Monday, October 08, 2007

China – Race Analysis

Without writing anything about the penultimate round of the 2007 Formula One Championship, just stating what is left for the last race would be enough to quantify all the emotions involved in last Sunday’s race. There will be a three-way championship battle in Brazil, as 7 points separate leader Lewis Hamilton from 3rd place Kimi Raikkonen, with current world champion Fernando Alonso between them. Even a boring race with this type of outcome would be good to watch, but the Chinese Grand Prix reserved us enough excitement – and many battles – throughout all racing field positions. Add to that some very unstable weather conditions, with rain coming and going faster than one can say ‘Shangai’, and you get the picture of an exciting race.

Hamilton sunk the title clinch in the gravel trap

Many times this year I have said that Hamilton is a rookie who has still a lot to learn. His weaknesses are so subtle, though, that sometimes it is even hard for me to make the point. Well, at least for one race analysis it will be easy. Lewis is a rookie, period. It just showed during the race. Why in the world did he push so hard during the battle with Raikkonen, ruining his already worn-out tyres? Why did he drive so fast going into the narrow pit lane when he could barely turn his car in the very wide corners in Shangai? Because he is a rookie. One of the fastest ever, but still a rookie.

It was not completely his fault, though. McLaren should have called him in for a tyre change at least one lap before, when he lost 7 seconds to Raikkonen. They also got carried away by the possibility of a race win and forgot to protect Hamilton’s championship lead.

On the other hand, Alonso was just constant enough to keep his championship very alive. Lewis still depends only on himself to win the title, but Fernando certainly has a good chance. It is clear to me, though, that McLaren will give the better equipment to Hamilton. I do not blame them. If I worked there and heard all Alonso has said about the team, I would not want him to win.

One last shot for Raikkonen – again

Kimi Raikkonen has already been runner-up in the drivers championship twice, he will not be able to stand it happening once again. He will fight until the end. Being the ‘Iceman’ is something that helps him a lot as the season goes down to the wire. The same amount of patience that Hamilton lacked, Raikkonen had in excess. Even while overtaking the struggling Brit, with a car that was at least 3 seconds a lap faster, he had enough patience to obey all yellow flags – and there were many, because cars slipped out as the rain picked up – and to wait for the a mistake from Lewis that gave him enough room.

His run against Alonso depends only on Ferrari, they ‘just’ need to finish 1-2 in Brazil. He still needs some help from mother luck in order to beat Hamilton. The Finn is not known for his good luck, but he is certainly helping his chances of winning by having strong performances such as the one yesterday.

If he ultimately wins the championship, it will be a lot like in 1986. Williams’ teammates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet were the favourites going into the last race of the season. But running on the outside was Alain Prost, who took advantage of the internal fight at Williams to beat both its drivers. It was arguably one of the greatest upsets in the history of F1.

Sebastian’s turnaround

Sebastian Vettel showed that his mistake from Japan is a thing from the past. The kid is growing up with every race. Driving a mid-pack car is a good way to become a better driver. Finishing 4th in that car is certainly something remarkable. Doing that after starting 17th is amazing.

He is finally showing why he got his ride. I have said it before and I will say it again: Scott Speed’s departure was just a political decision. It does not matter to Vettel, who just took advantage of the opportunity and is now showing to be a proper replacement. I am pretty sure that Speed could not have done better. In fact, I think Vettel has that extra ounce of talent that Speed lacked under pressure.

We just cannot forget one fact: Driver’s aside, RBR and STR are improving because of Adrian Newey’s work. In my opinion, the guy is one of the best engineers ever. Although he is known as an aerodynamics specialist, I have to say that his best quality is his problem solving skills. Like all the chief engineers in F1, he divides one big problem – a bad car, for example – into smaller problems – such as a bad front wing. The difference is that he keeps the link between those problems and never loses track of the big picture. The result is constant overall improvement.

China’s quick notes

- Jenson Button finished 5th, one day after his miracle qualifying run put his Honda in the top ten. Besides clocking some of the fastest laps of the day as the track dried out, the most important thing for Honda is that the 4 points put them ahead of Super Aguri in the constructor’s standings. It also helps them not to be beaten by Spyker.

- Ralf Schumacher was racing pretty well until he tried to overtake Vitantonio Liuzzi. He left no room for the Italian, after making a move on the outside and returning to the inside to take the apex. Later, he spun out of the race. He has already announced his retirement from Toyota, but maybe he should retire from F1. For which team could he drive next year? The only option I can think about is Prodrive.

- Alexander Wurz tried a different tactic and switched to the option dry-weather tyres in lap 22. The rain returned and he could not do more than finishing 12th. He then announced his retirement, which is actually a euphemism for ‘Frank Williams kicked him out of the team’. Does it mean Alonso returning to Renault and Nelson Piquet Jr. going to the empty race seat at Williams? Let’s wait for the Brazilian Grand Prix to have more clues.

Star of the race:

Sebastian Vettel

Shame of the race:

Lewis Hamilton, with Ralf Schumacher in the runner-up spot for the most unwanted award.

--Andre N.

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