Alan NgA quick look at the F1 season so far and its top two protagonists, by Alan Ng

The F1 season is now in its traditional summers’ break before resuming racing on the 22-24th August weekend at a spanking new street circuit in Valencia. 11 races have gone by and it’s still anybody’s guess, who’s going to be the drivers’ champion this year.

The rule changes introduced this year have really thrown up some interesting races, especially with the ban of launch control and traction control. Of course, there’s still not enough overtaking and most of the time, fans have to wait till the pit-stops before they can see some real action.

The 2009 season will be even more interesting as F1 goes back to using slick tyres and most of the aerodynamic pieces on the car (which caused the hard-to-overtake situation) will be banned.

But before we jump too far ahead, let’s assess the 2008 season so far.

Lewis Hamilton

As of now, Lewis Hamilton (Mclaren-Mercedes) is leading the championship by 62 points with Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) just five points behind. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) is a further 3 points behind Kimi.

On the constructors’ championship, it’s Ferrari leading Mclaren by just 11 points (111 vs 100) whilst BMW-Sauber seemed to have settled for third with 90 points. It has been a topsy-turvy season so far with all the top drivers and teams making plenty of mistakes.

Ferrari and Mclaren have made some blunders in strategies during some races but their drivers aren’t doing any better on the track as well.

Lewis Hamilton is currently the most talked-about driver (at least in UK) after his amazing first season last year. Not many drivers have come into their first season to finish 2nd, just 1 point behind Kimi Raikkonen. In 2008, Lewis won the first race in Australia comfortably but then suffered a huge dip in form and many people started to question if he was being distracted by all the glamour of Formula 1. There was just as much news on his exploits gracing music and movie awards ceremonies, accompanied by some sweet-young thing as about his F1 endeavours this season.

His lowest point has to be the Canadian GP when he knocked into the back of Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane while they were waiting for the pitlane lights to go green after the safety car came out. (Just search in Youtube for “Hamilton Raikkonen Canada” and you’ll know what I mean).

But put Lewis in a wet race and no one could get near him. He won the wet Monaco GP in spectacular fashion but it was back in his home GP, Siverstone where he really shined and established his credentials as a title contender again. In a race where everyone was struggling with the torrential rain, Lewis was stringing in fast laps, one after another to the point that the team had to ask him to slow down.

He won the next race and could have won the Hungarian GP as well but he was jumped by Felipe Massa from third and then had problems with his tyres (yet another puncture), which put paid his chances of winning but still allowed him to maintain his lead at the top.

Kimi Raikkonen

As for his protagonist, Kimi Raikkonen, things aren’t any better actually. He suffered reliability problems in his first race and then had an erratic race (first of many to come). But his championship-winning form took up from the second race onwards where he finished on the podium four races in a row, winning in Malaysia and Spain. He even called his race in Spain the perfect weekend as he managed to get the win, pole position and fastest lap.

Unfortunately, then came Monaco, when he took out Adrian Sutil of Force India, who was running a fine fourth position, with an over-braking mistake in the dying laps, which meant Kimi finished out of the points for the first time. Then of course came the Canadian GP where he was just an innocent bystander and his run of bad luck continued at the French GP as well.

Kimi was leading the race when his exhaust pipe broke and he had to settle for second, allowing his team-mate, Felipe Massa to inherit first place.

Since then, many people have asking questions (they’re doing a lot of that this season) if Kimi still have the fire in him to fight for wins after getting his first drivers’ championship last season. There have been plenty of rumours stating that he might just retire after this season (or next), allowing Fernando Alonso to join Ferrari.

More pressingly perhaps for Kimi is how is he going to solve his qualifying problems. His race form has been quite good but because he has spent his last two races (Germany and Hungary) starting from sixth after failing to get enough heat into his tyres during qualifying, he has to settle for scraps in the final positions. Of course, there has some noise coming out from the Ferrari camp, gently criticising Bridgestone for bringing tyres that are a tad too hard but it’s not going to help Kimi really.

CrashThe last seven races is going to be very exciting as Ferrari and Mclaren are pretty much even-stevens now with Mclaren working the tyres better during qualifying but Ferrari holding the edge in race pace.

Some of tracks are going to favour Ferrari (Spa and Shanghai), some Mclaren (Monza and Fuji) whilst some are just plain unknowns (Valencia and Singapore, F1’s first night race). However, here are just so many unknown factors that you can never really know until the actual race itself.

So if you have not tuned in to a race this season, now’s the best time to start doing it. It’s a pity that there’s no free broadcast of F1 in Malaysia anymore, forcing everyone to turn to Starsports on Astro or some mamak stall with a big TV screen. But hey, where’s a will, there’s bound to be a way ( Hope you’ve enjoyed this first forage into glamorous world of Formula 1.