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July 22, 2008

F1: German Grand Prix

Qualifying

Quite uneventful. The only exciting things were that Sebastian Vettel made it to Q3 and the number of times pole position changed hands in the closing seconds with Lewis Hamilton finally taking it. Oh, and Heikki Kovalainen getting refueled with a sophisticated-looking, yet NASCAR-style fuel can. Never saw that before.

Race

Note: I watched a recording of this on Monday evening having avoided all racing news since Saturday, as I had another appointment on Sunday during the broadcast.

The start was relatively uneventful. Robert Kubica and Vettel made a good start. Hockenheim’s current configuration seems good for passing as there are lots of different lines through many corners.

The Hondas are like moving chicanes this year; slow and obtrusive. Hamilton and Kubica were caught behind Jarno Trulli as they exited the pits. Bad luck or timing. Kimi Raikkonen got by Trulli, Vettel passed Fernando Alonso and then Vettel pulled a nice move to get by Timo Glock as well.

If I ran a team I would want Vettel as one of my drivers. He is doing way more with the Toro Rosso than expected, and he’s only 21 – world champion material. Mark my words. If his Red Bull car is decent next year he’ll become a familiar podium guest.

Glock had a big wreck coming out of a right hand turn after his right rear suspension brokes as he rode the curbing. The safety car was deployed and the pits closed for refueling. This rules needs to be changed as it could easily cause someone to either run out of fuel or suffer time penalty which serves no good purpose.

As soon as the pits reopened most cars came in. The pits were stacked, with drivers having to wait while the crews service their teammates. Clearly Hamilton came in ahead of Heikki Kovalainen but did not stop. It appeared McLaren made an error in their pit strategy.

As they exited the pits Vettel forced Alonso wide over the white line. I don’t think Alonso was penalized, and rightfully so as that was the only way he could avoid a collision.

The Vettel/Raikkonen/Alonso battle was terrific. David Coulthard running into Rubens Barrichello was completely Coulthard’s fault. He’s had his time and it’s a good thing he’s retiring at the end of the year to make room for new blood.

Speaking of new blood, Nelson Piquet managed to get his Renault into the lead because he stopped at just the right moment before the pit lane closed. Since he was on a one stop strategy, he was done with all his stops. So when the safety car pulled in and everyone else either went into the pits or had yet to make their final stop, he assumed the race lead. Pure luck.

When Hamilton finally made his stop it was under full green. He came out right behind his teammate Kovalainen. It seems Ron Dennis used team orders and told Kovalainen to let Hamilton by (it was a pretty clumsy pass). The main reason for this is because Hamilton is leading the championship and it’s a really tight battle. Another reason is probably that the team could not service Hamilton during the safety car period because Kovalainen was probably just about out of fuel.

Rather than hold up Kovalainen they just had Hamilton drive on through so they could get Kovalainen refueled, and Hamilton had to pit under green and make up the time through his own speed. Through a series of fast laps he was able to stay in touch with Massa’s Ferrari which was in second place.

So the team orders were a way to correct the team’s mistake. Shades of McLaren’s pit mix up with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard in the Australian Grand Prix in 1998.

For all the credit that the broadcasters give Alonso, he has not performed as well as he should. Yes, he is fast and makes the Renault look better than it is. But in a number of races he’s throwing away track position with a string of avoidable errors (Monaco, France, Germany) by spinning, and generally pushing over the limit and ultimately losing time, position and points.

Raikkonen just could not get the performance he needed, and Felipe Massa just about fell off the road trying to stay ahead of Hamilton. He didn’t appear to put up much of a fight. It didn’t seem much different to when Hamilton passed Piquet for the lead. Massa is fast but does not cope well with pressure. It would’ve been the biggest fluke if Piquet won the race. He was gifted second place. For his part Hamilton drove a superb race and earned the win.

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