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.

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