Thursday, August 28, 2008

2008 European Grand Prix - Race Analysis

New venue, same old boring Formula One. That is a good summary of last Sunday’s European Grand Prix. I thought about using at least one verb to make it a proper sentence, but I did not think the race deserved that much. Too bad for the organizers, who created a wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately, today's F1 grooved tyres and excessive downforce do not allow anyone to drive out of the racing line in an overtake manoeuvre.

It was another display of strength by Felipe Massa. At the same time, it was another display of Ferrari’s weakness. Two engine failures in two consecutive races is not what one would expect from a title contender. Especially when the other contender – McLaren – is doing much better in that area. That gives them a big advantage. That allows Lewis Hamilton to be leading the championship, although he has also had his share of ups and downs. That inconsistency was matched by Felipe Massa’s own mistakes in the beginning of the season, so the drivers are equally matched. If that engine had not failed in Hungary, he would Felipe would be the championship leader. And let’s not even mention Ferrari’s other miscues this season.

The Raikkonen situation

Kimi Raikkonen also did not help Ferrari by leaving the pit stall before getting the green light from their new - yet unproven - automated system. When the media is saying that you are not at the top of your form, it does not help to break the bones of one of your crewmembers.

Still, it seems like the media all over the world is obsessed in saying that Raikkonen has no desire to race anymore. I doubt that. The way he drives is a reflex of his personality. He has never been a flamboyant character either on or off the track, Still, he has finished the championship twice in second place, and, more importantly, once on top of the world. He is not as aggressive as other drivers are – e.g. Massa and Hamilton. Still, that does not mean that his driving style is wrong.

Let's think about Alain Prost, for example. The guy was neither a great qualifier, nor the best in overtaking other drivers. I even remember a few times when he had problems overtaking backmarkers! Ok, the blue flags were not as strict as today, but some guys like his arch-rival Ayrton Senna were doing a much better job. All in all, Prost was champion 4 times. Once is luck, two is coincidence, but 4 times is what? That’s consistency. He was always hanging in there even during bad situations, scoring precious points. This is what Raikkonen has been doing. Ok, maybe he has not had the best races of his life, and on average he has just scored 4.75 points a race. Nevertheless, he is 13 points behind the championship leader. That is not perfect, but not bad at all. It allows him to hang in there. Who can blame the guy for thinking that the current F1 is boring?

Quick notes:

- David Coulthard once again decided to try a daredevil overtaking move and overestimated his chances. He hit Adrian Sutil, but at least he only hurt his own race. He is about to retire now, so I guess he decided to have some fun. Maybe too much fun.

- I am not sure what Kazuki Nakajima was thinking when he hit Fernando Alonso’s rear wing on the first lap. He was close, but not so close he did not have room to react. That cannot be called a rookie mistake. That is a total mental lapse by a guy who has not yet proven why he is in F1. Or maybe he has, especially if we read the 'Toyota' on top of his engine.

- Nick Heidfeld seems to be fading behind more and more. I do not think that he suddenly forgot how to drive, but something in that car is clearly not matching his driving style. He needs to watch out or he will lose his job. All BMW needs is to find another German driver to replace him. That seems to be easy in the post-Schumacher era. If they want, they can get Nico Rosberg for 2009 or Sebastian Vettel for 2010. Or Timo Glock. They may have clauses in their contracts, but BMW has enough money to buy them out.

- By the way, Rosberg scored a point, but it is becoming too painful to watch Williams lingering around the track. He is sure desperate to get a better car.

- Vettel scored a 6h place without any safety car appearance, rain or anything unusual. When that is done in a new circuit, it means that the guy knows a lot about setting up a car.

Star of the Race:

Felipe Massa, especially for bouncing back from a dramatic end to his previous race.

Shame of the Race:

Kazuki Nakajima

--Andre N.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2008 Hungarian Grand Prix - Race Analysis

It has been a long time since I was last able to write comments about a Formula One race. More specifically, since the French Grand Prix - 3 races ago. The problem of not being a professional writer is that sometimes my real job gets on the way. I did manage to watch all the action, though – F1 is a ‘religion’ to me! – so some of my comments today will also reflect some of the last GPs.

Drama in Hungary

First, I would like to start with some comments about the dramatic turn of events at the Hungarian Grand Prix. When Lewis Hamilton got a flat tyre, I was thinking: ‘hey, maybe he destroyed his rubber and that was his fault’. I had already noticed that he had some blisters on his front tyres, even more than is normal for his aggressive driving style. Then Felipe Massa's engine blew up. Some may say that Hamilton was lucky. Yes, that is certainly luck, but if he took care of his tyres, as did his teammate Heikki Kovalainen, he would have won the race. I will not blame him too much, though, because of his commanding victories in Britain and Germany.

In Hungary, I think Felipe Massa as a driver deserved to win, because of the way he started the race – passing the 2 McLarens before the end of the first corner – and his qualifying-like-lap-after-qualifying-like-lap performance. I do not think Michael Schumacher could do any better than that. Yes, that was probably the drive of Massa's life.

The thing is: F1 is a team sport, and the car is built by a team. In engineering those cars, nothing happens by accident. I am pretty sure that whatever blew up was something that the engineers considered a 'calculated risk'. That is what engineers - myself included - say when there are so many things that can go wrong and they just cannot be sure about the outcome. Those things are almost a bet. If F1 were poker, Ferrari's engineers certainly did not have a straight flush. Ok, Massa as a driver did not deserve that fate. He deserved it as a team player though, because that’s the way it is.

(Un)Lucky Heikki?

Heikki Kovalainen deserves credit for his win. He kept on pushing until Massa’s engine gave away. In the old time, until the beginning of the 90’s, that was a very common tactic. That does not work so well anymore because of the high reliability the cars have today. Still, his win is as deserving as many of the ones by Jackie Stewart or Emerson Fittipaldi, for example. Those guys would just push whoever was ahead until their engine blew up or they made a mistake.

We also have to consider the fact that now Kovalainen is clearly McLaren’s number 2 driver. I always thought he could drive on the same level as Hamilton, but he was unlucky a few times in the beginning of the year, and that cost him better results. Still, Hamilton was clearly faster. That was the reason they needed to make him number 1. McLaren has always had a favourite driver, that’s the way they do it. I do not blame them for that, but I hate the fact that they keep posing themselves to the media as a team that gives equal opportunities to both drivers. They say that, and they may even believe that they do it, but then they always find ways – maybe unconsciously – to bend their own system to favour one driver over the other. Right now, I am pretty sure that if they have to choose between Heikki's or Lewis' requests, they will choose the latter's. Little things, but the same things that made David Coulthard look much slower than Mika Hakkinen, when in fact the difference was not that much! I just hope they do not ruin Kovalainen’s bid for a championship anytime in the future, just like they did to Coulthard after he was beaten for the first few races sharing the team with Hakkinen.

Rookies on the run

In Germany, I was very happy to see Nelsinho Piquet withstanding the pressure and finishing second. I was happy for him and for myself, because I had predicted him to be the rookie of the year and for once he was proving me right. Then Timo Glock drove a brilliant race this past Sunday and finished second without the help of a safety car. Maybe I was wrong about who will be rookie of the year.

Right now, though, I am still sticking to Piquet.
He also had a good race, starting 10th and finishing 6th. I cannot ignore his fight for the GP2 championship against Hamilton in 2006. Piquet lost it, but in 2007 Glock never had any real challengers in GP2. Still, if I am wrong and Glock starts to shine like he did yesterday, I do not mind being wrong. As long as reality is something better than I had predicted for the sport. The little part of F1 that is still a sport, that is.

Quick notes:

- Since today the topic seems to be good drivers that may be unlucky, what about Sebastian Vettel? He had his 6th retirement in 11 races. Most of those because the STR is unreliable. I guess the young German will have a much better car when he moves to the main Red Bull team in 2009.

- Williams was expecting a good race, but Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima qualified 14th and 16th respectively. There is not much to be done starting behind at the Hungaroring, as overtaking is almost impossible.

Star of the Race:
Timo Glock.

Shame of the Race:

--Andre N.