F1 Belgian GP: Forza Ferrari and Fisichella

Spa is known for having exciting and unpredictable racing but no one could have possibly imagined that a Force India would sit on the pole for the Belgian Grand Prix. I doubt anyone would have thought that Giancarlo Fisichella would have taken his Force India and pushed race winner Kimi Raikkonen for the whole race, as well. But that’s what happened in a finish that was even crazier than last year’s dry and wet battle between Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton.

I’m not sure what was more unexpected: Giancarlo Fisichella winning the pole in a Force India with a relatively normal amount of fuel onboard or Fisichella leading the first four laps of the race or Fisichella running competitively in second place and never letting Raikkonen get too far ahead. This was easily the best day in the history of Force India F1. Not the best day in the lineage of the team which traces back to Jordan Grand Prix but easily the best day for the team since the 2005 US Grand Prix that featured only six drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen made the pass on Fisichella on Lap 5 by blowing by him at the exit of Eau Rouge. The power of KERS compelled him to fly by. Raikkonen wouldn’t get very far ahead of Fisichella. Raikkonen had the edge in the first sector when he could let the KERS fly out of the La Source hairpin and out of Eau Rouge. Fisichella was faster in the twisty second sector while it was back and fourth in the mix that is the third sector. Raikkonen never really seemed to be in danger from the Force India but one little mistake would have certainly resulted in a swap of the running order.

As for the championship contenders, the days tended to be much more memorable. Rubens Barrichello had his third problem off the lights this season. He went from fourth to near the back when the anti-stall kicked in yet again. It was worse for his teammate. Jenson Button’s race lasted about 45 seconds as Renault’s Romain Grosjean spun him out at Les Combes which resulted in both of them hitting the barrier and ending their races. Collateral damage in the melee was Jaime Alguersuari who ran over the left-rear of Lewis Hamilton to leave four cars out before half a lap was done. The Red Bulls faired better. Sebastian Vettel ran an uneventful race to finish third. Mark Webber received a drive-through penalty for cutting off Heidfeld in the pits which dropped him down to 9th and out of the points. Meanwhile, Barrichello was able to get back into the points and made it up to 7th. Even then he just held on while his engine started smoking because of an apparent oil leak.

•••

Bernie Ecclestone is delusional. Okay, tell you something you don’t know. Recently, Bernie claimed that the championship was over because F1 still used a points system to determine the champion. With five races left, there are 8 drivers that are still mathematically eligible for the title. Realistically, you need only go back to fourth place Mark Webber who is 20.5 points off Button’s lead.

If you use Bernie Ecclestone’s medal system, there would be six drivers in with a shot at the title. Button has six wins and if you haven’t won a race yet, you’d be out of the title hunt. Vettel has two wins so if he won the next five races, he would have won the title. Webber, Hamilton, Barrichello, and Raikkonen all have one win and would have to win out to tie Button. If there was a tie for number of wins, the driver with the most second place finishes would win the title. If that left us with a tie, then we would have to go to third place finishes. After that… They actually didn’t explain the system after that point.

Clearly, the points system is easier to understand when it comes to determining who is in and who is out of the title hunt. Also, the chances of someone vaulting Button towards a title is much higher using points than wins. I don’t know if Bernie is smoking something very strong or if he forgot his senility pills but points are still the way to go in F1.

•••

Goodbye, Luca Badoer. We hardly knew thee. Yes, the first Italian to drive a Ferrari in some 15+ years was a predictably massive failure. He was never a quick race driver, having run the most races in F1 history without scoring a point. However, when you get into a brand new car at one track you haven’t seen before and another you haven’t seen in 10 years and has changed a fair bit, chances are you will fail spectacularly. It hasn’t been confirmed but it’s safe to say that Ferrari won’t bring someone to the Italian GP at Monza that is likely to finish dead last.

So, who is rumoured to be replacing Badoer? Maybe the question is who isn’t going to replace Luca Badoer. Rumoured drivers include the recently fired Sebastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet Jr., Force India star Giancarlo Fisichella, and Ferrari test driver Marc Gene. Other names tossed about include Renault’s Fernando Alonso, BMW’s Robert Kubica, and the IRL’s Mike Conway (though I think that’s more wishful thinking on another writer’s part rather than rumour reporting). I can’t see Ferrari hiring a complete rookie to drive their car. To that same end, I can’t see them hiring a driver that was turfed for lack of performance. Given all the talk of Fisichella going to Ferrari this weekend, you would have to assume that it’s nearly a done deal. He certainly shined this weekend in what should have been a car that challenged Badoer for last place. Still, I bet the folks at the Scuderia can’t wait to get Massa back behind the wheel.

•••

Speaking of long goodbyes, Jarno Trulli, who is expected to out at Toyota at season’s end, got a taste of his own medicine today. After pitting to replace his nose during the safety car, he was stuck behind Luca Badoer and unable to get by. Barrichello and Sutil were able to move by but Trulli couldn’t manage it. After 14 laps stuck behind Badoer, Toyota was so embarrassed that they retired Trulli because of some mysterious brake problems. I’m guessing they were frozen from not needing to be used behind Badoer. How Trulli still has a race seat, I’ll never know. Has ever passed another car at speed while in F1?

•••

Time for the silly season update. Red Bull is expected to drop its engine contract with Renault at the end of the season. This was coming before the Valencia GP where Sebastian Vettel lost two engines. The Mercedes engines are considered the best on the grid and everyone is clamouring for them. Current rules limit an engine supplier to giving engines to four teams at most. McLaren, Brawn, and Force India will take up three of the allotted four spots. Red Bull is expected to be number four. Williams is also trying to get Mercedes engines but I think Merc would rather be the engine powering Vettel than Nico Rosberg. Williams is likely going to end up with Renault power next season.

Brawn’s sponsorship for Richard Branson’s Virgin conglomerate appears to be on its way to the new Manor F1 team. Branson said he wanted to back a team with a good chance of success when asked about buying the former Honda squad. To me, it makes no sense that he would leave Brawn for a team that will be lucky to score points next season. He should have thrown money at Brawn when he had the chance. Then they would have had money to develop the car and keep it at the front. Maybe Brawn’s mid-season slump is a cause and effect debate for another time. Brawn GP has apparently secured enough backing to run next season. Among the rumoured sponsors are Monster Energy Drink (which is already prominently displayed on Button’s helmet), Emirates Airline, bwin online betting, and Telmex.

•••

Back to Formula One delusions, let’s talk about the latest FIA investigation. The FIA are investigating the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. That race was won by Fernando Alonso. He was started light and on the super-soft tires so he had to pit early and fell to the back of the pack. Two laps after he pitted, his teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr., hit the wall and caused the safety car to come out. The whole field pitted under the safety car which allowed Alonso to lead the race and cruise to the win.

However, a Brazilian TV station (Globo) has been making allegations that Renault ordered Piquet to crash to help Alonso win. Either they’re floating a conspiracy theory or they have some evidence that this occurred. It’s unlikely they have any radio traffic that the FIA didn’t already have so they must have conducted an interview with Piquet to claim that he deliberately crashed. Piquet has been on the war path against his former employer since he was fired and could just be trying to cause more trouble for his old team.

I don’t see anything coming from this investigation. It’s a case of “he said, he said.” If the FIA had any evidence of Renault trying to fix the result of the Singapore GP, they would have done something about it now. Why is it taking a likely unsubstantiated claim for the FIA to investigate a race? No wonder why F1 seems to be a mess at times.

•••

The next round of the Formula One World Championship brings us to the soul of F1: Italy. After yesterday’s win at Spa, the Tifosi will be out in full force to cheer the Scuderia Ferrari boys home to what they hope will be their second straight win. KERS will play a role again at Monza thanks to all the long straights. Ferrari and McLaren should both contend for the win. Force India might have a chance at more points because Spa and Monza are similar enough that FI might be in good shape. Sebastian Vettel won this race last year in a Toro Rosso and expects to contend again this year. If Brawn doesn’t want to cough up more of their lead, they should pray for another late-summer hot Italian day so they have some hope of getting some grip from their tires.

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