The Brazilian GP Breakdown: Felipe Massa Vs Lewis Hamilton

Soren ThygesenCorrespondent INovember 6, 2008


That must be what Felipe Massa felt on his home ground after being informed that he wasn’t the world champion after all. Imagine having the title taken away from you 500 metres before the finish...

But what a race and what an end to the F1 season!

We can take nothing away from Felipe Massa's performance. He drove like a champ in Sao Paolo. And he has done so for the last three years on this track. Lewis Hamilton's performance was rather mediocre compared to his race in China two weeks earlier. But my congratulations go to Hamilton for winning the drivers championship.

However, I do believe that it was this years incredible McLaren and the way it heated its tires and never broke down that is the real reason behind Hamilton becoming champion. In short: It was the reliability of the McLaren that gifted Hamilton the championship - more than his skills.

If we are honest, for a champion, his mistakes are numerous. Not to mention the number of times he was penalized in 2008. Controversial as some of the penalties may be - he was still investigated repeatedly. This has severely dropped his popularity in the paddock. But I hardly think that is of much concern to Mr. Hamilton at the moment.

I took the liberty of adding the points together with the old 10-6-4-3-2-1 points system. And Hamilton comes out with 80 points compared to Massa with 83. Not to take anything away from Hamilton, I would still like to see a points system that rewards wins to a greater extent than today's system.

Sebastian Vettel impresses again. He surely is a force to be reckoned with.

I knew that from the first time I saw him in the Friday practice sessions at the Turkish GP in 2006. He had just turned 19 the month before. And he shot right up to number 1 on the time tables in the second session in the BMW Sauber.

And when the track becomes wet he apparently just gets better. His win in Monza 2008 was a demonstration of pure skill and determination. I’m not sure the sports world has really grasped what an enormous achievement that was.

Some say Hamilton is a rain master. I don't know. All I know is that anyone who watched the Brazilian GP of 2008 saw Hamilton getting parked by a youngster in a Toro Rosso.

Side note to this. McLaren and Hamilton sometimes seem out of sync with their press statements. After the Brazilian GP, McLaren stated that they advised Lewis to “let Vettel through” to avoid any danger. At that time Glock was ahead of him and letting Vettel thru would mean putting Hamilton into a position where he would lose the championship.

McLaren say that they “knew we should catch Glock on the last lap..” I’m sorry McLaren, but that comes across as totally untruthful. No one could have predicted that the Toyota's would do such a slow last lap. And McLaren are not being helped by Hamilton that said he did everything he could to keep Vettel behind.

“To have lost the position to him, there was nothing I could do. I was pushing and pushing to get closer to him, taking more risks," Hamilton said.

This is not the first time I have learned to take any press statement from McLaren with a pinch of salt.

What about Kimi Raikkonen—the outgoing champ? He did his job as expected for the Ferrari team. Kept Hamilton behind him and brought home the constructors title for Ferrari along with Felipe.

He did struggle with understeer again as he has most of this season. And knowing how bad the Ferrari is/was in the rain, he did a fantastic job. He was set to pass Alonso but there was no need to risk it as long as he was ahead of Lewis and the team told him to play it safe.

Raikkonen said in the press conference that he was happy to have secured Ferrari the constructors title but he also looked kind of relieved that this season is over and done with. This quote is taken from Mark Hughes column in Autosport, May 2007: "One thing the Ferrari engineers have been amazed at, is just how much oversteer Kimi likes in a car. The more you dial in, the faster he seems to go."

Kimi then, has an extreme preference for oversteer in his car. To then be presented with a car that understeers like a supermarket trolley, must be very tough to cope with. But as usual, you never heard any gripe or complains from the pragmatic Finn. He now has 9000 kms of winter testing ahead of him.

Ferrari seems determined to give him a car that works for him. And if they manage that, I am certain that we will see the Kimi Raikkonen that gave him the championship last year. To put it this way—if he took 10 fastest laps with this year’s car, I really want to see what he can do with a car that really suits him. Memories of his race in Japan 2005 spring to mind where he went from 17th to 1st on a normal two-stop strategy.

A few words go to the entire Glock issue. A lot of conspiracy theories have been floating around. Glock being paid by McLaren to slow down and so on. Something that has caused pictures like this to emerge:

But let's break it down. The rain started falling again in Sao Paolo on lap 64 of 71. The only reason Glock got ahead of Hamilton in the first place is because both Toyotas gambled and stayed out on dry tires.

Had they changed to wets like the rest of the front runners, Glock would have been behind him and Lewis would still have won the title. It almost worked out for Toyota but the tarmac just got too wet on that last lap and both Glock and Trulli could hardly keep it on the track—much less concentrate on a championship battle going on around them. We all remember Kimi Raikkonen at Spa don't we?

The best proof of Glock's innocence is that Trullis final lap was the exact same as Glock's final lap: 1.44. Trulli was behind Hamilton the whole time but it just goes to show that they both drove as fast as they possibly could in those conditions.

Hamilton won it. Maybe fairly but not squarely. Luck, reliability and having the fastest car in cool and/or wet conditions had a lot to do with it. Personally I don't think Lewis is the stuff of legends.

He has shown time and again during this season that he still cracks under pressure, has very questionable behaviour on track and can sometimes look pretty average when placed midfield. But the minute he is at the front of the pack he has really shone at times.

Time can either prove me right or wrong on the legend bit.

Motor racing can be cruel sometimes and Massa and Kimi was on the receiving end this year. Team mistakes, engine failures and having a car that wont heat its tires properly will take the championship away from you. But for Ferrari to still pull off the constructors title is quite a feat. So again I will congratulate both Hamilton and Ferrari with their titles.

Now Formula 1 fans face a race drought of five months ahead of them. I for one will be keeping a close eye on the on track testing that is set to start in December. There is a lot of changes that the teams will have to come to terms with in a relatively short amount of time. The big rule changes have brought hope to the midfield teams that it might upset the expected order if they were to strike gold. Especially with the KERS energy recovery system.

So this might be a very interesting winter to follow. Stay tuned!