Saturday, 8 September 2007

Fautless Alonso Grabs Pole

Alonso well and truly silenced the Hamfosi today. Whatever Mclaren’s problems off the track, on it at least, the team performed faultlessly; the silver cars looked absolutely beautiful.

Alonso was on blinding form and if his fist punching was anything to go by after grabbing pole, he knew it too. I don’t for a minute pretend to understand the underlying dynamics of an F1 car but you could visually see Alonso’s advantage today especially in the last sector. He seemed to carry so much speed into the Parabolica yet seamlessly get back on the power earlier than any other driver out there.

No doubt about it, Hamilton is going to have his work cut out to hang on to his team-mate tomorrow. We may even see an error from the Britain if he is forced to try and match a race pace beyond his grasp.

Ferrari were the big losers in today’s session and suffered an embarrassing result on home turf. There was a lot of talk about Raikkonen being disadvantaged by running in the T-Car following his crash in practice. I’m not so sure about this. A driver of Raikkonen’s calibre could still have delivered the goods in these circumstances. The Ferraris are just drastically of the pace plain and simple. I think Raikkonen is probably carrying a good deal more fuel than his team-mate which would partly explain why he struggled and why the on-form Heidfeld was able to get the jump on him.

So it wouldn’t surprise me if Raikkonen is one-stopping. But I think the Mclarens will be out of reach for the Finn even if they do have to two-stop as their lap times suggest.

Other names worth a mention include those drivers brining up the back end of the top ten: Kovalainen (7th), Rosberg (8th), Trulli (9th) and Button (10th). Kovalainen has come of age in the last few races and seems to have got the measure of his vastly more experienced team-mate. Melbourne seems so long ago when he burst on to the scene with a string of unforced errors. I had my doubts about him then but must admit I am starting to rat

Rosberg delivered the goods yet again. I wonder if he will be in a Williams next year. The problem is there is no real space in any of the top teams.

How Jarno Trulli managed to make the top ten is beyond me considering that he was right on the cusp in P16 at the end of the first knock-out session. It obviously gave him a bit of a wake-up call.

And finally, credit must go to Button for getting the evil handling Honda into the final session.

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Saturday, 1 September 2007

Ferrari can still challenge

I apologise for the lack of entries recently; I have been pretty snowed under at work.

Some thoughts on Turkey. Ferrari quashed Mclaren with a 1-2 finish but I think there will be some dissatisfaction – or at least a sense of missed opportunity – with the result. Why? Because just as in 2006 when a safety car situation allowed Massa to get the jump on Michael Schumacher, so again this year, the finishing order was less than ideal for the team’s championship challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, Massa, on his day, can be brilliant when out in front. He can also be seriously impressive over the one-lap. But between Massa and Raikkonen who would you really want dicing it out with the Mclarens in the heat of a championship deciding race?

Publicly at least, Jean Todt has been quick to jump on the ‘equalities’ bandwagon instigated by Ron Dennis and Mclaren (I find this so hilarious given the team’s history with Michael Schumacher at the helm):

“At the moment there is no plan to make any kind of strategy between one or the other driver.

“It would be something that would be inappropriate. Our drivers are doing such a good job, after 12 Grands Prix, with just one point difference.

“Most of the problems they had were because of some mistakes that we did. They made some mistakes, but that is normal. We are all human.

“We feel the championship is still open. It will be tough, but it is always tough. And as I always said, we will try the best until the end and I believe we still can carry this on.”

I guess the key thing here is that Todt does not explicitly rule out one-driver support at a later stage in the championship. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people in the team are secretly hoping that Raikkonen comes out on top in the next few races.

Incidentally, there was something else in Todt’s statement that caught my eye. He went out of his way to praise Lewis Hamilton for his damage limiting drive to fifth after his tyre delaminated:

“Lewis did a fantastic race. After what happened he was quite lucky to bring four points home but when you look at what he has done this season he is doing a great job. He was even quite successful when he had a problem today. It can happen to us, and it is part of racing.”

It is quite a rare thing for team leaders to acknowledge other drivers’ performances however impressive. Indeed, I didn’t think Hamilton’s recovery was particularly spell-binding. It was a solid drive and he kept a clear head.

So why the praise from Todt? Has Todt - and more worringly, has Lewis himself - started thinking about what Hamilton would look like in Red? I seem to remember the last Mclaren driver Todt went out of his way to congratulate was a certain Kimi Raikkonen.

With regards to the title hunt, I have argued throughout this blog that Ferrari will be hard-pressed to stop a Mclaren driver winning the drivers championship. But Hamilton’s tyre blow-out – which I now understand was due to tyre ”Chunking” – really hit home and reminded me just how quickly things can turn in Formula One.

There is only one point between Massa and Raikkonen who are only 17 points off the leader. We have five races to go and a maximum of fifty points up for grabs. And the threat of points deductions from Mclaren or even worse, a race ban remains very much real.

If Ferrari can find some consistency and string together some victories we could be in for a thrilling end to the season. Why Bernie Ecclestone is trying to lure Michael Schumacher back into the sport is beyond me.

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