Monday, November 03, 2008


I'd like to pretend that that's what I had to say at the end of yesterday's Formula 1 finale, but I'm afraid that it was probably closer to the noise that a 12 year old girl would make throughout the first 45 minutes of a Jonas Brothers concert (until they pass out of dehydration).

Through 18 years of watching nearly every major open wheel race (F1, CART/ChampCar, IRL - I've probably seen 90% or more of all of those since 1991), I have never seen anything quite like what went down at Interlagos. Yes, the IRL closer at Chicagoland last year was similar, but maybe years of 0.003 second margins of victory at the mile and a half ovals have somewhat numbed me to close IndyCar races (Scott Dixon would have had to have clinched the '08 title while sliding on his roll hoop to completely impress me). The kind of drama that we had in was written in the race review on that this would have been laughed out of Hollywood if it'd been written in a movie script, but that really is true. That sort of thing just does not happen in F1.

Over the course of the last 20 laps of the race, the identity of the champion-to-be changed hands four or five times. From Lewis cruising in 4th or 5th for most of the middle portion of the race, to falling back to 6th during the next to last round of pitstops, to being threatened by Sebastian Vettel for 5th for 10+ laps (and the lack of a margin of error that that would have meant), to the Toyotas gambling on skipping wet weather tires and Glock leapfrogging Vettel and Hamilton, to Vettel passing Lewis for 5th (due to a bizarre pass by Kubica, who was a lap down; how was he so fast all of a sudden? Was the BMW set up for the wet and that's why he was so slow in qualifying?), to...finally...the pass by Vettel and Lewis on Glock on the last lap, after Glock had started the lap 16 seconds in front... I can still barely get my head around the whole set of circumstances.

I believe that justice was served in the end. If not for the FIA's penalty on Sebastien Bourdais at Fuji, Lewis would have gone to Brazil with an eight point gap, which would have meant that 6th would have clinched just as well as Lewis's eventual 5th place did. In my opinion, two other penalties had a negative effect on the championship as well: Lewis's penalty at Spa (which I think should have been more like 20 seconds, which would have only dropped him to 2nd; that just seemed more fitting, as a real drive through penalty at Spa wouldn't have taken a full 25 seconds), and Massa's effective non-penalty for trying to take Lewis out at Fuji (it'd take me taking a long, hard look at Ferrari's data traces to convince me that that wasn't deliberate; Felipe shouldn't have been allowed to score in Japan at all after that, in my opinion). Both of those penalties, to my mind, cost Lewis two extra points worth of a lead, and so without either one (and without the Bourdais penalty), he'd have been up by ten points going to Brazil. That would have been an absolute lay-up for Lewis to win the championship, which is precisely why the FIA didn't let things play out that way.

Meanwhile, I am glad that Felipe did manage to win the race, even if it meant some very bittersweet emotions for him on the rostrum and in the interview room (and he did a great job to not completely break down in tears). He deserved the race win, and if he'd been a legitimate seven points behind Lewis going into the race, I'd even have been OK with him winning the championship, too. Ferrari also did deserve to win the Constructor's title, as McLaren only managed to get both of their cars through to the end of a race without a major drama for one or the other a handful of times all season.

One thing that seemed to be missed on Sunday: Heikki Kovaleinen did the right thing in trying to tuck in behind Lewis on the start, even though he'd gotten a better start. That move meant that Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were able to attack and pass him through the Senna Esses, but Heikki made a great exit from the Esses and was well positioned to pass both guys back on the run down the backstraight. However, after clearing Alonso, Vettel threw a gigantic block on Heikki in the middle of the straight, forcing Heikki to put two wheels on the grass (which was still soaked from the rain from 15 minutes before), which subsequently caused Heikki to be re-passed by Alonso. If the FIA actually penalized for driving tactics that were truly unsafe (as opposed to driving tactics that simply put you in the general vicinity of a Ferrari), this would never have happened, Heikki probably would have passed Alonso, Vettel or both, and he'd actually have been able to help Lewis by holding back the rest of the field. A moot point now, sure, but in view of the FIA also failing to penalize Jarno Trulli for a wildly kamikaze move (can I say that, if Jarno is driving a Toyota?) on Sebastien Bourdais, you've got to wonder what sort of tactics do and don't merit a penalty.

2008 is going to be a very, very tough act to follow. I have high hopes for next year, though. The introduction of KERS will be an interesting development, but for my money, the most important things will be which team is able to best optimize their car for the new aerodynamic restrictions which are supposed to eliminate 50% of the cars' downforce and reduce their wake-turbulence, and who can adapt to the re-introduction of slick tires. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing F1 cars on proper tires, and not the goofy grooved ones of the current era, which I never thought seemed to be compatible with a world class racing series.

Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton! He's won one of the best Formula 1 championships the sport has ever seen, and may he win many more.

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