Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 World Championship campaign took an early hit in Bahrain both metaphorically and physically. The young British driver slid down the points table from first to third after a very eventful weekend. He has not had a comfortable start to the year and there are few reasons to suggest that life is about to get any easier.
A number of incidents in Sakhir will be giving Lewis some food for thought, none more so than the unexpected form of the BMW drivers.
Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica aren’t about to challenge for the world title so that will not be keeping Lewis Hamilton awake at night. However, he may be a little concerned that BMW are now in a position where they can be a nuisance and steal valuable points from McLaren. BMW can’t beat the British team over the course of a full season, but can get in their way enough times to complicate the championship battle.
Lewis has to make sure that he can finish ahead of the BMW drivers during the early stage of this season, because McLaren are currently a long way behind Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa have a strong advantage at the moment so McLaren have to score as many points as possible until they catch up.
Yesterday Felipe Massa finished half a minute ahead of the nearest McLaren. That is a huge margin, especially when you consider the gap was two seconds at the same venue last year. The silver team are in trouble. McLaren may have some updates on the way for the Spanish Grand Prix, but so do Ferrari making it hard to ignore Kimi Raikkonen as favourite for the driver’s title.
Hamilton is still in a good position to have a winning season though. He drove brilliantly in Australia and would have been competitive regardless of Ferrari’s reliability woes. No doubt there will be a few more races like that just around the corner because outright speed has not been the problem for him recently. A qualifying penalty and pitstop bundle forced him into fifth at Sepang, and it all went horribly wrong in Bahrain. He was the first big-name driver to suffer the wrath of a startline problem this year, and his race culminated with that accident.
A lot of people were quick to blame Fernando Alonso for the clash with Hamilton and you can understand why. Alonso seems to be the sort of person who holds a grudge, and Hamilton is barely his best friend. You kind of get the feeling that he wouldn’t have been that upset with the result of their lap two bingle.
Also, if you had to pick the Formula One driver who was most likely to brake-test you, it would be Fernando Alonso. He was found guilty of that very offence during practice for the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix and received a grid penalty for his efforts. On that occasion he felt aggrieved that Robert Doornbos had ruined his hot lap so he gave the Dutchman a piece of his mind, and almost a piece of his rear wing.
David Coulthard has also accused Alonso of break-testing and claims it was responsible for his spin at the 2003 European Grand Prix. It is clear that Alonso takes his temperament into the car with him.
Having said that, it was immediately obvious from the outset of yesterday’s accident that Hamilton was entirely to blame. Lewis has since admitted as much himself. He simply pulled out of Fernando’s slipstream a little too late and clipped the back of the Renault. Hamilton closed in on Alonso very gradually from the exit of turn one and there was no sudden deceleration from the Spaniard to suggest anything sinister. It was disappointing that some commentators suggested otherwise. When Lewis jinked right to pass the Renault, Alonso moved right as well to protect his line and Hamilton was simply too close to avoid a collision. I am often amazed by how little space the drivers leave when following each other, and it seems this time Hamilton just made a simple miscalculation. Keep in mind it was only his 20th Grand Prix so he is still entitled to a few rookie errors.
If anything, the incident will make it even more exciting for us fans when the two heavyweights meet on the track next time.
Lewis will be hoping he doesn’t come across Alonso again for awhile, because he already has enough rivals in 2008.
Not only does he have to beat Ferrari and BMW to the title, but he also has to overcome his teammate.
Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton are equal on points and there is every indication the gap between them is going to remain close all year. People who think Hamilton is the team leader at McLaren should think again.
It is very easy to forget just how well Kovalainen has performed this season given the hype surrounding his teammate.
Lewis was stronger than Kovalainen in Melbourne but the gap between them was very deceiving. The Brit had a much lighter McLaren during both qualifying and the race, so it would have been a very different Grand Prix if the two drivers had the same fuel load.
Heikki lined up on the grid just three tenths behind Lewis in Australia, which is pretty good when you consider that he was carrying four more laps worth of fuel. Albert Park is one of the longer tracks on the calendar so that is a decent effort. He dropped away from Lewis throughout most of the race, but missed out on his big opportunity to claw back the gap when the safety car ruined his strategy. Hamilton was always going to beat Kovalainen in Melbourne but the gap was not as big as it appeared. After all, Heikki did set the fastest lap of the Grand Prix which highlights just how close the two drivers actually were.
It was a different story in Malaysia where Kovalainen outqualified Hamilton with more fuel on board and completed a solid drive for third.
Unfortunately we’ll never know how the two McLaren pilots would have compared in Bahrain, but assuming that Kovalainen had more fuel on board again, his qualifying performance was not too shabby.
Since Hamilton spent much of his Sunday afternoon with a heavy tank, in a possibly damaged car, it is not fair to compare his race laptimes with Kovalainen’s. However, the young Finn did set the fastest lap which suggests he would have been a match for Lewis.
Who knows? Maybe it was not a coincidence that Hamilton’s big practice crash in Bahrain came just a few minutes after Kovalainen trounced his best time. Maybe he is feeling the pressure?
More likely is that Hamilton will put bounce back Felipe-style with a few awesome drives in Spain and Monaco. He’ll need them if he wants to win the title because BMW can beat him, Ferrari can thump him, and when he has the car to win he may still finish behind Kovalainen.
This season is going to be a real test for Lewis Hamilton.
In fact, if Lewis does become World Champion this year it may be more impressive than if he had won it in 2007.
At least we know he is capable of it, and that it’s going to be great fun watching.