Sunday, November 2, 2008

Race Report: It ain't over till it's over


The 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix can be summed up by that one single word really as Lewis Hamilton pinched the world championship from Felipe Massa at literally the final corner of the final lap of the final race. It was heartbreaking for Massa who drove an absolutely brilliant race up front to comfortably win his home race in the wet, something Felipe is not supposed to be good at. It was sensational in the minor points as the changing weather threw everything for a loop all race and in the end, the world championship was effectively won by Toyota, not exactly the way the team from Cologne aspire to be in the championship headlines.

Interlagos is an interesting place. It is bumpy, it is twisty, it is a place where you can overtake, the facilities are considered to be the worst in F1, yet is has soul, it has character, and the fans just go nuts. The Brazilian fans have had a long dry spell of homegrown title contenders until now, as the last Brazilian champion was Ayrton Senna in 1991, but they are an optimistic lot and with Felipe Massa able to be competitive at home (something Rubens Barichello never managed in his six years at Ferrari) they really have something to celebrate. Even though the Brazilian GP usually features crappy weather they go out to the track and celebrate, it is an all-day party in Sao Paulo and that's why Mr. Ecclestone has extended the race's contract until 2014, although it may have to do with a tidy cheque being signed by the local governments..........

The race started in the wet as a downpour came literally two minutes before the scheduled start. This threw everyone for a loop and the start was delayed by ten minutes as the teams scrambled to get full wet tyres. When the lights finally did go out all the men at the front got through cleanly, there were no unsporting shenanigans going on but at the back there was trouble as Nico Rosberg rammed the back of the retiring David Coulthard, pitching the scot into a spin. Unfortunately for DC this spin put him right in the path of Kaz Nakajima who had no choice but to run into him. DC was out on the spot and Kaz had to pit for repairs and the safety car came out, not only for this little mess but for Nelson Piquet, who crashed of his own accord at the next corner.

The safety car came on lap four and we went racing again as the track dried out. Pitstops for dry tyres came around lap 10 with Massa maintaining his lead, despite a heart-stopping wobble on lap 13. Hamilton found himself stuck behind Jarno Trulli, who had a spin on his own and then rather cruelly punted Seb Bourdais into a spin, but due to pitstop sequence Lewis was still in the 5th-6th place range, with Massa motoring off into the distance at the front. It looked really touch and go and the naysayers were sharpening their knives at the prospect of seeing Hamilton lose a world title in the last race again.

The only man that looked really capable to catch Massa at the front was Fernando Alonso, whose second half to the season has been truly remarkable when you consider where they were at the start of the season. He could not hang on to Massa in the end and finished a credible second in the race. The order shuffled itself here and there throughout the race, with everything coming to a head with 10 laps to go, that's when the rain came back. This has been a season with numerous exciting wet races, making a wet finale a fitting end and on lap 62 the raindrops returned. At that point the order was Massa, Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel. Everyone pitted between laps 65 and 67 with the exception of the Toyota team, who kept their drivers on dry tyres. The immediate effect of that decision was that Timo Glock was promoted to fourth with Hamilton and Vettel nose to tail in fifth and sixth. If the result held Hamilton would be champ, but there was more to come.

The drama really came with just two laps to go. That's when traffic held Hamilton up just enough to allow Vettel to get on his tail and then at the end of the lap Lewis ran wide, allowing Vettel to sneak through into fifth. It looked as though it was game over for Hamilton and McLaren. Hamilton was sixth, tied with Massa but set to lose again. The fanboys were weeping, the naysayers were rejoicing and the Brazilians were dancing, but it did not end there. Massa was cruising but Hamilton was desperately trying to pass Vettel. Unbeknown to Massa, the Toyotas were in trouble. They were 18 seconds off the pace on the final lap and the Vettel-Hamilton duel closed dramatically on Timo Glock. At the final corner they were right there with them and at the final corner Glock went wide allowing Vettel and Hamilton to sneak through. Massa was already celebrating, Ferrari assumed they had won the title and the Brazilians were in ecstasy. Not even Hamilton was sure he won and most of the commentators had announced Massa as champion until the timing boards flashed Hamilton in fifth. They had to look back on the video to realize that Glock had not been lapped he had been passed for position and Hamilton was world champion. The Ferrari team went from delerium to devastation in a few short seconds as reality sunk in, Felipe was second in the world championship.

You couldn't write a better script with the best writers Hollywood has and it was a fitting end to a controversial, an exciting and a topsy turvy world championship. In this race we did not have any political bullshit, we had two honourable competitors battling on the track, the way it is supposed to be. Felipe Massa was honourable in defeat, he took it like a man while Hamilton was respectful to the team and to Massa. This is what Formula One should be. It should not be about backroom dealing, about harsh penalties, about conspiracies, it is a sport and one that should be enjoyed as such, a concept that so many in formula one can't seem to grasp. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton, a worthy world champion if ever there was one. Had Massa won the title I would have said the exact same thing as he truly impressed me today and his class in the news conference and on the podium has been wonderful for the sport. If F1 can put aside the bickering and the political garbage for just one second we will realize just what an exciting time this can be for the sport. We have three world champions in the sport and a fourth driver who is championship Material right now, plus we have some exciting young drivers coming through. The days of the big Red Machine are over and we are back to the good old days of true competition and close title chases.

Three stars of the race
1. Felipe Massa
2. Fernando Alonso
3. Sebastien Vettel

Three Jean-Denis Deletraz's of the race (hard to pick because everyone was well behaved
1. Nico Rosberg
2. Nelson Piquet
3. Jarno Trulli

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