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.

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