP2 – it will happen in F1 too). But the benchmark for new drivers has moved higher than ever before and will stay there.
Like him or loathe him, Michael Schumacher has become the model for drivers to be measured against now. The extreme levels of fitness, commitment, technical ability, tactical astuteness, public persona and speed he demonstrated are now expected of all drivers and we may have seen the last of the drivers who rely only on a God-given talent to see them through.
Hence the pressure on Raikkonen at the moment; he is seen as supremely talented but uncommitted to his task and his early departure from the Barcelona GP is cited as evidence of this. Rumors abound that Scott Speed is about to be replaced at Toro Rosso (by Vettel, of all people) and the denials by Berger and Tost do little to quell speculation. The pressure on drivers mounts to the point where the message becomes “deliver the goods by mid-season or you’re history”.
It is all faintly ridiculous and ignores the fact that many champions have taken time to find their feet in F1. Nigel Mansell was one and it took Keke Rosberg years to be offered a competitive drive. We need to face the fact that not every potential champion is a Schumacher, that many great talents of the future will have other approaches to their task.
All of which is leading up to another plea for Speed not to be dismissed. I have already pointed out his excellent performance at Barcelona, in spite of bad luck preventing any fulfillment of the promise. Here now are the midday practice times from today’s testing session at Paul Ricard:
1. Webber – Red Bull – 1:29.687
2. Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:30.051
3. Speed – Toro Rosso – 1:30.053
4. Barrichello – Honda – 1:30.108
5. de la Rosa – McLaren – 1:30.457
6. Montagny – Toyota – 1:30.478
7. Rossiter – Super Aguri – 1:30.575
8. Kovalainen – Renault – 1:30.917
9. Kubica – BMW – 1:30.931
10. Wurz – Williams – 1:31.324
11. Winkelhock – Spyker – 1:32.756
12. Albers – Spyker – 1:32.960
Update – Final Times from Paul Ricard, 3rd Day:
Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1:28.833
Speed, Toro Rosso – 1:29.039
Kovalainen, Renault – 1:29.070
Kubica, BMW – 1:29.157
Webber, Red Bull – 1:29.179
Montagny, Toyota – 1:29.205
Wurz, Williams – 1:29.359
de la Rosa, McLaren – 1:29.528
Barrichello, Honda – 1:30.108
Klien, Honda – 1:30.235
Rossiter, Super Aguri – 1:30.286
Albers, Spyker – 1:32.245
Winkelhock, Spyker – 1:32.756