Sunday, March 23, 2008

2008 Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

For the entire week prior to the Malaysian Grand Prix, talks were about the rain that would likely fall during at least one of the sessions. Formula One does not seem to like probabilities this year, so the unlikely happened again and we ended up with a dry track for all 5 sessions, including the race.

Everything (Almost) Perfect for Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen showed the world why he is the current world champion, with a brilliant performance that balanced raw speed and strategy. At the start, he might have passed teammate Felipe Massa going into the first corner, but opted to stay behind since he knew he had fuel for one more lap before the first pit stop. For the next 17 laps he shadowed Massa. Both were pretty quick at this point, but later Kimi would mention at the press conference that they had already reduced the engine's at that time. They were still faster than everybody else and, good for us fans, running in equal conditions. When Felipe came in, Kimi got some clean air and made the best of it, gaining the best part of the 2 seconds that he needed.

Some time was handed to him by the fact that Massa stayed in the pits for about 0.6s longer. I am not sure if Ferrari put more fuel on his car - which would not make any sense -, or if it was just a case of not-so-great pit work. Anyway, Kimi got P1 when he returned to the track and started to pull away from Felipe.

Then it was disaster for Massa. Mental disaster, it seems. After he was more than 4s behind Raikkonen, he should have realized that 2nd place was all he could get. Pressure has never been a factor in his career, and his pace in qualifying showed that. He is a fighter, though, and many times that hurts him more than helps. As he tried harder and harder to keep up with his teammate, he hit the kerb very hard in turn six and his car switched ends between turns 7 and 8. Usually cars understeer going around those corners, so it is very likely that hitting that kerb caused some suspension damage. To make matters worse, he got stuck in the gravel trap and had to abandon the race.

The Best of the Rest

That left the door open for Robert Kubica to finish 2nd. He quietly drove his BMW to the checkered flag, and except for some excessive wheelspin at the start, he made no major mistakes. Since the 2 McLarens had to start back in 8th and 9th - after the blocking penalty in Qualifying - and his teammate Nick Heidfeld lost a few positions going wide around the first corner, no other car that could match his pace was close enough to challenge him. His ideal position would be to finish behind the Ferrari, and luckily for him only one of the red cars made it to the end.

Heikki Kovalainen had a brilliant performance. He outpaced Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, despite having fuel for an extra lap. During the race, he was able to save his tyres, although he drove a long time in traffic, which causes major understeer in today's aerodynamically dependent F1.

Hamilton showed some carelessness with his rubber, just as he did a few times in his rookie season. He certainly needs to improve that, but the main issue for him in Malaysia was that he lost about 10 seconds during the first pit stop, due to a problem with an air gun. At the end of the race he pushed as hard as he could to catch Jarno Trulli, who had a surprisingly good performance for Toyota. As Trulli drove some of his best laps of the race, he guaranteed that Hamilton would finish behind. Those laps were so fast - for a Toyota, that is - and so important, that I must give Trulli the Star of the Race award. Hamilton is still leading the championship, so kudos for him for not trying anything stupid.

Quick Notes:
- Fernando Alonso once again showed that he is pushing Renault to better results than they would get without him. He once again had a fantastic overtake move, this time around David Coulthard. That was only overshadowed by the fact that Nick Heidfeld passed both Coulthard and Alonso as they were fighting against each other.

- Nelsinho Piquet showed a promising race pace. He still has a lot to learn, but he is showing that he can have a year as good as Kovalainen had in 2007. We cannot forget that he fought against Hamilton for the 2006 GP2. What if he drove a McLaren?

- Rubens Barrichello turned the speed limiter off too soon while leaving the pits, and got a drive-through penalty. He later stated that the pit exit was not clearly marked. That is too bad, Rubens, but for some reason the other drivers did not have trouble with that. Good for you that Massa guaranteed the Shame of the Race award with his spin, otherwise...

- Both Williams and STR never showed the same pace from Australia. Sebastian Vettel had a strong showing during the practice sections, but that was it. I wish he had a more reliable car, because he is really great. It was a double DNF for STR and a 'no-pointer' for Williams. I thought Williams was at the same level as RBR, if not better, but now I am not so sure.

Star of the Race
Jarno Trulli.

Shame of the Race
Felipe Massa.

--Andre N.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

2008 Australian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

For Lewis Hamilton, it was a walk in the park - Albert Park, that is. He managed to get a good start, not great, but enough to keep him in first place. From there on, he was lucky that all three safety car interventions did not ruin his pit stop strategy. The only moment when he had to push was during his second stint, in order to make sure that he would pit and return to the track ahead of a surprisingly fast Sebastien Bourdais, who was to have no more pit stops until the end of the race.

Heikki Kovalainen also did a very good job for McLaren, and posted the fastest lap of the race. He even would have a chance of challenging Hamilton for the win, if the safety car did not happen right before his final pit stop. He continues to impress, and the 5th place finish just does not show how good a driver he was during the race. His only mistake was during his fight with Fernando Alonso, to which I will get back later.

The weekend was full of surprises, but Lewis' win was very predictable after the strong performance in qualifying. Almost everything else was unexpected. Things that surprised me the most: Ferrari with 2 blown engines - plus another one on Bourdais' STR -, BMW's very competitive race pace, and the large number of retirements - even for round one of the season.

Problems for Ferrari

Talking about Ferrari, what a messy race that was! Everyone in the team made mistakes. The drivers were excessively aggressive. Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen had each one a couple of close calls. I do not blame Massa for the contact with Coulthard. At worst that was a racing incident, if not Coulthard's fault for not giving him enough room. On the other hand, he had to think about finishing the race that was not going well after he tapped the wall all by himself in the first turn of the race. Raikkonen also cannot be blamed for trying to overtake Kovalainen, but he was certainly too optimistic that he could brake so deep - in fact he could not, hence the drive into the gravel trap.

I was not able to understand Ferrari's strategy, either. Instead of calling Kimi to the pits under the safety car - as did Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica, for example - they waited for the race to restart and 3 laps later he was in, under 'green flag' racing. It would not matter in the end, as he stopped with a damaged engine, just like Massa. Maybe the unpredicted hot weather in Australia caught Ferrari's engineers by surprise, but those engines were in their first one of the two mandatory races.

Bourdais and STR at a Surprising Pace

Sebastien Bourdais drove his STR like a Formula One veteran, although it was only his first grand prix. Team tactics were a big part of the fact that he was about to finish 4th when his engine blew up, but his pace was very good.

Complicated FIA Rules Take Points away from Honda

FIA rules continue to be way too complicated for spectators to understand. Rubens Barrichello received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for refueling while the pits were closed. After the race, he was disqualified for leaving the pits while the red lights were on.

What was he supposed to do in that situation? He was running out of fuel, so there was no other option but to stop. The fact that he had to make the stop-and-go later already guaranteed that he got no advantage in that situation. What was he supposed to do at the pit exit? Wait for how many minutes before the green light? This rule never made sense to me, and it never will. And the fact that Rubens was allowed to finish the race shows that even the stewards do not know what to make of this rule.

A Wonderful Move by Alonso

Fernando Alonso did a fantastic job with the Renault and finished 4th. So did Hamilton, Heidfeld and Rosberg, but the reason that I will give him the Star of the Race award is because he managed to get by both Raikkonen's Ferrari and Kovalainen's McLaren at the same time. What a move that was! Two laps later he was passed by Kovalainen, but the Finn made a stupid mistake - hit the speed limiter by accident while clearing his visor - that allowed Alonso repass him and finish 4th.

Star of the Race
Fernando Alonso

Shame of the Race
Ferrari. Nelsinho Piquet was a candidate for this award after his lousy qualifying run, but during the race he was fine, considering the fact that his car was damaged after he was hit from behind during the first lap.

--Andre N.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

BMW: The Surprise of 2008?

Is BMW going to be the surprise of the 2008 Formula One season? According to Saturday's practice and qualifying times for the Australian Grand Prix, the answer is 'yes'. Robert Kubica will start 2nd. Had he not made a mistake in turn 12 during his final qualifying lap, he would have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the top spot.

I believe that they are much closer to the top 2 teams than everyone had anticipated, which puts than as contenders for race wins this season. Well, someone had anticipated that: Nico Rosberg. He mentioned to journalists a few times that, based on his observations from testing, BMW was going to fight for than 5th place in Australia (as published by He said that they were very fast during the winter, although lap times did not show. Would that be the biggest case of 'sandbagging' ever? Maybe... It would be good for F1 if that was the case.

Nick Heidfeld's 5th place at the starting grid, though, seems more like reality for BMW. As fast as they may be, I do not believe that they are at the same level as McLaren and Ferrari, especially for the long runs between pit stops during the race. Nick is probably on a heavier load of fuel than Robert, and seems to be in better shape for the race. He will fight for the podium, but I am not sure about the race win.

On the other hand, if I am wrong and Kubica pits with the other contenders, watch out as he may win the race!

One final note is that Rosberg also pointed out that what impresses him the most about McLaren is how they simulated race starts. That is something easy to understand. F1 has a single supplier for the electronic control units this season, and the company behind it was already a supplier to McLaren last season. Therefore, I am expecting a great start from both Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. Heikki will start 3rd, and the odd side of the grid has preference going into the first chicane. I expect McLaren to be leading 1-2 before turn 3. Deep inside, though, I am cheering for Kubica to go for it and add fun to this championship.

Let's not forget that Ferrari's Felipe Massa also seems to have a car to fight for the win. The only certainty after qualifying is that F1 fans all over the world have more than enough reasons to want to watch the Australian Grand Prix.

--Andre N.

The Battle for the 2008 Formula One Championship Begins

As I write this, Formula One is already 3 free practice sessions into the 2008 season. Due to personal issues, I was not able to post any articles in 2008... Until now! Rest assured that all races will be fully analysed in 2008! This blog is all about the day after each F1 race.

Once again this season will be, in my opinion, a close battle between McLaren and Ferrari. The edge seems to be with Ferrari, but if you recall last season, every subtle difference from one track to the other could cause a shift in balance. This year though, the edge will probably remain with Ferrari most of the times, as McLaren has lost 100 million dollars - after the spy row - and the two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Alonso will certainly make Renault better and better, but he will have a tough time making them the best of the rest. BMW is my pick to continue as the third force in F1, but with closer competition from RBR and the already-mentioned Renault. Williams will also score better results than in 2007, reliability allowing. The middle pack will be tightly packed together!

The rookie of the year will be Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr., because as good as Sebastian Bourdais is in adapting to F1 after many seasons in CART, he will have a hard time driving the weak STR. Piquet will certainly benefit from Alonso's experience. Timo Glock is not as good as either Piquet or Bourdais, and Kazuki Nakajima is fast but inconsistent.

Who will be driver's champion? Hard to tell. I will go with my pick from 2007, Felipe Massa. I think he is evenly matched with Kimi Raikkonen, although I read many articles from motorsport writers saying that the Finn is better. My guess is that good luck will shift from Kimi to Felipe this year. That has to happen, statistically speaking! It is not all about luck, though. Let's not forget the end of the 2006 season, when Felipe was matching Michael Schumacher's time lap after lap. And his good 2007 campaign, in which he only dropped out of the title's race due to problems related to the car and team, not his driving.

Lewis Hamilton will have a tougher season, because McLaren will suffer the impact from the spy drama. He will eventually survive as a better driver. I am not talking about natural ability, because it is impossible to get better instincts than he already has. I mean the technical aspect of the sport. He will be better and better at developing car setups - and eventually the whole car. Don't get me wrong: He will still fight for the championship. He will just have a harder time than he had in 2007, when he came very close to winning the big title.

So those were some of my points of view. Feel free to disagree if you want! Now let's watch Australia's qualifying, which starts in about 40 minutes!

--Andre N.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blog on hold...

This blog will be on hold while I sort out some personal issues.

--Andre N.