x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Racing in the corridor of uncertainty

Year review: It was another tumultuous year of action, both on and off the track, in Formula One, and one that ended with the whole future of the sport set for change.

Lewis Hamilton had fewer wins than Brazil's Felipe Massa and a lucky sixth place in the final race tipped the points in his favour.
Lewis Hamilton had fewer wins than Brazil's Felipe Massa and a lucky sixth place in the final race tipped the points in his favour.

It was another tumultuous year of action, both on and off the track, in Formula One, and one that ended with the whole future of the sport set for change. Racing wise, the 2008 season will be remembered for Lewis Hamilton winning his first title in only his second season in the sport.

The Briton also became the youngest world champion as he and McLaren-Mercedes took the honours by a single point after a thrilling finale. He got the better of Ferrari's Felipe Massa by finishing fifth at the final race in Brazil, but only after passing the Toyota of Timo Glock at the final corner to get the all important extra point he needed. Hamilton had an inconsistent season. When he was good he was great as his wet race wins in Monaco and Britain showed, while his mature and dominant display in China when he was under massive pressure was arguably his best performance of the season.

But there were also some awful mistakes. Nearly stalling at the start in Bahrain, crashing into Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in the pit lane in Canada, and a reckless move at the first corner in Japan that ruined his race were all low points. He was just about worthy of being the champion overall, but he will need to raise his game to repeat the feat next year. Massa can feel hard done by as it was ultimately his team that let down his championship aspirations. Pit-stop blunders in Canada and at the first ever Formula One night race in Singapore, as well as a blown engine in Hungary lost the Brazilian at least 18 points, which would have made all the difference to his hopes.

He had recovered from crashes in the opening two races in Australia and Malaysia to cut out the erratic mistakes and put in his most accomplished campaign to date. He will also have gained a lot of fans from the gallant manner in which he took his last-gasp defeat by Hamilton in front of his own fans. This was one of the most entertaining seasons. There was tremendous racing, drama and plenty of surprises all down the field.

Seven drivers won races with Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica and Sebastien Vettel all triumphing for the first time. Kubica and Vettel demonstrated their potential to be future champions as both impressed at BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso. However, it wouldn't be Formula One without controversy and that came in September when Hamilton was stripped of victory in Belgium after being judged by the race stewards to have gained an advantage by cutting a chicane as he fought for the lead with Raikkonen in the final laps on a damp circuit.

Massa was handed the win and while it was a harsh, but fair, decision to penalise Hamilton, it would have left a sour taste had Massa won the title because of that decision, which would have been the case had the Briton finished sixth in Brazil and the drivers had finished level on points. Massa would have won on most wins - six to five. Raikkonen's was a season to forget. After a strong start to the campaign in which he won two of the first four races, his title defence floundered. A mixture of struggling with car balance and tyre temperatures, along with some bad luck ensured he had to be happy with a distant third in the standings.

The double world champion Fernando Alonso and Renault showed they may be in a position to challenge for honours next year after the Spaniard triumphed in Singapore and then in Japan. Sadly the series lost the Super Aguri team and their race drivers Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato in April due to financial problems, but the real shock came earlier this month when Honda pulled out due to the global credit crunch. Talks had already been planned over cost-cutting, but the Japanese team's departure ensured that the plans for a standard engine and other initiatives were given the thumbs up.

Many of the changes won't be enforced until 2010, but next year's championship, which will have it's finale in Abu Dhabi, will see the cars looking very different with the return of slick tyres and new rear and front wing configurations, as well as the new KERS energy power system. With only 18 cars at present scheduled to be on the grid for the opening race in Melbourne in March, and still concerns over the financial viability of the sport to the manufacturers, an uncertain time is ahead off the track.

gcaygill@thenational.ae