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Alonso, Schumacher and Kubica

Fernando Alonso has been talking about Michael Schumacher’s achievements in Formula One. Understandably, his view is colored somewhat by recent events and he went so far as to say that Michael, whilst being a great driver, was also the most unsporting in the history of F1.

He has a point. I cannot recall any driver of the past being involved in so many incidents where foul play was suspected. Michael has even admitted that the one that did not work, his attempt to push Jacques Villeneuve off the road in his (Villeneuve’s) championship year, was deliberate. Ayrton Senna, too, confessed to one incident with Prost that was fully intended, but that was in retaliation for a similar stunt pulled by the Frenchman the year before. Neither of these drivers made a habit of winning by devious means, however.

The controversies surrounding Michael are just too frequent and numerous to be without some foundation. We all have an opinion on each incident, having witnessed them on television, and it is possible to judge many as racing accidents. But all of them? I doubt it. If Michael is as skilled as his reputation and record suggests, it seems a bit strange that he should make so many mistakes at the precise moments when it counted most for a race win or the championship. Where is the skill in clobbering your nearest rival when he attempts to pass?

But, enough of Michael; next year he will no longer be a factor and we will be able to experience F1 with a new crop of stars and hopefuls. And one of the rising stars will undoubtedly be Robert Kubica. His race at Monza was one of the few bright spots and we can be certain that there will be many more from him.

Kubica

Robert Kubica

Yes, Robert was lucky in being able to get past a few cars in the confusion of the start and first chicane. But he seized that opportunity like an old hand and then defended his position with skill and maturity. Rare is the driver who manages that in only his third Grand Prix.

His lap times also demonstrate his ability – he posted the fourth fastest in the race, behind Raikkonen, Michael and Massa. And it was not a matter of running light on fuel as we suspected at first. Kubica pitted at the same times as the leaders.

All of which bodes very well for BMW Sauber’s chances next year. I just wish they would drop the “Sauber” from their name – we all know it’s really just a BMW now.

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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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