Just as we saw what mind games can do to athletes during the closing stages of last season’s MotoGP series, psychology is an area that should never be underestimated in motor sport – or any sport for that matter.
This micro-universal truth was never more evident than it was at Long Beach last Saturday. Despite having lost his Mexico ePrix results due to weight infringements, Lucas di Grassi was in maximum attack mode; channelling his frustrations into his driving, but in the controlled manner you’d expect from a driver of his calibre.
“In difficult moments, personality and experience come together,” said di Grassi.
“It was very easy for me to throw in the towel and say, ‘The championship is over, let’s just come here for fun’.”
Contrastingly, it was Sebastien Buemi who dropped the ball at Long Beach. Always an aggressive steerer, the Swiss driver has always walked the tightrope between the sublime and the slaphappy. Unfortunately his performance on Saturday saw the latter, his frustration getting the better of him by slamming into the back of Antonio Felix Da Costa’s Aguri and relinquishing the championship lead to di Grassi in the process.
“It’s my fault obviously,” said a contrite Buemi of the Frijns crash. “I should have waited. There was no need to pass him in a tricky place like that.”
Contrition on the part of Buemi perhaps, but we’ve seen this behaviour from the Swiss driver before and usually during times of high pressure.
At last year’s Formula E championship finale in London, the usually serene Sebastien fell back his erratic whilst stuck behind the Mahindra of Bruno Senna. Knowing every point was gold dust if he was to beat Nelson Piquet to the title he became impatient rather than picking his moment. In a series that rewards efficiency it was a textbook display of what not to do.
It’s a far cry from the domination we saw at the opening round at Beijing with both Renault e.Dams Z.E.15’s enjoying the point and squirt straights and tight chicanes.
The sweeping nature of Long Beach however requires subtle weight transferences through incremental brake application – an area that has plagued Renault e.Dams of late – but to put this specifically down to brakes would be foolhardy, as the best brakes are only as good as the suspension allows them to be.
Mahindra were more than aware of this after struggling during opening practice at Long Beach and made steps to rectify the situation – resulting in a season best finish of fourth and fifth.
“We thought we had a good solution for the car which helped us make improvements during the second practice” said Mahindra’s Bruno Senna.
“We were playing with the suspension settings a lot. Each track is different and sometimes you find yourselves on the back foot a little bit. But you need to take chances. When you see teams like e.Dams struggle you have to profit when they don’t.”
Having the best power-train might be one thing, but putting all your eggs in that basket is a recipe for disaster.
A fact that wouldn’t be lost on a driver like Buemi – having vast experience in Formula One and WEC.
Perhaps this is where the real frustration lies.