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.

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