Opinion: Dramatic championship climax showcases best and worst of F1

By Andy Darley

CalendarMonday, November 3rd, 2008

 
 

Felipe Massa won the Brazilian Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton the drivers’ championship on a day full of sporting drama – but a day, also, where the bigots, the gloaters and the conspiracy theorists were out in force.

When Massa took the chequered flag to win the race, Hamilton was stuck in sixth and the Brazilian was on course to be champion. But, even as his family celebrated in the Ferrari garage, out on the track Timo Glock was struggling to control his Toyota in the rain on dry tyres and Hamilton seized a championship-winning fifth.

Cameras caught the moment that Massa’s father – every bit as crucial a figure in his son’s career as Hamilton’s father Anthony has been in his – discovered that victory had slipped away. For anyone with even a shred of empathy, it was a moment of pure horror amid the excitement of the occasion.

Empathy, however, seems to have been in short supply. The Guardian’s live blog called it “funny stuff”, adding “the look on their collective face at the exact moment the penny drops is priceless”, and it was far from alone in gloating.

For the record, our view here at Brits on Pole is that Ferrari as a team and as a corporate entity are fair game – over the last few years there has been plenty to criticise emerging from Maranello. But the families – usually, ordinary people whose reward for finding genius in their midst is years of sacrifice and struggle for an uncertain reward – are off limits.

But if this aspect of the Hamilton supporters’ reactions left a sour taste, it pales in comparison to the response to the Briton’s triumph in some quarters.

Here’s a sad fact: more people have visited this site searching for terms including the words “hate Hamilton” than have come to read our race coverage. And we have had to shut off comments on an old post that discussed hostility to Hamilton because of the abuse that was posted – some illiterate and semi-coherent, some wrapping vile racism in perfect syntax.

Not everyone who followed that route here was a Hamilton opponent – some in the run-up to the race were seeking information on the infamous Spanish website where a mildly amusing game allowing players to booby-trap the Interlagos circuit with puncture-inducing obstacles was swamped with racist comments.

But taken in the whole, it’s been an eye-opening and unsettling experience seeing just how much hostility there is out there.

Hot on the heels of the haters came the conspiracy theorists, unable to believe that Glock’s slow pace at the end of the race was anything but a fit-up job.

“Hamilton win fix”, “lewis hamilton fix”, “massa robbed”, “controversial win massa hamilton glock”, “hamiltons dodgy win”, “timo glock fix” and numerous other combinations including the words ‘hamilton controversial win’ were among the search terms used to hit this site in the hours after the race,

Some optimists even tried “ferrari – stewards investigate glock” and “how long in f1 do you have to lodge an objection”.

Most of these visitors ended up at posts discussing the dodgy stewarding at previous races in the season, where we have not been shy about criticising the way in which Ferrari appeared to be receiving some not-so-subtle help from FIA stewards to ensure the championship went right to the wire and the season stayed tense to the very end.

Well, we got an exciting finish alright. But the blame for the suspicion it was greeted with must lay squarely at the feet of the FIA.

It so happens that, this time, it was the Ferrari fans who were left with a nasty taste in their mouths and the McLaren fans who benefited from a situation that looked inexplicable when it happened.

But the reverse happened so often this season, and the atmosphere became so poisoned as a result, that the standard cry whenever anything odd happens at an F1 race is now ‘fix’. And imagine if it had happened the other way round – if the Ferrari-engined Sebastien Bourdais, who once again picked the wrong tyres in the rain, had slowed on the last lap and allowed a Massa championship at the death.

The howls of protest would have been deafening.

In fact, the stewards had a very quiet day. Not only did they keep out of the title fight, they also sat on their hands for a couple of examples of unsafe-looking releases into the pitlane and for Jarno Trulli’s overtaking shoulder-charge that wrecked Bourdais’ race.

In the end the title was settled as it should have been – not by rules-merchants in a committee room, but by a combination of drivers’ skills and teams’ strategic thinking.

Whenever rain hits a race, the different approaches of the teams have a magnified effect. In Belgium, Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso were among the first to pit when it rained during the final laps and were rewarded with second (once Hamilton had been penalised) and fourth. Bourdais did not pit and dropped from third to seventh on the final lap – a personal disaster which completely explains what happened to Glock in Brazil.

At Interlagos Giancarlo Fisichella made an early stop in his uncompetitive Force India, switched to more appropriate tyres, and a few laps later found himself running among the leaders. But for a clutch problem that caused him to stall during his later pitstop, he might have taken the team’s first points. Some drivers towards the back of the field, with nothing to lose, switched to extreme wets at the end of the race in the hope of torrential rain. Among them was Bourdais, and when the rain did not come down heavily enough he was overtaken by Robert Kubica.

But if the rain was too light for Bourdais, it was too heavy for the Toyotas – both took the opposite gamble, gaining places by staying out on dry tyres as others ahead of them pitted. Glock rose from seventh to fourth and, even after losing places to Vettel and Hamilton as he struggled to control his car, he still managed sixth, vindicating the decision.

In the end, there was no fix, just sporting drama of the highest order. Here at Brits on Pole, we feel tremendous sympathy for Felipe Massa and his family, unashamed joy for the Hamiltons – and a mighty sense of relief that this incredibly mixed season, with all its highs and lows, is finally over.

Comments are closed.

 
  • McLaren eshop

    McLaren store

  • F1 gear (and more) at OnPole.com

    2012 F1 Merchandise from OnPole.com