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November 6, 2008

F1: Brazilian Grand Prix

The start of the race was delayed by 10 minutes due to a brief downpour. The extra time was used to allow the teams to change to rain tires. The start was clean, at least at the front of the field. None of the first several positions changed as everyone duly made it around turn one without drama.

Further back Nico Rosberg hit David Coulthard (in his final F1 race) and causing him to spin. He was then collected by Kaz Nakajima and his race was over. Nelson Piquet also spun out and retired.

Rosberg was later one of the first (if not the first) driver to come in for dry tires as the rain abated and the track dried out. Shortly after everyone else came in for dry tires as well.

Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) emerged in 7th place having run 4th prior to that. Felipe Massa had led from the start in his Ferrari.

Some interesting stats mentioned by the broadcast team on SpeedTV included McLaren supposedly spending $7.5m in development in the last few weeks to improve their car by 0.15 seconds per lap (a lap of Interlagos?), and that the car is about 2.5 seconds per lap faster now than it was at the first race of the season. Impressive.

However, this brings up the point that F1 racing is also ridiculously expensive. $7.5m is plenty of money to do an entire season of racing in many, many other series. This is the dilemma faced by the F1 teams.

Teams will use whatever resources available to them. As the sport is currently structured, no matter what they do, whoever has the most money is likely going to be able to develop the fastest car. It’s an arms race and any rule change aiming to reduce costs is unlikely going to result in the intended outcome.

Anyway, back to the racing. Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso) was in fine form running a strong second for a long time, with Fernando Alonso (Renault) third. Robert Kubica has been hot and cold in his BMW in the last few races, the pace of development of Ferrari and McLaren clearly increasing relative to BMW.

Near the end he was lapped by Hamilton but managed to stay with him after. Much had to do with their relative fuel loads and tire compounds/condition, but it was noticeable.

With about 10 laps to go Massa was clear out front followed by Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Timo Glock (Toyota), and Hamilton. As they ran, Hamilton would win the world championship.

Hamilton was clearly driving conservatively or struggling with the set up (see qualifying post on parc ferme and set up). Then it started to rain again. Vettel caught up to Hamilton. With about two laps to go, Kubica unlapped himself by passing Hamilton, and Vettel used that opportunity to go by as well.

That pushed Hamilton back to 6th place meaning Massa would win the championship if it stayed that way. Vettel appeared to be pulling away. Then just two corners from the finish line on the last lap Timo Glock, who had (bravely) stayed out on dry tires, faltered slightly and Hamilton passed him for 5th position and thus regaining the title.

Massa did everything he needed to do the whole weekend, but such was Hamilton’s points lead coming into the event that he was not able to overcome it.

The final outcome for the season was good for the sport, the last race will surely go down in history as one of the most memorable races ever (Hollywood couldn’t write it better), and hopefully F1 has started to make amends for its shenanigans of the past 2 seasons.

McLaren showed incredible reliability (Hamilton’s car anyway) and Ferrari took the Constructor’s title. What a season it’s been.

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