Saturday, 1 November 2008

Brazilian Grand Prix Qualifying: Massa On Pole For Title Showdown

Felipe Massa will start the Brazilian Grand Prix, the most important race of his life, from pole position after a brilliant performance at his beloved Interlagos circuit. He knows that to stand a realistic chance of winning the Driver's Championship he needs to win the race tomorrow, and he has given himself the best possible chance. Lewis Hamilton will have to defend his seven point lead from 4th place, and possibly on a different strategy to the Ferraris. Toyota's Jarno Trulli put in an incredible performance to take a surprise second place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

The first of the three mini-sessions saw few problems or dramas for the major players. Massa, Raikkonen and Hamilton filled the top three spots and were all very close. Alonso showed the pace of the Renault with fourth. Kovalainen didn't get the most out of the McLaren and only managed 8th place, but was easily through regardless. At the wrong end of the grid the Force Indias struggled as expected and propped up the time sheets. Both Williams cars looked extremely poor despite previously looking reasonably strong all weekend long, and both went out along with Button who saw his team mate Barrichello just squeeze through into the final session.

The second session was a little more interesting than the first. For the first ten minutes or so everything went like clockwork. Raikkonen, Massa and Hamilton all looked supremely quick and held the top three places. Then all of a sudden some more un-fancied drivers started putting up some stunning lap times. We shouldn't be too surprised to see Kovalainen so quick given the machinery under him, but Vettel produced a great lap out of nowhere, as did Glock. Suddenly the top two teams felt a little bit of heat and were forced to send their drivers out again just in case.

In the end both Ferraris made it through, but Raikkonen in particular was flying a little too close to the wind for comfort with P6. Ferrari need a big performance from him in terms of the two titles, and he will also want a good showing to reclaim third place in the title race. His chances of that third place were aided somewhat by the poor performance of Robert Kubica who could only manage 12th fastest. It's a shame to see Kubica losing his way a little at the end of such a great season for him. His 2008 season looks to be ending with a bit of a whimper.

The third session was what everyone was really waiting for though, and it didn't disappoint. Massa was the first of the major players out on track for the opening salvoes of Q3 and he put in a fantastic first lap. 1:12.4 is a tidy lap in any conditions, but to do it with race fuel is very impressive. Raikkonen couldn't match his team mate, and nor could any one else. Hamilton had a very untidy first lap. He perhaps went out a little to fast on his outlap and over-cooked his tyres a tad. He almost lost the back end a couple of times throughout the lap, but kept it on the black stuff to set something of a disappointing lap.

The second and final hotlaps saw Massa again on great form. He managed to go marginally faster second time around, and ended up significantly faster than anyone else out there. Although we know Massa loves this race-track, we have to think that Massa is lighter on fuel considering he ended up almost half a second faster than his team mate Kimi. Hamilton improved significantly, but it wasn't enough to quite trouble the Ferraris. He was just five thousandths of a second behind Raikkonen, and it looked as though he would be sitting behind an all Ferrari front row. Both McLarens seemed to struggle in the middle sector and were significantly slower there than all the others drivers around them, with Kovalainen finishing just behind Hamilton.

When Alonso failed to match either the McLarens or Ferraris it looked for all the world as though it would be two Ferraris followed by two McLarens on the grid. Then out of nowhere Jarno Trulli put in an amazing lap to split the Ferraris and take second place! Trulli is known as a qualifying specialist, but I don't think even the most hardened Trulli fan would have expected this result. He must surely be VERY light on fuel, but Trulli's presence puts an interesting and unexpected element into the mix for tomorrow's title decider.

The other potential wild-card factor is the position of Fernando Alonso sitting in sixth, right behind his bitter rival Hamilton. Alonso has made no secret of the fact that he would dearly love to see Hamilton and his former employers fail tomorrow, and Hamilton certainly will not relish having the Spaniard right on his gearbox going into the first two turns.

If everyone finishes in the same place they start the race, Hamilton will be champion. However, he would dearly love to have been starting up on the front row. Both McLaren drivers have hinted that perhaps they are on a different strategy to those infront of him after seeing the pace of particularly Massa and Trulli. Could strategy be the deciding factor in the World Title? There is also the issue of tyre degradation. The option tyres Bridgestone have brought have been graining up badly in practice, and tyre management could well be a key factor. Of course, the other major factor may be the weather. Rain is still forecast for tomorrow, and when the rain falls anything can happen.

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Massa
2. Trulli
3. Raikkonen
4. Hamilton
5. Kovalainen
6. Alonso
7. Vettel
8. Heidfeld
9. Bourdais
10. Glock
11. Piquet
12. Webber
13. Kubica
14. Coulthard
15. Barrichello
16. Nakajima
17. Button
18. Rosberg
19. Fisichella
20. Sutil

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Friday, 31 October 2008

Brazilian Grand Prix: Massa lays down the benchmark in first practice

The two title protagonists both kicked off their weekends with impressive showings in Friday's first practice sessions. The closing minutes of the session saw Massa pip Hamilton to first place in a relatively quiet session that had been dominated by Hamilton up until that point.

The session began with ominous looking grey clouds around the Sao Paulo circuit, and a third of the way through the session rain did begin to fall. However, the rain wasn't more than a light shower and although it made conditions slippery (Raikkonen was the first man to spin this weekend) the conditions weren't too bad. All drivers though seemed somewhat cautious for much of the session, with very limited running for the first half an hour or so. Indeed, Kimi Raikkonen sat in the pits for over an hour before coming out to set a time. It didn't hold him back too much though, as he ended up setting third fastest time just a fraction slower than Hamilton.

So first blood went to Massa then, though I suspect Hamilton will be more than happy to follow Massa home as closely as that all weekend long. Both drivers look strong, and certainly Hamilton still looks odds on favourite to take the title on this form...

First Practice Times

01 F. Massa Ferrari 1:12.305 24 laps
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:12.495 23 laps
03 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:12.507 18 laps
04 R. Kubica BMW 1:12.874 24 laps
05 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:12.925 20 laps
06 F. Alonso Renault 1:13.061 25 laps
07 M. Webber Red Bull 1:13.298 24 laps
08 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:13.378 39 laps
09 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:13.426 28 laps
10 T. Glock Toyota 1:13.466 33 laps
11 J. Trulli Toyota 1:13.600 24 laps
12 N. Rosberg Williams 1:13.621 23 laps
13 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:13.649 30 laps
14 R. Barrichello Honda 1:13.676 28 laps
15 J. Button Honda 1:13.766 13 laps
16 K. Nakajima Williams 1:13.806 24 laps
17 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:13.836 30 laps
18 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:13.861 19 laps
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:14.704 21 laps
20 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:14.821 21 laps
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Brazilian Grand Prix: Preview

So, this is it. After a year dogged by the usual fair share of self-inflicted controversy in which occasionally some racing broke out, some of it sensationally good and some just plain sensational, it all boils down to this. Two men and two teams with the fate of the championships in their hands. 71 laps of Sao Paulo's Interlagos circuit to decide that fate.

Hamilton heads into the weekend with the title tantalisingly close to his grasp. Just as with last year's dramatic season finale, the task in front of him seems all too easy. But we all know what happened 12 months ago, and Hamilton will surely have those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind throughout the weekend. He only has to finish in 5th place and the title will be his regardless of other results, but anything can happen in motor racing, and this seemingly simplistic task could easily be taken out of his hands by something like a mechanical failure or puncture. Besides, we all know Hamilton is a fiercely competitive racer and not the sort to settle for 5th place, so there is always the potential for fireworks.

By contrast, Felipe Massa will be feeling comparatively little pressure. With the odds against him he knows that all he has to do is go out in front of his home fans and try to win the race. Nobody will criticise him if he fails to win the title, and if he DOES win the title the scenes of celebration will be unprecedented for the home town hero. He has nothing to lose, whereas Hamilton potentially has it all to lose.

Ferrari are comfortably ahead in the constructor's championship, and anything other than a complete disaster for Ferrari will see them claim their second WCC in a row. Realistically, McLaren will be pinning all their hopes of glory on Hamilton taking the WDC. But they will still be harbouring dreams of snatching both titles from under the noses of their arch rivals, and will be demanding a much improved showing from Heikki Kovalainen if they are to spring a surprise. Indeed, both Finnish drivers could end up being key players in both titles if team tactics come into play, although it is a role that neither will particularly relish after both having such a torrid season.

The weather has been a massive factor this season, with thrilling races at both Monaco and Silverstone and a dramatic qualifying session at Monza springing to mind. I don't think I can remember a season in which the weather has played a role so often, and the season's finale doesn't look like it's going to disappoint. Early weather predictions suggests that there will be rain at regular intervals throughout the weekend, adding further spice to the championship mix. When the rain has fallen it has been Hamilton who has been the standout driver of the field, although he and his team did make a mistake with tyre choices in the rain of Monza qualifying. Massa has struggled badly in the past with rain, particularly his humiliating experience at Silverstone this year.

You would think that on past history the rain would favour Hamilton, but all sort of strange things can happen in the wet. None more so than at Interlagos in 2003. That race was controversially started under safety car conditions such was the severity of the rain. Then an enormous crash caused by a then naive and reckless Fernando Alonso brought about a red flag. Everyone assumed Raikkonen had deservedly won the race, but that honour instead went on count back to Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella because he was last to pit, despite the fact that his car was a flaming mess at the side of the road by the time the red flag came out! Goes to show that anything can happen when the heavens open...

There has been talk in the gutter press about the potential of Massa or Ferrari attempting to run Hamilton off the road or vice-versa, much of it bizarrely instigated by Eddie Jordan. However, both drivers have been quick to point out that although they will be racing as hard as ever, neither driver would want to be tarnished by using any kind of underhand tactics to win the title. And quite right too.

Regardless of which way the championship is concluded, there is sure to be an incredible story and incredible scenes at the chequered flag. Either we will have the most talked about and most hyped man in motor sport becoming the youngest F1 champion in history, or we will have the underdog from Brazil winning the title on his home circuit, sparking off incredible scenes from the passionate Brazilian fans. Either way, it could be epic...
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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton Edges Closer To Title With Supreme Performance

Lewis Hamilton edged closer to winning the 2008 Formula One World Driver's Championship with a flawless performance in the Chinese Grand Prix. From the very first practice session on Friday morning Hamilton was a class apart from the rest of the field this weekend, and rounded off a superb weekend with a disciplined performance from start to finish in the Grand Prix. The title race is still very much alive however, as Felipe Massa claimed second place after being gifted the place by his team mate Raikkonen. It wasn't a great race, and in truth was pretty uneventful, but that is exactly what the doctor ordered for Hamilton after the turbulence of Japan last week, and his nightmare race here last year.

With the threat of rain seemingly dissipated by the start of the race the conditions looked perfect for racing. Hamilton was surrounded by threats on the grid from two Ferraris and a Renault, but he looked totally calm and relaxed as he prepared for the race, as he has looked all weekend. The same couldn't quite be said for Felipe Massa who has looked a bit on edge all weekend, particularly since his disappointing showing in qualifying.

After all the drama and controversy of the opening laps in Japan many were predicting something of the same here. It wasn't to be though, as Hamilton got an inch perfect start and led fairly comfortably going into the tricky first corner. The two Ferraris were in close company but not close enough to attempt any kind of move. Birthday boy Heikki Kovalainen got a good start and was able to squeeze around the outside of Fernando Alonso through turns one and two. This was exactly what was required of Kovalainen after his poor showing in qualifying yesterday, but he couldn't keep it up. Alonso was able to power past again down the back straight after a small mistake from Heikki in the previous corner. There was clearly no sign of Renault's supposed horse power deficit here. The only real drama at the start was a coming together between Trulli and Bourdais, which resulted in Trulli's retirement due to extensive damage to his side-pod.

During the first stint Hamilton was able to consolidate his lead at a rate of one or two tenths of a second per lap consistently. It was perfect race driving from Hamilton; every lap in the first stint was faster than the preceding one, eventually resulting in the fastest lap of the race on lap 13. The Ferraris had no answer to McLaren's pace as Raikkonen dropped ever further back from Hamilton, and Massa fell consistently behind Kimi. Alonso and Kovalainen had no answer to the pace of the top three.

The main players all came in to pit around the same time showing that there was no advantage for anyone in terms of fuel loads. There were a few back markers to contend with as they emerged from the pits, in particular Giancarlo Fisichella was being a bit of a pain for the leaders. Raikkonen especially lost time behind the veteran Italian, and made his feelings very clear with an uncharacteristic hand gesture to the Force India driver as he eventually made it past. It was pretty un-professional driving from Fisi, and I'm not entirely sure what he was hoping to prove or gain, but in the end I don't think it made any difference to the result.

The only moment of significant drama in this phase of the race was a right front puncture for Heikki Kovalainen. It just about summed up the way his season has gone. Just about everything that could go wrong HAS gone wrong. After an extremely rare engine failure last race, his puncture relegated him to the back of the field. Just to compound his miserable birthday, he was then forced to retire with a brake failure. This was bad news for McLaren in terms of the constructor's championship, but they will be thankful that at least the bad luck was befalling Kovalainen and not their title challenger Hamilton.

Raikkonen was starting to close on Hamilton by the end of the second stint, but he was nowhere near close enough to challenge for the victory. Inevitably, after the second and final round of pit stops Raikkonen dropped off the pace to allow Massa to close and pass him for second place and a vital two extra points. It's not great to see from a racing perspective, but it is the only sensible decision in terms of the title race. Also, Raikkonen was not in a position to complain after he won the title last year in Brazil due in no small part to Massa yielding to him in the closing stages. Both Ferrari drivers looked completely embarrassed by the whole experience in the post-race press conference; Massa clearly knew that he was out classed by Raikkonen all day long, but will be grateful for the points gifted to him. Whether that kind of behaviour is strictly legal or not is up for debate, but you won't see McLaren protesting as they may need to do something similar in Brazil next race.

From then on it was plain sailing to the finish for the top drivers. Hamilton clearly eased off the pace knowing that the engine he used today needs to last him for the full weekend in Brazil. Massa and Raikkonen were too far back to challenge Hamilton so just cruised to the finish to end what was in truth a pretty dull Chinese Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso took fourth place with a decent performance, but was unable to get close to the podium places. Heidfeld and Kubica came next, with Kubica able to make up several places due to his extremely long first stint. It wasn't enough to stop his title dream disappearing for at least another year though. He will be disappointed with his own performance, particularly in qualifying, and it is a shame to see his title challenge end with a bit of whimper. However, even if he had performed to the best of his ability here he would not have had an answer to the pace of Hamilton in the McLaren. Glock and Piquet rounded out the points finishers, Glock in particular having a good race today after a poor qualifying yesterday.

So going into the final race of the 2008 season Lewis Hamilton holds a seven point lead over Felipe Massa. This is exactly the same lead he held over Alonso going into Brazil last year, so the Championship is by no means a foregone conclusion yet. However, if McLaren and Hamilton show the same kind of pace, consistency and crucially maturity that they showed here, then the title should be his. Hamilton can afford to let Massa win his home Grand Prix and still be able to wrap up the title with a top 5 finish. Today Hamilton looked every bit the World Champion in waiting, and Ferrari and Massa had absolutely no answer to his dominance.

Race Result

1. Hamilton
2. Massa
3. Raikkonen
4. Alonso
5. Heidfeld
6. Kubica
7. Glock
8. Piquet
9. Vettel
10. Coulthard
11. Barrichello
12. Nakajima
13. Bourdais
14. Webber
15. Rosberg
16. Button
17. Fisichella
ret Kovalainen
ret Sutil
ret Trulli
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Saturday, 18 October 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton On Pole For His Date With Destiny

Lewis Hamilton will start what may be the most important race of his young career from pole position after a completely dominant performance in today's qualifying session. Just as in Fuji last week he will have Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen for company alongside him on the front row, setting up a possible repeat of last Sunday's first corner drama. Felipe Massa will start from third place with Fernando Alonso pipping Kovalainen for fourth with another excellent showing. The other title contender Robert Kubica saw his chances all but vanish with a poor performance, meaning he will start the race tomorrow from eleventh place.

The conditions for qualifying were about as perfect as you could imagine; warm but not too hot, with no rain or even a breath of wind around the circuit. There would be no excuses for poor performances. The first session saw Lewis Hamilton continue his fine form from Friday's practice sessions by finishing in first place by a considerable margin. Of course, where it really mattered was at the other end of the field. After Webber's spectacular engine blow-out in morning practice Red Bull were hoping for a big performance from David Coulthard. It didn't come unfortunately, as he was held up a little by Nick Heidfeld on his final flying lap and failed to make it through to Q2. He will start his penultimate Grand Prix from 16th place. Nakajima, Button, Sutil and Fisichella make up the final four positions on the grid.

The second session saw Hamilton again dominate proceedings at the top of the time sheets. His first run on the option tyre saw him set the only lap of the weekend under 1:35s, and comfortably ahead of his rivals. However, the big story of Q2 was the nightmare that Robert Kubica was having. He needs a big result from this Grand Prix if he is to have any chance of upsetting the odds and winning the Championship, but he will find it hard now after he could only manage twelfth fastest in the session. He complained of understeer problems earlier in the session, and he looked completely out of sorts throughout the session. His poor performance was compounded by the fact that his team mate Heidfeld beat him comfortably for one of the first times this season. Rosberg, Barrichello, Glock and Piquet also dropped out at this stage.

Going into the final session it looked as though Hamilton was all but guaranteed a pole position place. It wasn't to be as simple as that though, as after the first set of hotlaps Hamilton was only sitting in fifth place. Although the cameras didn't pick it up Hamilton later confessed that he made a big mistake in turn eight which lost him over six tenths of a second. Kovalainen and Raikkonen were leading the way at the top; were they being run very light as part of a strategic game by their team? Raikkonen was the first of the main men to go out for his final lap, and he was setting green sectors throughout the lap. He was comfortably top by the end of his lap, and had set down a tough bench mark for the others to match. Hamilton was the only man up to the challenge, and he put together a sensational lap to take pole position by a full three tenths of a second. Massa couldn't match either his title rival or his team mate as he ended up in third place. Alonso put in a superb lap out of nowhere to take fourth place. Kovalainen was the last of the main contenders out there, but yet again he failed to live up to McLaren's expectations as a poor lap meant he could only manage fifth fastest.

So going into the race tomorrow Lewis Hamilton will feel confident with his brilliant performance, but will be surrounded by people out to spoil his party. Both Ferraris and Alonso have made no secret about their desire to see Hamilton suffer yet another disappointment, and Hamilton really needed his team mate up alongside him for support. It was another sad chapter in the huge let down that has been Heikki Kovalainen's first season at McLaren. He should have been at least on the second row if not the first, but he choked when it mattered most. With the possibility of thunderstorms for tomorrow's race, if Hamilton is to secure his first world championship it most certainly won't be easy. It could well be a classic...

Qualifying Result

1. Hamilton
2. Raikkonen
3. Massa
4. Alonso
5. Kovalainen
6. Webber (+ 10 place grid penalty)
7. Heidfeld
8. Vettel
9. Trulli
10. Bourdais
11. Piquet
12. Kubica
13. Glock
14. Barrichello
15. Rosberg
16. Coulthard
17. Nakajima
18. Button
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella
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Friday, 17 October 2008

Chinese Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

Just 5 days after the dramatic and hugely controversial Japanese Grand Prix, it's back to business for the Formula One teams and drivers. Much of the pre-race press conference schedule has been dominated by questions over the baffling decisions of the race stewards in Japan, and over the driving style of a certain Lewis Hamilton. But all the talking will stop and all drivers will have to attempt to put those thoughts to the back of their minds once the track action begins in earnest in Shanghai.

This race was of course the scene of the beginning of the demise of McLaren's title aspirations last season, when Hamilton and his crew were so busy trying to out smart their team mates they made a bad call on the tyre strategy and Hamilton ended up in a gravel trap. This gifted a vital ten points to eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen, a man who McLaren clearly weren't at all concerned about at the time. And boy did they live to regret that mistake!

Whether the track will turn out to be a recurring nightmare for Hamilton remains to be seen, but going into the race he still maintains a 5 point lead in the championship despite his trials and tribulations in Japan, and has a very real chance of being able to clinch the WDC this weekend if all goes his way. His rival Massa knows that ideally he needs to win and see his team mate take second if he is to maximise his chances of winning the title at his home race in Brazil in a couple of weeks' time. Outside bet Robert Kubica knows that he needs both rival drivers to have another shocker like in Japan if he still wants a fighting chance going into the season finale.

The first practice session kicked off in subdued fashion, with the track remaining quiet for much of the first half hour. Eventually the action begun with Kimi Raikkonen being the first of the major players out to set a time. From that moment on it was a case of Ferrari and McLaren trading blows throughout the session. Kovalainen knocked Raikkonen off top spot, before Felipe Massa signaled his intent by going fastest. Hamilton had a minor off early in the session but soon recovered to go top. Everybody improved slightly, most notably Hamilton who knocked a full four tenths off his early benchmark to finish the session on top and the only man to break into the 1:35s.

The BMWs, Renaults and Toro Rossos fought it out to be best of the rest, but in truth were quite a distance away from the two leading teams. There were no surprises really throughout the field, aside maybe from Jenson Button finishing a respectable 12th place for Honda after a pretty awful weekend at their home Grand Prix last weekend.

Practice One Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:35.630 23 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.020 24 laps
03 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:36.052 23 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:36.103 21 laps
05 R. Kubica BMW 1:36.507 25 laps
06 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.661 24 laps
07 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:37.040 23 laps
08 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.070 32 laps
09 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:37.180 30 laps
10 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.278 25 laps
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:37.491 25 laps
12 J. Button Honda 1:37.619 25 laps
13 K. Nakajima Williams 1:37.630 23 laps
14 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:37.638 22 laps
15 N. Rosberg Williams 1:37.638 26 laps
16 T. Glock Toyota 1:37.664 29 laps
17 R. Barrichello Honda 1:37.827 28 laps
18 J. Trulli Toyota 1:38.219 24 laps
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:38.285 25 laps
20 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:38.479 26 laps

The second session again saw Lewis Hamilton top of the pile, as he remained the only man to dip under 1:36 at the end of the first day. The order behind Hamilton was somewhat different however, as Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet underlined Renault's late season rally by taking second and third places. Ferrari had a much quieter session this time out finishing down in sixth and eighth place.

The pace was generally a little slower all round this session as the teams focussed on long run simulations for the race on Sunday. The times seemed a lot closer as well this session, with 2nd place down to 16th being separated by less than a second. Hamilton was ahead at the front on his own, and the Force Indias and Hondas were cut adrift at the bottom, someway short of any kind of competitive pace.

Practice Two Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:35.750 33 laps
02 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.024 36 laps
03 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:36.094 38 laps
04 J. Trulli Toyota 1:36.159 32 laps
05 M. Webber Red Bull 1:36.375 38 laps
06 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.480 31 laps
07 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.529 32 laps
08 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:36.542 34 laps
09 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:36.553 38 laps
10 N. Rosberg Williams 1:36.556 33 laps
11 T. Glock Toyota 1:36.615 33 laps
12 R. Kubica BMW 1:36.775 37 laps
13 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:36.797 33 laps
14 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:36.808 36 laps
15 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.925 38 laps
16 K. Nakajima Williams 1:36.975 31 laps
17 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:37.473 38 laps
18 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:37.617 33 laps
19 J. Button Honda 1:37.800 37 laps
20 R. Barrichello Honda 1:37.904 36 laps

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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Japanese Grand Prix: Two Out Of Two For Brilliant Alonso

Fernando Alonso sensationally made it two race wins in a row for his Renault team with a superb performance at the Fuji Speedway. The former champion showed title contenders Hamilton and Massa the way to keep your head under pressure, as the two young pretenders to the throne both had disastrous races with Massa collecting a single point and Hamilton ending up empty handed. Robert Kubica took a hard-fought and thoroughly deserved second place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

The start was predicted to be all important, but few would have predicted we'd get the kind of fireworks that resulted. The key factor that started it all off was Hamilton getting a poor start off the line. Within 100 yards Raikkonen was ahead of him, and Kovalainen was right alongside him with Massa in close attendance. Going into the first corner Hamilton decided to gamble and threw his car up the inside of Kimi's Ferrari, and ended up throwing the race on its head. He locked up both tyres and ran wide and off the track, forcing the two Ferraris and a few others to run wide and lose masses of time. This was great news for the likes of Alonso and Kubica who were able to avoid the mayhem in front of them and get ahead of the Ferraris and McLarens. Further down the field there was contact involving David Coulthard in the pack, and although it didn't knock him directly, his right rear suspension was broken and he was a passenger as he flew off the track and hard into the safety barriers.

Hamilton's front tyres were both badly flat-spotted, but that didn't stop him being able to put a move on Felipe Massa, as the Brazilian out braked himself mid way through the lap. Hamilton took the place in routine fashion, but Massa decided to fight back immediately. He did this though by leaving the race circuit on the inside, bouncing on the mud and bouncing straight into the side of Hamilton. A rash and very poor piece of driving from Massa. Getting too hot into a corner and out braking yourself is one thing; driving straight off the race track and into another driver to try and win a place back is quite another, and it was to cost him dearly. Hamilton was spun 180 degrees, and had no choice but to sit and wait for the entire field to pass him before he could spin back around and rejoin. His car was damaged, and his race was more or less in tatters already. Things got even worse when he was given a drive-through penalty for his part in the first corner melee. The only sugaring of the pill was that his big rival Massa was penalised for the move that spun Hamilton around.

So far, neither driver was doing much to show their world championship credentials.

Out front Kubica, Alonso and Kovalainen looked the favourites to take the victory, with Raikkonen recovering well and looking dangerous. Kovalainen was soon out of the equation though, as a very rare Mercedes engine failure ended his race prematurely as things seemed to be going from bad to worse for McLaren. Jarno Trulli was also looking in a strong position, much to the delight of the home fans, although fellow Toyota driver Timo Glock was unlucky to see his race ended with reliability problems after looking so strong all weekend.

At the first round of pit stops Kubica surrendered the lead to Alonso by taking on a few laps more fuel, and it was a strategic decision which may have cost him the race. Alonso was out in the lead with clear air, and he was where he feels he belongs and where he clearly thrives. The former double world champion showed all his class as he started firing in lap after lap of ruthlessly consistent pace, all the while edging away from Kubica. This was classic Alonso, and it was a race winning second stint.

Massa and Hamilton were both trying their best to fight their way through the field in the hope of securing a small amount of points. Massa struggled initially to make it past the slowest man on the track Jenson Button, but eventually found his feet and started putting in some good laps. By the end of his second stint he had made it up into the points positions ahead of Mark Webber, but Webber was on an ambitious one-stop strategy so Massa would have to pass him again if he wanted any points.

At the front Raikkonen was looking threatening for the win and was lapping extremely quickly. Nelson Piquet, who was having an excellent race in what has been a largely forgettable season, was now out of contention for a podium position down in fourth ahead of Trulli, Vettel and Bourdais. Sebastien Bourdais was having an eventful yet strong race. His right front tyre got stuck during his first stop which cost him valuable time, and then leaving the pits after his final stop he emerged alongside Felipe Massa. The Ferrari driver wrecklessly attempted a move around the outside of turn one, and while Bourdais held his rightful line Massa clipped him and spun himself around. The move is to be investigated by the stewards after the race and may yet yield some kind of penalty for Massa, although a slap of the wrists seems the most likely outcome.

The key battle out on track was between the two men vying for the third place position in the World Championship, and for second place in the race. Raikkonen had what looked like the faster car and closed onto the back of Kubica with ease. However, the young pole is made of stern stuff and was not willing to give up his position without a fierce fight. Down the epically long pit straight Kimi was able to slipstream up behind Kubica time and time again, but the BMW driver showed some truly superb defensive driving skills to fend off every attack from the much faster Raikkonen. It was a great battle, and one deservedly won by Kubica when Raikkonen was forced to back off and settle for third as his tyres began to degrade badly.

Tyres were to play a large part in the end of Felipe Massa's race too. After dispatching Heidfeld he now had Mark Webber's Red Bull between him and a crucial World Championship point. Webber though had been out on his soft tyres for pretty much half the race due to his one-stop strategy, and the on-board footage showed that his tyres were shot to pieces. Massa closed up to the Red Bull and looked like he should be able to cruise past with ease. Webber wasn't giving up his point without a fight though, and went defensive down the home straight. Massa decided to go down the inside, and in doing so looked as though he actually left the race circuit altogether and passed Webber whilst in the pit lane exit area. It seemed unnecessarily risky from Massa, who had such a speed advantage he could have taken his time and picked Webber off at will. This didn't seem to be a race where common sense and restraint had any place.

Except perhaps for Fernando Alonso, who due to his brilliant second stint and due to the battle between Kubica and Raikkonen had built himself such a lead he was able to cruise to his second victory in succession. It's a truly remarkable result for him and for the Renault team with Piquet in fourth place. A couple of months ago if anyone had suggested Renault were capable of winning two races consecutively they would have been laughed out of town, probably even by Alonso himself. Although there was an element of luck in both races in terms of the other drivers shooting themselves in the foot, they were both brilliant performances from Alonso. Renault will be now be desperate to hold onto him for next season. I wonder if Ferrari or BMW are kicking themselves for not pursuing his signature now that Alonso is showing himself to be a true class act?

With Hamilton ending up empty handed and full of regret for his moment of madness at the start and Massa collecting just one point, the lead at the top has been cut down to just 6 points with two races remaining. Remarkably, it also means that Robert Kubica is now just 12 points behind Hamilton and still with an outside chance of winning the title! With two races to go both Hamilton and Massa will need to regroup and get their heads back together quickly. Any more wrecklessness and foolishness in China and Brazil could see their title chances ruined. With a 6 point lead Hamilton in particular needs to learn that discretion is the better part of valour. Fortune does not always favour the brave.

Provisional Race Result

1. Alonso
2. Kubica
3. Raikkonen
4. Piquet
5. Trulli
6. Bourdais
7. Vettel
8. Massa
9. Webber
10. Heidfeld
11. Rosberg
12. Hamilton
13. Barrichello
14. Button
15. Nakajima
ret Fisicehlla
ret Kovalainen
ret Sutil
ret Glock
ret Coulthard

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Saturday, 11 October 2008

Japanese Grand Prix: Lewis Steals Pole with Lap of his Life

A brilliant last ditch lap from Lewis Hamilton put the McLaren driver in pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, and pole position for the World Driver's Championship. Crucially, Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who looked strng throughout the early stages of qualifying, fell at the final hurdle and could only manage a highly disappointing fifth place. His team mate Raikkonen made a much better fist of things to take second place, and his job will be to put the heat on Hamilton throughout tomorrow's race and to try and take the 10 points away from him. Kovalainen is third place, and on form Fernando Alonso is fourth.

The first session saw Toyota's Timo Glock showing the Japanese fans that his great showing in yesterday's practice session was no fluke, as he went fastest of all with one of the final laps of the session. It was a great lap which knocked the two title protagonists down to second and third. Things were very close at the bottom of the time sheet where things mattered most. There were no surprises as both Force India and Honda cars dropped out, but in the final shake up it was BMW's Nick Heidfeld who joined them on the sidelines for the rest of the session. Thankfully for him his contract for next season was signed up just this week, meaning his job is safe despite yet another dismal qualifying performance.

The second session saw Felipe Massa come to life with an excellent lap early on, beating Lewis Hamilton by two tenths of a second. Both drivers were confident they'd make it through so didn't bother coming out for a second run. In the danger zone there was disappointment for Williams and home favourite Kazuki Nakajima. The Williams cars ended up fourteenth and fifteenth, last in the session, and dropped out, although Nakajima will take some heart from beating Rosberg in qualifying for one of the first times this year. Both Red Bull cars also had a bit of a nightmare by dropping out while their sister team Toro Rosso saw both their drivers make it through. Coulthard got the better of Webber for just the second time this year, while Nelson Piquet was sandwiched between the pair of them in twelfth place.

In the final session the first marker set down was from Timo Glock, but his time was immediately bettered by Kimi Raikkonen as the first of the big guns to set a time. It was an excellent lap from the Finn, proved by the fact that Massa and Hamilton could barely get within two tenths of him. Come the second round of hotlaps Raikkonen was again the first man out, and he improved upon his first time with a blistering time of 1:18.6. After such a poor run of form, suddenly Raikkonen was looking like the World Champion he is supposed to be. Massa improved, but not significantly and would start behind Kimi no matter what.

At that point Ferrari had a provisional front row lock-out, and the pressure was most definitely on for Lewis Hamilton. And boy did he deliver when it mattered! He set fastest split times in all three sectors on his way to pole position by well over two tenths. Obviously we still have to see how things will pan out with regards to fuel loads, but if he is carrying a "sensible fuel load" as Ron Dennis asserts, then it was certainly one of the greatest laps of his young career. That wasn't the end of the drama however, as things were about to get much worse for Ferrari and Massa. Heikki Kovalainen managed to get ahead of Massa, and also Hamilton's former bitter adversary did the Brit a massive favour by getting up into fourth place, thus relegating Massa to the third row of the grid.

It's going to be a fascinating first stint tomorrow, one which could possibly decide the title. The onus is on Raikkonen to try and get himself ahead or at least keep the pressure on Hamilton. However, he will also have compatriot Kovalainen breathing down his neck. Any prolonged battle between the Finns could leave Hamilton free to cruise away to victory. And all the while Felipe Massa will be having to battle his way past Alonso, one of the sport's toughest competitors, and Kovalainen as quick as possible. We know Massa has great ability when he is out in front and things are going his way, but there are still large question marks over his ability when his back is against the wall and things are going against him. How he reacts to today's disappointment in the race tomorrow may well be a defining moment in his career.

If Hamilton is able to extend his lead to over 10 points with two races remaining, he will have one hand on the championship trophy. Massa needs the race of his life tomorrow to keep his hopes alive.

Qualifying Result

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:18.404
02 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:18.644
03 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:18.821
04 F. Alonso Renault 1:18.852
05 F. Massa Ferrari 1:18.874
06 R. Kubica BMW 1:18.979
07 J. Trulli Toyota 1:19.026
08 T. Glock Toyota 1:19.118
09 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:19.638
10 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:20.167
11 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:18.187
12 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:18.274
13 M. Webber Red Bull 1:18.354
14 K. Nakajima Williams 1:18.594
15 N. Rosberg Williams 1:18.672
16 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:18.835
17 R. Barrichello Honda 1:18.882
18 J. Button Honda 1:19.100
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:19.163
20 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:19.910
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Friday, 10 October 2008

Japanese Grand Prix: Glock is fastest in Second Practice

It was a much happier second session of the day for the Japanese contingent at the Fuji Speedway as Toyota's Timo Glock put in an excellent showing to take P1. There was other reason for hope for the Japanese fans with Kazuki Nakajima putting in an excellent lap late on to finish in seventh. It wasn't all good news for the Japanese though, as Honda continued to look fairly dreadful.

The exploits of Glock knocked the title race off the headlines for a while, although Hamilton and Massa weren't far off the pace. Second place though went to Fernando Alonso who really is driving out of his skin at the moment. With his destination for 2009 still in doubt he is really showing the F1 world that he is a driver of the finest calibre. Renault will be desperate to keep him, Honda will be desperate to sign him up no matter what the price tag, and I wonder if Ferrari are perhaps looking on ruefully, knowing that they have written Alonso out of their plans for the foreseeable future?

In spite of its relatively long circuit length, a lap of Fuji in a Grand Prix car is quite short, largely down to the monstrously long pit straight. This means that lap times end up being very close and competitive. The top four drivers were separated by barely more than a tenth, and with just one second covering places one to seventeen. The only two drivers really cut adrift iin terms of pace were Jenson Button and, strangely, Nick Heidfeld. BMW really do look to have thrown the towel in for this season, as Kubica also failed to impress significantly. They appear to be just going through the motions until next season. The closeness at the top though goes to show just how vital tomorrow's qualifying session will be, with any slight errors potentially meaning a handful of grid slots are lost...

Practice Two Times

01 T. Glock Toyota 1:18.383 44 laps
02 F. Alonso Renault 1:18.426 41 laps
03 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:18.463 40 laps
04 F. Massa Ferrari 1:18.491 40 laps
05 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:18.725 39 laps
06 M. Webber Red Bull 1:18.734 39 laps
07 K. Nakajima Williams 1:18.734 36 laps
08 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:18.761 23 laps
09 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:18.803 32 laps
10 J. Trulli Toyota 1:18.863 45 laps
11 R. Kubica BMW 1:18.865 39 laps
12 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:18.888 43 laps
13 N. Rosberg Williams 1:18.981 41 laps
14 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:19.040 41 laps
15 R. Barrichello Honda 1:19.258 42 laps
16 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:19.287 41 laps
17 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:19.327 36 laps
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:19.482 44 laps
19 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:19.894 37 laps
20 J. Button Honda 1:19.999 42 laps
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Japanese Grand Prix: First Blood to Hamilton in First Practice

Lewis Hamilton was the fastest man in the first practice session for Sunday's all important Japanese Grand Prix. He took top spot ahead of title rival Felipe Massa, whilst several other of the form drivers put in good showings, whilst a few big budget teams floundered.

The first practice session of the weekend got under way with pretty much perfect weather conditions, in marked contrast to the last time the Fuji Speedway saw any F1 action. In last year's race the drivers would have been better off equipped with out-board motors rather than their usual ultra-effective drive train. Today though the weather looked beautiful.

So beautiful in fact that for the first half hour of the session it looked as though the teams were just chilling out, enjoying the spectacular views of Mount Fuji. Aside from the odd installation lap here and there, the only drivers out setting any sector times were the Toyota drivers Glock and Trulli, clearly keen to set the pace at their teams very own stomping ground.

Raikkonen was the first of the big hitters to emerge, and he was soon followed by the rest of the field as the track slowly started rubbering up. Both Ferraris immediately looked quick and Massa led the way for much of the session. However, it was his main rival Hamilton who finally took the honours by being the only man so far to dip into the 1:18s. Massa wasn't far behind in the very low 1:19s, followed closely by the Finnish contingent Kovalainen and Raikkonen.

Following up their first race victory in nearly two years, Renault looked very strong throughout. No surprises as Alonso was the quicker of the two drivers, but Piquet put in a decent showing on the back of his Singapore horror show to come in P6. Vettel and Bourdais again looked competitive in the Toro Rosso, which only serves to underline how far back BMW have slumped since their race-winning form of early-to-mid season. Kubica struggled to 8th, while Heidfeld wound up 14th after two minor 'offs'. Red Bull too continue to be shown up by their junior team, as they looked very average. On their home soil both Japanese teams looked pretty weak, with their cars occupying 15th to 18th place. The top-brass in the board rooms of Toyota and Honda will not be impressed.

Practice One Times

1. HAMILTON McLaren 1m18.910s
2. MASSA Ferrari 1m19.063s
3. KOVALAINEN McLaren 1m19.279s
4. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m19.399s
5. ALONSO Renault 1m19.473s
6. PIQUET Renault 1m19.743s
7. VETTEL Toro Rosso 1m20.121s
8. KUBICA BMW 1m20.160s
9. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1m20.182s
10. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m20.217s
11. SUTIL Force India 1m20.288s
12. ROSBERG Williams 1m20.350s
13. WEBBER Red Bull 1m20.620s
14. HEIDFELD BMW 1m20.628s
15. TRULLI Toyota 1m20.657s
16. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m20.753s
17. BUTTON Honda 1m20.769s
18. GLOCK Toyota 1m20.823s
19. COULTHARD Red Bull 1m20.905s
20. FISICHELLA Force India 1m21.104s
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Japanese Grand Prix: Preview

With F1 fans still reeling from the shock of Canada being dropped from the 2009 calendar, still feeling aghast at the suggestion of standardised 'spec' engines from one of the sport's kingpins, and still being vexed by the portents of impending doom from the sport's other kingpin, it's back to business as usual for the teams as the Japanese Grand Prix weekend gets under way at Fuji Speedway.

With just 3 races to go the World Championship race is looking like a straight two-way fight between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. Raikkonen is still within sight of the front two, and he made a miraculous run to glory in the final races of last season while McLaren proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot, but few would bet on history repeating. In an identical car, Felipe Massa is simply outperforming the much higher-paid Finn, and Hamilton doesn't have the distraction of a bitter rivalry with a highly competitive team mate to concern himself with this year. The Brit's current 7 point advantage is significant, although not insurmountable, and crucially gives him the comfort of knowing that he doesn't have to win any of the final three races and still become champion.

Of course, Hamilton is a great racer and will be very much going out to win all three of the remaining races. However, I think he is starting to show signs of the maturity and restraint that was lacking a year ago, and which possibly cost him his title shot in '07. Last time out in Singapore he had the distinct chance of second place after the final safety car period, but chose not to challenge Nico Rosberg, and instead settled for a sensible and hard-fought third place. Would the Lewis Hamilton of 12 months ago done the same? I doubt it. I suspect if he finds himself in P2 during this race then we won't see him challenging too hard for the win, and settling for the 8 points. Not the best entertainment perhaps, but the sensible route to WDC glory.

Interesting things to report from the pitlane side of things are that Ferrari have decided to eat humble pie with regard to their controversial (ie farcical) pit light system. They didn't learn their lesson from having their fingers burnt in Valencia a couple of months ago, and ended up getting well and truly incinerated in Singapore, with catastrophic/hilarious results. The "don't fix if it ain't broke" lollipop comes back in the Ferrari pit. Also, all cars this week will be running with green paint in the grooves of their tyres, support F1 Going Green. I guess with only three races left before slick tyres return, they had to find some way of milking the grooves for all they're worth before they're gone forever, regardless of how silly it may look.
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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Singapore Grand Prix: Alonso back where he belongs as Ferrari hit the self-destruct button

Formula One's first ever night race was won in fine style by Fernando Alonso, as Ferrari and Felipe Massa saw their championship chances take a massive hit under the spectacular setting of central Singapore. Lewis Hamilton was able to increase his championship lead with a third place finish in the safety car affected race, and Williams' Nico Rosberg scored his best ever result with an excellent second place finish.

From the start both Massa and Hamilton made good starts, with Raikkonen breathing down the neck of the pair of them. The only way Hamilton would have braved a move into turn 1 would be if they were alongside going into the corner. However, he wasn't close enough so slotted in behind him. It was all fairly smooth, event-free running for the front three cars in the opening lap. The same couldn't be said for the rest of the field, as there was some great wheel to wheel action throughout the first half of the lap.

Robert Kubica bumped across the turn 1 kerb and nudged the side of Kovalainen. The McLaren driver did well to stay pointing in the right direction, but he lost places to Kubica, Vettel and Glock. The Finn made a move past Glock, but the Toyota driver regained the position almost immediately with a fine move.

Cars were running three and four abreast through the opening few corners, and it was a testament to the skill of the drivers that nobody came into serious contact with either each other or the walls. From then on the race settled into a race of two halfs. The front half of the field were out racing hard, setting a pretty hot pace. The back half of the field were well and truly stuck behind Trulli. The veteran Italian was clearly on a very long first stint with a full tank of fuel, and was lapping an incredible FIVE seconds behind the pace of the front runners. The two Williams cars, Alonso, the two Red Bulls, Button and Bourdais were all queued up nose-to-tail behind the Toyota. This would be the first real test of the Singapore circuit in terms of ease of overtaking.

Rosberg took a first bite at Trulli into turn 1 but was WAY too hot and ran wide. It took another half a dozen laps before Rosberg was eventually able to launch his Williams up the inside and get past. That opened the floodgates, and Nakajima, Alonso and others all flew by Trulli in a short space of time.

Meanwhile at the front of the field Massa was holding a steady advantage to Hamilton, and Raikkonen was suddenly the fastest man on track gaining on Lewis rapidly. Hamilton's team mate Kovalainen was in P7 and clearly struggling to keep pace with Vettel and Glock. It seemed clear that the McLaren just wasn't as competitive as the Ferrari out front.

Then the race was turned completely on its head. Nelson Piquet had yet another of his trademark embarrassing crashes, losing the back end and spinning off heavily into the wall. He was OK, but it was a big impact leaving debris all over the track and the stewards had no choice but to send out the safety car. This was bad news for those running low on fuel and needing a pit stop, most notably Rosberg and Kubica who had no choice but to come in when the pitlane was closed and take stop and go penalties. However, it was great news for the likes of Alonso and the two Red Bulls who had pitted just before Piquet's accident. From being way down in the field and fighting for the odd point, suddenly they all looked in strong positions for podium finishes.

All of the big hitters were able to save enough fuel to make it to the opening of the pit lane, and they all came in ASAP. This is where Massa's dream weekend so far took a massive turn for the worse. As he was refuelling the Ferrari team were looking for a spot in the traffic to release him while the back markers streamed past him in the pit lane. Somebody hit the green light on Ferrari's controversial pit release system and Massa hit the gas. Disaster struck for Massa as the fuel hose was still lodged in the side of his car. It ripped it out of the bowser and injured one of the mechanics in the process. Massa had to stop at the end of the pitlane and wait for his pit crew to sprint the length of the pits to come and free the hose. This put him dead last on the circuit, and worse was to come. It was clear that Massa had been released straight into the path of the Force India of Sutil, bringing back memories of Valencia. Massa wasn't able to escape with just a fine this time however, and he was rightly punished with a drive-through penalty, effectively ruining his race completely.

So with Massa's race in tatters, and Raikkonen being held up and dropped down out of the points, could Lewis Hamilton take full advantage and extend his lead in the championship to the full eleven points? As things settled down after all the drama he was stuck in behind the Red Bulls and Alonso who had pitted before the safety car, and also Nico Rosberg who was due to serve a penalty. It was certainly going to be a mammoth task.

The mammoth soon became a mere elephant as Mark Webber was forced to retire with a mechanical failure. A real sickener for Webber, whose Red Bull career has been blighted by reliability issues from day one. Hamilton was bottled up behind Coulthard who was driving well and using all his experience to fend off his fellow Brit, and his chances of 10 points were diminishing with each lap. Nico Rosberg spent a good half a dozen laps out front setting a blistering pace before the stewards decided he needed to come in for his penalty. It was baffling really, as there was absolutely no doubt about his penalty. This time spent out in the lead put him in a great position for a podium finish.

However, it was at this point of the race that Fernando Alonso really came alive with the prospect of his first race victory in a year very much in his sights. He had been the fastest man in the final two practice sessions of the weekend, and was clearly distraught to see his race seemingly ruined by a fuel line problem in qualifying. He was driving superbly now though, and was getting close to matching the pace of the Ferrari and McLaren from the early stages of the race. Only a problem or a safety car could potentially take the victory away from him...

Hamilton had already made his way past Coulthard and things looked set for an Alonso-Rosberg-Hamilton finish. That was until Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil again conspired to cause some great drama. Massa spun off going into the short tunnel and bumped the safety barriers. He was able to get away, but Sutil was clearly put off by the slow moving Massa and ended up ploughing straight into the barriers. The front end of his car was buckled, and the safety car was required to clear the Force India out of a dangerous area.

Alonso's lead was cut instantly, and there would have been some white knuckles and chewed fingernails on the Renault pitwall for the restart. However, they needn't have worried though. The Spaniard used all his experience on the restart to gain himself a huge lead and effectively guarantee his race victory. There were no real changes in the positions throughout the field, as Hamilton had clearly settled for the 6 points of third place. Kimi Raikkonen still managed to ruin yet another points finish with an awful mistake putting him into the wall at turn 10, but that was the final action of the day as Alonso was able to clinch a hard fought and well deserved 20th victory and 50th podium of his career.

Going into the final few races of the season Lewis Hamilton now leads the championship by 7 points when just a couple of hours ago it looked unlikely that he'd be leading at all. Ferrari really only have themselves to blame. They got plenty of warning as to the unreliability of their pit release mechanism from the Valencia race. They weren't lucky enough to get away with it this time though, and it may well end up costing them and Felipe Massa the World Driver's Championship.
Race Result

1. Alonso
2. Rosberg
3. Hamilton
4. Glock
5. Vettel
6. Heidfeld
7. Coulthard
8. Nakajima
9. Button
10. Kovalainen
11. Kubica
12. Bourdais
13. Massa
14. Fisichella
ret Raikkonen
ret Trulli
ret Sutil
ret Webber
ret Barrichello
ret Piquet
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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Singapore Grand Prix Qualifying: Massa lights up first ever night time qualifying

Felipe Massa gave his world title chances a massive boost with a superb lap in the dying minutes of qualifying to take pole position ahead of his main rival Lewis Hamilton. On a track which looks exceptionally tight and narrow, subsequently meaning passing opportunities will be very limited, pole position could prove to be all important.

Formula One's first ever night time qualifying session got underway with perfect weather conditions. None of the rain that has been predicted for the weekend has thus far fallen while the cars are out on track, meaning that if it happens in the race it could well be something of a lottery with all the drivers out on full dry set-ups. The first section of qualifying saw its first incident when veteran Giancarlo Fisichella understeered wide into the crash barriers, removing his front wing in the process. This effectively ended his session as he was unable to even register a time. Sutil and Barrichello both unsurprisingly dropped out. Sebastien Bourdais was the next to drop out, and he was clearly struggling with the set-up of his STR car as at times it looked more like he was tarmac rallying rather than driving a grand prix car. Nelson Piquet was unable to build on his excellent showing this morning as he too bit the dust early on.

Barely a couple of minutes into the second section there was heartbreak for Renault and Fernando Alonso, as his car ground to a halt out on the circuit with a mechanical failure before he was even able to set a lap time. It was a cruel blow to Alonso as he had looked exceptionally quick all weekend long. A weekend that had looked so promising for Renault now looks likely to be a real struggle with Alonso and Piquet starting alongside each other in 15th and 16th place.

The rest of the drama of the session revolved around the trials and tribulations of Lewis Hamilton. After missing out on final qualifying in Monza after a tactical blunder, it looked as though history may have been about to repeat itself. McLaren took things pretty casual and came out late to set their first flying lap. This was almost their downfall, as Hamilton made a mistake in turn 1 and had to abort the lap. He then had to come out and throw caution to the wind for the final three minutes of the session with 2 laps worth of fuel in his tank. He again looked scrappy and failed to impress on his way to P8 on the time sheet. There were plenty of other drivers out there on hot laps though, so he was by no means safe. Glock and Nakajima both jumped ahead of Hamilton, pushing him right down to the brink of elimination. Webber, Trulli, Coulthard and Button were all out too, and seemed to have the potential pace to ruin McLaren's afternoon. However, they all seemed to have poor laps and Hamilton was luckily able to survive the cut.

The final session saw Hamilton back to his usual self, and after the first round of hot laps the usual suspects were up near the top of the time sheet. Heikki Kovalainen was out on the super-soft option tyre, and he was struggling badly down in 10th. The option tyre appears to be overheating and graining badly in the heat and humidity here, the harder tyre definitely looks the preferred choice. Vettel was again looking excellent up in fourth place, with Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa ahead of him.

The final laps saw Raikkonen out first ahead of Hamilton, then Massa. Raikkonen was going quicker than he had earlier on, but he was still struggling to match his team mate's first flying lap. He crossed the line in second place. Just seconds later Hamilton crossed the line to go into provisional pole position. He didn't have a great first couple of sectors, but put in a blistering final sector to heap the pressure on Massa. The Brazilian though was not fazed in the slightest, and he set fastest split times in all three sectors to comfortably take pole by over half a second. It was an absolutely stunning lap from Massa, which seemed to come out of nowhere. It is very unusual for pole position to be clinched by such a large margin; is Massa on a lighter, more aggresive fuel strategy, or was it just the perfect lap? We'll have to wait until the first stints of tomorrow's race to find out...

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Massa
2. Hamilton
3. Raikkonen
4. Kubica
5. Kovalainen
6. Heidfeld
7. Vettel
8. Glock
9. Rosberg
10. Nakajima
11. Trulli
12. Button
13. Webber
14. Coulthard
15. Alonso
16. Piquet
17. Bourdais
18. Barrichello
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella
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Singapore Grand Prix: Saturday Practice

A bit of deja-vu on the timesheets after Saturday's final practice session before qualifying, as Fernando Alonso again pipped former nemesis Lewis Hamilton to P1, with Felipe Massa in third spot. Below them things were somewhat different though, as Nelson Piquet Jr proved that Alonso's pace in the Renault is no fluke by coming in P4.

Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button both continued their good weekends so far by coming in 5th and 6th respectively. The normally flying Finns both looked less than impressive though, with Heikki Kovalainen down in 13th and Kimi Raikkonen way down in 17th after a scrappy session including a spin.

Saturday Practice Times

01 F. Alonso Renault 1:44.506 19 laps
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.119 12 laps
03 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.246 16 laps
04 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:45.249 17 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:45.386 16 laps
06 J. Button Honda 1:45.409 20 laps
07 R. Kubica BMW 1:45.425 17 laps
08 M. Webber Red Bull 1:45.450 21 laps
09 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:45.477 18 laps
10 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:45.599 17 laps
11 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:45.689 19 laps
12 K. Nakajima Williams 1:45.982 18 laps
13 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:45.982 12 laps
14 R. Barrichello Honda 1:46.073 21 laps
15 T. Glock Toyota 1:46.180 22 laps
16 J. Trulli Toyota 1:46.221 18 laps
17 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:46.482 10 laps
18 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:46.794 6 laps
19 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:47.166 14 laps
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:47.727 19 laps
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Friday, 26 September 2008

2008 Singapore Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

This weekend sees the inaugural running of the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore, and also sees the very first night race in F1 history. With heavy rain also predicted at some point over the weekend the race on the all new street circuit may well be one of the most challenging races of the season for the drivers and teams. The track is unfamiliar, the rain could make the roads of Singapore treacherous, and none of the drivers have experience of driving a Grand Prix car through floodlit heavy spray. Throw an incredibly close title race building up to its climax into the mix, and we may have a truly memorable race on our hands.

Whilst the whys and wherefores of Bernie Ecclestone's desire to hold a race under floodlights for the benefits of TV scheduling are still being debated, the fact remains that it is going to happen come what may. Using hundreds of high powered floodlights to light up the track does seem to fly in the face of F1's supposed commitment to promoting improved energy efficiency, but so far it seems to work well enough. The main concern has to of course be driver safety, and no drivers seem to have complained about poor visibility.

The one thing that did immediately cause some consternation amongst drivers are the newly nicknamed "tortoise-shell" bumps lining the kerbs at turn 10. They are there to prevent drivers cutting chicanes, a very hot topic in F1 today since Hamilton's misadventures in Belgium, but they are so high that a slight mistake would result in the car being trashed on the bumps and put out of the race. Charlie Whiting took heed of the team's and driver's concerns and ordered that the bumps be greatly reduced in size.

In first practice Lewis Hamilton set the early benchmark by finishing at the top of the timesheets, a fraction of a second ahead of title rival Felipe Massa. Raikkonen was third and Kovalainen fourth, but almost a full second behind team mate Hamilton. There were few surprises throughout the rest of the field, perhaps with the exception of Jenson Button who dragged his dog of a Honda into their first half-respectable position in months.

The brand new circuit did provide a fair few early thrills and spills. Mark Webber took the dubious honour of Christening the armco safety barriers after running wide and removing the right front corner of his car on the wall. A terrible start for the Aussie's weekend. It looks as though the very fast final corner could the one that grabs the headlines at this track. Heikki Kovalainen had a huge spin on the exit of the corner. Rubens Barrichello had an even bigger spin mid-corner and ended up going backwards into the safety barriers.

However, the biggest talking point of the session was provided by Jarno Trulli. He spun out on the final corner and was left stationary, facing backwards on the racing line. Naturally he got himself out of the way as soon as possible, but chose to do this by driving for about 20-30 metres IN THE WRONG DIRECTION down the pit straight, then turning around back into the pit lane. In doing so he broke one of the golden rules of race driving - NEVER drive the wrong way on the circuit. Trulli landed himself a $10,000 fine for his misdemeanour; not very dignified for one of the veteran members of the GPDA.

Practice One Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.518 20 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.598 23 laps
03 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:45.961 24 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:46.463 20 laps
05 R. Kubica BMW 1:46.618 23 laps
06 N. Rosberg Williams 1:46.710 25 laps
07 F. Alonso Renault 1:46.725 29 laps
08 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:46.964 24 laps
09 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:47.175 30 laps
10 J. Button Honda 1:47.277 30 laps
11 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:47.570 28 laps
12 K. Nakajima Williams 1:47.662 23 laps
13 T. Glock Toyota 1:47.706 27 laps
14 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:48.097 16 laps
15 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:48.517 23 laps
16 R. Barrichello Honda 1:48.725 19 laps
17 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:48.839 24 laps
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:48.906 25 laps
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:49.064 29 laps
20 M. Webber Red Bull 1:53.703 4 laps

The second practice session saw much of the same kind of action as the first, with McLaren and Ferrari drivers trading blows at the top of the timesheets. It looked for the majority of the session that Hamilton would again be pipping Felipe Massa to the P1 spot. That was until Fernando Alonso sprung a major surprise by taking the Friday honours with a fine lap in the dying seconds of the session.

Kovalainen was third this time out, with compatriot Raikkonen down in seventh. Not a great day for the World Champion, as he continues to look second best to Massa in the Ferrari team. Kimi was fractionally ahead of Button who again impressed in eighth place. Jenson in due a good drive, as he has seemed pretty lacklustre in recent months. Motivation must be pretty tricky when the team has so clearly just given up on this season, but he still needs to show he's out their fighting regardless. The only other talking point of the session was Timo Glock spinning and taking the nose off his Toyota.

Practice Two Times

01 F. Alonso Renault 1:45.654 30 laps
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.752 28 laps
03 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.793 31 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:45.797 31 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:46.164 34 laps
06 R. Kubica BMW 1:46.384 36 laps
07 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:46.580 25 laps
08 J. Button Honda 1:46.901 32 laps
09 K. Nakajima Williams 1:47.013 32 laps
10 T. Glock Toyota 1:47.046 22 laps
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:47.137 15 laps
12 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:47.145 35 laps
13 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:47.300 33 laps
14 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:47.487 24 laps
15 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:47.640 31 laps
16 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:47.760 36 laps
17 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:47.965 12 laps
18 R. Barrichello Honda 1:48.009 25 laps
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:48.059 28 laps
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:48.311 36 laps
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Saturday, 13 September 2008

Italian Grand Prix: Vettel shines in the wet as Hamilton drowns

Incredible scenes in Monza today as one Italy's home teams secured a fabulous pole position, and a fourth position to boot. But it wasn't the giant of Italian motorsport Ferrari that took the headlines, it was the perennial minnows, Toro Rosso (neé Minardi). 21 year old Sebastien Vettel was the man who stunned the motorsport world with a fantastic performance to take his first ever pole, surely the first of many in the young boy's career, and team mate Sebastien Bourdais also put in an excellent performance in dire conditions to secure fourth place. While the unrestrained joy for Toro Rosso will rightfully take the headlines, the other big story of the day will be the huge disappointment for the main title contenders, particularly Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen who sensationally both failed to make it through the final session.

Rain always seems to cause great drama in motorsport. You only have to look at Monaco, Silverstone and Spa this year for evidence of that, and today's torrential weather in northern Italy didn't disappoint. The first session held no real surprises, as the tricky conditions made it a slippery but level playing field for the drivers. All of the major players made it through safely, and few would be surprised to see Sutil, the two Hondas, Nakajima and Piquet dropping out. All the drama was to kick off in Q2...

At the start of the session the conditions were fairly poor, and everyone knew that the weather was only due to get worse and worse as the session progressed. It was clear that the best times of the session were going to be set early on. It seemed as though there was an ever-so-slightly drying line on the track after the first session, and crucially some drivers took the massive gamble of trying to squeeze in a lap on intermediate wet tyres. Most notably Lewis Hamilton was out on inters, and it was to cost him massively. Almost as soon as he went out the rain started to fall heavily, and his plans went out of the window. All the drivers out on full wet tyres were able to set decent lap times while Hamilton floundered. The Ferraris also got caught out as they both failed to set a lap time early in the session.

The rain only got worse and worse throughout the session, and really there was little chance for those out of the top 10 to improve. Hamilton especially was having a torrid time. He was fuelled heavily and didn't want to come in, but clearly he wasn't at all happy with the set up of the car and with hindsight should perhaps have come in to change something about his car, whether it was wing angle or tyre pressures. Raikkonen too was struggling, and at one point it looked as though all three title contenders would fail to make it through. However, Felipe Massa somehow managed to find some grip from somewhere and squeezed into the final session by the skin of his teeth. That could potentially be the biggest lap of his entire career, as it gives him a massive advantage over his title rivals, and will be favourite to now leave Monza with the lead in the driver's championship.

So with the fans still in shock from the failure of Hamilton and Raikkonen to make it through, the final session got under way with the rain still falling heavily. Sebastien Vettel had looked strong all day, and he and his team mate Bourdais were the early pace setters. Massa didn't look as though he was wanting to have a crack at the pole position; he must be fuelled very heavy for the race knowing that Hamilton and Kimi will be too. This meant that the opportunity was there for someone to cause a real surprise. As the clocked ticked down Vettel's early time still stood, and as the rain worsened nobody was able to match it. The scenes were incredible in the Toro Rosso pit as the mechanics first watched Massa fail to make the time, and then the other big threat Kovalainen missed out by a fraction of a second. Mark Webber put in a stellar lap to take third place, bumping Bourdais down to fourth at the death.

With the weather due to be no where near as treacherous tomorrow it sets up what could be one sensational race tomorrow. Vettel will be starting from pole with the chance to make history for the minnows from Faenza. His first challenge will be to hold off Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren. He will surely be the favourite for the race tomorrow, and McLaren will be desperate for him to at least stay ahead of Massa and take some points off the Ferrari man. The other big story will of course be watching Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen trying to fight their way through the field from their lowly grid slots. It could well be a classic...

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Vettel
2. Kovalainen
3. Webber
4. Bourdais
5. Rosberg
6. Massa
7. Trulli
8. Alonso
9. Glock
10. Heidfeld
11. Kubica
12. Fisichella
13. Coulthard
14. Raikkonen
15. Hamilton
16. Barrichello
17. Piquet
18. Nakajima
19. Button
20. Sutil
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Friday, 12 September 2008

Italian Grand Prix: Friday Practice

Kimi Raikkonen ended the day at the top of the timesheets after a severely rain-interrupted first day of action in Monza. The first session was all but a total washout, with only the second session seeing any meaningful running from the teams. If it rains like it did during fist practice, we may be lucky to get a race at all on Sunday!

Not much to report from the first session other than rain, rain, rain.

And then some more rain.

There was hardly any meaningful running throughout the session, with neither McLaren even bothering to set a lap time. The only incident of note was Kazuki Nakajima putting his Williams into a gravel trap and ending his session barely before it had begun. The rain got so bad towards the end that the pit lane drains were all overflowing, and the session was red-flagged. The early stoppage meant that Sutil and Fisichella were the fastest two drivers of the day in their Force Indias!

First Practice Times

01 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:32.842 18 laps
02 R. Barrichello Honda 1:33.428 14 laps
03 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:33.695 19 laps
04 T. Glock Toyota 1:36.800 13 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:36.900 9 laps
06 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.965 10 laps
07 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.142 20 laps
08 J. Trulli Toyota 1:37.214 13 laps
09 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:37.392 5 laps
10 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:37.754 13 laps
11 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:38.057 11 laps
12 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:38.303 7 laps
13 J. Button Honda 1:39.062 12 laps
14 F. Massa Ferrari 1:40.233 5 laps
15 N. Heidfeld BMW no time 1 lap
16 K. Nakajima Williams no time 2 laps
17 R. Kubica BMW no time 1 lap
18 H. Kovalainen McLaren no time 1 lap
19 M. Webber Red Bull no time 1 lap
20 L. Hamilton McLaren no time 1 lap

The second session was far more interesting, with the track now starting to dry. As you would expect the times tumbled throughout the session, and there was plenty of running from all the major teams as they sought to make up for lost time from the first session washout.

As the track dried out and more and more rubber was laid down the lead changed hands more times than could be remembered, but by the end of it Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen took the Friday honours. His success came on the back of some great news for Kimi and his Finnish fans, as it was announced just before the session that he has signed an extension to his current contract which will take him to the end of 2010. I'm not sure how great that news is for the Tifosi, because to be honest Kimi really hasn't looked the part for most of this season. It certainly isn't good news for Fernando Alonso, the man who many thought would be the man to take over from Kimi in 2010. His options for the future seem to be narrowing somewhat, with BMW now being a likely destination for the Spaniard.

The BMW's looked very quick in the second session, finishing 2nd and 3rd. Kubica edged out Nick Heidfeld, the man most believe will have to make way for Alonso if the rumoured move is to take place. Kubica did have a rather spectacular spin into the second chicane towards the end of the session, but no lasting damage done. Lewis Hamilton was fourth for McLaren in a fairly solid performance for the young Brit. It was a very close session all round though, with the top four drivers separated by barely more than a tenth of a second.

Title contender Felipe Massa was a little further adrift down in sixth place, with Williams' Nico Rosberg getting himself between Massa and Hamilton in fifth with a good performance. Force India surprisingly managed to continue their "good form" from first practice, with Adrian Sutil actually making it into the top 10 on merit in 9th place. Toyota seem to have taken something of a step back in terms of pace compared to earlier in the season, as Trulli and Glock looked terribly slow as they did in Spa. Hopefully for them that means that they are merely focusing all their development attention on 2009. Renault too looked pretty dismal, with Alonso way down in 18th and Nelson Piquet dead last after an embarrassing spin at the Retifilio left him wedged high and dry on the speed bumps, meaning he needed rescuing by the marshalls!

Practice Two Times

01 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:23.861 31 laps
02 R. Kubica BMW 1:23.931 26 laps
03 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:23.947 29 laps
04 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:23.983 25 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:24.110 33 laps
06 F. Massa Ferrari 1:24.247 34 laps
07 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:24.365 29 laps
08 M. Webber Red Bull 1:24.521 35 laps
09 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:24.669 22 laps
10 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:24.773 35 laps
11 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:25.100 25 laps
12 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:25.192 39 laps
13 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:25.204 24 laps
14 R. Barrichello Honda 1:25.296 25 laps
15 J. Button Honda 1:25.309 34 laps
16 K. Nakajima Williams 1:25.330 28 laps
17 T. Glock Toyota 1:25.397 28 laps
18 F. Alonso Renault 1:25.481 22 laps
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:25.753 29 laps
20 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:26.195 23 laps
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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Italian Grand Prix Preview

So whilst the dust is still yet to settle on the hugely controversial Belgian Grand Prix just four days ago, there is no time for the teams and drivers to take time out and take their eyes off the ball. Sunday will see Monza hosting the Italian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton looking to put his recent disappointment behind him and try to increase his slim world championship lead in Ferrari's own back yard.

With Kimi Raikkonen's title ambitions seemingly in tatters for this year at least, Ferrari will be looking to Felipe Massa to lead the line in their battle with McLaren. He has certainly been on excellent form recently. The only time that he doesn't look a World Champion in the making is when the rain starts to fall, which is when he tends to end up looking rather amateurish. He will not have been thrilled to learn that there is rain predicted for the Grand Prix weekend, and lots of it! The Italian GP is normally run in balmy heat under glorious blue skies, but on the odd occasion it does rain it REALLY rains.

Rain will be just what the doctor ordered for Lewis Hamilton, as every time it has rained so recently he has excelled; notably Silverstone and Monaco this year and Fuji last season. The real challenge for Hamilton could well be one of temperament. Will he be able to put last week's disappointment (to put it mildly) behind him and focus 100% on the task at hand, or will he still be distracted and let his emotions get the better of him?
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Sunday, 7 September 2008

Breaking News: Hamilton Stripped of Victory

Breaking News: Hamilton has been stripped of his race victory. He has been given a 25 second penalty, pushing him down to third place and gifting the victory to Felipe Massa.

Enormously controversial decision, one which I'm sure will cause much consternation for weeks to come and potentially cast a negative shadow over the whole of this year's driver's championship. Just when people start to talk about Formula One for all the right reasons again, after a truly classic race, the stewards threaten to drag the reputation of F1 through the sh*t yet again... Read more!

Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton holds his nerve in classic Spa thriller

Lewis Hamilton cemented his place at the top of the Formula 1 World Driver's Championship with a stunning victory in a rain affected Belgian Grand Prix. Despite starting from pole position it was a victory that looked highly unlikely for much of the race, as Kimi Raikkonen looked to be driving his way back into title contention on this his favourite track. However, in the dying moments of the race the rain began to fall and chaos ensued; in one of the most thrilling finishes to an F1 race in years Raikkonen ended his race and his world title defence in the crash barriers on the exit of Blanchimont corner. Felipe Massa finished second to keep himself firmly in the contest for the title, while Nick Heidfeld secured an amazing third place despite starting the final lap in ninth place!

After a morning of fun and games in the rain for the GP2 drivers the track was still damp as the main event was due to begin. There was no rain predicted for the hour or so, so all drivers barring Nelso Piquet took the option of starting on dry tyres and braving it out for the first couple of laps. From the start everyone seemed to get away relatively cleanly and Hamilton lead comfortably going into La Source. Jarno Trulli had an incredible start and was scything through the field only to be bumped from behind be Sebastien Bourdais. This caused the field to bunch up and a number of cars to run wide, with Heikki Kovalainen being the big loser dropping from 3rd way down to 12th. Raikkonen was the beneficiary as he managed to get right in behind Massa through Eau Rouge and then tow straight past his team mate into Les Combes.

By this point Hamilton had gained himself a comfortable lead and was enjoying the clean air out front. Coming into La Source for the second time though the race changed complexion dramatically. Downshifting for the hairpin Hamilton locked his rear tyres and the back end snapped loose. The half spin meant Raikkonen went wide onto the run off zone for the second time in succession. Hamilton recovered his spin very quickly and managed to just maintain his lead through Eau Rouge, but Raikkonen was so close that he was able to draft straight by him on the straight just as he had done to Massa the lap before. Raikkonen had gone from 4th to 1st in less than two laps; it seemed that he was finally getting his act in gear after weeks of mediocre performances had the paddock and press doubting his championship credentials.

Raikkonen began to creep away from Hamilton slowly but surely, with his extra downforce really paying dividends through the second sector of the lap and Pouhon in particular. Hamilton was able to stay well ahead of Massa, and he in turn was ahead of Alonso who had had an excellent start. Kovalainen was beginning to recover from his awful start and was taking positions left right and centre from the mid field runners. However, his eagerness soon got the better of him as he got a little too bold into the Bustop trying to overtake Mark Webber, and he locked up on the greasy inside line and bumped the inside of Webber and earned himself a drive through penalty. Just as that was occurring the leaders came in to pit. Hamilton was in first, and unfortunately for him ended up rejoining the circuit right behind his team mate who in turn was now bunched up behind Kubica. What little chance Hamilton had of getting past Raikkonen in the pits had disappeared, as Raikkonen pitted next time round and was able to avoid all traffic and increase his lead easily.

For the rest of the second stint the status quo was more or less maintained. Raikkonen had a 5-6 second lead over Hamilton, and Hamilton himself had a similar gap over Massa. Behind them Alonso was maintaining fourth place well, and the two Toro Rosso drivers were having a great day. Bourdais was putting in easily his best performance of his F1 career, keeping the BMW of Kubica at arm's length, and Vettel right in behind Kubica. It looked likely as though the top three or four positions would remain as they were for the rest of the race.

Thankfully for the spectators though, the infamous Ardennes weather was about to have a say in the matter. Rain was predicted to fall with around 5 or 6 laps to go, with the potential to cause some real headaches for the strategists, and cause some real stress and difficulty for the drivers themselves. First things first, the second pit stops took place and the drivers all switched to the less fancied prime tyre. Immediately Raikkonen did not look comfortable on the less grippy tyre, and Hamilton began to close in on him at a rate of knots. In looked that Hamilton may even have a chance of getting past Kimi before the rain fell, as he closed the gap to around 1.5 seconds. However, Raikkonen suddenly got to grips with the new tyres and was able to stabilise the gap at about 2 secs. Any rain now would surely set up a grand stand finish for the final laps...

And so it proved! With about 6 laps remaining light spots of rain started to fall all around the track, and the track started to get visibly slippier and the lap times increased dramatically. Hamilton was again closing on Raikkonen, and as the rain worsened Hamilton got to within striking distance. On the run up to the Bus Stop Hamilton forced Raikkonen to go very defensive, and he went for a pass around the outside. He looked to have made the position, but Kimi had other ideas. He forced Lewis wide and onto the escape road. Hamilton was told on the radio to immediately give the position back, which he did very quickly. But no sooner was Raikkonen back in front than Hamilton was attacking again. He sold him a dummy on the outside and jinked to the inside to take the lead. Kimi got a little too close to comfort at La Source trying to regain the lead and actually hit the back of Hamilton. Lewis was unfazed though, and he headed off down to Eau Rouge with his lead intact.

The rain was getting worse and worse, and each and every corner was becoming a voyage into the unknown with regards to grip levels, especially for those still trying to fight for position and without the option of taking it cautiously. Raikkonen clearly wasn't giving up without a fight, and was pushing Hamilton all the way. When they reached Fagnes chicane they came across Nico Rosberg who was recovering from a spin, and Hamilton was forced wide and onto the grass, allowing Kimi back in front. It seemed a cruel stroke of luck for Hamilton as it seemed to have stolen his victory away from him. However, Raikkonen's lead was incredibly short lived as he spun almost immediately, letting Hamilton back through. Things really were getting dangerous out on track, a fact that was to be proved by Raikkonen on the exit of Blanchimont. Hamilton looked to have overcooked it slightly and ran right across the kerbing and white lines. Amazingly this didn't send him into a spin, and he was able to continue. Raikkonen wasn't so fortunate though, as he ran wide onto the concrete run off and the back snapped wide. He was then a passenger as his car skidded nose first into the barrier and was trashed, along with any realistic hope of Kimi retaining his title.

At this point many drivers chose to pit for intermediate tyres just for the final lap, but both Hamilton and Massa decided to brave it on dry tyres. It must have been the slowest final lap in history, as both drivers coasted home desperately trying to avoid an embarrassing incident. Both kept their cool and made it home safely to secure the points and make the title battle a close two horse race. Behind them all hell was breaking loose though, as those drivers who pitted for new tyres suddenly found themselves 30 seconds a lap faster than those in front. Heidfeld was the man to gain the most, as he stormed through the field to take a highly improbable podium finish, rounding off what had been a very good weekend for the German. Alonso too had an incredible final lap to take fourth place. Spare a thought though for the poor Toro Rosso drivers, particularly Bourdais. He and Vettel began the final lap third and fourth respectively, and on for the greatest finish in the team's history. However, at the chequered flag Vettel had dropped to fifth and Bourdais all the way down to seventh amidst the last lap chaos.

So going into Monza in just a week's time Lewis Hamilton has increased his championship lead over Felipe Massa, and Kimi Raikkonen's title challenge is all but over. Yet again Hamilton has proved to be the class of the field when the chips are down and the rain is falling. The McLaren may not quite be able to match the raw speed of the Ferrari at this point in the season, but if Hamilton continues this consistency and reliability the title may well be his to lose...

Race Results

1. Hamilton
2. Massa
3. Heidfeld
4. Alonso
5. Vettel
6. Kubica
7. Bourdais
8. Glock
9. Webber
10. Kovalainen
11. Coulthard
12. Rosberg
13. Sutil
14. Nakajima
15. Button
16. Trulli
17. Fisichella
18. Raikkonen ret
ret Barrichello
ret Piquet
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