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.

No comments: