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Egmont's F1 column: Tainted title?

2007-10-17 13:55

So, Lewis Hamilton is off to Brazil to become the first rookie ever to win the F1 driver's title.

Apart from an amateur blunder in China, the youngster has driven faultlessly all year long.

A lot of the time, he was a lot more than just faultless, of course. Lewis was magnificent in Canada, hard as nails in the USA, sublime in Japan and his Monza pass on Raikkonen, for one, defied belief.

On the other side of the spectrum, his cleverly calculated dive inside Trulli at Monaco - putting his nose in the gap, but waiting to make sure that Jarno would not turn in on him - also showed how mature Hamilton is, in understanding the finer nuances of the passing game.

So good is he, that Hamilton might even have surpassed Alonso as the best overtaker and the best wet weather driver in the game.

Yet, does he deserve the world title?

Hungary

To answer that, we must go back to Hungary. Not many people understand the ins and outs of that weekend, but it was a pivotal moment in the championship - one in which Hamilton had virtually stolen the title from underneath Alonso's nose, should he go on to become champion.

Up to then, the McLaren drivers have had equal chances to utilise the "shorter first stint strategy", which seemed to be crucial in 2007 - running lighter in quali, securing the best possible grid position and go on to finish, from there, ahead of the other team car.

With the exception of Spain, where Alonso got clobbered off the road in Turn One, this had very much held true of every single race up to Silverstone - the lighter McLaren in quali had the better race result.

Then came the Nurburgring, and what with the chaos created by the weather, the "shorter first stint strategy" went out of the window.

Advantage gone

And so on to Hungary, where it was Alonso's turn to run lighter in quali. The pattern (as explained above) seemed to predict that Fernando would be on pole and win the race from there.

Lewis knew this all too well. In the two previous races the momentum had swung Alonso's way, and after the 'Ring Hamilton's championship lead had been cut to two points.

With Fernando set to win in Hungary, the two protagonists would have entered the summer break dead level. The world championship, in effect, would then have been decided over the next six races, with the double world champion in the ascendancy, having at last found his feet in McLaren and on Bridgestone boots.

Then Lewis went to work. In Hungary, he was fuelled for a first stint of 19 laps, versus Alonso's 17.

But that was not all. Because it was Alonso's turn to benefit from the optimum race strategy, and he was therefore fuelled lighter, and would therefore have been the quicker of the two McLarens in Q3, he was supposed to run first, on a clear track, to take advantage of this lighter tank.

It was also his duty to pull a little gap over Hamilton, so that the McLarens could be served one after the other, without any hold-ups, when they pitted for new rubber after their fuel burn phase.

Getting complicated

That was one half of the theory.

Here's the other, much more complicated half.

Alonso was fuelled for 17 laps in Stint One of the race. By the time he was about to start his cycle of two banzai laps at the end of Q3, the theory was that he would still be carrying at least 23 laps worth of fuel - for an out lap after fresh boots have been slapped on, a fast lap plus a slow down, followed by another similar cycle.

That's six laps plus the 17 of his first stint.

At a similar stage, Lewis would have been carrying 19 plus 6 laps worth of fuel.

However, if Alonso was going quicker than Hamilton in the burn-off phase - and such was the plan - he would, in effect, be more than two laps lighter than Lewis, at the start of the banzai phase.

Weight "penalty"

To cover this disparity, McLaren had, in all their wisdom, decided after Monaco to fuel the cars such that they would be dead equal in weight at the start of the banzai phase. That now, bar the natural difference needed to go a little bit further or shorter in the race.

And yes, it's quite complicated to explain, let alone calculate.

Yet the reality is that Fernando started Q3 with fuel for 17 laps plus 6 - plus a little bit more than what he really needed. Call it a weight penalty, if you like - imposed by McLaren themselves - to ensure that Alonso would not start his banzai phase with a comparative weight advantage over Hamilton, just because he's had the opportunity to run faster in Q3 and burn off more fuel.

This, conversely, meant that Hamilton had been carrying fuel for 19 + 6 laps - but without the extra fuel "penalty" imposed on Alonso. He would run slower, burn off less fuel and start the banzai phase on the exact level required by 19 + 6 laps.

So, as they started Q3, the difference in fuel levels between the two Macca drivers - and therefore also weight - was not quite as big as one might have assumed, for drivers intending to open their race accounts with 17 and 19 laps each.

Ignoring instructions

Complicated?

Yes, and it gets even more so, as Alonso was carrying even more extra fuel than he should have - over and above the self-imposed McLaren "penalty" - just in case he could manage to bang in an extra lap in Q3, get more fuel credits and run one lap longer in the opening phase of the race, therefore shrinking the pit stop window during which Lewis had a chance to be lighter and faster than Fernando, to only one lap instead of two.

It was thus an imperative for Alonso to run first, in Q3, given the specific fuel loads of the two McLaren drivers. Such was it calculated; such was it agreed upon; such has it been happening inside the team, ever since Monaco.

Then Hamilton decided to play it differently in Hungary. He chose to ignore the agreement and go it alone. He even chose to ignore several reminders from the pit radio, to let Alonso past on the first burn-off lap in Q3.

What could the team do? Jump over the pit wall fence and pluck him from the cockpit of a moving car?

One extra lap

Afterwards, Lewis claimed that he was afraid to let Fernando through, in case Raikkonen took advantage and slipped by as well.

That could have been true as from Lap Two in the burn-off phase, after Alonso had run slightly wide at the back end of the circuit to let Kimi close up the gap.

But on Lap One of Q3, the two Maccas ran well ahead of Raikkonen. It would have been extremely easy for Hamilton to let Alonso through.

Instead, he took the law into his own hands and screwed the Spaniard, not only by forcing him to go slower than Alonso should have gone, but also by negating the possibility of an extra quali lap for Fernando.

In fact, Lewis' cynical actions secured the extra lap for himself.

For just think back a little, to that last pit stop. Who was right behind whom?

Then think back to the start of Q3. Who was right behind whom?

That's right. In the process of Hamilton charging off and Alonso dropping back, the Englishman had actually gained a full lap on the Spaniard. He started Q3 in front of Fernando and ended it right behind him - with one lap each, to go.

Giving the finger

Carrying less fuel than he should have at that stage, with Alonso carrying a whole lot more because he was unable to shed his "penalty" in the burn-off phase, the cars were suddenly of equal weight.

Yet the youngster still had the crucial advantage of getting more fuel credits back, to run a longer opening stint in the race.

In effect, then, Hamilton was crooking Alonso out of a win right there and then by doing some daylight robbery of his own, along the way giving the finger to Fernando, Ron, Martin Whitmarsh and all of the team's best brains.

And McLaren was helpless to stop him from doing it.

So Fernando decided that he would stop Lewis.

Unfair penalty

And what happened next, in Hungary?

Alonso got demoted five places on the grid, whereas it should have been Hamilton, if anybody, who got punished.

In the event Hamilton picked up ten points, versus Alonso's five.

Had the stewards been fair and square, though, they would have punished both - which would have placed Kimi Raikkonen in a very strong position for the title, this weekend - or actually they should have punished neither (as it was an intra-team problem for McLaren to sort out).

Such a decision would have given Alonso the win, and a second to Hamilton.

That's a seven point swing, which would have tallied up to a three point lead for Fernando, going into Brazil this weekend.

So, would Hamilton have deserved the title, if he pulls it off this weekend?

Methinks not. Lewis is a brilliant driver, but such a triumph - if it comes - would be tainted by far more than just the Stepneygate scandal.

And that's bad enough, already.

Wheels24

Comments
  • manicm - 2007-10-17 15:20

    the depth of Hammie's thinking. I think he should win the championship for such brilliance alone! Come on Egmont, we all know nice guys never win, the only nice guy was Juan Manuel Fangio - a true gentleman. You telling me Schumie was cleaner than Lewis?? That would be naive my dear boy. And anyway Alonso must be the most boring and dour champion in the history of F1, he's so forgettable.

  • A Ferrari fan - 2007-10-17 15:45

    The tallest trees always catches the most wind. I think Lewis is an ace driver and had any of these events occurred if he was in fifth or sixth place, no one would have batted an eyelid at it. But like Schumi he is goin to take flack until he quits. If anyone is going to analise the situation in F1 they should also look at all the rest of the drivers, atherwise it is nothing but slinging mud

  • John Camp - 2007-10-17 16:07

    We all have our opinions but this comes from someone who holds a little more knowledge than most of us. To all those who suggest that Alonso is wining cheat, please take note how things should have been and who is actually the real cheat. The majority out there don't want Hamilton as F1 world champ and rightly so. I'll be wearing my FA/Kimi shirt come sunday. sunday

  • ice - 2007-10-17 16:15

    Lewis is a brilliant driver.Alfonsie does not deserve the title.A Chmionship is not won in one race so far back, Egsip.Hamilton is clearly faster than Alonso and far more mature.Where did you get this inside info that you share with us, Mclaren could sew you, you know.Like Schumie, Hamilton is brilliant and have talent that no other current driver has - even in F1 it pays to have brains.And no, Schumi was the best overtaker in the wet.

  • Gregg - 2007-10-17 16:18

    So how is Lewis better in the wet when Raikonnen came from over a minute behind him to finish only 8 secs behind Hamilton with one additional pit stop..?? Raikonnen and Alonso and Kubica and Button are all WAY better in the wet and their pace in Japan proved it.. And Raikonnen is quite clearly the current best wet weather driver..

  • Luigi Lupini - 2007-10-17 20:28

    If Hamilton is that clever, he DOES deserve to win. Period. After all, machinations like this made Prost. Alonso thinks he can win by whining! And as for Raikkonen - I wondered when his name would pop up. Egmont, you've got a love affair with Finnish drivers. First it was Hakkinen, now Kimi - when will you start punting Heikki Kovalainen?

  • Matt - 2007-10-17 21:58

    Where do you get your information from? Mclaren are imposing weight penalties on their drivers? What a load of rubbish! It's not like they are competing in a field of two cars! Why would they run the risk of a heavier fueled ferrari out qualifying a lighter maclaren? That would be even more unfair to the lighter car. Crazy! This whole article is a load of speculative drivel.

  • Thabang - 2007-10-17 22:47

    This is a terrible analysis of the sport and of the Mclaren story of 2007. In sport all participants play to win and sometimes to win one needs to out fox his opponent. Lewis Hamilton has done that at the highest level - with tact - sublime driving and with sheer quality. Hamilton is a deserving champion in waiting. Besides what about Alonso's move on Hamilton at La Source, Egmont?

  • Colin - 2007-10-18 02:11

    Since when sports are CLEAN? He is there to win not to be a nice guy or gentlemen. If I were him, I probably will do the same thing too! The one who got the best capabilities deserve it.

  • Wiekie - 2007-10-18 08:11

    Dear Egmont I generally find your comments to be skewed in favour of whoever is racing against Ferrari, but your most recent column was exactly the opposite. It was a fair recount of an incident that most people have now marked off as insignificant. Your summary of the events was dead accurate. I will be looking forward to your next column. Well Done!

  • al-pal - 2007-10-18 08:41

    It all makes sence as to Alonso frustrations now! I can fully understand why he has behaved in the manner that he has. He had rules to follow and he did. Should H have followed instrutions, things would be different and thats how it is.

  • Dean - 2007-10-18 08:52

    As a non-McLaren fan myself I have to admire the guy. It?s interesting that the Hungary debacle is the worst you can come up with ? just show that everybody is out to try and burn this guy. I can?t believe you compare Hamilton?s not letting Alonso pass (when Raikkonen was clearly right behind him from the pits ? please go watch you video again and feel free to comment) to be less punishable to what Alonso blatantly did in the pits?! Absolutely amazing!

  • Dave - 2007-10-18 11:27

    Thanx for the columns during the season Egmont. I don't always agree with them, but I always enjoy reading them, and few writers seem able to do that nowadays. Will you continue the Dire Straits theme from your season opener thru the finale? Send word.

  • Ol - 2007-10-18 12:41

    I support Egmont 100% - quite frankly McLaren have wanted Hamilton to win right from the beginning and I think they lured Alonso to McLaren under false pretences, and have given Hamilton all their support- after all it would be the first time a black driver would win and to beat the current world champion would make it even better - I think McLaren planned this - just a theory anyway. I Hope Alonso does win the championship or Kimi - anyone except Lewis Hamiltion!!!!w

  • Jonathan - 2007-10-18 12:52

    I don't agree with that. he will clearly be good if he is out front by himself with no spray blocking his vision. I have yet to see him actually overtake someone in the wet. (open to correction) and with regards talent anyone who drives a car knows when your canvas is showing on your tires itts too late. Thats inexperience and lack of common sense on his part.

  • MB - 2007-10-18 13:21

    Does anybody know if Ferrari responded to Stepney's statement that they benefited from information he gained about McLaren's strategies and set-up and that they were lucky to have gotten away untainted and with their points?

  • Sandile Shabangu - 2007-10-18 14:01

    You are back with your foolish comments. first it was the anti Schumacher tirade now you on about Lewis Hamilton. Clearly you are a Alonso fan,hence you are forcing Alonso down our throat. Last year you focuseed on Schumacher's faults and when it came to Alonso you suffered memory loss and you are still doing it again. Im neva reading your columns ever again. idiot.

  • La Gazzetta Dello Sport - 2007-10-18 15:35

    Michael Schumacher will be honoured with the championship aftzer another scandal strips all the current contenders of it. Watch zis space.

  • RENE LOBB - 2007-10-18 15:45

    To all you Hamilton fans be honest and face the truth with favouritism you can reach any goal in your life whether political, racing etc., whatever happens this weekend Hamilton does not deserve to win and I HATE HIS GUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • David Wright - 2007-10-18 20:27

    Egmont is obviously a Alonso fan. Do you have Spannish Heritage ? Anti Hamilton and The very best of them all Schumacher.

  • Randal - 2007-10-19 07:55

    It is not that he depth at thinking because it was a strategy for the Maccas to run fairly as Ron preaches. So Hamilton decided to stuff the team plays and gain his own advantage. Although I am a Ferrari fan, I love the sport and hate it when people applaud or disgrace individuals. This is a team sport - Michaels and Hamiltons will come and go, but the strenght of a team lies in their unity. As a unified team they could have had a two way battle for the title (Fair)

  • ice - 2007-10-19 10:15

    Again I have to say to you all "I told you so". Last year already I commented here that Mclaren only used Alonso to attract major sponsors.They have a Champ in the car, so who would not sponsor?Then came Hamilton who Ron supported from the age of 12 and his "black" and a rookie and this is all a fairytale come true so to attract even bigger sponsors.This is not rocket-science,why Alonso did not see this coming is beyond me?????Just a pitty they had to cheat to win, for now it is tainted!

  • true blue fan - 2007-10-19 11:00

    you are a good writer...but thats where it ends. you almost had me there till these comments exposed you. You should write novels and leave sport to those who have nothing to do with fiction. Your stuff is always so one-sided, and you conveniently forget when your favoured star does wrong. This is very poor sports reporting and anybody who loves sport is best shelving it among the fictional conspiracy theories!

  • true blue fan - 2007-10-19 11:04

    For most of the season Alonso was the favoured driver. It was obvious that they were not willing to give Hamilton equal attention, as alonso made it clear that if they did not give him favour he would not coorperate. Then came his betrayal of the team, threatening them with inside info and trying to bribe mechanics. Now the hates his guts and favours Hamilton. And alonso did it all on his own. Poor idiot.

  • true blue fan - 2007-10-19 11:04

    For most of the season Alonso was the favoured driver. It was obvious that they were not willing to give Hamilton equal attention, as alonso made it clear that if they did not give him favour he would not coorperate. Then came his betrayal of the team, threatening them with inside info and trying to bribe mechanics. Now the hates his guts and favours Hamilton. And alonso did it all on his own. Poor idiot.

  • true blue fan - 2007-10-19 11:05

    For most of the season Alonso was the favoured driver. It was obvious that they were not willing to give Hamilton equal attention, as alonso made it clear that if they did not give him favour he would not coorperate. Then came his betrayal of the team, threatening them with inside info and trying to bribe mechanics. Now the hates his guts and favours Hamilton. And alonso did it all on his own. Poor idiot.

  • Ravi - 2007-10-21 20:39

    Although Hamilton finished second, he is a great driver. How many rookies have achieved this? We need to give credit when its due irrespective of nationality, circumstances, race, etc. Do we just want a one man show or do we want this sport to be competitive. It seems that whenever ones favourite is threatened, a whole lot of junk comes out about the others.

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