Bland race ignited by McLaren strategy blunder

I knew the streak of exciting races had to come to an end sooner or later, and sure enough it came to an end at Hockenheim. Or so I thought.

Then Timo Glock had a massive shunt that changed the race. Glock’s crash was quite worrying. The result of an apparent suspension failure on the kerb at turn 17, the impact was heavy and Glock appeared to be severely winded. Thankfully he seems to be okay, though he’ll be kept in hospital overnight as a precaution.

Inevitably the wreckage caused the Safety Car to come out and all the teams were ready in the pits. The cars all streamed in. All, that is, except for Lewis Hamilton. Whaaa?

Hamilton was looking supremely comfortable all race. He easily had the speed and the consistency to make everyone else on the circuit look silly. The Safety Car brought his lead down to almost zero. And to make matters worse, he still had to pit. Massa didn’t. Nor did Nelsinho Piquet.

While the Safety Car seemed to ruin Hamilton’s race, it played straight into the hands of Piquet’s one-stop strategy. Inevitably in a Safety Car period there are winners and losers, and a lot depends on whether Lady Luck is smiling on you. Piquet’s luck was certainly on his side.

But luck alone does not get anyone leading a grand prix. This was a strong message that Piquet is now upping his game. It’s the third race in a row where he has actually made Fernando Alonso look rather ordinary. I’m not saying that Piquet is better than Alonso by any stretch. But this is a far cry from the bumbling, nervy embarrassment that began this season. This was a lucky but assured drive to the front of the pack.

Meanwhile, McLaren were hoping that Hamilton was good enough to pull out enough of a lead to enable him to take a pitstop and rejoin in the lead. McLaren didn’t bank on the Safety Car staying out so long. Once Hamilton had pitted, Piquet had the lead. For a period of time, it looked as though Piquet might, outrageously, take a lucky win.

Hamilton actually came out of the pits way back in fourth, behind his team mate Heikki Kovalainen. Perhaps predictably, Kovalainen didn’t make it too difficult for Hamilton to overtake him. Hamilton let slip that team orders were at play, which was dangerous of him given the current paranoia about McLaren always receiving penalties for the slightest reason. Thankfully for McLaren, they got away with it — and fair enough too.

The next target for Hamilton was Massa. Hamilton was on fire on those soft tyres. Would Hamilton wear them out too quickly? He didn’t seem too concerned. It didn’t take long to reach Massa.

Hamilton was able to line Massa up to take advantage of Massa’s slipstream through the massive Parabolika corner (effectively a straight). Massa should have stayed on the inside to make it difficult for Hamilton to pass at the hairpin. Instead, Felipe Massa not only opened the door, but he threw out the welcome mat and offered him tea and biscuits. Massa realised what he had done and attempted to come back, but Massa only ended up compromising himself.

Hamilton had only one more car to take, and that was Piquet’s Renault. That was always going to be even easier than passing Massa. True enough, it turned out to be a near identical pass as the one on Massa — but this time Piquet didn’t fight back. The pair were rivals in GP2 a couple of years ago, but Hamilton looked like he was on another planet.

I don’t think anyone else in the field could have done it like Hamilton did today. For the second race in a row, he has left me as effusive and sycophantic as the media luvvies who sickened me last year. But you simply have to take your hat off to performances like this that simply make everyone else in the field look like complete amateurs.

The cliché is to call Hamilton Senna-esque. I don’t think it was a Senna-esque drive today. However, it very strongly reminded me of a Michael Schumacher drive. The way Hamilton coped with a very bad situation by simply outclassing everyone could have come straight out of the Red Baron’s textbook.

As for Ferrari, there is nothing else you can say — they are without a doubt on the back foot now. Their car wasn’t good enough around Hockenheim, particularly in sector 3. The next two circuits will probably suit the McLaren as well. The tight and twisty Hungaroring and the Valencia Street Circuit are ideal for a car that likes riding the kerbs and tight corners.

Ferrari’s car advantage is perhaps not so bad though. Kovalainen looks pretty equal with them, if not worse (though a special mention should be made for his amazing overtaking manoeuvre on Robert Kubica). Where Hamilton and McLaren have the real advantage is in the driving department. Hamilton is cutting out the mistakes and is on absolutely scintillating form at the moment.

Meanwhile, Ferrari’s drivers both look like real disappointments. Felipe Massa is not very good. This is no secret. Everyone but Felipe Massa and Nicolas Todt knows it. He is dire in the wet (five spins in Silverstone — a complete embarrassment) and no better than mediocre in the dry (a poor attempt at defending against Hamilton in Hockenheim).

Kimi Räikkönen, meanwhile, simply is not on the boil at the moment. He was ragged all weekend in Germany, seemingly never looking comfortable in the car. There was a period for a lap or so where he looked like he had the hunger as he overtook two cars quite impressively. But the result says it all. He qualified 6th, finished 6th and never looked in contention. No wonder it is rumoured that Räikkönen is fed up and wants to retire — you can see that he is not interested when he’s on the racetrack.

Ferrari must be wondering how it all went wrong. Räikkönen was meant to be the best driver in the field. Maybe a few years ago he was. In fact, last year he almost certainly was. Today he certainly is not. Massa, meanwhile, is nothing less than a complete joke. Ferrari probably have the best car and we don’t know it. How frustrating it must be for Ferrari just now to have two drivers who simply are not up to the job.

3 comments

  1. You must be watching a different series, you cannot see that KR was stoically unhappy with his car. His strategy past 2 yrs at Ferrari haa favoured race setup over quali, and he had stuck with it despite everything because it had worked up till now. Currently, it’s clear the F2008 has neither race pace nor quali pace. KR has had the most fastest laps this year. He wud’ve podium’d in both Montreal and Silverstone if not for events beyond his control. At Monaco he was so eager to pass he suffered a rare loss of control. KR will win soon as Ferrari undoes whatever changes ruined his car and give him a fighting chance again.

  2. I thought the exact same thing about Kimi. Where is the fire that used to burn so brightly, has he lost his mojo?

    Quote “Räikkönen was meant to be the best driver in the field. Maybe a few years ago he was. In fact, last year he almost certainly was. Today he certainly is not”

    If five years of McLaren under performance has taken its toll on his motivation, remember this, it took five years of toil for Schui to build Ferrari into the unstoppable beast of 2000-05.

    I’m stunned, I always thought his “kimidrivecarfast” mentality was unbreakable.

  3. I must admit I thought this race was quite entertaining!

    The circuit layout meant the cars were relatively close together right down the field, so while Hamilton was never going to be beaten at the front (prior to the safety car), there was actually something else to see further down.

    McLaren can dress it up any way they want to, but not bringing Lewis into the pits was a mistake they were lucky to get away with. I simply couldn’t believe Massa let Lewis pass him so easily!

    As you say, I still don’t see Senna when I look at Lewis, but yesterday I saw a drive straight out of Schumacher’s top-drawer.

    I guess the British viewers don’t want Lewis
    compared to Michael?