Monday, April 28, 2008

2008 Spanish Grand Prix - Race Analysis

If there was such thing as a device that could measure fun, the place to test it would not be the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix. It would just point to 'boring' the whole time, because watching the race felt like watching a funeral procession.

The only moment that probably caught everyone's attention was when Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren hit the tyre barrier at full speed, after his left front tyre suddenly deflated. That moment was definitely not fun at all, as it seemed like he was badly hurt. Luckily, he is ok. Well, he is going to wake up this Monday and find out how sore he is, but at least he did not break any bones.

Kimi led the procession

The other Finnish driver - Kimi Raikkonen - had better luck. He won the race easily. In fact, he returned the favour that his teammate Felipe Massa had given him in Bahrain. Kimi outperformed Felipe in qualifying, although he had more fuel, just like Massa did in the previous race. After that it was just a matter of getting a reasonable start and waiting for Massa to pit first. The race was won after the first corner.

Lewis Hamilton was finally a better driver today than in the past 2 races. No major mistakes this time. He did what he could do, and that was to finish behind both Ferraris. He got a great start, helped by the fact that he was 5th on the grid, on the clean side of the track. His aggressive move cutting to the inside allowed him to overtake Robert Kubica, who started 4th, under breaking. If he did not make that move, he would have finished behind the BMW, because the cars were evenly matched and Barcelona is not the kind of track that allows overtake manoeuvres.

The Alonso show

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso did a wonderful job, and almost pulled off the miracle of finishing fifth in a car that rightfully would have a hard time being in the top 10. It is a shame that his engine blew up on lap 34. I was not surprised that his race ended like that. I think Renault mapped his engine to get more power just so he could put up a show for his home crowd. It is better to score a DNF and have everyone applauding them than to finish 10th without anyone really noticing they were there. Better from the business point of view, that is.

Quick notes:

- Nelsinho Piquet made a mistake that ruined his first good chance of scoring a point. He was running a solid 10th for 4 laps when he braked too deep into the corner and understeered all the way into the gravel trap.

- Two laps after rejoining the race, Piquet tried a risky manoeuvre to overtake Bourdais for 17th, and ended up hitting the STR. That put an end to Nelsinho's race. It was just a racing incident, but he could have spared himself from this situation had he not lost so many positions due to his mistake.

- Mark Webber drove the miracle race that Alonso wanted for himself, and finished a brilliant 5th. His strong performance in qualifying was a big boost for the race.

- It is not true that Kovalainen's incident left no victims. Nick Heidfeld's race was killed by the safety car deployment. He had to pit for fuel while SC sign was up, which meant by rules that he had to pay a 10-second stop-and-go later on. He scored no points.

- While Heidfeld's BMW was behind the much inferior Force India driven by Fisichella, it was noticeable that it is almost impossible to overtake in Barcelona. Everytime Nick got closer, he lost aerodynamic grip and had no chance of overtaking. Formula One needs more mechanical grip. FIA, please bring back the slick tyres!

- Sebastian Vettel was once again caught in a first lap incident that caused him to retire. It was not his fault, as Adrian Sutil was spinning in front of him and there was nowhere for him to go.

- David Coulthard was the victim of Timo Glock's reckless driving, and had a puncture when the Toyota collided with his RBR. He had already been hit by Sutil during the first lap. This time David was just trying to stay out of trouble, unlike in the previous races. Either way it does not seem to work out for him this year.

Star of the Race:
Mark Webber

Shame of the Race:
Nelsinho Piquet

Sunday, April 06, 2008

2008 Bahrain Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Since Friday, Ferrari seemed to be the team that would dominate the Bahrain Grand Prix. During the practice sessions, another fact could be noticed: Felipe Massa had better car balance than Kimi Raikkonen. If nothing disastrous happened, it was clear to me that they would finish 1-2, with Felipe ahead of Kimi (reference: my previous post Raikkonen and Hamilton under pressure?), and so it happened. It was a brilliant comeback for the Brazilian driver, who had been criticized after making costly mistakes in the previous two races.

Raikkonen was not bad either. He continues to deserve his 'Iceman' moniker, this time for being sensate enough to realize that second place was the best he could get. The Finn knows that many times he cannot match Massa's pace, and settled for the 8 points that put him in the championship lead.

According to my observations, Massa is still faster considering single lap times, but over the course of a race, Raikkonen is more consistent. That reminds me a little of the old Nigel Mansell vs. Nelson Piquet duel at Williams in 1986-87. Due to his own mistakes, the faster Mansell lost a few races to the more consistent Piquet. Both Raikkonen and Massa are long ways from becoming the legends that were Mansell and Piquet, but if I were Massa, I would take a glance at the history books and try to be more consistent. Piquet ultimately won the battle within Williams by winning the 1987 championship.

Not just another German race car

BMW once again showed some promising pace. They seem to be better than McLaren during the race, especially considering that they have less tyre wear than the British team. In fact, their problem is that they cannot heat up their rubber fast enough. That plays a big factor in qualifying. Kubica had to take less fuel than Ferrari and McLaren to be able to get the pole. Once they get around this issue, they will be racing more closely to the red cars. All in all, BMW is leading the Constructors Championship, after finishing 3rd and 4th in Bahrain.

BMW made two mistakes during the race. One at the start, when Robert Kubica had major wheelspin and lost his lead to Massa going into turn 1. The other was when the team provided no information to Kubica about the fact that there was oil on the track. As he lost his grip, Kimi Raikkonen managed to get by him. Those mistakes were not that costly, as the most that BMW could have hoped for was third. Ferrari was in a league of their own and Kimi would eventually get around Robert.

For the second consecutive race BMW got faster, more consistent lap times during their last stint, coincidentally when they used the prime tyres. The cars were lighter on fuel, because the last stint was shorter, but they seemed to be a lot more well balanced. Maybe it is something that BMW's engineers should consider for the next race: two stints with the primes and one with the options.

McLaren struggles, especially Hamilton

If everything went well for Ferrari and BMW, the same cannot be stated about McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was out of control throughout the weekend. On Friday he seemed uncomfortable that his teammate Heikki Kovalainen was very close to - even ahead of - him on the time charts, and crashed into a tyre barrier while trying to be faster. During the race, he got a poor start. His car just did not jump away when the red lights turned off. Later he said it was his own mistake, because he did not press early enough the button that would engage the proper engine setting (reference: post-race driver quotes). At least he raised his hand for that mistake.

By lap 2, Hamilton was in 10th position, behind Fernando Alonso. He still had a chance of finishing at least 6th. Something came loose inside his head, though, because as he accelerated faster than Alonso out of a corner, he did not steer away from the Renault, hit its back, almost flew over it, and lost his front wing. I am not sure what he was thinking. He later made it worse by saying that it was a racing incident. Hopefully he will watch the replay and publicly blame it on himself as soon as possible. I do not recommend waiting one full week for him to change his mind. Felipe Massa just did that after Malaysia and the Ferrari fans were not happy about that.

After the accident with Alonso, Hamilton came in for the pit stop, changed his nose cone, put a lot of fuel and went back to the race with a different strategy. That was not enough. There was no miracle Schumacher-style comeback for him. In the end he finished just 13th.

While everyone talks about Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen has scored the same amount of points - 14. Watch out for him. He does not lack any natural talent in comparison to Hamilton, and driving the last season in the lousy Renault taught him a couple of things that Hamilton is yet to learn. Yesterday, though, he finished only in a business-like 5th.

Quick notes:

- Fernando Alonso could not score any points this time. With 19 of the 22 cars finishing the race, all he could manage was a realistic 10th for Renault. He raced since the second lap without a small part of his rear wing - chopped off by Hamilton - but that did not affect the results.
- David Coulthard brake-tested Jenson Button going into a corner and 'f'orgot' to check his rearview mirrors. Button avoided the crash under braking, but Coulthard simply turned as if nothing was happening. The two collided. These situations are becoming common to Coulthard. He has to stop blaming them on the other drivers or on plain bad luck. He cannot show a gap, brake early and close the door when the driver behind is already committed to a move.
- Although Honda had disappointing race results - Rubens Barrichello was 11th, Jenson Button DNF -, they have once again shown some improvements. While they still lack straightaway speed, they may be consistently fighting for the points if the new aero package planned for Barcelona fixes that.

Star of the race
Felipe Massa

Shame of the race
Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Raikkonen and Hamilton under pressure?

As I watched Free Practice sessions 1 and 2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix, it was obvious that Kimi Raikkonen was fighting to stay on the track. At one point in FP2 he got a similar time to his teammate Felipe Massa, but that was a single lap. Later Felipe put almost one second between them, but the better part of it was probably due to being lighter on fuel. Still, for the long run, Massa seems better. Raikkonen is struggling for grip and is certainly slower than his teammate.

I still expect a Ferrari 1-2 for the race, but it seems like Massa over Raikkonen this time. Unfortunately I am not in time to change my pick at F1 Pick 6.

It is unclear weather Raikkonen's struggle has anything to do with a faster teammate. Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, made a critical mistake while trying to match his teammate Heikki Kovalainen. Lewis accelerated too much going over a kerb and skid into the tyre barrier, destroying his car. It was scary, because for some reason, he never took his hands off the steering wheel. He could have been hurt.

Is pressure affecting the two championship leaders? More to come tomorrow and on Sunday...

--Andre N.