Write Better English - Day 14

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The superiority of Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen at Silvestone last weekend evoked memories of the Schumacher/Hakkinen era. But as Richard Barnes explains, it was an unfathomable[hard to believe] error by Ferrari that denied us what could have been a classic battle.

During the height of their rivalry during the late 1990s, Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen both possessed the ability to elevate their performances at key races.

It often gave the impression that the two rivals were in equal and dominant machinery, while their respective team-mates (Effie Irvine and David Coulthard at the time) were saddled with completely different and much slower equipment.

In an era where mechanical differences usually trump driver talent in determining race results, it was a priceless asset that turned both into worthy champions.

This distinctive star quality was evident again at Silvestone for Sunday's British Grand Prix - but with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen stepping into the roles vacated by Schumacher and Hakkinen.

Going into the weekend, Ferrari's Felipe Massa had the momentum. After a victory gifted by Raikkonen's exhaust breakage in France, new championship leader Massa had every reason to believe that the Scuderia would maintain its performance advantage from Magny-Cours.

By late Saturday afternoon, Mclaren's Heikki Kovalainen had abruptly dispelled that expectation, showing outstanding pace throughout the free practice and qualifying sessions to grab a dominant maiden pole position.

Mark Webber also surprised by sneaking his Red Bull onto the front row - a first for the team. As Britain awoke to a wet race on Sunday, the prospect of a first-time Grand Prix winner - whether through Kovalainen's sustained pace advantage or Webber's acknowledged maturity and ability in the wet - seemed assured.

Through all of this build-up, the two main championshup protagonists, Hamilton and Raikkonen, seemed detached and distracted. After three disappointing results in a row, Raikkonen looked to have gone off the boil.

Hamilton, meanwhile, had his own distractions with a British press who (in his view) had been too harsh after his failures in Canada and France. Paired together on the second row of the grid, neither driver looked confident of victory. But that discounted their ability, like Schumacher and Hakkinen before them, to raise their game for the toughest challenges.

It took just the few hundred yards to the first corner for the qualifying results to be nullified. Both Hamilton and Raikkonen blew past the hapless Webber effortlessly, and it took a no-nonsense turn-in by Kovalainen to deny Hamilton the immediate lead through Copse.


Once he was free of Kovalainen, Raikkonen reeled off four successive laps where he narrowed the gap to Hamilton. The Englishman responded with two blitzed laps of his own to restore the lead somewhat, before the pressure resumed with another four flying laps from the Finn - including the fastest lap of the race on lap 18.

When the two pulled off the circuit to pit simultaneously on lap 21, it was Canada all over again - Hamilton shinning early on, Raikkonen clawing back the gaps towards the end of the stint, and the fight coming down to a straight race between the two pit crews.

If Ferrari had heeded[pay attention to, listen to and consider] the warnings of impending rain like most of the other teams, there is no telling what a thrilling classic it could have been. Sadly, Ferrari had other ideas. On the day when the team most needed the tactical nous of Ross Brawn, he was making all the right decisions further down the pitlane for new employer Honda.

To be fair, Ferrari weren't the only team to send a driver back out on used intermediates, just as the fresh rainfall proved the weather predictions correct. Renault's Fernando Alonso and Red Bull's Mark Webber faced the same impossible conditions.

However, these are only marginally competitive runners who must rely on extraordinary events for any hope of winning. For them, the outside chance of pulling off an unlikely victory merits the gamble of going against conventional wisdom and weather science.

Raikkonen, by contrast, is a championship contender. The team's first priority should be to cover him and prevent disaster. When he pulled into the pits, he was in a comfortable second place and ahead of the only two drivers to lead him in the championship - team-mate Felipe Massa and BMW's Robert Kubica. Keeping him in that advantageous position was the team's minimum requirement.

Indulging in such a wild gamble, with just two extra points as the maximum possible reward, was incomprehensible from a team of Ferrari's vast championship experience.

The failure of that strategic decision handed the race to Hamilton. In just seven laps after the pit-stop, he had already opened up a gap of thirty seconds to the struggling Raikkonen, and the contest was over. More importantly, it ratcheted up the pressure on Raikkonen as he fell back into the clutches of the pursuing pack.


An analysis of the lap times reveals that, after his first pit-stop on lap 21, Hamilton was the fastest car in the field for only four of the remaining 39 laps. Just as surprisingly, Barrichello was fastest of all on only five laps.

By comparison, Massa and Torro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais each had six laps in which there were the fastest of all, albeit late in the race when Hamilton had already tapped off.

Excerpt from Autosport's Weekly Journal - A Class Apart