A HACK LOOKS BACK

On Japan and China

As the F1 circus sets up its show this weekend at the foot of an extinct volcano in Japan's wettest prefecture, you might be tempted to imagine that Britain's own rain-master, the web-toed Lewis Hamilton, has a fine chance of repeating last year's five-star performance in torrential conditions and wading home to an easy win for McLaren-Mercedes. I suggest, however, that it would be a serious mistake to take any such thing for granted. Regardless of what the weather does at Fuji, there's no animal more dangerous than a wounded predator, and the injuries suffered by Ferrari in Singapore last week - even though they were self-inflicted - are likely to have given the men from Maranello the often superhuman motivation which follows the infliction of pain. It will be a big surprise for us all if Ferrari has managed to transform this year's car from its usual rain-shy pussycat mode to all-purpose amphibian, but that doesn't mean Maranello won't be fighting back in these last three races.

What we don't want to see in these two Asian races, of course, is the sort of help that Ferrari got from the Stewards at Fuji last year. You may remember that the Japanese race started in heavy rain, which prompted Charlie Whiting to notify everyone to bolt on deep-tread 'Extreme Wet' Bridgestones. Not only had Ferrari nuttily opted for the regular shallow-tread wets, but their engineers mysteriously ignored Charlie's message, laying their drivers open to sanction. Instead of penalising Kimi and Felipe for their team's failure to observe the rules, however, the Stewards accepted that the vital message had somehow failed to get through. This ruling left 10 rival teams aghast. How, they asked, had the Ferrari men managed not to notice that everyone else was switching to heavy wets? And how, we hacks asked yet again, had the rules been bent in favour of Ferrari?

If it does rain at Fuji - and two of its three GPs (1976 and 2007) have been run under monsoon conditions - then the heat will be on Felipe Massa to show that he has the makings of a true champion. Felipe's a great driver, unbeatable at times, and he's made a monkey out of Kimi on an embarrassing number of occasions this year, but his objective now must be to demonstrate that he can race Hamilton (or anyone, for that matter) on equal terms in the wet. It's easy to poke fun at Felipe for all those spins at Silverstone back in July, and many of us did so at the time, but I couldn't help thinking of Alain Prost doing much the same at that famously dank and chilly Donington Park race in 1993. Once the heat goes out of the tyres in those conditions, there's nothing the driver can do to get it back, not even a wizard like Prost. That also explains why Lewis was pushing so hard at Silverstone, even when he was way out in front: he was worried that backing off would cool his tyres and put him in danger of spinning.

I suspect that there are real wet-road abilities buried somewhere inside Felipe. After all, he's overturned most of the stereotypical shortcomings that were associated with him before the start of the current season, most notably that he was only any good on faster tracks and completely at sea on street circuits. Next item on the agenda will be to overcome those wet-road blues. Perhaps he's been able to pick up some tips from his old mate Rubens Barrichello, who also used to have a phobia about racing in the rain. As I remember, Rubens got over that difficulty by hiring a kart circuit and arranging for it to be flooded while he came to terms with it on slicks.

It was disappointing in Singapore to see that Felipe, so masterly in the early stages before the famous Piquet Jr crash, seemed to have lost any interest in going quickly after he had lost time in the pit hose incident. Maybe that was the result of the puncture which he picked up in the closing stages of the race, although he didn't say so. That's another great thing about Felipe: he doesn't make excuses. The lad's got a delightful personality and most of the skills. All he needs now is to find a bit more persistence and the extra speed required to cope with the rain.

Moving on to the Chinese GP in Shanghai next week, Lewis Hamilton won't need any tips from me about avoiding the errors there which would ultimately cost him the title in his rookie year. Just to remind you, though, he had led the first part of the race until coming under fire from Kimi Raikkonen, who eventually pressured him into a mistake which cost him the lead. Even so, given that he had a 12 point advantage going to Shanghai, Lewis should not have been too rattled about being beaten by a superior Ferrari. But making sure of consolidating his position was evidently something that had passed over the heads of his engineers, who left it at least two laps too late to call him in to replace a badly worn tyre. Lewis's car understeered off the road in the pit lane and into a curiously placed gravel trap, where it stayed.

My own plans for a late-season jaunt out to China have had to be abandoned. I was planning to spend some time in Beijing and Shanghai with a long-standing friend who's currently on diplomatic duties out there, but family duties on his side have intervened. There can't be many of us who have the pleasure of celebrating the 90th birthday of both parents, but in my case it's cost me the chance to enjoy Peking duck as it should be eaten. Perhaps it's not such a bad thing. After all, if the Chinese government can keep tabs on what journalists are writing via the internet, they're certainly capable of listening in at restaurants where an indiscreet hack is holding forth about his impressions of life in that particular socialist heaven.

Some of you will remember that earlier this year the Editor of this patch of cyberspace was holding forth about an article he'd read on the joy to be had from changing one letter in certain words to make another, even more useful, word. He and I particularly fond of the result of changing the 'm' in 'ignoramus' to an 'n.'

The Ed (and possibly you) will be much impressed by the review I've been reading of a book written by one Ammon Shea, a 37 year old removal man from New York whose hobby is collecting dictionaries. His book, which goes under the catchy title of Reading the Oxford English Dictionary: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, is a digest of all the interesting words he found which are not in everyday use. Mr Shea, who evidently doesn't get much work shifting sideboards and pianos, sat down to read all 20 volumes of the OED in the basement of his local library. He was there 10 hours a day for the whole of the year, and he admits that he sometimes felt he was in the process of losing his marbles.

What struck me was the extraordinary appropriateness of some of those obscure words to the world of Formula 1. Take as an example 'wonderclout,' defined by the OED as 'something that is showy but useless.' What better word could you find for a major sport, especially one as wasteful but as entrancing as ours?

Then there are 'ignotism' (a mistake that is made from ignorance) and 'kankedort' (an awkward situation), words which perfectly describe the state of Felipe Massa's mind as he got the green light too early during his first pitstop in Singapore; and the confusion which he left behind him. One wonders if accurate translations can be made into the Italian (or perhaps, more aptly, the Portuguese) language. Come to think of it, Italian doesn't need 'kankedort' because it already boasts the wonderful 'grande casino' to describe exactly that situation, with added chaos.

It is thanks to Mr Shea that we Engish speakers now have exactly the right words to help us portray the nature of certain familiar F1 figures. Kimi Räikkönen can be confidently described as 'obtumescent' (wilfully quiet), while young Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg might be glad to know that they have made a success this year of 'patrizating' (taking after their fathers). For the time being at least, I have deliberately omitted the name of Nelson Angelo Piquet from their company...

Meanwhile, although the Editor may quibble about the context, there can be no doubt in the minds of his colleagues that he is a dedicated deipnosophist (a person learned in the art of dining). And next time I see an F1 PR person sliding up to me with a certain look in his/her eye, I may safely suggest that he/she should abandon any hope of 'expalpating' me (getting something through flattery). I will, of course, reserve the right to expalpate that PR person for my own purposes on some future occasion.

I think this is the right point at which to end this piece. I just hope that the massed ranks of grandprix.com's research staff have taken the precaution of leaving off the spell checking system (We are famous for spell-checking - Ed). If they haven't, you will now be staring at something with my name on it which makes even less sense than usual.

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