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Alonso Champion Again

The Brazilian Grand Prix was an exciting end to a season that became nerve-wracking towards the end. Strangely enough, Michael Schumacher’s puncture actually added to the tension, bringing back memories of other races where he has seemed to be out of contention only to win in the end. Had things gone to plan, Michael would have won, Massa come in second and Alonso third; in other words the net result would still have been Alonso’s second championship.

Alonso

Fernando Alonso, 2006 World Champion

So the race delivered beyond expectation. Massa won, to the delight of all Brazil, Fernando collected his second championship in a row, Michael supplied us with yet another determined drive all the way from last to fourth and Jenson Button underlined his potential for greatness next year by grabbing a podium spot. What more could we ask for?

There were sad tales as well; Williams ended one of their worst ever years by their drivers colliding on the first lap and Toyota remained consistent, shooting themselves in the foot (well, okay, the rear suspension) and exiting stage left very early on. Kimi Raikkonen did his best but the McLaren was just not up to the task of beating the front runners on the day; fifth was a poor reward after a long, hard season for him.

So now the accolades and reviews of Michael Schumacher’s astounding career begin. Such has been his stature in the sport that his leaving has overshadowed Alonso’s achievement of the 2006 championship. But some remembered Fernando and Autosport magazine has an interesting interview with Damon Hill and Jackie Stewart in which they assess Alonso’s skills.

Damon Hill: “He’s a very determined competitor, and I like that. I’m sort of riding with him a little bit when I watch him drive.

“In Suzuka, he was just pounding away at Michael. I think he broke Michael. The car broke. It had to break some day.

“Michael has had six years without an engine failure, but put under serious pressure for lots of laps and something had to give.”

Jackie Stewart: “Of the 22 Grand Prix drivers there’s usually only about six that are really, really good. And out of those six there are usually only three extraordinary talents at one time. And out of those three there is generally only one genius at any one time.

“For a short window of time there might have been Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna together, but that was a rare occasion.

“There is generally only one genius at any one time and I think you’re going to see Alonso taking on that mantle.

“I think the time has come when it is clear that Alonso is tomorrow and Michael is yesterday.”

Food for thought. And one more thought from me: on Sunday we may have seen an instance of the FIA at last bowing a little to common sense. It is well known that the practise of the winner accepting his national flag from a fan and then waving it on his slowing down lap was banned several years ago. So, when Massa did exactly that, I think we must all have held our breath in anticipation of dire penalties being imposed by the officials. Yet so far there has been nothing; perhaps the FIA decided to be looking the other way at the moment of Felipe’s achievement of a lifelong ambition.

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Alonso and McLaren

McLaren have had a pretty poor year, not winning a single race as yet with only one to go. Their car has not been as competitive as we have come to expect and, to add to their woes, they have suffered from reliability problems and accidents, often at the moments they seemed most likely to grab a win. It has been enough to make anyone wonder about the wisdom of Alonso’s decision to drive for them in 2007.

Fernando

Get used to it!

What we should remember, however, is that McLaren have a habit of bouncing back. If their car is not as good as intended one year, you can bet that the next one will be something special. With Mercedes determined not to be embarrassed by their compatriots, BMW, there can be no doubt that the folks at Woking are slaving away at plans for next season. Alonso is likely to be the beneficiary of all the hard work, design genius and money that McLaren will expend this winter.

So Alonso’s decision may not be as rash as appears at first sight. This is even more so when one considers the problems of the most likely opposition. Renault will have a driver line-up that is less than perfect; although I expect Fisichella to rise to the occasion as lead driver, I still have my doubts that he is capable of being a consistent winner. If nothing else, his bad luck should prevent that. And Kovalainen may be a bright prospect but has yet to prove himself in the heat of a Formula 1 race.

Everyone expects that Kimi Raikkonen will walk away with the championship, once he has the speed and reliability of the Ferrari to back his aspirations. I am not so sure. He will be joining a team that has come to respect and support their number two driver, Felipe Massa, and the Finn may find it difficult to carve a space for himself within their affections. Too often in the past we have seen what happens to a driver who fails to gain the wholehearted backing of the Ferrari team. Kimi has the speed to succeed but I wonder if he has the ability to make a team his own in Schumacher fashion.

So Alonso’s prospects for next year are considerably brighter than we might think. He has already demonstrated the driving skills and luck necessary to become World Champion and he will be riding the crest of McLaren’s determination to have a better year than this one. Add to that Ron Dennis’ excellent organizational and team management skills and you have a potential winner.

What it all means is that 2007 is shaping up to be one of the most closely-fought seasons for many a long year. As the last race of this season approaches, we may think we have witnessed a battle of the giants but we should remember that only two drivers have been in with a chance. Next year it is likely that there will be many more than that squabbling over the spoils. And that can only be good for the sport and the fans.

My bet for next year? Oh, I love outsiders so I’ll stick my neck out really far and say Jenson Button!

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Suzuka Qualifying

The weather gods were kind to Michael Schumacher again in Japan, the dry conditions giving Bridgestone a decisive advantage over Michelin. Whatever the hype from both camps, it is quite clear that tires are playing an enormous part in the races at the moment, allowing us to predict a Renault victory when it rains or a Ferrari win when it doesn’t.

Massa

Felipe Massa

So it is no surprise that the front two rows of the grid are Bridgestone-shod; if there is a surprise at all, it was that Massa managed to grab pole. Even that is not unprecedented, given the Brazilian’s performances of late. Some seem to think that his race in Shanghai was below par but that is ignoring the fact that he was hampered by his tires while the circuit was wet (and all the Bridgestone runners had problems to begin with) and was then taken out in a coming-together with Coulthard.

Massa looks like a champion waiting to happen. He is now as fast as Schumacher and is even developing a similarly ruthless willingness to do anything to get ahead. He begins to fit the Ferrari mold very well.

Next up were the Toyotas, everyone assuming that their pace was the result of running light on fuel. That may be but their Bridgestones had something to do with it as well. They will be difficult to pass in the first stint and Alonso must hope to beat them to the first corner after the start, if he is to stand a reasonable chance of running close to the Ferraris.

The Hondas also put on a good show, taking seventh and eighth, and they could be a factor in the race, particularly if the weather turns changeable. Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual, with the one exception of Kimi Raikkonen. The McLaren must be very poor at this track for Kimi not to have made it into Q3.

It looks like it will be an easy race for Ferrari, given that the weather prediction is for even better conditions than today’s. Nothing is certain in this game, however, and Renault fans must hope for something to take the edge off the Ferraris’ advantage. Rain, against all forecasts? An engine problem for Michael?

Somehow I think it will take something like that for Michael not to win this one.

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Yet More on the “Blocking” Controversy

Yes, I’m nearly as sick of the subject as you are but some things need to be pointed out since nobody else seems to be mentioning them. Hopefully, this will be my last post on the matter.

It seems that the FIA is moving to clarify the rules regarding blocking in qualifying. SPEEDtv.com reports that the FIA released this statement yesterday:

“Complaints that a driver has been impeded during qualifying will no longer be referred to the stewards of the meeting. Only in cases where it appears to race control that there has been a clear and deliberate attempt to impede another driver will the stewards be asked to intervene.

“We now feel it is pointless for the stewards to engage in long and painstaking enquiries if competitors ignore clear scientific evidence and instead abuse the regulator.”

The first paragraph looks like an admission that the rule was incorrectly applied against Alonso. If the stewards did not make a glaring error, why is it necessary to clarify the rule at all? In effect, the FIA is admitting that the whole thing was absurd and that something needs to be done about rules that are open to abuse.

To then turn on Renault in a pointed remark about competitors ignoring “clear scientific evidence” is mere bad temper. Renault had every right to protest against such an awful decision and to make their views known. Had they kept quiet, as the FIA is clearly suggesting, nothing would have been done to alter the rule; the FIA can’t have it both ways.

Max Mosley

Max Mosley

FIA President, Max Mosley has attempted to justify the actions of the stewards by saying that “blocking in fact did take place as the Ferrari driver lost time through the long right-handed Parabolica turn” (F1 Racing-live.com). This is the biggest load of baloney I’ve heard in a long time. So Massa lost some time in the Parabolica? Where is the proof that this was caused by Alonso, who was over a hundred yards ahead of him at the time? For all we know, Massa may have slowed for other reasons entirely.

Presumably, Mosley means that the Ferrari’s aerodynamics were affected by the turbulent air created by the Renault – but welcome to F1 qualifying, Max; this happens time and again to every driver and they accept that it’s part of sharing the track with other cars. Plenty of drivers were much closer to the car ahead on their hot lap than Massa ever was but they didn’t see a need to complain to the stewards.

The plain fact is that the Monza stewards made a decision grounded entirely upon their favoring of Ferrari and we all know it. The FIA is engaged in a rearguard action to save its reputation but, let’s face it, that reputation was blown long ago and this latest incident merely serves to confirm what we have suspected for years.

Okay, I’ll shut up now.

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