Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Typical Guy's F1 Mid-Season Report...

Yes, I know. This does seem late since the F1 'circus' just came back after a long summer break via the European Grand Prix held at the new Valencia Street Circuit. Again, it's been a looooooooong weekend with Gloria's Holiday economics, hence the lateness of my reaction to Team USA Basketball's gold medal win at the Beijing Olympics as well as my rant on Solar Sports' (mis)handling of the entire Olympics coverage.

And anyway, I've been writing about F1 for a long time now, first in the F1-dedicated forums at, and perhaps most importantly, since I've written Top Gear Philippines' F1 primer for the past two years already, blogging about F1 seems like a natural progression of things. Also, since a magazine article's submission has to be in a couple of months before the issue sees print, I'll be hard pressed to come up with a mid-season report in June for printing in the August issue - that's like three to four races where anything could happen and render my mid-season report moot and utterly useless.

But let's get back to the topic at hand...

This season, the top teams seem to have been plagued by gremlins, with them making costly errors in their strategies or with their drivers just encountering a bit of bad luck at the most inopportune time like, say, Felipe Massa's dominant run in the Hungarian GP only to suffer an engine failure with just three laps to go.

And with six races left in the calendar, there's still no clear idea on who's going to take the driver's championship trophy this year. Although Lewis Hamilton is on top of the pack with 70 points, Massa, Kimi Räikkönen and Robert Kubica are all within striking distance, with the gap between Hamilton and Massa a mere six points only. As for the constructor's championship, Ferrari is still on top with 121 points with McLaren-Mercedes a close second at 113.

After the mechanical precision with which Michael Schumacher and Ferrari rang up five consecutive Driver's and Constructor's championships, it seems that nothing much has been going the way of Ferrari ever since Schuey decided to hang up his fire-retardant overalls for good. Kimi, though fast and efficient (if he's in the mood), hasn't won a race since the Spanish GP last April. It's either just a "bad patch" as Kimi calls it, or if rumors are to be believed, he just might not have the heart to race in F1 anymore and has lost the motivation to compete after winning the Driver's championship last season. Massa, on the other hand, struggled literally to learn how to drive the F2008 without electronic driver aids like traction control and launch control. After all, this is Massa we're talking about, the human spincycle who has the ability to make a car WITH traction control spin more times than a washing machine. And yet, it seems he's managed to tame his driving style as he looks to be Ferrari's most promising challenger for the world title since he's won more races and secured more pole positions than Kimi.

As for McLaren's 'golden boy,' Lewis appeared to have suffered a drop in form after his stellar performance last season. After winning the Australian GP, he somehow got lost in the glamorous life outside of F1 as Ferrari managed to win the next four GPs until the wet Monaco GP where Hamilton seemed to have finally regained his composure and won the time-constrained race. Unfortunately, that didn't last long as Hamilton committed the biggest blunder of his still-fresh-smelling career when he drove into the back of Kimi while still in the pitlane as they waited for the green light after the safety car came out.

Still, Hamilton seems to have rekindled the same fire and passion that clearly marked his rookie season as he managed to string together two victories in a row (three, probably, if he didn't have a tire problem in Hungary). Heikki Kovalainen, meanwhile has been the perfect foil for Lewis - a driver who's content to stay in the background while Lewis gets all the attention and yet can go fast on a moment's notice if needed, like how he finally won his first GP in Hungary, becoming the 100th driver to win a GP race.

BMW Sauber has also taken the fight to F1's big boys as the team not only secured their first win, they did it in a one-two fashion as F1's first Pole, Robert Kubica, took the win while 'Quick' Nick Heidfeld came in second. Not bad for a team that's only in its third season as a full-fledged constructor. Alright, so they did it because Hamilton took Kimi and himself out with his amazing pitlane blunder but that's beside the point. After all, that happened in lap 19 with 51 laps to go - 51 laps where anything and everything could happen to take either one of them out regardless.

As for the rest of the pack, Toyota, the team with arguably the biggest budget in F1, has undergone a renaissance of sorts as they try to equal or even surpass the level of success they had when the team was run by Mike Gascoyne while former constructor champions and ex-Gascoyne employer, Renault, continue to struggle with an underperforming car and powerplant that just might give Fernando Alonso enough reason to jump ship (if he hasn't yet, that is, if his rumored move to Ferrari by next year prove to be true).

So with just six more races to go and with the championships still up in the air, it's still anyone's game which would make for some exciting racing, particularly with F1's very first night race in Singapore still on schedule. With Spa and Shanghai favoring Ferrari while Monza and Fuji are more suited for McLaren's, and with Singapore still an unknown factor, the championship might just go down the wire with the titles being decided in either the Chinese or Brazilian GPs.

So when you think about it, if you're just about to start watching F1, there's no perfect time to tune in than now.

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