If nothing else, Timo Glock is guaranteed a place as a small footnote in F1 history as the driver that Lewis Hamilton passed on the final corner of the last race of the season to win his first world championship. I hope regular readers of this blog will agree I’m not prone to hyperbole, so take my word for it that I literally was on the edge of my seat for those last few laps – it was an amazing climax to the season.
In fact, I scarcely know where to begin. It was heartbreaking for Massa: not only could he be seen crying in his helmet on his slowing-down lap, but his father and pit crew could be seen celebrating in the Ferrari garage, not knowing that Hamilton had regained fifth place at the last moment; the whole world saw Mass Snr’s face fall as he was told the news. I’ve no idea how Massa managed to hold it together during the anthems on the podium – he was astonishingly dignified in defeat, and for all that I don’t quite agree that F1 is a sport so much as a contest, it was extremely sportsmanlike behaviour on Massa’s part.
I also feel sorry for him because I think you could argue he was slightly more deserving than Hamilton: he won more races, and when he lost points from promising positions it was often due to unreliability or team error. Hamilton’s lost points were largely down to his own mistakes, albeit with some dubious stewards’ decisions thrown into the mix.
That said, Hamilton’s achievement is remarkable: it is not simply a matter of having good equipment. Heikki Kovaleinen – undoubtedly a very good driver – has shown that not every driver can arrive at McLaren and start outpacing a highly-rated team-mate within a few races, but that’s what Hamilton did last year. He has performed at a consistently high standard in F1, and is undoubtedly deserving of a championship (even if Massa was slightly more deserving of this particular one).
Less remarked-on were other championship results: Kubica lost out on third place in the championship to Raikkonen, and Ferrari took the constructors’ title despite losing out on the drivers’ crown, much as in 1999. What this seems to confirm is that having equal status among team-mates is a good way to lose world championships: Raikkonen and Massa took points off each other this year, just as Hakkinen and Coulthard did in 2000, Alonso and Hamilton did in 2007 and Irvine and Schumacher sort-of did in 1999. Either a formal pecking-order or a clearly second-string driver always assists a championship challenge: Coulthard could seldom out-pace Hakkinen, and likewise for Fisichella and Alonso, and Kovaleinen and Hamilton. Ferrari were fortunate that Massa’s good form did not cost them the title last season too.
Indeed, that list covers (if one adds in the clear team structure at Ferrari in the Schumacher years) all of ITV’s years in F1 coverage. We’ll have to see what the BBC’s coverage is like – word is they are chasing Martin Brundle alone among the ITV crew – but it will clearly have ITV’s run to compare itself to in a way that ITV never had to worry about with te Beeb’s previous efforts. ITV certainly gave F1 full-value coverage: if anything, at times they can be accused of stretching their material too thin at times. But overall it has been extremely good coverage, often providing comprehensive and fascinating insight into the sport.
They have dropped the ball on only a handful of counts: the ad break when Alonso was chasing down Schumacher at Imola in 2004 was probably the only time adverts really intruded badly – in fact, I always enjoyed the experience of coming back from an ad break to find something really exciting had happened. The continued use of Mark Blundell is also questionable – occasionally he came out with something worthwhile, but he mostly offered an inarticulate repetition of, at best, bland truisms and, at worst, the question he’d just been asked.
The most contentious aspect of ITV’s coverage has been James Allen’s promotion to lead commentator. There are many valid criticisms: he can’t express excitement other than by shouting; he is prone to saying stupid things like “rock’n’roll in Monte Carlo!!” (though cut down on these excesses commendably in recent years); and he has a knack of missing significant developments that the viewer can see on-screen. But it’s a difficult job, and he offers a fair defence of himself in a retrospective feature on ITV-F1: making F1 seem exciting in the years of Schumacher domination was indeed a duff job to be promoted into in many respects. And on reflection, his undoubted enthusiasm for F1 and the overall geniality of his presence mean that he won’t go entirely un-missed as far as I’m concerned.
Next year is unlikely to be as good as this: for one thing, regulation changes tend to spread the field out and make the racing less tight; but for another, very few seasons have ever been as good as this. It has produced an admirably low proportion of dull races, with many exciting – or at least interesting – events, a broad range of winners, and no end of fascinating developments, right up to the final corner. It probably is the best of the twelve seasons I’ve followed closely (it’s no coincidence I started following F1 when ITV’s coverage made it more visible in 1997), with only 1999 or 2003 as rivals. Let’s hope 2009 can give us equal excitement against the odds… and that Honda can get Jenson Button back up to the front of the grid!