Firstly — apologies for the lateness of my review of the Japanese Grand Prix. Another busy weekend spilled over into Monday, and is spilling over into Tuesday and Wednesday as well. (I am being very naughty by writing this post.)
There are so many talking points that it is difficult to know where to start.
I guess I should start by noting that it looks as though Lewis Hamilton will be this year’s World Champion. On the basis of his performance in treacherous conditions at Fuji, he fully deserves it. I still think that Fernando Alonso deserves to be World Champion more because I think he has been on balance the better driver. But it’s points that matter.
Hamilton’s drive at Fuji was solid and impressive. In a lot of ways it was a basic pole-to-flag drive for Hamilton. Besides a little run-in with Kubica, he had no real challenges to face. Not much impressive in that, dreadful conditions aside of course. This does not rank alongside, for instance, Senna at Donington in 1993, or even with Alonso at Hungaroring in 2006.
But Hamilton’s race showed firstly that he can drive in the wet. As his engineer noted at the end of the race, he has ticked the “driving in the wet” box that he so conspicuously failed to tick earlier this year at the Nürburgring. It also shows just how quickly he is learning. He made no obvious clangers at Nürburgring, but it was overall a pretty scrappy and unimpressive race. Fuji put that to bed.
It was exactly the opposite for Alonso. It is difficult to know exactly what was wrong with Alonso at Fuji. The conditions should have worked in his favour. Driving in the wet is a major strength of his, as last year’s Hungarian GP demonstrated. At Fuji, though, he was all over the place (certainly in comparison to Hamilton). Seemingly, Hamilton got pole with a heavier car as well.
For another reminder of how well Hamilton is doing, you just had to look from the back of Hamilton’s car on lap 45. Behind the safety car, Sebastian Vettel caused one of the most embarrassing crashes of the season. Mark Webber was running second for Red Bull, and he felt like he was in with a chance of winning. Sebastian Vettel was in third for the Red Bull sister car, Toro Rosso. It would be a historic finish for Red Bull, and for Toro Rosso who were on line for their first ever podium, and their first points of the season.
Then Vettel lost his concentration behind the safety car and slammed straight into the back of Webber. Both cars had to retire from the race. Vettel was distraught — crying in the garage upon his sheepish return to the pitlane. How does he explain to the boss what happened?
Webber was noticeably furious, and threw the steering wheel from his car as though he were an Olympic shot put competitor. ITV reported that early on in the race Webber had been sick in his helmet. Lesser men would give up when their stomachs empty themselves. That’s what separates us from Grand Prix racing drivers. The decision to continue was being paid off in the form of second place.
I bet while he was running in second he had forgotten all about the vomit in his helmet. Being slammed in the rear by a driver of his sister team was probably enough to make him sick all over again. Take a sip of water to calm yourself down. Oh no, you were sick into your straw.
Furious Webber stormed back to the pitlane and blasted Vettel in the strongest possible terms. It provided the funniest moment of the race. On live Saturday morning television, in the same slot where Pocoyo is normally shown, he blasted, voice noticeably trembling with rage:
It’s kids, isn’t it. It’s kids with not enough experience, and they just go and FUCK IT ALL UP!
Here it is on YouTube — enjoy it while you can, before FOM remove it.
Vettel has probably lost a lot of his reputation with that moment. Usually it would be forgiven as a rookie mistake, but the problem is that this year there is a rookie who you cannot envisage making that kind of mistake. More evidence of what a good job Hamilton is doing. (Having said that, I can’t think of Kovalainen dropping any similar clangers either.)
Someone else who lost a lot of reputation — as if he had any left to lose — was Ralf Schumacher. During qualifying 1 he was seemingly worried about not making the cut. For whatever reason he felt the need to take an ambitious move alongside a Spyker. Unfortunately, instead of going alongside the Spyker, he just went straight into it and damaged his car so badly that he wouldn’t have been able to go into Q2 anyway. To rub salt into the wound, he qualified for it. Yesterday, Ralf Schumacher
was sacked .
I suppose this is the thing about wet races. It makes some people look like complete idiots. It makes other people look like superheroes. So many drivers put in amazing performances at Fuji. I have already noted Hamilton, Webber and Vettel (before his boo-boo moment).
But Kimi Räikkönen was probably the most impressive driver on the track. He suffered badly from Ferrari’s strategic (and rule-breaking) blunder to start the race on intermediates while everyone else was on full wets. It was a nonsensical decision in the first place, and after just a few laps behind the safety car both Ferrari drivers had to pit in to change to full wets, relegating them to dead last.
Despite this, and in those crazy conditions as well, Räikkönen and Massa both managed to get themselves into potential podium positions. Räikkönen in particular had a stunning race, with a notable move on the outside of David Coulthard being the highlight. It really is the stuff that champions are made of. I hope Räikkönen’s career won’t finish as a case of “if only” as it has been so far.
Kudos also to Massa who was ahead of Räikkönen which is really inconvenient for Ferrari’s hopes in the Drivers’ Championship. And team orders don’t exist, especially from Ferrari. So it was time for a suspicious “splash n dash” to let Räikkönen ahead of Massa, who dropped straight back to 7th.
I suppose we shouldn’t be so cynical. It did let us see a truly amazing last-lap ding-dong battle between Massa and Kubica. There was an uncomfortably high amount of the run-off areas being used. I feel that Massa’s wide line through the run-off at the final corner is what gave him the edge over Kubica in the end, but they were both guilty of using the run-off areas. It provided some damn fun racing, but you can’t help feeling that they were both… cheating?
Ah yes cheating. What about that business with starting on intermediates when they were told to go on wets? Ferrari didn’t get the email apparently! Hah! Yeah right. All of the other teams and even the commentators knew the deal, but Ferrari didn’t. Likely story. Of course, FIArrari believed them.
I should also mention Jenson Button. After his torrid season in a shitbox Honda, he qualifying performance was truly encouraging and I was hoping that he could get a good result. Unfortunately he lost his front wing early on and had to get it replaced.
Rather alarmingly, though, he ran sans front wing for a few laps without any major drop-off in performance. An illustration of just how bad that Honda is — it can lose its front wing and you wouldn’t be able to tell from the times being set.
Liuzzi almost scored a point for Torro Rosso. It would have been scant consolation for Vettel’s lost podium, but it would have been something. Yup, it would have been, had he not passed Sutil under a yellow flag! Doh!
So instead, Adrian Sutil scored his first point, and Spyker’s first point as well. Just in time to impress their latest new owner (they must have had four owners in as many years!). In seriousness, Sutil is seriously impressing this season. A drive at a better team for 2009 surely beckons.
History also for Heikki Kovalainen, who took Renault’s first podium of the year, and his first podium of the career. Apparently it is also the first time two Finns have been on the podium, so a good day to remember for Finland.
A shockingly awful day for Japan though. On their home territory, all of the teams with Japanese links did awfully. I have already mentioned Schumacher and Button. Barrichello was 10th, Trulli finished dead last of the runners, both Williams-Toyotas and both Super Aguris failed to finish. Sakon Yamamoto was 12th. Who would be a Japanese F1 fan?
This is just a bit of what I have been thinking. I could go on and on and on about that race, but I have to stop somewhere. The championship looks like it’s nearly over, but I can’t wait for the Chinese Grand Prix. Luckily, we only have to wait a few days for it.
Update: As soon as I published this, I spotted this on Sidepodcast. It provides very convincing evidence that Hamilton could have caused the collision between Webber and Vettel. It also backs up Vettel’s post-race comments about how he was being put off by Hamilton. Commentators noted Hamilton’s erratic driving behind the safety car, and it does look a little bit like Hamilton was taking things rather over the line with his excessive start–stop driving.
You can only assume that he was deliberately trying to cause an accident, or rattle his opponents. (As Sidepodcast notes, it can’t have been warming brakes, because that involves abrupt changes in speed, not the gradual halt that Hamilton comes to.) What do you think? Watch quickly, before FOM take it down.
I have to say, well done to the person who took the footage. It’s better than anything the actual TV director took of the incident, and reveals a whole lot more of what was going on in the incident.
Update: The original video has, as predicted, been removed by FOM. For the benefit of the many visitors still reading this post, here is another copy of the video. This will probably get pulled down as well.