(Motorsport-Total.com) – When Lewis Hamilton entered Formula One in 2007, there was no doubt from the start that this guy was serious. Right from the first race of the season in Australia, he was regularly on the podium, putting pressure on his McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso, who had moved from Renault to Woking as world champion.
The fifth race in Monaco showed tension for the first time because Hamilton was unhappy with the team’s strategy, which he believed Alonso had favored. In qualifying, he drove with more fuel. This put him at a disadvantage in terms of performance, but hoped for an advantage in the race on Sunday.
However, the team brought him to the pits early and enabled Alonso to win. Hamilton was then carried away by the following statements: “I have number 2 on my car and I am the number 2 driver.” However, there was a reason for the nine kilogram difference in gasoline loading in qualifying.
It was the result of the first major safety car change since the safety vehicle was introduced in Formula 1. At the time, the FIA wanted to prevent the drivers from driving too fast on the way into the pits and possibly endangering marshals. The solution was to close the pit lane at the beginning of a safety car phase.
New safety car rules cause trouble
The cars should first line up behind the safety car and then be let into the pit lane in a controlled manner. That was of course a problem for the drivers who – at a time when refueling was still allowed – hardly had any fuel left in the car. Then they had no choice and still had to come to the pits.
The consequence of this rule usage was a ten-second stop-and-go penalty. When the teams pointed out that this could be unfair, FIA race director Charlie Whiting replied that, to be on the safe side, you could always have petrol on board for a lap or two more than planned.
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Because additional petrol in Formula 1 also means a higher weight, most teams didn’t like it, even if some later followed Whiting’s suggestion. Before the start of the 2007 season, the new rules ensured that some teams started the new year a bit nervously.
At first, however, you were lucky. Bernd Mayländer was not used in Melbourne or Monaco, where there is a high probability of a safety car, and in Bahrain there was a safety car phase in the first round, which therefore had no influence. For safety’s sake, some teams – including McLaren – planned their stops so that the pilots did not come into the pits one after the other.
In this way, one could at least guarantee that a safety car would not ruin the race for both drivers. The disadvantage was that a driver – logically – had to drive significantly more gasoline than his teammate in qualifying. That was exactly what happened in Monaco and caused the trouble at McLaren.
Sutil crash causes chaos
At the next race in Montreal, Hamilton wanted to leave his Monaco frustration behind. In fact, he was able to secure pole position in front of Alonso in qualifying. The weight difference was smaller this time, and Alonso was on the go for one lap more fuel. It wasn’t going well for the world champion at the start of the race, he got off the track in the first corner.
The Spaniard fell behind Nick Heidfeld’s BMW-Sauber, and from then on Hamilton had it in his own hands. When the Briton made his first stop on lap 22, he was comfortably in the lead. Alonso was supposed to come a lap later, but then Adrian Sutil flew off. The Spyker crash triggered a safety car phase.
The safety car then triggered a series of events that turned the race upside down. At the Sutil departure Alonso still had fuel in the tank. But nobody knew how long it would take the safety car to collect the field and when the FIA would open the pit lane again. McLaren was too big of a risk.
Both Alonso and Williams driver Nico Rosberg came into the pits during the safety car phase, which inevitably entailed the ten-second stop-and-go penalty mentioned earlier. McLaren boss Ron Dennis later said: “It was not an option for one of our cars to run out of fuel behind the safety car.”
“We only had petrol in the car for less than one lap when the safety car went out,” said Dennis, adding: “Then you have to find out very quickly how much fuel you can save behind the safety car. We got there on a little more than two laps, which we felt was too marginal. “
McLaren: Better punishment than failure
“We knew we would be punished. But that was better than rolling out without petrol. Probably we would have just made it, so in retrospect it was the wrong decision. It doesn’t feel great to some of us because it is [Alonsos] Made racing very difficult, “said Dennis.
Alonso and Rosberg were not the only drivers who had problems. When the pit lane finally opened, Felipe Massa was at the forefront of the pilots who came to service. At the pit exit, however, the Ferrari driver overlooked the red traffic light. It was red because the rest of the field was driving past the pit exit.
Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella made the same mistake for which both drivers were later disqualified. “He was not paying attention,” said Ferrari team boss Jean Todt and explained: “He focused on getting out and not being overtaken. And we didn’t tell him anything …”
The black flag came later because the officials had something more urgent to do. While Hamilton pulled away after the restart, others tried to regain lost places. Among them was Robert Kubica. The BMW Sauber driver had been waiting at the red light at the pit exit and had not made the same mistake.
When the traffic light turned green, he was overtaken by Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. At that time it was still rolling and therefore had more momentum than Kubica and came over. Kubica was far from happy and also knew that he was much faster than the Toyota. He had to pass as soon as possible and the first lap after restart was his best chance.
How did Kubica’s horror crash come about?
Kubica launched his attack in front of the hairpin. The TV pictures do not show the moment before the two cars came into contact, but Trulli later said that he had not seen the BMW-Sauber to his right. “I didn’t move, I kept my line,” he emphasized afterwards and explained: “The last time I saw Robert, he was to my left.”
“Apparently he then moved to the right. I have no idea what he was doing. I only know that I kept my line and did nothing. I thought about the accident throughout the race. I am a racing driver, but I am also a human being. Of course I was shocked because of that, “said the Italian.
Kubica hit the right rear tire of the Toyota, causing its BMW to take off. He lost part of the front wing, and tire marks showed that his front tires were on the asphalt twice before he hit the grass. There, an emergency exit once again ensured that the front rose and air came under the car.
Back then there was a gap in the wall for parking failed cars. That was where Scott Speed’s Toro Rosso stood, and the second part of the wall after it was at a much more acute angle than you’d expect after a quick bend. Kubica touched the first part of the wall with the right front tire.
Fortunately, this attack ensured that the front came down again. However, the car was also slightly steered to the right, which is why it came into contact with the second part of the wall earlier and it hit exactly where the wall bent slightly. In retrospect, it cannot be said how the crash would have gone without the first impact.
Other pilots worry about Kubica
But if this hadn’t lowered the front, he might have crashed into the second part of the wall with the bottom of the car and not with his nose. The accident could have been much worse. If large parts such as tires or the car itself had flown over the wall, they could have hit other cars on the other side of the hairpin.
Red Bull driver Mark Webber later actually reported debris that he saw flying there. “When I came out of the hairpin I saw the impact on the wall and parts of the car flew over. Then I saw it on the big screen. In the next few laps […] you just hope that everything is fine with him, “said Webber.
The seconds after the two impacts look violent, but the car’s energy waned in the meantime. Kubica was lucky that there was no further violent frontal impact because his feet were extremely vulnerable at the time. At the end of the accident, the headrest of the car came off.
By then she had already done her job. The same applies to the HANS system and the lightweight composite helmet. These were all things the FIA had made mandatory over the years. It was evidence that the quest for more security, and especially the more rigorous crash tests, had paid off.
The forces acting on the impact were even significantly higher than those prescribed in the crash test rules at the time. Around 30 centimeters of the chassis were destroyed behind the nose. While the cleanup was going on, the race continued behind the safety car. The situation was anything but easy for the pilots.
Hamilton keeps track of things in chaos
“I didn’t know who it was,” said Rosberg later, explaining, “I was just trying to hide it. It’s kind of worrying that something like this can happen because he just went straight on a bend. And then he hits into a concrete wall like that. It’s not a good thing. “
After the restart, Hamilton made another gap to Heidfeld. He managed his race perfectly and was not disturbed by further safety car phases after accidents by Christijan Albers and Vitantonio Liuzzi. It was slightly ironic that Hamilton ultimately won with the tactic that had frustrated him so much in Monaco.
The Brit came to his second stop, although he still had plenty of fuel in the car. However, he couldn’t have won anything if he had stayed outside longer. “We secured ourselves against Heidfeld,” Dennis later explained and revealed: “We had a lot more petrol and I think we could have driven six laps.”
“But if the safety car had come out of the situation we were punished with Fernando for, we would have lost the race,” said Dennis. “We could only lose the race against Heidfeld with the safety car. So we secured ourselves against him. That was the logical decision.”
“We could have driven much longer,” he said, explaining, “The problem with this early stop was that we were on the option tire. We had the amount of fuel to get the most out of the tires, but because of safety -Cars we couldn’t do it, so Lewis really had to take care of his tires and he did very well. “
Backbenchers overtake Alonso
Even then, you had to use both tire compounds in the race. Nobody wanted to use the Supersoft because of the risk of graining. At some point in the race you had to. Nevertheless, Hamilton did not let anything burn and thus got his first victory. The safety car ensured that Heidfeld was only a few seconds behind at the finish.
Further back, Takuma Sato took a sensational sixth place for back banker Super Aguri. In the end, the Japanese even overtook Alonso, who had fallen behind after his punishment and had problems with the Supersoft at the end of the race. “Fernando was super fast,” Dennis later emphasized. “But it was also important to pay attention to the tires.”
“As soon as you pushed, you got graining and you got monstrous understeer. That was his problem. He fought well and it was disappointing that in the end his tires were completely over because he was pushing so hard, so he could no longer defend themselves, “said Dennis. For Hamilton, on the other hand, it was a great day.
The real story, however, was the Kubica accident. At the end of the race, the wrong rumor spread in the paddock that Kubica had broken a leg. Only later, after speaking directly to the hospital, did BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen explain that his driver had survived the accident without major injuries.
However, he had to skip the next race in Indianapolis, which made a certain Sebastian Vettel’s debut in Formula 1 possible. It was a miracle that Kubica survived the accident relatively unscathed. A year later, the route was repaid to Poland with its first and ultimately only Grand Prix victory.