Raikkonen takes commanding victory in Sepang

Kimi Raikkonen Sepang 2008

Kimi Raikkonen got his title defence back on track with a dominant victory for Scuderia Ferrari in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The world champion had a frustrating race last weekend in Melbourne, with two driving errors at turn 3 followed by an engine failure. Making up for that disappointment, the Iceman drove a perfect race here in Sepang beating Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber and Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren.

Australian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton struggled with race pace. It didn’t help that he was demoted down five positions due to ‘blocking other cars’ during Q3 in which Lewis and team-mate Kovalainen was at fault… Adding insult to injury, Lewis had a problem in his first pit stop with the right-front tyre (the wheel nut locking mechanism failed). Without these problems, the championship leader could have finished on the podium. Fifth was the best Lewis could have hoped for…

The manner in which Kimi Raikkonen dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix means Ferrari has finally reveal the true pace of the F2008. Though the performance from the blue and white cars (BMW Sauber) could suggest that this championship battle may be a three-way fight. Kubica’s second place finish follows on from team-mate Nick Heidfeld’s impressive result in Australia. Both drivers have now finished in second position in two consecutive races. In addition, this was the Pole’s first podium since the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.

Sure, Kubica benefited from Felipe Massa’s spin on lap 31 to take the runner-up spot, but the German team do have genuine pace to keep up with the top two teams in Formula One. It will be a matter of when BMW scores its first victory this season.

For Massa, the pole sitter was baffled in how he lost control of his Ferrari while running second. It was the Brazilian’s second consecutive retirement following an engine problem in Australia and with no points in these two races, Felipe faces a difficult challenge to regain lost ground over Hamilton and Raikkonen. The cause of the spin remains a mystery but I believe he may have accelerated a bit too aggressively…

In Melbourne at the first corner, Massa lost the back end of his car in a bid to out-accelerate Heikki Kovalainen. This resulted him to hit the tyre wall but he was fortunate enough to get away with only a damaged front wing.

And as he pirouetted out of the Malaysian Grand Prix in a spin, it points to the hallmarks of a driver asking too much on his rear tyres… The Ferrari team admitted afterwards they couldn’t see anything obviously wrong from the car’s telemetry. A potential one-two result for Scuderia ended with a beached Ferrari in the gravel…

Finishing in fourth went to Toyota’s Jarno Trulli who managed to resist a late race charge from Lewis Hamilton. Nick Heidfeld was sixth while Mark Webber scored two points for Red Bull Racing after the team started the weekend poorly.

Close behind Webber was Fernando Alonso, who scored the final remaining point. He finished six seconds ahead of the second Red Bull of David Coulthard, with Jenson Button rounding out the top ten in the Honda.

Despite the poor race for Lewis Hamilton, the Brit retains the drivers’ championship lead with 14 points but following Raikkonen’s commanding victory here in Sepang, the Iceman is only three points behind. In the constructors’ chase, McLaren Mercedes leads with 24, ahead of BMW Sauber on 19 and Ferrari on 11.

Malaysian Grand Prix result – 56 laps

1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1h31m18.555s
2. KUBICA BMW +19.5s
3. KOVALAINEN McLaren +38.4s
4. TRULLI Toyota +45.8s
5. HAMILTON McLaren +46.5s
6. HEIDFELD BMW +49.8s
7. WEBBER Red Bull +1m08.1s
8. ALONSO Renault +1m10.0s
9. COULTHARD Red Bull +1m16.2s
10. BUTTON Honda +1m26.2s
11. PIQUET Renault +1m32.2s
12. FISICHELLA Force India +1 lap
13. BARRICHELLO Honda +1 lap
14. ROSBERG Williams +1 lap
15. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +1 lap
16. SATO Super Aguri +2 laps
17. NAKAJIMA Williams +2 laps
R. VETTEL Toro Rosso +17 laps
R. MASSA Ferrari +26 laps
R. SUTIL Force India +51 laps
R. GLOCK Toyota +55 laps
R. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso +56 laps

Fastest lap: HEIDFELD 1m35.366s

World Championship standings, round 2:

Drivers:
1. Hamilton 14
2. Raikkonen 11
3. Heidfeld 11
4. Kovalainen 10
5. Kubica 8
6. Rosberg 6
7. Alonso 6
8. Trulli 5
9. Nakajima 3
10. Webber 2
11. Bourdais 2

Constructors:
1. McLaren-Mercedes 24
2. BMW Sauber 19
3. Ferrari 11
4. Williams-Toyota 9
5. Renault 6
6. Toyota 5
7. Red Bull-Renault 2
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2

NEXT ROUND: Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit. April 6.

Massa heads Ferrari front row in Sepang

Felipe Massa Sepang 2008

After the disappointment of Melbourne, Ferrari strikes back with a commanding performance in qualifying in Sepang, with Felipe Massa taking his second consecutive pole position.

The Brazilian lapped the Malaysian circuit with a time of one minute, 35.748 seconds, half a second quicker than his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. The margin between the pair suggest Massa is running light… No matter, the red cars were comfortably faster than the McLaren pair of Heikki Kovalainen and Australian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton.

Unfortunately, the Woking team’s prospect of challenging their main championship rivals took a dive after the race stewards decided to dock the McLaren drivers five places on the grid, for blocking other cars in Q3…

How did this happen? After completing their laps in Q3, both Heikki and Lewis started to save fuel by touring around the track at a reduced pace… on the racing line! This meant that faster drivers such as BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld and Renault’s Fernando Alonso had to dodge through the field. This was unsporting and dangerous. The race stewards made the right call with McLaren accepting the punishment.

With the silver cars push down to eighth and ninth (Kovalainen and Hamilton respectively), the top ten of the grid move up two positions. Jarno Trulli – who was fastest of all in Q1 – is promoted to third for Toyota. Alongside the renowned qualifying expert is Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber followed by team-mate Nick Heidfeld. Mark Webber lines up in an impressive sixth for Red Bull Racing with double world champion Fernando Alonso in seventh for Renault. Completing the top ten is Timo Glock in the second Toyota, just edging out Honda’s Jenson Button.

After the highs of Melbourne, Williams’ Nico Rosberg was frustrated by his qualifying pace and could do no better than P16. That is much better than his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima, who will start at the back following his ten-place grid penalty after crashing into Kubica last weekend… As for Nelson Piquet, the Renault driver seemed to be more comfortable here compare to Melbourne. The Brazilian was unlucky not to out-pace his team-mate Alonso and will line up in P13.

With the Ferraris up front and the McLarens down in the mid-field, Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix will be fascinating. Heavy rain is expected during the course of the race and with no traction control, driving these powerful single-seaters in tricky conditions will certainly test the drivers’ skills to the extreme!

Revised Malaysian Grand Prix starting grid

1. MASSA Ferrari 1:35.748
2. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1:36.230
3. TRULLI Toyota 1:36.711
4. KUBICA BMW 1:36.727
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1:36.753
6. WEBBER Red Bull 1:37.009
7. ALONSO Renault? 1:38.450
8. KOVALAINEN McLaren* 1:36.613
9. HAMILTON McLaren* 1:36.709
10. GLOCK Toyota 1:39.656
11. BUTTON Honda 1:35.208
12. COULTHARD Red Bull 1:35.408
13. PIQUET Renault 1:35.562
14. BARRICHELLO Honda 1:35.622
15. VETTEL Toro Rosso 1:35.648
16. ROSBERG Williams 1:35.670
17. FISICHELLA Force India 1:36.240
18. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1:36.677
19. SATO Super Aguri 1:37.087
20. SUTIL Force India 1:37.101
21. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1:37.481
22. NAKAJIMA Williams** 1:36.388

* Penalised 5 places for impeding Heidfeld
** Penalised 10 places for Melbourne incident

Hamilton victorious in action-packed Australian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton Australia winner

Lewis Hamilton took a commanding victory in Albert Park with a perfect lights-to-flag drive in a race filled with dramatic incidents and several safety car periods behind the victorious McLaren.

Hamilton kept his composure as the others were crashing, spinning or breaking down with mechanical problems! It was Hamilton’s fifth Grand Prix-career win and the ideal start to his championship campaign. Main rival and pre-season favourite Kimi Raikkonen failed to score after an eventful race fighting through the mid-field.

BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld finished in second with Williams’ Nico Rosberg completing the podium. Both Ferraris retired with mechanical problems after a series of driving errors by drivers Raikkonen and Felipe Massa.

McLaren were set for a perfect one-two finish, but Hamilton’s new team-mate Heikki Kovalainen suffered a misfortune of the late safety car period (which resulted him to the tail end of the grid after making his final pit-stop) and accidently hitting the pit-lane speed limited after passing ex-McLaren driver Fernando Alonso in the final laps in this dramatic Australian Grand Prix!

The race was chaotic from the start. On the opening lap in this post-traction control era, the 2008 Formula One World Championship started off with a bang with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa losing control exiting turn 1 and crashing into the tyre wall (breaking his front wing) in a bid to out-accelerate Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren. Behind the spinning red car, a five-car collision involving Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso), Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri) and Jenson Button (Honda) resulted in the first call of the safety car.

During this chaotic moment Ferrari’s Raikkonen took the advantage to leap from P15 to eighth in one single lap, but he would remain trapped behind seventh-placed Rubens Barrichello’s Honda for the first 18 laps of the race.

After the restart, Lewis Hamilton easily kept his lead from Robert Kubica and it was clear that the BMW did not have the pace to keep up with the McLaren. By the eighth lap, the leading McLaren was 4.3 seconds ahead and the following lap Lewis pulled another 1.3 seconds clear… Running on the lightest fuel load compared to the top runners on the grid, Kubica headed to the pits on lap 16 and dropped further behind the race leader.

Meanwhile the Iceman managed to pass Rubens Barrichello after making several attempts at the Brazilian into turn 3. The Finn made the move on lap 19 and after this, the Ferrari began to fly. The sector times from the red car were mighty impressive and showcase the real pace of the F2008. Without that technical problem during qualifying, it would seem Raikkonen would have won this Grand Prix…

Race leader Hamilton made his first pit stop on lap 18 while his team-mate Kovalainen stayed out until lap 23. Before the Finn made his pit-stop, Raikkonen managed to recover from his low grid position and was now up with the leaders.

It was at this point, that the sister Ferrari of Felipe Massa caused the second safety car when the Brazilian tried an ambitions move down the inside of David Coulthard’s Red Bull at turn 1 on lap 25. The two cars touched and Coulthard was sent flying in the air, only to crashed back down spreading debris across turns 1 and 2. Massa retired when his engine cut out shortly afterwards.

At the second restart Raikkonen – who was decided not to pit for fuel and some fresh Bridgestone tyres – immediately pounced on Kovalainen. But in a bid to pass his fellow Finn, the Ferrari driver braked too late for turn three and went off! Kimi managed to avoid hitting the wall and crept back onto the circuit. But by then, he dropped down to eleventh behind the leading McLarens, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais (who was driving superb and benefitted from a single pit-stop in the first safety car), Kubica, Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Timo Glock.

Raikkonen quickly caught Glock’s Toyota but made his second mistake at his ‘favourite’ corner on the Albert Park circuit. Yes, at turn 3… The world champion put his left wheels on the grass at the entry to the corner and the car got away from him. Luckily the anti-stall preventing him from retiring on the spot and Kimi gathered it up and continued.

Meanwhile up front, Lewis was proceeding to edge away from his team-mate Kovalainen, while Heidfeld and Rosberg – who switched places at the first rounds of pit-stop – was keeping up with the second McLaren. Heikki was running a longer middle stint compare to the others and this proved to be his undoing, as the safety car made its third appearance on the day.

On lap 45, Toyota’s Timo Glock ran wide exiting the fast turn 12 and launched his car destructively over an access road, hurling debris over the track. Glock was tremendously lucky not to have been pointing towards the barrier when he hit the bump or he would have had even more violent impact… The safety car was out once again.

The need to wait for the pit lane to open under the caution (yellow) period meant Kovalainen fell to the back end of the pack, while team-mate Hamilton was able to return to the front of the queue with Heidfeld, Rosberg and Bourdais close behind.

Unfortunately, Honda’s Rubens Barrichello refused to wait for the pits to open and made his stop. This resulted in one of the worst pit-stops of 2008. First, he broke the rules entering the pits despite being closed (earned himself a time penalty). Then he managed to knock down his Honda mechanics over as he pulled away with the fuel hose still attached… And to top it off, Rubens exited the pit lane while the red light was on! All this from the most experienced Grand Prix driver and it was no surprise that he was later disqualified from the result despite finishing in sixth.

As the safety car peeled in at the end of lap 49, an over-eager Kazuki Nakajima (Williams) crashed into the back of Kubica. That ended the Polish driver’s race but the Japanese was able to continue after pitting for a new nose. The race stewards were unimpressed, however, and handed Nakajima a ten-place grid penalty for next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Over the closing laps Sebastien Bourdais was driving beautifully in the Toro Rosso, soaking up the pressure from a trio of faster cars: Fernando Alonso’s Renault, Kovalainen’s McLaren and Raikkonen’s Ferrari. The four-time Champ Car champion was heading for a dream result in his debut Grand Prix with a superb fourth position. And yet sadly, the Frenchman was crudely denied when he suffered a late engine failure three laps from home…

This promoted Alonso and Kovalainen into fourth and fifth and in the remaining three laps, it was battle royale between the present and past McLaren drivers! The Finn passed the Renault at turn 13 (ironically named after the great McLaren driver Senna!) only for the double world champion to cruise back ahead when Heikki accidently hitting the pit-lane speed limiter on his steering wheel as he tear off his dirty, oil-covered visor strip…

Kimi Raikkonen would have finished with this pair had his car not suffered a late failure. The Finn scored no points despite being marked out as the race favourite by fans and pundits.

Lewis Hamilton had begun the race with one of his old karting rivals alongside him – Robert Kubica – and ended it on the podium with another – Nico Rosberg. This was the German’s first podium after 35 races racing in Formula One.

Nick Heidfeld continued his impressive race performance with second for BMW while Nakajima backed up his team-mate Rosberg with sixth, placing the Williams team in second position in the constructors’ standings.

Such was the high attrition rate in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix that only six cars made the finish, both Bourdais and Raikkonen were classified seventh and eighth respectively despite not making it to the chequered flag.

And even though the Ferrari team suffered a double non-finish, the pace of the F2008 will be troublesome for McLaren and the rest of the Formula One grid in the next few races. Without that fuel pump problem in qualifying and the bad luck Kimi Raikkonen endured in the race, it would have been a different kind of results for the world champion… Instead it was the championship runner-up who scored big and this is what Lewis had to say after a perfect weekend in Australia:

“The team did a fantastic job as always, and the car was phenomenal, a complete dream to drive compared to last year.

“They pulled me in early on both stops and that kept us out of trouble. Physically the race was a breeze, and great preparation for Malaysia, so bring it on, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Indeed, the first race of the new Formula One was certainly entertaining. Let’s hope the following race next weekend at Sepang will provide more drama and excitement!

Australian Grand Prix race result, 58 laps

1. HAMILTON McLaren 1h34m50.616s
2. HEIDFELD BMW +5.4s
3. ROSBERG Williams +8.1s
4. ALONSO Renault +17.1s
5. KOVALAINEN McLaren +18.0s
6. NAKAJIMA Williams +1 lap
7. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso +3 laps
8. RAIKKONEN Ferrari +5 laps
R. KUBICA BMW +11 laps
R. GLOCK Toyota +15 laps
R. SATO Super Aguri +26 laps
R. PIQUET Renault +28 laps
R. MASSA Ferrari +29 laps
R. COULTHARD Red Bull +33 laps
R. TRULLI Toyota +39 laps
R. SUTIL Force India +50 laps
R. WEBBER Red Bull +58 laps
R. BUTTON Honda +58 laps
R. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +58 laps
R. VETTEL Toro Rosso +58 laps
R. FISICHELLA Force India +58 laps
DQ. BARRICHELLO Honda

Fastest lap: KOVALAINEN – 1m27.418s

World Championship standings, round 1:

Drivers:
1. Hamilton 10
2. Heidfeld 8
3. Rosberg 6
4. Alonso 5
5. Kovalainen 4
6. Nakajima 3
7. Bourdais 2
8. Raikkonen 1

Constructors:
1. McLaren-Mercedes 14
2. Williams-Toyota 9
3. BMW Sauber 8
4. Renault 5
5. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
6. Ferrari 1

NEXT ROUND: Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang. March 23.

Hamilton grabs pole position in Melbourne

Lewis Hamilton Australia 2008

McLaren star Lewis Hamilton will start the first race of 2008 from pole position after an exciting qualifying session at Albert Park.

BMW’s Robert Kubica joins him on the front row while the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and race favourite Kimi Raikkonen will start from fourth and sixteenth respectively.

As for Fernando Alonso, the Renault driver missed out the top-ten shootout and will start the Australian Grand Prix in P11.

Hamilton is in prime spot to take his first victory of the year and thanks to his main championship contenders down in mid-field, the British ace has the advantage to start his title campaign in the best possible way.

But BMW could spoil McLaren’s party thanks to an excellent qualifying performance from Kubica. In fact, if the Polish driver didn’t lose the momentum exiting the fast left-right chicane, Robert could have grabbed pole… Still P2 on the starting grid is mighty impressive and a chance for race glory looks likely.

New McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen will start from third ahead of Felipe Massa in the Ferrari. For the Scuderia, the qualifying session didn’t go according to plan with the newly crowned champion out in Q1 after suffering a fuel pump problem…

This set back for the Iceman was a major disappointment for the team, as Kimi was the favourite to take pole position and the race victory. By starting from P16, it will be a challenging Grand Prix to fight his way back into the top eight point-scoring positions, but it will be great for us to see this!

BMW’s Nick Heidfeld lines up on the third row of the grid with fifth, ahead of Toyota qualifying specialist Jarno Trulli. Nico Rosberg is in seventh position for Williams with Red Bull’s David Coulthard in eighth. And rounding out the top ten is Honda’s Ruben Barrichello with Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso. In fact, Vettel made it through to the final qualifying session after setting the sixth fastest time in Q2 but suffered a similar problem to Raikkonen and didn’t set a time.

Sunday’s Grand Prix at Melbourne will be fascinating, as the drivers will be racing without traction control. It should give us more racing action and hopefully overtaking. In addition, the duel to the first corner between old karting rivals Hamilton and Kubica could be dramatic as both don’t want to give way!

I will be following the new drivers making their Formula One debuts closely in particular four-times Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais (who starts in P17) and Nelson Piquet (who seems to be struggling after qualifying P21). I want to see if these F1 rookies can handle the pressure of racing these extreme single-seaters during a full Grand Prix distance.

The first race is also a good indication on which driver and team package looks strong in the new racing season and going by past results, the winner of the opening race goes on to take the title.

For Lewis Hamilton, this year could be his and by starting in front of everyone else, the Brit has the best chance of winning in style with a great race victory in Melbourne. So fingers cross if he takes the chequered flag after 58 laps around Albert Park!

Australian Grand Prix starting grid

1. HAMILTON McLaren? 1:26.714
2. KUBICA BMW 1:26.869
3. KOVALAINEN McLaren 1:27.079
4. MASSA Ferrari 1:27.178
5. HEIDFELD BMW 1:27.236
6. TRULLI Toyota 1:28.527
7. ROSBERG Williams 1:28.687
8. COULTHARD Red Bull 1:29.041
9. VETTEL Toro Rosso 1:25.842
10. BARRICHELLO Honda 1:26.173
11. ALONSO Renault 1:26.188
12. BUTTON Honda 1:26.259
13. NAKAJIMA Williams 1:26.413
14. WEBBER Red Bull 1:26.914
15. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1:26.140
16. FISCHELLA Force India 1:27.207
17. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1:27.446
18. SUTIL Force India? 1:27.859
19. GLOCK Toyota* 1:29.593
20. SATO Super Aguri 1:28.208
21. PIQUET Renault 1:28.330
22. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1:29.059

• Timo Glock has been demoted ten places on the starting grid. Five positions by changing his gearbox, then a further five for blocking during qualifying.

Formula One 2008 Preview

Formula One 2008

It’s that time of year again, a new Formula One season is upon us and with new drivers joining new teams – this year’s world championship could be the most dramatic and unpredictable in the 57 years of the sport. With the spygate controversy and messy politics left thankfully behind, it’s a good opportunity to look ahead to what this year’s championship has in store.

Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen will be determined to keep their title honours after winning last year’s championship against the highly competitive McLarens. The season long battle with double world champion Fernando Alonso, rising star Lewis Hamilton and the ‘Iceman’ Raikkonen were the highlight of the racing season. It was a fascinating contest between these top quality drivers going for race victories last year and 2008 will provide even more spectacular action!

For Raikkonen, the Finn was ecstatic to finally win the drivers’ crown after several years of trying. Last season will be remembered for his sheer determination by driving flat out all the time! Despite struggling in the early part of 2007 with the new Ferrari… After the Finn has overcome his problems with the characteristics of the Bridgestone controlled tyres and the F2007, the Iceman was achieving some quite extraordinary results. To win the title in that gripping season finale in Sao Paulo was unbelievable. All odds were against him and yet the Finn focused on what was on hand and after two hours of some quality driving, he finally did it! Now the next challenge is to defend his title honours.

Lewis Hamilton may have missed out on winning the drivers’ title in his first season of racing in Formula One, but he shouldn’t feel disappointed, as his performance at McLaren was nothing short of remarkable. In fact, he scored four impressive race wins and came within a grasp of winning the ultimate prize in the sport in his rookie season. This year will provide him a better opportunity as the British star has the experience of knowing all the tracks and his rivals. It is now down to McLaren in providing a race-winning car to challenge the Finn.

And what about Alonso? Well, the Spaniard has returned back to his ‘spiritual home’ team that is Renault after a traumatic season at McLaren last year. It didn’t help that Fernando requested to have number one status at Ron Dennis’ team even though the team boss prefers equal status for its drivers… And as for his team-mate Hamilton, the British driver proved to be too hot to handle by out-qualifying and out racing him in several events. In addition, the whole Hungarian Grand Prix bust-up was the major turning point in his decision to jump ship and return back to Renault…

And yet sadly, 2007 will always be remembered by the politics and the outrageous spy scandal that dominated the racing action. The main talking point was the espionage controversy involving Ferrari and McLaren, which led to McLaren being excluded from the constructors’ championship and fined a record $100 million for having obtained knowledge on Ferrari technical data… There is still a debate to this day whether or not the team are guilty.

So that was a brief recap on last season’s championship. What can we expect to see in F1 2008? What are the new rules and regulations and who will come out on top? All this will be revealed in this in-depth preview to the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship.
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