05 Nov – What Really Happened Between Turns 4 and 5: The Hamilton and Massa Affair

I’m compelled to write about the Hamilton/Massa incident this past Sunday at the Indian Grand Prix. First of all, I don’t think that either driver should have been handed a penalty. I think, and apparently Mark Webber agrees, that there are too many penalties in F1. The best racing is hard racing. Not to be confused with unfair racing. We all know the difference between the two. But the combination of fast cars, apexes and determined drivers is not always going to have a happy ending. I don’t think Lewis deserved a penalty when Kimi drove him off the road in Belgium a couple years ago. I don’t think Fernando deserved a penalty last year at Silverstone when Kubica’s Renault expired before he could give the position back (and by the way Kubica drove Fernando off the road as well). I think the penalties handed out for blocking during qualifying are bullshit. Small piece of track, clean line, time running out, everyone trying to do their best, there is bound to be a loser in that program.

Oh yeah, I do think the stewards did the right thing last year when Michael almost crashed Rubens off the road in Hungary. 10-place grid penalty for the next race. And oh yeah, I do think it was right to penalize Michael when he parked his car at Rasscasse a couple of years ago, back of the grid for you buddy. And oh yeah, I do think it was also the correct call at Jerez a couple of years before that. Really Michael did you think you could get away with that one again? Hey, does anyone else see a pattern here? Good thing I’m so fair in my assessments. Anyway, this is not the point I want to make. But there’s always time for a little Michael bashing on this blog. All in good fun, people.

Now on to the specifics of the incident on Sunday and all of the technical details and analysis that proves my point. For that, you’ll have to look at this other guy’s blog. Ha! But seriously, I highly recommend this piece on the BBC’s F1 website, authored by Mark Hughes, that addresses the Hamilton/Massa collision. Mark Hughes: Deconstructing Lewis Hamilton v Felipe Massa crash.
One of Hughes’s points is that the incident is not a further sign of Lewis’s lack of focus, which has been an obsession of many commentators all season. Hughes thinks just the opposite, that despite this coming together with Massa (for a sixth time this season), Lewis is on the mend.

But the best part about the piece is the manner in which Mr. Hughes breaks down how the coming together actually happened. He makes a very clear assessment of what was taking place on the track between the McLaren of Hamilton and the Ferrari of Massa, even going back to the previous lap to explain the set-up. His assessment illustrates how complex racing in this modern day has become. There’s a lot you can’t see on the TV and even if you’re a semi-expert (like me), you can only guess at many things. The difference in speed, the difference in downforce (who has more wing on the car) the different use of KERS, the selection of which racing line to use and lastly the view of each driver. Hughes goes on to talk about etiquette in racing, how it used to be, and the half-car rule and so forth and had the stewards taken some of this into consideration more than likely there would have been no penalty given.

I really appreciate and value Hughes’s type of insight. Which brings me, finally, to my point. Remember, this is supposed to be a blog from an “American’s point of view” which means I actually have to make a point of being an American and say something smart and relevant (which, I have to point out, is usually not considered too American, LOL). One of the reasons that Americans have a hard time with F1 and consequently tune it out or don’t tune in all is because we (Americans) don’t have exposure to this type of important information and analysis which completes the loop and allows us to really understand (in this case, why the crash happened) and get further educated about the fascinating intricacies of F1, which is what makes it so compelling. If you don’t have that information then the drivers just look lame. Why are they crashing those million-dollar vehicles? Why not just move over? Of course you can’t always know every “Why?” right away, but I think we could get a lot more answers in real time than we do.

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re watching racing from the U.S., you are forced to get your F1 fix via the Speed channel. Steve Matchett is quite good at the tech side and the sporting regs, and David Hobbs is there to give insight from the driver point of view with the customary quip about the clag, and Bobby Varsha is there to be window dressing, (although in his defense he is probably not allowed to be any other way) but it really does leave one wanting quite a bit more.

By comparison, NASCAR, on the same channel, does a far better job in its breakdown and analysis. Although for the life of me I can’t see too many hillbillies coming to grips with all of the crazy information that is being delivered. But I guess if one had to talk for 4+ hrs (the average length of a NASCAR race) at some point you have to discuss every nut and bolt in a Chevy. Okay, okay, just kidding folks. NASCAR is a very technical formula and the drivers are super smart and extremely proficient at what they do and the fan base is equally as smart and passionate and well informed in regards to every aspect of these types of cars and this type of racing. Just like the fans of F1.

So lets review. If you love F1, but don’t quite know exactly what is going on, or even if you do, go read Mark Hughes’s article at the BBC F1 site. Also go read it if you can’t figure out why anybody watches racing, ever. It just might engage you. In fact there is excellent commentary all the time on BBC site. Secondly, Hamilton got rid of his girlfriend and is more focused and on the right track, no pun intended. Maybe he will ditch those silly earrings as well. Next, the hillbillies, despite the mullets, are super smart. And lastly, to the marshals, cut down on the unnecessary penalties and let those F1 drivers race, bitches…             jp

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