How Hamilton became world champion

It all worked out in the end, didn’t it? In the face of a multitude of critics, too many near misses and even some gloomy predictions from fans like us who thought he might end up struggling, Lewis Hamilton ended the 2008 season as world champion by the slenderest of margins.

His route to the title was often exciting, occasionally awe-inspiring but also frequently both exasperating and frustrating. For one thing, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen didn’t turn up for the second half of the season. And it’s a commonplace among fans by now that if double world champion Fernando Alonso or stand-out youngster Robert Kubica had benefited from better cars, Hamilton and title rival Felipe Massa would have got away with a damn sight fewer errors than they did.

The 2008 season was, unfortunately, prone like its predecessor to accusations of being settled more by off-track politics than by the racing action. Again the FIA took a starring role, this time by handing out a series of penalties that are charitably described as incompehensible. But, despite all this, it will be remembered for two things — both involving Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel.

The first was his glorious maiden victory in the wet at Monza, a race that banished all the anger and cynicism left over from Belgium. The second was his last-gasp duel with Lewis Hamilton at the conclusion of the Brazilian race. Vettel won out but both drivers overtook the ailing Glock, struggling on bad tyres in the wet, netting Hamilton the points he needed on the very last corner. It was an extraordinary sporting occasion, and a fantastic end to the season. As we said at the top, it all worked out in the end.

Here’s what happened race by race:

Australian Grand Prix

The phrase ‘race of attrition’ could have been coined for this one, with only six cars finishing from a grid of 22. Fortunately for Lewis Hamilton’s season start, his was the fastest as he and McLaren put on the kind of seamless performance more usually associated with their Italian arch-rivals. Life was less sweet for both defending champion Kimi Raikkonen and the only other title winner on the grid, Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari driver appeared to struggle without traction control while the Renault pilot fought to get the most out of his second-division car. Hamilton was the only British driver to make it through the race. McLaren was rewarded with 14 world championship points and the useful spectacle of Ferrari scoring just one after Felipe Massa quit halfway through and Raikkonen’s engine failed in the closing laps, leaving him in a scoring position only after Honda’s Rubens Barrichello was disqualified for leaving the pit lane under a red light.
BBC grabs broadcast rights
In March we learned that F1 coverage would be moving back to the BBC from next year. The BBC and Formula One Administration Ltd today announced a contract which will see live video broadcasts on the BBC Sport website, as well as coverage on TV, radio and mobile devices. The deal, made for an undisclosed fee, marks F1’s return to BBC screens 12 years after it switched to ITV. Most fans welcomed the news and hoped that Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain would once more become motor racing’s theme tune. Altogether now: “If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again…” And no jokes in poor taste about Max Mosley, you at the back.
Malaysian Grand Prix
Following a messy qualifying session that saw the third- and fourth-placed McLarens moved backwards five grid slots for impeding other drivers, Raikkonen managed a serene race that saw him lead easily, untroubled from the first pit-stops and collecting a full 10 points. Team-mate Massa found himself beached in the gravel very shortly after being overtaken by Raikkonen in the pits. After scoring one point in Australia, and that by disqualification, Raikkonen now had 11 points, in joint second place with his old buddy from Sauber Nick Heidfeld. It looked as if Massa has surely put himself out of contention by scoring an unlovely nil points for the second race in a row, leaving BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica cruising home to a largely unchallenged second place and eight points of his own. Hamilton made the best of a bad start by working his way up the field – only to get stuck behind the characteristically wide (and uncharacteristically reliable) Red Bull of Mark Webber and the unbelievably on-form Toyota of that Jarno Trulli. Heikki Kovalainen managed to hang on to his third-place qualifying spot to occupy the bottom step on the podium
Mosley S&M scandal
By April we were in the thick of a wildly improbable sex scandal featuring FIA president Max Mosley and activities that we’d all sleep a lot better at night for simply not knowing about. In the face of widespread incredulity that he could possibly manage all that at his age and still have time to administer world motorsport, it was assumed he would have to resign. There were numerous snubs from European and Middle Eastern royalty, businessmen and team bosses but Mosley faced down his critics, had his day in court, won a vote of confidence at the FIA and hinted about standing for yet another term in office. After this soap opera had run for several episodes, most people realised how much he was enjoying the attention and refocused their thoughts on the racing. Still, as when passing a really nasty car crash, it was nearly impossible not to slow down and look, despite knowing there was something you really didn’t want to see underneath the blanket.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Only one Brit had a trouble-free Bahrain Grand Prix — Super Aguri’s Anthony Davidson. Lewis Hamilton blundered away his second-row grid position, hit his former team-mate Fernando Alonso, and apologised afterwards for letting his team down. Jenson Button and David Coulthard sported matching first-lap punctures that dropped them near the back of the field, then trashed each others’ nose cones. The victory went to Felipe Massa, who answered his critics by beating team-mate Kimi Raikkonen entirely on merit. The BMWs of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld took third and fourth, close enough to pressure the Ferraris as they wound down for the end of the race. Had Hamilton not spent the day off with the Wacky Races he would still have struggled to challenge the winners, as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was a thoroughly uncompetitive fifth. Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg took the last points-paying positions.
Anti-racism campaign
After Lewis Hamilton got flipped off by Spanish fans in terms that were a bit too closely connected with the colour of his skin, the FIA realised a potential world champion from a Caribbean background meant a responsibility to slap down racist idiots before they could really get started. So the Spanish Grand Prix weekend saw the the (albeit very low-key) launch of the Every Race campaign supported by F1 folk including Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Ron Dennis, Flavio Briatore, Christian Horner, Heikki Kovalainen and David Coulthard. Thankfully, this was the highest profile that racism attained all year.
Spanish Grand Prix
The story of two Finnish drivers and their very different races – a comfortable win for Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, a dangerous crash for McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen. Raikkonen was able to translate his pole position into a relatively untroubled victory, with team-mate Felipe Massa in formation behind him. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton took the last podium place By contrast, Kovalainen suffered a sudden and dramatic front tyre deflation on lap 22 that sent him ploughing straight on at the 195kph Campsa Corner, burying his car to its back wheels in the tyre wall. Remarkably – given the damage to the safety shell of his car – he escaped without serious injuries. Kovalainen and Hamilton had started the race on the third row, behind the Ferraris, Kubica and a Fernando Alonso determined to put on a good show for his home fans. He wasn’t able to keep Massa behind him at the start, however. After the early action, however, the race at the front settled down, with only Alonso falling back in the pitstops and then retiring, his engine aflame, to the dismay of the crowd.
Demise of Super Aguri
In what now looks less of an unfortunate one-off and more of a nasty harbinger of things to come, British driver Anthony Davidson lost his Formula One driving career after his Super Aguri team announced it was withdrawing from the series. The grid of what is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport was thus reduced to 20 cars. Super Aguri ran into problems in April after a sponsor pulled out of a commitment – and then was unable to find a replacement, despite financial support from its backer and engine supplier Honda. The team’s long-term future was placed in doubt after the 2008 Concorde Agreement outlawed customer cars which meant Super Aguri, like Red Bull’s B-team Toro Rosso, would have to operate independently in the future. It then became increasingly clear that Honda was no longer prepared to support the team at the expense of its own racing outfit and the minnow’s fate was sealed, much to the regret of its many fans.
Turkish Grand Prix
Felipe Massa won won the Turkish Grand Prix by the simple tactic of driving very fast from the front. Lewis Hamilton tried a sneaky three-stop strategy, Kimi Raikkonen fuelled up and ran a long first stint, but neither of them could find an answer to the Brazilian. Massa, Hamilton and BMW’s Robert Kubica blasted off from pole, third and fifth on the clean side of the track at the expense of Kovalainen and Raikkonen. Heikki forced Kimi wide, delaying him just enough to secure Hamilton’s second place — but, in doing so, suffered a puncture and had to pit, ruining his afternoon. Raikkonen’s long first stint paid dividends and Hamilton’s gamble saw him run light enough after the first stops to pull a thrilling overtaking manoeuvre on Massa and build up a lead. Pit stops over, he had emerged in sight of Massa but too far back to have any hope of catching him – and only just enough ahead of Raikkonen to hold him off on soft tyres. Kubica was unchallenged in fourth and his team-mate Nick Heidfeld recovered from a disappointing qualifying to take fifth. Fernando Alonso won out from Mark Webber in the battle for sixth and seventh, with Williams’ Nico Rosberg taking the final point.
Sir Frank hits 600
The 2008 Monaco Grand Prix was the 600th attended by Sir Frank Williams as a team owner. The most tenacious privateer in the sport, whose first F1 race as an entrant was the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park in 1969, said he had no plans to retire yet. Sir Frank, 66, was laconic when asked how much the anniversary meant to him, saying: “It’s a long journey, but it doesn’t mean a great deal. I’ve enjoyed most of it, that’s the important thing. It’s a great place to be.” And his experience of his 600th grand prix must have been considerably different from the first he ever attended as a spectator: “I hitch-hiked from Nottingham to Silverstone, which is 70 miles, on race day. Iin July, I think it must have been, 1955. It was won by Peter Collins in a Ferrari. It took eight hours to get there and about 16 to get back, but it was worth it. I’m not exaggerating.”
Monaco Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton won a rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix after an early puncture forced his McLaren team to redesign his race strategy, transforming it into exactly the right plan for victory. In contrast Ferrari proved less tactically astute, sending their drivers out on the wrong tyres in anticipation of further wet weather that failed to materialise. The red cars locked up the front row, with the McLarens in formation behind, until Heikki Kovalainen stalled before the parade lap and had to start from the pitlane. Felipe Massa made a good start but Kimi Raikkonen hesitated, and Hamilton struck to make the leap to second. Robert Kubica kept pace with the leaders, but the rest of the field rapidly strung out along the track as drivers experimented gingerly with the available grip. Most of the field made errors and Hamilton clipped a barrier on lap seven, wrecking a rear tyre. Crucially, he was able to re-join in fifth, fuelled for a one-stop race and on exactly the right schedule to pit when the track could take dry tyres. Massa lost the lead to Kubica by overshooting Sainte Devote but recovered neatly and later regained the place via pit strategy. By contrast, Raikkonen suffered damage to his front wing in a similar incident, and also had to take a drive-through penalty for not having his tyres on the car in time before the race. Ferrari gambled on rain and suffered badly as a result – Massa losing second to Kubica when he had to come in for dries. Force India, by contrast, ran long and pitted at exactly the right time to help Sutil hold an unlikely fourth place entirely on merit. By lap 62 it was clear that the race would be cut short, but it looked as if most of the on-track action was over. Then Nico Rosberg destroyed his car at the swimming pool, spreading carbon fibre shards across the track, and the resulting safety car period wiped out Hamilton’s lead. The most vulnerable driver at the re-start was Sutil, sandwiched between Massa and Raikkonen, and warned by his pit that he was racing them both. Disaster struck as the field emerged from the tunnel. Raikkonen lost his car on a wet patch and ploughed straight into the back of Sutil. At the front, there were no more fireworks and Hamilton took the chequered flag on a race full of incident.
Mosley wins confidence vote
Max Mosley announced his intention to remain as president of the FIA after winning a vote of confidence at from the body in Paris on June 3. He had the support of slightly less than two thirds of the delegates with 103 of 169 available votes. Afterwards the representatives of several large national bodies spoke out against the decision, notably the US and Germany, and questioned whether they would feel able to work with what they considered to now be a body that was unrepresentative of their members’ opinions. But the row died down rather than leading to the split many envisaged. Mosley apologised for any embarrassment caused by his behaviour, but vehemently denied there were Nazi connotations to his behaviour – went on to celebrate his victory by launching a successful legal action against the News of the World.
Canadian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton hit a season low by making a boy racer’s mistake in the pit lane of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, running into the back of title rival Kimi Raikkonen as he waited at the red light blocking the exit. By putting both out of the race he scored a 10-place grid penalty for Magny-Cours and created the circumstances for Robert Kubica’s debut win. Canada saw an unlikely BMW one-two as well as much-needed boosts to the seasons of second- and third-placed Nick Heidfeld and David Coulthard. Toyota’s Timo Glock was fourth and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa fifth. As a result, BMW were left breathing down the neck of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, Kubica led the World Drivers’ Championship, and Hamilton held the slimmest of advantages over Massa. Coulthard was subsequently handed a BRDC award for North American performance of the year by a British driver. The race was also notable for fears about the disintegrating state of the track — and for Martin Brundle having to apologise after referring on his ITV-broadcast grid walk to “pikeys” reparing it.
F1 costs hit the headlines
June was the first month in which what would come to be a dominating issue for the sport came fully onto the Brits on Pole radar. The demise of Super Aguri was, in retrospect, the start of it. But the release of the Formula Money report documented how the costs of hosting a F1 grand prix race had grown from $11.3 million to $19.3 million in the last five years. It also argued that race promoters are no longer looking to make a profit – rather they regard hosting a grand prix as a marketing exercise and an opportunity to put their region on the sporting map. This in turn is encouraging the sport’s focus to switch from traditional venues such as Indianapolis in the US and Magny Cours in France (and possibly Silverstone in the UK if no contract is agreed) towards middle eastern and Asian nations such as India, Abu Dhabi and South Korea. Given that the Canadian, French, British, German and Chinese grands prix are now all doubtful for one reason or another it now seems more prescient than ever. Also on the money agenda this month were drivers kvetching about the cost of the Super Licence which went up from €1,725 plus €456 per point won to €10,000 plus €2,000 per point won. And the World Motor Sport Council meeting focused on a consultation with the teams over the future of the sport.
French Grand Prix
Kimi Raikkonen was initially in masterful form at Magny Cours, controlling the race, until the midpoint when one of his exhaust pipes broke and he was slowed by enough for team-mate Felipe Massa to catch him. Despite this handicap, the Finn was still more than capable of an unchallenged second place, a long way ahead of a thrilling battle between Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, with Robert Kubica poised behind to take advantage if they came to grief. Further back, Red Bull’s Mark Webber survived a near spin to take sixth, ahead of the two Renaults. Nelson Piquet Jr broke his duck in style, overtaking Fernando Alonso late in the race when the Spaniard ran wide lapping a Force India. Lewis Hamilton was nowhere near the points, thanks to one of the season’s big stewarding controversies — a drive-through given for cutting a chicane while overtaking Sebastian Vettel on the first lap. He said afterwards that he believed he was safely past the Toro Rosso driver before he ran off track and across the chicane.
Bernie times British GP announcement for maximum effect
Formula One’s supremo brought to an end several years of megaphone diplomacy with the BRDC in spectacular fashion during Silverstone’s 60th birthday celebrations and on the eve of its grand prix weekend by announcing he’d handed the race to Donington Park for 10 years from 2010. The only problem? Convincing the entire motor racing establishment plus most British fans that a circuit with no existing suitable facilities or infrastructure could possibly be ready in time. Seven months down the line and planning permission for the redevelopment has been granted but as for the finance, the transport, FIA certification and a host of other issues… well, we can only wait and see what transpires… Also, of course, was the sad but hardly unexpected news of David Coulthard’s retirement.
British Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton gave the best possible answer to a circling pack of critics with a dominating British Grand Prix victory and a masterful wet-weather drive. Swooping from fourth on the grid, he briefly poked his nose ahead of team-mate Heikki Kovalainen then tucked in behind him until lap six when he passed for the lead. After that, he was barely troubled on his way to taking the chequered flag more than a minute ahead of nearest rival Nick Heidfeld as all over the wet track rivals slipped, span and slid over the grass and gravel traps. Ferrari’s former strategist, Ross Brawn, and driver, Rubens Barrichello, combined for a near-perfect race that claimed an unlikely third place. Red Bull suffered a disastrous first lap in which David Coulthard was eliminated and Mark Webber dropped from second to almost last. Ferrari proved unable to cope with the weather with Felipe Massa spinning early and often, finishing last, and Kimi Raikkonen’s race destroyed by a strategic blunder in the first round of pit stops when the team decided not to change his tyres but send him out again on his worn inters. He pitted from second and was lucky to finish fourth after a late fight-back. Wiith both Massa and Robert Kubica – another victim of the wet – out of the points, and Raikkonen underperforming, Hamilton now led the world championship by a nailbitingly close tie-break. He and the two Ferrari drivers had 48 points each, with Kubica just two points behind in fourth.
McLaren and Ferrari formally end spy row
On Friday July 11 Formula One’s two biggest teams finally agreed to formally settle the acrimonious ‘Spygate’ dispute that had so dominated the 2007 season. Following allegations that Ferrari personnel had handed confidential details of the team’s car to McLaren, which then stood accused of making unfair use of the information, the Woking-based squad was fined £50 million by the FIA and docked all its constructors’ points. Fans were desperately hoping that the row didn’t ruin the 2008 season as it had the previous one – and that wish was finally granted when Ferrari dropped legal action in return for a “reiterated apology” and the reimbursement of its costs and expenses plus a “concluding payment”.
German Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton fought back from a strategic blunder by his team to win an initially processional German Grand Prix transformed into a thrilling contest by a long safety car period. The Briton lost the lead when his pit stops were pushed out of sequence with the rest of the field, but came back to take victory in style. Hamilton had qualified on pole and scampered away into the distance from the start, quickly building a big lead over Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and the rest of the field. It lasted as far as lap 37 when Timo Glock’s suspension broke. Out came the safety car and, when the pit lane opened two laps later, Hamilton was one of the few cars not to grab the opportunity to take on fuel and tyres. “I said ‘Are you sure about this?’ and they said it would be fine,” he later recalled. They were wrong – on the restart Hamilton did indeed pull away from everyone else, with main rival Felipe Massa stuck behind two other cars that hadn’t pitted. But the Brit was forced to pit long before he had built up enough of a lead to return to the race in front and by lap 54 he was third behind Massa and Piquet. The stage was set for a charge to the line and Hamilton pounced on Massa when the Brazilian offered too big a gap while defending at the hairpin. On lap 60 he pulled the same move at the same corner on his old GP2 rival Piquet to regain the lead and atone for his team’s strategic error – and after that he was unchallenged for the win over the final few laps.
BMW’s KERS system makes shocking debut
The auspices were not good as the teams began to roll out their Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. First Red Bull suffered a fire at their factory in Milton Keynes — although team boss Christian Horner played down the incident as hard as he could, saying the trouble was caused by steam from the safety system. But then a BMW mechanic got an electric shock while testing the device at Jerez while Christian Klien was testing a modified version of the team’s 2007 car. Mechanic touched it and was thrown to the ground — leading to a 2009 ruling that rubber gloves were to be an essential item of pitlane safety equipment.
Hungarian Grand Prix
Heikki Kovalainen took his debut Formula One win in Hungary after a spectacular engine failure stopped Felipe Massa in his tracks just three laps from victory. The Ferrari driver had made a stunning start to leap ahead of both McLaren rivals in the first corners, then remorselessly strangled the life from the contest with a series of fast laps that steadily built a likely race-winning lead. In second place, Lewis Hamilton was pinning his hopes of a third consecutive victory on staying out longer during the middle stint, but Massa’s lead was already looking sufficient to hang on when the McLaren suffered a sudden puncture on lap 41. Hamilton limped back to the pits, emerged fuelled to the end but out of the points, and picked up sufficient places as other cars pitted to move up to fifth at the flag. It was left to Kovalainen to mount a challenge to Massa, but he was some way down the road and in no position to think about winning when fate delivered a swift kick to the Brazilian’s teeth. The Ferrari engine, nearing the end of its second race, began billowing smoke on the start-finish straight and Massa came to a halt so suddenly that he didn’t even have time to pull to the side of the track.Seconds later, Kovalainen swept past on his way to becoming the 100th driver to win a Formula One race. Second was a somewhat surprised Timo Glock and third Kimi Raikkonen.
Recognition for those that deserve it…
Deep in the summer silly season, with very little off-track news of any sort, we learned that reigning Finnish world champion Kimi Raikkonen was to be honoured by his home country with a set of stamps — despite his underwhelming start to the season. Lewis Hamilton subsequently received a similar honour, although circulation was limited to the Isle of Man. We know how to recognise our sporting heroes in this country, oh yes. And Sir Frank Williams wasawarded the Tom Wheatcroft trophy for his contribution to world motorsport.
European Grand Prix
An unpopular new venue, stewarding controversies — not many fans seemed to feel that Valencia’s street circuit had much to add to Formula One. Felipe Massa dominated from start to chequered flag but his win was mired in controversy after stewards chose to delay investigating a possible penalty until after the race had finished. The Brazilian drove an impressively consistent race to steadily build a lead that closest rivals Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica had no answer to. His eventual margin of victory was more than five seconds. But if his on-track performance was untroubled, the same cannot be said of his second pit stop. Massa was released by his team right into the path of Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who was travelling at the maximum speed allowed in the pit lane and had to pull as close as possible to the wall to avoid a collision. Massa himself was blameless in the incident, and no harm was done to either car’s race performance. But any sort of drive-through penalty would certainly have cost Massa his win and, a few laps later, the word came that the investigation would take place after the race had finished. He was eventually fined €10,000 and reprimanded. Behind this drama, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso had days to forget. The Finn lost a place to Heikki Kovalainen at the start, injured a pit crew member by pulling away before his refuelling rig could be removed, then retired trailing a plume of smoke as his engine expired in a failure similar to the one that cost Massa victory in Hungary. Alonso was smacked out of the race on the first lap when Kazuki Nakajima rammed him from behind and removed his rear wing. Behind Massa and Hamilton came Kubica and Kovalainen. Jarno Trulli and Sebastian Vettel turned their good qualifying performances into points with fifth and sixth places, while Timo Glock used a one-stop strategy to climb into seventh ahead of Nico Rosberg.
Disappointment with Valencia — and its stewards
It seemed that no-one liked Spain’s attempt at providing an exciting waterside street-circuit — the race was condemned by fans and some drivers afterwards as boring, missing overtaking opportunities and utterly lacking in atmosphere. But the circuit’s shortcomings were overshadowed by the decision by the race stewards not to investigate Felipe Massa’s near-miss of Force India’s Adrian Sutil in the pitlane until after the race. It kicked off angry speculation that the sport’s regulators were, at the very least, trying to micro-manage the results of the World Championship. Speculation that was only set to get louder in the coming weeks…
Belgian Grand Prix
At the time this seemed like the season low point although, objectively, it probably wasn’t nearly as bad as the shenanigans of 2007. What a difference in perspective a few weeks can make… Back in September, Lewis Hamilton beat the rain, the challenging Spa circuit and Kimi Raikkonen to take the flag at the Belgian Grand Prix – but the one battle he couldn’t win was against the race stewards who stripped him of his victory. The controversial decision provoked widespread accusations that the FIA had a tacit policy of favouring Ferrari following the stewarding controversies at Valencia. Almost two hours after the race ended, the stewards announced they were penalising the McLaren driver 25 seconds for cutting the bus stop chicane while racing in the wet with Raikkonen. The penalty dropped him to third place behind Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld. Hamilton’s punishment was the result of an incident when both he and Raikkonen were struggling to control their cars on a wet track while using dry-weather tyres. The Finn seemed to force Hamilton wide and the Englishman used a safety road to regain the track, cutting the chicane. In doing so he overtook Raikkonen, in breach of the rules, but immediately gave the place back. Soon after, he was able to use his greater momentum to re-pass the Finn. Although both drivers continued to struggle to control their cars in the wet, Hamilton was able to hang on to his and went on to finish first while Raikkonen could not and crashed into a barrier. Further back, Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso had pitted for intermediate tyres and were reaping the benefits, cutting their way past the struggling Toro Rossos of Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais and the BMW iof Robert Kubica. Heikki Kovalainen finally expired by the side of the circuit on the final lap, having spent the entire race battling back into the points following first a dreadful start, then later a drive through penalty for tapping Mark Webber while trying to overtake, sending the Australian into a spin.
And now for something completely different: Goodwood revival
Just at the point when F1 seemed to have hit rock bottom — and, after last year’s Spygate, that was a considerable challenge — along came the Goodwood Revival. A highlight of the summer for many motor racing fans, it featured 150,000 spectators gathering at the historic race track, most in 1940s and 50s period costume. For anyone longing for a more carefree and relaxed era of racing, where a spanner and a can of oil would fix almost anything wrong with a car, this was a breath of fresh air. Along came Jackie Stewart in his vintage overalls, Stirling Moss back in the saddle, noted petrolhead Rowan Atkinson done up like a Dad’s Army castmember (good on him) and Marilyn Monroe blowing you a kiss.
Italian Grand Prix
At Monza Formula One served up the perfect antidote to the dissatisfactions of Spa after Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel wrung the most out of a lower-midfield car and produced a masterpiece of wet-weather driving to take his and the team’s maiden win. He became the youngest-ever winner of an F1 race and supporters of Toro Rosso in its previous incarnation of Minardi went mad with joy. The race began under the safety car because of the wet weather, but predicted heavy rain failed to materialise and drivers were eventually able to switch from extreme wet tyres to the intermediates. Vettel built an immediate lead and kept it for the entire race aside from his pit stops. His luckless team-mate Sebastien Bourdais stalled on the grid after qualifying fourth and was a lap down before he could join the race. His pace suggested Toro Rosso were unlucky not to have taken an impossible one-two finish. McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen drove solidly to an unspectacular second place, unthreatened for the runner-up spot but never looking like challenging for the win. Of the championship contenders, Robert Kubica made a one-stop strategy work to take third after qualifying 11th, but Lewis Hamilton was unable to pull off the same trick and finished seventh. Felipe Massa finished where he qualified in sixth, despite a late scare when he drove through potentially tyre-shredding debris with two laps to go, while Kimi Raikkonen was unable to copy Hamilton by extracting himself from the midfield mire and finished ninth. Fernando Alonso was one of the first drivers to risk the change to inters and was rewarded with fourth, ahead of Nick Heidfeld for BMW. Hamilton maintained a single-point advantage over Massa going into the uncharted territory of a night race on Singapore’s new street circuit.
McLaren lose Belgium appeal
On the eve of the Singapore race the FIA’s Court of Appeal ruled that the punishment which had dropped Hamilton from first to third and handed victory to title rival Felipe Massa, could not be appealed on technical grounds. That decision rendered irrelevant all the arguments over whether Hamilton had or had not surrendered the advantage he’d gained by cutting a chicane while locked in battle with Kimi Raikkonen on the wet track at Spa. Two hours after the race was over stewards had ruled that, by immediately re-overtaking the Finn, he failed to properly hand back the advantage. The usual penalty for that would be a drive-through – but as the race was over a time penalty was imposed instead. Drive-through penalties cannot usually be appealed, but McLaren pinned their hopes on an appeal last season by Toro Rosso after their driver Vitantonio Liuzzi was given a post-race time penalty at the Japanese Grand Prix. Although this appeal failed, McLaren believed the fact it was discussed by the Court of Appeal gave them the green light for theirs to also receive a hearing. The court did not agree and the team was forced to pay costs.
Singapore Grand Prix
Fernando Alonso reminded everyone of the skills that won him two world championships with a majestic victory from 15th on the grid in Formula One’s inaugural Singapore event — a night race that proved popular with fans and teams alike. A fuel line failure in qualifying had stranded the Spaniard towards the back of the field, but an early charge on the softer tyre choice gained him some places – and when team-mate Nelson Piquet slammed backwards into the wall on lap 15 he was left perfectly placed to earn the win. Behind him, there were slim picking for the championship contenders after the field was shaken up by Piquet’s accident and the subsequent safety car. Felipe Massa had held a comfortable lead, but fell victim to Ferrari’s semi-automated pit stop system when he was released with his fuel hose still attached – straight into the path of Adrian Sutil for the second time this season. Unlike in Valencia, where stewards imposed a post-race fine that ensured he was able to keep his victory, he was given a drive-through penalty. Main rival Lewis Hamilton was unable to take full advantage of Massa’s woes, avoiding heroics to finish a careful third behind Alonso and Nico Rosberg, but Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica fared even worse. Raikkonen hit a wall with a handful of laps remaining while under no obvious pressure in fifth place, and Kubica was consigned to anonymity by a stop-go penalty after being forced to make a fuel stop while the pits were closed following Piquet’s accident.
Singapore: could it be the new Monaco?
The Singapore night race ran to almost universal acclaim from fans and spectators alike — but it wasn’t long before an ugly conspiracy theory surfaced. Could Bernie Ecclestone be looking to substitute this event for the Monaco Grand Prix? It seemed too bizarre until, like all decent conspiracies, a factual note appeared amidst the speculation to give it the ring of truth. The story went that the promoter, the Automobile Club of Monaco, was making a little bit more money than Bernie was happy with by retaining the rights to sell its own advertising around the world’s most recognisable racing circuit. Would he use the leverage of a successful waterside night race to try and prise more cash out of them? Races don’t come much more classic than Monaco, but Bernie has stated several times just how much the sport’s heritage means to him. And, after the Silverstone weekend, anything seemed possible. The story went quiet thanks to the excitement of the season finale — and we’d be really glad to never hear it revived.
Japanese Grand Prix
Alonso won his second race in a row after Lewis Hamilton’s rash start re-opened all of last season’s questions about his ability to stand the pressure of the championship battle. Hamilton qualified on pole but lost the lead to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen during the long approach to the first corner. Once there, he swung out from behind the Finn – forcing his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to take evasive action – and tried to lunge past on the inside under braking. Instead he locked up, badly damaging his tyres and running wide, forcing Raikkonen off the track with him. The pair fell behind fifth-place Felipe Massa, while at the front BMW’s Robert Kubica and Alonso made good their getaway. On lap two Massa misjudged his defence against a pass by Hamilton, ran off, and hit the McLaren driver as he came back on track. Hamilton span, and was unable to resume the race until everyone but Nakajima was past. Stewards investigated both incidents and eventually decided both Hamilton and Massa should serve drive-through penalties that, when combined with a pitstop each, left them propping up the field. Hamilton, his car slightly damaged by his adventures, was unable to recover and finished 12th, but Massa was able to fight back and take the flag in eighth place, earning a vital world championship point. After the race was over he was gifted a second by the stewards’ bizarre decision to penalise Sebastien Bourdais for a lap 51 incident in which he emerged carefully from the pitlane, only find Massa cutting into his path. A post-race investigation saw the blameless Frenchman slapped with a 25-second penalty. Sebastian Vettel, Massa and Mark Webber were promoted to sixth, seventh and eighth. Alonso breezed to a relatively uncomplicated victory after overtaking Kubica during the first pit stops. The BMW-Sauber driver came under intense pressure from Raikkonen late in the race, but held on to second place. Nelson Piquet drove strongly to see off fifth-place Trulli and to briefly challenge Raikkonen. Kovalainen had looked well-placed to challenge for a win, but coasted to the side of the road when his engine failed him on lap 17. Hamilton’s championship lead over Massa was now cut to five points, with Kubica 12 points off the lead. Alonso’s charge over the last two races left him in seventh, breathing down Kovalainen’s neck.
Hamilton’s driving style criticised
Championship contender Lewis Hamilton faced his last backlash of the season after everyone else in the paddock refused to be glowingly complimentary about his driving style — perhaps unsurprising among a group of sportsmen who had mostly, by this point in the year, already been beaten. However this was quickly ramped up by the popular prints into ‘Hamilton’s a menace on track’ after his driving style was claimed on the basis of a few to be so aggressive as to be dangerous. Hamilton’s answer was to drive his socks off in the last two races of the season…
Chinese Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton outclassed his rivals in the Chinese Grand Prix to win a race that was short of action but full of significance for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. It left him needing only to finish in the top five of the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix to ensure victory — and so played a crucial part in the events that followed. The McLaren driver led Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa from the start, navigating the first corner safely then building a solid lead that endured throughout the race. Behind Hamilton, the Ferrari pair experimented with different tyre strategies from the rest of the field and from each other, but neither could make any impression on the lead. Raikkonen ran most of the race in second, but eventually gave up the place to his team-mate to minimise the damage to Massa’s dimming championship hopes. The Brazilian went into his home race seven points adrift as a result. But Ferrari increased their lead in the constructors’ title hunt, despite Hamilton’s win, as Heikki Kovalainen suffered a puncture that sent him to the back of the field, then saw him retire with engine problems. Fernando Alonso’s pre-race prediction of being unable to challenge the three front-runners proved correct, but after beating off an early challenge from Kovalainen he was comfortably the best of the rest and brought his Renault home fourth to sustain his late-season charge. Robert Kubica’s slim chances of winning the title had realistically been ended by his poor qualifying performance, and the lack of rain, safety cars or wholesale chaos among the leaders meant he could only fight back as high as sixth, behind team-mate Nick Heidfeld. The final two points places went to Toyota’s Timo Glock in seventh and Renault’s Nelson Piquet in eighth.
DC wears white for F1 swansong
David Coulthard’s Red Bull Racing car was repainted white for the final race of his career to promote spinal cord injury charity Wings for Life. Strict rules usually prevent teams from running two cars with different liveries at the same race, but Coulthard was given permission by all the other teams on the grid to mark the last of his 246 races in this way. He said: ““I dedicate my last race to the vision of making paraplegia curable,” he said. “I was lucky more than once in my career when I walked away from crashes. I know that many aren’t as lucky as me, so I want to express how grateful I am that I have the ability to walk and run.” The gesture of running an independent livery was believed to be a first in the modern era of Formula One.
Brazilian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton broke the hearts of 80,000 Brazilians at Interlagos by sneaking the Formula One world championship in the last few yards of the season’s final lap while Ferrari were already celebrating. Felipe Massa took the chequered flag to win the race with Hamilton stranded behind Sebastian Vettel in sixth place, but while his family celebrated in the Ferrari garage a slowing Timo Glock – caught on the wrong tyres in a late rain shower – was passed by both drivers to make Hamilton champion. Rain bracketed both ends of the race, with a torrential downpour over the grid delaying the start by 10 minutes and forcing teams to make sudden adjustments to their tyre strategies to cope with a track that was wet in some places and bone dry in others. It also led to a cautious start and a processional race — until rain hit again with a handful of laps to go, shaking up the field just as Hamilton had seemed to be heading for an unruffled fourth place and the championship. At the front Massa was driving confidently and efficiently, ensuring that whatever happened behind him he would do his bit to secure the championship Alonso could make no significant impression on him and, later in the race, came under pressure from Raikkonen. Further back, Hamilton looked comfortable for fourth place, despite a scare when Trulli was released into his path in the pitlane and the cars almost made contact. But then the rain came, and all bets were off. Glock gambled by staying out on dry tyres, climbing to fourth, while Hamilton could not hold off Vettel after they both pitted with less than two laps to go. Massa took the flag to win the race and at that point was world champion. But even as his family hugged each other in celebration, Vettel and Hamilton were passing Timo Glock in the final corners of the race as he struggled to keep his car under control in the wet. And in moments the jubilation in the Ferrari garage turned to heartbreak, while over at McLaren the celebrations were just beginning.
 
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