Sorry! Very late once again. Very busy weekend once again. I’m actually staying up well past my bedtime to write this post. (And not because I’m waiting to see if In Rainbows is released this evening, oh no!)
Anyway, the Chinese Grand Prix was just the sort of classic race that reminds you why you love F1 (that is, unless you actually hate F1). There is Lewis Hamilton, looking like a dead cert for the championship. Then, in an instant, the all-too-impatient Hamilton makes his first major mistake of the year. And what a mistake. And what a time for it to happen! This is what F1 is all about.
I simply could not believe my eyes when it was happening. First of all there was the fact that Hamilton beached it in a gravel trap — a gravel trap that most people probably did not know existed, given its obscure position on the outside of the pit lane entrance. What an irony, with all of these modern tracks shunning the old-fashioned gravel traps in favour of huge concrete run-off areas, and Lewis Hamilton got stuck in a tiny trap that was barely big enough for him to park in anyway.
There was an amusing moment when James Allen said, “He might not be allowed to get a push here.” Not that this minor quibble has stopped Hamilton from using a crane to get back into the race in the past.
After spending a while trying to persuade the nonplussed Chinese marshals to push him out of the gravel, Hamilton finally gave up. He pulled out his steering wheel, stood up and immediately turned round to look at the marshals in disgust. I wonder what he was trying to say to the marshals?
Don’t you know who I am? I am Britain’s Lewis Hamilton™! I am the greatest rookie ever (apart from Jacques Villeneuve)! Just three races into my career I was already the fifth-best Grand Prix driver in history — imagine how good I must be now! You know, in Europe they know which side their bread is buttered on — I usually get the crane treatment there.
All joking aside though, I actually felt a bit sorry for Hamilton. While he must shoulder the blame for going into the pits too impatiently, the McLaren team were obviously completely off their rocker to leave him out for so long on tyres that were effectively dead.
I was sitting here watching the race, along with Formula1.com’s excellent live timing service. The drop-off in Hamilton’s performance was dramatic. What’s more, it was getting worse. When Räikkönen was catching up with Hamilton, there was a point where Hamilton lost four seconds in two laps. The following lap, having been passed by the Finn, he lost seven seconds in one lap to Alonso.
McLaren say they were waiting to see if it was going to start raining again. But — uncertainty about the weather or not — you simply cannot leave a driver out there when he is losing upwards of seven seconds per lap. I guess it would have been a risk either way, but given the results the team ended up looking a bit stupid. McLaren made a huge error there and it could cost them the championship.
But before all those ITV viewers start sending those angry missives to the McLaren team, here is something to chew on — the dreadful state of the tyres could have been completely down to Hamilton’s over-aggressive driving.
At the start of the race, Hamilton absolutely blitzed away. He just sped off, leaving the others looking a bit silly. It turned out that Hamilton was the silly one. By setting his fastest laps when his car was heaviest with fuel, he completely ruined his tyres. Meanwhile, Räikkönen waited until lap 15 before he started putting his foot down — and those laps put Hamilton’s early ones in the shade. By that time Hamilton’s tyres had been ruined, and the game was up. The full analysis is at F1Fanatic, and it’s fascinating (if you like that sort of thing).
Questions have to be asked overall about the approach that Hamilton and McLaren took to this race. Remember, to secure the championship, Hamilton only needed to finish 5th. Yet they were taking these risks with the tyres, Hamilton was just impatient to get away from Räikkönen at the start of the race. Then when Räikkönen caught up he wasted his tyres yet again by putting up a fight that he was always going to lose.
So why did he seem so desperate to take so many risks in order to win instead of playing it safe? A lot of people will say that it’s just because of the way Hamilton is. He only wants to win. Maybe so, but his approach only gave him failure.
A lot of people point out the fact that Hamilton is a real racer and a risk-taker, in stark contrast to many other F1 drivers. I can’t help wondering if the other drivers just have wiser, more balanced approaches to their races. if Hamilton learns from this race, perhaps in the future it will be seen as a turning point in Hamilton’s career — when he learned to be conservative like the other drivers.
There is another fascinating thing that I read on F1Fanatic, in the Ben Evans column. I’ve mentioned before about Hamilton not being so good in the wet, although Fuji seemed to put that to bed (if you decide to ignore his dreadful driving behind the Safety Car). But Shanghai has opened it all up again. This was without doubt the worst race of his F1 career so far, and it demonstrated his weakness in the wet. Ben Evans says:
Interestingly, following the European Grand Prix in July a racing acquaintance who ran a Formula Renault team at the same time Hamilton was in the series commented ‘He’s bloody quick, but has no feel for the car in changeable conditions’. Thus it was at the Nürburgring and again appeared to be the case on Sunday.
It was the reverse case for Jenson Button. What a superb drive he put in on Sunday. To get that Honda car into fifth position demonstrates just how good he is in the wet. It is amazing to see — after such a terrible season in a dog of a car — that he could put all that behind him and put in a solid performance. Button has gone up in my estimation a lot this season, particularly since he seems to have put Barrichello in the shade.
Big mention also for Toro Rosso. They really are having a strong end to the season now, and Sebastian Vettel is a revelation. When he moved to Toro Rosso, the joke was that Vettel had scored a point in his first race (for BMW), but by moving to Toro Rosso he was guaranteed to wait 18 months for his next one! Not when Vettel is at the wheel though. What a way to bounce back after his Fuji mishap.
Don’t forget also that Vitantonio Liuzzi scored three points for Toro Rosso as well. All-in-all, a brilliant race for Toro Rosso. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Forza Minardi!” Despite Button’s good haul of points, Toro Rosso leapfrogged over Honda in the Constructors’ Championship.
As for the Drivers’ Championship, Hamilton still has the best chance, but obviously it looks as though he has lost a lot of the momentum. Dead cert going into China, a bit shaky going into Brazil. It’s incredible how there seems to be some kind of mystical force that makes sure the championship is usually decided at the final round.
There are a number of mouth-watering possibilities. If any one of the three contenders win, they will thoroughly deserve it.
Hamilton has had a barnstorming début season. He has beaten everyone’s expectations. He has made some amazing overtaking manoeuvres that have made amazing drivers look silly. His qualifying performances have been nothing short of unbelievable. He has rattled Alonso. But, I still doubt that he is truly ready to be World Champion. If conditions at Interlagos are changeable (as they often are), he will be in big danger.
If Alonso wins the World Championship, it would be an equally amazing achievement. A back-to-back triple world champion is not something you see every day. Well, okay, apart from in 2004. But, Alonso would achieve it with two different teams, which is a real rarity. It’s not easy to move teams (and boy, has Alonso’s experience been proof of that!), but Alonso has put all the nonsense behind him and delivered solid results on the track. Also, I would love to see the look on Anthony Hamilton’s face if Alonso wins the Championship!!
But I would be happiest if Räikkönen won the Championship. Yes, I hate Ferrari. And yes, I generally like McLaren. But the conduct of both of McLaren’s drivers this year has put me off them both a bit.
Räikkönen is long overdue a World Championship. It is a long shot. Due to the bumpy nature of Interlagos, McLaren will have the upper hand. Räikkönen will be relying on Alonso getting a bit of the Iberian red mist descending, and crashing himself into Hamilton. Most importantly of all, I would laugh so much if Räikkönen won the Championship. It would be the funniest thing ever. Imagine the protagonists of the whole Championship, Alonso and Hamilton, being gazumped by Räikkönen. They they would both be pissed off with everyone and everything. I might never stop laughing.