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More on the Alonso Travesty

When even Bernie Ecclestone says that a stewards’ decision is a farce, you can bet that something is wrong. In an interview with Germany’s Sport Bild publication, as reported by Update F1, Bernie admitted that he understood Briatore’s anger at the Monza stewards’ penalizing of the alleged blocking by Alonso of Felipe Massa in qualifying. He labeled the decision a farce and went on to say that Ferrari is the only team to get political support from the FIA.

Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone

These are stunning admissions, even if no surprise to those who follow the politics ever-present behind the F1 facade. Bernie has always been regarded as an important part of the monolith that is the FIA and has even been termed “Mr Formula One”. For him to break ranks and disagree with the party line shows that there is some justification for suspicions that the FIA is manipulating the result of this year’s championship.

Unfortunately, it will count for nothing in the end. Although it now seems unlikely that Briatore will be penalized for his angry remarks after hearing of the stewards’ decision, nothing will be done to right the wrong perpetrated upon Alonso. It will drift off into the past and be forgotten until the next blatantly partisan ruling by the FIA.

What really irritates me is the FIA’s accusation that Briatore brought F1 into disrepute by his statements. It seems to have been missed that the statements were directed against the FIA, not F1; are we to understand that the FIA considers itself to be Formula One and therefore untouchable? Let’s get things into perspective here: the FIA is the sport’s governing body, composed of delegates from various countries and interests, and it is as capable of error and bad judgement as any other assemblage of human beings. It should never be considered as above criticism.

Formula One is the sport, the teams, the cars, the drivers, the circuits, the fans, the races and, oh yes, the governing body too. Any of these elements can be criticized but the FIA seems to think itself the one constituent that is sacrosanct. And the sad fact is that the FIA has done more than anyone else to bring F1 into disrepute with its long list of dubious decisions, court cases and high-handed rulings.

Yet we continue to watch the show. In truth, the political wranglings that are so much a part of F1 these days are almost as fascinating as the sport itself. We are as human as the delegates of the FIA and we do enjoy a good fight. It stirs the blood to become incensed over some idiotic decision that affects a driver that we’re rooting for; we may get angry but that is a very good indicator that we are hooked on this sport, that it has come to be an important part of our lives.

Ironically, it seems that it’s our passion for F1 that enables the FIA to act in the way it does.

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Reflections on the Italian Grand Prix

In classic FIA style, the officials have managed to ruin what could have been a great race by allowing a patently absurd ruling by the Monza stewards to stand. In doing so, they guaranteed that Michael Schumacher’s retirement announcement would be overshadowed by revived suspicions of the governing body’s leaning towards Ferrari. On Sunday we watched a truly great driver fight back from an unfairly-imposed penalty to occupy a podium position, only to suffer the cruel chance of an engine failure.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

Would the Renault engine have blown if Alonso had not been forced to stretch it to the limit in his recovery from tenth to third? We can never know and so Schumacher’s win will be sullied forever with the possibility that it was engineered by Massa’s unfounded accusation of blocking in qualifying and the stewards’ unbelievable decision to uphold Ferrari’s protest against Alonso.

So Michael leaves F1 in the same way he lived in it: with controversy and doubt hanging over his obvious driving skills and achievements. He should be regretting that his team did not tell Massa to quit whining and get on with it, rather as Jean Todt has now suggested Renault do. But I doubt that Michael understands how his willingness to use anything at all to win sours our appreciation of his talents.

As expected, Renault lodged a protest after the race. The interesting thing is that they questioned the legality of the Bridgestone tires, not Ferrari’s wheel inserts. Presumably, they are saving the matter of inserts for a race where the stewards might not be so biased towards Ferrari.

And Kimi goes to the red team next year. Presuming that the Italian cars remain as competitive as they have been for the past few years, that should be an unstoppable combination. Unless Renault, McLaren, BMW Sauber, Honda or Toyota know different, of course. It’s a hard game to predict with certainty.

In fact, 2007 is shaping up to be a year of battle royals. The old faithfuls will be trying as hard as ever but the new teams, especially BMW Sauber, are beginning to look very threatening. And, without different tire manufacturers to muddy the waters with their own competition, the fight could be intense and involve more than the usual two or three teams. I can dream, anyway.

Which makes it sound as though I have given up on this season already. That is not the case and I am still expecting a resurgence from Renault in the last three races to ensure that justice is served by Alonso’s second championship. His performances when fate, politics and tires intervened against him have been magnificent, demonstrating clearly his right to be champion.

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Alonso Penalized for Non-Existent Blocking

The stewards at Monza have demoted Fernando Alonso to tenth on the grid for allegedly blocking Felipe Massa’s final qualifying run. To anyone who watched those last minutes of qualifying, this is as blatantly partisan a decision as it is possible to make. Alonso was always more than a hundred yards ahead of Massa and, if his presence made any difference at all, it helped to carve a hole in the air to increase the Ferrari’s speed along the straights.

Massa

Felipe Massa

Massa said after qualifying that his final attempt at pole had been spoiled by Alonso being ahead of him. Drivers excuse their performances in such ways in the heat of the moment but the stewards had the benefit of the video to see that blocking just was not possible for Alonso. I can only conclude that Italian officials see through red-shaded glasses where Ferrari is concerned.

Coming on top of the idiocies of the mass damper controversy and the forthcoming furore over wheel inserts, this does nothing but bring F1 into disrepute. When stewards can be swayed in their judgements by national sympathies, the whole sport becomes a laughing stock. We are constantly told how professional F1 has become and how much better it is than in “the old days”. On this evidence, the bunch running it should be sacked immediately and replaced with the NASCAR managers.

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Italian Grand Prix Qualifying

Kimi Raikkonen continues to be full of surprises, grabbing pole position at Monza when we least expected it. The car may have been a bit light on fuel (and Pedro de la Rosa’s correspondingly heavy – he finished in eighth position), but it takes real talent to beat Ferrari and Schumacher on this circuit. If Kimi is to drive for the Italian team next year, they will not be too unhappy that he beat their man Michael into second on the grid.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen

The other talking point will be the pace of the BMW Saubers, with Nick Heidfeld taking third and Robert Kubica seventh. At last they have sustained their practice speed into qualifying. Now it remains to be seen whether they can continue this improvement into the race itself. With a bit of luck, we might see another new face on the top step of the podium on Sunday. If Button could do it in Hungary, why should not Heidfeld in Italy?

Fernando Alonso’s times were compromised by the puncture and subsequent tire disintegration he suffered early in Q3. Aerodynamic parts of the bodywork were knocked off by the flailing rubber and he did very well to get the maimed car into fifth position. Alonso will still be a factor in the race, in spite of Michael and Felipe Massa (fourth) being ahead of him on the grid.

The Hondas continued to look good, if a little lower down the order than in Turkey. Jenson Button grabbed sixth and Barrichello ninth. Lately they have produced solid and reliable race performances (still likely since they opted not to use the new-spec engines that have a tendency to blow up rather quickly) and they should be in there with a shout at the end.

The top ten was completed by Giancarlo Fisichella, almost certainly hampered by a heavy fuel load. He too should move into the frame as the race progresses. Otherwise, it was much as expected but the Toyotas were unusually slow. It seems the car does not like high speed circuits.

Ferrari look very strong for a race win here, as usual, but it would be nice to think that Kimi, Alonso and the BMW Saubers are able to mix it with them tomorrow. Ever the romantic, I quite fancy Heidfeld for this one but my head tells me it will be Schumacher.

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