Two weeks have passed since the last race of the season. I find this to be the right time to begin with the series of season review posts. The first 5 parts will focus on the teams. Several “Top Of The 2007 Season” posts will follow.
Part one will focus on the top 2 teams of the 2007 season Ferrari and McLaren. I still consider McLaren to be a top 2 team regardless their zero point tally…
Ferrari entered the 2007 season with all new set up. The most significant changes were the absence of retired Michael Schumacher and the departure of Ross Brawn. Kimi Raikkonen was brought in to replace the 7 time wolrd champion. Felipe Massa and Jean Todt represented the continuity of the old Ferrari. Even as many had wondered how all the changes will affect the teams performances, they were still considered one of the favourites for the 2007 titles following the strong winter testing season. Their experience with the Bridgestone tyres (although totally different Bridgestone tyres) was also considered a significant advantage.
The team brought a brand new car – the long wheel base F2007 – quite a different car from its predecessor 248 F1. The new package proved to be an instant success (well, almost). Kimi Raikkonen won the opening race from the pole, claiming the fastest lap as well. His first race for Ferrari and hattrick right away. However a major weakness of the new Ferrari package was exposed in the first race as well – reliability.
Mechanical problems during qualifying relegated Massa to the back of the grid. He still had an impressive race finishing 6th. Three weeks later however all was different. The competition was not sleeping and the ruling on the flexi floor following protest from McLaren also had some effect on Ferrari. Massa still claimed pole position in Malaysia, but felt asleep at the start, made mistake while trying to overtake Hamilton and dropped down the field. Kimi surprisingly could not keep up with McLarens.
They bounced back in Bahrain. Massa made up for his mistakes in Malaysia and won the race, Kimi came in 3rd. It however started to become clear, that the advantage will be swinging from Ferrari to McLaren and back depending on the nature of the tracks. Spain was where the things went wrong for Kimi. He retired from the race, while Massa won again. Then Monaco came and probably the only serious mistake Kimi made during the season – he broke his suspension after hitting the kerbs too hard.
He only finished the race in 8th and was trailing the leaders by 15 points and 3rd Massa by 10. Canada was a disaster race for the team. Massa blackflagged after exiting the pits on red light and all Kimi could manage in the chaos was 6th. The US race was a bit better, but 3rd and 4th for Massa and Raikkonen meant, they kept loosing out to McLaren. After this race Massa was 19 and Raikkonen 26 points behind the leader. All sorts of talk about Kimi’s abilities and commitment began to surface. It is important to point out here, that there was no open criticism coming out of Ferrari about his performances even up to this stage he was outperformed by Massa.
When looking back it can be said that it took Kimi quite some time to get used to the new car and new tyres. French GP seems to have been a turning point. One-two finish for Ferrari and the second win of the season for Raikkonen. This was followed by another strong performance by Kimi and second win in a row in Silverstone. Then the reliability issues struck again forcing Kimi to retire from the rain soaked European GP. Massa could not hold Alonso and lost the lead in the final stages of the race.
The Hungarian qualifying was a comedy of errors, so unlike Ferrari. Massa failed to get through Q2 after the Ferrari crew forgot to put fuel in his car. Massa realized it before exiting the pits and stopped to be pushed back and refuelled. He eventually rejoined the track but cold tyres prevented him from making the top ten. He had to start the race from 14th and all he could manage in the race was 13th. Kimi finished 2nd and got ahead of Massa in the standings.
Massa won the following race in Turkey ahead of Kimi. Italian GP was an embarassing one for the home team. Massa retired early on and Kimi was significantly outpaced by the McLarens. Massa was pretty much out of the title race… The tide however completely turned next time around, with Kimi leading Ferrari’s 1-2 finish in Belgium. This followed the constructors title race exclusion and massive $100 million dollar penalty for McLaren just before the Belgian GP weekend.
Then came Japan and the Ferrari tyre fiasco. The team may be blaming FIA as much as they want but why they decided to use the totally unsuitable tyres remains a mystery to me. Their race was compromised as a result. The 3rd to Kimi, 6th to Massa, DNF to Alonso and win to Hamilton. This meant 18 points gap to Hamilton for Kimi with 2 races to go and 20 points to fight for. What happened next is still in very fresh memory. Kimi won the Chinese GP while Hamilton beached the car. All that had to happen did happen in Brazil and Kimi Raikkonen with big assistance from Felipe Massa clinched his first F1 title.
In 2003 Kimi was at the receiveing end of Michael Schumacher’s comeback, in 2007 he staged one of the greatest comebacks in the recent F1 history himself. He won the title in a new team, with new car, on new tyres and in the season when Ferrari was lacking their usual reliability and made several ill startegy decisions. Quite an achievment. Massa on the other hand probably wasted his chance to win the title. I doubt he will get such a headstart from Raikkonen again … One reason why Ferrari could afford to spend most of the season without clear no 1 driver is also the fact, that their main competitors did the same. May not happen next year …
What a season… Similar to Ferrari, McLaren went through significant changes before the start of 2007 season. Kimi Raikkonen left for Ferrari, Vodafone came from Ferrari. The teams started the season with fresh new attire and brand new drivers line up. Alonso’s arrival was known for over a year in advance. The second seat went to the GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton, Pedro de la Rosa returned back to testing after racing for a half of the 2006 season.
The winter test did suggest the car will be competitive, but even McLaren expected to be behing Ferrari. The first race was an indication of this, Raikkonen’s Ferrari totally outclassed both McLarens. But the first race already shown some of the Hamilton’s potential. He made his mark right after the race start with a great pass on Fernando Alonso. Then came the ill fated protest against Ferrari’s flexi floor. May not be the only reason but it probably contributed to much more competitive McLaren in the next races.
Alonso won in Malaysia ahead of Hamilton, Ferraris were nowhere to be seen. Felipe Massa won the next 2 races but in Monaco, McLarens were in the class of their own. Here however the tensions started. Hamilton decided to ignore the instructions from the team and started to chase down Alonso. He then backed off but the first signs of unhealthy rivalry were out in the open.
Hamilton recorder his maiden win Canada. The second win came a week later in the US. The Indy race was also a display of growing frustration on Alonso’s side. Clearly faster but unable to overtake Hamilton he made is feelings visible to the guys on the pitwall. The next 2 races went Ferrari’s way but Hamilton kept his streak of podium finishes – impressive record for a rookie. His luck came to an end at Nurburgring. First he crashed heavily during the qualifying, then went off the slippery track after the race start. The controverisal crane incident kept him in the race but all he could do was 9th place. Alonso on the other hand pulled a great overtaking maneuvre on Massa and went on to win the race.
Then came Hungary… Hamilton ignored the instructions from the team and did not let Alonso pass during Q3. Alonso paid back and blocked Hamilton in the pits. He got penalized and dropped 5 places on the grid, Hamilton getting the pole and also won the race. By this time the relations between Alonso and team took turn for worse. The morning of the race Alonso demanded number 1 status and threatened to disclose potentially damaging information to FIA. We all know what followed…
From this time till the end of the season it looked like there is a team within a team. McLaren held big lead in the constructors championship and it looked like the drivers title will go to one of their drivers as well. The Italian GP in Monza must have been a cherry on the pie for McLaren. The commanding victory and 1-2 finish at the home race of Ferrari must have been very sweet. But this was pretty much the end of McLaren’s year. Only 4 days later they were fined $100 million and thrown out from the constructors championship. Ferrari scored 1-2 finish in Belgium and the fight was still on. Japanese GP brought a controversy and then a victory for Hamilton and disaster for Ferraris and Alonso.
The drivers title seemed to be in Hamilton’s bag, and in worst case in Alonso’s. Even Ferrari must have felt that Kimi’s chances are only mathematical. Hamilton did not always display the best of the behaviour on the track, but made almost no mistakes and errors of judgment for the whole season. Looks like he kept saving it for the season finale. First pushing the tyres to limit without really needing it in Shanghai…
Then fighting for 3rd position early on in the race with Alonso in Brazil when 4th or 5th would do. Yes, he was unlucky with the gearbox problems, but those 2-3 places he lost after his off the track excursion during the opening corners might have made the difference. I am not sure what is more unbelievable – for Raikkonen to make up 18 points in 2 races or for Hamilton to loose them …
The second place for Hamilton in his rookie season is an impressive result. But he has to be disapointetd no matter how brave face he presents. He still has a long career ahead but the winning cars do not come along every year… When a chance presents itself, it has to be grabbed….
No disrespect to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen. I believe that Kimi Raikkonen is a worthy champion and I was madly cheering for him during the Brazilian GP. But in my opinion, the blame for loosing the title is with McLaren and their mismanagement of the drivers. It is definitelly good situation to have 2 top class drivers in the team fighting it out for the championship. But what is the benefit of it when they both finish 1 point behind the champion… Ron Dennis did not mishandle only Fernando Alonso. He failed to control his protege Lewis Hamilton as well. At the end it was Hamilton’s disent in Monaco and Hungary that caused quite a bit of the trouble …
Hamilton wasted his chance to become the first rookie champion, Alonso lost his title, McLaren lost the contructors title they had in the bag and may loose Alonso too. Hamilton’s future with the team seems safe for the time being but it may be in his interest to watch his own behaviour both within and without the team. It took him only about a half of a season to go everybody’s darling to a driver that splits the fans…
Alonso did not do himself too many favours too. The childish behaviour in Hungarian qualifying and blackmailing his own team did not go down well with many fans. On the track however, despite several driving errors he did show that he still is one of the very top drivers on the grid. Will be interesting to see where Alonso will end up.
Next: BMW Sauber and Renault