Massa proves his critics wrong; Hamilton proves his critics right

It was not the greatest Grand Prix there has ever been, but there are still a few talking points to come away with.

Firstly, it has to be said that Felipe Massa did a solid job today. Everyone has been throwing stones at him for the mistakes he made in Australia and Malaysia, so the pressure on his shoulders must have been enormous. What a relief it must be for him to have won at Sakhir so authoritatively.

For Kimi Räikkönen, it was a bit of an off weekend. After a disappointing qualifying session he was firmly in the shadow of his under-fire team mate and was unable to pull any rabbits out of the hat during the race. Having said that, he pulled off an aggressive move on Kubica near the start of the race. Other than that though, Räikkönen had a fairly anonymous race. Nonetheless, he goes away from Bahrain leading the Championship for this first time this year.

Ferrari can be happy with the progress they have made in Bahrain. The disastrous opener in Australia feels like a year ago. Malaysia only partially made up for it as Massa fell off the track. But this time both drivers finished with a thoroughly authoritative 1-2 and you wonder what McLaren can do to fight back.

However, Ferrari still do not lead the Championship. That honour goes to BMW. The Hinwil-based team has wooed F1 fans the world over with their methodical approach and steady progress. They seem to be the most popular team around at the moment.

Robert Kubica made up for the near miss in Australia by grabbing a popular pole position in Bahrain (and can someone please tell James Allen to stop using that terrible “Pole on pole” pun?). Many suspected that Kubica was lighter than his competitors — he was the first of the leaders to pit — but this was no Trulli-style fake pole position. Kubica and BMW genuinely have the speed to compete with the front-runners now, as we can see from the fact that Kubica finished 3rd.

Both BMWs were ahead of both McLarens as Nick Heidfeld finished ahead of Kovalainen to take a well deserved 3-4 for BMW. McLaren must be scratching their heads wondering how they allowed BMW to gain this advantage, especially after BMW had such a terrible start to winter testing.

This may not be a permanent advantage. We saw last year how different circuits can suit different cars in radically different ways. But it is clear that whenever McLaren are on the back foot, BMW will be ready to pounce. This will eat into McLaren’s Championship haul in a way they never came close to experiencing in 2007.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear if BMW have the ability to beat Ferrari in a straight fight. You have to say that this clearly hands the Championship advantage to the Scuderia. Nevertheless, it is clearly now a case of when and not if BMW win a race.

As for McLaren, it was a bit of a disastrous day. They clearly didn’t have the pace of either Ferrari or BMW. Lewis Hamilton had a truly terrible start. It has since transpired that he began the race with the incorrect engine map, as I suggested during the race. Hamilton was swamped by his competitors who all have the ability to turn a knob at the right time, unlike Hamilton clearly.

To compound this, he managed to impatiently run into the back of Fernando Alonso. It was a racing incident, although the protests from the ITV commentators suggested that Alonso “brake tested” Hamilton.

This was clear nonsense and you would think Martin Brundle in particular would know better. I have a great deal of respect for Martin Brundle, but he is beginning to lose it. The contrast between ITV’s coverage and other broadcasters was apparent.

Radio 5 Live had a completely different approach. They only mentioned the possibility of brake testing as a jokey aside several laps later. At one point David Croft even said that Hamilton tried to use Alonso as a ramp! Meanwhile apparently Speed TV didn’t even mention the prospect of brake testing at all!

The situation was clear. Hamilton has a faster car than the Renault and he was unable to cope with the fact that Alonso doesn’t have that kind of acceleration underneath him. It was as simple as that. Alonso had nothing to gain from brake testing (why would you want to cause a potentially race-ending crash?). Moreover, if it was a brake test then the speed differential would have been much greater.

The ITV team have egg on their faces this evening as the brake testing theory has been proved to have been completely lacking foundation. Pat Symonds has printed out the relevant telemetry for journalists to peruse and it shows that acceleration always went up and Alonso took no unusual actions.

Meanwhile, Hamilton and Ron Dennis have both come forward to admit that it was driver error on the part of Hamilton. I applaud Hamilton for having the decency to come forward and hold his hands up. Some of Hamilton’s apologists in the media are doing him absolutely no favours, and you have to wonder if some journalists are starting to get nervous that their premature “new Senna” proclamations will end up making them look very stupid indeed.

Meanwhile, I find it most amusing that many of the people who were calling for Alonso to be punished for “brake testing” Hamilton today are some of the same people who defended Hamilton’s disgracefully awful driving behind the Safety Car in Fuji last year in dangerous conditions. During the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton clearly brake tested Mark Webber, leading to a huge accident involving Sebastian Vettel. Now all of a sudden lifting off the throttle even when you don’t lift off the throttle is a heinous crime!


Classy Ham from Axis of Oversteer * on Vimeo.

The only other major talking point from the race is that accident between Coulthard and Button. It was not high stakes stuff — the battle was for 19th position! Nevertheless, both drivers felt it worth a gamble and they soon found themselves sharing the same piece of asphalt.

Button had been all over the back of Coulthard for several laps and had clearly become impatient. I had noticed during the race that is appears as though the Honda is very fast in braking zones. I wonder if this caught Button out slightly as Coulthard slowed more.

Button was trying down the inside and looked like he lost control a bit on the dust. Meanwhile, Coulthard was late to block the move as he abruptly jutted to the right. Button has pointed out that this is not really cricket. The end result was an accident that was amusingly similar to the one DC had with Massa in Melbourne, which made me wonder how many colours of shit DC would threaten to kick out of Button. 🙂

I get the sense now though that David Coulthard is beginning to look quite rusty. He is getting involved in too many accidents nowadays, and I would be surprise if he lasts longer than the end of this season. He can be pleased with his innings though. He is set to end the season as the second most experienced driver of all time (behind Rubens Barrichello, assuming he too lasts out the season).

Jarno Trulli finished 6th, proving that the Toyota does indeed have the pace to regularly finish ahead of Red Bull and Williams. But Timo Glock is yet to repay the faith Toyota have shown him. He will have to start performing soon.

Glock did succeed in keeping Fernando Alonso behind, but it has to be said that the Renault looks like an absolute dog and Alonso certainly won’t be contending for podium positions any time soon. Nelsinho Piquet had another disappointing weekend. He spun on some oil on lap 1 and later retired with technical problems. Piquet has time to improve, but he must do better than this in the long run.

Williams were disappointing again. They had such a great Australian Grand Prix, but Malaysia was a disaster. Come Bahrain practice and everything was looking good again. But it was a false dawn as Rosberg confesses to being disappointed to just scrape into the points. Nakajima, meanwhile, continues to disappoint.

Overall, I am less confident about the prospects of a close championship. As Ollie has pointed out, the Championships look really close at the moment. But the comprehensive nature of Ferrari’s victory today means that it might not be that way for long. Meanwhile, BMW will be eating into McLaren’s ability to respond to the red team.

7 comments

  1. Good write-up. You don’t think though that the nature of circuits coming up after the break will suit McLaren better? Massa won in Spain last time around, but McLaren have spent a fair amount of time in Barcelona pre-season. Turkey was a bit of a lucky win for Massa simply because his nearest rivals all had problems of one sort or ver the weekend and Monaco was a dominant McLaren race in 2007.

    My crystal ball suggest a win each for Ferrari and McLaren in Spain and Turkey and a BMW for Monaco, thus keeping the championship fairly steady.

  2. That is a tantalising prospect Ollie. However, I foresee Massa winning in Turkey as well. Historically he is unusually good at that circuit, just like Bahrain.

    Spain could be more open. Ron Dennis has said that we should wait until Spain to judge McLaren (a request that I have broken!). I think of the next few races, Spain is the one McLaren are most likely to do well in.

  3. Excellent race report, summed up my own opinions on the Grand Prix. I particularly liked your take on the Hamilton/Alonso incident. A number of journalists have confirmed they’ve seen the Renault data, the replay seems to show that it’s anything but a brake test, and Hamilton himself has come out and admitted responsibility.

    I really can’t make out what the intentions behind Hamilton’s gestures towards other drivers were. He was either indicate he thought they were wankers, shaking his fist or saying ‘thank you’. The TV footage makes it hard to establish the true meaning behind his actions.

  4. As far as the gestures go, my feeling is that he just did that to say to himself, “Yes, I’ve passed him, now on to the next guy.” I doubt there was much malicious intent there.

    This is all an excellent excuse to post one of my favourite F1 videos though. I love Murray Walker’s reaction!

  5. I really love your analysis. I have to say that I use this blog as an example of fair play with my friends, who don’t believe that such objectiveness can be found in Albion.
    I am starting to feel sorry for Hamilton. I see a young man under a huge ammount of pressure, and I starting to see small cracks in his surface. Choosing the wrong engine map at the start, trying to pass through Alonso or waving at Fisi (!!) are some of them. It’s not the first time I see this phenomenon in sport. You may have your favourites, but I can remember a few sportsmen that made it too soon to the top only to fall before 25 (Yago Lamela, Ivan Campo, Ivan De la Peña to name a few). And that’s sad, really sad. It’s not too late, however. British media should concentrate elsewhere, Ron Dennis should pat him in the back for every achievement… and warn him for every mistake, also Hamilton Sr. must stop thinking that he’s made a new Senna. Furthermore, I think that HAM needs a youtube video à la Spears (Leave Lewis alone!). Otherwise he will become no more than a champion project.
    BTW, I downloaded ITV broadcast of the race and I have to say that enjoyed it a lot. Spanish commentators are blamed for their bias, but they would never call Hamilton Arch-enemy…

  6. Regarding the incident, I remember I thought “poor silly boy!” when it happened(I know it isn’t polite, but hey, it’s hard to think in a politically correct way).

    Later I read on internet that Alonso could have test-braked Hamilton and rewatched the incident. What I thought then was “poor silly fanboys!!!”.

    The whole “Hamilton vs Alonso” is out control. Some journalists truly believe that Alonso is a supervillain, and he hates Hamilton to the point of ruining his reputation and risking his life only to avoid Hamilton being Champion. It’s ridiculous, Alonso couldn’t care more about Hamilton. If he has a problem with someone is with Ron Dennis. I don’t remember him saying anything offensive about Hamilton, but that stupid guys need a supervillain for his superhero…

  7. This may be a bit of topic but someone above already mentioned the British media so I add my bit …

    here I need to wait for the F1 Racing magazine for quite a bit longer than if I were in Europe so I only got my hands on the last issue few days ago. There was one article title that I could not believe I am seeing…

    “Lewis set to be champ after Australia win”

    Then yesterday the ITV their immediate take on the Alonso Hamilton incident …

    hmm… we have one very incompetent commentator on Star TV here but at least the station is not biased and we can enjoy neutral (although incompetent when certain guy talks 🙂 ) commentary

    back to the handsignals – Davidson seem to have let Hamilton go, as if he thought he is being lapped. Hamilton clearly expected Sato to do the same… well Sato is Sato for a reason 🙂