F1: Is Christian Horner a smarter team boss than Ron Dennis?

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, August 19th, 2007

 
 

Right. It’s a rainy Sunday between races so let’s advance a controversial notion. Just for the sake of argument, you understand.

It is this: if Kimi Raikkonen had been partnered at McLaren in 2005 by David Coulthard rather than Juan-Pablo Montoya then he would have got those crucial extra points and challenged Fernando Alonso for the drivers’ championship. With the re-writing of motorsport history that this would have entailed.

Why should this have happened? Because JPM was constantly guilty of, er, throwing points up the wall by crashing the car or driving it into the ground so that, as often as not, it failed to even make the finish.

That’s when he turned up to race in the first place. The less said about trail bikes and broken shoulders the better. But it can quite plausibly be argued that a lack of team discipline contributed to costing Raikkonen the world championship that year. And McLaren finished within 10 points of Renault for the constructors’.

Very interesting in the light of current full and frank discussions being had in the Woking area, no?

On the other hand, Montoya’s predecessor Coulthard, so unceremoniously dumped from the team to make way for the new kid on the block, would have acted as an effective rear gunner who would have supported Kimi to a few more one-two finishes and helped keep the Renault challenge at bay.

Something that you may recall that Montoya signally failed to do, being far more interested in his own brilliance than in actually helping McLaren towards victory in either the drivers’ or constructors’ competitions.

Coulthard made no public fuss about this. He just put his head down and kept driving until the end of his contract when he made what was seen as a hugely risky move to the flash new Red Bull outfit. He developed a shaggy haircut, some designer stubble and what was unquestionably a happier attitude to his job as well as (proportionally) more success than he had enjoyed at McLaren for some time.

(Actually, it’s been educational watching Alonso travel in the other direction – presumably his contract stipulates that he now has to shave twice a day, he wouldn’t look out of place turning up for work at a City of London investment house and no-one could plausibly argue that he’s enjoying life more than he did last season.)

We are suggesting that DC was far more temperamentally suited to playing the McLaren team game than the ill-fated Columbian. Signing the latter was probably as big an error of judgement by Ron Dennis as any he is currently blamed for regarding who gets to go on top in the Hamilton/Alonso love-in. And it almost certainly cost them the drivers’ championship, and maybe the constructors’ too.

Obviously it is only too easy for us armchair commentators to sit here and call Ron out on past decisions. Especially those made at a point when to let this apparently promising young driver get into the hands of Ferrari, or even an up-and-coming team like Honda, would have seemed a very, very brave move indeed.

(But, then again, if you’re averse to this sort of speculation, what are you doing reading motorsport blogs in the first place?)

Admittedly there are some strong arguments as to why this premise may not entirely hold water. 2005 did not mark McLaren’s most reliable season or its strongest car. And you could never underestimate the brilliance and determination of the young Fernando Alonso.

But Raikkonen eventually scored 112 points to his 133 – and must have regarded this as a wasted season in the light of subsequent events.

Coulthard’s ability to work as a team player is proven, whatever you may think of his racing ability. And it is evidently appreciated rather more by his new employer than it was by McLaren.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has been talking to F1 Racing magazine about his driver line-up for next season – and he has nothing but praise for the Scot.

He said he believes DC has risen to the challenge of driving beside his hotly-tipped Australian partner Mark Webber, and he thinks that his team will be going into 2008 with the best possible combination of drivers.

“David brings a wealth of experience, he’s been a Grand Prix driver for 14 years, and he is still very hungry.

“He pushes us hard, which is the right thing, and, this year, with a stiffer test from the other car, he’s risen to the challenge.”

Horner does acknowledge that Webber, a fantastic qualifying specialist who is often unable to translate his track position into race success, is often the bridesmaid and almost never the bride.

“He’s been a magnet for bad luck,” he said. “If anything’s gone wrong, it has invariably been on his side of the garage.

“I was very pleased that he finally got the result he deserved at the Nurburgring, where he finished third.”

Horner also promised fans that the team would be working hard to fix recent reliability problems and make the most of the latest Adrian Newey design.

Which can only be good for everyone who’d like to see Coulthard have a decent season next year. And why Christian Horner may just be playing a smarter game than Ron Dennis right now.

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