TOKYO - Dazed, bewildered, but delighted – that’s the only way to describe my reaction to the outcome of the Brazilian Grand Prix. After missing out on the F1 driver’s world championship title in ’03 and ‘05, Kimi Raikkonen fulfilled his promise and delivered a dramatic end to a momentous weekend and, an altogether strange, grand prix season.It’s just after 3am here in Tokyo, from where I will report on the Tokyo Motor Show this week, and having just watched the final grand prix of the year on a Fuji TV broadcast (complete with ebullient Japanese commentary and captions, interspersed with quirky advertisements for hair implant clinics, a talking Shih Tzu and a singing, dancing garage door remote – no kidding), I still can’t believe what happened at Interlagos.
I watched the kick off and first 20 minutes of the Rugby World Cup final at Male airport in the Maldives during a fuel-stop for the China Eastern flight from Joburg that I boarded on Saturday morning, so when I learned on my arrival in Shanghai that the Bokke had thumped England, I was most pleased. “Well,” I thought to myself, “if Lewis Hamilton wins a dream world championship title in his rookie year, it would be a kind consolation prize for his defeated countrymen”. Half a day and two time zones later, that thought evaporated into the crisp Tokyo air – Despite his off-circuit excursion soon after the start of the race Hamilton didn’t make an unrecoverable error as he did in China – the young Briton overcame a brief, but ill-timed, technical malady to scythe through the field. For once, though, Kimi had good fortune, and a co-operative team-mate, on his side.
Fernando Alonso failed to defend his title for a successive time, but the Spaniard seemed almost relieved after the race (and ever so slightly annoyed that Ferrari team boss Jean Todt hijacked the post-race ceremony). Fernando had no answer to the pace of Raikkonen, and his inspired team-mate Felipe Massa, on Sunday and the pragmatic double world champion will now look forward to what most expect to be the post-McLaren phase of his career - and resuming battle with his old foe, Raikkonen.
Upon viewing a replay of the start, I realised that Raikkonen’s brave, but futile, attempt to overtake Massa at the start of the race, forced Hamilton to take evasive action to evade the recovering Ferrari. In that moment of hesitation, Alonso seized his opportunity to drill his rookie team-mate and championship rival on the inside of turn two. Hamilton, didn’t take time to compose himself by slotting in behind the Spaniard (the second critical error in as many grands prix, critics might argue) and consequently slid wide. While attempting to make headway, Hamilton’s McLaren suffered a techinal glitch of some sort (sorry guys, I couldn’t translate that part of the Japenese commentary) and he tumbled down the running order. Had he not suffered that problem, he may have been slurping his umpteenth bottle of bubbly right about now…
Instead, the outcome of the world championship was squarely in the hands of the Scuderia from that point onward. Hamilton’s progress was flattered by the fact that he opted for a three-stop race strategy, and even the staunchest Alonso fans knew in their hearts that if Raikkonen overtook race leader Massa and the Spaniard was third, the Finn would still win the championship. Raikkonen duly overtook Massa at the last round of pit stops and whether he would have beaten his inspired team-mate without the Brazilian's loyalty to the team cause, is immaterial.
Raikkonen looked stunned as he mounted the top step of the podium (not that the mercurial Finn is demonstrative at the best of times), and I don’t blame him. Raikkonen had been the champion-elect ever since he replaced seven-time champion Michael Schumacher at Ferrari at the beginning of the year, but he has driven better – at least more consistently – in previous years, only to be foiled by poor reliability from his machinery. I don’t think the Finn believed that he had a realistic chance of eclipsing Hamilton – who would given odds that the pugnacious Briton would fail twice – with the championship virtually in the bag? But, congratulations, Kimi – you’ve certainly paid your dues and suffered your fair share of disappointments before clinching the title.
There is ultimately an element of poetic justice in the outcome of the 2007 Formula One world championship. The McLaren duo of Alonso and Hamilton became embroiled in petty gamesmanship (the true villain will perhaps never be unmasked) throughout the season while their employers covered up evidence that the Woking-based team had technical information that was supplied to them by disgruntled Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney. Alonso got a raw deal at times, but lost his cool at critical points in the season, Massa was as prone to brilliance as making strange mistakes and Hamilton paid the ultimate price for his inexperience by tossing the title away in China.
Let’s hope that 2008 will make the names of other young stars (take a bow Heikki Kovaleinen, Sebastien Vettel, Adrian Sutil and well done on an excellent sophomore season, Robert Kubica) and that there will less interference from the sport’s governing body, more fair play, and another season of thrilling race action.
Brazilian Grand Prix result:
1. K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
2. F Massa (Brz) Ferrari 1.493 secs behind
3. F Alonso (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes +57,019
4. N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota + 1:02,848
5. R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber +1:10,957
6. N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +1:11,317
7. L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
8. J Trulli (Ita) Toyota +1 lap
9. D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault +1 lap
10. K Nakajima (Jpn) Williams-Toyota +1 lap
11. R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota +1 lap
12. T Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda +2 laps
13. V Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari +2 laps
14. A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda +3 laps
DNF A Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari 43 laps
DNF R Barrichello (Brz) Honda 40 laps
DNF H Kovalainen (Fin Renault 35 laps
DNF S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 34 laps
DNF J Button (GB) Honda 20 laps
DNF M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 14 laps
DNF S Yamamoto (Jpn) Spyker-Ferrari two laps
DNF G Fisichella (Ita) Renault one lap