The themes of 2008: Mistakes

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Kazuki Nakajima hit David Coulthard at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix

It was, by anyone’s standards, an error-strewn season.

Crashes, spins and the odd pit blunder are part of Formula 1, but rarely have we seen so many of them committed by the championship front runners.

Was it just a gaffe-prone year for the leading lights? Or are more mistakes inevitable in post-traction control F1?

At the end of 2006 when I reflected on Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso’s battle for the championship, I thought one of the most impressive things about it was how few mistakes they had made.

Alonso had picked up a couple of grid penalties, Schumacher shunted at Melbourne and had an off at Istanbul. But apart from that, they seemed to have driven pretty much flawlessly.

The same cannot be said of this year’s title aspirants. Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, along with their teams, often seemed to be trying their best not to win the championships.

A year of errors

Hamilton had a series of blunders in Bahrain, crashed into Kimi Raikkonen in Montreal, picked up another penalty in France, missed a pit stop at Hockenheim, used the wrong tyres in qualifying at Monza and fluffed his start at Fuji. And there was the messy business at Spa.

Massa meanwhile spun at the first corner of the championship and later collided with David Coulthard in the same race, spun off in Sepang and Monte-Carlo, had pit lane dramas at Valencia and Singapore (where he also hit Adrian Sutil), crashed into Hamilton at Fuji, and the less said about Silverstone the better.

But it wasn’t confined to these two. Raikkonen had a pair of spins in Melbourne, followed by more at Monaco before he also hit Sutil. He crashed out at Spa and Singapore as well. Even Alonso had his formation lap gaffe at Catalunya, and spins and Montreal and Hockenheim.

Some were largely immune from these mistakes. The BMW pair, for example, largely kept their noses clean.

Why so many mistakes?

Was there a cause for this epidemic of errors? Before the season began there was much talk of the traction control ban making the cars harder to drive. Certainly in the wet races this seemed to catch some drivers out, but not all these mistakes could be blamed on the absence of gizmos.

It’s ironic that while discussion has raged about the necessity of cutting costs in F1, drivers and teams have thrown away points and prize money with needless mistakes. While Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari celebrate their championships, they will surely reflect on the unforced errors that nearly robbed them of their crowns, and work on weeding out the mistakes for 2009.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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29 comments on “The themes of 2008: Mistakes”

  1. It’s a bit of everything probably.
    The traction control maybe, but a factor we can’t forget is how close the pack is.
    Look at the last qualy (Q2 as best) and how close the all are!
    All credits for Schumacher, but having a car that is much much faster then the rest, well it’s easy not too push to hard and not make mistakes when you don’t have to drive your car 100% for easy victory (ok this is also his work, no discussion here :))
    And also the tyres seem to work better for the one in one situation and better for the other in another situation, it makes things difficult..
    and so on and so on.
    But yes they all made many mistakes, weird if you see how strong Lewis was last year in that prospect

  2. Indeed, a year of mistakes. Not forgetting:

    Hamilton’s pitstop delay in Malaysia (presumbly this counts if Massa’s pitstop woes do) and barrier-induced puncture in Monaco.

    Alonso also shunted needlessly at Monaco.

    Kubica’s biggest mistake all year was his spin into the gravel at Silverstone.

  3. A good way to reduce costs would be for the drivers to stop crashing. Williams must have had a record number of new front wings this year.

  4. keepF1technical
    13th November 2008, 15:49

    if we ignore the uber-reliable schu / ferrari days were there really more incidents and smashes and pit blunders this year than before?

    blunders like mansell switching his car off (never confirmed but…) whilst waving to the crowd on his last lap. Or senna punting the wall at monaco while under no pressure in the lead. or benettons spectacular pit fire. not to mention the all to common failing wheel nuts.

    who has got the stats of the champions from the early 90s to compare?

  5. Mussolini's pet cat
    13th November 2008, 16:38

    The only mistake was the travisty at Spa…….

  6. not to forget; a plethora of mistakes by the stewards as well :)

  7. Guess not as much as this year, but 2007 did see it’s fair share of errors too though:
    – Massa missing a red light at the end of the Canada pitlane
    – Hamilton parking his car in the gravel in China
    – Hamilton’s odd pit limiter incident at Interlagos
    – the fueling mess of Massa during qualifying in Hungaroring
    – Ferrari starting the race on the wrong tyres in Fuji
    – Raikkonen crashing during Monaco qualifying
    – Raikkonen failing to switch from dry tyres in Europe because he misses the final achicane and thus the pitlane entry

  8. What about kovi hitting the pit lane limiter going down the melbourne straight and gifting the place to Alonso.

    But i think in general the average age and the relative inexperience of the drivers must be taken into consideration.

    The biggy for me is that drivers have had their cars out of their normal position, like Coulthard near the back at interlagos, further up the grid and he wouldn’t have been near Nakajima.

  9. Couthard was a real disaster this year. And Keith your caption on the picture doesn’t do justice to what actually transpired. I believe Nakajima was the innocent victim there.

  10. The red bull just wasnt fast enough to keep him out of trouble and he had to try things to go for points and went for things that weren’t going to work

  11. What’s wrong with this guy Nakajima? In Australia, he took out Kubica and in Japan he hit Coulthard. They should start having race suspensions for such drivers.

  12. Keith, you never learn :)

    Felipe’s incidents in Valencia and Singapore were never his fault, but Ferrari’s. Nothing to add. Oh, and let’s definitely talk about Silverstone. I dare anyone on this site to drive the F2008 the way it was then on those conditions… and see if they can keep it on a STRAIGHT LINE, don’t even bother taking corners. Let’s not forget that Kimi lost control of his F2008 on a straight line on three occasions: Monaco (destroying Sutil’s awesome race), Silverstone and Spa (remember how he spun by himself AFTER overtaking Hamilton and Rosberg?).

    You forgot to mention Hamilton’s Spa spin early in the race (which ultimately led to the whole incident, since he should have dominated the race from pole anyway). Fuji’s was hardly a ‘fluffed’ start: it was a dreadful start. He was outdragged by three cars, missed the braking point and almost caused a huge accident. Three corners later he ran wide and managed to get himself behind his main title contender. ‘Fluffed’ is not quite the word.

  13. Talking about keeping your nose clean, whoever supplies the material for the Williams nose cones must have had a bumper year !

    The only driver I can think of that hasn’t really made a mistake is Heidfield (pit lane incident at Singapore doesn’t count as that was track layout problem). Nothing springs to mind anyway.

  14. I think the only driver that should have been suspended this season is Hamilton. He was extremely lucky not to be turfed for a couple of races after Canada where it was clear that he was heading for Rosberg and changed direction for Kimi.

  15. Charles – if Hamilton was indeed heading for Rosberg in the Montreal pitlane then he would have been driving backwards… perhaps you meant Kubica?

  16. Charles – I think if you look at the incident without striving to put the worst possible spin on it for Hamilton, it’s clear he was trying to avoid both drivers. If he’d turned right he would have hit the pit wall.

  17. Keith you forgot Alonso’s dramas at Monaco – the crazy kiss on Heidfield’s backside at the Grand Hotel hairpin if i recall correctly.

  18. At the end of 2006 when I reflected on Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso’s battle for the championship

    Alonso used only one R26 chassis during his 2006 campaign.

  19. Sush – I wonder if either of the BMW drivers managed that this year?

  20. About Alonso’s mistakes: OK, he did mistakes but his car was “undrivable” specially at the beginning of the season. The same applies to Piquet. That’s why I think Ferrari and McLaren drives mistakes are more surprising.

  21. I think lewis might have done it this year aswell,
    he didn’t have a ‘real’ crash or anything.

    Heidfeld probably has done it!

  22. I think the main point, that decided the championship, is that while the title contenders made more or less the same number of mistakes, one of them had an almost flawless team behind him (McLaren), while the other lost at least 20 certain points due to his team’s failures (Ferrari).

  23. Why has Alonso’s installation lap gaffe at Barcelona been mentioned in two separate entries today? Two rather broad entries: 2008 mistakes and 2008 Renault recaps. It was highly insignificant, particularly compared to something of the magnitude of Montoya at Melbourne in 2006.

    It cost him nothing.

  24. Paul: in fact, it cost him a few positions at the start, because his tyres were dirty…

  25. Sush – I wonder if either of the BMW drivers managed that this year?

    Didn’t one of the top 6 drivers get a new chassis this season because it was better balanced? I’ve got a feeling it was Heidfeld or Kubica….

  26. SoLiD –

    Look at the last qualy (Q2 as best) and how close the(y) all are!

    I think this is a very good point. The drivers aren’t worse than previous seasons (remember pre-qualy and the 107% rule), but the tight spread of the field would of course contribute to more accidents due to driver error and the dreaded red mist.

    Traction Control (or lack of it) would also contribute, but not too much imo.

    I dare anyone on this site to drive the F2008 the way it was then on those conditions… and see if they can keep it on a STRAIGHT LINE, don’t even bother taking corners.

    Senor Paz – If the F2008 was handling so badly in those conditions, wouldn’t that constitute a mistake in the design of the car? So, one more for Ferrari. But the driver themselves have to set the thing up in order to drive it, so that would also point to a mistake from Massa during this process – a lack of foresight if you will.

  27. As much as I like him, David Coulthard made his fair share of mistakes this year, which is disappointing from the aspect that he had so much more experience than the rest of the drivers.
    Piquet JNR is the out and out ‘chumpion’ though isn’t he, although I am glad he kept his job.

  28. Sush – I wonder if either of the BMW drivers managed that this year?

    possibilty, i’ll keep my eyes peeled for that info.

  29. Tighter races/championships equals more tension and thus more mistakes.

    It’s a good thing.

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