Friday, April 11, 2008

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Defending Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen has argued those criticising Lewis Hamilton for his stuttering start to the 2008 campaign should pin the blame on the performance of the young Brit's McLaren-Mercedes, rather than on his driving.

Whilst Hamilton enjoyed a perfect start to his title challenge when he triumphed in Melbourne, since then he has notched up just four points courtesy of fifth place in Malaysia, with an error-strewn weekend in Bahrain seven days ago seeing him crash in practice, botch the race start, run into the back of ex team-mate Fernando Alonso on lap two and ultimately take the chequered flag down in 13th place – consequently surrendering the championship lead to Raikkonen.

“Lewis did not make many mistakes last year,” the Finn underlined in an interview with the Daily Mirror, in response to harsh words from such as three-time former world champion Niki Lauda [see separate story – click here] and Force India chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne [see separate story – click here]. “This year they are not in as strong a position with the car.

“Maybe it makes it more difficult when you do not have such a good package and you try to push more and more, especially during a race when your weekend has not been as good.”

Looking at his own start to the season – almost a mirror image reversal of that of Hamilton, with a disastrous debut Down Under followed by victory in Malaysia and the runner-up spot in Bahrain, seeing him move three points clear at the head of the drivers' standings – the 28-year-old said he was satisfied with his and Ferrari's performance so far, but he warned there was a long way still to go.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Schumacher back in F1 saddle

Having enjoyed a series of successful race outings on two wheels, Michael Schumacher is poised to return to the arena in which he has garnered the most glory when he rejoins Ferrari at next week's Barcelona group test.

According to reports in the team's homeland, the seven-time world champion will line-up alongside 2008 regulars Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa at the Circuit de Catalunya, but will be working on Ferrari's 2009 programme, running an F2008 kitted out to mimic the forthcoming rule changes regarding tyres and aerodynamic devices.

Sporting director Stefano Domenicali has made no secret of the fact that the Scuderia was already preparing for the dramatic rule changes due to be introduced next season, telling Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport that the team has been running scale models of the proposed F2009 in its windtunnel since early February. Now, however, the team is keen to translate the findings made at Maranello into real-time data from the test track.

"The regulations allow for some sensational developments that will greatly differentiate the cars, while today the possibilities of changing are curbed by regulations we've had for many years," Domenicali stated early last month, "For over a month now, there's been a scale model of the 2009 car in the wind tunnel. We are making experiments full-time, and once again we'll need to get on track very early."

Ferrari has confirmed that, while Massa and Raikkonen will spell each other at the wheel of a more conventional F2008 in order to keep the team ahead of its rivals as the first half of the European season approaches, Schumacher will spend one day mid-week trying the planned 2009 package on slick tyres.

The German has, of course, already maintained his special relationship with the team by testing in Barcelona in February. On that occasion, he was ironing out the wrinkles from the 2008 car that has since gone on to win two races out of three to date.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher

After all that that McLaren Mercedes haves been through in recent months - investigations by the FIA and the Italian police, a humiliating admission of cheating and the biggest fine in sporting history - few thought that the team would be able to produce a winning driver/car combination from the word go this season.

But an exhaustingly dramatic Australian Grand Prix proved that, despite all the distractions, the proud Woking-based team, run by Ron Dennis, have kept their eyes on the ball, while Lewis Hamilton, their superstar young driver, has got even better.

By winning the first race of 2008 and seeing his rivals at Ferrari falter, Hamilton has got his second season under way in fine style. What is more, Heikki Kovalainen, Hamilton's new team-mate, had an excellent debut and, but for the slings and arrows of luck (having to go into the pits for fuel under the safety car), the Finn could well have made it a McLaren one-two.

As it was, Kovalainen finished fifth after a memorable drive during which he made the move of the day on Fernando Alonso, the Renault driver, in the closing stages, only to give it back to the Spaniard when accidentally hitting the pitlane speed-limiter button on his steering wheel. “Next time, I'll stay ahead,” Kovalainen said, ruefully.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kimi Raikkonen cruises

Kimi Raikkonen cruises to victory in Malaysia
Kimi Raikkonen celebrates winning the Malaysian Grand Prix (EPA)

Kimi Raikkonen celebrates winning the Malaysian Grand Prix (EPA).

Kimi Raikkonen put behind him the disastrous start to the season that he made last Sunday's by claiming a comfortable victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver cruised home 19.5 seconds ahead of Robert Kubica, of BMW Sauber, with Heikki Kovalainen finishing third in his McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton was fifth behind Jarno Trulli, of Toyota, after a bungled pit stop cost the Briton a chance of a place on the podium, while Felipe Massa's race ended after 30 laps when he beached his Ferrari in the gravel having started in pole.

A Ferrari victory had looked odds-on before the race as chief rivals Kovalainen and Hamilton had both been hit by five-place grid penalties for impeding Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso at the end of yesterday's qualifying session, meaning they lined up eighth and ninth respectively.

When the threat of rain failed to materialise and both Ferrari drivers made a clean start from both Ferrari drivers, their dominance looked even more likely.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Felipe Massa wins Bahrain Grand Prix

Felipe Massa proved himself a contender for the drivers' championship with victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix on a day when Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso seemingly resumed their bitter rivalry. The Brazilian took the chequered flag for the first time since last August's Turkey Grand Prix to record the sixth win of his career.

Robert Kubica, of Poland, starting on pole for the first time in his Formula One career was unable to prevent a Ferrari one-two. Kimi Raikkonen captured second to lead the title race by three points from Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber, with the Finn on the podium for the 50th time in his career.

The bulk of the drama, though, unfolded once the five red lights disappeared to signal the start of the 57-lap race at the Sakhir circuit. Hamilton, who came into the race with a three-point cushion in the drivers' standings but now trails Raikkonen by five, appeared to temporarily stall. That forced Heikki Kovalainen, his McLaren team-mate, into a swerving manoeuvre around Hamilton's seemingly stricken car.

But then Hamilton finally pulled away, finding himself amongst the mid-field runners heading into turn one and around the first lap, by the end of which he was running ninth. Immediately ahead of the Briton was Alonso, with no love lost between the duo following their feud last season when they were both at McLaren.

On lap two, Alonso appeared to ease off the accelerator in his Renault for a split second and it was enough for Hamilton to run into the back of two-time world champion, losing his nose cone in the process, while the Spaniard also damaged his rear-end plate.

Hamilton then struggled for the remainder of the lap to return to the pits for a new nose, following which he dropped to 19th. That was due to Sebastian Vettel retiring on the first lap after he was shunted from behind, while in a disastrous day for the Brits, David Coulthard and Jenson Button suffered early punctures.

The Red Bull and Honda duo, running at the back of the field in the wake of their trouble, then came together on lap 19. Button tried to dive down the inside of Coulthard, but succeeded to only remove his front nose cone, forcing him out of the race.

For the remainder of the race, Hamilton was unable to make severe inroads into the field ahead of him and could only finish 13th as it appeared his car had suffered more damage than merely to its nose.

Out in front, the Ferraris were in a class of their own after Massa succeeded in overtaking Kubica on the run down to the first corner. In a wheel-to-wheel battle on lap two, Raikkonen also claimed the Pole, and from that point on it was a relative procession.

But unlike in Malaysia a fortnight ago when Raikkonen took the win as he blasted past Massa in the first round of pit stops, the Finn was unable to make any impression on this occasion. For Massa, it was his second successive victory on this circuit, and after all the speculation about his future in the wake of his poor start to the season, he is up and running.

Kubica held onto third for the remainder of the race from team-mate Heidfeld, and with the 11 points from the pair it means BMW Sauber lead the constructors' championship for the first time in their history. The team hold a one-point lead over Ferrari and two to McLaren, who barely salvaged a miserable day with Kovalainen's fifth place.

Jarno Trulli in his Toyota was sixth, followed by Mark Webber, the Red Bull driver, in seventh, with Williams' Nico Rosberg taking a point for eighth place.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mosley's resignation

Driven to distraction: former world champion Damon Hill believes Max Mosley is harming Formula One by refusing to resign

Driven to distraction: former world champion Damon Hill believes Max Mosley is harming Formula One by refusing to resign.
British Formula One drivers from across the generations have called on FIA president Max Mosley to do the right thing by the sport and resign immediately. Damon Hill, world champion in 1996 and current president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club; former Ferrari driver and five-times Le Mans 24-hour winner Derek Bell; and Tony Brooks, who finished second in the F1 world championship in 1959, added their voices to those demanding that Mosley should step down after it was revealed he took part in a spanking and sex session with five prostitutes. Striped concentration camp-like overalls were worn, and Mosley admits speaking German to the women, but he has denied there were any Nazi connotations.

“He has to think of racing instead of himself, and stop being so damned selfish,” said Bell. “This affair is doing serious damage. We’ve had enough crises in F1 over the past few years, we don’t need any more. I understand him maintaining what went on was his own business and that it shouldn’t have been publicised, but now that it has, a man in his position simply has to bow out gracefully, though that’s hardly the right word. You just say, ‘I apologise, I’ve had a wonderful run and that’s it, goodbye’.”

Hill, speaking for the first time on the subject, said that while F1 has always had something of a risqué image, Mosley’s actions had gone beyond the pale. “None of us wants to be moralising about individuals, but there has to be an element here to do with the image of the sport, and the ability of the premier representative of the sport in the world to continue to engage with a politic concerned about values,” said Hill. “It’s a practical issue, but it’s also a marketing issue. Businesses connected with the sport want a positive image, and politicians want to engage with it because they know motorsport people support those values.”

Brooks, one of the senior statesmen of the sport in the UK and one of the greatest drivers Britain has produced, said it was not Mosley’s morals that were the problem. “He has obviously lost status, because while he denies any Nazi connotations, cavorting around with prostitutes in that manner is not something to be proud of,” said Brooks. “No doubt other people do it and don’t get found out, but he has been, and in his position he needs to have status and image. I don’t condemn his private practices - if he thinks what he was doing is all right, that’s between him and his maker. Sexual perversion is something you don’t judge these days, but his is a terribly important position, a prestigious position. To me he’s dragging the sport into disrepute, and that can’t be right.”