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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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.

Kimi needs to be alert about Alonso

The first race of the season sent out clear signals: “Ferrari is Red-Hot, though Ice-Cold McLaren is not far behind.” Kimi Raikonnen got off to a great start in a new car and a new season, but so did McLaren Mercedes’ new drivers – the defending champion Fernando Alonso and the debutant Lewis Hamilton. The Ferraris were by far the fastest, and only a gearbox problem and engine-change pushed Raikonnen’s partner Felipe Massa to sixth, a creditable finish considering his Ferrari started the race at the end of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton was definitely the toast of Melbourne; his strong third place finish will only increase the expectations from him, especially from Britons who will finally have another driver to support along with Honda’s Jenson Button. Button, however, will be wondering if Honda can ever provide him with a car that can vie for the championship, after finishing a disappointing 15th. The BMW Saubers also had a good start to the season, with German Nick Heidfeld finishing in fourth. Compatriot Robert Kubica also did well till a gearbox problem forced him to retire on Lap 38.

2006 Constructors Champion Renault had a sluggish start, with the Italian Giancarlo Fischella finishing in fifth and debutant Heikki Kovalainen in tenth. Team boss Flavio Briatore was extremely critical of the Finn’s performance, a race where the promoted test driver made too many mistakes. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli finished ahead of Kovalainen in ninth place, with team-mate Ralf Schumacher rounding up the points table in eighth place. Nico Rosberg placed seventh in his Williams, which has Toyota as its engine-supplier. ‘Comeback Man’ Alexander Wurz’s race was cut short due to damage done to his Williams during an overtaking manoeuvre by Red Bull’s David Coulthard, who fortunately walked away uninjured after going airborne and landing in the gravel.

However, the man to watch is the one who quietly collected points from this race. Raikonnen may have won the race and Hamilton stolen the limelight, but Spain’s double F1 champion Fernando Alonso was the man in between the two, finishing second. It’s true that team-mate Hamilton led him till the final round of pit-stops. But the champion still ended with eight points, from what can be described as an ‘average race.’ The same trait also helped him see off the challenge put forth by Michael Schumacher last year. Kimi Raikonnen – Schumacher’s replacement at Ferrari – may have the best car on the track, but he needs to have consistent finishes in the points to win his first F1 championship, and perhaps add a new chapter to his rivalry with Alonso.