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August 24, 2008

F1: European Grand Prix

The start was fairly tame, Heikki Kovalainen got by Kimi Raikkonen, but it seemed otherwise processional. If you don’t count Fernando Alonso getting taken out on the first lap by Kazuki Nakajima.

Anyway, with a new track and overnight rain, the surface was quite green and low in grip. An interesting tidbit mentioned by the SpeedTV team was the increased rate of fuel consumption in the GP2 race as more rubber was laid onto the track surface.

David Coulthard tried a dodgy pass on Giancarlo Fisichella resulting in contact and a spin for DC. He continues to show poor judgment, inexcusably so considering his level of experience. Meanwhile his replacement next year at Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel, did a spectacular job finishing 6th.

There was also speculation that McLaren and particularly Lewis Hamilton were vulnerable to a hot track as they seem to be harder on their tires. But frankly with the surface as green as it was, that was probably not as much of a factor (lower grip = less abrasion = less wear).

While spectacular to look at the Valencia street circuit produced almost no passing. It was almost a parade. Steve Matchett stated the obvious when commenting on Nico Rosberg’s use of the soft compound tires (he being the only one to start the race on them), and saying his lap times were competitive with those of the other drivers around him. Well yes, is that not true for everyone unless they have a problem?

Anyway, kidding aside, Ferrari had a fraught race. Though Felipe Massa basically led from start to finish except for when he was in the pits, Raikkonen’s race was a mess.

It started with a relatively poor qualifying performance (again) of 5th place. Then losing a position at the start. It took until well after the first pit stop before his times started coming down. Whether due to traffic or if he was just warming up, the outcome is the same. It’s too late to make an impact on the race. In fact, Massa came out of his first stop ahead of Raikkonen who had yet to make a stop. That’s how far behind he was.

Then during his second stop he left before the refueling was completed, knocking over 3 of the crew and losing more time to Kovalainen who had pitted at the same time. It appears whenever Raikkonen is behind Kovalainen on track he can not pass him, and tends to make uncharacteristic mistakes. One of Massa’s stops also resulted in a $10,000 fine for “unsafe release” as he almost collided with Adrian Sutil in the pitlane, but at least the stewards didn’t ruin an other-wise good race with a drive through penalty or something of that nature.

Finally Raikkonen’s engine blew in a big way about 10 laps from the end. Thus he scores no points and Lewis Hamilton extends his championship lead by finishing 2nd. McLaren didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend. Sure, they couldn’t match Massa’s pace but have drawn to within 8 points in the constructors championship as well. Not too shabby.

As for refueling, I think it’s time for FIA to look at making some changes in the interest of safety. It should remain as it plays an important strategic role. But is there a safer way to do so? Maybe there should be a system that prevents the car from driving away with the hose still in it. Maybe the mechanics shouldn’t stand ahead of the hose in case the car takes off. Maybe…… they’ll do something before more team members are carried off on a stretcher.

Finally, it’s clear that freezing engine specifications is not working. The teams continue to make tweaks and come up with slight gains. The FIA should think long and hard about whether the way their rules are enforceable.

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