Spanish GP - Sunday - Race Report
A sleepy afternoon in Barcelona
There was a certain amount of irony to be found lurking in the corridors at the Circuit de Catalunya. During the weekend, rival Valencia announced a new race, which will be called the European GP. The Catalans responded by announcing a new deal for the Spanish GP to take them to 2016. They added that they wanted to turn the circuit into the best in the world. It is a fine ambition and the Catalans work very hard to make people like the place, but there is one fundamental flaw that never goes away: the Circuit de Catalunya might be a good testing venue but with the modern F1 cars it does not produce good racing. It never has. On paper the circuit looks good and with GP2 cars, for example, the racing can be very interesting. There was plenty of overtaking. Now, it is true that some of the GP2 drivers are never going to win Grands Prix, indeed one or two seem barely competent. But the point is not that. The reality is that the GP2 cars have a hint of old-fashioned ground-effect aerodynamics which allows them to overtake more easily. F1 cars are totally dependent on their front wings and if a butterfly flits by this can upset the balance.
One way or the other, this does not make much sense. The Spanish GP is always one of the dullest of the year and the drivers do not even try to pretend. There is no overtaking after the first corner. And thus this is where the main action is as the cars arrive at the start of lap one.
This is where the 2007 Spanish GP was settled. Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso on the front row of the grid and as a result they arrived in the corner almost side-by-side. Each believed that he had done enough to claim the corner. The result was that the two cars touched and Alonso had an off. After the race there were attempts to turn this into controversy. Both drivers shrugged it off although Alonso sounded a little whingey, apparently complaining about Massa's driving. Felipe, ever the little boy, looked rather sheepish but then produced a robust defence to the suggestion that he had done something wrong. All he did, as the films and the photos show, was to hold the line.
The 140,000 fans who had turned up to cheer for Alonso were in for a disappointment. Alonso had managed to build up his momentum in the run down from the start and so jinked out and tried to go around the outside of Massa.
"It was a little bit tight," Massa admitted. "But the first corner is important here. We touched. It was a very small contact and I was I afraid that my car might be damaged. I was on the inside I was not going to move over."
Alonso was less happy.
"In this type of thing 99% of incidents like this result in both cars being finished. It was very tight. I was a little quicker so I went to the outside and braked later than he did. I thought that I was in front of him. Unfortunately he did not think so."
Alonso had made a mistake. And after that he never had any hope of winning the race.
The most dangerous thing in all of this was not the move but rather Fernando's return to the tarmac, which nearly triggered a big shunt as he sliced in front of Hamilton and both BMWs.
Things soon settled and it was clear that unless there was some fancy strategy, Massa would win and the McLarens would be second and third. Massa believed that he and Raikkonen might have finished 1-2 but then the Finn did not last the course. Raikkonen's F2007 disappeared early on with an electronic problem. After that there was little that the three could do to alter the story. Massa had a flash fire as he accelerated out of the pits and although this made for interesting TV images, Massa did not even notice it.
Hamilton could just about match the Ferrari in the second stint but that was it.
Lewis was happy with second.
Alonso's only hope of making up ground was to try switching to the harder tyre in the middle stint and then charge through at the end with soft tyres, when everyone else would be on harder rubber.
But that did not work.
Hamilton pushed hard to win but ended up having to accept his fourth podium finish in four races. And so he leads the World Championship. No rookie has ever led the World Championship in his first season and in addition to that honour, Hamilton has also broken Bruce McLaren's record as the youngest driver ever to lead the Championship. Lewis has 30 points to Alonso's 28, Massa's 27 and Raikkonen's 22. Ferrari still has the advantage and yet McLaren is 1-2 in the Drivers' Championship and ahead in the Constructors' title.
Behind Massa, Hamilton and Alonso, there was Kubica doing a great job for a youngster.
His team mate Nick Heidfeld was unlucky when the team messed up a pit stop and he had to do a slow lap. This gave David Coulthard a nice piece of good fortune (it so often happens around contract time) and the Scot produced his best race of the year and scored Red Bull's first 2007 points. He had to fight hard for it and would probably have lost the place but for misfortune which befell Heikki Kovalainen when the refuelling machine failed to work properly down at Renault and so both drivers had to make extra stops. This dropped Kovalainen to seventh behind Nico Rosberg who did a solid job for Williams, to give the team three more much-needed points. With Toyota flopping badly in this race Williams and Toyota now both have five points. Renault has slipped ahead to 11.
The most celebrating was probably done down at Super Aguri where Takuma Sato came home to score the team's first World Championship point after Fisichella fell back with a late pit stop.
When the Formula 1 circus gathered in Spain there were fears that Ferrari was pulling away but that did not happen.
Barcelona may be a little dull but F1 in 2007 is anything but dull.