There is not going to be a standard engine for all Formula 1 teams. Not even a homologated version. The revolutionary proposal by the FIA was brushed aside and they will go ahead with the current regulations with every constructor being allowed to build their own engine. That is what was decided on Tuesday, October 21, 2008, at the summit hosted by the FIA, represented by President Mosley, and the newborn teams association (FOTA), with its two leading figures, President Montezemolo and Vice President Howett from Toyota. There will be a cost reduction. Independent teams will receive an annual supply of 25 engines at the price of 10.000.000 euros (half the price compared to today), engines will have to last an extra race, that is to say, three (1500 kilometres), there will be a reduction in testing (15.000 or 20.000 km) and starting from 2010 there will be a reduction in chassis costs. Finally, the Kers, which recovers energy: optional in 2009 but will be standard (single supplier) in 2010 or 2011. However, on Tuesday, October 28, 2008, the FIA insisted. And it resentfully replied to Ferrari’s threats, which let it be known through the Board of Directors that they are ready to leave Formula 1 in case the standard-engine revolution were to be applied. Enough is enough for Ferrari. And like the team from Maranello, Toyota too will be ready to invest its own money in other motorsport competitions starting from 2011, BMW through Its director, Mario Theissen, considers the standard engine hypothesis unlikely, and all big suppliers, starting from Mercedes (the company which is providing its engines to McLaren) to Honda, have yet to take an official stance but they are ready to join the naysayers. The standard or homologated engine, with the right for each manufacturer to build their own but with standard parameters will never be accepted by the greats of the current Formula 1, yet the FIA has no intention of backing down and yesterday it issued a harsh statement against Ferrari, accused of being misinformed on the subject.
"It is time for manufacturers to find a compromise on one of the three options or to propose alternative ideas to reduce costs to an acceptable level. If that is not going to happen, the FIA will take any measure necessary to try and preserve a credible Championship for both the drivers and constructors".
In other words, teams can either accept the imposition of the standard engine, or they can present another option to drastically cut costs, otherwise, the Federation will go ahead on its own, as it has already shown it wants to do, subcontracting the supply of the engines and inviting potential car manufacturers to present their offers by Friday, November 7, 2008. An uncompromising position that is triggering an all-out warfare between the political organisation and the teams association. What is most surprising is that the uproar, the stance taken by the team from Maranello, and the bitter reply from the Federation comes eight days after FIA President, Max Mosley, and the teams seemed to have come to an agreement in Geneva for engines to last at least three races and for engines to be supplied to independent teams at a fixed price. That day many had crowed over victory, announcing further meetings at the Brazilian Grand Prix to define a drastic reduction in testing, the possibility of a low-cost chassis from 2010 and a common KERS, the system used to recover energy, for all teams in 2010 and 2011. It took a week for the Federation to go back on its words. In the sense that the measures for next year were approved but they are not enough for the long run, as only the standard engine can ensure survival. The FIA is adamant and maybe a bit ironic in its statement where it congratulates Ferrari, by now the leading team of the naysayers to the revolution, on its financial successes.
"We are glad to hear about Ferrari’s wealth and we hope it can be maintained. However, for some teams the costs greatly exceed revenues. This is no longer sustainable".
Hence at least the possibility of having engines for 5.000.000 euros a year, a quarter of the current costs, and half of what was decided in Geneva. War is now declared and all this a year from the expiry of Max Mosley’s presidential term (Ferrari would like Jean Todt to take his place) and a few days before the end of this World Championship in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton arrives here with a 7-point lead over Felipe Massa and a big chance to become World Champion. The youngest in Formula 1 history. The week of the Brazilian Grand Prix was, in and of itself, the most awaited week in Formula 1, and now comes an ultimatum by Ferrari:
"In case of a standard engine, we will retire".
It could be a coincidence, but the FIA reminded what the deadline for the invitation to tender was for those who wished to supply engines in F1 at 1:15 p.m. on Monday, October 27, 2008, and Ferrari declared that it reserved its right to withdraw from the Circus at 6:00 p.m. in what seems like a battle. And this time there is no room for interpretation in the words of President Luca Montezemolo and the entire Ferrari Board of Directors, which expressed serious concerns over the equalisation projects or the standardisation of engines that would deprive F1 of its raison d’être based on competition and technological development.
"This is how Ferrari has been interpreting its uninterrupted presence since the first edition of the F1 World Championship in 1950".
Concern is only the premise for the conclusion if the project were to advance:
"If these elements are not going to be there anymore, the Board of Directors has reserved the right to evaluate, together with its partners, the opportunity to maintain its presence in this discipline".
Ferrari leaving F1? The message, rather the clarification (as they say in Maranello), is strong and it clearly landed on Max Mosley’s table who normally has a great relationship with the team from Maranello. But on this project, they just cannot seem to agree. For that matter, BMW already said it in Shanghai:
"There would be no reason to stay here to compete".
And now Toyota has a say as well:
"We believe that F1 should remain a technological competition".
Reiterating their wish to remain in the paddock until 2012:
"Unless cuts due to the economic crisis remove the hi-tech part".
In fact, on the part of the FIA, there was no breaking news, apart from the fact that Mosley made the deadline for companies interested in the tender official. But the statement alone already confirmed that the agreement - as it seemed - was not reached between FOTA and FIA in Geneva. Therefore, this is the chaotic political framework on the eve of the decider for the World Championship, with Ferrari coming out in the open, inviting Max Mosley to back off the idea of a standard engine, an idea that is certainly shared by other big teams, starting from McLaren-Mercedes and Renault (Flavio Briatore too had already said no). Both Lewis Hamilton (for that matter, he has been consecrated by Michael Schumacher: the German predicts that he will beat the record of the 7 World Championships) and Felipe Massa will take advantage of this eve and the debate that will inevitably follow as they will feel less pressure ahead of their duel.
"Pressure? Zero, it is none of my business".
Felipe Massa reiterates. And to prove that he made sure to have his schedule full until Friday, October 31, 2008, the day when he will finally step into his Ferrari #2 and he will have a go at his mission impossible: become World Champion and make a comeback from being 7 points behind Lewis Hamilton. Wednesday, October 29, 2008 politics finally makes room for the track. Silence falls on the standard engine (and the controversy that comes with it) while drivers start to talk. Interlagos will be the first head-to-head between Hamilton and Massa: only on a dialectical level as they are both attending the press conference. From Friday onwards, they will give the floor to the cars with free practice and we will see what happens then. For now, there have been some suggestions and picking sides. For example, Nelson Piquet Jr. makes the same choice as his teammate, Fernando Alonso.
"If Massa is going to be behind me, I will not make it hard for him to pass me. But if it is going to be Hamilton behind me, I will defend my position normally".
From Brazilian to Brazilian, obviously, his statement made the Carioca country proud but Nelson Piquet Jr. still pragmatically analyses the race:
"If Hamilton can avoid the mistakes he made last year, he will win the title. In 2007 he was very nervous".
An old acquaintance of Formula 1 fans, Juan Pablo Montoya, chimes in:
"If I were Lewis, I would keep Massa close, but not too much. I think that Lewis will have to be quite smart".
Then the Colombian, ex-McLaren, imagines what the atmosphere is like inside the Anglo-German team:
"When you are a young driver you want to win every race, then you learn that the most important result is the one you need. I think that McLaren and him have talked about it this week. In general, I believe Massa will win the race".
What about Kimi Raikkonen? The now ex-World Champion could be one of the stars, surely Ferrari expects the Fin to take part in a Red 1-2 finish. And Kimi is clearly not backing out of his task:
"We are obviously ready to give it our all in this last race and starting from tomorrow we will see from free practice what we can expect. I think that in qualifying it will be a tough battle with McLaren. Anyway, what matters is trusting the car all the way and attacking because that can make the difference".
But Raikkonen also weighs up a 2008 season that has been disappointing for him:
"We will have to learn the right lessons from this season. In the sense that we will have to study detail by detail the mistakes made and take a lesson in view of the next championship".
Then he reminds one of the crucial steps:
"At the beginning of the year the set-up was right, then we struggled and we were chasing from behind. It has been a very long year".
But his detractors will have to give in:
"I did not manage to do it this year, but I will try to win again in 2009. Though I know that we will have to work a lot because starting from next season there will be many new rules, therefore a tough winter awaits. But the objective is still the same, to be in front of everyone".
On his side, Lewis Hamilton repeats himself multiple times during the day, ahead of the longest weekend of his career, a sort of yoga therapy to keep calm and hold his nerves. Winning is good but it is not a duty, yet no one believes those words.
"It is not a matter of life and death. To come out on top would be amazing and I would deserve it, as would McLaren. But I am not at my life’s crossroads".
We are in Brazil, Interlagos, in enemy territory of his great rival, Felipe Massa, the only one who can keep him away from making history and Lewis Hamilton, the youngest World Champion in Formula 1 history if he manages to finish on the podium, is about to experience the toughest race of his career. On his side are his own talent, a car that in the last two years has proven to be indestructible and most of all, his seven-point lead in the standings, not an insignificant detail, considering that even with a win by Felipe Massa, the Englishman can still succeed with a miserable fifth place. He can avail himself of some remarkable weapons, although the seven-point lead calls into question the first possible nightmare, given that last year he showed up here having the same advantage (the rival then was Kimi Raikkonen) and with a brutal race he managed to squander it. Lewis Hamilton feels strong and at peace, convinced that is about to be a champion. A lot is on his side, on the other hand, however, there is no lack of enemies and ghosts, a clear hostility in the atmosphere, but then most of the drivers who hardly tolerate Hamilton, envy him for his skill and attack him for his driving style. If it were only for Ferrari, firmly aiming for a 1-2 finish, that is the only possible approach to the miracle, it would be nothing. Felipe Massa will attack him, Kimi Raikkonen is ready to support him, Lewis Hamilton knows it and could decide to steer clear of it, perhaps settling for a third place:
"Seeing as this time, for my career, I don’t have to win, I just have to finish in the points, score what is necessary for the title and for once I will act accordingly, with less aggressiveness and more reason, avoiding risky moves".
A simple threat, two cars from Maranello and the great desire by Massa to show off could tickle him. But here he has to fight Spain as well, loyal to Fernando Alonso, the greatest rival of the British driver who, on a website with an eloquent name, Burst Hamilton’s Tyre, with 25,000 people who have already signed up, 25,000 nails scattered across a virtual circuit, with Lewis Hamilton who cannot possibly avoid all of them. And what about Robert Kubica, heartily recommended by Brazilian fans to take action?
"Take him out".
They shout at him, while they flood him with hugs and love. Not to forget the Brazilians, Rubens Barrichello and Nelson Piquet Jr., Sebastian Vettel, racing for Toro Rosso, powered by Ferrari, and Sebastien Bourdais, who shares the manager with Felipe Massa, that is to say, the son of Jean Todt. Lewis Hamilton does not believe these winds of turmoil.
"We are all sportsmen, I have never seen a driver going slowly on purpose, I am counting on everyone’s integrity".
For that matter, as Barrichello states:
"A driver wants to win on its own merits, Massa would never ask someone to take out his rival".
But if that were to happen, no one in Ferrari is going to tear their hair. Although, messages so far have been based on healthy sports, not cheap shots. Michael Schumacher says:
"Massa is fast, I have faith in him, he can do it".
While Pelè is more sceptical:
"I support Massa but it is hard for him to succeed. This time Hamilton is not going to give any gifts".
Four drivers support Lewis Hamiton, Heikki Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, and Adrian Sutil (Force India is waiting for a chassis and engine from McLaren). Three drivers are neutral, Kazuki Nakajima (he would rather stay out of the duel), David Coulthard (he thinks highly of both) and Timo Glock. On Friday, October 31, 2008, suddenly a moment of excitement. Then, fear sets in. All because of the results of the second session of free practice, and if the standings were to be repeated in the race it would be a miracle for Ferrari: Felipe Massa second, only 0.057 seconds off Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen fourth, and Lewis Hamilton ninth, the worst placement possible in Formula 1 because it is the first outside the points. If you do the math, it would be enough to pull off the feat: the Brazilian would get 8 points, Lewis Hamilton would not be able to get any points and Sao Paulo would explode with joy, finding one of his sons on the top of the world after seventeen years, when Ayrton Senna won his last championship. It is not a dream, you better rub your eyes, and Felipe Massa is the first to say it, it is only Friday and in the fight for the World Championship this day does not matter. But it warms the hearts of those hoping for a comeback and it is no coincidence that the Brazilian is visibly happy as he gets out of his car.
"It was a great day, our car is extremely quick and we did not run into any issues. Ferrari on this circuit is flying, not only mine but Raikkonen’s car too. We can aim for a 1-2 finish, we have to believe in it. In China, from the get-go we already understood that McLaren was much faster than us; but not here, Ferrari is leading, even with this cold that is usually lethal for us. But the issue is with grip and traction because on this track our soft tyres do really well. When we have grip, we are always very fast. I think that this time we can aim for pole, for a completely red first row on the grid. And starting at the front can be very important".
Happiness, hope and faith. Especially because if you take a look a bit further away, you can see that Lewis Hamilton is quite nervous with a McLaren that is strangely in distress. Felipe Massa says:
"I think my rival is having problems with the set-up, he can’t find the right balance of his car, he is having difficulties and hopefully it will continue like this. If he is stuck in the back of the field, his race could become very complicated".
If all of this is an illusion or if Massa’s optimism is over the top, we will find out soon enough. Sticking to the facts and the pictures, then comes the unexpected: a worrisome look on the face of Lewis Hamilton, his strange nervousness as he gets out of the car. He denies it but video cameras nail him: he throws his gloves on the floor, clearly having a moment of irritation and as a signal of annoyance.
"I did not throw them, I put them down. I have a seven-point lead in the standings, why would I be afraid?"
Surely, the margin is reassuring but he squandered the same advantage last year, always in Interlagos, and Ferrari already wholeheartedly thanked him once in the person of Kimi Raikkonen, why would he not fall for it once again?
"I know I have a big chance to become World Champion and I will fight for it until the end".
That goes without saying, but in the meantime, the stopwatch puts him behind.
"We were fast in the first session, then we changed something on the car that made it worse. But you can quickly go back. It will be a tough race but I only have to finish in the points".
He cannot afford to finish ninth as he did on Friday, though. Otherwise, Felipe Massa would win. And the Brit would become the biggest loser in Formula 1 history. As the great challenge approaches, unfortunately, the topic of racism comes up. It was hard not for it to come up given that a young man with African roots is involved. The Internet joke of some ignorant Spanish jokester becomes a political case: PinchaLaRuedaDeHamilton was an online game as well before access to it was blocked. Beforehand, many Brits had voiced their disappointment with the idea and politicians made it a matter of national concern out of it. It is England-Spain once again, although there are no sports-related reasons this time. No Fernando Alonso is going head-to-head with Lewis Hamilton, but some Iberian fans have not forgotten the 2007 season and decided to create this foolish game against the McLaren driver for fun. Only that bursting Hamilton’s tyres aside, the 20,000 users also left some rather unpleasant and shameful comments. So, it was a short step from the web to British media outlets:
"Lewis Hamilton subject of racist abuse once again".
Reads the headline from the Daily Telegraph, and the story was seized by Labour MP Keith Vaz who asked the Foreign Secretary to intervene, pushing for Secretary Milliband to submit an official protest from the British government:
"Zapatero and his government cannot sit by and watch while blatant racist abuse is going on in an organised and systematic way".
Nevertheless, three days ago Brazilian fans of Felipe Massa had promised poor Lewis Hamilton that he was going to get a few sleepless nights and nobody saw it as racism. For Vaz, instead, we are witnessing a sort of voodoo style that intentionally wants to destabilise the British driver, therefore it should be not only condemned but crushed as well. In truth, they had already achieved their result as it was made impossible to access the homepage of the incriminated website. All of this without the Spanish government having to apologise, especially because they did not know and were unaware of it. The Spanish Supreme Sports Council says:
"When we receive something official, we will answer".
At this point, the FIA steps in, as they had already done in December 2007, when - during a winter testing session in Barcelona - some Spanish fans displayed racist banners as well as showing up in the grandstands with Afro wigs and their faces painted in black with a sign indicating that they were Hamilton fans.
"Discrimination and prejudices have no place in sports or society. Everyone around the world shall unite with us in condemning these violent comments full of hatred".
In the meantime, Fernando Alonso does not fuel the controversy, pointing out that he does not harbour resentment for Hamilton anymore:
"These things do not belong in sports, and they should be condemned".
On the eve of the race, it is a terrible position for Hamilton and his family to be in. Such a bitter climate made Anthony Hamilton consider the idea of leaving F1.
"I was starting to think that it was not the right place for us".
There were some known and some lesser-known moments in the days leading up to the race: the Internet site that was blocked because of the despicable comments against Lewis Hamilton. But also black cats stuffed animals, symbolising bad luck, thrown at Lewis Hamilton by a television presenter and his sixteen-year-old brother in the hotel he is staying at.
"We had to put up with countless insults not only in the last few weeks but in the previous months too. We are respectable people and as a father, I feel I have some responsibilities. If some people are not alright with that, I feel sorry for them and may God forgive them".
Indeed he is referring to racist abuses coming from Fernando Alonso fans who, during testing in Barcelona last February, painted their faces black to protest against the treatment of the Spaniard when he was still racing for McLaren. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton deals with requests from his fans who expect him to challenge Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. A result that is too much for the British driver too:
"I am not thinking about Michael’s record, it is a bit too much for me. I will train very hard, I don’t want for it to come down to the last corner in the last lap. My goal is to win three World Championships so Dennis has to pay for a bet. If I manage to complete a hat-trick of world titles he promised that he would gift me an incredible car".
The McLaren F1 Le Mans road car, of which only five were produced (three for the Sultan of Brunei alone) and valued at around 4.000.000 euros. Trying to quickly forget what happened, on Saturday, November 1, 2008, the Brazilian Grand Prix carried on with its program.
"The first course came out well. Now the second course needs to be just as good. And maybe even the dessert, so we will have him pick up the bill".
It is hard to measure the euphoria felt by Felipe Massa, screaming with joy to his friends and the many who smothered him with affection in the Ferrari garage, and using the metaphor on what could be the most enjoyable dinner of his life goes to show how insatiable and gritty he is. The Brazilian driver takes the third consecutive pole at Interlagos, in his home country of Brazil, in front of his people who welcome his feat with a roar, after overwhelming booing directed against the great rival, Lewis Hamilton. It is a base for hope that is key in order to believe in the miracle. It was much needed, and it came, with an extraordinary performance and a perfect lap.
"The car was amazing and I was infallible".
Felipe Massa will be able to start in front of everyone but that is not enough yet, it is a great result that warms up Brazilians and Ferrari fans alike but it is not enough for his comeback. Still, it is a good starting point, especially because Lewis Hamilton will not be beside him on the grid but surprisingly it will be Jarno Trulli, an Italian, fighting for Toyota and who dreams of a podium but in his heart, he has Ferrari too. Who knows if Jarno, who still had a 39 °C fever on Thursday and got miraculously back on his feet with the help of doctors, then had an extraordinary qualifying on Saturday, really whispered in Massa’s ears, as some are saying:
"If you have a bad start, go on the inside and I will not touch you".
Who knows if that is true, or if it is more realistic to believe what Jarno Trulli says in front of the press coming from all over the world:
"I can’t take any risks in the first corner, I have to cross the finish line and if I am behind I will not try any crazy moves, it goes for Massa but for Hamilton as well. I don’t want to mess up the fight for the world title".
Who knows where the truth lies, but as a matter of fact, Jarno Trulli is starting second and behind him, another threat for Lewis Hamilton is Kimi Raikkonen who rejoices at his third place:
"Better than being second, I am starting on the clean side of the track, it will not be hard to stay in front of the two McLaren".
Lewis Hamilton, worried more than ever, despite his façade of optimism, is only fourth and he is starting to feel surrounded given that behind him, starting sixth is Fernando Alonso, another one who he rightly should not trust. The feat of Felipe Massa still seems hard but now a little less so. The Brazilian does not want to take on excessive pressure:
"I am only thinking about winning the race, the weight is all on Hamilton’s shoulders. He is the one with the title already in hand, I have nothing to lose. In Brazil people love motorsport and Ferrari, it is wonderful to be able to bring out the best in it. I have to be the first one across the line. Then, if something more were to come it would be an amazing dream. One that I deserve to live".
So much for the British driver who is experiencing more and more hostility in the air, from the black cat as a gift to voodoo rituals, Brazilians tried them all to stress him out and his smile is more and more tight-lipped. Felipe Massa says:
"It is worse in football, fan support is part of the sport. You have to go your own way and not think about it".
But on his side, Lewis Hamilton refuses the idea that he feels surrounded.
"I feel calm. I think that the guys in front have a different strategy from mine and as far as I am concerned, I have my assurances".
In truth, it is the worst starting position, the one he should have avoided: being in the middle. With Fernando Alonso who could play some jokes on him and the only ally he has here is Heikki Kovalainen: from fifth the Fin his job will be to defend his teammate.
"Regarding the fact that the race is going to be undoubtedly tough: you just have to look what state the tyres are in, but I don’t feel any added pressure given that I am starting from the second row on the grid".
Still, he missed out, he made a couple of mistakes in the decisive part of qualifying, right around the third session which determined the pole position.
"Surely, starting further ahead would have been better but I feel comfortable with the strategy we have chosen".
Not only: Lewis Hamilton confessed his optimism and reiterated that Felipe’s position does not change anything:
"For sure not how I approach the race. I know where I have to be, I know my target and I know that I don’t have to pull off something spectacular, I simply have to score some points".
And Kovalainen as well puts his trust in him:
"I suspect that Ferrari has less fuel, therefore there is no reason to worry and panic, also because we should not forget that it could rain during the race and that would be a deciding factor. I think that McLaren is in good shape, in spite of those who believe that qualifying was disappointing today".
Sunday, November 2, 2008, three minutes before the start of the formation lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix, a heavy storm broke out and it momentarily flooded the track, forcing race stewards to postpone the start 10 minutes later. As suddenly as it came, the rain stopped falling, yet all teams decided to start on intermediate tyres; moreover, a regular start was preferred over a start behind the safety car as some were expecting. At the start, Felipe Massa, Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen held on to their positions, while Lewis Hamilton kept his fourth position, thanks to Heikki Kovalainen who made it easy for his teammate to overtake him in the first corner. However, the Fin was too submissive and between Reta Oposta and Descida do Lago he is overtaken by Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. In the first corner, Keke Rosberg crashed into David Coulthard’s Red Bull, ending his career in one of the worst possible ways. Nelson Piquet Jr. stopped on track as well and by doing so he made the safety car come in and stay until the fourth lap. Felipe Massa attempted a getaway right from the start and he was showing incredible pace on his home circuit. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen tried attacking Jarno Trulli twice without much luck. The track was drying out in the meantime and Giancarlo Fisichella was the first to pit for slick tyres; when the times set by the Italian driver seemed competitive enough, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso stopped on lap nine, followed by Felipe Massa a lap later. Lewis Hamilton stopped on lap 11, together with Jarno Trulli and Kimi Räikkönen, sliding into seventh position, behind Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli. The following lap Trulli made a mistake in the first corner, losing three positions. Over the course of lap 13 Felipe Massa is in the lead then, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Giancarlo Fisichella and Lewis Hamilton. While the first three extended their lead, Lewis Hamilton was not taking any risks and he took measures before overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella on the first corner of lap 18; Timo Glock overtook the Force India as well and kept the slipstream from the Brit while Sebastien Bourdais did not manage to do the same. Instead, the Frenchman had to cope with Jarno Trulli’s comeback, forcing him off track in the grass at the Senna S and making him lose five positions. Felipe Massa was setting fast laps after fast laps but Sebastian Vettel was not backing down, keeping a gap of around a second. The reason is that Toro Rosso did not refuel during the first stop, perhaps due to an issue with the fuel pump; thus, Vettel pits on lap 27, dropping into sixth position, in front of Heikki Kovalainen who was overtaking Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella in the meantime. At the halfway point, without expecting more rain, the situation seemed to be consolidated with Felipe Massa being 4 seconds clear of Fernando Alonso, 14 seconds clear of Kimi Räikkönen and around twenty seconds clear of the duo composed by Lewis Hamilton, comfortably in a position that was worth the title, and Timo Glock.
On lap 36 the German had a long pitstop in order to stay out until the end and dropped down to the fourteenth position. During lap 38, Felipe Massa stopped for a second pitstop and the Brazilian returned on track in fourth position. Over the course of lap 40, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton stop for the second time as well. On lap 43 Kimi Räikkönen had a pitstop too and Sebastian Vettel found himself momentarily in second place. At the end of the second round of pitstops, the order is as follows: Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen. The Brit is calm: Webber still has to stop. Throughout lap 50 Sebastian Vettel had his third stop and rejoined the track behind Lewis Hamilton: now the Brit is fourth and virtually he is the World Champion. On lap 60, Sebastian Vettel is close to Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren by now, whereas Kimi Räikkönen is in Fernando Alonso’s slipstream, but the clouds over Interlagos threatened to rain. The Brit could still afford to lose a position, being 20 seconds clear of his first real opponent, Timo Glock, seventh behind Heikki Kovalainen, and he still appeared to be safe. During lap 65 the rain intensified and on the following lap Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel stopped to change their tyres. A lap later Felipe Massa stopped too as he had a good margin he could manage. Still, the track remained dry and those who still had slick tyres, such as Timo Glock, now fourth, could still set competitive lap times. Lewis Hamilton is now under siege by Sebastian Vettel and he cannot afford to be overtaken. On lap 69, at Juncao corner, the Brit ran slightly wide and the German went through. At this time, Felipe Massa is the World Champion and Lewis Hamilton seems destined to lose another title, after the mockery of the 2007 season. Sebastian Vettel will say soon after:
"Bear in mind that I didn’t notice anything. I wanted to finish fourth, I didn’t think I could influence the fight for the title. I overtook Hamilton but anyone could have done it".
In the two final laps, Lewis Hamilton tried chasing down the fifth place he needed to become the World Champion but Sebastian Vettel was comfortably in control. When Timo Glock began the last lap he was 15 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton but the rain has intensified and the track is wet. Felipe Massa was extremely nervous, he crossed the line and passed the first corner. He waved his hand, saying hello to the fans and on the radio he was told:
"You are first, Lewis sixth, you’ve done it for now".
After which they told him:
"Felipe, Lewis is challenging Glock".
In fact, while Felipe Massa was crossing the finish line as the World Champion, with the jubilation of the Brazilian crowd, again at Juncao the Brit overtook Timo Glock, who was extremely slow due to his slick tyres and he became the youngest World Champion in Formula 1 history. Over 20 seconds have passed after the win by Felipe Massa when they tell him from the garage:
"Hamilton passed Glock, he is fifth".
On the other side, Lewis Hamilton asked his team:
"Do I have it?"
Timo Glock tried it, he did not pit with five laps to go like everyone else, but the gamble did not pay off. His last lap was pure agony, setting a 1’44”0 and being overtaken by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on the second to last corner, which in fact is the last because then there is another one leading to the main straight where drivers usually do not even brake. Timo Glock ended up in sixth place, 5.4 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton in an anonymous but heavy position in the fight for the World Championship. With that overtake and with that point, the McLaren driver writes history as the youngest World Champion. Hence, the pictures of the Brazilian Ferrari driver, after he crossed the finish line, become memorable and somewhat grotesque (if not very bitter, at least for Massa’s family), those 38 seconds that elapse from his victory to the arrival of Lewis Hamilton: the Ferrari garage filled with joy, a happiness that moved in a flash to McLaren. Who knows how many times dad Luiz Antonio, mother Ana Elena, sister Fernanda and brother Eduardo, are going to rewatch themselves smothering each other with hugs, the entire Massa family having the most unmotivated celebration in history. And then Felipe Massa crying on the podium. Such a disappointment for Ferrari fans will see many of them accusing Timo Glock of having favoured Lewis Hamilton but an objective comparison of his lap times with those set by other drivers on slick tyres in the same condition as him (e.g. Jarno Trulli) shows that the German had not slowed down his race pace at that moment.
"I am sorry but it was impossible to stay on track. It was raining too hard and getting to the finish line was already a miracle. Letting me pass on purpose? Are you insane?"
In favour of the German driver, there may be a past episode: in Monza, two months earlier, they were calling each other names. How could he have favoured him? Yet, ten years later Timo Glock will say:
"I received some threatening letters, others were sent to my parents' house. They accused me of everything and they were asking me to retire from motorsport. On my social media profiles, I normally have an engagement of 1.500-2.000 daily interactions, but during the week of the Brazilian Grand Prix every year, the number goes over 20.000 interactions and I can assure you that they are not nice comments about me. I can partly understand the reactions from ten years ago. Again I underline partly, given that you could clearly see that I was much faster than Jarno in the same conditions. But after the on-board video of my last lap of the race (in which you can clearly see the difficulties the German driver was having) was released and after ten years went by, well…I understand much less".
Not a fairytale, please. The life of Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton, at the age of 23 years, 10 months and 276 days, was never like that.
"It has nothing to do with luck or fairytales".
Sweat, sacrifices, hard work and most of all, natural talent.
"And I didn’t waste it, I can only thank God".
There are no half-measures for him: win until the last breath. Being overtaken with two laps to go, overtake at the eleventh hour. Not knowing that he won. All of this would be enough to write and praise the story of the new youngest Formula 1 World Champion. Is it enough to understand the social and economic significance of this sports result? If that were not the case, here is a number:
"It will easily go beyond a billion euros".
That is what publicists and marketing experts have predicted. But what about him? Do you want to know what Lewis Hamilton has to say on the topic?
"My skin colour is an advantage because people talk about it. Secondly, I am happy if other black kids see what I am doing and I hope to be an inspiration for them. But the only thing that motivates me is the desire to win in F1. Because I think I can do it".
Everyone wanted him, but now he will be overwhelmed by requests. Already in Interlagos, the British driver did not even have time to go back to his garage.
"I need to breathe, give me some water".
Outside it is pouring with rain. Lewis is taking time to think and he remembers the thrilling finale:
"My heart was about to explode. Vettel overtaking me. And I was telling myself: that’s impossible. Then the finale, on the radio they tell me: pass Glock. And I managed to do it and I told myself that was incredible".
The collective hug is almost suffocating.
"He is only a twenty-year-old guy".
That is what his dad, Anthony, repeats, paraphrasing a famous quote from the movie Notting Hill. The star, behind the scenes, leaves the room for the young man who was raised in Hertfordshire, Stevenage. A small town built in the postwar period, around fifty kilometres from London, meaning a life of commuting ahead of them. The life of Anthony Hamilton would be the same today if it were not for the soaring talent of this child prodigy. That he was precocious is something that he showed in kindergarten already. Today it is heartwarming to watch the footage from his first television appearance on Blue Peter, a BBC programme for kids where Lewis performed by showing his skills in driving - using a remote - an electrical car. He was six years old and he already had to endure his first chagrin in life: the separation of Anthony and Carmen. His father originates from Grenada and his mother is white and British. Little Lewis had stayed with his mum but when he turned ten he moved in with his father, who in the meantime had started a new life with a new partner, Linda, with whom he had another boy, Nicolas, affected by cerebral palsy, the little brother he dotes on. A typical stepfamily that could turn the life of any kid upside down. And that is where Hamilton senior made a true miracle: he maintained family harmony and he managed to pass on the right values to his son, balancing competition and education. And those traits are paying off. But that would not have been enough to celebrate Lewis Hamilton as World Champion. There can be no success without a mentor, a counsellor and a supporter. In this story that is not a fairytale, that person is Ron Dennis. A story that has become a legend sees the little driver meeting the McLaren boss at a gala dinner in 1995:
"Mr. Dennis, will you let me drive in F1 one day?"
Asked Lewis Hamilton.
"Of course, take my number and call me back in nine years".
Lewis was ten years old. But three years later it was Ron Dennis looking for him, as a talent scout. The rest is history: McLaren followed him step by step and supervised his ever-winning career up until his sensational debut in F1 in 2007. In fact, the Anglo-German team had never relied on a rookie. Lewis Hamilton almost won the title, the spy story, the controversies with Fernando Alonso. There can be no half-measures, maybe that is his destiny. And that is how he behaves as well: always kind, and very politically correct in 2007. Then, following the scornful season finale, he changed course. He is always kind but not with everyone. Now some are passing it off as if he became arrogant and problematic. Anyway, it is a price that he will gladly pay to be a winner. On the other hand, there are wounds and pride, tears and joy. The most dreadful disappointment on a day that could have been the masterpiece of his life. Felipe Massa was World Champion for 38.9 seconds, the time elapsed from when he crossed the finish line to Lewis Hamilton taking the chequered flag. The Brazilian rejoiced as he enjoyed the cheers from his crowd, and then he was mortified. And he burst into tears. First in the car and then on the podium.
Felipe Massa, how did you find out that Lewis had passed Timo Glock?
"On the radio, they were doing a countdown of the last metres. I had won, and when I went around the first corner after the finish line and from the garage they told me: you are first and he is sixth. Then, at the second corner: Hamilton is fighting with Glock. I arrived at the third: Hamilton is through. Terrifying. That’s enough, don’t tell me anything else, I don’t want to know anything else".
Is it a Sunday to forget as quickly as possible?
"No, why? It is still a day to remember. This is my life, the highs and the lows, I know how to win and I know how to lose. And I learnt something this time as well. I stand tall as I leave the track, with a clear conscience. I gave it everything, it was impossible to give more. I am proud of what I have done. And like me, my fans, who supported me now more than ever, should be happy. And Ferrari should be happy as well because we brought home the Constructors Championship, an important success. Our President Montezemolo should be happy and our entire team too. We have worked incredibly well, we have been amazing".
Losing by a point, and in this way, is an incredible bummer.
"That’s life and that’s sport, your dreams don’t always come true. If I had won the World Championship, it would have been incredible and for a few seconds I believed in it, but it ended differently and there is nothing I can do about it. God knows what he is doing. I race for Ferrari which is a wonderful car. I will try again next year".
Where did you lose the point you are missing?
"It doesn’t matter, you can pick which race. Over the course of the year, there were highs and lows, on some occasions we had a reliable car and we were great, in others we wasted some big opportunities. It was a strange season, ups and downs, and we paid an extremely high price for some mistakes. But there is no use for regrets. I congratulated Hamilton: he managed to get one point more than us and that means he was better and he deserves the title. Though I still think that our car was faster as in fact, we won more races".
What will you say to Glock?
"Nothing. I am a driver, and I know what it means to drive in the wet with slicks. It’s hard to find the right braking point and to stay on the racing line. If he managed to hold on, I would have been happier but it’s not his fault".
What about those tears on the podium?
"It was a day filled with strong emotions, it was a tangle of sensations and I couldn’t keep a straight face. I consider this Sunday as a symbol of my life, joy and despair, success and defeat. I know I have to react and I will do it again this time. It’s clear that anyone would swap one of my six wins this year for a point because winning a championship is what matters the most in the career of a driver. But this is not my last chance, I still have some left and the next is going to be the right one".
Many have criticized you. What message would you like to send to your critics?
"None. I don’t know if they have changed their minds, but I will keep going my own way. I will never stop thanking Ferrari who had faith in me. I will not let them down. Sooner or later my time will come".
It is incredible. Fighting for a World Championship a few corners before the finish line. At times you have to make a huge technical and economic effort to try and obtain small improvements but then it does not take much to turn it all upside down. Anyway, apart from the disappointment of Felipe Massa, who would have fully deserved to win this title too, one has to come to terms with the reality that the Brazilian and Ferrari paid for their many mistakes and wasted chances in the season finale. Wrong tyres, engine failures and then the fuel pump that remained attached to Felipe Massa’s car. Too many things done wrong that they had to pay for in the end. Indeed, as they say, hope springs eternal but that is the problem: it came down to hoping in things that were statistically possible but not practically feasible. For Ferrari, the only solace left is that they managed to win the Constructors World Championship and that is already something, considering that it is the eighth title in ten years. That title generally reflects the qualities of a car throughout the whole championship. And they are not mistaken in saying that Ferrari has been the best car over the whole year. But of course, what a shame for those mistakes, those engine failures and those mistakes on picking what tyres to use. Honestly, too many mistakes that are often too obvious and unbelievable. Too bad because it was poor Felipe Massa who lost out, although he was very good throughout the year. Besides, after that victory last year by Kimi Raikkonen right at the last race and after what had happened between Ferrari and McLaren, we should have figured that due to the famous unwritten rule of compensation, this year Lewis Hamilton would have won, still very young, incredibly talented, a bit too impulsive maybe, but all in all he has what it takes to make us forget Michael Schumacher’s exploits in the coming years.
At Ferrari, this year’s exploits will suggest improving many organisational aspects of the team, although it would not hurt if former CEO Jean Todt also decided to take a look at racing, since frankly, and for what he costs, he seems wasted as director of the Asian market of Ferrari. In China, they are selling more and more Ferraris not because Jean Todt is behind the sales counter, but rather because in that country the number of people who are loaded with money and have a great desire to show it is constantly growing. As for Kimi Raikkonen, this year he has been a disappointment. And, in any case, the occasion to bring Fernando Alonso to Maranello is eagerly anticipated as he is the only one who had the temperament of Michael Schumacher then and the only one today with the temperament of Lewis Hamilton. Remember that hiring Schumacher came at great cost because, it was said, he had managed to make a Benetton, considered inferior to Ferrari, win. The same goes for Fernando Alonso. Another Constructors title, the eighth in the last ten years, but also a World Drivers Championship lost at the last corner. Joy, anger, pride and disappointment, that is the atmosphere at Ferrari the day after. President Montezemolo, how do you feel?
"I have been better. Until thirty-eight seconds after Massa had finished the race, it seemed we were living an extraordinary moment, that another miracle had happened but it’s fine all the same".
Do you feel more pride for having won the Constructors World Championship or more disappointment for having lost the Drivers title?
"If I’m being honest, I feel pride above all else. You cannot pull off miracles at the last race every year, Massa has been incredible and Hamilton deserves the praise for his victory. This doesn’t change the fact that Ferrari achieved a great feat, we reached the eight out of ten that we wanted, and we are the best team once again, the World Champion-winning team, a title that we will keep showing inside our Gran Turismo cars. We have been fighting at the top for ten years, opponents come and go but Ferrari is always there. We won the title with a 21-point advantage, and we are second and third in the Drivers World Championship, if you take stock of this season, the overall balance has to be positive. I am especially happy for Domenicali who managed to manage a new team and he won in his first year already".
Can Domenicali be a symbol of transformation?
"We were able to revolutionise the team while keeping a winning mindset. In two years, without Schumacher, we have won three out of four championships, two Constructors and one Drivers. There was no power vacuum and we had to cope with the absence of Todt and Brawn. All in all, we have to give great credit to Todt himself who managed to create a very solid group, with guys who grew up in the team and who became extremely skilled".
One of the products of the academy is Massa.
"In the last race, he was extraordinary. We already knew we had a champion on our hands and in Brazil, we had the final confirmation. Now no one will have the courage to doubt him anymore. I wanted Ferrari to come out on top at the end of this Grand Prix, I had asked for both cars to stay ahead of McLaren and we managed to do that. We knew that everything else was out of our hands but Ferrari could not have done more than this. Massa was wonderful, he didn’t make any mistakes, despite the slippery track at the start. We promised that we were going to fight until the last corner that is what happened. We did not lose the Drivers Championship in Brazil but in other races, when due to reliability and to some mistakes we wasted a lot of opportunities".
What are your regrets?
"When you lose by a point there will always be some. We have to improve in terms of reliability, that’s for sure, and next year we have to avoid mistakes like in Singapore or be caught unprepared with the rain like in Silverstone. Without Massa’s engine failure in Budapest, now we would be here celebrating two titles but we still are world champions and I am happy to see that after seventeen years under my management, we are still the best".
What would you like to do with Alonso?
"I don’t want to disrespect Alonso or anyone else but we already have our driver lineup, we have confirmed it and it will remain unchanged next year. There are no other stories and I hope we won’t have to talk about it again. We have confirmed our test drivers as well, Badoer and Gené. Never change a winning team as they say and we won".
Though Raikkonen was disappointing in 2008.
"He had a great first part of the season, where he got less than he deserved, I am thinking about the broken exhaust pipe in Magny Cours or Hamilton who rear-ended him in Canada, and then he got a bit lost. In the second part of the championship, he didn’t drive as a world champion but he redeemed himself in the final part of the season, in China and Brazil. We know he is not just another driver. And next season he will show his true self once again".
What did you say to Massa?
"I congratulated him on his race but especially for how he handled what came afterwards. It has never happened that a driver learns 38 seconds after crossing the finish line that he is not champion…".
You always love to say: next year we will do better…
"We have the chance to and we will try our best to do it. We aim to take the Championship from Hamilton’s hands. But it isn’t easy. Did you know that in the last ten years, we scored more points than McLaren and Renault combined? We have always had a leading role, always in the first row. And that is why I am proud. Although with one less corner, it would have been even more amazing".
There goes Ferrari. At least for 2009. The Maranello team had always affirmed that the drivers were going to be Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen but on Wednesday, November 5, 2009, the indirect confirmation came from Fernando Alonso who will be tied to Renault until 2010. But there is a clause in his contract: at the end of next season the contract will be rediscussed. If Ferrari calls, the Spaniard can be released. The French team confirms Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr. too. Someone who has no intention of changing teams is latest World Champion Lewis Hamilton who on Wednesday was celebrated by over 1000 people at the McLaren headquarters. During the ceremony, a message from Queen Elizabeth is read too. The driver is glowing and he says:
"I will stay here forever. It is the team I have always dreamt of driving for. Winning seven World Championships like Schumacher? Three would be enough, like Senna. McLaren will be the only team of my career".
Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone speaks up once again about the exciting ending to the Brazilian Grand Prix.
"I think that the credibility of an agreement between the German Glock driving for Toyota and McLaren is close to zero but in F1 never say never. There are no certainties".
At last, the decision by the FIA that from 2009 onwards the engine will have to last three races becomes official. Speaking of the future, that of Michael Schumacher could be once again at Ferrari. Not behind the steering wheel, but rather as the manager of the racing team. In fact, on Saturday, November 8, 2008, the German revealed that he received an offer to replace Jean Todt as manager of Ferrari’s Racing Division. Apparently, the proposal had already been made in 2006, when he retired from the sport. But the German champion, who is still working part-time for Ferrari as a consultant and test driver, refused.
"I had the possibility to replace Todt. I knew how much passion and dedication he put into his job, the same way I did with mine. But the difference is that he was always in Maranello, during the weekends, staying late at night. So I asked myself: do I need a life like that? And I answered no, simply no".
It was not made public that Ferrari had made such an offer to their driver. Michael Schumacher talks about it only now, two years after he retired from racing and two months before his fortieth birthday, and it looked like he was saying something that was already well-known or that was unimportant, in the context of a conversation about his future intentions. At an age where a man usually finds himself halfway through his career, perhaps starting to take on more important roles to prove his worth, Michael Schumacher has already proven all that he could prove. What now?
"I want to feel free to see what the next thing I want to do with my life will be. I am lucky enough to be able to choose. I have a wonderful family and house".
No economic difficulties: from 2002 onwards, Ferrari paid him 30,000,000 dollars a year and he earned just as much sponsoring Shell fuels and Omega watches. Now he just needs a job to keep him busy for the next twenty or thirty years. Certainly, he is not lazing around. He is involved in a number of projects with the FIA, one of which is for road safety. Together with Pelé, he is a UNESCO ambassador, on behalf of which he spreads the message of sport as a value of health and peace. His company is still selling hats and t-shirts with his name. Recently he gave his name to a project to build seven ultramodern skyscrapers in seven cities around the world: the first will be in Abu Dhabi. Moreover, he is a test driver and consultant for Ferrari. And he is racing with motorbikes, in the German Superbike championship. But he is looking for something else:
"I am sure that something interesting will come up. I need a passion, otherwise, I would find myself spending all the time in the office".
In the meantime, on Sunday, November 9, 2008, at the Mugello circuit, in front of President Luca Montezemolo and the two drivers, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, the usual Ferrari celebration at the end of the year: they will drink to the eighth Constructors title won in the last ten years. In these circumstances, seven days after the Brazilian Grand Prix, Luca Montezemolo admits:
"When Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line, I broke my television".
Well, there are different ways to lose a Drivers World Championship and watching it slip away 850 metres before the finish line of the last race really hurts. The Ferrari President confesses:
"When a television breaks, it makes a very loud noise and my daughter who was in another room got scared".
But then, due to a second television in another room:
"I saw the podium ceremony and how good Massa was to react to such a twist of fate, losing a championship at the last corner".
Once the President got over it, he understood that at the end of the day, Ferrari won again and they brought home the sixteenth Constructors World Championship, the eighth in the last ten years. Something that Ferrari fans seem to have understood, judging by the welcome given to the two drivers and all the men working for the team at Mugello, during the traditional end-of-the-year party. Felipe Massa, defeated by Lewis Hamilton by only a point, is acclaimed as a hero, to the point of tearing up in front of the thunderous applause of the crowd, teary-eyed like the night before at the official dinner. Montezemolo is clear on the topic:
"Felipe is a World Champion for us".
And the Brazilian replies:
"All of this affection makes me feel strong emotions, the same I felt in Sao Paolo during the last race. They are a further encouragement for the future. This has been another incredible season, the next needs to be even better. Because I am not giving up, I want to win the World Championship".
The same ambition is present in the heart of Kimi Raikkonen, who was disappointing in 2008 and therefore made fun of by Montezemolo. Called out by the president during the press conference:
"Was it really you, the real Kimi, or a lookalike who was racing in Ferrari in the last few Grand Prix? I think you were a bit tired and you had a friend stand in for you. Let’s not joke about Raikkonen. He contributed to winning two Constructors World Championships and his points were fundamental. With all due respect to Hamilton (same thing he said a couple of days before to Alonso, ed.), I am happy with my drivers, the best line-up ever".
But the Ferrari President is not cracking jokes, rather he wants to be extremely clear when it comes to the matter of the engines. By having already completely refused standard engines, Montezemolo clarifies that his company, after threatening to retire from racing, is ready to fully take back F1:
"By extending the life of engines to three races, we have reduced costs. And already starting from 2009 we will be selling engines yearly for 10.000.000 euros, thereby allowing independent teams to halve their costs. But that is not over: as a teams association we have unanimously decided that by 2011 a yearly supply will be 5.000.000 euros, with a 75% saving".
And with these conditions, FIA president Max Mosley will have to surrender his desire for a revolution.
"After all, it is unthinkable for a big manufacturer to put their brand name on a car with an engine made by others".
And brands, like acronyms, are not always details. The new Ferrari road car, presented at Mugello, other than the Scuderia Spider, is called 16M. A reference that is a source of pride for Maranello: sixteen Constructors World Championships, no team has ever won that many. But now all teams are getting back to work to be ready for the 2009 season. All but one. Fifty billion yen, more than 400.000.000 euros. That is what a year of Formula 1 cost Honda and what the Japanese manufacturer will save after on Friday, December 5, 2008, they will desist and give up. Honda (only one win with Button in 2006 in Budapest) is leaving. They are retiring from F1 effective immediately. There will be no 2009, as the manager Takeo Fukui announces:
"This difficult decision came as a result of the rapid decline of the auto industry on a global scale that was first hit by the subprime mortgage crisis and then by financial instabilities. From now on, our place in the Championship is for sale, as the entire team taking part in it".
Only the Japanese Grand Prix is spared from the great crisis and it will be back in Suzuka, the track owned by the Japanese manufacturer.
"The race will go ahead".
Top managers at Honda guarantee.
"A return to Formula 1, if ever, will take a long time. And certainly we have no intention to supply engines anymore. Not for us, neither for other teams".
A full-on getaway that releases two drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello (the latter was already thinking about retirement) and denies the dream of Bruno Senna, the nephew of Ayrton Senna, who aimed to make his triumphant debut in Formula 1 with Honda, as well as making top-managers like Ross Brawn, team principal, and Nick Fry, managing director of Honda Racing Team, disappear. The catchphrase of the Japanese company was:
"The power of dreams".
Now it becomes the power of the crisis, although Ecclestone, the man who manages the World Championship denies that the sport is in trouble.
"With the new regulations, there will be a saving of about 60.000.000 euros a year, Formula 1 won’t have to stop and we are doing our best to reduce costs. It still is a big business that is being watched by 600.000.000 people worldwide. As for Honda, I am sorry for their retirement but there are already many groups interested in buying their place in the World Championship. I don’t think there will be any problems to replace them. We are trying to make engineers aware that they have to think about costs first. It is ridiculous to think that for Honda to have two cars on the starting grid they have to employ 700 people".
Nick Fry explains:
"We have considerably reduced the budget, cutting development and testing. We are hoping that this move helps us, we already received three offers from potential buyers".
British driver Jenson Button clings to this desperate move. Then he made sure to meet all of the team employees at the Brackley headquarters:
"We must stick together so as not to discourage the investors".
He earns a yearly salary of 23.000.000 euros despite only scoring three points in the last season.
"The news of the retirement was a shock but crying now is of no use".
Meanwhile, team bosses Ross Brawn and Nick Fry are speeding up the procedures to leave Honda and they are optimistic about the possibility of quickly finding a buyer, also because the Japanese company has a clear mandate: selling fast, at whatever cost, even at an extremely low price. Hence, selling out. At that point, the two have a few weeks of time left.
Although it seems that there may be three possible buyers who have shown their interest. That is what Takeo Fukui, president of the group, reiterates along with the fact that their retirement from racing was not due to the disappointing results on track but simply from a sales collapse driven by the global economic crisis, especially during the month of November:
"We are ready to accept even a small offer to allow the team to keep existing".
Part of their way out was the contract resolution of the first driver Jenson Button. Ross Brawn explains:
"We will keep the dialogue open. We would love to keep him with us but at the same time we know how detrimental it can be for a driver to lose a season of the World Championship".
There is also the possibility of a return when the World Championship has already begun, after four races. It is allowed by the regulations but nobody at Honda believes this hypothesis. Rather, Montezemolo, president other than Ferrari, of FOTA as well, the newborn teams association, hopes that Honda’s assets will not be dissipated. Then, he adds that FOTA has given a great impulse toward cost reduction, especially to help smaller teams in trouble. It is an effort that could prove to be decisive for the survival of the sport. The common objective has been reached, which is a drastic cost reduction. Formula 1 will undertake a strict diet as it will be the only way to survive the recession and avoid other retirements after Honda, and starting right away, already in 2009 with the measures proposed by the FOTA: a package to cut back costs that will be ratified on Friday, December 12, 2008, by the FIA World Motor Sport Council, when even the smallest details will be made public of a plan that as of now is still deliberately secret. United under the common front of saving there was a meeting between the two opposing blocs, the Federation and teams, but the long meeting that took place on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, in Monte-Carlo had a clear winner, the FOTA, the Teams Association chaired by Montezemolo because Mosley, head of the FIA had to take a step back and give up the idea of the standard engine. Success was made possible, explains Montezemolo:
"Thanks to the teams’ compactness".
BMW, Toyota and Mercedes were the strongholds of the front, and on Wednesday morning they were satisfied as they found out that Renault was backing them as well as the other four independent teams, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing, Force India and Williams. There was safety in the numbers and that allowed, another enthusiastic comment by Montezemolo:
"Formula 1 not to lose its DNA".
That is to say, remaining a technological and sports competition, based on research, and with the engine as a determining factor for competition. Big manufacturers would have never endorsed the idea of a standard engine; Mosley understood it, thus conveying his satisfaction at the end of the meeting for the great success achieved and settled for the package of savings proposal presented by the FOTA (in 2009 engines will have to last four races, races will be shorter, the kilometres of testing will be drastically reduced, independent teams will have a supply of 25 engines at the fixed price of 10.000.000 euros), with the promise of a further cost reduction for engines in 2010 (the way this will be achieved is secret and it will be revealed by the FIA World Motor Sport Council) and especially the adoption of a low-cost engine from 2011, single type, parameters (saving-oriented) to follow, but allowing every team to design, build and develop their own. This can be considered a revolution on its own if you will, although it does not call Cosworth into question, which had already won the call for tender by Max Mosley which had set the date of Thursday, December 11, 2008, as the deadline to apply for the standard engine.
The new engine will be a turbo, 1800 cc, smaller, with reduced fuel consumption, and eco-friendly. It will cost less for the teams and they have committed to provide it to non-constructor teams for 5.000.000 euros a year, 75% less than in 2008. Where someone from FOTA, notably Ferrari and McLaren, did not win is on the Kers, the kinetic energy recovery system. They would have liked to postpone its introduction, but instead, it will be allowed (albeit optionally) as early as 2009. Before becoming (a FOTA proposal) the same for everyone in 2011. If you ask Max Mosley what Kers is, the answer will be:
"A system to recover energy, an ecological solution to make Formula 1 more spectacular and engaging".
But if you ask the same question to the Maranello team, the answer will be:
In the great divide separating the two versions of the Kers concept - a device that will allow drivers to increase the speed of their cars for seven seconds, hence a super accelerator for overtakes - you can see the current state of Formula 1, divided between a Federation that contradicts itself with every official act they publish and teams, which are caught in the grips of the crisis, and are trying their best to survive, and in the case of the top teams, to do it while still being competitive. Obviously, the latter is exactly the case of Ferrari. The team from Maranello is in the middle of a fierce race against the clock. As Aldo Costa, technical director, explains:
"As soon as the regulations came out we did a first evaluation and we decided to accept the challenge of KERS. We want to arrive in Australia with an effective device. And we are working on that".
Exhausting work that is carried out with ill-concealed annoyance. For two reasons. One is political, the other is technical. Montezemolo explains the political side: Kers is extremely expensive and it clearly contradicts the austerity policy followed in the last months. From a technical perspective, the reasons are more complex. The Kers is a bulky and especially very heavy device. It weighs around 35 kilos. All considerations on its reliability and usefulness aside, it is inevitable that such a device will have negative consequences on the car, overcomplicating its aerodynamic set-up and weight distribution. Aldo Costa observes:
"With the first simulations in the wind tunnel, it seemed as if we had gone back ten years".
Engineers, the likes of Gilles Simon, head of engines and electronics at Ferrari and Nikolas Tombazis, designer, could find the challenge of making up for these ten years in a few months interesting. If it were not for the regulations which constrain their ability to do all tests on track which would be necessary: from now on until the start of the season they will only be allowed to test twenty days before the start of the World Championship. And that will be all. Of course, there are simulators and test benches but the track is something else entirely. And without it, the work of the engineers becomes an approximation that is deemed to be too dangerous. Aldo Costa reiterates:
"I have been working in Formula 1 for twenty years and this without a doubt the biggest revolution I have had to face. And without testing on track too. Still, the objective is clear and we will achieve it: arrive in Australia with a functioning and effective Kers device".
A certainty that cannot be absolute, though: simultaneously, Ferrari is wisely working on a plan B. A car without Kers to be used in case, coming up to the first Grand Prix, the new technology is not going to provide enough guarantees. To this argument can be added the fact that shortly before, Ferrari president, Luca Montezemolo, did not mince his words, when he said:
"Not enough money is given to the teams which are the main protagonists, we went from 27% to 50% of earnings for the sale of TV rights but that is still not enough, our revenues have to increase".
These are words destined to start another controversy, after the tough fight with the FIA regarding the new regulations and how to manage the cost reduction. Just as direct, as well as immediate, was the reply from Bernie Ecclestone, the recipient of the message:
"I understand what Montezemolo is saying, he just forgot to mention that Ferrari earns 80 million dollars more than others by virtue of an agreement signed in 2003. They have always had special treatment but often they don’t remember that".
A cutting remark to prove how Ecclestone has no intention to step aside and accept a drastic reduction in his revenues. It is true that Luca Montezemolo, in this case, spoke as FOTA president, the association uniting all teams, but the attack of the British boss seems to be directed at Ferrari’s number one:
"A team of which we bought the loyalty a few years back. At the time there was a specific threat, some teams wanted to set up an alternative World Championship, and Ferrari among the big teams was the only team to refuse, therefore we decided to compensate them. The 80.000.000 dollars are a result of that. They were the first to sign a new commercial agreement and by virtue of this, they gained extra money and received preferential treatment. In detail: if McLaren were to win the Constructors title (already heavily compromised by the 100.000.000 fine for their role in the 2007 spy story, ed.), they would have earned 80.000.000 less".
The impression is that Bernie Ecclestone was offended, just like years ago, when Luca Montezemolo called him greedy. The President of Ferrari, anyway, decides not to reply. But only to underline that the topic of revenues is in line with current events at this particular moment for Formula 1. And clarifying the loyalty bonus is not a result of that agreement (made to tear down GPWD, the association which would have had to make a parallel World Championship to the one of Ecclestone) but of the fact that Ferrari has a historical role, being the only team to have competed in every World Championship in Formula 1 history. A privileged position that other teams have not always accepted. That does not take away from the fact that Bernie’s attack was heavy. A new fierce battle has just begun. With money that is still at center stage. And teams (with a renewed compactness) ready to fight tooth and nail.