Gray Matter: If Hamilton finds his focus, he’ll find the title

Will Gray

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Lewis Hamilton

Nico Rosberg leads Lewis Hamilton by 11 points with eight races left - and until Mercedes say otherwise the pair are free to fight it out for the title.

So who will win?

Rosberg leads the qualifying battle 7-4 and Hamilton has suffered two disastrous sessions at the last two races, starting from the rear of the pack on both occasions.

In races, though, it is very evenly matched. Hamilton has five wins, two seconds, two thirds and two retirements; Rosberg has four wins, five seconds, one fourth and one retirement.

But in performance style, the pair could not be further apart.

Rosberg has been stable and consistent. Metronomic. In the heat of battle, Rosberg has kept cool, played clever mind games (was Monaco really a mistake?) and delivered time and again.

Hamilton has been more on the edge, dramatically fast at times, even in a slower car, but occasionally running beyond the limit. He has made things hard for himself on too many occasions.

There’s very little in it - but when the mistakes don’t come, the signs are Hamilton has the better of Rosberg.

Both need good reliability as one retirement can change everything. But assuming that the luck evens out on that front, then all Hamilton needs to do is focus on consistently driving at his highest level.

Finding that focus isn't always straightforward, of course, but if he digs it out then Hamilton will be the one to claim the title.

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Massa's luck could put Williams second

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It’s great to say it: Williams are back.

After one of their worst ever seasons in 2013, the dramatic resurgence has been mostly due to a switch to Mercedes engines – but the car around the powerplant has also played a big part as they are the top non-works Mercedes runners.

Former Renault technical chief Pat Symonds has turned the team around and the arrival of Rob Smedley as head of vehicle performance appears to have been an important signing.

Developments keep coming through successfully, they’ve understood their problems and fixed them, and they are becoming more and more strategic every race. All of which is the sign of a team that is working well.

The only problem is Felipe Massa’s luck.

He has shown good pace but retired six times in 11 races. When he and team-mate Valterri Bottas have both finished, the ex-Ferrari driver has been ahead on all but one occasion.

Bottas has collected 95 points to Massa’s 40 – and had the pair both delivered, Williams would be comfortably ahead of Ferrari in third in the constructors’ championship.

With several tracks coming up that should suit their car, a series of consistent two-car finishes could see them move up to third and start chasing down Red Bull down for the runners-up spot.

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Red Bull Junior picks well

If there were any reason to doubt the potential of the Red Bull Junior programme, this season has quashed them.

Since Sebastian Vettel made the grade it has delivered a series of failed recruits, so much so that the team almost picked a non-Red Bull driver as Mark Webber’s replacement this year.

Instead, they gambled on Red Bull Junior driver Daniel Ricciardo and he has shocked with his performances, out-performing Vettel and already winning two Grands Prix for the reigning champions.

Meanwhile, his replacement at Toro Rosso, 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat, has also impressed, joining from GP3 having beaten Antonio Felix da Costa to the seat and becoming the youngest ever points scorer on his debut.

Hotly tipped Max Verstappen, son of ex-F1 driver Jos, has now signed up to replace Jean Eric Vergne next year and Carlos Sainz Jr has been in talks with Caterham to take up a seat in the latter part of the season.

Vettel may decide to move on when his contract ends in 2016. If he does, there are plenty of drivers on the ladder to take his place.

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Vettel needs to adapt

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Sebastian Vettel has had it his own way for some time, racing a car that always suited his style. This year he has a lot less of the rear downforce he is used to, and that does not suit him.

From 34 wins in 77 races in the last four seasons, he has zero from 11 this season. His best is two third places and he is 43 points behind Ricciardo, who has won two.

Vettel has suffered worse reliability than his team-mate this year, but he now needs focus his head ready for 2015 – and to do that he needs to adapt to the car, not try to adapt the car to him.

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New teams still finding it tough

It is now the fifth season since the ‘new’ teams made their debut and this year’s rule changes gave them a great opportunity to step up.

But they haven’t.

At Caterham, Tony Fernandes has totally given up on his F1 dream and handed over to a consortium of investors. The new management team of Colin Kolles and Christijan Albers still have plenty of work to do.

Marussia, meanwhile, scored the first points in their history in Monaco (albeit helped by their rivals making mistakes) and got two cars into Q2 at Silverstone - but they have slowly started to drop back again.

So despite the big opportunity, both are still some way from properly catching the midfield.

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Ferrari should go for Hulkenberg

Alonso vs Raikkonen could have been great, but hopes that the Finn would shine on his return to Ferrari after two great seasons at Lotus have faded because the current cars don’t suit him.

Alonso has scored 88 points more and has out-qualified Raikkonen 9-2 so far. He has two podiums, while Raikkonen’s best was sixth at the last race in Hungary. Alonso is on average 0.695 seconds ahead of his team-mate in qualifying.

To be fair to Raikkonen, Alonso has made a habit of getting the best out of un under-performing car and he’s doing exactly that again this year, scoring points in every race, only once outside the top six.

Meanwhile the man who Ferrari turned down, Nico Hulkenberg, has been shining at Force India.

He has been extremely consistent, scoring points in every one of the first 10 races including fifth places in Malaysia, Bahrain, Monaco and Canada.

With a points tally of 69 (an average of just less than seven points per finish) he has 42 more than Raikkonen and is once again proving he deserves a place in the top tier.

With the restructuring at Ferrari, what are the chances they drop the underperforming Raikkonen for a second time and finally snap up the German like they should have last year...?

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