Matters of moment, December 2007

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More to come

Few true fans of Formula 1 will disagree that the sport has been more than usually watchable this year. We have looked on with awe as a young man rose from relative obscurity to become a global sporting icon within one short season. And I’m not talking just within the confines of F1 or even motor racing: around the world people with little interest in cars are nevertheless interested in Lewis Hamilton. Despite his dramatic near-miss for the 2007 title, he could, and should, become bigger than Beckham.

Then there was the spying affair. For all the pain, for all the inelegant, often reprehensible and frequently unfathomable behaviour of its principal parties, only the terminally sanctimonious would deny that it added interest to the season. It got people talking like nothing else I’ve heard of in the sport for a very long time. Including Lewis Hamilton.

And, of course, we were treated to a classic Ferrari/McLaren punch-up in the very finest traditions. I became fascinated with racing in 1976, when the Hunt and Lauda battle was also decided in the last race of a thrilling, politically fuelled, weather-influenced season, and to see the two oldest names continuously in the sport still slugging it out more than 30 years later, and more than 40 years since they first came together in the F1 arena, carries a certain frisson.

But was 2007 really that great a season? Where, for instance, was everyone else? In sport no one remembers who came second, let alone third, fourth or fifth and the fact remains that every race was won by one of two teams and their four drivers. A quarter of a century ago, in 1982, the first six races were won by different drivers. And by the time that season had drawn to a close, 10 drivers from seven teams had stood on the top step of the podium. After a season when really the only question has been which Ferrari or McLaren was going to win, it seems almost unimaginable.

However, I have high hopes for 2008. Consider the ingredients that, if the rumour tree bears half its expected fruit, will soon come together: Hamilton as a clear, if unofficial, number one at McLaren. Alonso taking his unarguable talent for both driving and, critically, developing a car back to a resurgent Renault, where he will feel as comfortable as he felt out of place in Woking. Ross Brawn returning to the Ferrari pit wall, with World Champion Räikkönen on song from the start of the season, and the undeniable truth that if BMW continues to improve only at the current rate it will win Grands Prix in 2008. You also have to bet that sooner or later one of the Japanese marques will finally get its act together.

And finally, remember the joker in the pack – the mandatory FIA electronic control unit (ECU). For the last seven seasons, almost an entire generation of F1 drivers has been able to plant their feet on the throttle the moment they see the apex and then just let the electronics do their job for them. No longer. Without traction control, that particular technique will ensure only the shortest trip to the nearest tyre wall. It should sort the great from the merely good and, best of all, make F1 cars interesting to watch again. So if you think F1 in 2007 was good, think again. I strongly suspect that there is even better to come.

Andrew Frankel

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