Four races ago everyone in the know said that Ferrari’s car was more suited to China and Brazil due to its longer wheelbase design than McLaren’s car. With this in mind, it was always going to be difficult for either McLaren to win at these two Grand Prix, as this season has been the year of two track types: one type favouring short wheelbase cars, the other favouring long wheelbase cars.
Ferrari are also known to choreograph the Championship to their needs rather better than other teams – remember that move in Japan a few years back when Eddie Irvine moved over for Michael Schumacher who needed the points for the Championship? Or the synchronised finishing of the two Ferraris at Indianapolis a few years later?
Ferrari have always played this game, even though for other teams it is not allowed to such an extent that if a brattish driver claims in the press about unfair treatment (ie a lack of favourable treatment – for him) his team have to entertain an FIA official scrutineer all weekend whose very presence would ensure that any rookie driver would be spooked and nervous for the race itself.
With all this pretty much public knowledge, why then did it not occur to McLaren to tell Hamilton to expect a Ferrari box-in from the start, allowing Raikkonnen to move ahead of him from the get go? That is what Niki Lauda was predicting in the German press the night before the race. If they did tell Lewis this, why did he not listen?
You have to admire the way it was done though. Ferrari have been playing hard and fast with the rules for so long they are the Macchiavellian masters of the art. It really was so smooth I’m sure many people didn’t even notice it. It was a superb strategy.
When the red lights went out, Massa moved forward, but not as fast as other drivers. Raikkonnen moved up alongside Hamilton, boxing him in. Lewis could not move forwards as Massa was slowing him down, he could not move out wide as on the left there was a concrete wall, on the right was Raikkonnen.
As soon as Massa saw Raikkonnen close by, he darted forward using the speed he had not used at the getaway to create a space into which Raikkonnen, expecting the move, slotted almost seamlessly. Now Raikkonnen brakes, Hamilton has to brake harder and so loses momentum, thus allowing Alonso through. That was the unchoreographed bonus for Ferrari, but not an unpredictable event because Alonso is clearly an opportunist, and mad enough with it.
Now comes the double bonus, the young rookie error. Instead of settling for fourth place and the Championship, Lewis fights an impossible battle (on that corner) with Alonso, lets his adrenalin do the talking, and pays the penalty. Just like in China when he stayed out too long on worn tyres (team error), then came into the pits too fast on a wet track (driver error) and crashed out.
Just think, he only needed to have finished 7th in China or 5th in Brazil and he would now be the World Champion. As Alain Prost once said, every point counts.
Even the little ones.