January 21st, 2013 (F1plus / Ernie Black).- Take the time to ask any driver coach and they will tell you that confidence is just as important as skill to a race car driver.
Last year, we asked well respected driver coach Rob Wilson about the importance of attitude and confidence to F1 drivers. He has worked with several F1 drivers over the years and can usually tell a driver's confidence level simply through their driving style. Wilson said that confidence is often the difference between a great driver and a champion.
Confidence however is critically fragile. It is effected by many variables, including a struggling car, grip levels of certain compounds, being outperformed by a team mate and even comments made in the media or by colleagues.
At this junction, I would like to touch briefly on a little battle that has been brewing for some time. It might be political, however, I believe it to be mild F1 psychological warfare.
Going back to last season, there was a spat between Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. Before Vettel walked away with the title, Alonso made the comment that he was really battling Red Bull and Adrian Newey rather than against the young German.
I'm sure the comment didn't really phase Vettel. One must wonder however, if that comment still sits dormant in the back of his head like a traumatic childhood memory. It must have bothered him at some level, I would imagine. Alonso being voted as the best F1 driver in 2012 by fellow drivers and team bosses may have also disturbed him.
I'm quite certain that overall, the effects of these comments haven't been detrimental to Vettel. He may not even remember them after having his picture taken with his third world championship trophy.
Today however, we are days away from the start of 2013 F1 action with car launches and testing. Since the end of the 2012 season, the mudslinging hasn't really subsided between Alonso and Red Bull.
There were comments made by Red Bull's Helmut Marko that suggested that Alonso was a poor loser, which lacked focus and concentrated on politics or something along those lines. Apparently, he commented that Vettel's team mate, Webber, was never really the team's top dog. So much for not airing ones' dirty laundry, so to speak. I personally wonder what sparked these comments, especially against one of his team's drivers.
Much like an epic tennis match of words, the ball fell back into Alonso's corner as he dismissed Marko's comments.
Recently however, Alonso broke serve. He fired a quick indirect jab by saying that Lewis Hamilton is the strongest driver on the grid. Again, the Spaniard pointed to Lewis as being his main rival.
Many may actually agree that in terms of raw driving talent, Hamilton may actually better Vettel.
My view on this theory is that Vettel holds three titles and the knowledge that he has Red Bull resources and Adrian Newey in his corner. Unless McLaren, Mercedes, Lotus and perhaps Sauber do something extraordinary to shake up the order, Alonso cannot discount Vettel as his main rival.
A news story has been making the rounds in the past day or two about Alonso having snubbed Red Bull's offers more than once. This might actually help us understand the reasons behind Marko's comments, if true.
Perhaps this is just another tactic. Smack talk is used in every sport, F1 should be no different. It's psychological warfare at its best.