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Egmont's latest F1 column

2008-05-29 11:32
Lewis Hamliton

That Yellow Helmet (Part II)

So many world champions in the field; so many who turned to potato soup on the wet tracks of Monaco 2008.

Two of them, in fact. Both looked like rookies, from the same drawer as Piquet and Glock.

That, whilst a struggling Sutil suddenly zapped his vastly more experienced team mate, a chap called Fisi, like a bolt out of the blue ? except that the skies were grey.

Fishy, isn't it, when this legendary has-been Fisi is around... For Giancarlo has been one ? a has-been ? since he first sat in a F1 cockpit.

One would not have known, though, by the way our Renault reject strode into 2008 on a horse called Force, before proceeding to destroy his promising young team mate in a matter of minutes.

That was prior to the Principality, where Fisi fully expected to give Sutil another royal klap, seeing that the Italian counts Monaco and the rain as tailor made for his particular talent and style.

Remember though, that Fisi is also a man who could see no wrong in his own actions in Turkey when he managed to ignore half an army of F1 cars bunching up into Turn One and charged almost flat-chat into the back of Nakajima.

What a bum rap! What a turkey!

Mince meat

And then came Monaco, where the whole Italian contingent ? from Fisi to Ferrari ? turned to fudge.

OK, Felipe at least fought for half a race before he gave up the ghost.

But here's the point: Massa made mince-meat of Raikkonen in Monaco, and that on a wet track. Who would have thought that?

Sutil was the hero of the day. Who would have thought that?

Alonso drove like an amateur. Who would have thought that?

And then there's Nick Heidfeld, who finished last on Sunday. Not in a Force India. Not in a Toro Rosso. Not in a Honda or Toyota. Nor in a Red Bull or another car with the same engine but different chassis (to the Bull) called Renault.

Nope. In a BMW, of which a similar version was heroically driven to second on the podium by Quick Nick's polished Polish mate, called Quicker Kubica.

That, whilst most people expected Heidfeld's softer, smoother, more progressive and less brutish inputs on the wheel and brakes to give him an edge over the Pole in an era without traction control (TC).

What's happening?

So, what's going on in F1? What's happening if two current world champions in superior cars have (almost) been beaten, wait for it, by a guy who was right behind Nelsinho Piquet on the list of ?fireables? as Monaco prepared itself for the homecoming of the King?

For there was, let's face it, an almost pre-ordained inevitability to a Hamilton win.

Heikki, we knew ? for that has now been proven over and over again ? has inherited Finnish F1 luck. That's to say that he has been cursed by the same devil who took pleasure in seeing Hakkinen and Raikkonen suffer in a McLaren.

And so it was, right from the word go, on the grid.

One down for Lewis.

Kimi was also taken at the start, and actually even before the green light ? as it transpired later ? when Ferrari was late in fitting the Finn's tyres on the grid.

Two down.

And Felipe took care of himself when he overshot St. Devote.

Three down.

Not so easy

Yet, it wasn't as easy peasy as that. The Hammer hammered the barriers on Lap Six (even though he called it just a light brush afterwards), and he was lucky not to have damaged his suspension.

That was one up for Lewis.

One up became two up when the Safety Car appeared shortly after Hamilton had rejoined the track to suck him back onto the exhaust pipes of the race leaders.

And two up became three up when Ferrari waited for the predicted rain to re-launch Felipe's charge. Yet, it never came.

So, just as luck had played right down Hamilton's alley, it blocked Massa's in a massive way. F1, clearly, is not all about form and talent. You've got to have the gods on your side as well.

Yet Hamilton's driving displayed a godliness all of its own. Even on Thursday, a couple of wise old experts said that the Youngster in the Yellow Helmet reminded them of the Guru in the Yellow Helmet, the King of Monaco, the God of Speed.

During the race, on his second stint charge when Lewis demolished the opposition with a McLaren on full tanks, James Allen even called his drive Sennaesque.

Come to think of it, Allen used the same description during Hamilton's fiery exhibition in Turkey as well. It was Sennaesque, he said; well, shouted?

And afterwards, once the flag had dropped in the Principality, a lot of people again whispered the name. That name.


Such then, was Hamilton's drive. It was big. It was great. It was Sennaesque.

Watch his inputs on the wheel, and you'll notice how smooth and fluent and unperturbed the tempo is: slow and gentle at first, braking the car out of a straight line, after which the hands accelerate the lock on the wheel until it nears its apex position, before the release unwinds steering in a mirrored image of what has gone before.

Some circuits suit some drivers better than others. Hamilton will, for sure, always be a force at Monaco. And Sutil also seems to hook up pretty well with Monaco, ja wohl, especially in the wet.

Remember how he was quickest in last year's wet Saturday morning practice?

Second fastest in that very same session was Raikkonen, of course ? in a Ferrari that he liked a lot less than this year's F2008.

So, Kimi can drive in the rain, as he has shown many times over, not least in 2007's blast from the back of the pack to third on a soaking Fuji, in Japan.

The Finn can drive at Monaco, too, as he has shown in grand style in 2005 ? especially during that mesmerisingly quick pole-grabbing flier.

So, what went wrong?

Different set-up

Has Kimi just lost focus and interest, what with all this talk that he won't be in F1 for too long and that Alonso has already signed for Ferrari for 2010?

Perhaps. Raikkonen loves driving, but he has never been over-enamoured with the game. Two years ago, just before his move to Maranello, he even admitted to Peter Windsor that he hates F1.

But we venture to argue that there was something else at play in Monaco. Ferrari, either through team planning or driver's choice, seemed to have run Raikkonen's car a mite lower than Massa's.

In a game where one millimeter ride height can make a difference in the dry, it can play havoc with a car in the wet. Even on Lap One, it was obvious that Kimi had to fight his F2008 a lot harder than anybody else in the Top Six.

But when it dried out, he suddenly came alight, and not only because he chased a point ? the same point, ironically (earned via an eighth place in Monaco) which had won him the World Championship last year.

By the same token, Massa was relatively slow compared to Raikkonen at a similarly late stage of the game, even though the incentive to also go flat out was still there.

Massa's car then, was perfect for a wet race; Kimi's for a dry one.

The Greatest Day


Well, his smooth inputs just can't heat up the tyres for a quick qualifier, after which he battles until his rubber is properly heated up. At that point, he equals Kubica's speed.

And Sutil?

On the fatal lap, he just got the tail out under braking after the tunnel. Look closely, and there it is, just a flash before the Force India straightens out again.

But just a flash was all Raikkonen needed to imagine Sutil scraping side-ways down the straight, blocking his path plus a handful of points. So, Kimi jumped on his own brakes a bit too hard and early, hitting a wet patch on top of it.

And off he went, ridin' a good ole' tank-slapper.

And worse. For as Sutil eventually did manage to lose his Indian tail into the chicane, travelling side-ways instead of forwards, the accident became unavoidable.

One of those days, the Rai said in his sanguine way, afterwards.

Or perhaps THE day a yellow helmet was heard to chime in as Monaco went ball-rooming after dark.

Egmont Sippel is Rapport's Motoring Editor and SA Motoring Journalist of the Year 2007.


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