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Sebastian Vettel wins at Monza as Hamilton loses appeal

Sebastian Vettel A near faultless performance in the Italian Grand Prix by 21-year-old German, Sebastian Vettel, made him the youngest race winner in Formula One history.

In very wet conditions, Vettel followed his debut pole position with a maiden race win after an astonishing weekend.

Behind him, Felipe Massa was sixth in his Ferrari, and drivers’ leader Lewis Hamilton seventh for McLaren, with the gap now just one point between them.

Heikki Kovalainen, in his McLaren-Mercedes, was second and Robert Kubica, driving a BMW Sauber, came third.

Over the team radio Vettel said, “I can’t believe it. I am lost for words. It is amazing.”

The weather caused chaos, as it did in qualifying. The race began behind the safety car. The race director announced that extreme wet tyres were compulsory because of the worsening conditions.

Lewis Hamilton, who started 15th on the grid, gained one place within seconds of the safety car pulling away as Sebastien Bourdais, starting from fourth, failed to get away.

It was Hamilton who led the way as he scythed his way past David Coulthard in the Red Bull, then Giancarlo Fisichella in his Force India before taking Raikkonen.

Amazingly, on lap 22 Hamilton was up to second and closing in on leader Vettel.

On a one-stop strategy, Hamilton remained on extreme wet tyres as more rain was forecast, but it was not heavy enough. He eventually had to change strategy and dropped back to seventh.

As forecast by Jackie Stewart, Hamilton lost his appeal against the 25-second penalty handed down by the stewards in Belgium and remains just a single point in front of his only realistic challenger this season, Felipe Massa.

Unlike last year, the Englishman looks faster than his rival and has the better package to drive.

Drivers’ Championship Table

1 Lewis Hamilton GB 78
2 Felipe Massa Bra 77
3 Robert Kubica Pol 64
4 Kimi Räikkönen Fin 57
5 Nick Heidfeld Ger 53
6 Heikki Kovalainen Fin 51
7 Fernando Alonso Spa 28
8 Jarno Trulli Ita 26
9 Sebastian Vettel Ger 23
10 Mark Webber Aus 20

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Lewis Hamilton romps home at Silverstone

On a wet weekend in England, Heikki Kovalainen managed the first pole position of his career and succeeded in putting his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the shade, back in fourth spot on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton wins at Silverstone
Lewis Hamilton greeted by his team at Silverstone

That was Saturday’s Qualifying. The British Grand Prix itself was a very different picture.

Former World Champion, Jackie Stewart watched Hamilton complete the drive of his life to claim a race rendered treacherous by torrential rain.

He later said, “What we saw was a masterful drive. He really behaved himself beautifully. The outstanding talent this young man has was fully demonstrated, because you couldn’t get conditions any more difficult than that.”

This was Hamilton’s third win of the season, and puts the British ace into a share of the championship lead with chief rivals, current Champion, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. The two Ferrari drivers were among many to spin on a track often awash with water.

The 90,000 crowd gave Hamilton an overwhelming ovation, well aware that this victory puts him in serious contention for this year’s title. He just needs to avoid the kind of rush of blood to the head we’ve seen too often this season, and his tendency to “overdrive” on occasions.

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The Fastest Of Them All

Whenever F1 fans get together, you can bet that the conversation will eventually turn to the subject of which driver was greatest of all. Years ago I read a short story that deals with this rather well and I am always reminded of it whenever such a discussion begins. I do not remember who wrote the story so I cannot give credit where it is due – but it was a long time ago so perhaps it will be sufficient that I put on record that the story isn’t mine. Anyway, here’s the basic outline of the tale:

It seems that there was a group of friends who were great fans of Grand Prix racing. They met often and enjoyed many long discussions on all aspects of the sport but things often became heated when the matter of the quickest driver arose – as it did often.

Nuvolari

The usual names were bandied about, Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Senna, Schumacher, but no final decision could ever be reached as each fan produced persuasive reasons as to why his choice must be the right one. Over the years, positions became entrenched and everyone knew the opinions and arguments of everyone else since they had heard them so often before. But nobody would concede defeat and the subject remained the one issue that was entirely deadlocked; yet they never gave up debating it, so determined were they that the matter be settled once and for all.

They were old men by the time they gathered together for the bus ride to Spa to see the Belgian Grand Prix. And, in a way, it was fitting that they should all be killed when the bus fell off a hillside in the Ardennes before they reached the circuit. Inseparable friends they had been in life and now, in death, the bond continued unbroken.

And so it was that they found themselves together again in heaven. St Peter had allowed them entry as a group and no-one was left behind. And, inevitably, the old subject came up again, undecided as it still was. Who was the fastest of all?

Even then, they were unable to reach agreement and things might have stayed that way for eternity if one of their number had not suggested settling the matter by asking the Boss, the Big G, who was reputed to know all things. Elated that they would finally know the truth and the controversy be settled forever, they proceeded to the Big House to ask their question.

The Boss was in residence and expressed Himself happy to answer anything they should ask. They explained the problem (not omitting mention of each one’s preference to ensure that he not be forgotten) and finished with the question that had dominated their lives – who was the fastest driver of all time?

The Boss smiled and answered immediately. “Heinz Hopflinger,” He announced with certainty.

The friends stared at Him and each other in complete perplexity. “Heinz Hopflinger?” ventured the bravest of them. “But I’ve never heard of him. How could that be?”

The Boss smiled again. “Oh, it was Heinz all right. I ought to know – I made him. He was a shepherd in Lichtenstein all his life and never actually saw a motor vehicle, let alone a racing car. But, if they had put him in one, he would have beaten all those you mentioned by a mile…”

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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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