Tuesday, June 24, 2008

2008 French Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Lap 30 of 70. The rain threatened but never came. It was the only thing that could possibly take the victory away from Ferrari, but even so the red cars were too far ahead of the rest of the field. Kimi Raikkonen was leading Felipe Massa by 6 seconds, and everyone else was more than 20 seconds behind the latter. Felipe had already given up fighting for the win. Then disaster struck for Kimi. Part of the exhaust pipes on the right side of the car cracked, he started to lose power - which translated to a loss of 1 to 2 seconds a lap - and his side pod began to slowly burn.

The final result? A Ferrari 1-2, with Massa inheriting the victory at a track he is not known to be faster than Raikkonen. And yes, Raikkonen was second. What does it tell us? That Ferrari is so dominant at this point of the season that it is hard to predict them to lose the Constructor's Championship. One may claim that McLaren could challenge for the victory if they did not have to face penalties for both drivers - Heikki Kovalainen 5 grid positions for blocking in qualifying, Lewis Hamilton 10 grid positions for crashing into Raikkonen in the previous race and a drive-through for cutting a corner to go by Sebastian Vettel. I have to disagree. The two Ferrari drivers were certainly racing hard until the first pit stop, but I doubt that they were going for that last chunk of power that they could take from their engine mapping. If McLaren were closer, Ferrari would be even faster. Ok, a 1-2 would be difficult due to Kimi's problems, but Felipe would easily win.

Hamilton Self-Destructs

I have seen it happening to pretty much every driver this year. At one point the guy simply makes a stupid mistake and throws away precious points. This time it was Lewis Hamilton. Actually, it was Hamilton for two weeks in a row. He was already starting 13th after the penalty for crashing into Raikkonen in Montreal. He started the race quite well, as did Sebastian Vettel just ahead of him. When both got to the Adelaide corner - the slowest turn of the track - Lewis had a better entrance and a much better exit. That put them side-by-side going into the Nurburgring chicane, a very fast right-left turn combination. Vettel braked before the turn. Hamilton braked deep into the turn, so deep that it was not enough for him to remain on the track. He basically cut the second leg through the tarmac escape area, and remained ahead of his STR rival. Until then, it was no big deal. Lewis should simply let Sebastian go by and he would get no advantage out of his off-road tour.

For some reason, Lewis thought that the move was legal and never let Vettel go by. The marshalls penalized him with a drive-through. After the race, Hamilton still thought he was right! This time he is the deserving winner of the 'Shame of the Race' award.

Once again, McLaren was blinded by the fact that they think their star British driver cannot make a mistake. It was clear on TV that he gained an advantage, so why not radio him and tell him to return the position? Lewis is a young driver and has a lot to learn! He needs coaching. The 'coaches' at McLaren do not seem very good, though. China 2007 is a good example: They allowed Lewis to stay on the track although his tyres were gone, and ultimately he slid out of the race. They trusted his inexperienced call that staying on the track was ok.

Trulli's Brilliant Performance

Is Toyota a car good enough to finish on the podium, fighting for position with a McLaren and a BMW? Certainly not. Yet, Jarno Trulli somehow managed to do just that, including a wheel-to-wheel fight with Heikki Kovalainen with less than 2 laps to go. As Toyota was mourning the death of one of their greatest team members - the guy who led the team during the golden rallying days, Ove Andersson - it seems like everyone gave it a little more. Hopefully they will learn something from this race, because they have one of the largest budgets of F1 and their results have never matched the investment.

Quick Notes

- Fernando Alonso had a disappoint weekend. After qualifying third on a light-fuel load, reality struck hard as a bunch of drivers returned from their stops ahead of him. His demise was a wide turn going into Adelaide, when he lost 7th place to his teammate Nelsinho Piquet.

- Piquet had the strongest performance of his short F1 career. He qualified reasonably well - 11th, but started 9th due to McLaren's grid penalties - and drove a good, constant race. He was braking much earlier than in the previous races. That means he was braking where he was supposed to, because up to now he had the bad habit of braking too deep and too hard going. Maybe Renault found out that his driving style was the reason why his brakes vaporized in Montreal.

- Nick Heidfeld is having problems adapting to this year's BMW. He finished a lousy 13th, while his teammate was 5th. He should adapt quick, because there are a few drivers waiting for his spot. Bring on the Vettel and Alonso rumours once again.

Star of the Race
Jarno Trulli

Shame of the Race

Lewis Hamilton

--Andre N.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

2008 Canadian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

Sitting on the grandstands at the hairpin exit, I was able to watch a good race in Montreal. At one point, though, I had to ask myself: 'I am really paying almost 400 Canadian dollars for this?' When? Here is a hint: FIA's safety car rules are plain stupid. When half of the field pitted under the safety car, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica had to stop at the pit exit, waiting for the green light that would come after the pack of driver on track went by. Then Lewis Hamilton made a stupid mistake and hit the back of Kimi's Ferrari. Kubica took the opportunity and won the first grand prix of his career, the first of a Polish driver in F1, the first of BMW as a constructor on its own.

The safety car rules shall be changed because they are always affecting the race results in a way they should not. Who in the world wants to see two of the three main contenders of a race retiring inside the pit lane? I guess that FIA's president Max Mosley did not have the time to think about that, though, as he spent the better part of last month using his influences to stay in power, something he somehow managed to do even after being caught in an orgy with prostitutes. It may not be so bad if it is true that Formula One Management's big boss Bernie Ecclestone wants to create a parallel championship without the FIA. More than 10 years of grooved tyres and no overtaking is the biggest achievement in rulemaking in the recent years.

Enough with that and back to the race...

Leading all Young Promises

All in all, the race had a deserving winner. It is true that Kubica's main contenders made it easier for him. Besides Hamilton and Raikkonen, Felipe Massa was excluded from any hopes of winning when Ferrari messed up while refueling his car on the first pit stop, and he had to return to the pits on the next time around. That does not take anything away from the magnificent job by the Pole. Because many drivers did not stop under the safety car, he was in the middle of the field for a while. He knew how to keep his cool, waited for everyone to pit, overtook his teammate Nick Heidfeld - who was returning from the pits heavier on fuel - and later drove 7 or 8 superb qualifying-like laps before his final pit stop. He rejoined the race as the leader, showing qualities that not many 23 year-old drivers have.

Robert Kubica is a member of my list of young drivers who are talented enough to add their names to the history of the sport. He will be around with Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel for a long time to come. And trust me, Nelsinho Piquet will join that group soon. Right now he is just suffering because of the lack of testing in 2007. Oh, and Massa, Raikkonen, Kovalainen are a little older, but they will also be around for a while! Right now, though, one driver is ahead of them all, and that is championship leader Kubica.

An Improved Massa

As impressive as Kubica was, the crowd favourite was Felipe Massa. When Ferrari had to call him back to the pits due to the aforementioned mistake, he returned to the track in anger, 15 seconds behind the last of the other drivers. He drove an aggressive race as no one else did, overtaking many cars in the process. The move of the day was when he passed both Kovalainen and Barrichello at the same time. That was right in front of me at the hairpin and at that time I had no doubts that my money was well spent.

He scored valuable points by finishing 5th. Had he not thrown away 8 points by spinning in Malaysia, he would be the championship leader now. That is Massa, though. He will make a few mistakes, but his good moments will more than compensate for those.

Quick Notes:

- Rubens Barrichello did what he could with the lousy Honda, and held back as many cars as he could while going for a one-stop strategy. He finished 7th.

- Nelsinho Piquet cannot be blamed for his spin this time. His brakes simply became black dust. After the spin, he was breaking earlier and earlier every lap before the hairpin, until he was so slow that he had to stop. The fact that Alonso also spun out during the race counts in Nelsinho's favour, showing that the Renault may be faster, but still has a 'nervous' behavior.

- After starting from the pits, Sebastian Vettel held back Heikki Kovalainen in the late laps and scored 1 point by finishing 8th. He is taking everything that he can from driving a bad car. This kind of experience will help him a lot when he eventually gets a job at a top team.

- As I expected, Lewis Hamilton was actually lighter in qualifying. Maybe not as light as I thought - I even wondered if he would be 3-stopping - but he had less fuel than both Kubica and Raikkonen. Therefore, he needed more time to refuel when the safety car put everyone who pitted on the same strategy. When both the BMW and the Ferrari overtook him, he lost his concentration and threw his race - and Kimi's - away. It is a good thing that he was penalized with 10 grid positions for the next race, because his mistake was completely avoidable. As usual, he at least admitted his fault.

Star of the Race
Robert Kubica

Shame of the Race
Ferrari, for throwing Massa's race away due to a faulty refueling operation.

--Andre N.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Is Hamilton 3-stopping in Montreal?

After a short while away, I am back with my F1 analyses. I was sitting at the hairpin grandstands today (Saturday), so I could see - and hear - a little more than the TV coverage shows. Lewis Hamilton was definitely displaying great car control. He is the fastest driver this weekend. He is so fast that maybe McLaren decided to try a different strategy. It looks like he will make 3 pit stops tomorrow, or at least go for a very short first stint.

His McLaren certainly looked light, because of the way his car was oversteering coming into, in the middle and going out of the hairpin. If he was oversteering like that with a full tank, as the fuel lowers and the tyres go away, the tail will become looser and looser. If that is the case, Hamilton will have a hard time keeping the car on track tomorrow.

My belief at this point is that McLaren is searching for the extra edge that they need tomorrow by trying a different strategy. They have had problems with tyre consumption this whole year, so why not drive less laps with each set of rubber? Hamilton is probably light, and that seems like a good strategy.

Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, and Heikki Kovalainen seemed heavy. They were braking for the hairpin a little before than Hamilton. Robert Kubica seemed light - not as light as Hamilton. I could not 'read' Fernando Alonso, but if I had to guess, I would say that he is light. His braking point for the hairpin was before Hamilton's, but maybe that is because the Renault is not that good a car.

Whatever happens, the race tomorrow will be fun. Thanks to McLaren and Hamilton for adding excitement to the Canadian Grand Prix! Oh, did I mention that the forecast for tomorrow shows 60% chance of rain? It will be fun!

--Andre N.