Monday, May 28, 2007

Monaco – Race Analysis

It is difficult to separate Monaco from Formula One history. The slow speed layout reduces the engine differences, the tight corners reduce aerodynamical deficits and drivers become more important. Some of the greatest F1 drivers have had memorable races in this race track. The first Monaco Grand Prix was actually in 1929, but for Formula One it all began with the yet to be 5-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who won in 1950.

Graham Hill was the original Mr. Monaco, with 5 wins in the 60’s. Michael Schumacher later matched the 5 wins, but when he did, Ayrton Senna had already won 6 times. It could have been 7 for Senna, had the 1984 race not been controversially stopped due to rain, when he drove a Toleman to 2nd – that would be equivalent to a Spyker winning the race today, for those who are not old enough to remember Senna’s greatness.

Where do I want to get with all this history and nothing about the 2007 Grand Prix? Well, the first statement is that it is not a coincidence that the winner was the current world champion, Fernando Alonso – actually, twice world champion and also twice a Monaco winner. The second statement is that the race itself had not much going on for me to write about, so I had to write about something else... Most seemed happy with the positions they held and even those who did not – such as Hamilton and Raikkonen – could not do anything to change the results as it is almost impossible to overtake in the tight street circuit. The rain that could spice up the race never showed up, so it was just another race, not a great race. Still, there are a few things that I wish to analyse with a little more detail...

Alonso proves that Hamilton is McLaren’s no. 2

Fernando Alonso can say whatever he wants, but I am certain that he was affected by Lewis Hamilton’s recent pace. The world press kept saying that his teammate was faster, and Alonso had not much to answer, as he was clearly slower in the past 2 races. Yesterday he showed the world who is the boss in McLaren.

Actually, it all started yesterday during qualifying. Lewis Hamilton seemed faster, but did not give enough distance to traffic before starting his last flying lap. That was a rookie mistake, as were the two or three times he brushed the wall during the race. In the post-race conference even Hamilton acknowledged that he was McLaren’s number 2 driver [1].

The way Hamilton drove during this weekend makes me feel like he is not that special after all. I mean, the guy is great, but he is human. He makes mistakes. He is young and eager to win, but does not know when to hold back. After the first races almost everyone seemed to have the feeling that Hamilton was better than any other rookies they had ever seen. Well, he is just lucky to have a great car. There are many other young drivers who could do the same good job in McLaren – Nelson Piquet Jr., for example. I am sure Heikki Kovalainen would not struggle so much if he drove for McLaren. Don’t get me wrong, Hamilton is great. He will fight for championships. Right now, though, he is McLaren’s number 2. The good thing for him is that he knows it.

Massa proves that Raikkonen is Ferrari’s no.2 – for now, at least

This is not yet clear as it is in McLaren, but I believe Ferrari also has defined its number 1 driver. Felipe Massa was expected to get the upper hand in the beginning of the season, but by now Kimi Raikkonen should be closer to him. This is not happening. Raikkonen’s mistake during Qualifying 2 is hard to be understood. Not much effort was needed to put the Ferrari in the top 10 for the final qualifying session. So why did Raikkonen hit the inside wall as he got out of the famous Swimming Pool section?

Since Kimi has the highest salary in Ferrari, I am sure that no decision was made by the team bosses. It is clear who the favourite among the mechanics is – Massa. His performance yesterday was nothing to write home about. But it was the smart thing to do, since the next two races – Canada and United States – should favour Ferrari. It is also nice to save the engine before the fast Montreal circuit. I am sure that Michael Schumacher gave Felipe a little helping hand in deciding this strategy!

Monaco’s quick notes

- Giancarlo Fisichella proved that experience is what counts in Monaco, as he finished 4th with the very hard to drive Renault R27.

- BMW finished a solid 5th and 6th, with Kubica and Heidfeld respectively. The one-pit-stop strategy paid-off, but I wonder if they could not finish better if they had lower fuel loads during qualifying. I guess they were expecting a safety car period that could make them win the race, but why try that with both cars?

- When everyone expected Nico Rosberg to score points for Williams after he qualified 5th, a poor start put him for many laps behind Heidfeld, who had a heavy load of fuel. That cost Nico his race, as he ended up in 12th place. At least that helped his teammate Alexander Wurz to score 2 points in 7th.

- Anthony Davidson held back Felipe Massa for many laps, and was penalised with a drive-through. Later on, he said that Massa was not close enough, so he did not open up for him to pass. This is pretty dumb thinking for a driver who is being lapped and has blue flags waived at him corner after corner. After the drive-through, he returned to the track behind teammate Takuma Sato and lost the only battle that could prove anything in his favour.

- Scott Speed started 18th and finished 9th. Besides great strategy by STR, this shows that Speed has taken seriously the rumours about him losing his ride for 2008. This was his best race ever. He still needs to improve if he wants to keep his job, though.

Star of the race:

Fernando Alonso. Hat-trick: pole, best lap, win.

Shame of the race:

Anthony Davidson. Kimi Raikkonen almost got this award after Saturday’s crash, but at least he saved 1 point.


[1] Formula One official web site, ‘FIA post-race press conference – Monaco

--Andre N.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spain – Race Analysis

The 2007 Spanish Grand Prix started off really well, with a lot of action during the first lap, including a fight for first place between Massa and Alonso. Then we saw a race in which no one was actually making a move on anybody else. Since Barcelona is the track that most of the teams use for their large bulk of testing, the results are usually very predictable. This time, though, a few incidents messed around with the final results. Due to this fact, we now have the youngest ever championship leader – Lewis Hamilton, 22 years old – and Super Aguri with their first ever championship point as Takuma Sato finished 8th.

Fast and Furious: Felipe vs. Fernando

Fernando Alonso, who was very aggressive all his all to Formula One, has been mostly self-controlled over the past years, especially after he got a car that could make him a champion. I cannot tell if he is frustrated for not having the best car, but the move on Massa’s outside right after the start reminded me of the younger Alonso from Formula 3000. He tried to intimidate Felipe as much as he could, by forcing him to the inside of the first right-hander, allowing for an overtake manoeuvre in the subsequent left-hander. His only mistake is that he tried that against the wrong guy...

Everyone knows Felipe Massa is an aggressive driver. He has shown that over the years. As Alonso attacked, his natural reaction was to counterattack. Aggressiveness sometimes pays off in Formula One. It did for Massa in Spain, contrary to what happened in Malaysia. This time though, he was the one on the inside. It was risky, but the fact that he got away with no damage makes him look like a genius. Let’s give him credit. That was a Michael Schumacher-like move.

I believe it was a normal race incident because Alonso was the one on the outside and the one trying to pass. Therefore, he caused the situation that led to the contact between the two cars. Although Fernando was very upset at the end of the race, he did not say at any time that it was Felipe’s fault. Deep inside he knows that the accident was avoidable.

After the complicated start, Massa drove a pretty straightforward race, opening a large gap to Hamilton and in the end just saved the equipment – especially the engine. The only other scary moment was when some fuel spilled and caught fire over his engine cover as he exited the pits. He later explained in the press conference [1] that he did not know it had happened, so it did not interfere with his race. Let’s say it was his lucky day.

Luck apart, Felipe Massa is still in my opinion the strongest candidate for the title (related post: ‘Felipe Massa – 2007 F1 world champion?’). But the fact that Kmi Raikkonen was unlucky yesterday helps Felipe’s cause.

Hamilton: Youngest ever championship leader

Four podiums in his four first races and the championship lead at the age of 22 years and 127 days. These are two records that show how well-prepared Hamilton. He is still playing safe, though, and is yet to show the same form from last year’s GP2 championship, when we could say he was a potential race winner any time he lined up on the grid. But there are only three major barriers before he becomes one of the all-time greatest. He must: 1) win a race; 2) consistently win races; 3) win a championship.

Hamilton must watch out for Alonso, though, as the Spaniard does not seem very happy about this situation. Alonso even stated at the press conference [1] that he considers Hamilton an opponent just as he considers Massa and Raikkonen. It does not seem like Alonso is friends with a lot of people in F1, but Hamilton should try to get closer to him as much as possible before it becomes a war within the team. If it does, I am sure that the easygoing Hamilton can handle it emotionally better than Alonso, but this kind of dispute would be good for no one except Ferrari.

McLaren’s suspicious front wing

From McLaren’s onboard camera point of view, it was easy to see that there was relative movement between the nose cone and the new wing element, especially in the long frontstretch – where it was possible to see the element going down. Since the nose is rigid, it is pretty clear to me that the wing is flexible. This is against F1 regulations. McLaren will benefit from the fact that the FIA does not have a standard for testing these so-called aerodynamic appendices, only the main wing parts. But at one point there will be a new regulation or these types of aerodynamic parts will be banned for good. If Ferrari and BMW had flexible chassis for the first 3 races, McLaren now has a flexible front wing.

Spain’s quick notes

- BMW made a stupid mistake on Nick Heidfeld’s first pit stop, as they sent him back to the track with a loose front wheel. Later he had gearbox problems, which shows that the car is still not reliable enough.

- Jenson Button also made a stupid mistake by hitting Barrichello’s rear wheel as he left the pits. He only lost his front wing, but that move could have cost both Honda cars the race.

- Fisichella had to make an extra stop after the fuel pump did not provide enough fuel on the second pit stop. These fuel pumps are very reliable these days, so it could be a human mistake while programming the pump. Whatever happened, though, allowed Takuma Sato to finish ahead of Fisichella in 8th.

- David Coulthard drove a superb race. Although RBR has improved a lot, it is still not as good as Coulthard made it seem. He drove the last part of the race without 3rd gear. Since the cars have sequential gearboxes, that meant he had only 4th gear and above. Still, he was able to hold Nico Rosberg’s attack and finish 5th.

- Alexander Wurz hit Ralf Schumacher’s left-rear wheel on a first lap incident. Wurz had to retire. Although Ralf had to hit the breaks hard due at an unexpected spot due to a melee just ahead of him, I am not sure that the impact was unavoidable. A great driver would be expecting this sort of situation happening on the first lap. Maybe Wurz is not a great driver.

Star of the race:

Felipe Massa.

Shame of the race:

The BMW pit crew.


[1] Formula One official web site, ‘FIA post-race press conference – Spain

--Andre N.