Some unfinished business
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McLaren confident corner was turned with Canada win
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McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Jun 2012   |  5:21 pm GMT  |  76 comments

McLaren heads into the middle phase of the season hopeful it has finally turned a corner with its pit stops and strategy in wake of Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Canada, operations director Simon Roberts has said today.

The team’s attempts to capitalise on the MP4-27’s generally strong pace since Jenson Button’s season-opening victory in Australia had been hampered by repeated errors in pit stops in particular but a change to its processes and personnel since Spain have steadily improved the situation, with analysis on this website showing that, while McLaren’s fastest pit stop remained behind those of chief rivals’ Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull in Montreal, the difference between the quartet’s respective times was a mere couple of tenths of a second.

Sporting director Sam Michael has targeted average stop times of 3s going forward and speaking with journalists in the latest Vodafone phone-in on Wednesday afternoon, Roberts said the team were now far more content with the situation. “We’re very conscious and we made changes to the way we do things. Obviously you can inadvertently increase level or risk or just get people slightly out of position. So the guys on the race team have done a huge amount of work all season really on trying to refine the pit-stop strategy and even the way we approach qualifying.

“So I think we were fairly pleased in Canada. Hopefully that’s turned the corner. We’re not planning anything different going forward. So no big changes but hopefully we can just consolidate on what we’ve been doing and keep it in the sweet spot.”

While McLaren’s execution of Lewis Hamilton’s Canada win was all-but error-free, a sticky right-rear wheel nut at the key second stop aside, the team’s overriding concern ahead of this weekend’s return to action has been trying to establish what has sent Jenson Button’s form so badly awry in recent races, a slump which culminated in the 2009 world champion’s worst race finish for four years last time out.

Roberts said that analysis back at the factory had shown there to be no fundamental differences between Hamilton’s race-winning MP4-27 and the one Button struggled so badly with, and instead pointed to “subtleties” with Button’s car that he was optimistic wouldn’t prove too difficult for the team to correct.

“We’re pretty sure at the moment that there was nothing untoward with Jenson’s car and actually nothing fundamentally wrong with the set-up,” Roberts explained. “But in the subtlety of these cars as they are at the moment there are differences and going into Valencia I think we’re quite optimistic that having identified that we can have a slightly different way of getting Jenson’s car under him for the qualifying and for the race.

He added: “This isn’t big stuff like fundamentally running a different aero balance or anything like this. This is absolutely down buried in the detail. We think we’re a step nearer to understanding it all, whether we’ve got it cracked it only time will tell. But a painful and interesting learning exercise for us.”

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76 Comments
  1. Blade Runner says:

    If, as it is commonly said, Lewis likes a lose rear end and Jenson likes a balances car, with all the recourses at their disposal why cant they provide that for their drivers.

    If it means a different areo package on the cars why not? I know they are improving the cars all year but if Jenson liked the way the car felt at the first race and won that race why would you not go back to that package and then do the improvements from a basic setup he likes?

    I am sure this will cost money but lets face it they are not short in that direction and if it means they win the WCC, that dont forget is the one where the money is earned for the team. Would the extra development costs not be offset by the extra prize money?

    Anyway off topic but I reckon that Michael Schumacher will win the next race, got to be worth a punt if the odds are good?

    1. abashrawi says:

      Upgrades will be difficult to apply to two different cars.

      1. Peter C says:

        Poor lambs ! Surely they would be able to run cars of different specs. with the resources they have – a huge amount of money & staff of many hundreds.

        It’s not like taking your Nissan Micra to the local dealer for an upgrade. This is McLarens only reason to exist.

      2. abashrawi says:

        I did not say expensive (though this is still open for debate), I said difficult.Whatever you do you will end up with one driver saying that he lost because he did not have the same package and upgrades suiting the other car, and fans with loads of conspiracy theories about how the new nose was meant to give X driver the clear advantage.

      3. Peter C says:

        Agreed. One thing is sure, we don’t want fans

        with loads of conspiracy theories…..oh wait.

    2. double eyepatch says:

      Its pretty rare that I see teams run two different wind tunnel programmes for each driver. If there were unlimited wind tunnel hours during the season then I’d guess it can be an option.

    3. Kay says:

      Agree with abashrawi on difficulty in designing two separate cars for one team. Same amount of resources, halve them to both drivers you’d end up getting nowhere in terms of performance and championship.

      The car is already designed around Button coz he is not adaptable, whereas Hamilton is and he can still drive the car 100% when the car isn’t one to his style.

      1. Wade Parmino says:

        Clearly not a Button fan.

      2. Peter C says:

        This has been very clear for a long time.

      3. Kay says:

        Speaking my very honest opinion don’t necessarily mean I like or dislike a person. This is just a fact that he cannot drive around cars, and this fact don’t reflect whether I’m a fan or not.

        If you ask me, I think he’s a fine racer and a fine gentleman, but that’s about it. Not elite material. There is nothing I dislike about the guy.

      4. Kay says:

        http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2012/06/mclaren-confident-corner-was-turned-with-canada-win/#comment-517558

        Perhaps you should read my other comment.

        I have dislike certain drivers but I give credits to them where they are due, just speaking my honest opinion do NOT necessarily make me like or dislike someone.

        I do not dislike Button, and actually I have in the past said on various articles of JA’s that he is a fine racer, but he deserves no credits to be an elite driver.

    4. Alex W says:

      They have to make the car as fast as possible, the static balance is fixed by the rules, so they have to do it with aero, and to adjust the aero too much will affect the overall efficiency to a greater degree, maybe they have found more front grip since Australia, but if they remove that from Jensons car, he may be comfortable, but the car may be fundamentally slower.

    5. Martin says:

      I think the initial presumption that Lewis likes a loose rear end it wrong. The key distinction is that Lewis can cope with more instability under braking than Button.

      If you look at qualifying laps, Vettel is more likely to have the tail out mid-corner than Lewis. What Lewis does is when the car has a turn-in understeer condition is make the back end step out to counter this. Since the McLaren has become more balanced over the years Lewis has not demonstrated this trait. On his pole lap in South Korea it was clear case of him four wheel sliding the car. Lewis wants a neutral car as much as the next driver.

      If you have a nauturally oversteering car on turn-in, the only effective counter is to do what Alonso did in the Renault and make it understeer. Otherwise you will just run out of rear tyres really quickly.

      A lot of what Button is after is ride control under braking so that he can brake consistently as the fuel load reduces and the tyres wear. If the car is unstable then your precise turn-in point will vary. With Lewis’s style, his mid-corner speed will tend to be lower and he will drive a shorter distance. This gives him space to adjust. Jenson’s style is more about driving faster along a longer path.

      The problem to me is a mix of aerodynamic and suspension philosophy to provide predictable weight transfer. Anti-dive and anti-squat are more about ride control than weight transfer control.

      Cheers

      Martin

      1. Peter C says:

        Excellent. Thank you.

      2. Kay says:

        “Since the McLaren has become more balanced over the years Lewis has not demonstrated this trait”

        True, but I was thinking of more down to Pirelli cannot withstand too much blackspots on tyres from sliding about, which hurts suspension and a car’s driveability.

      3. Paul Kirk says:

        Great comment, Martin, thanks. Perhaps you would explain the reasoning behind the rules dictating the front-to-rear weight distribution? I would have thought it nessessary to vary that setting sometimes/frequently to help balance a car to suit different circuits/drivers’ preferences! I have wondered ever since that rule was introduced, why/what for/who’s idea? Personally I believe there should be more room for variation.
        PK.

      4. Martin says:

        Hi Paul,

        The weight distribution rule came in 2011 to be a constraint on Pirelli. The aim was to set the design parameters so that all the teams would have a baseline to design their cars towards. Otherwise a large performance benefit could come with guessing correctly the relative front to rear tyre performance.

        In 2010 Mercedes misunderstood the Bridgestone tyre data and assumed the front tyres would be stronger than they really were. This led to extended front suspension arms to send more weight to the back of the car.

        In general a team is going to try have both the aerodynamic balance and the weight balance match the tyres as much as possible. Trying to balance one with the other is going to be tricky as the aerodynamic load at 200 km/h in a fast turn is four times the load at 100 km/h. Therefore wing tuning tends to be the dominant balance change tool. This practice is compounded by the preference for neutral to slight oversteer in qualifying to avoid missing the apex, and neutral to understeer in the race as an oversteer balance is a tyre killer.

        Since the Pirellis are weaker at the rear the basic aim is to get whatever ballast you have as far forward as possible while keeping it low in the car. And more height results in greater weight transfer to the outside tyre in a turn, so the working tyre benefits less from the aerodynamics that push through the centre of the car.

        Rearward weight transfer to aid traction is reduced by having the ballast weight forward and low, but it also means that the dynamic weight transfer is less, making traction more predictable.

        In certain circumstances teams might vary the weight distribution for certain circuits based on work in the simulator, e.g. for front tyre biased tracks such as China sending weight rearwards, but I doubt they would do it at the track.

        Fixing the weight distribution prevents there being an intentional or unintended difference between the teams in a control tyre era. When Ferrari were getting custom tyres from Bridgestone, having a similar weight distribution to the Ferrari was important for all those runners.

        In terms of engineering innovation, it does rule out things like the Delta Wing Le Mans car, but to make that work you’d want custom front tyres anyway to benefit from the light front loading. I’d find the innovation from looser rules interesting, but the racing would be worse with much larger gaps between the cars.

        Cheers,

        Martin

      5. Paul Kirk says:

        Thanks a million, Martin, for your great detailed reply to my quiery re weight distribution, it’s perfectly clear to me now.
        Regards,
        PK.

      6. Blade Runner says:

        Thank you Martin for an excellent, informative post. You obviously know what you are talking about. Seems this site attracts the best posters [mod]GL.

  2. Donbrizio says:

    I think the drivers are all bunched up this season that if 2 or 3 tenths of a second can make a huge difference in terms of qualification time. I believe this is where Button is struggling, having qualified badly, he’s trying to compensate and ends up chewing his tires.

    1. James Clayton says:

      Trouble is he’s 2 seconds a lap off the pace even with a brand new set of tyres, so your theory doesn’t really hold.

      1. Donbrizio says:

        [mod] Button problems began well before the Canadian grand prix. I believe this trend will continue at least till the end of the season. And he will have trouble making it to Q3 more often than not, unless some bizarre event take place like Maldonado last qualifying lap in Canada.

      2. James Clayton says:

        When his problems started is irrelevent. If he’s 2 seconds of the pace on a brand new set of tyres then it’s fairly safe to assume that it’s NOT because he’s “chewing up the tyres”…

      3. Donbrizio says:

        No pal Button is two seconds off the pace because he can’t set up his car which is an integral part of being a top F1 driver I’m afraid. I bet he’ll struggle to make it to Q3 tomorrow.

  3. ArJay says:

    ‘…subtlety of these cars at the moment there are differences…’
    Paint thickness?
    ‘…slightly different way of getting Jenson’s car under him…’
    Side door?

    Expected better from a McLaren representative.

    1. M00bie says:

      I think it was code for “there was nothing wrong with the car and Lewis did just fine…”

      Basically they will try making small changes and see if button suddenly feels happy and then the times will come back was Jensons confidence improves…

      Just my opinion.
      Hamilton FTW.

      1. ArJay says:

        You are right. It is ‘code’.
        Just wish they wouldn’t patronise us with this mindless waffle.

  4. Thestretch says:

    Jenson has struggled ever since mclaren started using the higher nose im sure I’ve seen somewhere that this could be making it harder to get heat into the front tyres this could be part of jb’s problem .

    1. Kay says:

      Hamilton had the same car. The same driver can drive around problems.

      A quality driver when the car is perfect, but cannot perform when the car 1% off his desired setup, unlike others like Vettel (I have a dislike of Vettel here btw but credits to him are due for his abilities), Hamilton and especially Alonso. No excuses for Button really.

      1. Michael says:

        Vettel has had quite a long spell this year where he couldn’t get his car to work while Webber could. Hamilton last year nearly had a whole season where he couldn’t get the car to work. And with Alonso it says more about Massa, but that has been the case even since his accident.

        So for whatever reason, driving around problems isn’t as easy as you make it seem.

      2. Chris says:

        I thought Lewis did a pretty good job last year, his main problem was his over driving IMO which lead to many(too many) mistakes.

      3. matthew says:

        last year lewis was still very quick.
        last year wasnt about lewis not being able to make the car work,lewis just kept crashing and getting into trouble.

      4. Kodongo says:

        Hamilton never had a period where he couldn’t get his car to work; he had a spell last year where he was more infatuated with hitting other cars than finishing a race but his pure pace was never in question. Keep in mind he outqualified Jenson 13-6 in 2011.

      5. Kay says:

        Vettel: Yup of course true, but he didn’t whine like a kid and just got on with it, AND he did not underperform like how Button does. He can still drive a bad setup car.

        Hamilton: His season was more of personal issues than car setup, not he couldn’t get car to work. Of course he also voice out cars lack of grip, but he still outdrives the car.

        Massa: Why is everyone relating him to accident? 2010 Germany he was driving damn strong (not saying that is the cause to underperformance, just saying he was driving strong). So did he during Bahrain 2010 as well.

        I never said it’s easy, I just said Button cannot drive around problems whereas others can.

  5. Mitchel says:

    Just wondering- does anyone out there know if team-mates can actually drive each other’s car, if it came to that?

    I know they have moulded seats, but i was just thinking back to the infamous Mansell/Prost incident, where Prost nabbed Mansell’s car on the sly!

    1. Kay says:

      Good question. I’ve wondered the same.

      1. James Clayton says:

        I was wondering about this. If they had any doubt about the build of a chassis, for instance, could they not just set up both cars identically, swap the nose so they have the correct driver number, and set off for an a-b comparison?

      2. blackmamba says:

        Both cars are Jenson’s cars. He was telling anybody who would listen how much more input he had had than Lewis so in effect Lewis is driving Jenson’s car and spanking him with it!

      3. James Clayton says:

        @blackmamba

        thank you. very constructive comment

      4. Kay says:

        blackmamba is right lol.
        The car is designed around Jenson so I guess the whole McLaren engineering and design team are at a loss to explain why the performance dip from the guy whereas the other guy who has to adapt himself to the car can win with it.

    2. Daniel MA says:

      You mean if one chassis is locked to a specific driver? Maybe not but I’m sure is much more convenient for the team given that a lot of other parts are not interchangeable, like engine, transmission, steering system, etc.

    3. Rob Newman says:

      Not sure if they can drive the race car. It is a different story on Fridays when third drivers can use the car.

      I can remember long time ago Rubens driving the third car during qualifying which was setup for Schumacher and he managed to qualify on it.

    4. Optimaximal says:

      I believe it’s heavily regulated now, especially once the cars are under parc ferme. For example, the drivers all have their own tyres and the team/driver will be penalised if the wrong ones are fitted to the wrong car.

    5. Martin says:

      During the season the chassis can get switched between drivers. Webber at one point had the chassis that Vettel cracked in Spain after it was repaired.

      I don’t know of any reason why, if, in a number 1/number 2 situation and the number 1 chassis was not raceable that the number 2 couldn’t be forced to give up his tub. Teams are only allowed to have two at each race for cost control. It is the same concept as the front wing scenario with Red Bull in the UK in 2010.

  6. D@X says:

    I guess you have to continue to develop the car and over the season the cars that start in Australia evolve so much and that would be too resource intensive and i think it would send the costs towards the high end. Im sure Jenson will bounce back, I know getting lapped by your team mate and getting beaten when he started from the back of the grid can make one wonder if they have the same machinery.

  7. Richard says:

    I suppose the plain fact is that no two cars are absolutely identical in form, set up, and balance; that in turn will have an effect on performance due to the narrow operating window of these tyres. Put crudely it doesn’t take much to turn a front running car into a bit of a dog. – Poor old Jenson, let’s hope he get’s it together this weekend.

  8. Kay says:

    “Sporting director Sam Michael has targeted average stop times of 3s going forward and speaking with journalists in the latest Vodafone phone-in on Wednesday afternoon”

    Good that they no longer make it ultra obvious at saying “Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in interview”, hated that. It’s still obvious at the moment but slightly more subtle.

    ““We’re pretty sure at the moment that there was nothing untoward with Jenson’s car and actually nothing fundamentally wrong with the set-up,” Roberts explained. “But in the subtlety of these cars as they are at the moment there are differences and going into Valencia I think we’re quite optimistic that having identified that we can have a slightly different way of getting Jenson’s car under him for the qualifying and for the race.”

    Why is this being brought up again and again? It’s down to Jenson to sort it out. Seriously! Okay other drivers also report problems back to the pit, but they continue to drive like hell till their nuts scrap the tarmac underneath the car! What does Jenson do? Report back yer, but cannot drive around problems to continue push like mad. He just simply cannot adapt like how many elite drivers do.

    Being in the same car as HAM, BUT has no more excuses.

    http://www.crash.net/f1/news/180957/1/button_im_no_whiner.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss

    1. Martin says:

      From McLaren’s perspective, it wants to score 1-2 results, not 1-16. McLaren probably wants 1-16 more than 2-3. It is still a team sport and McLaren benefits from Button doing well.

      The car has the most downforce, so in performance terms it comes down to working out the best tyre management strategy across qualifying and the race.

      In general, from the comments I’ve seen, drivers are not much better than us at engineering cars, so they all need help, so all McLaren is doing is telling us that it is doing its job as best as it can, as though this is anything special.

  9. Andrew says:

    Do you think that this race or the next will decide if Jenson is fighting for the championship James? He needs a big result to get back to his rivals in terms of points but also think it would do his mood and head some good.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, he needs to stay in touch although no-ones running away with it at the moment

      1. Kidza says:

        No one may be running away with it at the moment, but on the flip side that also means it’s hard to make up the gap because the other guys at the top are very consistent.

        Jenson already has a mountain to climb. Making up 43 points on the championship leader, who has been more consistent than him this year, is in probably the form of his career, driving the same car will not be easy. Even if Lewis was to slip up (which I don’t see happening), there is still Alonso and Vettel to catch, both of whom are also driving great.

        When Lewis fell more than 25 points behind Jenson last season, he just could not make up the gap even when he won races because Jenson was also scoring good points. If Jenson has a good car on any race weekend chances are so will Lewis.

        I’d say if Jenson has a poor race in Valencia, follows it up with his usual struggles at the Silverstone and the current top 3 score good points in those races then he’s a gonner as far as the championship is concerned, unfortunately.

      2. Wade Parmino says:

        Webber should not be discounted either.
        Although he is a little behind Vettel in the championship, I think he has generally driven better overall.

    2. John says:

      JB was never in it! 2010 LH had a ‘off’ year. The universe is back in balance now

      1. Wade Parmino says:

        You must mean 2011. Right?

        In 2010 LH was at least mathematically in reach of the championship by the final GP.

  10. Elie says:

    I agree completely with Kay and Donnrizio, it has nothing to do with the team at all. Why are do many people blaming McLaren it has everything to do with Jenson Buttton he needs to fix his car – he even said so in a few interviews. What we’re talking about here is only 3 to 5 tenths of a second and a little balance issue

    I agree also that he seems to have gone backwards since the higher nose on the MP4-27. It only a small set up issue.

    Its a silly suggestion to go back to Melbourne spec and try to figure it out. It’s taken 7 complete race weekends and a mid season test to get to where they are now. Which is probably 1-2 sec quicker. Don’t forget every team will be quicker again with upgrades at Valencia. The game stops for no one & Jenson must work it out. Don’t get me wrong JB’s a great driver but all this showing is what many fans never realized he is not quiet as good when things aren’t perfect like Lewis or many other drivers for that matter

    1. Nathan Jones says:

      As I’ve always said, journalists have a natural tendency to cut Jenson yards and yards of slack. No disrespect to JA, he’s clearly the best of the lot, but there is an obvious trend.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see much by way of slack when Massa was struggling with the Ferrari. The only thing that was written was that Felipe has to sort out his problems and perform like Fernando was doing – or face getting tinned come 2013. People acknowledged that the Ferrari was not a good car but didn’t point to Rob Smedley et al as letting Felipe down. Yes, JB couldn’t run on Friday in Canada, but it wasn’t the first race where he struggled woefully on Saturday and Sunday.

      1. Mike from Colombia says:

        Absolutely agree with you. Hamilton was being dissected into pieces last year by the media. Massa has had to work under a cloud for every race since Germany 2010. Webber and Button seems to be journalist favourites…especially tabloid.

      2. Nathan Jones says:

        Mate, don’t limit your statement to the tabloids. The tabloids at least have an excuse, insofar as no one really takes them seriously and they are paid to be populist. I think the ‘serious’ F1 press fraternity were the biggest culprits of all.

      3. Kay says:

        In some ways I don’t blame the media, Jens is a media-friendly guy, a gentleman and always talk nice.

        Hamilton does get a little cocky sometimes, and in certain past races I do feel he can speak a little nicer to his crew over the radio.

        But then yer, no need to be ultra nice to Jens and ultra bad to Ham.

  11. Roger Daly says:

    The problem was not so much pitstops or tyre wear as RACE PACE… The McLaren could qualify on pole but was over a second short on race pace, race winning pace. So much of F1 2012 hangs on switching on the tyres and then not overcooking the “Raw Eggs” the real war is the engineers working their way through the myriad setup possibilities and evolving car to get the best out of the package.

    Had a good LOL at the Valencians complaining about the “disruption” caused by the race, you need to see some of their local Festes before you take that drivvel too seriously !!

  12. Nigel says:

    Hi James,

    Did you see this comment about Jenson from Jaime Alguersuari on the BBC website:

    “At the Spanish Grand Prix, he said over the team radio that he had problems getting the tyres to warm-up, especially on the hard compound.
    The cars are sliding more this year because some aerodynamic aids have been banned. And in fact, he was misinterpreting the feeling – he was actually suffering from tyre over-heating.
    So all the changes McLaren made for Saturday were aimed at curing the wrong problem – and made the problem they had worse…”

    Is this accurate ?
    Don’t the teams have temperature sensors on the tyres to prevent this kind of error ?

    1. James Clayton says:

      McLaren certainly do! Not just sensors, either…

  13. Bring Back Murray says:

    Would have been so nice so see Lewis unleashed around Silverstone after his recent victory. I hope the bore-fest of Valencia doesn’t knock the stuffing out of his re-found optimism.

    1. Kay says:

      Hamilton and Valencia brings back memories of 2010 when HAM came out in front of ALO albeit a drive-thru LOL!

      I think Hammy will be strong enough to deliver a strong result in Valencia so no worries.

  14. Richard says:

    I think Jenson’s problem have been engineering based such that they have ill effect on tyre performance which carries over onto car performance. That said I do hope Lewis can put his car on pole or at least get on the front row this weekend as back to back wins would help make up for McLaren’s mistakes that have cost him dear this season.

  15. Joel says:

    I only hope they are not spending too many resources in identifying the issue with Button’s car thereby compromising the upgrades they will need to bring to the car each race to be competitive with the bulls, prancing horses, silver arrows, lotuses and saubers.

    1. Kay says:

      True.

      I’d rather McLaren to concentrate on Hamilton now and focus resources on developing the car around him than Button, since Button cannot drive a car that’s supposedly designed around him anyway. So just forget Button and make sure Hamilton has a best chances to take the WDC.

      1. James Clayton says:

        Kay

        If this car really was developed around Button, as you keep saying (if you could find a genuine source for this I’d appreciate it), then don’t you find it a little strange that Hamilton’s doing a lot better in this car than any of the last 3 that were presumably developed around him?

  16. Methusalem says:

    Many of you guys are trying to find weird excuses for Button’s setbacks and failings. Jenson is a human being, and he is not getting younger either — so, may be his age finally caught up with him?!

    1. Mike from Colombia says:

      He’s only 32 !!

    2. Kay says:

      MSC is a lot older and doing pretty well this year…

      1. James Clayton says:

        2 points?

        Admittedly luck hasn’t been on his side.

  17. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    Maybe it is just psychological, nobody can stay on top of that all the time.

    Some drivers are shinning like Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Maldonado, Perez, and others are not so in a high like Button, Schumacher, Massa, Hulkenberg.

    I mean, it is the driver who must to fix this aspect sooner than later.

    1. Kay says:

      Even though I dislike MSC, I gotta say this year he is driving pretty strong, if only his car to do a little better on reliability front and other team issues. So kinda unfair to put him among Button, Hulkenberg lot.

      Massa is getting better, and damn that first corner spin he made, he’d have finished higher up but for that.

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