You can be my wingman anytime …

And so, the chequered flag on a largely checkered F1 season.

But if its a page turner that you were looking for, if you had any doubts about F1’s viewership after Michael Schumacher drove away into the sunset, if box-office was Bernie Ecclestone’s mantra, then it really could not have gotten much better than this.

It all started even as the last season ended. Michael Schumacher’s retirement, his getting pipped at the post by Fernando Alonso (then with Renault), Juan Pablo Montoya moving to the Nascar were all events to have a bearing on this season. These were all contributory factors to the drama that followed in 2007.

Fernando Alonso, now a two time World Champion with Renault was wooed by and succumbed to the charms of Ron Dennis at Mclaren Mercedes. He wanted to show that it was not the car, but him. Champions are like that. That ego was to assert itself all season long. To be fair to Mclaren and Ron Dennis, their move was also prompted by the fact that their number one driver Kimi Raikonnen was snapped up by Ferrari as the replacement to Michael Schumacher. Not really though. Nobody replaces Schumi at Ferrari. Not yet anyway. Kimi did not arrive at Ferrari as the undisputed “number one” driver like Michael was. After all, Kimi had never won a world championship. Fernando Alonso though, double world champion arrived at Mclaren with a former test driver, in his rookie season, for a teammate.

Formula One is a largely British Sport. The commercial rights are held by the British, the President of the FIA is British, the race director and his assistant and the sport’s commissioner are all British as well. And Mclaren, of course are a British team and so when Lewis Hamilton, British, Afro-Carribean origin, all of 22 years old there was an Henman-esque aura of hope to it. But Alonso was of course, the reigning World Champion…..

The season started off quite well, but by the third race, Lewis Hamilton with three podium finishes in his first three races and with the leaderboard reading Kimi 22, Alonso 22, Lewis 22 – was already inviting comparisons with some golfer called Woods. That was Bahrain and the next race was in Spain and the heat was on the champion. Massa won his second race in a row but Lewis Hamilton stood to his right on the podium. Alonso was third and had lost the lead on his home grand prix.

Monaco was next. Alonso wins and Lewis is 2nd but under what seems like team orders, is not allowed to mount a challenge and the young kid lets it be known that he’s not happy, that he’d like to keep his chances of a title alive. A title !? The teammates are leaders and level on points.

To prove he’s not joking, and five podiums after he started racing F1, Lewis wins his first race in Canada. Alonso manages a seventh and that gives the rookie a 8 point lead into Indianapolis. In the USA, Pole position and another win sees Hamilton extend his advantage to 10 points over Alonso, who crosses the line second. Raikkonen’s fourth place sees him fall 26 points off the lead. Thats as far as he’ll ever fall back.

It was somewhere here that the whole Stepneygate saga first erupted. It turned out that there had been a whole load of espionage going on, ostensibly fuelled by Nigel Stepney’s dented ambitions at Ferrari. It was a massive saga but the gist of it suggested that Mclaren had been 780 pages of Ferrari documents including designs, fuel information etc . Even as this occupied centrestage, the races continued.

On the return to Europe from America, Ferrari regained some superiority and managed to claw back some points and after France, Britain and the Nurburgring, it stood at Lewis 70, Alonso 68 and Kimi 52. Importantly though, Mclaren had been absolved of all charges.

Maverick, Its not your flying. Its your attitude. The enemy’s dangerous but right now you are worse than the enemy. You are dangerous and foolish. You may not like the guys flying with you, they may not like you. But whose side are you on ?

Hungary was probably the turning point of the season. Fernando Alonso got pole position but during the last qualifying session , he parked just those few extra seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the final pit stop. Incredibly, Hamilton complained to the stewards, and Alonso was stripped of pole position. Moved down 5 places in the grid, he finished 4th later in the race. It would prove more costly than Mclaren imagined. The next morning, Alonso went up to Ron Dennis. Alonso won’t say what was discussed but as per Ron Dennis, at some stage Fernando issued a threat to go to the FIA (subsequently retracted the same day) with evidence in the form of emails of exactly the things that Mclaren had been absolved of just a few days ago.

It left Ron no option but to call up Max Mosely at the FIA with the information. The case was reopened. A few days later, Mclaren were found guilty of espionage primarily on the basis of 300 emails and sms’ between Mclaren’s Mike Coughlan and Ferrari’s Nigel Stepney and Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa. That led to an unprecedented penalty. Apart from the biggest fine in any sport of US$ 100 million, Mclaren were docked all their constructors points in the championships. Incredibly, they were allowed to keep all their driver’s points though. A part of that was because the FIA President Max Moseley had given them a “gentleman’s word”, a sort of immunity for every word they spoke and every piece of evidence they provided – presumably against Mclaren. However, as he himself admits,

When McLaren was stripped of their constructor’s points it would have had a certain logic to also slash the drivers’ championship points. But the majority of the World Council was of different opinion.It was a decision of logic versus emotion. Logic would have demanded to slash all points, but emotion was not willing to wreck such an incredible championship with an armchair judgment.

Ultimately, box office won and the championship continued.

Turkey
Massa beats Raikkonen for a Ferrari one-two, with Alonso third. A puncture forces a damage-limitation exercise from Hamilton, who trails home in fifth.
Standings: Hamilton 84, Alonso 79, Raikkonen 68

Italy
Alonso has the edge over Hamilton as McLaren route Ferrari on the Italians’ home turf. It puts them just three points apart with four rounds remaining. Raikkonen finishes a distant third.
Standings: Hamilton 92, Alonso 89, Raikkonen 74

Belgium
Raikkonen wins in commanding fashion from Massa, with Alonso third and Hamilton fourth. The gap shrinks to just two points.
Standings: Hamilton 97, Alonso 95, Raikkonen 84

Japan
Hamilton weathers the Fuji storm to win, extending his championship lead to 12 points after Alonso crashes out. Raikkonen’s third place keeps him in the hunt – just.
Standings: Hamilton 107, Alonso 95, Raikkonen 90

Lewis Hamilton was now one race away from racing immortality. 12 points ahead of his nearest rival. and 17 points ahead of Kimi Raikonnen.

The penultimate race was in Shanghai. Typhoon Krosa was exerting its influence on the fringes of the track. The hurricane of emotion within an eager mind though is different. For a long time, Lewis Hamilton led on track. Then as the weather started playing tricks and the sun and rain made dry lines in some parts of the circuit, ripples of doubt began to form in puddles of Mclaren’s strategy. To make matters worse, Ron Dennis blurted out that they were not racing Kimi, but Alonso. It was something that Fernando had been drumming all along. Ultimately bringing the car in for his first pitstop, still running wet tyres in drying conditions, just a few metres shy of the pit garage and well into the pit lane, Lewis Hamilton overdid it. He overran it all and ended up in the gravel. Experience is a brutal teacher is probably a chinese saying in Lewis’ mind. Raikonnen first, Alonso second.
Standings: Hamilton 107, Alonso 103, Raikkonen 100

Across the world they traveled. To Brazil. And it was all to play for. Could anyone possibly have scripted this?
Oh and did I mention Felipe Massa ? This was his home grand prix. And he had won last year. And he’d love to win again. And he was on pole.

The rest is history. And even today, three days later , a bit of a blur.

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have ended up tied at 109 points. Both losing as much as they have won. Fernando’s dream of proving his mettle in a new place wrecked as much by his own ego as by his employers inability to accommodate him. Lewis Hamilton’s falling away in the second half as expectations and pressure of performance caught up with him is something that is likely to only go higher from here on. Wayne Rooney was Pele in 2004. Henman didn’t win Wimbledon. Beware the weight of expectations.

kimi2.jpg

And finally to Kimi Raikonnen. Its a tribute to the man that he’s called the Iceman so often. Consider this though. As he warmed up to the scarlet Ferrari, he’s just gotten hotter. Its not that the pressure of making up points is any less. But in the last 9 races, Kimi had 4 wins, 2 second places and 2 thirds.

Ultimately tho, the difference was that one team had two guys who were willing to respect each other and allow for the other’s ambition. And therein lies a lesson.

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11 thoughts on “You can be my wingman anytime …

  1. Interesting summary, you just got something wrong, the reason why the FIA reopened the case was not due to the fact that Ron Dennis called Max Mosley due to the discussion with Fernando Alonso, but instead because Ferrari appealed the decision of the FIA. During that time all drivers from McLaren were called to provide their statement looking for any probe or possible involvement. This is a very delicate issue for the drivers due to the fact that they can loose they F1 driver license. Now most technicians and Engineers and drivers (testers plus main) declared that they have heard about the Ferrari document with one exception…. of course Lewis Hamilton…. It seems that among all the employees of McLaren Mercedes he was the only one kept in the dark…… (yeah right…). In summary the trigger was not Fernando Alonso threat to Ron Dennis (which by the way was denied by Fernando Alonso, who stated that it was as a huge lie, and we know quite well how easy Ron Dennis can lie).

    You stated correctly what happen with the exception of two main points:
    1.- Fernando Alonso was hold in Hungary in pits by team orders and Ron Dennis did not defend him in front of the stewards. This cost Fernando Alonso his third crown!.
    2.- In at least two races the team perform technical mistakes toward Fernando Alonso, giving him used tires for the Q3 flying lap (Hungary)…… There you win 80% of the race….. Plus in China a pressure of the tires 10 times more for the Q3 flying lap….
    3.- The car of Fernando Alonso was under-performing in Brazil seriously, we saw during the race a BMW (Robert Kubica) making 1 sec less a lap than the McLaren at the point that the BMW passed the McLaren. Alonso reported that he was pushing the car at its max……. and even thought he finished 47 sec behind the Ferrari’s…… Please, do we need more probe……..

    In summary:
    McLaren management was quite terrible, they have lost money, credibility and the trust of one of the best drivers in the circus, and he is not the first. Other great drivers like Coulthard, Montoya and Kimi Raikonen left McLaren running away from the lack of common sense and control freak policies of this company.
    In two weeks we will see what the double world champion Fernando Alonso will do, but it seems that there are not too many options for him. He can just go back to Renault or stay in HELL, I meant McLaren if he wants to continue racing next year in a decent car and he said already that Renault will not be his first choice.

  2. Once again my compliments on a fine article.

    The Championship certainly brought back the fierceness and competition of Prost, Senna and even Mansell. Why that, even Schumacher and Mika shared a minor one as well. Motorsport was indeed watchable after a long time thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s denial of status quo.

    The next season is tipped to promise greater driver control over the machine and F1 may yet again begin to relate with followers of the sport.

    This story hasn’t ended yet, Alonso may end up tending to his garden or find an inferior drive (both will take something away from the 2008 season), but Kimi will be there in a Ferrari and Hamilton will be the bossman at McLaren.

    Let’s see how downgraded technology will help…McLaren may now no longer need a Stepnygate to keep them up with the Prancing Horse.

  3. Great article ! You’re right – no one can replace Schumi in Ferrari. Kimi’s sitting well on the throne but the crown’s still a far way off.
    As for Who is Lament-un, he’s finally learnt big daddy isn’t going to be able to help you toddle up the podium.
    What Ferrari did this season is phenomenal. Raikkonen won it fair n square despite being 26 points at one time. And they’ve had none of the Alonso – Hamilton / Montoya – Ralf fireworks between the drivers. And it’s largely thanks to Michael, Todt and Brawn who’ve made the team what it is today…and thus to Massa- you can be my wingman anytime !

  4. Hi Vader,

    I’ve tried to be as neutral as possible in my look at the season but however hard one tries, one can’t shy away from some glaring mistakes that Mclaren and Ron Dennis made. And it showed. Its almost like there were two different teams there right through the season. Even if one leaves that as a conspiracy theory and takes Ron Dennis’ word for it (they did end up at 109 apiece after all, he’ll say), there is no denying that somewhere in the second half of the season but probably after Monaco-Canada, Mclaren realised that chasing the Lewis dream would , ummm , get them better mileage, lets say.

    The incidents with the stewards, that crane from the gravel, that amazing scene of Ron on the pitwall pushing an imaginary car as Lewis was stuck in Shanghai, that freudian slip (We weren’t racing Kimi – we were racing Alonso) – it all got very murky indeed.

    When one adds to that an espionage charge, a $100 M fine, no constructors points (and the implications that has for next years championships in terms of pit garages – however minor) – and like you say, they are going to lose a double world champion driver who will walk away from a contract.

    Whats Spanish for “Dennis the Menace” ?

    Thanks for the visit and comment, Vader and hope to see you around.

    Cheers.

  5. Hello Hello Souberry,

    Can’t wait for the next season to start really – and thats on the assumption that this one is over and Mclaren’s appeal does not lead to the title switching hands now. What a shame that would be.

    Agree, with all the changes coming up next year with traction control and the rest of it – it hopefully is a cracker. A confident Kimi, and a eager to prove himself Lewis should be exciting enough but sincerely hope that Alonso gets himself a worthy machine. And that way we get the same contest on even terms.

    Equally importantly, yesterday Singapore got its go ahead for the first Night F1 race on the street circuit in September – so the excitement multiplies manifold !

    Thanks, as always for the visit and the kind words.

    Cheers

  6. Sangeeta,

    Loved the Who is Lament-un bit ! Lets see if he can come back from the “crashed and burned the first time” bit next season.

    And I know, nobody replaces your Top Gun Schumi.

    Cheers

  7. Off-topic

    Sfx, I was doing a search for photographs of Ranjitsinghji on Google images since I do not appear to possess a single one of scannable quality for an article I put up. I found that your blog showed up in almost all references.

    May I request you if you you could loan me a photograph of Ranji in case you have it? I thank you and will certainly credit you for it.

    Soul

  8. Hi Soul,

    Not quite a race in the dark – its gonna be a massive floodlit affair and will try and do a post on it as soon as something with the details is available. And yes, the grand plan is to watch the first F1 night race ever live. Be a speck of sand on the footprint of history – in self flattery terms !

    Re the Ranji photograph, I’ll try scout for one but if there is one that you wish to use thats already on the blog (I don’t think I have one apart from the Geoffrey Boycs takeoff), then please feel free.

    I’ll try send an email later this evening if I can find something on Ranji …

    Cheers

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