Friday, January 9, 2009
FORMULA 1: Review 2008
Formula One should be looking forward eagerly to the year ahead after a thrilling 2008 season with new winners and 23-year-old Lewis Hamilton becoming the youngest world champion on the last lap of the last race.
Instead, with the global economic crisis squeezing sponsors and manufacturers alike, the playground of billionaires and big business has had to tighten its belt and prepare for a more frugal future.
Big-spending Honda and tiny Super Aguri will not be at the starting line in Australia in March, with the championship set to shrink to 18 cars if no buyer for Honda emerges in the next few weeks.
The next year will be far from easy but the cost-cutting measures, including cheaper engines and a ban on testing, should bring the sport back from the brink of disaster.
"I think this is probably the first step towards Formula One saving itself," said International Automobile Federation president Max Mosley after the wide-ranging package was rolled out last week.
That it should be Mosley leading the push illustrates how much the climate has changed in Formula One over the course of the year.
In March, the Briton's own future at the helm of the governing body was at stake after a British Sunday newspaper splashed details of his involvement in a sado-masochistic sex session with prostitutes.
Mosley fiercely resisted calls for his resignation in a saga that hung over the championship until the credit crunch started to bite and the realisation dawned that Formula One's free-spending, Champagne days were over.
The 2008 championship marked a series of firsts and lasts, with fresh faces entering the winners' circle and, in Hamilton, the first black champion and a role model to a whole new constituency.
Singapore, now established as the sport's jewel in the East, hosted the first night race to huge acclaim after fans had stifled a yawn at Valencia's less stellar debut in the European summer.
The Briton, his country's first champion since 1996, promises to be hungrier than ever after securing a championship that could easily have slipped through his fingers for the second year in a row.
Hamilton won fewer races than his main Ferrari rival Felipe Massa, the Brazilian who had one hand on the crown until the final seconds at Interlagos.
Formula One measures success and failure in milli-seconds and Hamilton rammed home that point by keeping everyone on tenterhooks almost to the end before sweeping past Timo Glock's struggling Toyota for the fifth place he needed.
After 18 grands prix and more than a thousand laps on five continents, the McLaren driver won by a single point.
Massa, noble in defeat, grew in stature and will be a real contender again next year. So too, Ferrari hope, will 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen.
While the Finn had a disappointing year, despite Ferrari retaining their constructors' title, a younger generation came to the fore.
The most surprising member was Germany's Sebastian Vettel, triumphant in Toro Rosso's home Italian Grand Prix to become Formula One's youngest race winner at the age of 21 before leaving for Red Bull.
Poland's Robert Kubica laid down a marker for next year, seizing his and the BMW-Sauber team's first victory in Canada. A model of consistency after his big smash in Montreal in 2007, the Pole turned what could have been a two-horse race into a three-way battle for far longer than anyone could have expected.
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen crashed heavily in Spain but added his name to the list of winners in Hungary by emerging from Hamilton's shadow to take a lucky victory for McLaren after Massa was robbed by a blown engine in the closing laps.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso pulled off the comeback of the year with two wins in a row for resurgent Renault, a team most had counted out at the start of the season.
While the Mosley sex scandal took over from 2007's spy saga as the main talking point in the paddock, there was also the usual supply of controversy on the track along with some unforgettable action.
Hamilton found himself on the losing side in an appeal court hearing in September after being demoted from first to third in a Belgian Grand Prix thriller.
The Briton, who suffered racial abuse in Spain before the season started, was derided as a 'crash dummy' for accelerating straight into the back of Raikkonen's stationary Ferrari at a red light in the Montreal pit lane in June.
Massa also made hard work of his campaign, spinning repeatedly in the rain at Silverstone and suffering a botched Singapore stop in which his Ferrari trailed a fuel hose down the pitlane.
Canada and France, both axed for next year, followed Indianapolis off the grand prix calendar while Britain's David Coulthard, winner of 13 races for McLaren and Williams, called it a day at 37.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who ended the season with a record 270 race starts, is likely to follow him out after Honda's demise.
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