September 07, 2008

F1 UPDATE!: SPA 2008!


At Spa, the rain giveth, the rain taketh away... but to whom was giveth, and to whom was taketh?  And what the h*ll is the FIA thinking???  THIS is your disgusted F1 UPDATE!  We've thrown away the usual format of F1U! due to the events of the race and immediately following...

*NOW THAT'S WHAT WE CALL RACIN':  The skies over the Ardennes Forest were dark and leaden when the race began, with the torrential downpour of 45 minutes earlier ample testament of what could happen.  As it was, the track was pretty much dry when the lights went out... except for the start/finish straight and La Source.  That stretch of track, which might be considered somewhat important to the start of a race, was still sodden, and that promised an exciting start.  Sure enough, one of the more confused beginnings ensued.  Lewis Hamilton stayed in front through the first turn but Massa, starting alongside Hamilton, wound up getting shuffled down to fifth or sixth.  11th place-starting Jarno Trulli was touched by the hand of St. Fangio the Quick and rocketed up to fourth, passing other cars as if they were standing still... which they nearly were, as all the other cars were braking for La Source.  Trulli, who held off braking until it was very nearly too late, wound up being rear-ended by SeaBass, who broke a chunk off his nose.  Trulli, even though he continued on gamely, was never seen again.  It seriously appeared as if half the field ended up having to use the runoff area in that first turn.  Hamilton then began to gallop off into the distance, opening nearly a five second lead in one lap.

Then La Source, still damp and slick as whale snot, sent his McLaren skidding and flumphing off-track.  While he recovered, Kimi Raikkonen zipped past, with Hamilton rejoining the race in second.  And that's how it stayed until three laps to go in the race.

*HERE COMES THE RAIN:  With 20 laps remaining, the FIA announced that rain "was expected in 20 minutes", putting the weather on track about lap 36 of 44.  As usual, the FIA's forecasters were wrong... by about five laps.  In the meantime, the Lewis/Kimi battle was shaping up to be one of the best of the season.  The Ferrari of Raikkonen managed to pull out to as much as a six second lead, but after the second round of pitstops both Hamilton and Kimi put on hard tires.  Neither car ran particularly well on hards during practice and quals, but the McLaren had run better than the Ferrari.  The same was true during the race, as Hamilton began to carve great chunks off the lead.  With three laps remaining, the two were separated by less than a second.  Then it began to rain, and that's when the race really began.

*RAINING ON THE PARADE:  Into the final chicane, Hamilton made his move on the outside of Raikkonen.  Kimi was having none of it and refused to budge.  The two cars touched slightly, which had the effect of causing Lewis to cut the chicane.  Coming right back onto the course, Hamilton had the lead, but he had to immediately back off and let Kimi take the lead back due to the sporting regulations.  By cutting a corner like that, one cannot gain a competitive advantage.  Slowing down, he let Kimi by on the start/finish straight, then immediately tucked himself down under the gearbox of the Ferrari.  The two cars scissored back and forth approaching La Source, each driver trying to figure out where the other was going to dive.  Hamilton made his move to the inside into La Source, just barely getting by.  How close was the pass?

Yes, that's Raikkonen's front wing rubbing on the right-rear of Hamilton's McLaren.  It was a clean move, and about as daring in the rain as one can get.  But it wasn't over yet!  Down the Kemmel straight, both cars were twitching slightly.  Into Les Combes, Kimi had a big twitch, the rain playing hob with traction.  Both drivers tip-toed through the upper part of the track, with Kimi close aboard the McLaren.  What they didn't realize is that a Williams had spun and was retaking the track just ahead of them, under yellow flags (though that isn't visible in this shot):

Both drivers wound up having to dodge to the outside of the turn (and the mobile chicane of the Williams), with Raikkonen taking the lead (under yellow, a no-no) as Hamilton wound up having to take to the grass.  The lead was short-lived, though, as Kimi, suffering from the rain, wound up spinning in the next turn.  Hamilton, still accelerating, passed Raikkonen, who never left the track but lost a ton of momentum.  At this point, sixty seconds back or more, the BMW of Nick Heidfeld, who was ninth, had pitted for Intermediate tires.  The two leaders, however, couldn't dare to do so.  Two turns later, Hamilton slid out wide over the curb, but Raikkonen lost it completely, pirouetting into the wall just short of the final chicane.  This put Felipe Massa into second place.  Neither Hamilton or Massa went for the Inters, knowing that either could win if they just kept the car on track and the other spun, but that stopping for wets would throw the race away.  What followed was one of the slowest four miles in F1 history, as both drivers may as well have been on ice.  The final lap was nearly 45 seconds slower than laps being turned when it was dry!  Even so, Hamilton was 10 seconds or more faster than Massa on the last lap and "cruised" home for the most exciting finish in years.

*MEANWHILE...:   SeaBass and Toro Rosso was in line for the last step on the podium.  Not stopping for Intermediate tires, he gamely plunged ahead like the two leaders, just trying to keep it on the track.  Behind him, however, HWMNBN , Robert Kubica and SeaBass' teammate in Toro Rosso Sebastian Vettel did stop for wet tires and were charging like mad, running SeaBass down like he was standing still.  All three of them passed the French Fish in or near the final chicane, dropping him all the way down to seventh.  But wait, if those three cars passed him, shouldn't he have been sixth?  Remember when we mentioned that Grizzly Nick Heidfeld had pitted from ninth a couple of laps earlier?  He blew past everybody, picking up six spots in the final two laps to earn the final spot on the podium, putting paid to a fantastic Belgian Grand Prix.

*LATER...:  And then, the FIA had to louse it all up.

The first clue that something was amiss came in the open question period of the press conference with the podium drivers:

Q: (Ed Gorman - The Times of London) Lewis, are you aware that the stewards have announced they are investigating an incident between yourself and Kimi? We're not sure exactly which one it was. Are you aware of that and what could your thoughts be? Is there any part where you felt that you'd contravened the rules?
LH: Absolutely not. I will explain what happened. It began to rain. I caught Kimi and I got a good tow from him down the back straight and I was in a good position to dive down the inside at turn 18. He covered his spot, which was fair, but he braked very, very early, so I was able to outbrake him and go round the outside which I did. I left him enough room, I didn't close the gap so much that he had to go on a kerb, I left him enough room, yet he accelerated or picked up more pace going into the corner, and drove me as wide as he possibly could. I had no road left. There was a question I had to ask: if I stay where I am, I'm going to go over the Astroturf… there's some green bit behind the big kerb, the last kerb… and go over it and hit him. Or I go left. (emphasis added - Wonderduck) That was the option I had to do, I did it. I knew that I had to let him past and also the team came over the radio and said 'you have to let him past' which I did. I was accelerating so that I didn't lose too much ground because I thought that would be unfair. Fortunately I got back in his slipstream and again, he moved to the inside and back to the outside and again, I dodged him and went up the inside and at the apex to the corner he hit me at the back, and that nearly caused me to spin, but fortunately I kept hold of it and went on from there. That was a great fight and I don't think there was anything wrong there. The rules say you should let him back past which I did.

Q: (Ian Parkes - The Press Association) Lewis, given the explanation that you've just given us, would you be surprised now if the stewards did decide to punish you in any kind of way?
LH: Absolutely, absolutely. This is motor racing and if there's a penalty, then there's something wrong because I was ahead going into that corner, so I didn't gain an advantage from it. We were still able to race at the next corner and I gave him his spot back, and I think it was fair and square, so I think it would be absolutely wrong. But you know what they're like, so we will see.

Some time later, the FIA Stewards announced their decision: a 25 second time penalty for Lewis Hamilton for "gaining a competitive advantage in the incident" involving his cutting the chicane.  This has the effect of stripping Hamilton of the victory and dropping him down to third place. 

McLaren has, of course, lodged an appeal against this decision, although it's not entirely clear if this is something that CAN be appealed, as read in Article 152 of the sporting regulations.   The decision and the appeal is now in the hands of the secretariat of the Court of Appeal, which is independent of the FIA.

It is F1 UPDATE!s considered opinion that this penalty is complete and utter crepe.  F1's technical director, Charlie Whiting, the most experienced man on the pit wall and overseer of race safety and arbiter of all flaggings, saw nothing wrong with Hamilton's driving in this case, which might tell you something about the stewards' investigation.

This has the appalling stink of a political (read: Ferrari) based decision to it.  The decision to strip the victory from McLaren's Hamilton should have been based on solid, conclusive evidence of the wrongdoing, and as of this writing, some seven hours after the race has concluded, there is naught but silence from the anonymous race stewards.  Please note that this decision came down entirely on the stewards' own hook, as there was no protest lodged by Ferrari, BMW, or any other race team.  For what reason, nobody knows exactly.  Yes, Hamilton did pass Kimi by cutting the corner, but he relinquished the position before they even crossed the start/finish line.  What did he do wrong?

We will find out, eventually, what the decision will be when the appeal is heard.  Until then, however, the most exciting race of the season has been turned to ashes.  Good work, FIA.

We here at F1 UPDATE! will keep a close eye on the situation and will update you when more becomes available.  Next week is Monza, and we'll be here for that too.  We'll be disgusted, but we'll be here.

PHOTO UPDATE #1 - The moment the incident began (see comment #7)

PHOTO UPDATE #2 - Hamilton lets Raikkonen past.

If anybody can tell us how that picture does not conclusively prove that Hamilton fulfilled the requirements of the sporting regulations regarding blown corners, we'd love to hear it.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 03:21 PM | Comments (11) | Add Comment
Post contains 2020 words, total size 13 kb.

1 It's a strange decision. It's also really strange that it took two hours for them to make it. (According to the news report I saw about it.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 07, 2008 03:58 PM (+rSRq)



I turned off the TV this morning right after the race thinking I'd just seen the most thrilling race of the year, only to find out Hamilton came in third?  Yep, crepe is pretty much what that is.

How many replays did they show of Lewis giving back the spot he'd gained while going through the run-off? 

This decision is absolutely appalling, not to mention fishy. 


On a saner note, wonder where the US Grand Prix will be?  I'm hoping Sears Point in Sonoma.




Posted by: Mallory at September 07, 2008 05:00 PM (WJ2qy)

3 Thanks Duck, I look forward to your F1U before and after every race, I found your blog on a link from SDB.  I've been an F1 fan for years but I have to go to the net to find others that share my enthusiasm. I too am disgusted with how the stewards acted, Hamilton won the race and he does not deserve a penalty. He was down by 6 seconds and reeled Kimi in like a fish! Once it started raining, he obviously had the better car.  When they were fighting for position,  he clearly let Kimi back by after he got pushed off the track in a very sportsmanly way, IMO he earned the win fair and square.  Race results should be decided on the track, not in some FIA backroom or courthouse.  I think this will have some serious ramifications, I have never liked to subscribe to conspiracy theories about the FIA favoring the red cars, but this seems completely blatent.

Posted by: Robert Villasana at September 07, 2008 08:56 PM (Xg5hU)

4 Welcome, Robert!  Sorry this F1 UPDATE! isn't as much fun as they usually are, but... well, you know.

Truly, Hamilton is proving he's the heir to Slappy Schumacher's title of regenmeister.  Other than the China debacle where he went into the graveltrap off the pitlane because his tires were so worn, he's blown everybody else off the track when it rains.

I do think that if this decision stands, F1 will suffer badly.  I might still watch it, but it'll be with a very jaundiced eye after the events of last season.  I don't think there's ever been a question that Ferrari has gotten a lot of breaks from the FIA, but I don't think they've ever just been gifted a race win by the stewards like this before.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 07, 2008 10:37 PM (AW3EJ)

5 I for one immediately thought that Hamilton gained an advantage by leaving the track. I don't feel he ever truly gave that advantage back. Admittedly, I don't like to see races decided after everyone had gone home, but I feel Hamilton should have been served a black flag immediately following, while on track. Fantastic to see SeaBass do so well when contracts are due. I hope to see him stay in F1. And while I don't think they'd ever hold an F1 race at Sears Point (mostly for logistical reasons like the fact that the track can't hold an F1 sized crowd) but it would be great for me... only 10 miles from home and only 5 or so miles to the winery I work at on Sundays.... I say, bring it on! Laguna Seca is an FIA spec. track. And one of my dreams is that someone will upgrade Watkins Glen and bring the USGP back there!

Posted by: madmike at September 07, 2008 11:28 PM (Ab+H5)

6 Ok.... I'm posting again. Having just re-wound and re-watched the incident. Hamilton makes an obvious decision to leave the track (you see him turn the wheel and choose to run onto the apron) rather than stay on track. And the reason that decision is made... is advantage. He made the choice to leave the racing surface because it gained him an advantage in track position. If that asphalt runoff had been grass, Hamilton would have chosen to stay on the track rather than risk running through the grass and would have lost significant time and track position to the Ferrari. This is my issue with asphalt run-off, on many occasions, it will become an extension of the racing surface.

Posted by: madmike at September 07, 2008 11:45 PM (Ab+H5)

7 There's no question that Hamilton decided to leave the track in the chicane.  Where both he and I disagree with you, Mike, is on the reason for it.  He cut the corner to avoid colliding with Kimi, not to gain an advantage (other than still being able to continue the race).

Watch it again.  As is, the two cars touched, but let's assume they both make it through the chicane in one piece, for the sake of argument.  Going into the final turn, where the incident took place, Hamilton's front wheels were even with Kimi's back wheels (see Photo Update #1)... and Hamilton had the inside, which would indicate that he'd have a better run out of the turn.  That actually puts Kimi at a greater disadvantage, as Hamilton had to back off and let Kimi pass him, which he did.

So the Ferrari was completely and totally in front of the McLaren (see Photo Update #2), in a better situation than he was in BEFORE the whole thing started.  Simply put, Kimi couldn't keep Lewis behind him, despite advantageous positioning.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 08, 2008 12:25 AM (AW3EJ)

8 Another excellent summary, W. Duck.  The only thing better would have been to be able to see the race.  But then, I would be fuming about another dubious decision by the FIA.  Perhaps the FIA is actively trying to discourage interest in F1.

A US Grand Prix at Sears Point would be amazing.  It doesn't seem feasible, true, but that doesn't seem to stop Monaco.

Posted by: Vaucanson's Duck at September 08, 2008 10:51 AM (XVJDy)

9 Just to make it clear. Kubica didn't change his tyres. Nick did it for TWO last laps - he was ahead of Kub due to crapy second 12+sec pit that BMW served Robert so the german was given intermidiates- there was no point for pole to change rubber as he would have to wait in pits untill machanics would finish dealing with first car.

Posted by: Stefan at September 08, 2008 07:08 PM (sqjhj)

10 Stefan is absolutely correct: Kubica did not pit for wet tires at the end.  I just rewatched the last four laps, and somehow I misread a graphic showing number of pitstops for the top eight drivers.  My apologies.

And, since we're dreaming of a USGP, I cast my vote for a rejuvenated Watkins Glen.  Or a "street" course on the expressways of Chicago.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 08, 2008 07:44 PM (AW3EJ)

11 If we keep wishing will it come true?

Wishing for a newly restored and refurbished FIA spec. Watkins Glen...

I'm right there!

Posted by: madmike at September 09, 2008 10:17 AM (mV2q+)

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