No question – the 2007 Formula One season is one that will live in the memory for a mighty long time. Reputations made and broken, the closest of finishes and the biggest of scandals – re-live it all in our end-of-year round-up.
- Australia – A race that, with hindsight, was more or less a microcosm of the season. Raikkonen put down a marker of his future intentions with a decisive win in his first race in the red car. He’d been fastest from free practice onwards and made short work of the actual race. McLaren struggled for pace all weekend, meaning they could never seriously challenge Raikkonen – and Alonso and Hamilton ended up duelling for position in the pit stops. Alonso got it, coming second, but Lewis Hamilton had fans and pundits alike sitting up and taking notice after pulling off a magnificent third. Massa started from the back row after a late engine change and fought his way up as far as sixth. Afterwards, questions were raised by McLaren about the legality of the flexible floor used on the Ferraris – but in the end the greater question turned out to be how McLaren had known about it…
- Malaysia – Ferrari got its first hint of trouble ahead after double world champion Fernando Alonso asserted himself in Sepang. At this point it was still moonlight and roses, love and romance for the McLaren boys, who brought the cars home in a decisive one-two after each qualified behind Felipe Massa, on pole, and Kimi Raikkonen, in third place, respectively. Massa’s race went wrong on lap five when he left the circuit trying to overtake Hamilton, while the Boy Wonder showed what he was made of by holding off a late assault from Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Not a hint yet of McLaren having to face the music and dance to the FIA’s tune…
- Bahrain – Massa put the ball back in Ferrari’s court and ensured that, by the third race of the season, four drivers were already in the running for the world championship. After this race Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton were all tied on points and Massa was well within hailing distance. The Brazillian led the entire race, after qualifying on pole – but once again all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton who had pulled off the unprecedented feat of getting on the podium three times in the first three races of his rookie season. Raikkonen cruised home third with Alonso a (no doubt for him) disappointing fifth. Nick Heidfeld came fourth as part of a long run of quietly impressive drives for BMW.
- Spain – The race where the whole world started speculating: ‘Can Hamilton possibly win the championship?’ after he took the lead for the first time in the drivers’ standings. Massa was the actual winner, after another commanding performance that saw him face down Alonso on the first corner when the Spaniard attempted to take the lead in front of his home crowd. But Hamilton’s confident appropriation of the runner-up slot was more than enough to start the hare running. Alonso’s early tour of the scenery brought him home in third and a spot of post-race handbags at dawn saw both he and Massa claim innocence and blame their opponent (which was, at this early stage, still defined as someone in a different team). Raikkonen made his eventual championship victory rather harder than it might have been by failing to finish this race – his car let go on lap 10 with a rare mechanical failure for the Scuderia.
- Monaco – And this is where it all started to go wrong. So far we’d had fairly good-natured and highly competitive racing but now the bitching and the accusations started up. Monte Carlo should have been one of the highlights of the racing year – in fact, this was hardly a classic outing. Alonso won the race with Hamilton second, Massa third and Raikkonen out of sight in eighth place. The problems started after onlookers concluded McLaren’s pit strategy had favoured Alonso. Ron Dennis, when questioned, admitted using ‘team strategy’ if not actual team orders. And bang, they were off, with the first of several FIA investigations into McLaren’s conduct concluding the team had done nothing untoward – this time, anyway. It said McLaren’s actions were “entirely legitimate and reasonable”. Savour that phrase – you won’t be reading it again. After this race the two McLaren drivers were tied on 38 points apiece but with Alonso the clear victor on countback.
- Canada – Not only did Lewis Hamilton claim his first victory in Canada, he left his championship rivals trailing a long way in his wake. Raikkonen finished fifth, Alonso seventh, after a stop-go penalty for an ill-timed pit stop, and Massa was disqualified after 51 laps for leaving the pit lane on a red light. The race itself was a dramatic one with a horrendous 180-mph crash for BMW’s Robert Kubica and no less than four appearances by the safety car (which probably took the prize for most laps at the front). Hamilton handled the disruptions with assurance, netting his first visit to the podium’s top step in the process. His victory gave him an eight-point lead in the world championship race – and speculation about his prospects started to go wild. Alonso made his “A British driver in a British team” remark the next day.
- USA – A back-to-back victory with Canada on his first ever visit to the circuit made Lewis Hamilton the first Brit to win this race for 24 years – and motorsport fans now knew that they were in the presence of greatness. However, all was not well behind the scenes. After Canada Alonso had made his claim of favouritism being shown towards his team-mate, a claim that both Hamilton and the team vigorously denied. A brief on-track duel between Alonso and Hamilton that left the younger man ahead did nothing to extinguish the flames of conspiracy while the Ferraris of Massa and Raikkonen made it home in third and fourth places respectively. Reports circulated that Alonso had crossed to the pit wall to shake his fist at his team post-race. This may also have been the last US Grand Prix for a year or two. Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed that the fixture will not be on the 2008 calendar – but we can’t see the sport staying away from this huge market for too long.
- France – A breathtaking qualifiying saw Hamilton edged off pole by Massa, which seemed to indicate the Brit would have trouble pulling off a hat-trick of wins. Alonso’s race was also scuppered after a gearbox failure left him in 10th. These omens were spot-on in a contest that was dominated by the two Ferraris. The red cars were right on the pace this weekend, and the silver ones somewhat sluggish. The lead was swapped into Raikkonen’s hands through the usual seamless pit-stop manoeuvre on lap 47 and from that point on the Finn’s victory was assured. Hamilton was third, Kubica fourth and Alonso got up to seventh – a finish that only increased his feelings of discontent and of not being supported in the garage. Commentators announced that Ferrari’s season had come alive. Hamilton remained cool, partly thanks to his extended drivers’ championship lead, now standing at 14 points. Honda’s Jenson Button took his first points of the season in this race. Mike Coughlan was suspended from McLaren shortly afterwards and Nigel Stepney was starting to field some extremely awkward questions about his role at Ferrari…
- Britain – Far from a classic year at Silverstone. Could Hamilton win a maiden home Grand Prix? Emphatically not, courtesy of one K Raikkonen. Things looked promising when Hamilton initially grabbed pole position on the very last lap of Q3. Raikkonen was behind him by not much more than a tenth of a second, Alonso third and Massa fourth. But Hamilton’s joy was short-lived after he lost his lead during the lap 12 pit stops and he complained afterwards about his car’s handling. Not everything was unsatisfactory – he maintained a 12-point lead and enjoyed a podium finish, but the fairytale maiden British win was not to be. Alonso grabbed himself a second place with a mid-race strategy change. At Silverstone Raikkonen overtook Massa to become third-placed driver in the standings while the Brazilian produced a remarkable fightback to fifth after he stalled on the grid and had to start from the back. Off the track, Mike Coughlan was about to appear in the High Court, the FIA to charge McLaren with unauthorised possession of Ferrari’s documents and the questions to Nigel Stepney were starting to get rather pointed. Of the “Stepney forced to deny spying” calibre.
- European (Germany) – The European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring saw Lewis Hamilton start from 10th thanks to a nasty crash in qualifying. He lost a front tyre and was stretchered off after a 150-mph encounter with the tyre wall at the track’s Schumacher S-bend, but was soon declared fit to race. Raikkonen qualified on pole with Alonso second in a car that had to be pulled in and checked to ensure it wasn’t going the same way as Hamilton’s. Massa was third on the grid. The race, which took place in showery conditions, wasn’t much less dramatic. Alonso defeated Massa to take a late lead and win, with the Brazillian coming home second after some seat-of-the-pants duelling. Raikkonen retired halfway round with engine problems. Hamilton also failed to score a single point, relegated to ninth in a wet tyre lottery. Mark Webber managed a superb third place, his first podium since an impromptu celebration during his Minardi days, something he was reputedly very sick of hearing about. Man of the race was undoubtedly Spyker’s Markus Winkelhock who led briefly in his first ever – and, so far, only – Grand Prix thanks to the wet conditions. And, during the race, this advert sending up Hamilton’s and Alonso’s supposedly strained relationship first aired.
- Hungary – Between the European and Hungarian Grands Prix all hell had broken loose off the track. McLaren were found guilty of fraudulent conduct but with insufficient evidence to incur punishment – a decision that sent the chaps at the Scuderia first into apoplexy and then down the long, dark path of vendetta. Max Mosley soon had to concede that this consummate politician’s solution had failed. Rather than placating everyone he had satisfied no-one and the case was now on its way to the International Court of Appeal. Things on the track were hardly any better. Alonso got himself on pole but was made to start from sixth place after stewards decided he had deliberately impeded Hamilton in the pit lane. And his team learned that they would take no constructors’ points away from the race. On the track, Hamilton started on pole to win a closely-fought battle with Kimi Raikkonen, who came second. Alonso finished fourth behind Nick Heidfeld’s BMW while Massa, by this time appearing out of serious contention for the drivers’ title, finished a distant 13th. Afterwards, Hamilton exhibited a maturity rather short of his 22 years by proclaiming that Alonso wouldn’t speak to him. Alonso stuck out his bottom lip and threatened to walk out of McLaren before his contract was up. Heads shot up all around the paddock and next year’s driver market was unofficially suspended from this point onwards.
- Turkey – Pre-race, Alonso and Hamilton had been more or less confined to quarters by the team to stop them stoking up their perceived feud even further. They missed pre-race sponsors’ commitments for a much-reported head-to-head at an Istanbul hotel. Not much of this made it into the public domain, though; publicly, they claimed to have apologised and cleared the air. Tensions seemed to calm, for the moment. During qualifying Massa sent a message to anyone inclined to write him off too quickly after knocking Hamilton off pole in a tight final session. Raikkonen and Alonso were third and fourth respectively, with the BMWs behind them. In the race the Ferraris were commanding – Massa ahead of Raikkonen – and Hamilton looked destined to take third until, 15 laps from the end, he blew a tyre. He had to dash back to the pits while Alonso nipped past him for eventual third. Nick Heidfeld took another fourth and Hamilton limped home fifth with his championship lead cut to five points.
- Italy – Now McLaren clearly had much more to worry about than whether Alonso and Hamilton could play nice for the cameras. In a superbly-executed piece of pure Italian theatre the Modena public prosecutor announced he was taking an interest in the spying row. A suspiciously-timed official visit to the McLaren motorhome right on the eve of qualifying provoked fury and defiance from Ron Dennis and, rather than succeeding in putting the team on the back foot, spurred them to a magnificent one-two on Ferrari’s home grid. Alonso was ahead of Hamilton by just 0.037 of a second for pole. Massa was third, Heidfeld fourth and Raikkonen fifth after a spectacular 200mph crash which left him out of sorts and carrying a neck injury into the race. On the Sunday Alonso cashed in his pole for a comfortable win. A fight for second and third position between Hamilton and Raikkonen saw the British driver win through thanks to pit stop strategy just 11 laps from the end. Heidfeld was (perhaps not unexpectedly, by now) fourth while Massa was forced to retire and surrender his last title hopes a mere nine laps along the road.
- ‘Emailgate’ – Between the Italian and Belgian Grands Prix, a period that should have marked a season high in terms of race and circuit quality, all eyes were instead turned to new revelations emerging from Woking and Paris. On August 31 Max Mosley sent a letter to all team bosses and to the McLaren drivers Alonso, Hamilton and Pedro de la Rosa formally requesting an exhaustive list of possible information sources that might reveal how McLaren had shared information about the Ferrari car. He promised, crucially, that the drivers would suffer no penalties for coming forward while also threatening that “serious consequences could follow” for anyone witholding evidence. On September 5 the FIA announced that, in the light of new evidence, the World Motorsport Council would be meeting in Paris to discuss the spying row further and that the outstanding appeal against its earlier decision had been cancelled. On September 7 the nature of the evidence started to become public and it was reported that it centred around a series of emails between Alonso and de la Rosa. Alonso moved to forestall criticism of his conduct by saying he had a ‘moral imperative’ to co-operate with the FIA.
- WMC hearing and aftermath – Monza turned out, in many respects, to be the high point of the season for McLaren fans. On September 13, three days short of the glorious return of Formula One to Spa after a year’s absence from motorsport’s top circuit, they learned the outcome of the World Motorsport Council’s Paris meeting. Emails were shown to have been exchanged between Mike Coughlan, Fernando Alonso and test driver Pedro de la Rosa discussing the Ferrari car and its performance in some detail. They were felt to conclusively prove the case against McLaren – but Alonso escaped unscathed after negotiating himself immunity in return for giving evidence. Hamilton was never implicated and both retained their drivers’ points. The team was fined £50 million and docked all its constructors’ points. A grim-faced Dennis said the team would not be swayed from its goal of winning the drivers’ championship. He also revealed that it was him that had picked up the phone to Max Mosley after learning from Alonso about the existence of potentially incriminating emails – Alonso had tried to apologise and withdraw his threat to expose the team after Hungary, but Dennis had cut the driver’s feet from under him by taking matters into his own hands. McLaren announced shortly afterwards that it would not be in the interests of shareholders to appeal against the decision.
- Belgium – Perhaps unsurprisingly after the events of the preceding week Ferrari dominated at Spa-Franchorchamps and team discipline at McLaren threatened to evaporate once more. Qualifying saw a fully-recovered Kimi Raikkonen put the red car neatly on pole at this classic drivers’ circuit. He pipped Massa by a tiny margin, who in turn came mere fractions of a second in front of Alonso. Hamilton booked himself the fourth-place grid slot with a car that was demonstrably off the pace already. McLaren’s next set of problems unveiled themselves before the drivers had even reached Eau Rouge for the first time. Alonso and Hamilton fought a fierce duel for third place which Hamilton was forced to concede – and he spent the rest of the week complaining about his treatment at the double world champion’s hands, accusing him of hypocrisy and foul play. Whether this degree of single-mindedness is actually what made Alonso so successful in the first place is a moot point. As to the actual race, Raikkonen led it from the start, followed around by Massa in his recently-resumed role of rear-gunner. After this Grand Prix Hamilton’s championship lead stood at just two points and the chances of a win in his maiden year looked rather remote. And Heidfeld had to settle for fifth in the absence of any major slip-ups from the front runners.
- Japan – Hamilton was tipped for success from the start at this circuit, on the grounds that very few drivers had any experience of it at all. He produced a brilliant performance in a soaking wet qualifying session and just beat Alonso to a thrilling pole. Suddenly his championship hopes had come alive again. Raikkonen and Massa lined up third and fourth on the grid. In the race itself Hamilton pulled off a textbook drive while Alonso fell victim to the awful conditions and crashed out (with a little help from Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel). The Englishman was now 12 points clear in the standings once more. Renault’s Kovalainen gave his season an unexpected boost by coming second while Red Bull’s Mark Webber, off-colour with food poisoning, had been on course for third place – until Vettel hit him too, to the Australian’s outspoken disgust. Massa was third, DC fourth splitting the Ferraris but unable to quite make it onto the podium, and Raikkonen fifth. The hype surrounding Hamilton went into overdrive.
- China – Vocal post-Fuji complaints by Mark Webber of Hamilton’s erratic driving under the safety car appeared to have more to do with internal politics at Red Bull than anything that actually happened on the track. The stewards agreed – Vettel was reprimanded and the Boy Wonder swore that the controversy, which came right on top of the Shanghai race, had not put him off his stroke. Carrying a 12-point lead into the race he had the opportunity to settle the championship battle and enter the record books as the first rookie world champion in F1 history. Everything was on course as he took pole on Saturday. He qualified ahead of Raikkonen and Massa while Alonso could do no better than fourth. But Sunday was a disaster for Hamilton. The race was intermittently wet, making tyre choices tricky. Hamilton stayed out for a ridiculously long time on a drying track and wore his tyres bald in the process, losing control over the car on lap 30 and beaching himself in the gravel trap as he struggled into the pits. Arguments are still not resolved as to whether he or the team was to blame. Raikkonen had taken the lead from Hamilton – and he had to defend it vigorously from Alonso who had got in front of Massa during the last lot of pit stops. The drivers went into the final race of the season with Hamilton on 107 points, Alonso on 103 and Raikkonen on 100. Raikkonen had the most victories in hand should a tie ensue.
- Brazil – The FIA took its last pot shot of the active season at McLaren by announcing an independent race monitor appointed to ensure Alonso’s fair treatment. Alonso, to his credit, was unimpressed by this gesture on his behalf. He said: “We do not need anything like that in the garage”. The McLarens led the Ferraris in Friday practice but in qualifying Massa managed to get himself on pole, giving Ferrari a great opportunity of controlling the race. Hamilton split the Ferraris to net himself the second front-row grid slot. On the dirty side of the track, he would have his biggest rivals pushing relentlessly from behind. On Sunday the pressure showed almost from the moment the starting lights turned green. On the first corner Raikkonen took Hamilton as Webber and Alonso duelled for position. Alonso got his nose in front of Hamilton, and the rookie left the track. Now back in eighth place, his title hopes seemed slim but recoverable. The Ferraris opened up a gap between themselves and the rest of the field which would last for the rest of the race. Then Hamilton had his famous gearbox incident and found himself in 18th. He worked his way up through an eventful field but couldn’t come close enough to the leaders. Massa and Raikkonen traded places in the second round of pit stops to put the Flying Finn in line for his first world championship by a single point. An unscheduled third stop from Hamilton and clear evidence that Alonso couldn’t catch the leaders sealed the contest approximately 14 laps from the end. Hamilton eventually finished seventh with Alonso in third. Countback meant that Hamilton was second-placed and Alonso third-placed in the championship.
- Post-Interlagos appeal – after the race the stewards revealed that the three cars that finished between Alonso and Hamilton, containing BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica and Williams’ Nico Rosberg, were all in breach of the regulations. A rule states that fuel must not be cooled below a certain temperature because it gives an unfair performance boost. Checks during the race showed that all three cars had received fuel that was cooler than it should have been. If these three drivers had been docked points or disqualified, Hamilton would have been world champion. A decision by the stewards to take no action provoked McLaren into an appeal. Hamilton said he didn’t want to win the championship in a courtroom. Alonso, demonstrating the kind of team spirit that had seen him through the year so far, announced that as far as he was concerned the right man had won. McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, responding to criticism that there was little appetite anywhere for the appeal, said: “If we didn’t lodge our intention to appeal we would have been criticised by F1 fans and insiders for not supporting our drivers’ best interests.” At time of writing the matter remains unresolved but Max Mosley has stated that he does not expect the drivers’ championship to change hands. A precedent set at Interlagos in 1995 when Michael Schumacher, driving for Benetton, and David Coulthard, driving for Williams, were both hauled up for the same offence, also suggests the result of the race is unlikely to change. They were both disqualified, only to be reinstated with their points intact a week later. The FIA did, however, dock the teams their constructors’ points. This, needless to say, would leave the championship result exactly as it already stands.
And that was the 2007 season – still technically unresolved, but long-since over in everyone’s minds. The full stop at the end was represented by the announcement that Fernando Alonso had left McLaren, his adventures at the team of his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna proving – as if proof were needed – that the combination of genius driver and masterful team could so easily end up being less than the sum of its parts.
Not that Kimi Raikkonen would agree.
BBC Sport race reports
Wikipedia: 2007 Formula One season
The Guardian: McLaren spying controversy timeline
Times Online McLaren spy row timeline
Max Mosley’s Aug 31 letter to teams and drivers