Another good race; it is a good sign if I choose to start re-watching the race the same evening. With so much rain and other incidents, it is still difficult to judge the impact of the change in refueling regulations, but the reaction against the new rules after the first round on the wrong Bahrain circuit was perhaps disproportionate.
Apart from a heart-stopping detour across the gravel, Hamilton and McLaren put in another very solid performance. It seems churlish of Christian Horner to describe Hamilton as riding his luck, because after all Lewis’s luckiest asset is the inability of Red Bull and their drivers to not keep finding new ways to not get the results their speed merits. For a long time in Formula One, it has been consistent results at or towards the sharp end that win titles, which is why the McLaren driver leads the points. It struck me earlier this week that the exception to consistency winning the big prize was 2008, when Lewis did win the title with a few too many mistakes along the way in his first year leading the team, but won anyway because Massa had a patchy year, Räikkönen did not seem on it for whatever reason, and best of the rest, Kubica, may have had a point about BMW not putting enough behind his title-tilt. On this reflection, I realised that of his almost-four seasons in F1, Hamilton won the title in the year he put in his worst performance. I do not blame LH for what happened in China in 2007, when he ended up in the kitty-litter entering the pits, as this armchair-enthusiast had been yelling for about ten minutes at the screen for McLaren to pit him, it being utter stupidity to leave him out even after the canvas of one of the back-tyres was showing. With two rounds remaining, he needed four points if Räikkönen won both (as happened), and had a 13-point lead pre-race on Alonso, so I will never understand why McLaren did not take a more conservative decision, and believe that he would not have slipped off in the pit-entry if his tyres were not shot. (The argument for staying out was the track was drying from needing intermediates to being ready for dry tyres, so delaying the stop avoided having to put on inters and then bring him in again soon after for drys.)
I thought the penalty on and strong criticism of Vettel was harsh. He made a mistake on a damp track, as did Hamilton, Alonso, Barrichello, and indeed Button totally misjudging his braking with the early move on Kubica. It so happened Sebastian’s mistake effected another driver, as Button’s easily could have done, and ruined his own race as well. A comment by Horner suggests Vettel was not so much trying to pass as to avoid hitting Button, surprised how early JB braked. Webber was flummoxed in Valencia by how early Kovalainen’s Lotus braked, and perhaps the Red Bull drivers have so much grip they struggle to comprehend the braking-distances of others. Horrible luck for Jenson but in his backmarker days, he made similar mistakes.
The one thing Schumacher’s second career is hanging on is the support of the team, so muscling his way past Rosberg thus damaging Nico’s front-wing was a very stupid move, compounded by the failed attempt by Michael to pass his team-mate around the outside later in the race that easily could have become very messy. Unlike Vettel, his impetuosity can not be excused by youth.
I read a very interesting article on the ScarabsF1 web-log, which I mostly understood, about how Red Bull use retarding of the engine-ignition to maintain flow through the exhausts-blown diffuser at lower revs. F1 teams tried exhaust-blown diffusers from the late ‘nineties, the problem being although it increased downforce, the increase was in relationship to engine rpm, so kept going up-and-down, meaning the drivers had a fluctuating grip-limit (beyond the relationship to car-speed), that was more difficult to drive to without the risk of going off by overstepping this jumping-around limit than the improvement in downforce was worth (plus possible compromise on engine-performance in suiting the exhausts to this approach). One-by-one they abandoned it, except at McLaren where Adrian Newey stuck with it, until Mercedes decided they wanted shorter exhausts that curtailed the blown-diffuser from 2004 onwards. Newey has reintroduced the concept this year at Red Bull, with at lower revs the air-fuel mixture being ignited late, so it is still expanding as it leaves the cylinders into the exhausts, maintaining volume-flow of the gasses out to the diffuser. Many were puzzled at Red Bull being so protective of the back-end of the car earlier this season, with team-members standing to block the view on the grid, when all the other teams had digital photographs anyway. One theory I have is it was to draw attention to the system to avoid others noticing they also had found a flexing advantage, the other theory being it would persuade other teams to throw more resources at the blown-diffusers when Red Bull knew they would struggle to deal with the low-RPM issue as they had before. Of course, McLaren are probably on top of ignition-retardation judging by the funny engine-noises at low-revs in corners, perhaps because they have been able to refer back to how Newey did it when back at Woking. With Newey’s expertise, I expect Red Bull will by now have a pretty good F-duct system, but whatever Horner says, I suspect the new underfloor flexing tests will affect them.
So Fernando still thinks he has a fifty per-cent chance at the title. As before, I suspect this is to a considerable extent at the request of the Maranello PR-department, with Scuderia Ferrari having had such a pasting in the Italian media this season. If anyone does believe it, 10/1 is available at the bookies, but I would not recommend it, however many times Räikkönen’s late comeback in ’07 is mentioned.
Yesterday’s win was Hamilton’s fourteenth, and McLaren’s 169th. Whilst I do not wish to begrudge Rubens Barrichello’s achievement of three-hundred Grands Prix, he may still be two or three short of that mark. The total excludes San Marino 1994, when Barrichello’s violent Friday FP accident, which knocked him unconscious, was the starter for the string of calamities that weekend, including the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. However, included in the 300-tally are two races in 2002, Spain and France, when the Brazilian’s Ferrari both times conked out on the warm-up lap (whilst team-mate Schumacher had 100% race-reliability that season). The other bone of contention is the Belgium GP in 1998, when a gigantic pile-up occurred after the first turn, involving most the field, the race being red-flagged, and re-started with a depleted field because many teams had two smashed cars and only one spare. Rubens did not take the second start. This is a sticky point for statisticians, as under such circumstances, the first start is dismissed, the second start being the race proper. This interpretation means Riccardo Paletti, killed in a terrible start-line crash on the first attempt to start the 1982 Canada GP, counts as a DNS, and that despite the horrific injuries suffered by Nicki Lauda in his fiery crash at the 1976 German GP, he never started the race. Congratulations none the less to Rubens Barrichello, although I would count it as 298, choosing to include the first start at Spa ’98.
Before Monza is the FIA hearing over Ferrari’s use of team-orders in Germany, and the charge of bringing the sport into disrepute. While Todt is not chairing the hearing, it should not be forgotten that every person on the council (except Uncle Bernie if there as a FIA Vice-President) owes their continuing high position within the organisation to Jean Todt’s favour. Back in 2007, the transcripts of the McLaren and Renault hearings revealed Mosley asking all the questions, except the very occasional inquiry by Ecclestone, and when on one occasion someone else did dare to ask their own question, Mosley quickly and rudely interrupted the answer, dismissing it as already covered, which did not seem to be the case. Todt is less belligerent than his predecessor, but when it comes to discussing the judgement, which happens in private, as before the only voices that will count will be the FIA President and the FOM boss. At the second McLaren hearing, a FIA delegate, seemingly popping out for a gasper, told journalists McLaren were to be thrown out of F1 that season and next, news which flashed around the World, whilst indoors Ecclestone was persuading Max to reduce it to loss of ’07 Constructors’ points and the $100 million fine. My entry into the how-will-they-punish-Ferrari sweepstake is that both drivers-and-cars will be disqualified from the German result.