Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good news, I think...

I'm back on the dayshift, although the actual time has changed since I'll be reporting for work AT NOON instead of the usual morning shift. And I gotta tell you, commuting in midday traffic is HELL!

Still, I'm pretty happy to be back working during the daytime as opposed to working the graveyard shift. I'm wide awake AND I can do a lot more since there's less distraction around me so expect me to be posting my regular blog updates within a couple of weeks. After all, I've got a lot of geeky and manly stuff to talk about.

But first, I have to finish the latest F1 primer I'm doing for Top Gear Philippines which should be published in the March 2009 issue.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My apologies to my "many" readers...

...for the lack of updates for the past few days.

Unfortunately, work has gotten in the way of my blogging activities since my shift was changed with nary a warning, from the regular dayshift to the godforsaken graveyard shift I've managed to avoid for the past year and a half.

Supposedly, this is only going to be a temporary thing as our office makes the transition from leaving our Makati office to working in our new Ortigas office permanently, so hopefully, I'll be back to my regular everyday posting self within the next couple of weeks.

And before I forget, I was just accepted by Gear Patrol as one of their newest (and, as far as I know, the ONLY Philippine AND Asian-based) contributors so hopefully, that'll open up more doors for me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

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

Yesterday's Brazilian GP was a race that could've easily been written by the best Hollywood script writers, keeping the audience at the very edge of their seats all throughout the race, with the climactic conclusion coming at the very last corner of the very last lap.

For Ferrari's Felipe Massa, at the end of the race, everything he did to win it didn't really matter. On the final corner, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton running sixth and the title seemingly in Massa's grasp thanks to his winning the race, Toyota's gamble to keep the fourth-place Timo Glock on the wet track on intermediate tires lucked out, giving Hamilton the very break he needed to claim the championship for himself.

Cruel luck for Massa to come so close to winning the championship on his home soil and yet be denied it. But that's racing. And at least this time, the stewards stayed clear of the championship - but that's not to say their lack of action didn't make a mess of things elsewhere.

Right before the race started, a slight rain shower soaked the track enough to prompt race officials to start the event 10 minutes late, giving the teams enough time to change their tires if they wanted to. And with the immediate weather forecast saying that the skies would be clear for at least 30 minutes, almost all the teams chose to run with intermediate tires save for BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica who stayed with his slicks, only to dive into the pit lane after the formation lap to change to intermediates.

After the delay and with the race finally scheduled to start, when the green lights went out, everyone got off cleanly with Massa leading the pack as McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen on P5 quickly overshot Hamilton but was quick to accede the position back to his teammate. Going into the tight Turn 2, Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, who jumped ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso, tussled with Kovalainen, a bold yet reckless move since a collision would've proved catastrophic since the rest of the field was still behind them.

Fortunately enough, or unfortunately for Red Bull's David Coulthard, the crash happened further back as WilliamsF1's Nico Rosberg drove into the back of Coulthard, ending the retiring Scot's last race without having even completed a single lap, while Coulthard's RB4 collected WilliamsF1's Kazuki Nakajima as Renault's Nelson Piquet Jr. spun out on Turn 2. Thanks to this carnage, the Safety Car was released for three laps with Massa in the lead, followed by Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Kovalainen, Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, Glock, and Red Bull's Mark Webber.

With the track quickly drying, it only became a question of when the front-runners would come in for their slick tires. Soon thereafter, Glock was first in on Lap 9 with the rest following into the pits for their own slicks the next three laps thereafter.

And while all that Massa needed to do was to keep his cool and stay in front of everybody, Hamilton, down at seventh after his pit stop, had to fight for positions to keep his championship hopes alive. So on Lap 12, Lewis overtook Trulli for sixth and was soon chasing after a surprisingly fifth-place Giancarlo Fisichella in Force India's VJM-01. On Lap 17, Hamilton made a bold move by passing Fisichella on a wet line to take fifth place. All he had to do then was keep the position 'til the end of the race and the championship would be his even if Massa won the race. But it was still early in the race, anything could still happen for both contenders.

With the many pit stops that followed thereafter, if Massa wasn't on P1, he was on P2 whereas with Hamilton, he was always fighting for position; if he wasn't on fourth, he would be on either fifth or sixth, his championship dream hanging in the balance.

But on Lap 64, the rain began to fall once more, forcing almost everyone to switch back to intermediates except for Glock who chose to stay out on slicks. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the tire change didn't seem to do him any good as his lap times didn't increase. And worse, Vettel was constantly pushing him. Glock, meanwhile, seemed to have made the right choice as the rain didn't seem to be heavy enough for the need to change to intermediates after all.

So on Lap 69, with just two more laps to go, it was Massa followed by Alonso, Räikkönen, Glock, Vettel and Hamilton.

And then, in an unexpected and inexplicable move that should've necessitated the steward's intervention, the 11th-place Kubica, who was a lap behind the front-runners, chose to unlap himself by overtaking both Vettel and Hamilton in one bold yet stupid move. Hamilton, spooked with Kubica's sudden appearance by him and with his tires losing traction, ran wide, giving Vettel the opportunity to pass Hamilton and claim fifth-place for himself, tipping the championship into Massa's favor.

Tried as he could, Hamilton couldn't match Vettel's place, his championship dream seemingly coming to an end. But on the last corner, with Glock's move to stay on slicks going against the wet weather, Hamilton finally got the fifth-place he needed to claim the driver's championship for himself.

As for Massa, after a brief moment of triumph believing he won the race and the driver's title, when relayed of the news that Hamilton was able to finish in fifth, one can only imagine the heartbreaking emotion he felt after giving it his all throughout the race. After all, to claim the pole position, win the race AND set the fastest lap, his hat trick clearly wasn't enough as his championship dream still relied on Hamilton encountering an unlucky break. So on the podium, after winning the race, there has never been a more dour face on the top step of the podium ever as Massa's.

As for Hamilton, the Brazilian gods of misfortune he had last year chose to give him a nail biting experience this time around to finally win the driver's championship.

Both drivers truly deserved to be the champion. Although Massa was a race ahead of Hamilton in terms of wins (true, it should be Hamilton who's a race ahead if not for the Belgian GP debacle) consistency is always the key, and that's the one thing Massa needs to work on. Michael Schumacher won his many titles by displaying some of the most precision drives ever, and if Massa could come close to that and avoid making the costly mistakes he's sometimes known for, then he just could be Ferrari's next champion.

But not to take away from Hamilton's win, beside the fact that the race stewards played a great part in his having to win the championship so close down the line, the narrow margin of how he won the title only proves he still has a long way to go. After all, Kimi won his title with 110 points, Schumacher won his seventh-and-last world title with 148 while Alonso got his second title with 134. But then again, this season has turned to be more than a two-horse race with Renault scoring two wins and BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso winning one apiece so Hamilton's less-than-100-point win could be overlooked.

In the end, with the stewards being conspicuously absent for the race, the F1 fans finally got what they deserved; an honest-to-goodness race with all the drama and suspense on track and not off it. And F1 is all the much better for that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hamilton or Massa?

Much like last year, this last race of the 2008 F1 season sees McLaren's Lewis Hamilton entering the race with a 7-point lead over his championship rival in the rosso corsa car of Ferrari; but only this time, it'll be Felipe Massa he'll be racing against for the championship, and not Kimi Räikkönen.

In last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, when practically everyone was proclaiming Lewis Hamilton to be the next driver's champion owing to the aforementioned 7-point lead over Kimi Räikkönen and the fact that he was on P2 on the starting grid, Kimi proved everyone wrong by winning the race to claim the championship for himself. But then again, that only happened because Hamilton "sabotaged" his own race; first, because he was slow in getting off the starting line, and second, because his gearbox malfunctioned, effectively slowing him down for 30 seconds - just enough time for most of the cars on the grid to pass him. Relegated to 18th and needing to finish in fifth to claim the championship, poor Lewis could only manage to salvage a seventh-place finish, thereby giving Kimi the title.

But this season, with a year's experience under his belt and his heartbreaking championship loss a reminder of what he could've been as F1's very first rookie champion, Hamilton has taken on a more relaxed air, saying that missing out on this year's championship won't be a disaster. Hard to believe when so many expect so much of him, to be so close to winning it all yet finding yourself to be the bridesmaid and not the bride for two years in a row is unthinkable.

As for Felipe Massa, the pressure has never been greater as the Brazilian seeks to claim the championship in the very last race of the season which also happens to be his home race. After Ayrton Senna's untimely death in the 1994 San Marino GP, no other Brazilian driver has come this close to winning the championship. And surely, the chance to win it all and celebrate his triumph in front of his countrymen is a great incentive for Massa. But that's a double-edged sword as, surely, the idea of failing to seal the win in his home race lurks at the back of his mind.

Fortunately for Massa, sitting on pole gives him an added advantage as separating him from Hamilton's MP4-23 is Toyota's Jarno Trulli and, most importantly, his teammate, Räikkönen. And as everyone who's been watching F1 for some time knows, issuing team orders is not an unfamiliar concept in Ferrari, so to see Räikkönen acting as a buffer for Massa against Hamilton won't be a surprising sight. And since they'll both be fighting for position, some fireworks between the two are to be expected. After all, Kimi's notoriously fast while Hamilton has proven to be great in overtaking his competitors.

Driving for Ferrari, Massa's races in Brazil has been exceptionally well, with a win in 2006 and second-place finishes in the following years after. But then again, with a wet Brazilian GP being forecasted, and with the wet weather being Massa's Waterloo, Hamilton just might win it all. After all, he's not being called F1's newest Rain Master after Michael Schumacher for nothing, and his masterful display of control in this year's British GP is proof enough of that.

Still, in a race where there's so much on the line, the fireworks - or the lack of it, for that matter - that we all have to be looking out for would be the ones coming from the stewards. They've been in the middle of so many controversial decisions this season, to see them hand out another questionable and unpopular decision that would meddle in the championship standings is the last thing F1 needs.

But who knows? In the end, Massa just might rip out the fueling rig again or Hamilton might trip up his transmission to cost either one the championship.

But all I really want is a good, clean race. And if the race is going to be decided by the stewards, I just hope that, for once, they DO make the right decision. After all, in the end, after all has been said and done, it's the fans who should be the winners.