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.

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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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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.

Post-Schumacher Syndrome

Mathew Varghese

Even before the lights go off, the 2007 season is set to be a cracker. This despite the absence of Michael Schumacher, the man whose performances made him the sport’s global icon following the trail of perhaps a greater legend – the late Ayrton Senna.

Schumi may still be around at the paddocks, and it is certain that no camera is going to miss him. However, the question remains who will be the man to even come close to his record seven world titles. In a glittering career spanning 17 years, Michael broke nearly every record in sight.

The odds are in favour of Kimi Raikonnen to win this year’s championship, however one still cannot discount the current two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, more so for seasons to come. The Spaniard has moved to Mclaren, a team that struggled last season. ‘Iceman’ Kimi would be hoping Ferrari can provide him what Mclaren could not – a reliable car – which many believe cost him the 2005 World Championship. However, that’s the way sport is.

If given a choice, I still see Alonso coming closer to matching up to Schumacher than Kimi. For starters, Kimi seems the kind who will happily retire after two or three wins. Both Kimi and Alonso started their FI careers in 2001, though at 27 Kimi is the older of the two. The 25-year old Alonso is also two steps closer to Schumacher’s record, in the process becoming the youngest-ever F1 World Champion.

Coming from a generation that has seen both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, one cannot be blamed to believe that Alonso could blitz all the records set by Schumacher. For this, he first needs to change the fortunes of Team Mclaren. Fortunately, Alonso has a rookie as team-mate. Lewis Hamilton is by far a better foil for the world champion than a Juan Pablo Montoya. However, Hamilton is a Mclaren product, and he looks set for a long stint with the team.

One doubts if any driver can replicate the work ethic and professionalism shown by Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari team will surely miss him, and Kimi will have a daunting task ahead. Alonso can only benefit if he can work well and build a rapport with Ron Dennis’s team.

Alonso needs six world titles to beat Schumi, a daunting task indeed. Even if he wins half that number, he will book his place in F1 history, and probably rightfully share the limelight with fellow greats such as Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.

PS: I am sure if Schumi and Kimi fans could change history, Alonso would still be looking for his first championship. Being a Schumi supporter, I ask all not to start on the tyres and engines that worked in Alonso’s favour.

Click to vote – Who will be F1 World Champion this year?

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Toyota unveil new car

The Toyota F1 team hopes to win its first Formula One race in the 2007 season with the TF107.

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