Race Notes: 2008 ING Belgian Grand Prix

2008 ING Belgian Grand Prix
Spa-Franchorchamps, Belgium
Round 13 of 18
7 September 2008

*LIVE* on ITV1
Anchors: Steve Rider & Mark Blundell
Commentary: James Allen & Martin Brundle
Pitlane: Ted Kravitz & Louise Goodman

12.05 Coverage begins and immediately we see the dark clouds – it isn’t raining but it looks like it will soon!

Steve – “We’ve had heavy showers followed by drying conditions.”
Mark – “Big concern for the teams.”
Obligatory ‘how will this effect Lewis’ question. Puhlease. Same as every other driver.

Points going in:
Lewis 70
Massa 64 (-6)
Kimi 57 (-13)
Kubica 55 (-15)
Kovi 43 (-27)

Season recap, short clips from every race.

While they do this.. there are six races to go including this one:
Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, China, Brazil

All except maybe China are unmissable. Belgium and Italy are classics, Brazil is always exciting, Japan is effectively new because it was too wet last time to get a read on it, while Singapore is a brand new event and the first F1 night race. China has the longest straight and the championship pressures can cause some strange incidents so is worth a look but it isn’t one I’d make a point of watching if I were a casual fan.

BELGIAN GP START ORDER
Q3: Hamilton, Massa, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Alonso, Webber, Kubica, Bourdais, Vettel
Out in Q2: Trulli, Piquet, Glock, Coulthard, Rosberg
Out in Q1: Barrichello, Button, Sutil, Nakajima, Fisichella

Alonso (P6): We’re fighting for 5th & 6th positions after McLaren and Ferrari, we got one of those so we’re happy.
Heikki (P3): Nothing to compain about, good balance in the car.
Massa (P2): If I have the opportunity I have to try for sure.
Hamilton (P1): Going to be interesting off the start if a guy gets a run on you but I don’t intend to let anyone past.

Teams have driers pointed at the ground outside their pits. The circuit and pitlane are damp but drying. Don’t want a wet pit stall when the stops come around.

Martin’s circuit guide, onboard Lewis Hamilton. Longest track of the year.
190mph into Eau Rouge, negative G through the compression and then over the crest at Raidillon. [Yesterday he said Eau Rouge isn’t the challenge it was due to modern downforce]
Pouhon corner is the real challenge around here now.
Over 200mph into Blanchimont, full throttle, brake hard to 55mph for the chicane into the start/finish straight.

Ted with Gerhard Berger (Scuderia Toro Rosso, ex-driver): “It’s a gamble, typical Spa, I hope it starts raining, a bit more risk but more fun. If it is wet there is no secret, try and control your car, stay off the kerbs and white lines.” Paint is slippery when wet.
Mark B says Gerhard wants rain because Vettel is fuelled heavily. Other cars will have to pit earlier and make the tyre decision earlier, while Vettel can cover those bases and react to those decisions.

After the chaos at Valencia we take a look at Ferrari’s light system.
The fueller presses a button to change the light to green. There is an override from the chief mechanic, but he didn’t override for Massa.

Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren, Kimi’s old boss) on KR’s problems: “We think he was watching the fuel hose rather than the light. When the hose started to lift he went. This is why we tell our guys not to do that.”
Webber: “We’ve looked at the light system to reduce time lost.”
Heidfeld: “We have the quickest pit stops of everyone all year, we’re very happy with our pitstops!”
Kimi said something but I didn’t catch it.

The drivers’ parade (on the back of a truck) took place in the rain, bet they loved doing that at the longest circuit of the year!
Martin talked to Sebastian Vettel earlier (may have been yesterday after quals). Eau Rouge not the challenge it was? “Eau Rouge is a very nice corner, if it went we would miss it, same with Blanchimont.”
He says the team are improving. Moving to the A-team, RBR, next year. Regret the decision? Lately you’ve been beating them! “Not at all. There are only a few tenths in it.”
Where are you looking to finish? “Top ten. Cannot expect results every race, the midfield is a very hard fight.”

12:30 (13:30 local)
Pitlane is now open for cars to go to the grid. They perform recon laps by passing back through the pits, if they reach the grid that’s it, no more recon laps.

I swear I just saw a team member with a Tony Kanaan 7/11 racesuit on. It was only a fleeting glimpse. Ah, another shot, some of the Honda people have green and white overalls. Looked similar.

Recorded interview with Lewis: “I didn’t do the perfect lap, I locked up the tyres in turn 1. Massa said he did the perfect lap and they were behind us.” Replays of Lewis and Alonso last year off the start, both in McLarens, going into Eau Rouge two wide! Says he knows what to expect now.
Trickiest corner is Pouhon. “You can’t brake, you’re not allowed to brake, and you have to have reasonably big cajunes to do that!”
Title fight with Massa now? “Feels different to last year, we had all that negativity last year and this year is different, we’re ready to win the race.”
We’re live at the track again. Lewis may have clutch problems, could struggle off the start line.

Martin’s gridwalk! “We might be about as welcome as a toothache today, a lot of decisions (about weather) to be made.”
The last part of the track to dry has been the last few corners and the pitstraight – the new section. Massa’s car was late to the grid, may have gremlins. With a Red Bull team member: “We think the weather will stay about the same, quite dry at t8-t9, most cars will start on inters, will be brave to start on dries.” Webber: “Most of the track is dry except for this bit at the bottom here. Intermediates here but rest of the track is dry. Wouldn’t say its warm, it’s warm for the English mate!”
Martin pushing through everyone.. Trying to get Alonso.. Has to wait for another interviewer, tries to listen but he’s speaking Spanish!
How’s the track? Alonso: “Some parts are damp, some are dry. It will be a last minute decision (on tyres). If you are right on tyres you have a big opportunity.”
Martin trying to find Kubica.. he says no. Throws back to Steve because everyone is too busy, they won’t take an interview. He’s an ex driver so he knows when to push them and when to leave them alone.

Guitars on the grid! Belgian national anthem. ITV talking all over the host nation’s anthem as usual. Steve: “I don’t know what that band was on but it certainly wasn’t intermediates.”

Louise with a Toyota bloke: “We used the lap to the grid to give the drivers a feel. First half of the race will be like this, second half will be dry.” Since the drivers always use the lap to the grid to get a feel for the track methinks that was a deflection..

ITV’s Ted Kravitz gets international air on the FOM world feed, walking past Alonso! RBR are advertising Red Bull Cola. I’ve seen a lot of ads for it but never found it sold anywhere.

Lots of atmosphere shots of the fans from the FOM TV director, love it.
Obligatory shot of Lewis Hamilton’s dad Anthony, this time texting someone. No doubt we’ll see more of him later.
Caption: No rain expected during next 30 minutes.

New caption innovation: Graphic showing a driver’s results over the season. Like it but disappears too soon. Team personnel leave the grid.
Green light. Cars away. Formation lap.
The only man on intermediates now is Piquet, everyone else has chosen dries. Looks like the track has dried enough now.

Some cars have rain lights on. Wet at the end of the lap, Piquet will look to pass there. Everyone else will push through the lap and just hang on at the end.

This is a 44 lap race, low lap count because of the length of track but the total race time is comparable to other GPs.

Grid forming.

5..4..3..2..1..GO!

It has all gone crazy into turn one. Wheels banging. Cars wide. Awesome helicopter shot through Eau Rouge / Raidillon. Ferraris race each other. Kimi ahead of Massa! Alonso 4th. Where is Heikki?
Bourdais 5th. Replays. Lots of cars went wide at turn one. Piquet has gone from 12th to 7th, Kovi is 13th. Trulli spins, a Williams goes off.
Hamilton ran wide in turn one, didn’t see it but Kimi has a run and outdrags him!
It was a spin from Hamilton. Forced Kimi wide. Got back alongside and ahead, Kimi’s momentum carried him through up the hill.
Lap 3 – Kovi passed Glock for 10th.
I can’t get live timing fired for some reason. Kovi takes Heidfeld now.
Fisi had to stop for a nosecone change after contact on lap one.
Heikki takes Piquet AT SPEED. Piquet on inters needs a rain shower or he’ll drop back quickly.
We go to adverts for a breather.

Lap 7 – Kimi is going for 4 wins in a row at this track.
Fisi has been lapped already due to his stop for the nose change.
Massa is falling away.
L8 – Kovi is now 8th and catching Kubica quickly, just ahead of them Bourdais is with Webber.
I can’t make f1.com live timing work so I have no coverage during ad breaks. Java error. Annoying.

Kovi just drives by Kubica on the long uphill straight. Better run from La Source?
Sutil goes off road.

Kovi goes for Webber! Too late, Webber wasn’t ready, Kovi pushes him around. Kovi tries to back out of it but too late, Webber turned in. Half-hearted effort from Heikki, too far back, not committed enough so Mark took the racing line.

L11 – ITV guys say Hamilton is pitting shortly, Kimi in later. Here is Hamilton. Ted says this was a planned stop for Lewis. He emerges alongside Heikki, slots in behind.
Drive through for Heikki! For causing a collision with Webber. I call racing incident and no penalty but what do I know? Heikki backed out of it but it was too late. He should have backed out earlier or remained committed to the move.

L12 – Kimi pits now, only one lap more of fuel. ITV say ‘paddock wisdom’ had it at two laps more. Lewis had a 6.8sec stop, Kimi 7.1. Kimi emerges ahead of Bourdais who is ahead of Kubica and both McLarens.
Heikki trying to pass Kubica. Kubica is slowing Heikki, who in turn is slowing Lewis and possibly taking away a potential win. Heikki has 3 laps before he MUST take the penalty. He also needs fuel soon.
L13 – Massa pits. He’s out behind Hamilton and Heidfeld. Kovalainen stops for fuel and tyres, he’ll take the penalty next time.
DC is fighting Barrichello. They are old friends.

L16 – we’re back from an ad break. Bourdais and Kubica pitted during the break. Piquet spun off at the Fagnes chicane and into the wall. He’s out. Martin says that barrier used to be much closer and with only a short gravel trap – it used to hurt! Says Piquet’s only headache now is finding a way back to the pits and facing Flavio.
DC’s radio during an onboard shot: “Heikki has done his penalty, he’s now behind you.” HK took the penalty during our ad break. We cut to outside of the car and he’s RIGHT BEHIND Coulthard. Heikki is 14th. DC is still trying to get past Rubens, he does it now at Les Combes and simply drives away! He was being held up a lot behind RB.

L17 – Vettel pits. Out ahead of Glock and Heidfeld for 7th, that’s two places gained from running longer. Heidfeld moves on Glock around the outside at Les Combes and makes it work. Brundle says the outside has more grip, that move works in every formula.

L20 – The track has now dried everywhere. Bourdais is having an excellent run here, the Team B STRs are still faster than the Team A RBRs.
Kubica is told: “Bourdais is one lap shorter than you.” Martin decodes that: Stay with him, do a better in-lap.

ITV cuts to yet another ad break, not long after taking one, just as we see a Honda parked up in the garage with the driver getting out. Was it Button or Barrichello? We cut to ads too quickly to see which helmet it was.
This is a part I won’t miss about ITV when the coverage moves to BBC next year.

L22 – Halfway already?
Kimi is 5.8sec up on Lewis. The rest of the field is quite spread out but in groups it seems. The Honda out was Rubens Barrichello who is with Louise. “I lost 6th gear, with this [sequential] gearbox you have to go through 6th to get to 7th, it was overheating and damaging the engine so we decided to stop. We need this engine for Monza.”
Monza is very hard on engines so they need it in the best condition.

Top 8 at halfway: Kimi, Lewis, Massa, Alonso, Bourdais, Kubica, Heidfeld, Vettel
Just 5 seconds covers Bourdais to Vettel.

L24 – Kimi set fastest lap on L23. Shot of a camera helicopter following the cars, James says he’s been flying very close to the track all weekend, different angles.
L25 – Kimi pits! Lewis was expected to pit now and Kimi a little later. Lewis does indeed pit.
Ferrari would have known how much fuel Hamilton has because the fuel hose delivers at a standard rate for everyone. Pit Kimi at the same time and cover him. Kimi still ahead of Lewis. Gap seems a little closer now?

Rosberg pits. Ted says Massa has a sickening engine, he will go down to Ferrari and investigate. Kimi has a new engine here, Massa is using the one from Valencia. Kimi’s engine went bang in Valencia.
Now they are saying rain expected in 20 minutes. Massa has set a personal best lap but still needs to pit. Maybe they will soon turn the revs down a bit to protect the engine.
Raikkonen to Hamilton is now 3.8 seconds.

L26 – Glock pits and he is one-stopping. Hamilton took 8 tenths out of Kimi this lap! Looks like Kimi had traffic, there’s a Toyota between them. 17 laps to go, ITV take another break.

L29 – Pits to Bourdais: “Pit in 3 laps. Poosh! Poosh!”
L32 – Ted on Massa’s engine, they haven’t had to turn down the engine yet but they did have to change some parts before the race. He must have pitted during the last ad break.
Yet another ITV ad break. They are coming up fast today and they are all about car insurance or banking.
During this break Kubica and both STRs stopped but Kubica was delayed for some reason, meaning Vettel and Heidfeld got ahead of him. Bourdais was already ahead. No replays of this from ITV. Alonso is now running 4th again, then the two STRs, then Heidfeld and Kubica.
Alonso radio: “Build a gap in case we need to stop.”
Scheduled stops have been done, they are worried now about rain and possibly stopping for intermediate tyres. 9 laps to go.

L35 – Hamilton is 2.3sec behind Raikkonen now. Dark clouds are visible again, they had cleared for most of the race so far. It will rain, the question here is whether the race can be completed before then.

Massa is catching Hamilton. These three are miles ahead of the rest and it looks like every driver out there is pushing.
More Alonso radio, he asks: “What do you think about the rain?” Reply: “Still a possibility, it will be light.”

L37 – Kazuki Nakajima gets lapped by Kimi. Hamilton is closing down on Kimi, Massa seems to be catching both. Kaz jumps out of Hamilton’s way. Alonso says drops of rain in turns 1 and 14. Ted chimes in – there are drops here too. Red Bull’s Christian Horner has sent a guy on a moped to the other end of the circuit with instructions to call him if it rains there.
Webber is catching Glock for 10th. 13 cars on the lead lap with 18 running from 20 starters.

L39 – Both Kimi and Lewis are pushing hard. Lewis is still catching, the gap is now 0,9 seconds. Massa is 7sec back from Kimi, 4th is Alonso who is a massive 40sec back. No Safety Car periods and the field really spreads out on this type of track without yellows.

L40 – Hamilton slides at the last corner, he’s now 2 seconds back. It was a slower lap anyway and then the car slides.

Rain in the pitlane! Martin says it is too late for a tyre change unless it comes down torrentially. I’m not sure that’s a word but I know what he means. 3 to go.

Hamilton – He goes for it! Side by side! Bang! Hits Kimi, cuts the chicane, backs out to give Kimi the place back. He’ll get a penalty if he doesn’t. Straight away tries again, gets him in turn 1!!
Up the hill together. Raining up here now, cars sliding, somehow they keep on track. Kimi runs very very wide. Heidfeld pits for inters. Lewis is off! Williams in the way. Kimi also misses him. Evasive manouvres! Kimi spins!! Fuck me!! He’s in the wall. Out. No points. Lewis vs Massa now. Tiptoe the last lap, or pit? What do you do?
Man this is nuts. Replay: Kimi puts the power down and SPINS, then can’t brake enough on the wet surface, hits the wall, out, he’s done. Reports of cars pitting for wets except for Lewis and Massa who continue. Both are slow slow slow. They had a massive lead over the opposition so they are gambling on making it around. If there was another lap left they would have pitted but this is the last one.
They are 36 seconds slower than they were in the dry – THIRTY SIX.
Where are the guys on inters? They must be catching very quickly indeed because these two are crawling. I can go faster than this in my road car. Can Lewis make it around before they catch up? What of Massa surely he’s a sitting duck? Stop showing us pitstop graphics, show us timing!

Bourdais is third!! He’s also on dries on a wet track. Alonso stopped for inters.

HAMILTON WINS!

Amazing. The most action-packed ten minutes I’ve seen for a long, long time.

Massa 2nd. Kovalainen stopped on the grass before completing the last lap. Heidfeld gets 3rd, Alonso 4th, Vettel 5th, Kubica 6th, Bourdais 7th. Replay: Heidfeld goes outside of two cars! One STR and another. Then gets Bourdais. Both Heidfeld and Alonso stopped for inters and passed Bourdais and Vettel.
I’m not sure it worked for Alonso who was 4th anyway, if he’d stayed out would he have been 3rd ahead of Heidfeld, would Nick have caught him, or would he be in the wall?

Ron: “It was like talking in a jumbo jet with one pilot. Great job, fantastic race.”
Kimi walking back to the pits.
There’s no slowdown lap here as it would take too long, cars are straight into the pitlane in the wrong direction.

Martin Brundle: “Those who stopped for inters were half a minute faster on the last lap than those that weren’t.” I think that includes their pitstop. Amazing. I’d love to know what happened further back in the field, I look forward to reading about that.
Martin’s driver of the day: “Bourdais drove well but it has to go to Hamilton.”

Podium ceremony. Anthem. Champagne.

Steve and Mark in pitlane. Mark on Lewis: “He’s earned every penny of his retainer today.”
I’d say Kimi did up until the penultimate lap. Too much throttle when it counted.

Back from an ad break and ITV tell us both Lewis and Kimi are ‘under investigation’, speculating it was when they both cut the chicane. I thought only Lewis cut the chicane…

Press conference with Peter Windsor (of F1 Racing mag and Speed TV).
Lewis: “It was experience and a half. Could see Kimi ahead. I would catch up, then he would pull out a bit of time. I was like ‘please rain rain rain’. I know how to deal with it, then the heavens opened, Kimi backed off. I went wide and Rosberg was coming back on, he was coming back on at the place I was going off! Kimi pushed me wide. I had no room, he pushed me, I had to go on the escape route.”
You led at the start but half-spun.
“I got a good start, got away, feeling comfortable. Bits of the track were still wet. I think the last downshift locked the rears.”
“I think 3 or 4 laps from the end I thought, I can’t catch this guy. But then I thought what if he makes a mistake?”

Felipe – a difficult day?: “I saw many people going off including Kimi. I don’t want to risk 8 points so I was comfortable going slow [at the end]. Made a good start but then a mistake so Kimi passed me. All three of us were doing similar laptimes. We fight race to race to close the gap.” Talks about Kimi closing the door on him when he passed.

ITV cuts away here for a commercial break because we don’t want to hear from Heidfeld. He was only involved in a race-long tight four-car race until the rain came, before gambling on wets and passing 4 or 5 cars, what do we care what he has to say?

They only play one ad then come back to talk about Lewis again. Okay – so this time he earned it..
Ted with Ron again – what’s the investigan about?: “We don’t know, we assume Lewis & Kimi at the chicane. Lewis was ahead and got pushed wide. Was in the lead out of the chicane, we radioed him to let Kimi pass, then overtook him again before the line. We checked with Charlie [Whiting], who’s not the steward, he said it was okay.”
Charlie Whiting runs the race but doesn’t make the call on penalties, that’s the job of the Race Stewards. This frees Whiting to concentrate on calling yellow and blue flags instead of worrying about penalising someone.

ITV pretty much bail out of the coverage at this point. They ran a few replays but I had to take a phone call, sorry about that.

Results at the line [see below!]
1. Hamilton 1h 22m 44.933s
2. Massa +14.461 sec
3. Heidfeld +23.844
4. Alonso +28.939
5. Vettel +29.037
6. Kubica +29.498
7. Bourdais +31.196 (shame he got caught by those guys at the end)
8. Glock +56.506
9. Webber +57.237
10. Kovalainen + 1 lap
11. Coulthard + 1 lap
12. Rosberg + 1 lap
13. Sutil + 1 lap
14. Nakajima + 1 lap
15. Button + 1 lap
16. Trulli + 1 lap
17. Fisichella + 1 lap
18. Raikkonen + 2 laps
DNF Barrichello, Piquet

Points at the line
Drivers
Hamilton 80
Massa 72 (-8)
Kubica 58 (-22) [+1]
Raikkonen 57 (-23) [-1]
Heidfeld 47 (-33) [+1]
Kovalainen 43 (-37) [-1]
Kubica passes Raikkonen and Heidfeld passes Kovalainen.

Constructors
Ferrari 129
McLaren 123 (-6)
BMW 105 (-24)
etc.

Results taken from Autosport.com.

Next up is the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo di Monza in 7 days time. I will see you again for the Chicagoland IRL points finale in a day or two, and then the Monza preview later in the week.

* * * UPDATE * * *
After the race the stewards announced two decisions. In chronological order:
1. Timo Glock is penalised 25 seconds for passing Webber under yellow flags flying for Kimi’s crash. This moves him behind Webber who now claims the 1pt for 8th.
2. Lewis Hamilton is penalised 25 seconds for cutting the chicane when fighting Kimi Raikkonen.
(These were my words not those of the stewards. 25sec is a standard post-race penalty, the only other alternatives are a 10-place drop at the next race, or exclusion).

I understand Glock’s penalty. Passing under yellow isn’t on unless you are avoiding someone. But Hamilton gave the place back! He fell behind Kimi, okay they ran side by side but he didn’t just drive away ignoring it, he lifted off! Decisions like this suck and reinforce the opinion that the FIA stewards, whoever they are, remain favourable to Ferrari. Even if

The revised results are below, please note that these remain provisional because McLaren have lodged an appeal.

Results after penalties
1. Massa 1h22m59.394
2. Heidfeld +9.383
3. Hamilton +10.539 [inc 25sec penalty]
4. Alonso +14.478
5. Vettel +14.576
6. Kubica +15.037
7. Bourdais +16.735
8. Webber +42.776
9. Glock + 1m 07.045 [inc 25sec penalty]
10. Kovalainen + 1 lap
11. Coulthard + 1 lap
12. Rosberg + 1 lap
13. Sutil + 1 lap
14. Nakajima + 1 lap
15. Button + 1 lap
16. Trulli + 1 lap
17. Fisichella + 1 lap
18. Raikkonen + 2 laps
DNF Barrichello, Piquet

Revised gaps taken from GrandPrix.com.

Points after penalties
Drivers
Hamilton 76
Massa 74 (-2)
Kubica 58 (-18) [+1]
Raikkonen 57 (-19) [-1]
Heidfeld 49 (-27) [+1]
Kovalainen 43 (-33) [-1]
The gap to Massa has been reduced from 8pts to 2pts. Heidfeld gets 2 more points.

Constructors
Ferrari 131
McLaren 119 (-12)
BMW 105 (-24)
etc.

McLaren’s appeal goes to the FIA International Court of Appeal, a process which keeps the decision independent of the stewards of the meeting, this is a good thing, the downside being the length of time involved. The true result of this race may not be known for a couple of weeks yet.

Note – according to Autosport.com’s report on tyre strategies, with info supplied by Bridgestone, Piquet started on hard tyres not intermediates.

* * 2ND UPDATE * *
Comments taken from the ITV highlights show late this evening.
Lewis (paraphrased): “I cut the chicane, then moved clearly behind him.”
Kimi: “There is an investigation going on about it, clearly there’s rules about cutting chicanes.”
Massa: “I was driving really slow, like a grandmother, just to bring the car back.”
Heidfeld: “I called the team for wet tyres. It was obviously the right choice, it was pretty close, 2 laps. I didn’t see anyone for the first one and wondered if it was the right choice! But on the final lap I caught and passed some cars so it worked.”
Bourdais: “I don’t even know what position I finished because people pitted. There’s one thing you can’t do that’s crash the car. Frustrating.” He looked pissed off. Like his career depended on it and he blew it… Personally I think he might have saved his drive.
Matt Bishop, formerly of F1 Racing now of McLaren, looking very Ron-like, reads the press release which you can read on all the F1 news sites.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren: We will focus on the next race.
Ron Dennis, McLaren: Nothing that’s happened is new to us. We are leaving here totally focussed on Monza.
Steve Rider isn’t impressed. No doubt this one will run, more news during the week or in the Monza notes, whenever it happens.

Preview: 2008 Belgian GP

Race Preview: 2008 ING Grand Prix of Belgium
Spa-Francorchamps, nr. Francorchamps, Belgium
Round 13 of 18

Formula 1 heads to Belgium for the classic circuit at Spa-Francorchamps (or just Spa- its easier). This just-over-7km circuit in the Ardennes hills is famed for the rolling up and down nature of the track, for the driving skill required, and for the rain. The unique microclimate means it can rain at one side of the track and be dry at another – leading to strange calls from the pits if the rain is there and the rest of the place is dry, or vice versa!

The circuit used to be all public roads at 14.9km in length, until it was revised in 1983 to roughly the current length for safety reasons. Unlike other redevelopments, Spa retained it’s character in the new section between Les Combes and Stavelot. Only within the last five years or so has it become a full-time race track with traffic permanently diverted around it, allowing safety upgrades and a complete reprofiling of the last corner, the Bus Stop chicane, so-called because it used to leave the road and rejoin in the shape of the perimeter of a bus stop..

The pit facilities were demolished and rebuilt in time for last year’s event, with the start/finish straight actually becoming straight at long last! It used to be the back of the grid couldn’t see the start lights up front.

If you get a chance to watch a full onboard lap of this place – do so. Hell I’ll even provide the link.
Check this out: Mika vs Michael, Spa, 2000
Michael blocks him and tries to run him into the grass (for which he was widely criticised). This makes Mika mad. Watch him at Eau Rouge next time through, he almost loses it he’s so fast. He tries again next time. Enjoy the lap and the sound of those glorious V10s. I miss those, and I miss Mika fighting Michael.

Ferrari often dominate this race, but unlike other circuits where this happens, nobody minds at Spa because hey, we’re at Spa! Equally, nobody seems to mind only seeing the cars 44 times and having no victory / cooldown lap after the race, the cars are stopped after La Source. A cooldown lap here would take too long for TV. 44 laps of 7km is 308km, which brings us over the 300km per race guidelines. Personally I would like to see it extended it a little now the cars are more reliable than ever before.

My tip for the podium: Raikkonen to find some form and win, Hamilton 2nd, Kubica 3rd.
My tip for the weather: Dry qualifying – Wet race.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen: 1998 race start with the biggest accident seen in years, luckily the worst injuries were to Irvine’s knee and DC’s pride. This is why the medical car follows them around and had already done so for years. Back in ’98 the teams were allowed one spare car between both drivers. Now they can’t have any which is a crazy rule.

Anyway, enjoy the race and let’s hope for more of the Mika 2000 and less of the DC 1998!

Check http://www.formula1.com to find out when the race starts in your local time zone and for kickass live timing replete with live text comments (Java needed for the timing), essential during those commercial interruptions.

F1 – European Grand Prix

2008 Formula 1 Telefonica Grand Prix of Europe
Valencia, Spain
Round 12 of 17
5.440 km (3.38 mile) street circuit
Race distance: 57 laps, 310.08 km, 192.66 miles

The Grand Prix of Europe, because we’re all one big happy European family!

Coverage: ITV1 *LIVE*
Anchor: Steve Rider
Analyst: Mark Blundell
Commentary: James Allen & Martin Brundle
Pitlane: Louise Goodman & Ted Kravitz

You can read my race preview here. I was unable to take notes live by computer when I watched the race, so my notes are hand-written. It’s now Monday and I’m trying to decipher them.. Quotes are paraphrased!

Pre-Race
The info comes thick and fast on the ITV pre-race, they do an excellent job which is only really let down by their main commentator (this is strange as he was one of the best pit reporters I’ve ever heard) and their over-emphasis on Lewis Hamilton. Coverage switches to the BBC in 2009, it’ll be interesting to see how they approach it.

12:05 British Summer Time / 13:05 local time in Valencia

Steve: “This is Valencia’s first F1 race, the track took 9 months to build. It is a high-speed layout with two or three potential passing places.” The track is around several America’s Cup racing yacht bases.

Mark: “This is the first time in years we’ve had a track with a flat out turn 1. I’m looking forward to it. New circuit, new race conditions. The warm temperatures should suit Ferrari. Brakes could be an issue.”

This is because like Montreal and Bahrain, there are several fast sections leading into tight, slow corners.

12:10 Interview with the guy who built the track, didn’t catch a name (not Tilke):
“This circuit cost 70m Euros to build but we’ll save money from now on, now we have the facilities. “
It took 700 workers 270 days to construct the circuit, they relaid the asphalt so we aren’t on normal streets, this is racetrack.

Alonso was fined 10,000 Euros for crossing the pit exit (or entry?) white line during practice. Can’t cross that line, not even an inch.

Trulli: “I like the city, I like the circuit environment, it doesn’t feel like a street track.”

A reported 112,000 fans are in attendance, later we learn the capacity is 120k and the promoters were disappointed not to get a sellout.

Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren test driver), interviewed because he is Spanish: “Great track, a great effort, safety is good. It will get stronger and better.”

Mark (who raced in CART for several years): “It’s like Montreal or the US street tracks. The teams are prepared, McLaren has a laser wot scans the circuit so they can put it into their computer.”
European street tracks are tight, fiddly affairs, there aren’t many in the US mould of wider more open layouts i.e. Long Beach or St Pete. There aren’t many European street tracks at all actually.
He was also referring to McLaren’s scanning system, we learned in qualifying that McL sent a team out several weeks ago with a scanner for their race simulator.

12:15 Here’s James with a quick report from qualifying, blink and you miss it, I did.
Talking to more drivers. Massa, Hamilton, Vettel.
Lewis: “Surprised there have been no shunts yet.” Only in F1 Lewis, the support race guys have been crashing everywhere. Who will win? “Whoever looks after their tyres and stays off the walls.”
Seb Vettel: “I made a mistake in turn 12 so could not improve, but I wasn’t going to be on pole anyway!”

Qualifying order:
Q3: MAS, HAM, KUB, RAI, KOV, VET, TRU, HEI, ROS, BOU
Knocked out in Q2: NAK, ALO, GLO, WEB, PIQ
Knocked out in Q1: BUT, COU, FIS, BAR, SUT

Steve: Surprises in qualifying?
Mark [I’ll summarise]: “Massa outstanding job. Vettel. Topsy turvy until the last session when the order returned to normal. Toro Rosso outpaced Red Bull.”

Now we go onboard with Felipe Massa during is pole lap yesterday, commentary from Martin Brundle who talks us around the corner entries, racing lines, gears, etc. I always look forward to this.
Martin: “5.44km, was very dusty but has improved as rubber down. Flag marshals will have to be on their toes as there are a lot of blind-entry corners at speed. The pole position spot was only moved to the clean side of the grid this morning.”
The cars are laying rubber on the racing line, over one half of the grid. The other half is still fairly dusty – same as Hungary. Pole was supposed to be on the dirty side. Later we learn it was changed before Qual but they weren’t given the info in the commentary box.

Feature: After quals, Red Bull drivers from both teams were taken out on an America’s Cup racing boat, the one Red Bull sponsors. While there they talked to Louise.
Bourdais: You’re used to this sort of track from America? “Not actually much like the USA. It’s unique. It’s an interesting track.” He’s referring to it being a normal racing surface but around streets.
DC (sitting next to Bourdais on the yacht): “The atmosphere will build over the coming years. We’re definitely not in America, I don’t see anyone eating hotdogs and hamburgers!”

12:24 Unusual that there are only grandstands here, no general admission. Even Monaco has a little GA section.

The America’s Cup is in a legal dispute over where to hold their event, so they might not even return to Valencia despite them building facilities for them. So they need to find another use: F1!
Bernie was interviewed before quals yesterday and said it was his idea.

DC again, this time on a balcony in pitlane: “It will be better in 5 years when the local redevelopment is complete.” Says something about being a dockyard.

Ted Kravitz: “This is like Monaco but with less money and more room to spread out.”

12:29 Team personnel are now on the grid and engines are firing up in the garages. As Steve and Mark babble about something, the first cars head out on their sighting laps.
Mark had tipped Massa for the title a few weeks back: “I’d better stick to my guns. Out front nobody can touch him, he struggles when he’s behind, and he’s starting on pole. Watch Hamilton, he always starts fast.”

12:36
Lewis: “We’re fast and consistant, happy to be on the front row.” About Massa passing him in Hungary: “No-one ever usually overtakes me, if they do its on the inside! Outside won’t happen again.” And Valencia? “Very wide, don’t get close to the walls, it’s like a car park!”
Have you sent a message to Team GB in Beijing to support them? (FFS what sort of question is that?): “Very proud of GB [looks at camera], very proud of you if you’re watching. Usain Bolt, gobsmacked at the speed of the Jamaicans.”

12:39 Martin’s gridwalk!
“Valencia has character, an unusual first corner, sitting on the grid they are looking at a wall. Corner feeds into the braking area for turn 2. GP2 got through there and they drive like its their last day on Earth. There is no perimeter road, no space for cranes so Safety Cars are expected. No F1 cars in the wall yet though.”
“Superb lap from Massa. Hot temps favour Ferrari. [why Martin, why?] 10-12 guys working on the cars on the grid.”
Michael Schumacher (honestly) is standing talking to Mario Theissen of BMW. No, he’s on the phone! Martin interrupts him anyway.
“Michael, sorry didn’t realise you were on the phone”
Schuey: “Honestly” [hah, his first word was ‘honestly’!] “Honestly, the cars and tyres are sensitive to temperatures.” Short answers today from Michael, there was that and some one word answers..
Martin asks if he’d like to drive here? “Maybe on a bike! Martin: “But you keep falling off! Isn’t it unsafe?”
“I thought so too a few years ago.”
“I know what you mean, I ride a road bike myself, thanks Michael and sorry for interrupting your phone call – Mario!” He grabs Mario Theissen who is talking to someone else. Michael says goodbye to Mario…
Mario: “Kubica in a good position, good chance. 1 stop for the cars at the back, 2 stops further up.” Martin: “Sorry to butt in!”.
Bumps into Bernie who is with the Mayor of Valencia, tries to motion Martin to talk to his esteemed guest but he ignores her completely. Bernie: “I’ve wanted a GP since my first time here. That was 14 months ago.” Martin: “I’m sure you’re pleased and so is the mayor, well done ma’am”. [words to that effect]
Walks along, finds Heidfeld: “Track is quite grippy, not our own rubber but should be nice. We took the safer option on brakes which is more comfortable anyway.”
Out of a break, into gridwalk, into the next break.. Commercials bunching means nearly race time.

12:47 Button with Louise: “Disappointing qualifying, we chose the wrong tyres.” Plan? “Go fast, don’t crash!”.
Ted with Alan Permaine, engine guru at Renault. Ted: “Seems to have become an engine circuit with long straights, you struggling?” Alan: “Don’t want to go into that too much for obvious reasons!” He said more but I didn’t take it down in my notes for some reason..

Almost ready to begin, one final ad break before the start, now we join James and Martin upstairs as the official F1 track graphics are rolling.

Barrichello and Sutil will be starting from the pit lane as they had to work on their gearbox after qualifying. That breaks the new ‘your gearbox has to last for 4 races’ rule. I’m not sure why they don’t just put them at the back.

13:02 Cars away on the Formation Lap
James: “This race is 57 laps which is 192 miles, the longest race of the year.”
My comments: F1 races last either 2 hours or 300 km, whichever is soonest. The scheduled laps are normally based on the 300 km but this one seems to be 10km more for no apparent reason. We don’t yet know how long this will be in terms of time, depends on SC. The next race (Spa) is long in terms of time, not sure on distance, the one after (Monza) is the shortest in time.

Grid forms up.

5..4..3..2..1..pause..GO!

57 to go: Everyone gets through the first turns, they are taking it carefully. Amazing sight through T1. Nope – someone in the wall at T3. Alonso is slow. Nakajima has a damaged front wing. DC has also dropped back.
Replay: Nakajima hit Alonso’s rear wing, both wings damaged. James: “Rear wing is structurally attached to the gearbox and will take up to 5 minutes to change. Front wing is easy – change the nose.”

L55: Massa is 8 points back from Hamilton with 6 races to run. Kovalainen gets Raikkonen on the start.

L54: Alonso is out of the car. He’d been told to wait while they fix it, looks like he’s done. Replay: He had to get out of it to avoid another car. Naka didn’t get out of it.

L53: DC runs at Piquet and gets him, nice move!
L52: Heidfeld lost a spot to Rosberg at the start for 8th. Sutil radio: “I’m faster I need to pass him!” Talking about his teammate Fisi.
Louise with Alonso: “2 races in Spain, 2 retirements. We tried to go out for the fans, they came to see me, too much damage to suspension and gearbox so impossible to go out now.”
L50: DC makes a run at Sutil, hits him and spins! Sutil continues.

L48: Kubica in 3rd is now 8.5s behind Hamilton, lost some time. Struggling with oversteer will fix it at next stop. Bourdais has a broken front wing element.

L46: Rubens runs wide, DC goes by him. Vettel is fast.
L45: Kimi 5th 17.8s back from Massa after 12 laps but may be quicker than Kovy. James talked about ‘field spread’, cars spread out more easily at some tracks due to configuration of straights/corners.

L43: Allen: “In F1 if 3 people gather they’ll end up talking about Massa. Is he good enough?” Championship material? Brundle: “He’s beating Schumacher and Raikkonen in the same car, he’s fast.” Massa pits! That’s early and unexpected even by McLaren. Expected 2 laps later. He’s out ahead of Kimi! Massa running heavy is ahead of a light Kimi, he’ll hold up Kimi, that’ll annoy him.
ITV are saying Big Mistake.

L41: Hamilton pits. Lots of dust. Is out behind Raikkonen. Vettel also in, back out 9th.
L40: Now the turn of Kubica and Raikkonen.
L38: Trulli in. Hamilton only gained 1 second over Massa on his stop.
L37: Kovy pits as does Rosberg. HK comes out alongside Heidfeld who hasn’t stopped.
L35: Nick pits now, out 11th, not great but some one-stoppers are ahead.

L34: They are saying Renault is generally down on power compared to the other manufacturers, and that Red Bull aren’t happy with the situation. Glock is asked about his tyres.

L31: Piquet has wing damage. Fisi hasn’t stopped yet, neither have Webber, Piquet, Glock, Button or Sutil.

L29: Hard tyres are getting better lap times as we go through the stint. Webber overshoots his pit box on the dust, hits his jack man. Everyone has to shuffle down a bit. Martin: If you go in too hot that can happen, but if you’re too careful you lose too much time.

L28: Team checks in with Glock again. No wing adjustment for Timo, he’s happy. During the next few laps he pits while we’re in an ad break. He’s 1-stopping and looking to beat Vettel who’s 2-stopping.

L25: This is fairly uneventful. I’m not gonna lie, I’m flipping between this and the Olympic Closing Ceremony which is just starting because a) this race is boring and b) I want to see London’s handover segment. If I miss anything tell me later ‘k?

L22: Hamilton struggling to match Massa’s pace, has he settled for 2nd and the championship points? Raikkonen is catching Kovy. The Ferraris *are* faster in these conditions. If I were McLaren I’d be hoping for cloud cover.

L19: Massa pits and is released into Sutil. Traffic already in pitlane has priority! You can try and beat him but once he’s there you’ve got to give way. Ferrari’s error, no doubt about it. Not Massa’s fault, he goes when the team tells him.

Incident involving car 2 under investigation.

L18: Hamilton pits. Emerges behind Massa. Vettel in.
L17: Kubica in.
L15: Sutil into the wall. Okay the tyre wall. Yellow flags at turn 2, they should be able to recover that without the SC as he’s in a runoff area.
Incident with car 2 will be sorted after the race.
Rosberg now into a runoff, continues.
L14: Kimi hit a man! He left his pit box with the fuel hose still attached, it took a guy with it. Kimi stops immediately. The mechanic is stretchered away to the medical centre. Replay: Kimi goes on the orange light. Ferrari have a light system rather than a man with a stop board. Supposed to wait for green, the orange lit and he went.

L11: Now his engine! Kimi’s engine has gone. Boom! He’s on the pit straight in front of everyone as well.. pulls to the side. This doesn’t help his points battle, and he might be relegated to Massa’s Helper.

L9: Kovalainen 4th is much quicker than Kubica 3rd. Catching him fast. Enough laps left? Fisi gets it wrong on the kerb.

L7: Louise with Kimi: Oh, she’s not got him, he’s walking past everyone, not talking. Will try to get him later.

L6: Team to Glock: “Rosberg catching you.” Shot of people on the funnel of the ship!

L5: Ferrari man to Ted [on Massa incident]: “Nobody lost time”.
Allen (bloke can’t hear him): “That’s not the point! It was an unsafe release, as the caption said.”
Massa’s conception was an unsafe release.

These last laps are really tedious. Where is the passing we were promised? Can I at least have a close battle? Some form of intrigue? No? Nothing?

L2: Brundle cottons on: “Not much overtaking. Hopefully the 2009 car regulations will bring overtaking back to F1.”
Allen: “Vettel is 10 km/h faster than Trulli on the straights here.”
Salient point there James..

L1: Brundle: “Great drive but rules are rules.” He’s been complaining for a while now that Massa should have been given a penalty. Expects a grid penalty next race.

Chequered Flag – Massa wins!
Hamilton 2nd then a biiig gap to Kubica 3rd and the chasing cars.

Finishing order:

MAS, HAM, KUB, KOV, TRU, VET, GLO, ROS, HEI, BOU, PIQ, WEB (-1), BUT (-1), FIS (-1), NAK (-1), BAR (-1), COU (-1)
DNF: RAI, SUT, ALO

Martin’s Driver of the Day? Sebastien Vettel.
I’d choose Glock because he had a much lower starting position and finished one place back from Vettel. Martin gives it to Vettel because of his ablity to run up front at speed.

Rob Smedley, race engineer for Massa: “We released him and he backed off [to let Sutil through]. Silly little incident let’s not dwell on it.” Then into the usual ‘great race’ platitudes the engineers give their drivers when they win.

James Allen says it: “Not a thriller but lots of drama.”
Martin Brundle: “Yes and Kubica is only 2 points behind Raikkonen now.”

This year has seen good racing and an even better points battle. Let’s look at the tables:

WDC
Hamilton 70
Massa 64
Kimi 57
Kubica 55
Kovy 43
Heidy 41

WCC
Ferrari 121
McLaren 113
BMW 96
Toyota 41
Renault 31
RBR 24

Full tables at www.formula1.com as is the transcript of the press conference, I haven’t read that, this is from the TV:

Massa: “Chose the right tyres yesterday. Pole, race, fastest lap what more to ask for? Start was just great, car improving lap by lap. Sutil not clever, should have let me by. I was the leader and he was the lapping (lapped) car.”
Uh, no, there has been a precedent for some time… you’re stopped and a guy is coming past, if there isn’t room for two wide you wait until he’s through.

Hamilton: “Strong weekend, problems healthwise. Nice new circuit, solid weekend. Track not too physical but hot.”
ITV decided that hearing from Kubica was none of our business so cut away to Steve and Mark babbling again, because that’s what we all want to hear.
Louise got a very quick comment from Sutil: “Car just appeared alongside me.”

I think his bit was edited because we’re quickly into the ITV F1 competition then dumped out into adverts and an old Carry On film. Seriously? I can understand Coronation Street, biggest soap in the country. But this shit? Nothing like cutting a post-race debrief short for a 1967 “comedy”.

I really hope the racing gets better next year because Valencia was a fantastic venue! One I would be tempted to visit.

Okay, so that concludes my notes for this event. Sorry if this is too long for you, whaddaya gonna do. Feedback is appreciated.

I missed the IRL at Sonoma on the big fuck-off TV, had to go elsewhere. I’ll catch it later in the week.

Preview – F1 European GP ’08

First up, I gave the blog a lick of paint.
I was messing around with Google earlier and discovered Pressdog’s old blog from 2006/07. I hadn’t seen it before – it was an identical maroon scheme to the one I was using until now!
I know it is a standard Blogger template but so that I’m not accused of ripping him off too much (hey, I already stole the race notes idea from him and others), I changed it to the more patriotic British Racing Green. OK, so it isn’t exactly BRG but whatever, close enough for me.
I like the header, I’m not so sure about the profile box – let me know what you think!

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F1 Preview: 2008 European Grand Prix
Streets of Valencia, Spain

The European Grand Prix has been running for several years now, largely as an excuse for a second German race during the Schumacher era, held at the Nürburgring. This year, the European GP returns to Spain for the first time since 1997 when it was held at Jerez, that controversial season-closer where Schumacher tried to ram Jacques Villeneuve off the road – only for the move to backfire and for JV to claim the title.

Circuit

Rather than Jerez, we go to a new street circuit around the America’s Cup marina in Valencia. The existing circuit outside town, good enough for F1 testing and races for MotoGP and World Touring, doesn’t have the facilities required of Bernie & Co (and, frankly, it sucks balls as a race track). Also the locals wanted to make better use of the facilities they builts for the yachts, and to get one over on Barcelona and Madrid…

This isn’t your usual street track. It looks wide, lots of runoff, and the track itself seems as smooth as any other race track from the photos I’ve seen. I guess it helps that it runs through an industrial area which can be developed accordingly, and not everyday downtown city streets.

The drivers are saying it will be like Melbourne or Montreal. Fast, but don’t get it wrong or you’ll hit a wall. One novelty is the swing bridge they will cross to get to the other side of the marina. Bridgestone are today (Thursday) saying it may cause punctures with the Super Soft compound they’ve brought, because the road on the bridge isn’t exactly aligned with the road surface on land. It is 15 mm off. It didn’t cause any trouble in the test event (a GT & F3 meeting) but F1 tyres are different. I hope their fears are unfounded, we’ll find out in practice tomorrow.

Form Guide

None as this is the first F1 event here. Right now the Ferrari and McLaren cars are roughly equal on pace, however they’ve just come off the back of a 3 week mid-summer break. The factories and wind tunnels do not stop working during the break. What developments will be on the cars this time out, and how will that affect the performance gap?

This will probably have a bigger bearing on the form than their performance at Melbourne and Montreal this year – although if this place is hard on tyres watch out for Hamilton struggling, he uses them more than Kovalainen and the McLaren generally uses them more than the Ferrari.
McLaren are fast on a single-lap run so my bet is on them for qualifying, but Ferrari are faster over a fuel stint, so they may well come good in the race, just as happened at Hungary. But with this development jump – who knows?

Rest of the field

The teams not in the title hunt are beginning to wind down their developments on the ’08 cars, with the completely new aero regulations coming in for ’09 they want to put their full attention on those cars earlier than usual. Perhaps the guys fighting for 4th in the WCC will still develop a little.
You should expect BMW after the main battle, followed by a big jumble of Red Bull, Renault and Toyota, hopefully also including Williams, Toro Rosso just behind, then Honda, then Force India.

SC

Being a street race, even a wide one, you can expect the Safety Car to be deployed. How this affects the race will depend on when it appears. If it happens midway through the pit sequence it will become a lottery because of the crazy-ass rules they are using this year. We might get another ‘Piquet at Hockenheim’ result.

Live Timing

I highly recommend the official live timing at http://www.formula1.com/ – this is essential during commerical breaks and useful the rest of the time. However it does make you frustrated when you see someone is fast, or you spot their strategy, and the TV guys miss it..

You have to sign up (for free) but that’s no big deal, you have to sign up to lots of sites nowadays, and the only emails I ever get from them are for the FIA/AMD surveys which are a ‘must do’ anyway. No spam from Bernie.
You also need Java installed, best thing is to just go to the timing screen and follow the instructions (when it is up make sure you switch to the Big option).
Not only does the timing look like the pitwall timing screens, which is ultra cool, there is also text commentary for those who are not near a TV or radio. It only updates as cars cross the finish line so if you are used to IRL or ALMS timing it may seem a bit wonky until you get used to it.

Done

Okay, I’m out of here. You’ll next see me with F1 notes on Monday – my first F1 notes! I will usually have them out just after the race but this week I’ll be at Dad’s doing house-sitting. The plus point is that I’ll catch the IndyCars live at Sonoma (on a big fuck-off 50 inch screen) instead of the delay I usually have to put up with, so I hope to get notes for those done by Tuesday.

See you then.