Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brazil – Race Analysis

Had I not seen it personally, from the backstretch grandstands of the famous Interlagos race track, maybe I would not believe the results. When I got home and watched the recorded version of the TV broadcast, it simply did not show what I saw live. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were unbeatable and drove equally. So identically that I was glad that their helmets have different colors so I could tell who was who. Fernando Alonso was very good as well, finding every last ounce of speed that his second-race engine had. And there was a disappointing Lewis Hamilton, one that finally felt the pressure and could not perform to his highest level. In the end the champion got crowned in one of the most unlikely turn of events in the history of F1.

The Iceman kept his cool under the hot sun

Kimi Raikkonen may not be the most exciting driver out there. He certainly is not as aggressive as half of the field and almost never makes mistakes, so there is not much to watch him doing. However he is so competent and fast that no one can complain. He deserves to be the 2007 Formula One World Champion. If we consider the way he partied the night after, he probably deserved to be the 1967 champion as well... Those were the good old times when the drivers were not full-time athletes and half of the fun was just having fun.

Raikkonen drove one good lap after another. So did the hometown driver – Felipe Massa. In fact, I believe Ferrari called Felipe in earlier for his second pit stop, because it was very quick – meaning that he probably had some fuel left on the tank. By the way, did anyone notice that the official FOM TV broadcast never showed Massa’s pit stop times? Make your own conspiracy theory here, but mine is that FOM knew – we all knew! – that Ferrari would do something to switch their driver’s positions and it was a clever way not to let the occasional viewer notice it. If you are reading this, though, you are probably a hardcore fan and you know that Ferrari helped Kimi to win the race. And it makes sense, since F1 is disputed by drivers AND teams.

The crowd did not seem to believe what they were seeing. As the race went on, more and more people started cheering for Raikkonen. When he drove past Massa at the pit exit, most of the crowd applauded, although many felt that the home driver was being robbed. After the end, when Kimi drove back to the pits side by side with Felipe, the crowd finally understood what happened. He got loud cheers, but not as loud as Massa and Michael Schumacher got last year – the former for winning the race and the latter for putting up one of the most amazing drives in F1 history.

Hamilton lost the title

There is no way I can write that Hamilton’s car electronic failure was unfortunate. Yes, it cost him more than 30 seconds, but if it were not for his stupid mistakes during the first lap, he would have a better chance of scoring more points and winning the title. The failure only magnified a problem that Lewis had already caused in China. There he tried to win a race that he did not need to. How come no one advised him not to repeat the mistake? In the beginning he tried to win the Brazilian race! He should have coasted to a 4th place finish, should he not? I guess he does not know how to do it. He won everything he has ever raced before F1. He does not know how to finish 2nd or lower.

Lewis’ first mistake was to allow Alonso to overtake him. He was trying to gain momentum on Raikkonen after braking for the first leg of the Senna Esse. When Raikkonen made a mistake, Hamilton had to steer wide not to hit him, and this allowed Alonso to dive to the inside and finally overtake him exiting turn 3. Hamilton should just have braked behind Massa and simply allowed the Ferrari to go by without a fight. That way there would be no room for Alonso.

Well, Alonso had gone by. Just stay behind him, Lewis, this is all you need to be the champion. No, the kid decides to outbrake Alonso going on the outside into the left hander after the backstretch. He moved to the outside very late, and braked later than I had ever seen anyone over the whole weekend. The crowd went nuts as they knew he would shoot straight past the corner. No one could understand why he was doing that, yet it was fun to watch. Lewis kept making mistakes all around the first lap and a couple after.

Then there was the electronic glitch that cost Hamilton half a lap. He dropped back to 18th, but suddenly his car started to race normally again. I do not believe in conspiracy theories, especially because McLaren clearly wanted Hamilton to win, but it was very strange. Not so strange was his race position, though. I had seen this movie last year with Michael Schumacher. I expected the same amazing comeback from Lewis. He gave signs that he would do so when he got to a pack of 5 cars and in about 2 laps was ahead of them all. He was never constant enough, though. He made small mistakes all around the laps. He never had enough speed. He lost the championship and disappointed me a lot. Even if the media keep praising him so much, now I truly believe that other drivers would be as great as Hamilton if they had a car as good as McLaren to drive. Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, and Heikki Kovalainen, for example. If Hamilton survives this defeat to become a better driver, he eventually will be world champion. If he cannot put it behind, his career will be ruined. This is not an exaggeration.

This century’s Fittipaldi

Back in the 1970’s, two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi was the driver who took care of his car and always waited for the opportunity to win the race. Sometimes he got victories because the guys ahead of him could not preserve the equipment and had to retire. Fernando Alonso won two championships doing exactly the same thing, especially for the later part of the 2006 season.

Alonso had a worse equipment than his teammate and both Ferrari drivers. Because of the huge accident in Japan, he raced with a new engine in China. Since engines can be only switched after 2 races, Alonso had a disadvantage going to Brazil. His competitors could run the engine temperature a little bit higher, maybe use a different kind of lubricant, things like that. It was clear that Alonso lacked power and torque. I believe that he compensated the lack of power by having less wings, but that cost him some time in the middle portion of the track. And especially in that twisty section, there was nothing that he could do to compensate for the lack of torque. However, he just kept enough rhythm to stay third and snatch the title if one of the Ferraris hit misfortune. They did not, but last Sunday it was like if I was watching a documentary about Fittipaldi. Fernando Alonso deserved the title as much as Raikkonen. It was just not meant to be.

Brazil’s quick notes

- Nico Rosberg had a great race and his amazing battle against Robert Kubica for 4th during the last few laps was exciting enough to make the crowd stand up. With this kind of performance he is probably on top of Ron Dennis’ wish list – if Alonso leaves McLaren.

- Hekki Kovalainen’s accident was impressive. I was looking at his car when lots of parts flew from the rear end. He hit the wall that is know by fans and drivers as the Berger Wall – named after Gerhard Berger, who once hit it hard when he drove for McLaren. I am glad that Heikki is ok, because it was a pretty heavy collision going backwards. The HANS device probably helped, but I am sure that his neck will be sore for a week.

- Kazuki Nakajima showed the same form that he was known for in GP2. He was lighting fast at times – he was the 5th fastest driver of the day – and very slow at others. He needs time to settle, but I do not think he will ever be constant enough. His pit crew will appreciate, though, if he is able to stop the car without hitting them.

- Honda had a bad season, but this race was particularly bad as both Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button retired because of engine problems. This sort of problem may explain why the two cars seem to be so different, with Barrichello being faster all weekend. When an engine starts to fail, it never does it in identical way. This would show in the telemetry, though. Maybe Honda already knew why Jenson was slower during qualifying.

Star of the race:

Nico Rosberg

Shame of the race:

Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

Hold on for the Brazilian Grand Prix analysis...

I have not been able to write a proper analysis to the Brazilian Grand Prix. I will post it as soon as a have something. Since I was at the Interlagos race track since the early hours of Sunday, I was too tired to write anything by Monday. This time it will be Formula One Tuesday, but please hold on as I promise it will be worth it. Being at the track allowed me to see a lot of things that TV simply does not show.

Monday, October 08, 2007

China – Race Analysis

Without writing anything about the penultimate round of the 2007 Formula One Championship, just stating what is left for the last race would be enough to quantify all the emotions involved in last Sunday’s race. There will be a three-way championship battle in Brazil, as 7 points separate leader Lewis Hamilton from 3rd place Kimi Raikkonen, with current world champion Fernando Alonso between them. Even a boring race with this type of outcome would be good to watch, but the Chinese Grand Prix reserved us enough excitement – and many battles – throughout all racing field positions. Add to that some very unstable weather conditions, with rain coming and going faster than one can say ‘Shangai’, and you get the picture of an exciting race.

Hamilton sunk the title clinch in the gravel trap

Many times this year I have said that Hamilton is a rookie who has still a lot to learn. His weaknesses are so subtle, though, that sometimes it is even hard for me to make the point. Well, at least for one race analysis it will be easy. Lewis is a rookie, period. It just showed during the race. Why in the world did he push so hard during the battle with Raikkonen, ruining his already worn-out tyres? Why did he drive so fast going into the narrow pit lane when he could barely turn his car in the very wide corners in Shangai? Because he is a rookie. One of the fastest ever, but still a rookie.

It was not completely his fault, though. McLaren should have called him in for a tyre change at least one lap before, when he lost 7 seconds to Raikkonen. They also got carried away by the possibility of a race win and forgot to protect Hamilton’s championship lead.

On the other hand, Alonso was just constant enough to keep his championship very alive. Lewis still depends only on himself to win the title, but Fernando certainly has a good chance. It is clear to me, though, that McLaren will give the better equipment to Hamilton. I do not blame them. If I worked there and heard all Alonso has said about the team, I would not want him to win.

One last shot for Raikkonen – again

Kimi Raikkonen has already been runner-up in the drivers championship twice, he will not be able to stand it happening once again. He will fight until the end. Being the ‘Iceman’ is something that helps him a lot as the season goes down to the wire. The same amount of patience that Hamilton lacked, Raikkonen had in excess. Even while overtaking the struggling Brit, with a car that was at least 3 seconds a lap faster, he had enough patience to obey all yellow flags – and there were many, because cars slipped out as the rain picked up – and to wait for the a mistake from Lewis that gave him enough room.

His run against Alonso depends only on Ferrari, they ‘just’ need to finish 1-2 in Brazil. He still needs some help from mother luck in order to beat Hamilton. The Finn is not known for his good luck, but he is certainly helping his chances of winning by having strong performances such as the one yesterday.

If he ultimately wins the championship, it will be a lot like in 1986. Williams’ teammates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet were the favourites going into the last race of the season. But running on the outside was Alain Prost, who took advantage of the internal fight at Williams to beat both its drivers. It was arguably one of the greatest upsets in the history of F1.

Sebastian’s turnaround

Sebastian Vettel showed that his mistake from Japan is a thing from the past. The kid is growing up with every race. Driving a mid-pack car is a good way to become a better driver. Finishing 4th in that car is certainly something remarkable. Doing that after starting 17th is amazing.

He is finally showing why he got his ride. I have said it before and I will say it again: Scott Speed’s departure was just a political decision. It does not matter to Vettel, who just took advantage of the opportunity and is now showing to be a proper replacement. I am pretty sure that Speed could not have done better. In fact, I think Vettel has that extra ounce of talent that Speed lacked under pressure.

We just cannot forget one fact: Driver’s aside, RBR and STR are improving because of Adrian Newey’s work. In my opinion, the guy is one of the best engineers ever. Although he is known as an aerodynamics specialist, I have to say that his best quality is his problem solving skills. Like all the chief engineers in F1, he divides one big problem – a bad car, for example – into smaller problems – such as a bad front wing. The difference is that he keeps the link between those problems and never loses track of the big picture. The result is constant overall improvement.

China’s quick notes

- Jenson Button finished 5th, one day after his miracle qualifying run put his Honda in the top ten. Besides clocking some of the fastest laps of the day as the track dried out, the most important thing for Honda is that the 4 points put them ahead of Super Aguri in the constructor’s standings. It also helps them not to be beaten by Spyker.

- Ralf Schumacher was racing pretty well until he tried to overtake Vitantonio Liuzzi. He left no room for the Italian, after making a move on the outside and returning to the inside to take the apex. Later, he spun out of the race. He has already announced his retirement from Toyota, but maybe he should retire from F1. For which team could he drive next year? The only option I can think about is Prodrive.

- Alexander Wurz tried a different tactic and switched to the option dry-weather tyres in lap 22. The rain returned and he could not do more than finishing 12th. He then announced his retirement, which is actually a euphemism for ‘Frank Williams kicked him out of the team’. Does it mean Alonso returning to Renault and Nelson Piquet Jr. going to the empty race seat at Williams? Let’s wait for the Brazilian Grand Prix to have more clues.

Star of the race:

Sebastian Vettel

Shame of the race:

Lewis Hamilton, with Ralf Schumacher in the runner-up spot for the most unwanted award.

--Andre N.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Japan – Race Analysis

Not even the huge Mount Fuji is able to shield Formula One from the curse that plagues it at Fuji International Speedway. F1’s bad luck at that venue started during the 1970’s and seems to continue today. The 2007 race started under the safety car because of the heavy rain, a decision that was basically commercial – so that sponsors and TV stations would be happy. For 19 boring laps we watched the entire grid moving around behind the pace car. No one can call that competition, so it has got to be business. The only things that kept the fans awake were some pit stops and an off-track excursion by Felipe Massa.

When the race actually started, it became one of the epic races of the modern era, with brilliant performances by the drivers with the most natural talent. Lewis Hamilton’s performance was certainly one of those, and helped by the fact that McLaren was the best car of the weekend, his victory was no surprise – although no one could be sure about it until the last few laps.

Unlikely but deserving win by Hamilton

If Lewis Hamilton were to be tested at any point this season, it would have been at Fuji Speedway. And it was. Without any references from the previous year and the internal McLaren break-up that would prevent him from getting Fernando Alonso’s settings, the rookie would have a hard time setting up a fast and constant car. He seemed to be on the right track on Friday, at least for one flying lap, but if it were dry on Saturday and Sunday I would still put my money on Alonso.

It rained, though. As usual, the wet track levelled most of the equipment differences and made driver talent a very important factor. Hamilton is a gifted driver, everyone should know that by now, but that only meant that under rain he was in equal terms to the equally gifted Alonso. Unfortunately for the latter, it just was not his day. When he pitted, he rejoined the race behind a group of cars. Hamilton, who had opened up a bit of a gap because of his better visibility as the race leader, was able to return ahead of this pack. That meant that Fernando would have no visibility for a while and about 4 cars between him and Lewis. Then Sebatian Vettel, who had not pitted and had a lighter car, hit Alonso’s sidepod, damaging it quite heavily. Finally, he aquaplaned and hit the outside wall just before turn 6, ending his race and most of his title hopes.

Hamilton also had his share of bad moments, especially when Kubica hit him during an overtaking attempt. Luckily, both drivers were able to return. After Fernando crashed out, Lewis had ‘only’ to hold his position for the win. Mentally, he had one of the greatest challenges of his career. Everyone was behind Lewis, but just imagine driving the last few laps of the race, looking at the mirrors, seeing nothing more than water spray, yet having a phobia that someone was always there. Just like the classic song ‘Fear of the Dark’ from Iron Maiden.

Hamilton got it all together and opened up quite a gap to second place Heikki Kovalainen. Just like any former champion such as Alonso would had done with a car as good as the 2007 McLaren. If Hamilton wins the championship, this is the race that proved that he deserves the title as much as any of the previous winners.

Ferrari almost out of driver’s title chase

Somehow the ‘F1 Fuji curse’ seems to be stronger to Ferrari. In 1976 there was torrential rain that made Ferrari’s Niki Lauda retire due to unsafe conditions. He was not the only one, but he lost the title in that race to McLaren’s James Hunt, who decided not to retire so that he would still have a shot at the title. One year later there was an accident that killed two spectators as Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari flew into the crowd after hitting Ronnie Peterson’s Tyrrel. In 2007, it was misery again for the red team, as they started with the wrong tyres – intermediates instead of the FIA-imposed extreme wets – and were forced by the marshals to pit under the first safety car, dropping both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen to the back of the pack.

When Massa returned to the track after a spin – under the safety car, just to point out that the intermediates were certainly not the best choice - he was penalized with a drive-through for overtaking Nick Heidfeld. My complaint here goes to the FIA, once again for not knowing how to deal with safety car periods. They should just follow an American series rules for full-track yellow flag; the IRL, for example. If the driver is at a position in which he should not be with full track yellows, just make him allow the other drivers to go by and there is no need to penalize him. Anyway, that would not have changed Massa’s race a lot, and now, after finishing 6th, he is mathematically out of the title hunt. At least his battle with Robert Kubica during the last lap was alone worth the admission tickets! It is also good to know that both Felipe and Robert had a laugh about it after the race. F1 should be fun, because it is still a sport – for the drivers at least.

Kimi Raikkonen can still be world champion, but now he is 17 points behind Hamilton with 2 races to go. It is probably not going to happen for him.

Japan’s quick notes

- Adrian Sutil got his first F1 point ever after Vitantonio Liuzzi was punished with 25 seconds for overtaking under a yellow flag. Sutil’s performances for the past two races confirm that he is a very good driver.

- Another driver that impressed me a lot was Sebastian Vettel. He led the race for a brief moment and was in third during the second safety car period. This sort of performance reminds me of Ayrton Senna in his rookie season – 1984 – when he drove for Toleman. I felt really bad for him when he got distracted and hit Mark Webber – while the safety car was still out. This stupid mistake will either make him a much better driver – one capable of winning championships – or will ruin his career altogether. I am hoping for the former, especially after seeing the great car control that he has. As much as I like him, he will be the ‘Shame of the Race’, and he knows he deserves this kind of award.

- I only wish I could see Mark Webber fighting for the win...

- Veterans David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella had the experience that Vettel lacked and were able to protect themselves from disaster, finishing 4th and 5th respectively.

- Rubens Barrichello has been struggling lately at Honda. I expected more than 10th from him yesterday, as he is really a ‘rain specialist’. He needs to be careful, because getting beaten by a teammate time after time is the easiest way for someone to lose the job in F1. Yesterday he was helped by the fact that Button was not on a good day and had to retire with suspension damage on the final lap.

Star of the race:

Heikki Kovalainen. Lewis Hamilton certainly was great, but I picked Heikki because I am sure that he had a harder time driving the not-so-well-balanced Renault. His last lap battle with Raikkonen was an artwork itself. He got overtaken by Kimi in turn 6 and then overtook him back on the outside of turn 10, with the car barely making the turn. Had Sebastian Vettel not hit Webber, he would probably get the award, because STR is certainly a lot worse than most of the cars. His mistake was so bad, though, that he will be the ‘shame of the race’ instead.

Shame of the race:

Sebastian Vettel.

--Andre N.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Belgium – Race Analysis

After the McLaren unexpected win last week at the high speed Monza circuit, I expected another at Spa-Francochamps. The hilly, curvy layout should have favoured the better mechanically adjusted Mclaren and its high-torque Mercedes engine. I was wrong. The deciding factor in today’s F1 is always aerodynamics, and Ferrari is known to have, at this stage of the season, a better aero package than McLaren.

The race itself was again nothing to write home about, as it has been the case for most of this year. A few battles for position were exciting, but except for Lewis Hamilton vs. Fernando Alonso, they had no major effects on the championship standings.

Raikkonen’s last championship thrust

Kimi Raikkonen had one of the cleanest wins of his career. Based on his lap times, I do not think that he made any mistakes. He had perfect lap after perfect lap. Maybe on Saturday during qualifying he had a little bit of a bad moment during his last flying lap, but even with that he was still on pole position. Of course when he beat Felipe Massa on Q2, by Ferrari internal rules that meant he would be the one with the lighter car. With the long lap around Spa – 7.004 km/4.352 mi – that meant Massa would carry added weight that would cost him about 0.1 to 0.2s a lap.

By the way, Massa also did a good job. The problem for him is that he is now 20 points behind Hamilton with 3 races – maximum 30 points – to go. Therefore, Raikkonen, 13 points behind the championship leader, is the only real remaining hope of a Ferrari driver winning the title. Even so, it will be very hard to happen.

Kimi’s last championship thrust does not depend on much more than only him or his team. If they finish 1-2 and Hamilton finishes third for the remaining three races, the Englishman would still be world champion by 1 point. In Ferrari’s favour is the fact that Alonso is now constantly getting the upper hand on Hamilton. Against them is the fact that, based on what we have seen this season, McLaren will probably have the best car for at least one of the remaining tracks.

Kudos for Raikkonen for pulling a donut after winning the race. This is what the fans want to see. If you have ever seen Valentino Rossi’s victory celebrations in MotoGP – like the one yesterday in Portugal – you will understand what I am saying. Maybe the FIA will give him a fine, but it was worth it. The fans deserve it.

Alonso continues to one-up Hamilton

What a battle between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton going into turn 1 all the way to the exit of the famous Eau Rouge! At that point one would have to brake, or they would end up in a pile of carbon fibre debris. Luckily Hamilton did, as it seemed Alonso was determined not to do so.

After Hungary, Alonso has constantly beaten Hamilton. This probably means that the press rumours are true: The team has divided into two since that pit melee in the Hungaroring, and no setup information is transferred from one car to the other over the course of a race weekend. As good as Lewis is, he does not have yet the same setup finesse as Alonso.

The Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway will be a good place to prove my theory. If it stands, Alonso should beat Hamilton by a large margin there. The last time that Formula One was there was in 1977. None of the title contenders were even born then and they certainly do not have any setup references.

The only other explanation is that pressure has finally affected Hamilton, but I think that he is the kind of driver who turns pressure into good results. By the way, that wide turn into the safety track on the penultimate lap was probably just because he lost his concentration as the race had become very boring.

The effects of the spy scandal closure

McLaren was able to race, besides the fact that it is now clear to me that many people in the organization were aware of the illegal information obtained from Ferrari. At this point I agree with Flavio Briatore’s comments during Friday Press Conference: Although the drivers were benefited by some sort of illegal advantage, it is not their fault. They have not stolen the blueprints from Ferrari and more than that, they may not even know what is legal and what is not regarding an engineering project. Engineers and technicians, on the other hand, absolutely know where the line that they should not cross stands. Good luck to Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. They will need it if they do not want to go to jail.

The better decision from the legal standpoint, in my opinion, would be to exclude McLaren from this championship and for at least a few races of the next. From the sporting standpoint, on the other hand, you should let the drivers compete. The decision was based on that fact that Formula One is still a sport for the drivers, although it is just business for the teams. The 100-million-U.S.-dollars fine will make sure that no team will even try something similar in the future.

With all that as part of the past, Ferrari has won the 2007 Constructor’s Championship, as BMW does not have any mathematical chances of beating them. Not that the general public cares.

Belgium’s quick notes

- Adrian Sutil did a fantastic race by Spyker’s standards, starting 19th and driving as high as 12th. He finished 14th. The B-spec car, Mike Gascoyne’s first full design for the team, is certainly an improvement. Sutil had his first chance of showing how good he actually is and he is pretty good.

- Heikki Kovalainen had a good start and moved from 9th on the grid to 6th after the first corner. His 1-stop strategy did not seem to be the best, but even so he got 1 point, after two excellent battles with Robert Kubica. Heikki won the most important, i.e. the final one.

- Jarno Trulli is continuing to struggle on race starts. He had to avoid contact going into the first corner and could not manage to retain his position at the starting grid – 8th. He finished 13th, one place behind teammate Ralf Schumacher.

- Alexander Wurz was again beaten by teammate Nico Rosberg. During the race Wurz had fuel pressure problems that made him drive behind the slow Sakon Yamamoto. That was no excuse, though, as Rosberg started the race in 5th place and Wurz only in 15th. If it were not for the problems, which were not his fault, he would be the ‘shame of the race’.

- Mark Webber showed that he is still that lightning-fast driver that got to Formula One in 2002. He finished 7th, ahead of better-balanced cars driven by Kovalainen and Kubica. I think his performance was a bit underrated by the media, so I will give him the ‘star of the race’ award.

Star of the race:

Mark Webber, with an honourable mention to Adrian Sutil.

Shame of the race:

Giancarlo Fisichella. Getting beat by your teammate in qualifying is not good, but it happens. Hitting the wall because you misjudged the braking point and damaging your suspension before the end of the first lap gives you this award.

--Andre N.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Italy – Race Analysis

A good race with a magnificent drive from winner Fernando Alonso: That was the story of the 2007 Italian Grand Prix. With four races to go in the Formula One season, it seems like the final battle will be among the two McLaren drivers. The 18-point difference from championship leader Lewis Hamilton to 3rd place Kimi Raikkonen is unlikely to completely go away, especially because we have seen so few retirements this year.

Alonso stole the show in Monza

Pole position, best lap, race win. I could stop here and it would be enough for everyone to understand what a great race Fernando Alonso had. The details show that it was even greater. For every lap of the whole weekend, he was 2 to 3 tenths of a second faster than Hamilton.

He saved the best for the race, though. When it became known that Ferrari had prepared a single-stop strategy for Raikkonen, Alonso would have to drive as fast as ever to stay as leader after his 2nd stop. Kimi pitted on lap 25 and was about 15 seconds behind. Alonso would need a 28-to-30-second gap to guarantee that he would rejoin the race ahead of the Ferrari. He had fuel up to lap 43, which meant 18 laps to open up 15 more seconds – more than 8 tenths a lap. Although Raikkonen had a lot more weight due to the larger fuel load, it would be hard. Not for Alonso. He just drove some of the fastest laps of the race. By the end of the stint he was consistently lapping at around 1min23s. Just so everyone can understand how fast that was: 1) His fastest lap of the race was 1min22.871s, and he was consistently lapping close to that time; 2) Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap was 1min22.936s, barely beating the 1min23s that Alonso clocked many times, lap after lap.

There were a lot of great performances in Monza – including those from Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg –, but as emotional as the other choices may be, the lap chart tells me that I must pick Fernando Alonso as the star of the race.

Second was not bad for Lewis

What else could Hamilton have done? Nothing, in my opinion. Racing is like this: one day you beat your teammate, the other day he beats you. Sometimes he beats you badly, like Alonso did to Hamilton in Monza. It was just one of those days, and hopefully for Hamilton there will not be many more of those until the end of the year. Fernando is just 3 points behind Lewis in the championship standings.

Hamilton’s overtaking manoeuvre over Raikkonen was one of the greatest this season. In fact, I think it is tied for number 2 this year – number 1 has to be Nick Heidfeld’s brilliant move around Alonso in Bahrain and the other number 2 is Kubica’s move around Rosberg yesterday. He had to go by Raikkonen, and it was only a matter of time before he did, because his car was faster. By surprisingly pulling aside just as he barely got close to Ferrari, he made his job a lot easier, as Raikkonen did not even have the chance to close the inside line. Even the Formula One Management TV transmission lost the exact moment when Lewis got by Kimi, so surprising that it was.

I am a bit worried about the way Lewis started the race. Maybe I am too old-fashioned, but in my opinion the start is a drag race towards the first corner. In drag races one driver must respect the other driver’s line. I know that in today’s F1 it is very important to get to the clean racing path, but Lewis just threw his car towards Felipe Massa and hoped that the latter would avoid the collision. Hamilton usually makes a lot of moves going into the first corner. If all drivers were to zigzag like that, half of the grid would be out of the race before the first corner. In the old days, the other drivers would have spoken to Lewis and they would respectfully get to an agreement about how to proceed at the starts. Today, it seems like they do not talk to each other anymore.

Ferrari beaten at their home turf

Considering all teams and all countries where F1 goes to, the most painful defeat has to be that of Ferrari in Italy, because the Italian fans are so passionate about the red team. This time it hurt even more. Ferrari was expected to win the race. Their longer wheelbase should have helped them around the Parabolica curve. In reality, McLaren could not only match Ferrari’s straightaway speed, but could also beat them at most corners, including the critical Lesmo and Ascari curves, just before two short straightaways. My only guess is that the Mercedes-Benz engine is stronger than the one from Ferrari, so McLaren could use more wing and have better results at the high speed corners.

The one thing that should never have happened was the suspension breakdown in Massa’s car. That was critical. Now he is 23 points behind Hamilton and I believe Ferrari has only one shot at the drivers’ championship – with Raikkonen. Unless the spy scandal changes everything...

My two words on the spy scandal

As an engineer myself, I have sworn to follow the law and never to deviate from what is known as ‘integrity’. This oath is taken by engineers everywhere. If half of the information released by the press about the spy scandal is true, I am sorry, the two engineers that are involved – Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan – should go to jail, McLaren should lose all of its constructor points and be banned from the 2007 season – and possibly from 2008 as well. If the drivers had no involvement with the illegal procedures, they should be allowed to keep their points. Just the fact that they will be forced to change teams in mid-season – if they can – will compensate for the points they got by indirectly benefiting from the illegal information. Again, this is my opinion only if these accusations are true. Ok, maybe I wrote more than two words.

Italy’s quick notes

- Robert Kubica had a really bad first pit stop, as he stopped the car in the wrong position and the mechanics had problems with the jack. Later, his bold move around Nico Rosberg was one of the season’s highlights and compensated for anything that went wrong.

- Sebastian Vettel had very good practice and qualifying sessions, but during the race he made a small mistake and ran into Davidson. Overall he was much better than in Turkey, though, but still not better than the replaced Scott Speed.

- I expected more from Jarno Trulli, but another bad start put him out of contention for the points. He finished only 11th.

- Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg showed what it is like to race wheel to wheel, respecting each other’s racing line. I wish all F1 drivers were as respectful as them.

- Heikki Kovalainen finished 7th, leaving his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella far behind in 12th position. Another great race by Heikki, especially because the Renault engine does not seem to be very strong this year.

Star of the race:

Fernando Alonso

Shame of the race:

Ferrari as a team – especially for having the single race retirement related to mechanical failure.

--Andre N.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Turkey – Race Analysis

This past weekend Formula One headed to Turkey for the 12th round of the 2007 season. There is not much history in Turkish motorsport, but having the third Grand Prix there seems to be a good start. The track is one of the favourites among the drivers. It is very demanding and has already one of the famous corners in F1 – the magnificent turn 8, a long high speed corner with one apex for each of its four radii and lateral g-forces in excess of 4. I only wish today’s F1 did not rely so much on aerodynamics, so that two cars could race closer to each other there... Well, this is another chapter of my long-time campaign, which I could call ‘FIA, please bring back the slicks and reduce downforce’.

Overall the race was not the most exciting ever, but for the 2007 standard of completely uneventful races, this one at least had its share of surprises. Felipe Massa’s win was not one of them, as he had beaten Michael Schumacher there last year. The same cannot be said of the unexpected fact that 20 of the 22 drivers finished an event that was held in very hot weather – air temperature in excess of 35°C (95°F). The top surprise had to be Lewis Hamilton’s blown tyre, which cost him two championship points and gave Fernando Alonso one as he dropped from 3rd to 5th.

Ferrari is on a mission

Felipe Massa drove a great race, helped by the fact that teammate Kimi Raikkonen also started on the clean side of the track, in 3rd position. After Raikkonen beat Hamilton going into the first corner, victory belonged to Ferrari, the only remaining battle being which driver would have the better pit strategy. This was already decided in qualifying, as Massa had one extra lap of fuel, which meant that Raikkonen would never have the chance of remaining on the track longer to overtake him when both pitted.

By the way, a distracted fan may not have noticed that Ferrari gives the opportunity for their drivers to fight for the best time in the equally balanced Q2. Whoever has the best time races with was calculated as the ideal fuel load, and the other driver gets one extra lap. It makes sense, since the quickest driver is given a chance to start from pole and the other is given a chance of being more consistent. The two mistakes by Raikkonen during his two hot laps in Q3, though, cost him two positions on the grid. Starting third, all he could do was to hope that he could beat Hamilton at the start, which he did. From there on, he knew he could not get past a car that was exactly like his. Sad but true in modern F1.

Ferrari raced an improved chassis this weekend, and it seems to be better than the previous version. From the onboard camera I could notice since Friday practice that their cars were the ones to beat. Alonso and Hamilton had to fight a little bit with their equipment to keep them on the road. Massa and Raikkonen had minor understeering problems in the first session, but that was it. After that it seemed like they were racing slot cars. During the race, the advantage showed more in terms of better tyre wear than in single-lap times. Over the course of each stint, though, McLaren could not beat them.

Ferrari is certainly on track to make the ideal strong season finish that they need, and the next events certainly suit the red cars. Their best one should be Monza, 2 weeks from now. And they may get an extra help from BMW. There and in Spa-Francochamps I expect BMW to come even stronger as their car is really good at high speed corners when using a mid-to-low downforce setup.

Damage control at McLaren

Lewis Hamilton equalled his career worst streak of finishes without a podium finish: one race. Seriously, the guy is consistent. Since he has the same number of victories as Alonso, Massa, and Raikkonen – 3 for each –, consistency is what gives him the championship lead. He was going to get another podium finish when his tyre blew up. His driving style certainly had an effect on the rubber. I mean, tyres are supposed to last, but it seems like Alonso does a better job saving his equipment during the race than Hamilton does. Not to much to worry about, though, as in the beginning of their careers Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna were pretty much like Hamilton is today. I just think it is no coincidence that Hamilton’s tyre blew up and Alonso’s did not.

Hamilton’s advantage is raw speed, and that he showed during qualifying. Alonso was outpaced by him. Fernando even tried a gamble by running his laps in Q3 with the prime tyres. The idea was that he could take back the time that McLaren was losing on the 3rd sector. The option tyres could not keep that first layer of softer rubber for an entire lap. The starting grid shows that the gamble did not pay off. In the end, 3rd was a good result for Alonso.

Kovalainen shows how good he is

Finally we have seen the best of Heikki Kovalainen. After a struggling start of the season, he has consistently improved and is now outpacing teammate Giancarlo Fisichella. In Turkey he also beat one of the superior BMWs – Robert Kubica. He finished 6th, which does not sound like a lot, but his better consistency and speed in comparison to his veteran teammate, even if the Renault is still a very tricky, ‘twitchy’ car to drive are enough for me to call him the star of the race. All I can say to Fisichella is ‘goodbye’. Nelson Piquet Jr. is ready to race and Flavio Briatore will probably drop the veteran driver to give the upcoming star a chance.

Turkey’s quick notes

- Anthony Davidson had a great performance on Saturday, qualifying 11th with his Super Aguri. In the beginning of the race he had to leave the track to avoid a spin by Jarno Trulli and lost a lot of positions. He probably would not get any points because of the few retirements, but dropping back was probably frustrating.

- Giancarlo Fisichella touched Trulli’s rear end, causing the latter to spin. Both had no major damage, but Trulli returned to the race very far behind. Although he had nice battles with the Hondas, he could not finish better than 16th.

- Ralf Schumacher completed the bad Toyota performance by finishing 11th. After the dismal qualifying run that put him 18th on the grid – later he got 2 positions after the Hondas switched engines –, there was not much he could do. I believe his career at Toyota is about to be over.

- Sebastian Vettel is only a very young rookie, but I expected more from him. His qualifying lap was 0.6 seconds slower than his STR teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi, and that was the story for the entire race. He had a hard time holding Adrian Sutil in the slow Spyker during his first, long stint. Not a problem had he picked up the pace during the shorter stints, but that was not the case. Every day Scott Speed’s release from STR seems more political than anything else.

- Nico Rosberg had a great race and finished 7th, showing that he is racing hard despite the poor performance by Williams in the past years. Let's hope that his car improves before this desire to win goes away.

Star of the race:

Heikki Kovalainen

Shame of the race:

Sebastian Vettel.

--Andre N.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hungary – Race Analysis

Formula One was back at the Hungaroring. The same track that became famous in the 1980’s and early 1990’s for the epic battles involving Mansell, Piquet, Prost, and Senna. The same track that has been the stage of the most boring F1 race for each of the past few years. I feel bad for the fans in Hungary – and the many that went there from Finland and Poland.

Yesterday Kimi Raikkonen drove the whole race behind Lewis Hamilton, although at different points one was better than the other. We should have seen many overtaking moves, but in the current F1 this is impossible. Even Felipe Massa in a Ferrari could not go by Takuma Sato in the slower Super Aguri. The race was boring, but the championship battle has heated up.

War inside McLaren

For starters, I agree that Alonso should be punished for what he did in qualifying. Let’s not forget, though, that he did not start the war when he waited a lot of time to exit the pit stall. Hamilton did, when he refused to let Alonso go by in the fuel burning phase of qualifying. Unfortunately, Hamilton could not be punished by the FIA for breaking team orders, but Alonso could because he broke the sporting rules.

Hamilton drove a reasonable race and did not make any mistakes while Raikkonen was right on his gearbox. Alonso, on the other hand, was overly aggressive and inconsistent at the start, but later figured out that he should score as many points as possible. Seven points separate both drivers in the point standings. The war is far from over.

Felipe Massa’s inconsistency strikes back

Felipe Massa made a costly mistake in qualifying and it led to a series of events that resulted in his worst F1 race ever – at least from my point of view. Felipe lost the balance, going wide into the last turn during his hot lap in Qualifying 2. As he corrected with more steering input, he lost his rear end and almost spun out. That cost him a lot of time. He would need another flying lap to make it to the top 10 – and into Q3. One would expect that Ferrari would be ready for this kind of situation, but guess what? They weren’t. Somehow they managed to forget to put more fuel. Felipe had to shutdown the car as he exited the pit lane and be pushed back all the way to the pit stall. In the meantime, his tyres were just cooling down. With the cold tyres, all he managed was the 14th fastest time.

Is it really all that Ferrari can do with cold tyres? Why did he not move his car from side to side in his warm up lap? In the event Ferrari probably did not tell him how much time was left – and there was plenty of time –, he should have asked... What would Michael Schumacher do?

Then the race... During the first lap he went wide going out of turn 2, allowing Takuma Sato to overtake him. That cost him the race, as he could not overtake Sato, who was on a similar fuel strategy. Is 13th all a Ferrari driver can manage when starting 14th in Hungary? I do not think so. It was one of those races that make us remind of the former, inconsistent Massa, not the one we have seen since the end of 2006.

F1 vs. GP2

Is it just me or the GP2 races have been more fun to watch than F1 for some time now? Even in the tight Hungaroring, there were plenty of overtake manoeuvres. The GP2 cars depend much less on aerodynamics and run on full slick tyres, so drivers can follow the car ahead even on the fast corners. FIA President Max Mosley seems to be taking steps ahead to create rules that create more overtaking in F1. We know it has been a problem for a long time, though. They just could have reacted faster.

Hungary’s quick notes

- Honda struggled a lot more than they have been used to this year. At one point Rubens Barrichello spoke to his engineers that he was flat out all around. He was 3 seconds a lap off the leaders’ pace. Jenson Button also had a similar pace.

- Giancarlo Fisichella was very aggressive at the pit exit, but so was Anthony Davidson in the incident when both touched. Heikki Kovalainein was the best Renault driver of the day, and saved 1 point after starting 11th and finishing 8th.

- Jarno Trulli’s bad first lap ended any chances that he had to score points. His teammate Ralf Schumacher finished 6th, although I think it is too late for him to save his job in F1.

Star of the race:

Nick Heidfeld. He drove a very consistent race and held Alonso back for the final laps. One may argue that Hamilton also held Raikkonen back, but Heidfeld clearly had an inferior car so his battle was more difficult.

Shame of the race:

Felipe Massa.

--Andre N.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Europe – Race Analysis

The FIA called it the European Grand Prix, due to contract reasons. It was really the German Grand Prix, but I will stick to the FIA’s terms in an attempt not to confuse the readers – at least not more than they may be already confused. The race at the Nurburgring did not take place at the famous north track – the Nordschleife; the last one there was in 1976. After reflecting on the events that took place in 2007, the nickname given to the north track 30 years ago by Sir Jackie Stewart still works: ‘The Green Hell’. Not as green as before, because the trees are not so close to the current Grand Prix track, but it was hell indeed.

No one can complain about the spectacle, though. Even Beelzebub himself would be delighted to see the action that took place over the weekend. There was a huge accident in qualifying that ruined Hamilton’s chances of winning the race; there were cars sliding all over during the two short stints of rain; there were some aggressive overtaking moves. He would be rally proud of the word fight between Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, because they touched as the former passed the latter with less than five laps to go.

The championship is very close now, with 2 points separating leader Lewis Hamilton from Alonso. Massa is 11 points behind in third, followed by Kimi Raikkonen, who is 18 points behind. There are seven races to go. It seems like this one will go down to the wire. Can I bet that the last race of the year – the Brazilian Grand Prix – will be a sellout?

Alonso is becoming a thinker... Inside the cockpit, that is.

I have seen it over and over this season. Whoever starts on the dirty side of the track has a big disadvantage going into the first corner. With traction control and automatic launch systems, the drivers will never make a mistake. Starting in 2nd on the dirty inside part of the track, Alonso would never get ahead of pole-sitter Raikkonen. It was so bad that Massa, who started 3rd, overtook him. Credit goes to the upgrade Ferrari made to their launch system during testing in Silverstone about a month ago. It is not fun to watch though, so thank goodness these systems will be disallowed in 2008.

Alonso had the great presence of mind of not trying the impossible. He stayed in third in the very beginning. It started raining, everyone would need a tyre change. Raikkonen made a mistake and slid wide of the pits. Alonso said ‘OK, I’ll take this opportunity’. He was second for a long time. As the rain came back with 7 laps to go he got his golden opportunity. As both he and Massa pitted for wet tyres, as soon as they returned to the track it was clear that the number-1 McLaren was faster than the number-5 Ferrari. It was difficult, but not impossible. It was the time to be aggressive, and that he was. On lap 56 of 60, he overtook Massa for the win. They even touched! It was a great move that made him look like a genius.

Unfortunately, as he got out of his car we were able to see the worst part of Alonso. He instantly helped selling the ‘crybaby’ image that his critics post all over the Internet forums. Calling the camera to show the tyre mark left by Massa’s Ferrari on his sidepod was the worst part. Is that more important than the win? Then he started an argument with Massa just before going to the podium. The TV showed everything, it was even possible to hear what they were saying – in Italian. At this point I have to agree with Massa. He said that he would never do that on purpose, and it makes sense, because the only thing that he would get from a move like that would be a cut tyre. Then he said a few times as Alonso would not stop complaining: ‘You win and make a scene?’

Alonso later apologized to Massa during the press conference. He will still get my Star of the Race award because it is not about the post-race, but the track action itself.

Is RBR improving?

By only looking at the results, one may say that Mark Webber was just lucky to fisish 3rd. He was certainly lucky that the 2 BMWs hit each other on the second corner and that Raikkonen had to retire. He drove a great race, though. Even if it were dry all around, he would probably get the same result. RBR was pretty good in Nurburgring. David Coulthard – the current ‘master of alternative strategies’ – started 20th and finished 5th. The car seems to be improving a little bit every race. This is expected, since their lead engineer is Adrian Newey. Their problem is reliability, but I would rather have a fast, unreliable car to drive in the middle pack than a slow, reliable backmarker.

It was not Hamilton’s weekend

All we can say about Hamilton is that it just was not his weekend. I was expecting a setback for him since the beginning of the season, so I would have the chance to see how good he really to overcome it. He was very good at the start, but again, it was partially due to the fact that McLaren has a better launch system than most of the teams – except for Ferrari at this point. Maybe he was too aggressive and got a cut tyre, but I cannot complain about it. He was expected to be aggressive. During the heavy rain, he lost his car coming into braking. That may be some sign of inexperience as many drivers did not make that mistake, but many others did, so there is no conclusion. I am still waiting for one fantastic race before I can say Hamilton is a genius.

Europe’s quick notes

- Someone in STR forgot to warn Vitantonio Liuzzi that the safety car was out. He was way too fast going into the first corner – in fact, he spun on the straight due to ‘aquaplanning’. Luckily the safety car driver had quick reflexes to avoid a crash from behind.
- Nick Heidfeld drove his worst race of the year. He hit teammate Robert Kubica as they made it into the 2nd corner of the race. Robert spun around but was able to return. Later on, Nick also hit and Ralf Schumacher, who had to retire. Maybe he had his mind away from the track, due to his newborn son.
- Is Kimi Raikkonen becoming that unlucky driver he used to be? When he missed the pits, it was his own mistake. When his car broke down – with alleged hydraulic problems – there was nothing that he could do.
- Points go for the FIA, because red flagging the race was the smart thing to do. The fans do not want another safety car showdown like the one in Canada.

Star of the race:
Fernando Alonso, with Mark Webber a close second.

Shame of the race:
Nick Heidfeld.

--Andre N.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Great Britain – Race Analysis

Before starting, I would like to make a few comments not related to the race itself. Every time I watch the British Grand Prix, I feel like it is the perfect place for a Formula One race. For many years it has been in Silverstone, but no matter where you chose to race at British soil, you are at a place full of history and the most knowledgeable fans. I mean, real F1 fans are knowledgeable everywhere, but the average citizen in Great Britain knows more about motorsports than anywhere else I know. I have the feeling that Bernie Ecclestone himself does not want this atmosphere to go away. By threatening to cancel the British GP, he only is making what he does best: more money.

No matter how great the venues like the ones in Bahrain and Malaysia are, Formula One needs the history behind countries like Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Brazil, and France. These are the countries where some of the greatest drivers ever were born. They represent the places where people have continuously been racing cars over the years. Formula One would not be the same thing without races in these countries. Yet it seems like France will be gone for next year. Let’s hope Britain stays.

After the ‘save the British GP speech’, let’s move on to yesterday’s race. It was a clear display that this year’s championship is going down to the wire. Every couple of races we either have a stronger Ferrari or McLaren. Yesterday it was fun to watch, although the winner could be picked beforehand from one of the leading four cars. Does anyone out there think we are going to see a winner that does not belong to these two teams until the end of the year? Not in normal conditions, I have to say...

Yesterday was actually a three-car plus 1 bonus showdown, as Felipe Massa’s engine died on the starting grid – he had to start from the pits and make his way past a lot of people to finish 5th. Besides his great aggressive driving, there were not many overtaking manoeuvres on the race, but there were many good fights. Raikkonen vs. Hamilton was a great close range fight, and Raikkonen vs. Alonso was more like a sniper battle. Since Raikkonen won these two battles, he won the race. Great driving for the Iceman.

Two in a row again, now for Kimi

After Lewis Hamilton’s display of power in North America, Kimi Raikkonen returns the favour and wins twice in Europe. These victories mean a lot more to Raikkonen than they did for Hamilton. Everyone expected Kimi to win. In fact, everyone expected him to beat his teammate. It was not happening until now. At some point even I thought that the Iceman had finally melt down, but it was certainly not the case.

If we consider that Massa had two mechanical failures this year – Australia and Britain – that did not prevent him from scoring a few points, we can compare that to Kimi’s race ending problem in Spain. Add to that the fact that they are now only separated by one point on the championship standings, and we realize that they are as evenly matched as Ferrari teammates have ever been since 1982, with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi. Let’s hope Ferrari keeps it fair until the end of the year, as I believe McLaren will.

Kimi was as consistent as ever yesterday, and that gave him the race win. Besides that, he had the fastest lap of the day and was very fast just before his two pit stops. He is still not a Michael Schumacher. He may not even speak to him a lot, but he has certainly learned something from him.

I also have to point out that Ferrari did a wonderful job improving their start system. Although he was on the dirty side of the track, Raikkonen had a better jump than Hamilton.

Once again the strategy failed for McLaren

After Saturday qualifying I thought I had seen Ayrton Senna again when Lewis Hamilton beat the clock and everybody else to get the pole. It was the first real display of geniality I had seen from Hamilton. Everything was going for him until then; he did not have to face any real adversity. Then, under pressure, he clocked the pole. After the race started, some of my feeling was taking away, as Hamilton was clearly lighter. Still, that meant that he had to pull out the impossible to win. If he did, that would make me finally agree with the ‘Hamilton histeria’ and put him up there with the greatest ever, although he is still a rookie.

He did not win, and this was probably his worst F1 race. He only finished third because Massa would never reach the 3 front-runners. He almost made the same mistake as Albers did in France, by leaving with the fuel hose still attached. He destroyed his tyres in the beginning of the stints and had no grip in the end. He saved third and he is still the championship leader, but I would still put my money on Alonso to be the best McLaren driver on the long run.

For the past two races, McLaren lacks the pace and they try to compensate by changing the strategy. For the past two races, Ferrari has won. I believe that their main problem is the tyre consumption. They had an edge after implementing that flexible front wing element – although they say it is not, it clearly drops down on the straightaways –, but that alone is not enough now that Ferrari has also improved the aerodynamics.

Massa put up a show, but stopped one place short

Ferrari has sometimes seen some small reliability problems over the years. Yesterday trouble hit Massa. By the way, it certainly was not his fault, as F1 cars have a button for neutral, and the driver does nothing to control the revs.

He then did what he had to do, overtaking as many cars as aggressively as he could in his chase for the best possible result – 4th place. He was one place short, since Robert Kubica closed the door for more than 10 laps in the end and he could only finish 5th.

Kubica has made an impressive return from his Montreal accident. Usually it takes drivers a couple of races to return to the same form after large accidents, but Kubica seems to be better than before! The high torque of the BMW engine helped him out in order to hold Massa, though, as he would get away at every corner exit except for Club.

Britain’s quick notes

- We may say that Heikki Kovalainen has finally adapted to F1. He overtook his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella and did not show any of his rookie mistakes from the first races of the season. If he continues like this until the end of the season, the only thing that will make Fisichella keep a race seat is experience.

- Alexander Wurz tried to take advantage of the blue flags as Alonso was going by him and the car ahead, Scott Speed’s STR. As Scott opened the way for Alonso, Alexander tried to squeeze to the inside going into Vale. I do not like this kind of attitude. He should just have waited for Speed to let Alonso go by and got back to the fight they had before. It would be OK if Speed had made a mistake, but he did not. Scott got the worst of it as they touched, his left-front suspension broke down and he had to retire. Wurz went on to finish 13th. At least he got an award. My ‘Shame of the Race’ award, that is...

- Honda did a nice race for the bad car they currently have, but since no Ferrari, McLaren, BMW or Renault had race-ending troubles, all they could do was to finish 9th and 10th – Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button respectively.

- Toyota disappointed everyone – again, if it is possible. After a strong testing in Silverstone a couple of weeks ago, a lot more than a double retirement was expected. To make it worse, Jarno Trulli’s problems are still unknown; he was just sliding all over the track with no grip at all. Just for the records: Toyota has what is said to be the 2nd largest budget in F1, yet they are 6th on the Constructor’s Championship standings.

Star of the race:

Kimi Raikkonen. Had Felipe Massa finished 4th, he would probably have gotten the award.

Shame of the race:

Alexander Wurz.

--Andre N.

Monday, July 02, 2007

France – Race Analysis

Since I am posting this after 1200 GMT, it will be more like Formula One Tuesday for some of the readers. It is still Monday for me, so I will write about yesterday’s race; just consider it the day before yesterday’s race if this is your case.

The 2007 French Grand Prix was a good race, and even included some overtaking manoeuvres so uncommon in today’s Formula One. Kimi Raikkonen drove a great race and got his second win of the season, making it two for each of the main title contenders – himself, Massa, Hamilton and Alonso. Hamilton increased his championship gap to Alonso, but the Ferrari drivers are a little bit closer now.

Kimi Raikkonen finally seems to be himself

Kimi Raikkonen can say that he was very lucky once in his F1 career and that was yesterday. For a driver who has had so many misfortunes over the years, it was unexpected for him to win with what was probably the wrong strategy. The logic was that Kimi should have qualified with less fuel to make sure that he would start on the front row in order to have a chance. Although Hamilton started on the front row – on the dirty side of the track –, Raikkonen was able to jump ahead. That move gave him a chance to win the race.

The problem was that he had a heavier load of fuel than Felipe Massa, who opened a reasonable gap before his first pit stop. Massa is doing a wonderful job at Ferrari, there was no way that Raikkonen could drive any faster than him. Then the strange strategy worked out for Kimi, as Massa had problems overtaking the backmarkers and was not able to increase the gap during the second stint. Kimi drove two superb laps before his stop, and that guaranteed his return in first place. That was the driver we got used to, the same one that challenged Schumacher and Alonso in two championship runs.

Merit goes to Ferrari as well. The car has changed for better. Now it has also received some of Kimi’s inputs, therefore it is easier for him to drive. He is also more adapted to the Bridgestone tyres than he was in the beginning of the season. The two drivers are really pushing. Massa deserved the win as much as Raikkonen. Ferrari is back. Let's see for how long.

Different strategy for Hamilton, but one that would never work

After losing a place to Raikkonen at the start, Lewis Hamilton could have gone for two pit stops and easily finished third. McLaren tried three, though, knowing that they could not beat Ferrari in a straight fight and anything different would give them an opportunity. The strategy proved to be wrong, but since the gap to BMW was large enough, it was worth trying. At least it reduced the chances that Hamilton would spin out due to tyre wear.

Hamilton keeps proving that he has what it takes to be a champion. He finished a good third and did not try anything stupid. After the start on the dirty side of the track, third was the most he could get. Third was what he got.

McLaren made Alonso earn his salary

Mclaren started to ruin Fernando Alonso's race on Saturday, since he was not able to finish qualifying due to gearbox problems and had to start 10th.

During the race Alonso was helped by the early melee involving Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. Then he had to follow Nick Heidfeld for a long time, though, and lost a lot of time. 'Follow' may not be the best verb, as Alonso tried everything he could to overtake. Heidfeld is one of the most difficult drivers to go by. Alonso showed his talent by passing at an unexpected spot, returning the favour for Heidfeld's great move in Bahrain. The scorecard is now 1-1. As a Formula One fan I am delighted to see their fight. It is very clean. They are both great drivers. I only wish that the current F1 cars depended less on aerodynamics so that we could see more fights like that.

Later in the race I believe McLaren changed the strategy and called Alonso in earlier for his second pit stop. In the end, this proved not to be good, as Alonso was held by Giancarlo Fisichella until the end of the race. Two long fights with two of the most difficult drivers to overtake. Alonso certainly earned his salary, although he was not able to beat Fisichella.

France’s quick notes

- Honda scored their first point of the season as Jenson Button finished 8th. It is still too little if we think about their budget. I think that Honda should change the team's management to get better results. Toyota too.

- Jarno Trulli is not helping Toyota out, as he hit Heikki Kovalainen from behind entering the Adelaide corner. I did not expect that from a long time veteran.

- Robert Kubica showed that he is a great, fearless driver. After the horrible crash in Montreal, he returned to score his best result of the season, finishing 4th.

- Christijan Albers has no excuse for leaving the pits before the 'lollipop' was up. That was a stupid mistake and he knows it. I think that the pressure he is getting from Sutil is making him a bit nervous. Albers was one of the best DTM drivers but is yet to make something happen in F1.

Star of the race:

Kimi Raikkonen. I really did not think that he could pull out a win until I saw the gap he opened before his second pit stop.

Shame of the race:

Christijan Albers.

--Andre N.

Monday, June 18, 2007

United States – Race Analysis

After the safety car showdown in Canada, we finally got a proper F1 race in North America. The clever track layout allows for some overtaking manoeuvres, mainly going into turn 1. This is what we saw yesterday, a very nicely fought race, especially for positions 5 and below. The top four positions seem to belong to the two silver and the two red cars. Besides Kimi Raikkonen’s bad start, it seems like McLaren and Ferrari are still in a league of their own, with the obvious advantage going for McLaren. Hamilton won, but it could have been Alonso had the starting positions been the other way around. At least we had some fight for first place, although it required the backmarkers’ presence to set up the moment. Formula One may have improved, but with such aerodynamically dependent cars, closely matched cars still cannot fight for position, as the pursuer loses too much downforce around the corners.

Two in a row for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton won his second race in a row. More than that, he won two races this season, same as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Since he is more consistent than the other 2-time race winners, he truly deserves to be leading the championship.

My biggest complain about Hamilton is not exactly about his results. It is that I have not been able to accurately tell if he is ‘only’ a great driver or a genius. Not that he cares about it. He certainly knows his limitations, but he is not going to tell everybody about them. I just wish I knew... I am pretty sure that he is a great driver, but there were not enough chances for me to confirm if he is a genius. Besides some great starts, he did not have to overtake anyone.

Most of the races were pretty straightforward for Lewis. Yesterday, at least, he had to fight with Alonso. And he did not disappoint me at all. After making a minor mistake in turn 9, he knew how to hold his position at the end of the frontstretch, breaking at the exact point he was supposed to, following the perfect line at the corner exit, leaving no chance for Alonso. However, it seems to me that if Alonso were in first place he would hold Hamilton behind the same way. Alonso even seemed faster – he just could not follow closely due to the loss of downforce and the car overheating that comes from drafting closely. Therefore, I cannot confirm if Hamilton is genius. Maybe he is ‘just’ a great driver.

I am almost hoping that at one point Hamilton hits trouble in qualifying so that he starts on the back of the grid. Or maybe it will rain during a race, so I can see if he’s got that natural talent that only geniuses have. And just to make sure, I also want to see in F1 the only other driver who I think was able to match Hamilton’s speed in the access series: Nelson Piquet Jr.

A better Alonso makes an even stronger McLaren

Fernando Alonso may have lost a race, but mentally he became stronger. The fact that he complimented Hamilton twice – after crossing the finish line and on the podium – shows that he is not going to keep complaining as much as he did this week. He lost, yet he knows that he could have won. He knows that the difference was in qualifying and that he can beat Hamilton. More than that, he knows now that McLaren will always give them equally matched cars, because this is what they got yesterday. If he wins or loses to Hamilton, it will mean one thing: the better one has won.

My praises go to Ron Dennis. McLaren is so well managed that it makes me believe that Ron would do well at any other kind of business. The way he manages the team is just beautiful. It was beautiful during the Prost-Senna era. It is beautiful at the current Alonso-Hamilton period. Dennis has certainly done his job in calming down Alonso, in order to make sure that the current period will also become an era in the history of F1.

Ferrari finally got something from Raikkonen

After being beaten on the track by Felipe Massa throughout the season, Kimi Raikkonen was finally able to match his teammate’s performance. He was again on the wrong end of the results, as he was 4th just behind Felipe. At least he pushed hard and showed us two things: 1) he has changed his driving style and is finally adapting to the Bridgestone tyres; 2) what we saw today was the most the Ferrari could do.

Felipe Massa was not brilliant, but he got the most that he could from today’s race. If he had driven with the same mentality in Malaysia, the championship gap would be much closer than the 19 points he has less than Hamilton. He is stronger this year, but of course he still lacks something to become a Michael Schumacher. He is still improving, though, so maybe one day he will be a seven-time world champion. Maybe not. Seriously, though, he has what it takes to be as good as anyone I have ever seen. The natural talent is there. It is just a matter of improving his mental state. And also getting a race-winning car, something Ferrari is not providing at this time.

United States’ quick notes

- Adrian Sutil drove a fantastic race – for a Spyker, that is. After starting 21st, he avoided the first corner melee and managed to drive as high as 12th. In the end, he finished 14th, just ahead of teammate Christijan Albers. But he certainly drove a lot better than Albers, the final results just do not show it.

- I do not know what Ralf Schumacher thought he could do by breaking deep into the first corner. He is being badly beaten by his teammate Jarno Trulli this season, the least he could do was to finish the race. Since Jarno finished 6th, including a nice fight with Mark Webber, I believe Ralf is about to lose his job. My bet is that he will not be driving for Toyota by the end of the year.

- Takuma Sato was about to do one of his memorable races, overtaking many opponents as he was recovering after starting only 18th. Then his car understeered, he drove wide, hit the grass with both left wheels, then oversteered and spun out of the race. One week he is great, the other he is a shame. Either way, he is just a poor man’s Nigel Mansell.

- Since the difference between prime and option tyres was not very large, many drivers tried a one-stop strategy. Among these, Nico Rosberg was the one who had the best chance of finishing in the points, but he left the race in anger as his engine gave up and caught fire.

- BMW had a strong race with rookie Sebastian Vettel, who became the youngest ever driver to score points as he finished 8th. By the end of the day, however, they had a bitter taste in their mouths because Heidfeld had gearbox problems – once again.

- Heikki Kovalainen is finally showing what he is all about by finishing a strong 5th. Although Giancarlo Fisichella finished 9th with the other Renault, his race also shows some improvements for the team. He spun and drove through the gravel in the second lap of the race and came from the back of the pack, overtaking many drivers in the process.

Star of the race:

Lewis Hamilton. No one did more than what they were supposed to do, so the award goes to the race winner. The way he held back Alonso is the exclamation point needed for winning my award.

Shame of the race:

Ralf Schumacher.

--Andre N.