I remember talking to Nick a few years ago about Mark Webber. He had been doing well in Formula One, he had been getting known and at the time he was making particular waves because his driving style so suited being a single lap qualifier. There was a moment when I saw an interview with him and it was a revelation, he had crashed off from the track and everyone watching had though that the car had let go somewhere in the turn. And yet when he was interviewed by Louise (or somebody) he said clear as a bell, “no it wasn’t the car – it was my fault, I just missed the apex”.
It was an amazing statement from a Formula One driver and I remember talking to Nick and Stewart here and saying that this one incident was a sign that Mark was World Champion material. I argued at the time that there was something in the bravery of that honesty, the fact that he was willing to admit that it was his fault that would make him capable of taking things to the top. Both Stewart and Nick tried to dissuade me from my position. Stew talked about the fact that (as I remember it) he was a Truli in the making, fast on a one lap but couldn’t keep it together in a race. And Nick made the point that stuck with me I think, he said something like “you’re being an idealistic fool, this doesn’t mean that he’s honest it means that he’s week. If he’s blaming himself then it’s not a sign of character in Formula One it’s a sign that he’s just trying to please somebody else. And anyone who is only doing things for someone else doesn’t care enough to win”. It was something like that anyway.
I’ve been trying to gauge how right the two of them have been ever since. I knew the moment I’d calmed down (say the next day) that I’d been wrong about him. I knew really deep down that I’d called it right when I’d seen him the first year that he’d be splashy but not championship material. I’d like to take this opportunity to say: “yada yada Kimi when nobody believed me, yada yada Alonso when nobody had noticed, yada yada Monterio when – hold on… getting a bit ahead of myself”. But the point is this was a miss read based on psychology rather than something I’d seen on the track – probably a mistaken thing to do. Although you do have to pay attention to that kind of stuff because the splashy drivers (Montoya is a great example, Ralf and Fisi as well) are not always the ones who will win championships. They often seem to get bored if they aren’t able to do something that would make people talk about them and then they seem to fall asleep in the race (Not literally James). So paying attention to the psychology of the driver is important.
In this case you would assume that you would get two kinds of driver, the ones that say honestly what happened: sometimes they say it was their fault and sometimes they say they think it was somebody else’s fault, and the other type who always say it’s somebody else’s fault. But actually it turns out that Mark Webber is the only driver in the first camp and in fact he isn’t being mentally hard by being willing to blame himself he’s being weak because he blames himself even when it isn’t always his fault (he’s getting a bit better at this though). And almost all of the other drivers fall into the second camp. They fall of the road and suddenly it’s the engineers fault or another drivers fault or a small bird flew in front of them and they had to move out of the way. There is always somebody else to blame and if it’s so obvious that they did it on purpose then they will fall back on the old favourite of “it was just a racing incident I guess”.
The thing is that there is another camp of driver who don’t fall into either side of the blame game (or at least not often). And funnily enough they are Kimi, Alonso and Michael. Listen to what they say and it’s always, “we’re not really sure what happened. I haven’t seen the tape yet. I have to talk with my engineers to be able to fully say exactly what went on”. It doesn’t blame anyone which is good if you want to keep your engineers on side, and presumably that’s quite an important thing.
So with all of that in mind what do we make of the comments to come out of Nico Rosberg yesterday? Rosberg backs driver coaching it’s a very interesting point and it’s actually quite a brave thing to say. I’ve often wondered about the coach thing in Formula 1. They often do have coaches who deal with the drivers fitness and mental toughness (which is probably more important in F1 than any other sport). But what about working on reactions, turn in, watching the repeat with the driver and focusing their mind on why they are missing that apex each time. Who does that? Well apparently nobody.
I’ve been trying to decide about Nico all season, is he all flash and no bang (as Martin might say) or is he indeed the real deal? It’s very difficult to tell while all of the glare is on him. People keep saying too much about him and it’s difficult to see for yourself (like you sometimes can with a neglected backmarker). But this is one of those things that made me think – hey he’s very brave to have said that, I respect that, that probably means that he can be world champion some day. But am I wrong? Am I falling into the Mark Webber trap again? Is it really some kind of cry for help saying that despite what everyone is expecting of him he knows in his heart that he isn’t good enough?
Has Rosberg got that special something?