Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brazil – Race Analysis

Had I not seen it personally, from the backstretch grandstands of the famous Interlagos race track, maybe I would not believe the results. When I got home and watched the recorded version of the TV broadcast, it simply did not show what I saw live. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were unbeatable and drove equally. So identically that I was glad that their helmets have different colors so I could tell who was who. Fernando Alonso was very good as well, finding every last ounce of speed that his second-race engine had. And there was a disappointing Lewis Hamilton, one that finally felt the pressure and could not perform to his highest level. In the end the champion got crowned in one of the most unlikely turn of events in the history of F1.

The Iceman kept his cool under the hot sun

Kimi Raikkonen may not be the most exciting driver out there. He certainly is not as aggressive as half of the field and almost never makes mistakes, so there is not much to watch him doing. However he is so competent and fast that no one can complain. He deserves to be the 2007 Formula One World Champion. If we consider the way he partied the night after, he probably deserved to be the 1967 champion as well... Those were the good old times when the drivers were not full-time athletes and half of the fun was just having fun.

Raikkonen drove one good lap after another. So did the hometown driver – Felipe Massa. In fact, I believe Ferrari called Felipe in earlier for his second pit stop, because it was very quick – meaning that he probably had some fuel left on the tank. By the way, did anyone notice that the official FOM TV broadcast never showed Massa’s pit stop times? Make your own conspiracy theory here, but mine is that FOM knew – we all knew! – that Ferrari would do something to switch their driver’s positions and it was a clever way not to let the occasional viewer notice it. If you are reading this, though, you are probably a hardcore fan and you know that Ferrari helped Kimi to win the race. And it makes sense, since F1 is disputed by drivers AND teams.

The crowd did not seem to believe what they were seeing. As the race went on, more and more people started cheering for Raikkonen. When he drove past Massa at the pit exit, most of the crowd applauded, although many felt that the home driver was being robbed. After the end, when Kimi drove back to the pits side by side with Felipe, the crowd finally understood what happened. He got loud cheers, but not as loud as Massa and Michael Schumacher got last year – the former for winning the race and the latter for putting up one of the most amazing drives in F1 history.

Hamilton lost the title

There is no way I can write that Hamilton’s car electronic failure was unfortunate. Yes, it cost him more than 30 seconds, but if it were not for his stupid mistakes during the first lap, he would have a better chance of scoring more points and winning the title. The failure only magnified a problem that Lewis had already caused in China. There he tried to win a race that he did not need to. How come no one advised him not to repeat the mistake? In the beginning he tried to win the Brazilian race! He should have coasted to a 4th place finish, should he not? I guess he does not know how to do it. He won everything he has ever raced before F1. He does not know how to finish 2nd or lower.

Lewis’ first mistake was to allow Alonso to overtake him. He was trying to gain momentum on Raikkonen after braking for the first leg of the Senna Esse. When Raikkonen made a mistake, Hamilton had to steer wide not to hit him, and this allowed Alonso to dive to the inside and finally overtake him exiting turn 3. Hamilton should just have braked behind Massa and simply allowed the Ferrari to go by without a fight. That way there would be no room for Alonso.

Well, Alonso had gone by. Just stay behind him, Lewis, this is all you need to be the champion. No, the kid decides to outbrake Alonso going on the outside into the left hander after the backstretch. He moved to the outside very late, and braked later than I had ever seen anyone over the whole weekend. The crowd went nuts as they knew he would shoot straight past the corner. No one could understand why he was doing that, yet it was fun to watch. Lewis kept making mistakes all around the first lap and a couple after.

Then there was the electronic glitch that cost Hamilton half a lap. He dropped back to 18th, but suddenly his car started to race normally again. I do not believe in conspiracy theories, especially because McLaren clearly wanted Hamilton to win, but it was very strange. Not so strange was his race position, though. I had seen this movie last year with Michael Schumacher. I expected the same amazing comeback from Lewis. He gave signs that he would do so when he got to a pack of 5 cars and in about 2 laps was ahead of them all. He was never constant enough, though. He made small mistakes all around the laps. He never had enough speed. He lost the championship and disappointed me a lot. Even if the media keep praising him so much, now I truly believe that other drivers would be as great as Hamilton if they had a car as good as McLaren to drive. Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, and Heikki Kovalainen, for example. If Hamilton survives this defeat to become a better driver, he eventually will be world champion. If he cannot put it behind, his career will be ruined. This is not an exaggeration.

This century’s Fittipaldi

Back in the 1970’s, two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi was the driver who took care of his car and always waited for the opportunity to win the race. Sometimes he got victories because the guys ahead of him could not preserve the equipment and had to retire. Fernando Alonso won two championships doing exactly the same thing, especially for the later part of the 2006 season.

Alonso had a worse equipment than his teammate and both Ferrari drivers. Because of the huge accident in Japan, he raced with a new engine in China. Since engines can be only switched after 2 races, Alonso had a disadvantage going to Brazil. His competitors could run the engine temperature a little bit higher, maybe use a different kind of lubricant, things like that. It was clear that Alonso lacked power and torque. I believe that he compensated the lack of power by having less wings, but that cost him some time in the middle portion of the track. And especially in that twisty section, there was nothing that he could do to compensate for the lack of torque. However, he just kept enough rhythm to stay third and snatch the title if one of the Ferraris hit misfortune. They did not, but last Sunday it was like if I was watching a documentary about Fittipaldi. Fernando Alonso deserved the title as much as Raikkonen. It was just not meant to be.

Brazil’s quick notes

- Nico Rosberg had a great race and his amazing battle against Robert Kubica for 4th during the last few laps was exciting enough to make the crowd stand up. With this kind of performance he is probably on top of Ron Dennis’ wish list – if Alonso leaves McLaren.

- Hekki Kovalainen’s accident was impressive. I was looking at his car when lots of parts flew from the rear end. He hit the wall that is know by fans and drivers as the Berger Wall – named after Gerhard Berger, who once hit it hard when he drove for McLaren. I am glad that Heikki is ok, because it was a pretty heavy collision going backwards. The HANS device probably helped, but I am sure that his neck will be sore for a week.

- Kazuki Nakajima showed the same form that he was known for in GP2. He was lighting fast at times – he was the 5th fastest driver of the day – and very slow at others. He needs time to settle, but I do not think he will ever be constant enough. His pit crew will appreciate, though, if he is able to stop the car without hitting them.

- Honda had a bad season, but this race was particularly bad as both Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button retired because of engine problems. This sort of problem may explain why the two cars seem to be so different, with Barrichello being faster all weekend. When an engine starts to fail, it never does it in identical way. This would show in the telemetry, though. Maybe Honda already knew why Jenson was slower during qualifying.

Star of the race:

Nico Rosberg

Shame of the race:

Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

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