Alonso leading by 4?

Five races down, and Lewis Hamilton still drives a fairytale of a first Formula-1 season. A race win has eluded him, but he’s not been far from it. Four consecutive second place finishes have helped him to the top of the points table alongside defending champion and team-mate Fernando Alonso. However, the rookie from the United Kingdom is currently placed behind the Spaniard, thanks to Alonso’s two race wins.

This brings us to an interesting debate, on whether Hamilton would have been on par with Alonso on points had he been competing under the old points scoring system. The new points system came into effect in 2003, in order to spur greater competition and rewarded eight drivers with points instead of the earlier system of six finishing in the points. Also, the points for the second and third placed drivers on the podium were changed, which cut down the 4-point cushion for a race winner over the second-placed opponent to a mere 2 points. The old system was as follows: the drivers finishing in the top six were awarded 10, 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 points respectively for that particular Grand Prix. The new system: 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for the drivers placing 1-8.

Going by the old points system, Alonso would be on 32 points for the races held so far, 6 points less than the tally with the current points system. Lewis Hamilton would be worse hit, his points this season would drop from 38 to 28 if the old system was still in existence. Hence, if we were still in 2002, Alonso would have been going to Montreal with a 4-point lead over his team-mate.

One can go on about the merits of the old and the new system. The major difference being that earlier a race win was given more importance, since the driver placed in second scored 4 points less than the winner, who got 10. Nevertheless the current system has been well-accepted by all and perhaps is a better one.

Last season, there was a close contest between Alonso and the now-retired Michael Schumacher. I think you get what I intend to do: Check if Schumi could have won that title in the farewell season had the points system been different. Schumacher was second-best by a good 13 points in the end, but the title race was much closer before the tragic engine blowout at the penultimate race in Japan.

Current points system: Alonso 134, Schumi 121.
Old points system: Alonso 116, Schumi 104.

So, it wouldn’t have really made a difference. The duo were equal on points before the race in Japan, which Alonso won and Schumacher didn’t score a point in. Interestingly, had it been the old system, Schumacher would have led Alonso by a point heading into Japan. So, could that 1 point have crumbled Alonso’s march to the title. Perhaps not.

Those still interested read on. We shall look at another title-race involving Schumacher, though this time around it is back in 1997, when the old points system was in place. 1997 saw the infamous incident where Schumacher tried to take out championship winner Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the season – the European Grand Prix. Schumacher was penalised; the authorities disqualified him from the final championship standings.

What follows is to check whether Schumacher would have benefited had the new points system been followed.

Old points system (Actual standings): Villeneuve 81 Schumacher 78.
New points system : Villeneuve 89 Schumacher 94.

Interesting? And the standings before the European Grand Prix is given below:

Old system: Villeneuve 77 Schumacher 78.
New system: Villeneuve 83 Schumacher 94.

Villeneuve did not even have a shot at winning the title. Schumacher could have well gone on driving his way to the championship. Although, in hindsight, that would have made for a rather blunt conclusion to the season. And the connoisseurs of sport would have been denied the opportunity the decry that instance of sporting impropriety.

The title race is in all probability likely to be tight this season. But at the back of our minds would be the fact that perhaps a different points scoring system could have made a world of difference.

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F-1: Monaco – The Inflection Point

A bizarre event. The man who replaced Michael Schumacher does an accidental replay of what the German ‘deliberately’ did a year ago. To top it, Kimi Raikonnen’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa nearly dislodged the Finn from the stationary position he had got comfortable in. Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a ‘Salute to Schumi’ from Ferrari at Formula 1’s glitziest Grand Prix.

Massa qualified third, while Raikonnen’s brush with the surreal pushed him back to 15th. Meanwhile, on the front row a two-time defending champion managed to pip the rookie who is seen capable enough by many to win the World Championship. A lot of talk going into this weekend was about the successes McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has had at Monaco, albeit at lesser levels of motor sport.

However, teammate Fernando Alonso has once again out-qualified the Briton (a 4-1 record this season so far). But Hamilton will surely be looking to outdo the Spaniard at the start in Monaco. And a win at Monaco would definitely be one of the defining moments of world sport this year.

It is heartening to see that the BMWs have been pushed back to the fourth row, followed by the Hondas in Row 5. Giancarlo Fisichella in the Renault, Nico Rosberg in the Williams and Red Bull’s Mark Webber fill the slots 4-6. Hopefully, Monaco shall mark the inflection point for a few teams and their drivers.

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Of Raikonnen and unreliable cars

The jury’s out once again on Kimi Raikonnen following his retirement on lap nine in the Spanish GP with an alternator failure. What irked the critics even more was the fact that Raikonnen was perhaps already checking in at the airport while Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa crossed the finish line in first place. Former driver and team boss Jackie Stewart has already questioned the Finn’s commitment.

If you have been following Formula 1, you still must be wondering how Kimi is to blame for a technical snag. Yes, Ferrari has had reliability issues this season and Massa suffered in the first race of the season. However, Raikonnen is no stranger to unreliable cars. Non-finishes plagued his stint at McLaren, especially in the last two seasons. Moreover, if this trend continues at Ferrari, Kimi will be facing the heat.

After four races, the tables have surely turned this season. What started out as a Fernando Alonso v/s Kimi Raikonnen battle is now a four-way affair, with both Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton leading their more illustrious counterparts at Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Rookie Hamilton is at the head of the pack, with 30 points, followed by Alonso on 28, Massa on 27 and Raikonnen on 22. McLaren with 58 points lead next-best Ferrari by nine points.

While the talk about Hamilton is on, the Brazilian Massa has churned out two consecutive race wins in his Ferrari. If he wins the upcoming Monaco GP, will this mean that Ferrari will consider him as their top driver for the Drivers’ Championship? In addition, if that does happen over the next few races, will Raikonnen feel comfortable at Ferrari? After all, Raikonnen’s move from McLaren to Ferrari was in quest of that elusive World Championship.

Monaco Preview

The next race at Monaco would be a challenging one. Overtaking is next to impossible on the streets of Monte-Carlo, and we have seen how Alonso lost track position following the ‘racing incident’ with Massa at his home GP in Catalunya. Interestingly, in the last three seasons the drivers on pole have gone on to win the Monaco GP – Alonso in 2006, Raikonnen in 2005, and Italian Jarno Trulli in 2004.

A collision at the start could create havoc, and with the four frontrunners vying for the top slot, we could just witness one. If this indeed does happen, we could well see constructors other than Ferrari or McLaren make their presence felt on the podium. Team BMW has been closest to the podium, with four fourth place finishes in the four races held so far.

After the impressive fifth-place finish at Catalunya, Red Bull’s David Coulthard will be looking forward to Monaco. Incidentally, ‘DC’ – who had won at Monaco with McLaren in 2002 – finished third in the Red Bull last year. Many would be hoping that the 36-year old Scot repeats the performance this year and end the stranglehold that Ferrari and McLaren have had on the podium in 2007.

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F1 Season 2007: Catch-22

A friend of mine and an F1 fan at it put it perfectly after yesterday’s race:
CATCH-22 SITUATION OF THE F1 SEASON 2007:
F Alonso 22 points
K Räikkönen 22 points
L Hamilton 22 points.

That’s how the standings look like at the end of the first three races. And yesterday’s winner – Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – is right behind the trio with 17 points in the bag. Interestingly, Massa is the only one out of the above mentioned drivers who raced with the same team last season. Hamilton obviously doesn’t count; he may have raced in McLarens before, but creating history in F1 is an altogether different ballgame.

Some may crib about the two-team tussle at the top, but I am surely not complaining. Other teams may catch up before the season moves to Europe in a month’s time – beginning with Catalunya. However, so far this has been perhaps one of the most exciting starts to a season, with two teams and both their drivers in contention for the top honours. Agreed, one may get a bit bored if the duopoly over podium places continues.

While the TV cameras catch the nail-biting action at the top of the grid, one cannot overlook the fact that the rest of the teams – especially the middle-rung ones – are struggling. BMW is the only exception, with Nick Heidfeld being the only driver outside the top two constructors to have have moved ahead of single digits in the points tally. His teammate Robert Kubica is catching up, scoring his first points of the season at Sakhir.

Similarly, last year’s champions Renault too are off the pace and their rookie Heikki Kovalainen has by no means had the same start to the season as Lewis Hamilton. The Williams and the Toyotas have not done anything special so far. And the less said about the Hondas, the better.

There’s a long wait for fans before the European leg of the season starts. But one thing’s for sure – it will take some catching up for the likes of Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button to share the podium with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikonnen.

Malaysian GP: McLaren serves a warning

The 1-2 finish at the Malaysian GP would have come a boost to Ron Dennis and his team. The new drivers for the ‘silver and red’ outfit this season – Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – have come good with podium finishes in the first two GPs of 2007.

Alonso’s great start to the season would have been expected. After all, his ability to consistently finish at the top is perhaps the reason why the team signed the two-time defending world champion. However, the team would be particularly pleased with Hamilton’s successes. The rookie has had a fabulous start to his F-1 career, and McLaren would be proud that a talented driver like him has come through the team’s driver development programme.

What is interesting to note is the consistency shown by the team so far this season. The team has surely put in good work during the winter testing to bring out a car that – even after two races – looks more convincing and reliable than those in the last few seasons.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen must be wondering why did he not have such a car during the 2005 season. Raikonnen, who was at McLaren then, lost out in the title race to Alonso in the Renault. Many believed that Raikonnen deserved the title for his sublime skills and speed, only to be done in by an underperforming car.

But do not rule out Ferrari and Raikonnen yet. Or even Felipe Massa for that matter. After all, Raikonnen was alongside Alonso and Hamilton on the podium at Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. Massa started on pole in Malaysia (refer ‘Massa takes pole‘.) The prancing horse may have been slightly (very slightly) inconsistent compared to their arch-rivals McLaren, but there’s still a long way to go before we can pass judgement on this season’s winners.

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Malaysian GP: Massa takes pole

For anyone who assumed that this season is going to be a two-way race, think again. Though the Constructors’ Championship looks for a certainty to be decided between McLaren and Ferrari, the Drivers’ equivalent is perhaps a three-way affair, between Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikonnen and Fernando Alonso. McLaren rookie Lewis Hamilton – fourth on the grid – may for sure find it tough to stake a claim in his first season, though unexpected things do happen in sport.

After the disappointment in qualifying at Melbourne, Massa bounced back to take pole this time around. Right on his tail are defending champion Alonso and his own team-mate Kimi Raikonnen. Massa, said later at the press conference, ” Yes, I’m quite happy. Unfortunately Melbourne didn’t end as I had hoped. It ended up that I started at the back but I’m not supposed to start completely last on the grid but here it looks just a little bit different, so I’m just looking forward to having a good race tomorrow.”

The disappointment of the day had to be Renault. Both Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovailainen stayed out of the top ten, a worrying sign for Team Principal Flavio Briatore. Renault don’t appear to have the car and the talent to take them close to title contention this time around. BMW’s Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg in the Williams shored up the top six, with BMW’s Robert Kubica in seventh.

The Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher will start eighth and ninth, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber is at No. 10. But the action is surely at the top-end of the grid. Kimi Raikonnen’s suspect engine managed to make it through qualifying, but will it last the whole race? Also, will Alonso quietly sneak in a win today, upsetting the applecart of the Ferraris?

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SHOWDOWN – SUPER EIGHT – MATCH DAY 3

The Windies take the field for the third day in a row, when they face the Kiwi’s in Antigua. Lara has shown that he can still stand resolute after a fine 77 against the Aussies. Chris Gayle has to fire. The predictors think the Kiwis will prevail because they possess a well balanced side and bat till late in the order.

7 pm IST on SET MAX (English) and SAB ( Hindi)