2008 Japanese F1 GP – Wolf’s Race Review

Good day for Renault in Japan

Good day for Renault in Japan

After the 2007 wash out we had this year an opportunity to see what kind of racing can the new Fuji Speedway offer in dry weather. With “regular” although rather cold conditions few would have expected cars other than McLarens and Ferraris in the front. Even Fernando Alonso said ahead of the race that the race start will be for him more about defending his position then tryin to gain some places. But Raikkonen, Hamilton and Kovalainen had other ideas. Raikkonen had the best start but late breaking into the corner by probably both Hamilton and Kovalainen made the race interesting. Raikkonen went straight instead of turning right, Kubica and Alonso squeezed ahead of Kovalainen. And Hamilton somehow managed to drop back behind Massa. The TV followed the corner 1 chaos for a while and by the time the director switched back to the race Kubica and Alonso were comfortably leading the race with Heikki Kovalainen 3rd.

At this stage both Massa and Hamilton were down, but still on the egde of point scoring positions. Then however came lap 2 and Turn 10. Hamilton attacked, Massa defended only to run a bit wide in the following corner. Hamilton took an advantage and squeezed ahead of his title rival. Massa tried to claim the lost ground back but ran wide with all four wheel over the kerbs and beyond. Collision with Hamilton followed. Massa lost some track position but continued right away. Hamilton had to wait for all the cars to pass. After rejoing the race he went straight to pitlane, filled up his car hoping that change of strategy may help to salvage some point. But then came the penalties for both him and Felipe Massa (read more here) …

In the meantime in the front Kubica and Alonso pulled away, their escape also helped by Kovalainen’s retirement. It was still early days but it did not look bad for these 2 poker buddies. During the first series of pit stops Alonso gambled on shorter stop and lower fuel load. The gamble paid off. He leapfrogged Kubica and took the effective race lead (although the actual leaders at that time were the drivers on 1 stop strategies). Alonso managed to create gap big enough to remain comfortably in the lead also after his second and final stop. Towards the end of the race he could afford to preserve the engine and went on to win his second consecutive race. It was a faultless race from Alonso and reminder to all of us that the double world champion is still around ready to bite. What a turnaround of fortunes for Alonso and Renault.

Nelson Piquet added his bit too. A bit of luck at the start sure helped but unlike in many previous races Piquet drove a mature race. Thanks to Kubica and Raikkonen fighting among each other he even caught up these two and it looked for a while that he may try to go for podium glory. At the end looked like Renault decided not to take too many risks and settled for 4th place. Performance like this is what Piquet will need to display in the remaining 2 races if he wants to see himself in the same seat next year …

Robert Kubica still in the picture for 2008 title

Robert Kubica still in the picture for 2008 title

The weekend did not start very well for BMW Sauber. The cars were struggling in free practice, then Heidfeld got eliminated in Q1 and Kubica only just escaped the same fate. Then however Kubica qualified 6th and on Sunday after Turn 1 he was the race leader. He lost the lead to Alonso later on but defended well the attacks from injured Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. By finishing 2nd he closed on Massa and Hamilton and kept himself in the title fight. In fact his gap to Hamilton is much smaller than Kimi’s was last year with 2 races to go. This is an amazing achievement considering the performance gap between BMW Sauber and McLaren/Ferrari. Woud not it be great if he picks up the title that neither Hamilton or Massa seem to want ?

Kubica’s team mate, Nick Heidfeld, finished out of the points, but he finished the race again. He is still to fail to finish a race this year and he is the only one.

Kimi Raikkonen - back to podium but the title hopes are over

Kimi Raikkonen - back to podium but the title hopes are over

Kimi Raikkonen finally returned to the front row on the grid and also to the podium. His chances for race win were very much gone after the Turn 1 get together with both McLarens. But he still had a decent race in slightly damaged car. It was good to see Kimi Raikkonen back on the podium, and ineteresting hearing him saying that much at the press conference after the race. There was no stopping him :-) . He must have missed that feeling … He failed however to add to his tally of fastest laps. Also his failure to overtake Kubica means that his gap to Hamilton is 21 points with only 2 races to go, he is officially out of the title race.

Felipe Massa 2008 Japanese GP

Felipe Massa 2008 Japanese GP

I may not have too much support here given all the incidents that affected this race, but I think that Massa had one hell of a race in Japan. He screwed up his qualifying and had to start from row 3, he then lost out in that now infamous Turn 1 chaos, then he brought all sorts problems upon himself a lap later after that tussle with Hamilton. But from then on there was no stopping him. He clocked several fastest laps, he overtook few drivers and after that quite interesting stunt he pulled on Webber he squeezed himself into the points. It is unfortunate that the silly decision to penalize Bourdais that promoted Massa from 8th to 7th turned the attention away from Massa’s racing to FIA’s alleged bias.

Some people (including Bourdais) questioned why Massa actually took the risk overtaking Bourdais when he planned his pit stop not long after anyway. Well, to those I would say – Massa, unlike Hamilton, has a gap to close to win the title and he needs to take risks and fight … He is a hungry driver who smells the opportunity that may not come again. Worth taking some risk in my opinion …

Lewis Hamilton on the other hand lost his head again. We may be blaming stewards for spoiling his race but the primary reason for all his trubles was Hamilton himself. At the race start he totally forgot whom is he fighting for the title and repeated Brazil 2007 all over again. No lessons learned. Even after dropping down the field and behind Massa he could have simply stayed put, follow and wait for the right and safe moment to overtake. Or simply stay put. Remember, finishing a point or two behind Massa in all remaining races still means the title. Going out of races and scoring zeros does not … I am not impressed with Hamilton at all … Ron Dennis and McLaren may feel to be hard done by stewards, but he should reserve some harsh words for his protege too …

Heikki Kovalainen suffered some engine related failure, something that hasn’t yet happened to McLaren this year. As a result, McLaren left Japan empty handed and lost the lead in the Constructors table.

Both Toro Rosso cars finished in points, well almost

Both Toro Rosso cars finished in points, well almost

It was another great weekend for Toro Rosso and this time it could have been (and should have been) for Sebastien Bourdais too. Both cars made it to Q3, both cars finished in points, again outperforming the Red Bull team proper. Unfortunatelly Bourdais was later hit with that 25 sec penalty and relegated down to 10th place. This hurt the Toro Rosso team but ironically helped Vettel to stay ahead of Trulli in drivers standings …

Following David Coulthard’s crash early on it was on Mark Webber to try to salvage some points. He gambled on one stop strategy to do so. It worked at the end but it was on the edge. His tyres were pretty much gone by the time he went for his first pit stop, they were gone again by the time Felipe Massa was closing on him towards the end of the race. At the end Bourdais pain was Webber’s gain…

The 2008 Japanese GP was not the best for the home boys. Toyota and especially Glock looked very good on Friday and Saturday but his race was spoiled by damage to his car following Coulthard’s crash. The only joy came from Jarno Trulli’s 5th place. The gap to 4th Renault however looks now to be too big to overhaul …

Kazuki Nakajima, the only Japanese driver on the grid, lost his front wing in the post start accident and his race was ruined right at the beginning.

And well Hondas, no one hoped they would pull something out of the hat, so no suprises there.

Photos: Renault/LAT, Red Bull/GEPA, BMW Motorsports, Shell Motorsport

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. danielNo Gravatar says:

    believe it or not, but official f1.com offers great footage from the incidents from japan, and invites to debate! well, not any debate on the site, but puts the questions. check out video;
    just imagine what interesting and exciting pics they must have after every race that we never see..

    daniels last blog post..Video: Bourdais depåincident som ger minus 25 sekunder i stället för en sjätte plats med finfina VM-poäng

    • F1WolfNo Gravatar says:

      yes, just realized that, strange , does that mean that Bernie is not 100% convinced FIA made all the right decisions and does not mind giving us fans more angles to judge ourselves ? or did FOM simply finally decide to use F1.com for something it should be used – to offer more audio and video contents :-) signs of better times to come ?

      after using te Kangaroo TV at few races and seeing what all sorts of footage and camera angles are there every race, I can imagine what kind of great footage we never get to see on TV


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