Friday, October 31, 2008


If there's one thing that we've learned through the turmoil of the 17 widely differing GPs of 2008 it's... expect the unexpected. Just when you thought you could anticipate what would happen next in F1 - something else happened. It was going to be a Ferrari vs McLaren fight...and then BMW joined in.

Lewis Hamilton was making too many mistakes... and then drove the race of his life at Silverstone, Felipe Massa looked a spent force in Germany...and then he drove his heart out in Hungary. Kimi Raikkonen looked on for a shed-load of points after his win in Spain...and then didn't win at all, the Renault team were going to struggle to get on the podium this season...and then won two races, and most exciting of all, Toro Rosso's position looked under threat...and then they won a race...from the front.

It's been a season of extraordinary upsets, extraordinary decisions and right now, playing off camera, an extraordinary row between the manufacturers and the FIA over the introduction of standard engines.

If McLaren needed a diversion to keep the focus of attention way from their boy at Interlagos then the FIA has certainly provided one. The idea that they could put a tender out to an engine manufacturer (who wasn't already involved in F1, none of the teams will bid) to provide a standard engine is completely at odds with the goal of making it the pinnacle of motorsport. And though they have said that they're suggesting it in a bid to preserve F1, there is nothing more calculated to destroy it than to tell Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Renault, BMW and Ferrari they can't bring their own engines.

It's way up there with Max's idea from a few years back that drivers should swap teams from race to race. He was always fascinated to find out what Michael would have been like driving a Minardi. And the answer we already knew was - faster than any other Minardi driver. That 'plan' was more mischief than anything else, but the standard engine is either one big negotiating lever, or the grim reaper for F1 as we know it.

Back to Brazil, the most predictable outcome would be a redwash at the front. This race is as close to a guaranteed Ferrari 1-2 as you can get. The cars were untouchable in 2007 for a 1-2 and would have been in 2006 if Michael Schumacher hadn't got a puncture early on. Felipe Massa will hope to repeat his 2006 triumph, with Raikkonen following him home.

However the logic of the 2008 season is that something else will happen. Already the weather prediction for the weekend is light rain on Friday, rain on Saturday and showers on Sunday. And as we know, nothing defeats predictions more than rain.

Rain is not good news for Ferrari because Felipe Massa had demonstrated that he doesn't perform as well in wet conditions. Lewis Hamilton may be able to race supremely in the wet, but as we saw in Monza qualifying, the McLaren can glaze its brakes, so one tyre choice at the wrong moment could make the difference between winning and losing the World Championship.

It would be a dreadful anticlimax if something terminal happened to Felipe Massa or Lewis Hamilton early in the race, but in wet races the level of jeopardy is always increased.

McLaren come to the race with a lot more new bells and whistles attached to the car and have a clear seven-point advantage in the drivers' title race, but a bigger disadvantage in the constructors's Championship. Though Ferrari are keen to stress how important and prestigious that is, no-one's really convinced. It's the ugly bridesmaid compared to the voluptuous bride. To use a Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross analogy, it's the sympathy shag of F1.

McLaren will go for the main prize. And what they really need to do is get Heikki Kovalainen into the thick of the action. Ever since Monza he's played a remote role, unlike Massa's understudy, who'se mostly been faster than him.

If the front end of the grid stays predictable then further back down the field there'll hardly be enough points to change positions. Kovalainen needs a couple of points to haul himself ahead of Alonso for 6th in the drivers' title and Jarno Trulli and Sebastian Vettel are level on 30 points each as they battle for 8th place.

McLaren need 11 points just to draw level with Ferrari in the constructors' table (unlikely) and BMW need 10 to trump McLaren for second place (also unlikely). Renault are firmly 4th, Toyota firmly 5th, but only five points separate Toro Rosso and Red Bull, currently in 6th and 7th, with Williams three points further back in 8th.

Though many of the drivers have professed that they'd sooner Felipe win the title than Lewis, that kind of emotion usually goes out of the window when they're sat behind the wheel. Only Alonso is prepared to put his car in the line of fire, but having voiced his support for Massa so openly and so candidly, should anything happen in the race then he'd be running the risk of bringing the sport into disrepute.

My own personal view is that it will be a shocking weekend. No matter who wins I will be disconsolate. For this race marks the end of...well...Mark. Unless someone at the BBC has an enormous sense of humour, the beloved ITV pundit Mark "Git orf me barra" Blundell will be filing his last report.

Readers (with access to ITV) revel in the last references to "the guys" and "stuff what he is alluding to" and "the equipment what he has under him". We shall not see his like again.

Andrew Davies

Source : Planet F1

No comments: