Should McLaren be penalised?

There’s a new feud in Formula One. Move over Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, it’s now the turn of the real ‘big boys’ of the sport – Jean Todt and Ron Dennis.

Todt, Dennis. Who are these guys? Well, they are perhaps not as powerful as Bernie Ecclestone, but being the team bosses of Ferrari and McLaren, they sure can pull their weight around.
The bone of contention has been McLaren’s breach of the International Sporting Code, after the team’s chief designer Mike Coughlan was found in possession of confidential documents belonging to Ferrari. Coughlan, who is now under suspension, allegedly got the material from sacked Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney, who was the man knocked over by Michael Schumacher during a pit-stop at the 2000 Spanish Grand Prix.

The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council did find McLaren in breach of the International Sporting Code, but let the team off as there was no substantial evidence to prove that McLaren used the information available to Coughlan. It’s speculated that Coughlan held almost 800 pages of Ferrari documentation – enough to design, engineer, build, check, test, develop and/or run a 2007 Ferrari Formula One car.

Todt wasn’t amused with the decision and said he believed McLaren had access to the data when the team requested a clarification over the use of ‘moveable’ floors. Dennis promptly replied, admitting that it was from a tip-off from Stepney and not because McLaren were privy to Ferrari documents.

Following the mounting pressure from Ferrari, FIA president Max Mosley has now referred the case to the Court of Appeal. McLaren’s championship hopes could be in jeopardy if they are found guilty of using the material.

However, should McLaren be docked points or excluded from the championship even given the fact that only their employee possessed Ferrari data and the team didn’t use it? It’s like a Coca-Cola employee having the secret formulation of Pepsi. Would you penalise the employee, or both employee and employer?

After all, Coughlan and Stepney apparently did together approach Honda in June with an eye at job prospects. So, perhaps it was just a thing involving the two of them.

What really would have been interesting is if they had not been caught so early, assuming all the allegations against them are true. Imagine a lower-placed low-budget team suddenly having access to all this costly data and giving the big boys a run for their money.

Now, that would be a tale to tell.

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A fight to the finish

After two convincing wins for rookie Lewis Hamilton, it was now the turn of Ferrari and surprisingly Kimi Raikonnen to register back-to-back wins.

Surprising because Raikonnen had been outdone till then by the three other top contenders – team-mate Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – for the Drivers’ Championship. And the way Hamilton was shaping up, one would dare still consider him as just another rookie who’s had a great start to his career.

Raikonnen has now perhaps rightfully claimed his place as Ferrari’s contender for the Drivers’ title. Massa may just be a point behind, but he’s now suffering from luck deserting him at the crucial junctures, something maybe he shouldn’t have picked up from his more illustrious colleague.

For those who may have forgotten, this season has already witnessed three drivers having consecutive wins. Massa did it in Bahrain and Spain, Hamilton in the couple of GPs in North America, and now Raikonnen in the European countries separated by the English Channel.

It may also have to do a bit with the team momentum, which is crucial in the case of races on successive weekends. This season has 10 races packed in five fortnights over the season. McLaren did well at Montreal and Indy and Ferrari bounced back with Raikonnen’s wins at Magny-Cours and Silverstone. The latter dampened the homecoming party for local lad Hamilton, who still managed to maintain a place on the podium.

Raikonnen has won the most races this season, but would need to be far more consistent to push Hamilton for the title. We are halfway into the season and Hamilton still has a 12-point lead over Alonso and a 18-point advantage on Raikonnen. Now, assuming, Hamilton continues to be at least third on the podium for the rest of the season, he going to end up with a minimum of 118 points.

That means Alonso would need more than 60 points in nine races while Raikonnen would need 66. That’s an average of approximately 7 points per race. It’s not impossible though, since the 7 points is only needed if Hamilton continues this remarkable run. And if Hamilton doubles his points to 140 at the end of the season, it would in all probability be an exceptional second-half of the season for both Alonso and Raikonnen to pip him to the post.

If Ferrari focus on Raikonnen as their No.1, then he could benefit from the internal squabble between a champion wanting to retain his crown and a potential great who is aiming to fulfil something he’s been working towards and trained on for years. For those who say that the problems have been fixed, just clear out those corneas and watch the replays of the podium celebrations at Silverstone.

It’s definitely a fight to the finish.

Indy’s here

Jacques Villeneuve’s comments about F-1 drivers continue while he’s not still on the racetrack. Or perhaps it was because a bored journalist felt the easiest way to get a story at Montreal was to talk to the big-mouthed Canadian. A few days after he lashed out at the aggressive driving of Lewis Hamilton – precisely his ‘chopping’ overtaking moves – the Brit answered with a flawless performance from qualifying till the chequered flag at Montreal, a circuit named after Jacques’ father Giles Villeneuve. Hamilton did not even need to overtake, he led the race from start to finish. Take that, Jacques.

But the image of that race had to be Robert Kubica’s crash. Fortunately, crashes like those – ones that take the breath out of any spectator watching – rarely happen in Formula-1 nowadays. Kubica was safe, and the team promptly decided to rest him for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Germany’s Sebastian Vettel replaced him, and the teenager did well to qualify seventh at Indy, a track very similar to the one at Montreal. Hamilton literally grabbed pole, after trailing his team-mate Fernando Alonso in the first two periods of the qualifying session. The Ferraris were struggling, but still managed to park themselves on the second row for the race-start, with Massa ahead of Raikonnen.

Nick Heidfeld was fifth in the BMW, followed by Heikki Kovalainen in the Renault, a good performance from the rookie. Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Giancarlo Fisichella make up the back-end of the top ten. The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are once again outside the front 10, and at one point the Super Aguri of Anthony Davidson threatened to out-qualify them both.

Speaking of the Super Aguri, can one forget the moment that reminded us how sport can be a great leveller? A double world champion in the best car was overtaken by a driver in a car mostly sidelined to be happy amongst the backmarkers. Many a time, Takuma Sato would have had to give way to Fernando Alonso before the blue flags would start waving, but this time he got an opportunity to challenge the champion and was triumphant too.

Hoping that Indy can match up to the pulsating drama that was Montreal.

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Alonso leading by 4? – II

Apropos the earlier post (I know the stats-shy may have stopped reading by now), I came across some new information on the same at http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/statistics/. The most shocking of all was that Eddie Irvine would have been the champion in 1999 had the new points system been in effect. Actually, it should not be that surprising, considering Mika Hakkinen had won it over Irvine by a mere 2 points. Under the news points system, Irvine would have won by a 6-point margin.

Michael Schumacher may have won in 1997 with the new points system, but he also would have lost the 1994 title to Damon Hill. Under the old points, Schumacher piped Hill by a solitary point; the new one would have seen Hill being World Champion by a good 8 points.

Other statistical highlights courtesy http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/statistics/
1992- Michael Schumacher’s first season was so impressive that, had the 2003-specification points system been used that year, he would have tied for second with Riccardo Patrese.
1995 – Had the 2003 points system been used in 1995, Johnny Herbert would have been third overall, instead of David Coulthard.
1996 – To highlight how the post-2003 points system rewards consistent finishing in the lower places more than occasional finishes in the higher places, compare Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher. Alesi (no wins) trailled Schumacher (three wins) by 12 points in real life, but under post-2003 points he would have been just two points behind.

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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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