Australia 2007: Getting started

Michelle Foster

In 2007, in Formula 1, actually started a new era, without the key characters of the past. Juan-Pablo Montoya  left the championship ,  Michael Schumacher hung the helmet on the nail. He was replaced by Kimi Raikkonen in Ferrari, and McLaren completely updated the lineup, inviting two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and debutant Lewis Hamilton. In general, this was the time of the Great Changes and Shocks in the world of Formula-1. And if earlier the alignment of forces in this sport and the spirit of appeasement, as on catholic dating sites were a very familiar thing, then in 2007 everything changed.

Paradoxically, although the title and the Constructors’ Cup in 2006 was won by Renault, in 2007 few people believed in the success of this team. In place of Alonso came debutant Heikki Kovalainen, but neither him, nor  Giancarlo Fisichella who managed to save his place were not treated as favourites. Actually, the main contender for the title was only one – Kimi Raikkonen.

In many respects it was again in the tires, but this time it was not about the competition between rubber manufacturers, but about its absence. In 2007, Michelin left the championship, and Bridgestone remained a monopoly supplier. Since 2008, this status was planned to be fixed in the regulations. Thus, the advantage was given to those who already used Japanese tires in the previous year – and the strongest of these teams was Ferrari.

Great attention was focused on the McLaren – it was here that the current world champion acted. Yes, and Lewis Hamilton caused interest in winning the tide in the youth series, where he won one title after another. But MP4-22 was the first for many years McLaren machine, which was not designed by Adrian Newey – the famous designer a year earlier moved to Red Bull Racing.

Qualification confirmed the advantage of Ferrari – Raikkonen confidently won the pole, going ahead of Alonso for almost half a second. The triumph of the Scuderia could have been more impressive if Massa had not left the track in the second session. The Brazilian could not show the time and had to start 16th, but he started the race last – in Ferrari they decided to change the engine on his car.

Lewis Hamilton in his first qualification in Formula 1 was a bit mistaken in the third sector and lost to a mate in less than 0.3 seconds, settling down between two BMW pilots, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. The best of the Renault pilots, Giancarlo Fisichella, showed the sixth time, losing a half a second to the pole. After him on the starting grid was Mark Webber – despite the fact that his partner in Red Bull Racing, David Coulthard, could not overcome the barrier even the first session.

On the first race of the “post-Schumacher” era on Sunday came 105 000 people. The start was quite sharp, although  in the leading group there was only one change – Alonso started the race unsuccessfully and missed not only Heidfeld, but also Hamilton. Raikkonen confidently led the race, and immediately began to break away from his pursuers. Already in the course of the first round Davidson and Sutil encountered, but both could continue the race.

The peloton quickly stretched out – as it was predicted after the qualification of Kimi, in the race Ferrari had an even greater advantage than on a single lap. By the seventh round Finn was ahead of Heidfeld for five seconds. In this case, Nick, contrary to expectations, did not restrain the racers of McLaren – Hamilton fell behind Heidfeld for three seconds, Alonso – two seconds  more.

The secret of BMW speed opened on the 14th lap, when Nick turned into the pits. The early pit-stop pushed him to the seventh position, and from that moment Heidfeld did not take part in the struggle for the podium. Raikkonen also stopped much earlier than McLaren riders, on the 19th lap. Alonso went to the boxes on the 22nd, Hamilton on the 23rd.  It did not affect on the alignment of forces, however,  Kimi was still confidently in the lead, and Hamilton was slightly ahead of Fernando.

To be frank, the winner of the race was determined by this time. It was quite clear that to prevent Raikkonen from winning can only some technical problems, and Ferrari is not one of those teams where this happened often. Kimi was not particularly in a hurry, but at key moments he added and was much faster than the rest. Before the second pit stop, he was ahead of the McLaren pilots for 14 seconds – and could be ahead of 24 because his best lap was a second faster than any of the pilots of Ron Dennis.

Thus, the main intrigue of the race was who will take the second place – experienced Alonso or debutant Hamilton. Their speed was almost the same, contrary to expectations, Lewis led the race almost without errors. The decisive role in the distribution of places on the podium was played by strategy.

In fact, Hamilton had an advantage again. The first time he stopped was after Alonso, so his engineers knew exactly how much fuel to pour into the tanks to make a second pit stop after the partner – in this case, Fernando would not have a chance to go ahead, except of going ahead of Lewis on the road.

But McLaren did differently, for the second pit stop, Hamilton drove two laps earlier. These two circles became decisive – on a heavy machine, and even in traffic for the round, Hamilton lost enough time and after his stop Alonso went ahead of him. True, after that, Fernando added in speed and he was able to narrow the gap from Kimi, detached from Lewis, but for neither, nor for another it was no sense to attack.

The main question after the first Grand prix of the new era was this: who can stop Kimi Raikkonen?