Since the test at Silverstone last week, McLaren have looked strong. Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen appeared to have a small margin over their long-term rivals Ferrari, and given that BMW fell off the wagon at the last race in France, the Woking-squad were naturally buoyant going into the race weekend. Ferrari, on the other hand, remained cautious but optimistic, but it soon started to go wrong for them and as they say in life, bad things come in threes…
Well they certainly did for Felipe Massa. Let’s start by taking a look at the Brazilian’s weekend as it is a little easier to understand what happened, even if the whys are still unknown.
On Friday Felipe had a sizeable off in his Ferrari. It was the morning session and Massa had just set the fastest lap – little did he know that it would remain the fastest lap of the 90 minute session. After just eight tours of the track Massa skated across the gravel and impacted the barrier. The reason for the off was because Fernando Alonso’s Renault V8 had blown moments before and left a trail of oil on the track. A few drivers had a wobble as they entered the Stowe corner, braking from around 190mph. Massa couldn’t control his wobble though and the impact was said to have been around the 25G mark. Serious enough.
Massa’s car was returned to the pits but it couldn’t be mended in time for the start of the second practice session, and spare cars are forbidden this year. Massa eventually got out on track in the afternoon but could only manage eighth fastest after 18 laps – half of what many other drivers were doing.
Saturday didn’t go quite as badly and the Brazilian driver was going well in qualifying. The impact, it seems, hadn’t bothered him. However, in the third and final qualifying session – the part that decides the top ten grid positions – Massa suffered some kind of problem in the pits and one of his runs was delayed. Although UK ITV didn’t pick up on it, the team were struggling to get a wheel on the F2008 and this hampered Felipe’s running.
The teams very carefully orchestrate their qualifying runs in order to maximise the free space their driver has ahead of them. Sending a car out directly behind another is pointless because the car in front will hold up the driver behind, even if he is slightly quicker, the disturbed air is not good. This very likely happened to Felipe at some point during that final run or he was just delayed and couldn’t complete enough runs. Either way, he only qualified in ninth.
The race was even worse though. Massa couldn’t keep his Ferrari on the island and spun so many times I lost count. Initially I, along with ITV commentator Martin Brundle, presumed there was a problem with the car. Perhaps the engine mapping was wrong and that was causing the car to spin at the very slightest touch of the throttle. However, after the race Massa was bemused as to why his race fell apart and no satisfactory answer has been given yet that I can find.
Felipe was struggling right from the start because of a lack of grip and his race was immediately compromised, and then it is very difficult to drive in these conditions in the middle of the pack. Luca Baldisserri.
I’m sorry to say this Luca, but while you are correct – it couldn’t have been easy – other drivers managed to spin less than Felipe. Drivers like Kazuki Nakajima who has only driven in ten races, for example. Sure he spun a lot, but I’m certain Felipe made more mistakes.
So it seems that Felipe’s mistakes were all of his own doing and that his car was running normally, albeit on a very wet track. Needless to say, it isn’t what you expect from a championship winning team and a driver with the experience of Massa.
Kimi’s weekend started better than Massa’s with 47 laps completed in the morning practices. Although he didn’t finish as high as Massa in the tables, it was generally thought that Raikkonen was running a conservative strategy and wasn’t too bothered about final places and more concerned with track time.
During qualifying Kimi improved as the sessions went by and the Finn almost took the pole. On the final set of runs Kimi set the benchmark and Lewis Hamilton couldn’t match or better it. Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen demoted the reigning world champion down to third, but both their laps were absolute stunners that although perhaps expected, came from deep within. Raikkonen’s lap was good, solid and certainly not the end of the world for the world champion.
And then we come to Kimi’s race. To be honest, it was gut-wrenching. We could see he had the car underneath him. It wasn’t the best, perhaps not even the fastest out there, but it was winnable. Kimi’s Ferrari could have taken the victory today, but it didn’t.
From the start Kimi looked fired up and he made a good getaway from the line. Unfortunately, Heikki had decided to defend and let’s be honest, if it came down to letting Kimi or his team mate through, he’s gonna defend to the Ferrari! Raikkonen was squeezed over to the left and had to get out of the throttle, which in turn enabled Hamilton to slip by and pressure Kovalainen.
But all was not lost and after the lead changed, Kimi set about pressuring his fellow Finn, and then the leading Briton. After the pit stops though, it was all over for Raikkonen. The McLaren’s had pitted and taken new intermediate (wet weather) tyres. Ferrari decided not to replace Raikkonen’s boots though and just topped him up with fuel. Ferrari were hoping the rain would ease and a dry line would emerge on the track. In this case the Bridgestone intermediates behave almost like a slick and Kimi would have had the advantage.
Alas, it rained even harder. Kimi was on almost treadless tyres, and Lewis Hamilton was on deeply grooved and very grippy tyres. And then it rained even harder. In fact it rained so hard that in all honesty, the drivers on intermediates should have pitted for full wets (extreme wet weather tyres). Rubens Barrichello was blitzing the field on his full wets.
I am disappointed, but I am equally aware that things could have been much worse. We had the possibility to win the race but we made a mistake at the first pit stop, keeping the same set of tyres, because we expected the track conditions to improve. It was a joint decision: we are a team and we win or lose together. Kimi Raikkonen.
Kimi went backwards and there was nothing he could do about it with the tyres he was on. The determination of Raikkonen is astounding though and the fact that he was able to come back at the end and finish fourth is admirable. But in hindsight, it should have been so much more. It so easily could have been a win. And how different the championship table would look if he had taken the victory.
A Sunday to forget as quickly as possible in terms of the result, although we must remember certain elements of this weekend, as there were mistakes made that we cannot afford to repeat. We could have won this race with Kimi but we made a key mistake at the first pit stop, choosing to stay on the same set of tyres. Stefano Domenicali.