Monday, June 11, 2007

Canada – Race Analysis

Let’s start by saying that the good news is that Robert Kubica only broke a leg after his huge crash [note: this was the information at the time of the post; later it was known that he only sprained the ankle!].Everything else, though, was very complicated. Whenever you have to read the rulebooks to understand a sporting event, something went wrong. This is the case of the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. After four Safety Car entrances, the race itself became a mess. At least the race winner was preserved from the chaos. Lewis Hamilton became one of the youngest ever race winners and keeps showing that he is there to fight for the championship. However, besides the British fans – who must be ecstatic – most of the rest of the world is still trying to understand a confusing race.

Hamilton shines, but not as much as he could

Lewis Hamilton won his first race. The guy is great, everyone knows that by now. I have a feeling, though, that he has not shown us what he is capable of. Driving the best car in F1 is just too easy for him. Beating Alonso is impressive, but something is missing. Maybe I feel like this because Alonso self-destructed yesterday.

I said before and I will say it again: I wish Hamilton started off his career driving for a worse team. It would be exciting to see him doing the impossible with a slower car. Like Fernando Alonso did with Minardi and then the improving but not yet no.1 Renault. Like Michael Schumacher with Jordan, then the not so great Benetton. Like Ayrton Senna and the lousy Toleman, then the inconsistent Lotus.

The only other recent driver who had such an easy start to his F1 career was Jacques Villeneuve. But when he got to F1 and the dominant Williams team, he was the reigning Indycar (CART) and Indy 500 champion – at a time when Indycar was really competitive. And he had great battles against teammate Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher before he became world champion. I just wish Hamilton has at least one good fight against someone before he becomes champion.

Hamilton was lucky to get a contract with McLaren at a very young age. I just wish this does not become the trend for the top teams, or else we are going to have two championships in one. One with the top teams’ protégés and one with the drivers who will never make it to the top teams because someone wearing diapers already owns the seat that will become available.

I deviated to another subject because there is not much to say about Lewis’s race performance yesterday. It was perfect.

As Alonso self-destructs, Ferrari never had a chance

Fernando Alonso had a really bad race yesterday. He overshot the first corner because he was trying so hard to overtake
Hamilton. He did not need to do that. The world champion version of Alonso is the driver who finishes 2nd when he cannot win, like Alain Prost or Emerson Fittipaldi. Yesterday Alonso was more like Mark Webber or the F-3000 version of himself. Unimpressive, to say the least.

Also outrageous was Kimi Raikkonen’s performance. He almost took both Ferraris out of the race in the first corner as he hit Massa’s rear wheel. At one point he was losing ground to Nico Rosberg. He is earning too much money for what he is doing. I mean, for what he is NOT doing.

Felipe Massa on the other hand seemed very self-controlled given the circumstances. He had a great start and would give Nick Heidfeld a run for his money in the fight for 2nd place. The safety car messed up his race. He could still finish 3rd, but then he made a mistake while leaving the pits under the red light. I think this rule is confusing – not to say that it makes no sense, as I will explain below – but rules are rules. Massa was wrong and was disqualified. As was Fisichella who was also having a good race.

Someone’s got to be blamed for the lousy race. Why not the FIA?

After 4 drivers from 4 different teams were penalized in safety-car-related incidents, it was clear to me whose fault it was: the FIA’s. For about a century racing events in the United States have been using a safety car – or pace car, as they call it – without the problems we usually see in F1. How many odd incidents have you seen during the F1 SC periods? I have seen too many. Have you seen two cars trying to stop on the same pit stall at the same time and blocking the car behind? I have. Have you seen drivers slowing down on purpose to hold back the other drivers so that their teammate completes his pit stop? I have. Have you seen drivers stopped at the end of pit lane because the pit exit is closed, although the entry was open? I have. In fact, I have seen it all once again this weekend.

The easy thing for the FIA to do is to carbon copy most of the IRL or CART regulations for the safety car period. But no, they have to be the clever ones, they must innovate. So they create a different set of rules that never works and has to constantly be changed because it interferes negatively with the race results.

Why complicate what is simple? Here are some ideas for the FIA:

1. Clearly indicate when the pits are closed – both entry and exit – by having a steward signaling with a flag.

2. If the pit entry is open, so must be the pit exit.

3. Drivers who hold back other cars while following the safety car should be penalized, including during the pit entrance.

These ideas were all taken from the American race series. So was the idea to close the pits before everyone lines up behind the pace car, new to F1 until this year, but so old in other race series. Since F1 has only one pit stall for every two cars, they should also give more room between stalls so that an eventual waiting car does not block the team behind him. Something has to be done!

Canada’s quick notes

- McLaren is suddenly the fastest team. What is their secret? It seems like they are able to exit the slow corners better than Ferrari. At first this would probably seem like they have better torque and traction. However, that extra front wing element just above the car’s nose seems too flexible in my point of view. ‘Slow’ corners in F1 are still pretty fast to the point that aerodynamics still makes a difference. Having higher apex speeds due to the extra downforce generated by the wing element, while not having the drag as it bends on the straigthways certainly helps. The FIA cannot scrutinize every type of wing element – they are too different, so no standard test can be created. Therefore these kinds of wing elements should simply be banned.

- Robert Kubica had a tremendous crash after he hit the back of Jarno Trulli. It is good to know that he is alive and almost unhurt after this crash. And I am not exaggerating by saying ‘alive’. Fifteen years ago the same crash would be fatal. Nevertheless it was a reminder that F1 is a dangerous sport, even 25 years after we lost the great Gilles Villeneuve who gave his name to the circuit.

- Takuma Sato took advantage of the many safety cars and was able to finish 6th with his Super Aguri. He is still a very talented showman indeed, as he overtook the struggling Alonso on the outside, entering the last chicane.

- Alexander Wurz finished third, but that does not save his job at Williams for next year. He was so lucky that it is hard to believe it will happen again.

- Heikki Kovalainen was also lucky, but his 4th place finish counted more than Wurz 3rd. What was special about Heikki’s race is the fact that he bounced back from 2 crashes on Friday and Saturday and was still cool enough to keep his car on the track during Sunday.

- Toyota scored one point with Ralf Schumacher, after the dismal performance during Friday practice. Two suspensions were broken when Trulli rode the curbs like all the other cars.

Star of the race:

Lewis Hamilton.

Shame of the race:

Fernando Alonso. Yesterday it seemed like he was a different person in comparison to the Alonso who won my star of the race award two weeks ago.

--Andre N.

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