Race Weekend Central

Looking Back: The 2007 F1 Season, Pt. 1

The 2007 season is perhaps the most fascinating year in the history of Formula 1.

Intense rivalries. Bright new stars. Crazy races. Turmoil between teammates. A cheating scandal that led to the largest fine in the history of professional sports. And a three-way points battle that went all the way to the checkered flag of the final race.

There have been seasons where the racing has been better, the rivalries have been even crazier, and the memories burned brighter. But there has been no season in all of motor racing quite like 2007 – with the destinies of three drivers being changed forever.

To fully understand how big the 2007 season was, it’s important to set the stage first.

The 2006 season was the last of Michael Schumacher’s reign as king of the sport, dramatically announcing his retirement in the post-race press conference following his win in the Italian Grand Prix. (Although he would eventually return years later, by that point he wasn’t quite the same driver.)

The following race, Schumacher won the Chinese Grand Prix (which ended up being his final win) to take the points lead with two races to go.

At the Japanese Grand Prix, Schumacher’s campaign to go out with one last championship went out along with his engine. He had led the majority of the race, but his DNF handed the lead of the race to the driver he was tied with in the point standings.

Fernando Alonso had won the 2005 championship in his age 24 season driving for Renault, and his win that day in Japan all but ensured a repeat in his age 25 season. All he needed to do was finish in a point’s position (note: F1 used a points system in from 2002-2009 that awarded points to the top eight finishers of a race on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system) in the Brazilian Grand Prix, and the Spaniard was easily able to.

Alonso finished second to Schumacher’s Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa. Massa took a very popular win in São Paulo, as the lone Brazilian on the grid that season, but it wasn’t enough to stop Renault from also winning the constructors’ championship. Schumacher finished fourth and spent what was supposed to be the last few laps of his F1 career chasing down Alonso and third-place Jenson Button.

Alonso, in his joy of winning his second straight championship, was also saying goodbye. Before the season, he had signed to drive for McLaren on a three-year contract, beginning in 2007.

McLaren had typically been very fast but struggled with reliability problems. Kimi Raikkonen, their featured driver, was regarded as a talent that could win a championship someday thanks to his style. Raikkonen is probably best known now as an ice cream eating, power napping, no-drink-having meme, but there was no funny business when he was at his peak as a race car driver. The man drove with no fear. NASCAR fans got a very brief glimpse of this in 2022, when he made a cameo appearance at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Raikkonen’s main barriers to winning a championship were first, the superiority of the Ferraris, and, second, the Renaults. Couple that performance gap with the questionable reliability of McLaren, and it wasn’t too close. But the Finnish driver was regarded well enough to be signed to Ferrari, where he would attempt the impossible task of replacing Schumacher. If anything, however, Raikkonen’s lack of emotion and ice-cold personality made him the perfect person to take on that task.

Meanwhile, McLaren seemed to finally have the performance and reliability for Alonso to make a serious run at a third straight championship. McLaren wasn’t quite as quick as Ferrari in most of preseason testing, but they were right there.

A key difference between 2006 and 2007 was the tires; Michelin left the sport due to the 2005 United States Grand Prix debacle. Bridgestone became the only tire supplier for F1, and Ferrari was the lone top team running those tires in the years prior. So the belief was that the McLaren was the fastest car, but that Ferrari got the most out of their tires thanks to their experience with the tire manufacturer. Thus, as the year went on, it was expected that McLaren would pass Ferrari at some point.

The 2007 season began with Alonso being tabbed the preseason favorite to win the driver’s championship. He was the lone former champion on the grid that year.

The first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, was a fairly straightforward Raikkonen pole, with Alonso right next to him in second.

As the cars waited on the grid, there was an anticipation of the future. Would Alonso become just the third driver to win his third straight championship? With Schumacher bowing out and Alonso’s youth, it seriously seemed like he was about to step into the German’s shoes.

The lights went out on the 2007 season.

Enter Lewis Hamilton

So when writing this retrospective, I decided to give Lewis Hamilton about as much attention as the driver had actually gotten in the build-up.

Okay, that’s a bit of a lie. Hamilton made waves as the first black driver in F1, and had impressed already that weekend with his calmness and performance not befitting a rookie making his first-ever start. It’s unusual for a rookie driver to be considered great enough to be on a top team in their very first start, and Hamilton would have met expectations pretty adequately on a Sunday drive to a points finish.

But making a daring all-out move in the first turn of your first F1 race to pass second and third, with second being the two-time defending champion who is also your teammate? It reset expectations for the Briton, and has defined his career since.

Hamilton finished third after pitting earlier in the final sequence of pit stops, allowing Alonso to pass for second on merit in the clean air before pitting. Australia was the start of nine straight podium finishes to begin Hamiltonʻs career.

After the third round of the 17-race season, Raikkonen, Alonso, and Hamilton were all tied for the lead in points, with Alonso leading on countback. In the next race, Raikkonen had an electrical issue that caused a DNF, Massa won, and Hamilton finished second.

Alonso could only watch from his third-place position as his rookie teammate took the points lead just four races into his career. To add salt to the wound, this was the Spanish Grand Prix, Alonsoʻs home GP, which had to be an absolutely miserable day for the man who had become a hero to his fellow countrymen the last two years.

Alonso would take the lead back on countback after winning the Monaco Grand Prix in the next round, with Hamilton four seconds behind in second. In the first five races of his F1 career, Hamilton had a third and four second-place finishes but had not won a race.

He didn’t have to wait long.

The rookie broke through in Canada, with the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix being one of the wilder races in the history of F1, with four safety car periods and an extremely violent wreck.

Despite all of the day’s action, the race winner was never really in question. Hamilton started the Canadian GP from pole and finished in the position he started after clearing Alonso in the first turn, giving up the lead only during pit stops. Alonso ran wide in that first turn on both the first lap and later on in the race, and even snagged a 10-second time penalty for pitting in a closed pit lane as he was about to run out of fuel under caution. Alonso finished seventh and Raikkonen sixth, leaving Hamilton with a massive eight-point lead over Alonso in the championship.

Hamilton extended his lead by two more points by winning the following race at the United States Grand Prix, the final GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That weekend also marked the debut of Sebastian Vettel, who finished eighth and scored a point in relief of Robert Kubica following Kubica’s hard crash at Montreal.

Ferrari showed superior race pace at Circuit de Magny-Cours in France, the next stop on the calendar, with Raikkonen overtaking Massa for the win by undercutting him in the last pit stop cycle. Hamilton finished 32 seconds down but extended his podium streak by finishing third, walking away with a 14-point lead with nine races to go.

In the next race at Silverstone, a costly fuel hose miscue cost Hamilton the chance to win his home race at his inaugural home GP, and he failed to match the pace of winner Raikkonen and second-place Alonso. Still, Hamilton finished third, and his damage control ensured a 12-point lead over Alonso and an 18-point lead over Raikkonen.

The next stop, the 2007 European Grand Prix, was one of the craziest starts ever in motorsports. Rain was forecasted early in the race, but all but one driver pulled up to the starting line with dry weather tires.

A torrential downpour that began on lap one led to all but two drivers pitting after it for intermediate tires. One of them, Raikkonen, skidded from the pit entry and had to do an extra lap on dry tires. On laps two and three, the intermediate runners then took turns spinning out, as the track was too wet for even that tire compound. Adrian Sutil almost hit the pace car and skidded into a crane – thankfully at such a low speed that it was only just a tap. Hamilton needed to be craned out of a sand trap but continued in the race as he never left his car.

Markus Winkelhock made one start in his Formula 1 career, in this race. He started last in a Spyker, a team that lasted one season in which they finished 10th of 10 eligible constructors in points.

The Spyker team started from the pit lane after going on full wet tires following the formation lap.

By lap four, Winkelhock had a 33-second lead.

The lead wouldn’t last, as the track dried out after the race restarted following a lengthy red flag. Hamilton spent most of the day fighting to get back into the points, as Alonso ran second to Massa until the rain came back.

Rain fell again with eight laps to go. Hamilton took a gamble and stayed out on dry tires, but lost too much performance and pitted for intermediate tires after everybody else already had. The McLaren was faster than the Ferrari under wet conditions, enabling Alonso to pass Massa for the win with four laps to go, though Alonso made contact with Massa during the pass, and the two argued on the cooldown lap.

The race was exactly what Alonso needed. With seven races remaining, the McLaren teammates were within two points of each other. The tension between the teammates finally seemed to manifest itself during qualifying at Hungary, the final race before the summer break.

Raikkonen stalked Hamilton throughout the race, but Hamilton took a lights-to-flag victory. Alonso finished the race in fourth after enduring a grid penalty, meaning the point standings entering the summer break were as follows:

1st Lewis Hamilton 80
2nd Fernando Alonso 73
3rd Kimi Raikkonen 60

Now, normally, when writing about F1, it’s important to report on constructor standings. It’s a huge deal because a team’s prize money for the entire season hinges on where they finish in points.

But little did anybody know, that the constructor points were already pretty much decided. The largest penalty in sports history was about to fall down on one of the principal parties of this saga, one outlined in part two of this retrospective.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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