Monday, October 13, 2008

The Typical Guy's 2008 Japanese GP Review...

A popular myth that we were told since we were kids is that lightning cannot strike the same place twice. But for Renault's Fernando Alonso, nothing can be farther from the truth as he went two-for-two to win both the Singapore and the Japanese GP in succession, except this time around, instead of his teammate crashing out, it was the top two contenders for the drivers' championship, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who made a mess of things, with their respective teammates, Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Räikkönen also suffering a fair bit of bad luck, giving Alonso an opportunity he was only too eager to grab on to to seize the win.

So for Renault, after starting the year with a car that wasn't up to championship standards, to see the season coming to an end with a car that's now fighting for race wins with the top contenders, to say that the team is experiencing a fairy tale ending to their season is an understatement.

When the race started, Hamilton, who was on P1, got off to a slow start with Räikkönen quickly getting ahead of him. But going into the tight first corner, Lewis dove into the inside and tried to outmuscle Kimi by outbraking him but instead, his tires locked up as he slipped off the tarmac and into the runoff area. To avoid a crash, Kimi had to go wide into the corner as well by going off into the runoff area, leaving the inside corner open for BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica to take the lead followed by Alonso on second while the midfielders tried to stay out of the carnage Lewis' overly optimistic move caused.

On Lap 2, Hamilton, who was now on sixth place, made a go for Massa on the inside of the Dunlop Corner and managed to get ahead of him. But Massa wasn't about to let go of the position that easily so he cut across the chicane and managed to nudge Hamilton slightly, sending him into a spin and tumbling down the order into last place.

And as expected from the slow-acting race stewards, notice only came down on Lap 11 that Räikkönen, Massa and Hamilton were under investigation for both incidents. And on Lap 17, drive-through penalties were handed down on Massa for his move against Hamilton, and on Hamilton for his Lap 1 overtaking move which sent Kimi off the tarmac. And while most would argue a case of 'No blood, no foul' in favor of Hamilton for his overtaking move that didn't come in contact with anyone else, I still say it was too optimistic and too brash of him. After all, he wouldn't have to chase Kimi down if he didn't muck up his own start off the line.

On Lap 17, Kubica came in for his first pit stop , clearing the way for Alonso to take the lead and pad it further by putting down what was then the race's Fastest Lap before he went into the pit lane for his own stop at the end of Lap 18. Meanwhile, Hamilton promptly served his penalty while Massa waited until he made his first planned pit stop on Lap 19 before he took his punishment on the following lap.

So on Lap 30, after Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais and Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr. briefly took the lead one after the other before they all went in for their pit stops, Alonso once again took the lead and started driving further away from Kubica who had a determined Räikkönen hanging on to his tail. On Lap 44, Alonso made his second pit stop with Kubica making his on Lap 47 and Räikkönen's on Lap 48.

But on Lap 50, just as Bourdais came out onto the tarmac from his second pit stop, Massa went barreling through the pitlane straight after knocking down a couple of Fastest Laps, thereby pitting the two drivers to jostle for position into the corner with Bourdais on the inside. Massa tried to get past Bourdais by outmuscling him as if he wasn't there. Instead, the two cars touch resulting in Massa's car spinning while Bourdais apparently gets away cleanly.

The key word there is "apparently" because four laps later, an announcement is made that the race stewards would investigate that incident AFTER the race. The question is; why after when there were still 13 laps to go when that was announced - surely enough time for them to come up with a decision. Still, like myself, everyone else assumed it was because of Massa's overly optimistic move against Bourdais .

In the end, and to everyone's disbelief, Bourdais got a 25-second penalty, not Massa. How is that possible when Bourdais was on the inside line and they were fighting for position. He didn't have to give way to Massa. Instead, it's Massa who should have backed off. If the race stewards can't justify why the punishment was meted on Bourdais and not Massa, then why are they there in the first place? So, in what should have been Bourdais' best finish thus far this season at sixth, he tumbled down to 10th place.

Anyway, once Trulli and Nelsinho took their second pit stops, Alonso regained the lead and never relinquished it until the end of the race, with Kubica and Räikkönen taking second and third respectively.

With the next race happening in China, Kubica still has a fighting chance for the drivers' championship while Massa cuts down Hamilton's lead to five points as Ferrari leads McLaren in the constructors' championship. And with the season looking to go down the wire as a really closely fought one, we can only hope that we witness some really classic, controversy-free, and maybe if we pray hard enough, race-steward-meddling-free racing.

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