The top discussion in the FIA agenda at the end of 2007 was to tap into the United States Market, which would obviously get enormous Hoopla into the already cash rich sport. On careful consideration and research which I am sure cost them a few minutes and a few hundred thousand pounds- if the Americans are interested in a form of Auto Sport it was NASCAR!
NASCAR is popular mainly for its pile ups and tremendous straight line speed, unfortunately the part about skill and deliberations and strategy was lost on the 10 old men! The foresight of the FIA (ghost run by Bernie Eccleston) threw out traction control and engine braking, in a bid to ‘create’ overtaking opportunities and apparently horrendous crashes.
The streets of Monte Carlo gave them just that; and the millions of true F1 fans groaned and ground their teeth at the utter chaos that was the Monaco Grand Prix. The Formula one circus arrived at Monte Carlo this weekend, with practices in France on a simulated track very similar to this, the drivers came in skeptical and a few even had lost their taste for racing on the premier street racing track.
Monaco is known to be a very frustrating circuit, it offers almost no chance of overtaking, and a driver can hold his line and pray that the one behind him is not adventurous. A preview of the race could be seen in the Feeder series- GP2 the previous day where Indian Formula 1 hopeful got onto the last podium step in the feature race but could not get past the first corner in the sprint. The showcase of all motor sports kicked off with Raikkonen and Hamilton leading in the free practice sessions, but come Qualifying the order changed. Massa secured pole once again, with teammate Raikkonen occupying the second spot and Hamilton at third.
The red lights went off on a green and slightly wet track, with rain drizzling down and all teams on Intermediates, the race started off slower than what actually it could be.
The drivers pressed their launch buttons and Massa dove to the left, blocking Raikkonen from taking the position, almost taking out the inn in the process. The negative line gave Hamilton a clear run into the first corner and came out second as he slid his car sideways very slightly and Massa snatched the lead, Schumacher’s protégé had just taken a very dirty trick out of the retired veteran’s book. The wet race took off in predictable fashion as drivers tried overambitious moves; within the first 6 laps as many as 9 drivers had visited the pit lane once for repairs.
A proud day for the FIA indeed! The body had tried to cut costs and had frozen engine development for half the season, which has slightly stagnated the order.
Hamilton’s reckless enthusiasm to close in on Massa caused him to puncture his rear left tire as he screamed out of the swimming pool complex. He limped to the pits and came out third, with Raikkonen coming up into second spot. The World Champion spun and with a broken nose cone he too dove into the pits, but the Finn managed to come out second.
Ron Dennis’s silver devils put Hamilton on a one stop strategy, fueling his car to the brim and fresh tires they sent him out on the track. Raikkonen, started to find his own as he closed up on Massa, but a drive through penalty caused him to slide backwards in the pack. The Finn was awarded the penalty since his crew had been twenty seconds late in removing the tire warmers before the start of the race.
Hamilton and Kubica moved up the order. Kubica’s teammate Nick Heidfeld was looking good as he was up into 5th from 14th, this was looking to be the day the BMW would outperform all the others, but Heidfeld’s weekend went from bad to worse when an Alonso lunge on the outside on the slowest section in the F1 calendar ruined the suspension of the BMW, this would not have happened in the presence of engine braking, the Spaniard tried but couldn’t stop, causing a five car traffic jam at the chicane. Looking strikingly similar to NASCAR, audiences in the sports bar I were hurling abuses at the screen not directed towards Alonso.
The race casualties slowly increased as David Coulthard, Sebastian Borudais and Giancarlo Fisichella all out and Raikkonen, Alonso, Glock, Heidfeld, Piquet and Button visited the pits again for new nose wings. Two safety car periods, countless spins and foolish mistakes by Hamilton which were only bettered by Massa who dropped from first to third by losing concentration and very Schumacherisquely went zooming into the escape road, spinning his car around Massa joined third. A hilarious incident, the peals of laughter on the grandstands were very disturbingly obvious.
One man who cashed in the lottery that was a wet Monaco GP, was young Adrian Sutil in the Force India, the driver had driven with heart and determination to rise like a phoenix and from 18th place he made his way up fourth just behind Massa and ahead of Raikkonen.
The most disturbing accident then happened, when the very talented Nico Rosberg crashed into the swimming pool barrier again, forcing the safety car to come out again. The order lined up with Hamilton leading the pack behind the safety car with Kubica looking optimistic, a bumbling Massa trying very hard to emulate his Ex teammate, slotting in fourth was the brave Sutil and reigning champion at fifth. The safety car went off with instead of lap count, a clock had come out, with 10 minutes to go- drivers pushed with all their might, and then something happened what changed the look of the race, it also co-incidentally brought out the most ridiculous retort from Force India supremo Vijay Malaya- ” Ban Kimi!!”, Raikkonen trying to push his Ferrari out of the tunnel, lost control as the damp track caused the Finn to shunt Adrian Sutil out of the race and sending him to the pits in dire need for a new nose cone. The Finn came out 9th, 6 seconds behind the second Mclaren with just 6 minutes to go. The race wound up with a weeping Sutil, a jubilant Hamilton, a happy pole at second and a very subdued and disgruntled Massa at third. But the driver which raised the eyebrows in the last 4 minutes was not Hamilton or even Massa, it was Raikkonen, the Finn clocked in 6 fast laps, which slotted him less than half a second off on Kovalainen as the checkered flag was waved. The Finn who looked subdued redeemed himself. An apology was sent to Adrian Sutil’s camp after the race was over by the Champion.
It was a bad day for the Finns while Kovalainen started from the pits could only finish 8th, his compatriot came in 9th after the fateful crash with the Force India car.
This race shook up the driver’s championship, Hamilton for the first time in the season took the lead, Ferrari continued its reign on the top as the best car manufactures in the season so far. Hamilton’s fans have to be very happy at the way the Brit held his head even after he erred many times. And all credit to the Mclaren technical team who by brilliant foresight put the Briton on a single pit stop strategy which was one of the only reasons why the Brit could scream with delight at the top step.
The next race is scheduled in two weeks time; the Ferraris will be licking their fingers with the track suiting them to perfection. BMWs will look to capitalize on their consistent strong performance through the season, but in this highly volatile and unpredictable season- all bets will be off at the Canadian Grand Prix.
[Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adevlinphotography/1732050123/]