In the final millimetres, success, and so failure, in sport is all about momentum. It’s an intangible and invisible thing, but when a sportsman manages to trap some of those attitude-bending fumes in a racquet-bag, boot-room, or race garage, the wins that follow have a feeling of inevitability about them.
Roger Federer is still a more complete tennis player than Andy Murray, but if they were drawn to play tomorrow, I’d back the shouty Scot every time. He’s got the momentum between the two. In a similar vein, I had the privilege this season (and I use that word in it’s purest sense) to be in the stands at White Hart Lane when the final whistle went on Spurs’ 1-0 victory over Chelsea.
I’m a nervous, pessimistic football fan, but there was something in the buildup to that game, something in Spurs’ recent re-acquaintance with winning and Chelsea’s stuttering form that made me sure my boys were going to beat the title-tilted Champions League contenders. The momentum made it inevitable.
Dash quickly half way around the world and several shades across the sporting spectrum, and it is still momentum, or lack of it, that has polarised the fortunes of Brawn GP and Ferrari.
Despite the alphabetical inconvenience, Button, Barrichello, and Brawn are F1’s indisputable A-Team right now, they hit the ground at pace in Barcelona and have been speeding up ever since. Meanwhile, Ferrari are anchored to the foot of the constructors championship, casting jealous upwards glances at the likes of Red Bull, Williams, and Toyota, who have all so easily overcome the inertia of zero-points.
The red cars have had a couple of hellish race weekends this year, and had it not been for lie-gate, diffuser-gate, and the Brawn GP fairy story, the big news would be of a waning super power, riddled with poor decision-making, a lack of engineering imagination, and reliability issues.
The fact that the new team belonging to the man who master-minded Ferrari’s glory days is now the darling of the sport, only highlights how sluggish the prancing horses are these days. Sending Kimi out onto a dry Sepang circuit sporting full-wets was an arrestingly risky and daft thing for Ferrari to do, and would have been utterly unthinkable five years ago.
Substitute the Finn for Shumacher, then equip Brawn with the mandatory red fleece and transplant him back to the Ferrari pit-wall. Now, try to imagine the same call being made and the left side of your brain will laugh the right side clean out of your skull.
And while Kimi was busy laying down more rubber than a Durex salesman, Ross Brawn was measuring out his strategy to perfection, holding Button until Rosberg pitted and then unleashing the Briton for two stellar laps, getting him in and him out again on the right tyres and in P1.
Ferrari’s team principal, Stefano Domenicali, has admitted that Ferrari’s struggle with the F60 is partly down to the relatively limited time they’ve had developing the car after last year’s title battle went down to the last race of the season.
But let’s not forget that Massa would have had the championship engraved and on the mantelpiece before that last race had team mistakes in Canada, Singapore, and Italy not cost him significant points hauls. The accuracy and infallibility of the team was already on the slide 12 months ago. They had lost their momentum before the F60 was even sketched out.
Martin Whitmarsh has also cited the lengthy ’08 title race as the reason why his McLaren team’s MP4-24 is struggling for pace, but taking their on-track performances in isolation, even McLaren are rolling with much more of that magic momentum than Ferrari.
Hamilton’s finishes in both outings this year have exceeded expectations and, under race conditions, he has been able to eek out enough pace and control to mix it with the mid-table teams—even that seemed unlikely after the preseason.
McLaren will improve further, as will Ferrari. They both have enough talent, money, and desire to creep their way back up the tables, but with testing and wind-tunnel time so sparse this year, it will take a couple of months at best before they can roll up close behind the momentum-masters at Brawn GP.