Formula One hit the TV screens this weekend – and I do mean hit! The 2008 Australian Grand Prix saw 3 Safety Car periods, 15 retirements, and mistakes galore from many people we previously thought were quite good – but it now appears may only have done so well in the past because of the electronic driver aids.
Biggest surprise of all for many was Ferrari’s implosion. After First Practice it was clear that Ferrari had the quickest car under Kimi Raikkonnen, as he made the fastest lap which wasn’t beaten until Saturday practice when the BMWs were the quick cars, both lapping in the 1 min 25 secs. But race day was different. This was the first race to be held without driver aids, and this was the first race we have seen for years in which, as Martin Brundle so succinctly put it
Good driving was rewarded, bad driving was punished – and that’s how it should be.
Apart from the more technical changes, the most noticeable effect of the new regulations, according to Mark Blundell, was going to affect two main areas: acceleration and braking.
The first is pretty obvious as anyone who has traction control on their road car will tell you; the second less so, but it allows for more progressive braking on down-changes as the traction control system kicks in to add engine braking to the disk and caliper control initiated by the driver’s foot.
While these two areas are most affected, the fact that at nearly every point on a circuit a Formula One car is either accelerating or braking means the actual impact in the race is far more than just at the start and at the corners. It will also affect traveling behind the pace car when small adjustments have to be made to speed and position by each driver, and perhaps even more importantly, during overtaking manoeuvres or when putting a wheel off line.
On the first corner, Massa lost some places as he struggled to slow down now that the computer doesn’t engine-brake the car for him anymore. He over-steered quite badly and fell off the circuit pretty quickly, then had to pit to get a new nose cone. A couple of laps later he pitted again for more fuel, although why he couldn’t do this when he came in for the new nosecone is a bit of a mystery. Put it down to lack of organisation in the Ferrari pit.
Later on Massa got caught out again with lack of car control and drove into the side of David Coulthard’s car because he overcooked the braking again. This incident damaged his car and he retired a few laps later.
Raikkonnen though has a reputation as being very good. He is supposed to have supreme car control, but I think some people must be getting him confused with Mika Hakkinnen because Kimi clearly couldn’t always handle the Ferrari in race conditions without the computer helping him out.
On two occassions, he made really costly mistakes, rookie mistakes really, when a red mist descended as he tried to overtake Kovalainen (who incidentally got the fastest lap of the race) and just went straight on at a corner he must have forgotten was there, and later put a wheel on the grass and span out again as he tried to overtake Timo Glock (known by the Irish as either Team O’Glock or Tim O’Glock depnding on whether you use the German or Irish pronunciation of his name). Kimi was lucky not to hit anything or anyone, and that there were no other cars following close by as he didn’t lose any more positions during the incident.
Such were the bogeymen. But who were the real stars of the day?
Well, clearly Hamilton didn’t put a foot wrong. He didn’t get fastest lap – as I said before his team mate got that – but he did get all 10 points on offer and kept his head while all around him his rivals were losing theirs.
Kovalainen impressed with a clean drive in second place for much of the race, holding off attacks from successive drivers who subsequently had problems. One of these problems was the Timo Glock crash that brought the safety car out just one lap before he was going to pit. This unfortunate timing meant that Heikki lost his second place, and ended up racing with Alonso for 4th. Yes, with Alonso for 4th. In a Renault. Maybe Alonso is something of a decent driver then, even if he isn’t necessarily a decent team mate or team player.
Kovalainen made a great move to overtake Alonso with just two laps to go, but in his excitement on the next lap he hit the steering wheel with his fist as he tried to adjust his visor and switched the speed limiter on by accident, allowing Alonso to retake the place. He isn’t the only driver ever to have done this – World Champion Nigel Mansell is one of many top drivers who have made similarly silly mistakes.
Williams deserve much praise though. Top Toyota engined car (using customer engines, no less) and a class act all weekend. After all the tension, hostility and It was so nice to see Rosberg and Hamilton so pally in the weighing room and on the podium. Just like the joint interview ITV showed of Hamilton and Kovalainen together before the race: it’s like the era of James Hunt and Co all over again. This crop of youngsters are turning into quite an enjoyable bunch to watch.
You could see though that Hamilton took the BMW threat more seriously, not paying much attention to Nick Heidfeld at all, a sign of rivalry, perhaps? But there was Heidfeld in second place, on the podium for BMW who must be pretty pleased with the way things went for them. Well, ignoring the problems of concentration that took Kubica out when he clipped the back of the car in front of him before going off on Turn 15. He had looked incredibly pale before the start, wouldn’t talk to anybody, and hopefully has gotten over his bad nerves after qualifying on the front row for the first time ever. Next time perhaps he’ll keep his cool a little more, although with in-cockpit temperatures of 50C today, he may have more problems in Malaysia which will be hot and humid.
The after-race Press Conference was pretty standard, except for one classic moment. When asked by the official FIA interviewer about how he had felt in the heat and conditions, the non-sweating Hamilton replied “Really, it was quite easy physically! I was very comfortable” or words to that effect. On hearing this, and as simultaneously as any synchronised swimmers could have done it, both Heidfeld on Hamilton’s right and Rosberg on his left slowly turned to look incredulously at Lewis, just to check he wasn’t joking… he wasn’t: he looked as fresh as a daisy! How does he do it? Fitness. Seeing the looks on the two Germans’ faces was a real classic. They just looked so bemused.
Biggest disappointment of the weekend had to be Piquet though. I thought he came from sterner stock than that. He never really got to grips with the car. Maybe he’s just a slow learner? Or maybe it’s Briatore slowing him down on purpose so as to make poor, spoiled Alonso feel good – but that would be a dangerous game for Renault to play.
Next race is in just a few days time. It will be interesting to see who has learned from their mistakes, and who keeps on making them. It promises to be a most interesting season – bring it on!