#783 2007 Japanese Grand Prix

2023-01-09 08:38

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#2007, Fulvio Conti,

#783 2007 Japanese Grand Prix

Secrets hold little water in F1: that of Saturday 22 September 2007 is a proof of how everything in the (theoretically) armoured world of top-level mo


Secrets hold little water in F1: that of Saturday 22 September 2007 is a proof of how everything in the (theoretically) armoured world of top-level motorsport ends up first on the pages of the newspapers and then on the tables of the race judges. In fact, the complete and highly secret FIA report on the McLaren-Ferrari case has just gone online. A report, however, about which everything was already known. McLaren's withdrawal from the appeal was also predictable. The British team is evidently afraid of more serious penalties. It has already lost the Constructors' World Championship, it cannot run the risk of also losing the Drivers' Championship, where Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are still in the running. Jean Todt will be unhappy, he hoped.

"McLaren Racing has notified the FIA of its intention not to appeal the World Council verdict, as announced on 13 September 2007. Having had time to study the World Council's ruling with its lawyers and shareholders, McLaren believes it is in the best interests of the sport, and in its desire to win races and the World Championship, not to appeal".

The Woking team goes on to state that it is clear from the complete record of the ruling that the World Council's conclusion was that the possession of illegal documents and confidential information by a McLaren employee was proven. 


"Although there is no evidence that this information was used, tested or shared with team engineers, the possession of this material constitutes a violation of the regulations. To our great regret and embarrassment, the content of the emails, the existence of which was previously unknown, proved that the possession of this material was not limited to a single person, although not authorised in any way by the team. For the violation of Article 151c, a very heavy sanction was imposed on the team".


Ron Dennis, the lead team, concludes the note by recalling:


"The time has come to put this big distraction behind us. McLaren wants to win races and the World Championship. We are fortunate to have, and continue to receive, the unconditional support of our employees, sponsors and Formula One fans around the world, all of whom agree that our goal is to win the Drivers' World Championship and the remaining three races of the season".

The full spy story reports. Due to an error by Federation officials, an unprotected copy was sent online. All it took was for fans to do a trivial copy-paste operation to release the full version of the report. The intention was to allow Ferrari and McLaren to keep certain technical or financial information confidential: instead, it was all in vain and it was of little use for the FIA itself to rush to the shelters and publish a version that no longer allows the omissions requested by the two parties to be read. Without the censorship one can discover the annual income of Mike Coughlan, Nigel Stepney's McLaren source: 400.000 British pounds which, at the exchange rate in euros, makes 570.000 euros. No other personal curiosities or particular statements, only technical aspects concerning weight distribution or the differences between the two teams in the braking system. Happy engineers, less so gossip lovers. In the meantime, Nigel Stepney lets it be known that he will tell his truth in a book that should be ready by spring. The title is already known: Red Mist. In the opinion of co-author Lorie Coffey:

"Stepney is not writing for economic reasons but because he feels the need to defend himself to the public".


Be that as it may, attention now shifts to the double Jap-Chinese round, scheduled for Sunday 30 September and Sunday 7 October 2007, two Grands Prix that could also decide the destinies of the four drivers in the race. From Maranello they collect the prize and make it known that the conquered title will not produce any distractions, nor will it change the objectives: 


"Ferrari will now put maximum effort into the last three races of this championship to try to win the Drivers' World Championship as well".

Like Ayrton Senna. The Brazilian used to study new circuits on Thursdays, walking around them, studying the curves with the soles of his shoes, before putting the wheels of his single-seater through them. On Fridays he did the rest, several laps in the car, during free practice, to learn the last secrets and then off he went, in the hunt for pole position and victory in the race. Kimi Raikkonen at Fuji, a track that returns to the world's limelight after thirty years, of which we remember the famous October 1976, when Niki Lauda, frightened by the rain and still with open wounds from the accident at the Nurburgring, refused to race, leaving the world title to James Hunt, will try to imitate him. No simulator, reminiscent of the Playstation, these are children's games:


"I'm banking everything on the walking reconnaissance and the three hours of free practice on Friday. That will be enough to understand everything and aim for success".


A goal that the Finn absolutely cannot fail. The triumph in Belgium has given him hope again, but the classification leaves him no alternative. In the season finale he must always impose himself and hope that the two rivals in McLaren do not win many points. 

"I have nothing to lose, they are the ones who can do no wrong. Hamilton and Alonso feel the triumph in their hands, this confidence could betray them".


It is difficult to hope for Felipe Massa, who is 20 points behind Lewis Hamilton, but on the Finn it may be worth betting a few euros. Fuji, an easy track with an interminable straight (1471 metres, the longest in the World Championship) and a set of slow corners, is the crossroads of this bet. Because then come two circuits, Shanghai and Sao Paolo, suitable for Ferrari, but this Japanese race seems tailor-made for McLaren. It is no coincidence that Fernando Alonso is excited: 


"The hardest thing will be to find the right compromise between the speed to be held on the straights and the slow corners. If we find it, there should be no history". 


Lewis Hamilton is also optimistic, happy at the idea of a race with lots of overtaking, 


"Because with that straight they are possible". 

But Felipe Massa is also belligerent, who on Tuesday 25 September 2007 worked on the simulator, while he has no intention of ending up at Toyota (Ferrari denies any negotiations) to make way for Fernando Alonso. The Brazilian knows that for the first time this year, the team (after a season with the drivers on an equal footing) might favour his team-mate, but he still meditates a surprise hit. As for Raikkonen, few words, but clear. 


"We can do it". 


Studying on foot and flying by car.


"My chances of winning the World Championship are minimal. I am well at Ferrari, I have always worked great with the team, it matters little whether it is me or my team-mate who triumphs, the important thing is that it is the team that imposes itself. So there are no problems, I'm ready to help Raikkonen, who has a better chance, who is better placed in the standings". 

Felipe Massa is a smart guy. He has understood himself and is the first to anticipate what has been in the air for days. From this Grand Prix, the third to last, the Maranello team is going back to the old-fashioned way: no more equal drivers, an unscrupulous philosophy but in this case self-defeating because only one can still hope for the final victory, the Finn. Felipe Massa is therefore ready to make himself available. The offer of help is official:


"Maybe next year he will be the one to give me a hand".


And it comes on the day when the Brazilian reiterates his no to Toyota:

"Never been to their premises to negotiate a possible engagement".


And his desire to end his career with Ferrari. 

"I feel great with this car, I have a contract for one more year, why should I open negotiations with other teams? I was hoping to win the World Championship, I was unlucky in five races, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Hungary and Italy, the feat became impossible, but I intend to try again next season. I know I have a very good car, I will not always be betrayed by reliability or bad luck. When you throw away so many points on the road, it would take a miracle to win the title. I regret having to give up not because of my mistakes, but my adventure at Maranello is not over. When you drive Ferrari, you always have to think big. I do not fear anyone and I am convinced that next year I will know how to play my chances".

The wish train will pass again. For this season, however, you have to get on the one that is there, and it is a Kimi Raikkonen-branded convoy, with a clear strategy: to help the Finn and hope that with a win he can shorten the distance from the two McLaren drivers, increasing their fears. For the moment, the two seem to have none. Lewis Hamilton, the leader in the standings, appears very confident and returns to express himself with dreamlike images. 

"The day of the dream is approaching, I never imagined I could win the World Championship as a rookie, I feel the goal is near. Here it would be enough for me to finish on the podium. I have nothing to lose. The world champion is Alonso, he is the one who can do no wrong". 

To tell the truth, the Spaniard seems encircled rather than tense. He doesn't talk to Hamilton, he doesn't dialogue with Dennis, he's at loggerheads with the whole team: 


"Here we are favourites and I want to give the decisive slap in the face. Even last year I arrived in Japan on equal points with Schumacher, won the race and set the stage for a second world championship. My relationship with McLaren doesn't matter, all that matters is winning". 


Then there will be time to prepare for a possible breakaway. In the pits, on the Fuji circuit, on the one hand there is harmony, with Felipe Massa promising to help Kimi Raikkonen, on the other a tension that is cut to ribbons, with Lewis Hamilton wasting no opportunity to shoot his partner down and with Fernando Alonso afraid of mocking traps from his own team. In Ferrari everything is joy and hope, in McLaren poison and low blows. The paradox is that on the track, at least judging by the first taste of Fuji, a circuit that with Friday's three hours of free practice is back in the World Championship after thirty years, the parties are reversed. It is the McLarens that are flying, with Lewis Hamilton leading everyone in the afternoon, 0.2 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso, but above all almost 0.8 seconds ahead of Felipe Massa and just under a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who is also ahead of Jarno Trulli in his Toyota. Hamilton is very fast and thus reinforces his very personal thesis: 


"I love the team, I've been honest and loyal to them, it's fair for McLaren to help me for the World Championship, I deserve it more than Alonso, because I've earned more respect, even if he can't understand that".


The Englishman blinks, while the Ferraris trudge on; Kimi Raikkonen in the afternoon gets his set-up wrong, is forced to retrace his steps and so loses almost the entire session, Felipe Massa blames the heavy gap on the different amount of fuel, but in the meantime he is behind. Ferrari, which in the first hour and a half had deluded itself by placing Kimi Raikkonen at the head of the timesheet and Felipe Massa just behind, runs the danger of turning this last chance into despair. He feared he would have to race defensively, but he knows he cannot afford to (a McLaren one-two would end the Maranello team's two drivers' rainbow dreams) and before the race, in a frantic race against time, he will try to erase the disadvantage. Ron Dennis' anxieties, however, will focus on the tattered relations between his two drivers. Lewis Hamilton definitely breaks the tie: 

"Alonso as a man disappointed me, I was wrong to judge him, I thought he was different. Sometimes you think a person is one way and instead it's the exact opposite. I don't trust him any more, but it is right that I am rewarded. I never asked for special treatment, to be considered number one, even though I have been leading the ranking for months. It's since the Monte-Carlo race that we have two practically identical cars, the same chance of winning, the same strategy, often even the same fuel. He has always behaved in a strange way: even at Spa he was laughing, joking, as if nothing had happened, not realising that the team had lost the constructors' title and been fined $100.000.000. I like to win clean. I will beat him and it will be a huge satisfaction".


A frontal attack to which the Spaniard refuses to retaliate. 


"He always talks bad about me, 90 per cent of the things he says are not true, but I can't waste all my time responding. Inside the team things could be better, but they are enough to win the World Championship. It is clear that such a situation cannot be endured forever. Now is good, next year is not". 


What bothered him most was not the equal treatment, but the strategies. Why have the same petrol as Hamilton? In his own way he would have done better and won more, taking away his teammate's triumphs in Montreal and Indianapolis. Just as he would have been happy (he asked for it in Budapest, in order to settle in Bmw) to be released from his contract for free and not, as now, upon payment of a heavy penalty, to end up in Renault or Toyota. Now, however, he has only one revenge on his mind: to take the World Championship away from Hamilton. Who is ready to sign for McLaren until 2012. At 16.000.000 euros per year. Saturday, September 29, 2007, although the weather had dried out by the time qualifying began, the track was still wet and all the drivers went out on wet tyres. 


Qualifying one saw the two Spykers of Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto and the two Super Aguris of Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato eliminated, along with Alexander Wurz in the Williams and Rubens Barrichello in the Honda. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota also collided with Yamamoto, forcing both drivers out of qualifying. Schumacher was already through to Q2, but could not set a time in the second session and so qualified 16th. Qualifying two saw the elimination of the two Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen, David Coulthard's Red Bull, Vitantonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso and the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli as well as Schumacher. Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso and Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber occupied row 5, just behind Jenson Button, getting his best qualifying of the season in the Honda, and Mark Webber's Red Bull. Nico Rosberg qualified 6th in the Williams, but was penalised ten places for an engine change. This meant that Vettel qualified eighth, the then best qualifying ever for Toro Rosso. Nick Heidfeld qualified 5th for BMW Sauber, and the top four was once again the two McLarens and two Ferraris. The Ferraris failed to get on the front row, with Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa 3rd and 4th respectively. Lewis Hamilton then pipped his more experienced McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso to earn the fifth pole position of his career. Pole position for Lewis Hamilton in the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, held at the Fuji circuit. The British driver, at his debut in Formula 1 and more and more a real surprise of the season, with his McLaren-Mercedes was the fastest in qualifying, stopping the clock at 1'25"368. He overtook his team-mate Fernando Alonso in the very last seconds: the Spaniard, defending champion, will therefore start from second position. On the other hand, the second row of the grid is all red: the third fastest time was set by Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen, who will have his team-mate, Brazilian Felipe Massa, next to him. It will be the first time in thirty years that the Japanese race, the fifteenth out of seventeen on the programme, will be run at Fuji. In the standings Lewis Hamilton has a two-point lead over Fernando Alonso. Qualifying undermined by bad weather and fog, which had first caused the indefinite postponement and then the definitive cancellation of the last free practice session. Fourteen years at Ferrari. Never has anyone won as much as him. Twelve World Championships, seven Constructors, five Drivers with Michael Schumacher. Yet often Jean Todt, 61 years old and wearing red since 1993, ends up in the crosshairs of critics. Perhaps the accusations are not aimed at him, but as he feels at one with Ferrari, he nonetheless feels surrounded. The Fuji fog (it caused a free practice session to be skipped), paradoxically, becomes a wonderful opportunity to shed light on the myriad of rumours surrounding Ferrari. Does Jean Todt know what Bernie Ecclestone claims? 



That a little bird told him: Alonso stays put for a year, then goes to Ferrari. But that's not possible, because Todt is at Maranello. 


"False and gratuitous indiscretion: as long as I am there, never will Alonso come to Ferrari. It is not true. That would be unfair to Ferrari. If I was sure that my team wanted him, I would say yes. My main interest is Ferrari".

She will not deny that she has always spoken ill of it. 


"Premise: Alonso has a contract for another two years, he cannot come. The contract is a sacred thing, you respect it, it applies to everyone, not just the drivers. Ours in 2008 will be Raikkonen and Massa. As I demand that they respect our contracts, I have to do the same with the others".

The fact remains that she does not esteem him as a man. 


"I don't deny it, he didn't behave well with me in 2000, it was unfair and I felt bad about it. He could have come to us, we fixed an appointment, he didn't show up and chose another destination (first Minardi and then Renault with Briatore). But in the meantime he has won two World Championships, he is fighting for the third, he has improved a lot in his approach to people. He is very strong in the head and focused. A different man. And as a driver I have great respect for him". 




"Never say never, as Montezemolo, my president, also says". 


By the way: another rumour, his relations with Montezemolo have become tense and difficult. 


"I have a fantastic relationship with him. There was before and there is now. Had there been any cloud between him and me, I wouldn't have stayed at Ferrari for more than fourteen years. We are both part of the wonderful history of Ferrari, we have played an important role in the incredible cycle we have had". 


Now, however, she wants to retire. Or rather: she wanted to retire at Christmas, then in August she said she didn't want to give up, that she still had plenty of motivation. Why did she change her mind? 


"My young partner gives me great motivation. Joking aside, there has also been a lot of confusion here. On 27 October a year ago I changed role, I became managing director. I had to take care of the track on an interim basis, I didn't feel like working fourteen hours on a circuit for 200 days a year any more. But then Schumacher retired, Brawn asked to be left free, there was a need to create a new organisational structure, which we did. Like all new things it takes time to refine certain mechanisms. There was still a need for my presence on the track, Montezemolo asked me, I gladly accepted". 


What now? 


"I would like to take care of my main role in the company, CEO. Coordinating behind a desk". 


Here's another indiscretion: in 2008 Ross Brawn takes over his role on the track. 

"We are discussing his return with him. One thing is certain: if he returns to Ferrari, it won't be in the same role he had before. I do not exclude anything. Even that he returns as team manager".


You have to say thank you to Alonso for delivering the famous e-mails with Pedro de La Rosa to the FIA. Isn't that what made him more sympathetic? 

"The spy story is a very serious affair, it has no precedent. We asked for clarity, fortunately the public now knows the truth. But the responsibility for what happened does not lie with Alonso, but with his bosses. It was a story that should have lasted one day, two, not a hundred. McLaren should have warned us about Stepney's behaviour. Instead they tried to win by trickery, knowing our cards and not telling us theirs".

Ferrari demanded justice. Has this been done by the FIA with the Paris ruling? 


"If a car is irregular it is clear that the drivers also have an advantage and should have been penalised. But I wasn't interested in the two World Championships, the Constructors' one we won, the drivers' one, the thing that mattered to me was that people realised how serious it was". 


Luca Montezemolo called it a polluted World Championship. Does he agree? 

"He is right. So much so that we will continue our battles, civil and criminal, in Italy and England. No truce with the people involved". 

Many are baffled: how did Jean Todt trust someone like Nigel Stepney? To give him free access to all those secrets? 


"I made a mistake, it is true, I trusted too much. But I'm at peace with my conscience, I couldn't imagine a man losing his head like that. He had been at Ferrari for fourteen years, he had arrived before me, Barnard had brought him. Not an easy person, bad temper, but an excellent professional. With Brawn leaving, perhaps he hoped to strengthen his position within the team, but that doesn't justify what he did, spying daily on our entire organisation. An impulsive guy, he was constantly changing his mood. One night he told me: I don't want to come to the races any more. And I said: sleep on it. The next morning he wouldn't talk about it any more. At the umpteenth time I believed him, I had a great feeling with him, I created a new role for him. I wanted to give him space, I didn't think he would behave like that. When you're a boss, that's the price you have to pay. Sometimes you make mistakes about people". 


Now he will write a book. 


"What editor can give credit to this gentleman after what he has done?"

Maybe he will throw in the letter he sent to Jean Todt on 30 August 2007, as well as to Max Mosley and Ron Dennis, in which he claims that he did not give the documents to Mike Coughlan, but that he stole them from him. 


"I certainly won't buy it".


On Sunday 30 September 2007, at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, in the pouring rain, Ferrari starts both drivers on intermediate tyres, in the presence of an FIA circular that obliges all teams to start on wet tyres for safety, and which the Maranello team does not sign. In the early laps, behind the safety car, both Ferrari drivers return to the pits to mount wet weather tyres, relegating them to the back of the pack; Felipe Massa is then given a drive through for overtaking behind the safety car, which he will serve under the green flag. The Safety car remained at the head of the pack for a full nineteen laps. At the real start, the McLarens break away from the pack, with Lewis Hamilton leading the way. Jenson Button immediately attacks Nick Heidfeld to take third place from him, but the two cars come into contact and the Englishman loses his front wing. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber take advantage of the confusion to move up behind the two McLarens and ahead of the two Renaults. On lap 27 Fernando Alonso pits for the only refuelling envisaged by his race strategy, returning to the track in eighth position, behind the pack led by Giancarlo Fisichella. Lewis Hamilton, who was three seconds ahead of his team-mate, pits on lap 28, managing to stay ahead of the Italian Renault driver and thus gaining a big advantage over Fernando Alonso. It is a very spectacular phase of the Grand Prix in which Sebastian Vettel climbs into first position, and for the first time in his career, for four laps, before relinquishing the lead to Mark Webber for a further four laps. Meanwhile Giancarlo Fisichella makes a mistake and loses two positions to Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica. The McLarens, with a high fuel load, are at this stage slower than the cars around them; Fernando Alonso is overtaken by Nick Heidfeld and then also attacked by Sebastian Vettel who hits him and sends him into a spin at the first corner, after the German had just come out of the pits; Kimi Räikkönen, in a comeback, also takes advantage of this to pass. Lewis Hamilton also struggles and suffers the attack of Robert Kubica who has just passed Heikki Kovalainen; the Pole touches the Englishman's car and both end up spinning, overtaken by Kovalainen.


Then Lewis Hamilton loses another two positions to Giancarlo Fisichella and David Coulthard. Meanwhile, pit stops follow one another and, after Mark Webber, it is Heikki Kovalainen who leads the race in first position for three laps, then leaves the lead to Giancarlo Fisichella for another two laps. Robert Kubica has to make a drive trough for contact with Lewis Hamilton, while Kimi Räikkönen refuels on lap 40. Lap 42 starts with Lewis Hamilton again leading the race, ahead of Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. At Turn 6, Fernando Alonso loses control of his car and crashes, stopping in the middle of the track. The driver is unhurt, but the car is too badly damaged to be able to restart, and the Safety car has to come on again. Lewis Hamilton leads the race, followed by Mark Webber, who had said in a team radio earlier that he wanted to retire due to vomiting, recovering shortly afterwards, and Sebastian Vettel. On lap 46, still under Safety car, Lewis Hamilton suddenly slows down in the final part of the lap. Mark Webber notices, but not Sebastian Vettel, who rear-ends the Australian driver's car, causing both to retire. This collision allows Heikki Kovalainen to move up to second place, followed by Felipe Massa, David Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella, Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Räikkönen. At the restart, the Ferrari's Finn goes wild, immediately overtaking the two ahead of him, and then also David Coulthard with a fine overtaking move at Turn 6, eleven laps from the end of the race. Shortly afterwards Felipe Massa had to return to the pits for a short refuelling, completing a strategically disastrous day for Ferrari, while Kimi Räikkönen attacked Haikki Kovalainen right up to the finish line, without succeeding in overtaking; for the Renault driver it was the first podium in his career, as well as the only one of the season for the French team. Lewis Hamilton calmly controlled under torrential rain and won the Japanese Grand Prix, followed by Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen, David Coulthard, Giancarlo Fisichella, Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil. This was after Felipe Massa fought bitterly for sixth in the final laps; the fight was even decided at the last corner, with the Brazilian overtaking the Pole and winning the sprint. There was also the first and only point for Spyker obtained by Adrian Sutil, thanks to the penalty imposed on Vitantonio Liuzzi, penalised by twenty seconds for overtaking the German in the presence of yellow flags. Again Scuderia Toro Rosso will appeal, but without a positive result. 


He will go down in history. Lewis Hamilton, 22 years old, the first rookie to win a Formula One World Championship, as well as the youngest ever champion, a statistic that must make him enjoy it, as he snatches the record from his hated teammate, Fernando Alonso. He will go down in history and this, perhaps, is the right race to do it, with its concentration of absurdity and emotion, a start in the pouring rain on time, rather than delayed waiting for better weather, but behind the safety car for 19 laps, in which there can be no overtaking and therefore no fight, two Ferraris taken out of the way by an email that arrived very late, because the other teams knew they had to start on the extreme wet tyres, while Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen (by choice of the Finn) opted for the intermediate ones, banned by the race judges, and by virtue of this forced to return to the pits immediately for the tyre change, with the result of plummeting to the back of the field. And then the accident to Alonso, on lap 42, the Spaniard who already had his car in tatters (he had previously been rear-ended by Vettel's Toro Rosso) and who finally destroyed it with a terrifying bang (without any consequences to his physique) at the end of the straight, an accident that also removed him from the race for the World Championship victory. And again Webber, the Australian of Red Bull, who at a certain point, between retirements, accidents and Safety car, is second, but is knocked out again by Vettel, for the Germans the future Schumacher, but at Fuji damaging for himself (he was third) and for the others, so much so that the FIA decides to punish him and in the next Grand Prix in China will put him back ten positions. A crazy and exciting race, which also delivers the first podium of the season to Renault and of a lifetime to its Heikki Kovalainen, who in the last few metres brings to life an overtaking of yesteryear by Felipe Massa on Robert Kubica for the platonic sixth position, which brings David Coulthard (fourth) and Giancarlo Fisichella (fifth) back to the honours of the world and which late in the evening also makes Vitantonio Liuzzi, Italian of the Scuderia Toro Rosso, despair. He had taken a point, but it was taken away from him because he overtook Adrian Sutil under yellow flags (a dangerous situation, forbidden to overtake anyone). Spyker's German was the beneficiary of the sentence: from ninth he became eighth and his team blessed him. 


Spyker and Scuderia Toro Rosso were the Cinderellas of the Constructors' World Championship (McLaren is zero for punishment), this point passed from one side to the other is worth millions. But in a race in which overtaking was seen again, it was Lewis Hamilton (positively) and Ferrari (negatively) who made the headlines. The McLaren driver, triumphant for the first time in the wet, dominated at will, only trembling when Robert Kubica crashed into him. As for Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, the former mathematically exited the fight for the World Championship victory, the latter finished third and continued with slim hopes. For the Brazilian, one should always have been behind the safety car, the Finn insisting that one could not see a thing. Fernando Alonso, 12 points behind Lewis Hamilton, appears resigned: 

"I have to be realistic, by now it would take a miracle for the World Championship, although it is obvious that I don't give up. I didn't do it with Schumi, I won't do it now". 

But remember, as if it were needed, that two victories are not enough:


"It will depend on Hamilton and I would need him to retire in at least one of the two Grands Prix".

Honestly, that's asking a bit too much of fate. Now the Briton has his hands on the World Championship. And to seal it, he doesn't miss a thing. The icing on his title will be this triumph (his first) in the wet: because every self-respecting phenomenon knows how to win even in extreme conditions. The real danger, for the Englishman, was in the aftermath of the race, when word spread that he was under investigation for his continuous braking behind the Safety car. But he was only a witness, not the accused. In fact, he could have been blamed for once again fanning the flames of controversy with new words against Fernando Alonso, but the outcome of the Grand Prix effectively dismissed everything. So Lewis, it's almost done. 


"Almost, indeed. Anything can still happen". 


But in Shanghai he will have his first match point. 


"There, somewhere in the brain, I think about that. It will be the subconscious, that's why I just have to stay focused".


When things have to go a certain way you can tell: Alonso against the wall, she unscathed by the clash with Kubica. 


"I was lucky, it's true. I had neither seen nor heard him, and he touched me. Who knows, maybe he was too far away to try to overtake me".


No worries, then. 


"I felt a vibration, but over the radio the team told me that the car seemed OK".


Did you have problems driving? 


"Well, I think that during the race many people had the idea of stopping, but at times it was easier to drive". 


How did you survive? 


"I, especially at the beginning, couldn't see out of the rear-view mirror and at one point drops of water got inside my helmet, and I couldn't open it while driving". 

So what? 


"So nothing. It was the longest run of my life. Non-stop".

A difficult moment? 

"At the second Safety car: the others were getting too close, I got a bit nervous". 


What about his braking before the restart? Was there any trickery involved? 


"Absolutely not. I needed them to warm up the brakes, if I didn't keep the heat up there would be trouble".


His rival, Alonso, had the trouble. 


"I first noticed the residue on the track, then I knew it was him by looking at the giant screen". 


And rejoiced.... 


"Actually I was already quite calm because, after the first pit stop, he had finished behind me, I think in fifth place". 

The Spaniard is now twelve points behind. 


"I think I just took another step forward". 

At some point modesty and superstition might as well be put aside. 


"There is another race on Sunday and all I have to think about is the Shanghai circuit. Because you always forget one thing...". 


Which one? 


"I am a rookie, a debutant. And to have won four Grand Prix in the first season is a record". 


Only Jacques Villeneuve in 1996. But no one has ever won the World Championship on debut. 


"That's why I think about the races. There are still two to go, and nothing will distract me".


What did you think upon arrival? 


"I thought of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost". 

Damn. And you may ask why? 


"I am achieving something worthy of them, who were my examples. I am trying to become like them".


The anger of the Ferrari team explodes on the second lap of the decisive Grand Prix. The voice of Charlie Whiting, the race director, on the radio is peremptory. 

"You are breaking a rule, you have fitted intermediate tyres on the car, not extreme wet weather tyres, go back in and change them now".

Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's sporting director, the regulations expert, is amazed: 


"What rule? We made a tactical choice, we have the opportunity, it is part of our strategy". 


Yes, but for the FIA at that time discretion is not allowed. The three race judges, as a matter of safety, imposed a certain type of tyre, the FIA warned the teams before the race, sent an email at 12:35 p.m., 55 minutes before the start, all the teams received it at 12:37 p.m.. All except Ferrari, which knows nothing. At that moment, on lap two, Kimi Raikkonen is third and Felipe Massa is fourth, they have the same positions as at the start, so far they have all been in single file in the pouring rain and behind the safety car. The two drivers, with their risky choice, with the intermediate tyres struggling to stay on track, are hoping to mock the McLaren. Maybe it stops raining, the track dries, the others return to the pits and the Ferraris fly towards the finish line. Charlie Whiting with his order resets any ambitious programme. 


"If you don't bring the two cars into the pits immediately you will be disqualified". 

Stefano Domenicali does not understand, but is forced to comply. So Felipe Massa makes his first (unscheduled) stop and finds himself 20th, Kimi Raikkonen 21st. There is the safety car, it will remain there until lap 19, but there are also all the rivals in front, except Vitantonio Liuzzi. Ferrari's race is over, any strategy has gone to pot. The Japanese Grand Prix represented the last chance, it turned into a wreck. Little does it matter if in the end Kimi Raikkonen took an important third place, if Felipe Massa finished sixth, they are points (a few) that count for nothing. The Ferrari men leave Fuji with infinite anger in their bodies. Says Jean Todt:

"It's inconceivable, we didn't know anything. We are not stupid, if we had known that mounting those tyres was forbidden we would never have made that choice. The problem is simple, to us the FIA email arrived at 1:37 p.m., seven minutes after the start of the race. We are not going to appeal, we decided to let it go, but to tell us after the start how we should have behaved before is absurd".


Stefano Domenicali pulls out the printout of the incriminated e-mail. Once again (after all the ones that came out with the spy story) an email ends up fooling the Maranello team. Stefano Domenicali takes the proof of the Ferrari hoax to the FIA, which asks for it in the evening. 


"How is it possible that only you got it an hour later?"


The Federation is perplexed. But so it must have been if at 10:00 p.m. the FIA produces a document specifying that it will continue to notify the teams by e-mail, but that this system will be flanked by the older and more reliable one: written communication, on a sheet of paper, with acknowledgement of receipt. Says Stefano Domenicali:


"There are documents that are too sensitive to be entrusted to an e-mail, and if one is not in front of the computer, what does one do?"


Ferrari also denies that since the end of July the start behind the Safety car requires the fitting of extreme wet weather tyres. 


"It is always a choice of the tender commissioners, a recommendation not an imposition". 


Thus the Maranello team loses its last chance to win the World Championship. However, the mistakes also remain: the intermediate tyres were not the best (Raikkonen wanted them, Massa did not) and the Brazilian's miscalculation on petrol, forced into the pits for the second time in the final, is surprising. Jean Todt says again:


"They forgot about us, the climate sent the judges into confusion". 


Yeah, maybe even a little bit. After the disappointment of losing perhaps their last chance, Ferrari is left with the consolation of an apology from the FIA. After the controversy erupted over the indications on the tyres to be used in the race, the Federation issued an apology to the Maranello team. The warning about the compulsory use of extreme rain tyres had been given via e-mail instead of in a more formal manner, through a paper note, as required by the regulations. Stefano Domenicali repeats:


"At the end of the race we went directly to the stewards, just to understand what had happened, and they actually understood our point of view, since the message came from them, and basically apologised for using the usual e-mail system, used for normal communication, for these instructions as well".


Despite the FIA admitting the error, Ferrari does not intend to appeal. Jean Todt explains:


"It would not solve the problem, the race is over. We want to better understand what happened, how it happened, but I think opening a new controversy would not be fair to the sport".


However, the French manager remains convinced that Massa and Raikkonen were penalised in no small way. Ferrari, Todt reconstructs, had decided to start with intermediate tyres, and not wet ones, because there was a light rain before the start, which led them to decide to use that compound. 


"Once the race started, the rain increased significantly, and if we had known that the rain would intensify like this, our choice would probably have been very different. However, we chose the strategy before the start of the race from what we saw. If we had been informed that we had no margin for tyre choice, that we would all have to start with the same compound, it certainly would have been easier for us".


However, Ferrari's team principal shows that he is not yet resigned to a McLaren victory. 


"You know that what happened to Alonso could happen to Hamilton next week. I have been informed that the forecast for the weekend is still rain, so we know that a lot of eventualities can happen, just when you consider how many cars have been involved in accidents. I think we have to think race by race, lap by lap and then see what happens".


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