Dramatic Conclusion - 2008 McLaren Mercedes MP4-23
Back in 2007, McLaren was involved on what could be the biggest ever scandal in the history of Formula One known as the “Spygate”. In which McLaren was passed with confidential technical information of their rival from Maranello: Scuderia Ferrari.
McLaren was found guilty and was excluded in the constructor standings. The scandal also contributes in the breakdown of the relationship between the team and two time world champion Fernando Alonso and caused other incidents. Most notably was the incident where Alonso blocked his rookie teammate Hamilton in the pits during the qualifying of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
While the chemistry of the team broke down, this let the Ferrari of Raikkonen to claim the driver’s championship. Adding salt to injury, Ferrari also inherited the constructor’s championship from McLaren as well.
After the rocky relationship with the team, Alonso decided to terminate his contract with McLaren and went back to his old team: Renault. This opens up the place for Heikki Kovalainen to jump from Renault to partner the young Hamilton at McLaren. Thus creating a young and exciting duo for McLaren.
With Ron Dennis leading the team. The clear objective for them is to claim both championship from the hands of Ferrari, ending their title drought since 1999 where Mika Hakkinen claimed his second driver’s title.
McLaren began their title assault with the pre-season testing at Jerez in which both Kovalainen and Hamilton did the runnings for the brand new car. Joining them was the veteran Pedro De La Rosa as the reserve driver for the team racking up decent mileage for the car.
Because of the engine freeze, the team mostly focused on the development of the aerodynamics package for the car. The most notable change there is without a doubt the higher nose cone. Replacing the low nose cone design that was used during 2005 until 2007. The bridge wing design was still kept.
Additionally, work was put into the sidepods, helping the car more in cooling. Other changes include a redesign of the front suspension, aerodynamically revised airbox surroundings, larger T-wings and a longer wheelbase. At Hungary, the team added the “Dumbo Wings” which was first used by Honda.
Lastly, during a test at Hockenheimring half way into the season, McLaren trial the shark fin engine cover which was used by many other team such as Red Bull, Renault, Sauber and later Ferrari. Although the team did not use the design for the rest of the season.
The Woking based team then headed to Australia for the first race of the reason. After a good qualifying, which Hamilton claimed pole. The race itself was a carnage as cars retired everywhere. Hamilton though drove a controlled race to win the opening race of the season. While Kovalainen ended up in 5th at his debut for McLaren after losing out on a battle with Alonso now on the Renault.
Sepang was a decent result for the team. After each being demoted 5 places down after impeding Heidfeld and Alonso. Heikki finally claimed his first podium in F1 after finishing third while the young Brit ended the race in a lonely 5th.
Bahrain was a below average race for the team. Hamilton race was pretty much a horror show. After getting a poor start which the anti-stall kick in, he collided the rear wing of his former teammate Alonso which forced him to pit and change for a new front wing. Dropping the young Brit to 18th before recovering back in 13th. Kovalainen meanwhile finishing 5th and grabbed the race’s fastest lap.
After a dismal race for Hamilton at Sakhir, he bounced back and finished 3rd at Catalunya as he has no chance to catch the dominant Ferraris. Hekki was involved in a heavy crash on lap 22, the left front tire of the Finn blew and he was sent straight to the barrier. With the impact measured at 26G. Luckily the Finn was released from the hospital the next day.
Hamilton drove a fantastic race at Istanbul to challenge Massa for the win but unfortunately lost out as he was on a three stops strategy as oppose to the two stops the Brazilian use. Heikki meanwhile was unfortunately had to pit early after a puncture which Raikkonen hit him at the left rear tire. Sending the Finn to the rear end of the grid before recovering to 12th.
Monaco was on of the highs of the season for the team. Although the team encountered a few dilemmas during the first part of the race. Kovalainen stalled before the formation lap and was forced to start from the pit.
Hamilton meanwhile was in second before the punctured his right rear tire after making contact with the barrier at Tabac. Forcing Lewis to pit early but crucially only drop to 5th with more fuel. The safety car on lap eight was crucial as it frozen the whole fields. Bringing Hamilton back in contention. With Raikkonen serving a drive through penalty, Massa and Kubica on a different strategy to the Brit. Lewis took the lead and never looking back. Claiming his second victory of the season. While Heikki did a great job grabbing a point in 8th.
Unfortunately, Hamilton’s joy was short lived as he made a horrible error as he crashed into the back of Raikkonen while in the pit at Montreal. Forcing him to retire, also handling him a 10 places grid penalty for Magny Cours. Heikki meanwhile was also having a bad performance as the Finn could only managed 9th. The first race of the season where McLaren couldn’t score a single point.
As a punishment for his crash at Canada, Lewis was demoted down to 13th and would only claimed 10th. Meanwhile Heikki missing out on a podium when finishing 4th in France.
Now down to 4th in the driver’s championship, Hamilton had a lot to do to get back in the championship
Next off was Silverstone. Both the team’s home race and for Hamilton as well. Kovalainen brilliantly claimed his first pole. But all eyes are on Hamilton, and on that rainy Sunday afternoon. Hamilton produced a masterclass of a drive in the rain. Crossing the line as the winner and more than a minute ahead of his closest competitor.
Kovalainen unfortunately dropped to 5th in the tricky conditions around Silverstone.
At Germany, Hamilton won his second race in the roll while Kovalainen again finsihed in 5th. Hamilton made a late charge in the race to pass Nelson Piquet Jr. in the Renault brilliantly utilizing the strategy during the safety car period but wasn’t enough to stop the young Brit winning.
The two victories Lewis won moved him back into the lead of the championship, 4 points ahead of Felipe Massa in the red scarlet Ferrari.
Hungary was next and a familiar place for the Lewis as he won there 12 months ago. Throughout the race both cars was running 2nd and 3rd respectively. Then cruel luck struck Hamilton as his left front tire deflated and dropped him to 10th. Kovalainen was up to 2nd when Massa’s engine expired only a handful of laps left. Moving the Finn into the lead and claiming his first ever victory in the sport.
Meanwhile Hamilton fought back to 5th and claim valuable points in the championship .
Valencia is the sight for the European Grand Prix, for the first time racing on the streets of Valencia. Both McLarens had a decent race with Hamilton claiming 2nd behind championship rival Massa while Heikki narrowly missing out of the podium only to finish behind the Sauber of Kubica.
The race at Spa Francochamp was a controversial one. After of more than 40 laps of intense battle, Hamilton and Raikkonen duke it out for the win when Hamilton cut the Bus Stop chicane on lap 41 to avoid Raikkonen hitting his front wing which the Brit gave the place back to the Iceman. Then Raikkonen lost control at Blanchimont and binned his Ferrari to the wall. Leaving Hamilton cruising to victory.
But the FIA stripped his victory after deemed him at fault for cutting the chicane on lap 41 to gain an advantage. Dropping him to 3rd. Only 2 points ahead of Massa. Heikki only managed a lackluster 10th in the race.
While Hamilton struggled at Monza and only managed 7th. Heikki finished in 2nd but he was overshadowed by the Toro Rosso of the young Sebastian Vettel becoming the youngest ever winner in the history of Formula One.
After that all eyes was on the first ever night race in the history of F1 around the streets of Marina Bay in Singapore. Hamilton claimed third in the controversial “Crashgate” race which Renault intentionally crashing out Piquet to let Alonso win. Kovalainen was caught out in the chaos in only finished 10th.
Although claimed pole at Fuji, Hamilton race took a turn for the worse as he was spun out by championship rival Massa early in the race and only managed to recover to 10th. Adding salt to injury was that Kovalainen retired on lap 16 with an engine issue.
Hamilton then back to his good form, winning his 5th race of the season at Shanghai, establishing a 7 points lead to Massa before heading to the title decider at Massa’s home ground at Interlagos.
With the constructor championship out of sight, the only thing McLaren could do was to help Hamilton winning the driver’s championship.
While Massa was on pole, Hamilton was in 4th. In a rain soak Interlagos, the pressure was on for the two championship challenger. Massa was off to the lead and was not looking back. Hamilton meanwhile was in a tense battle as he needs to finish in 5th to win the championship.
After a dry period of the race, rain started to fall down again around Interlagos, forcing the front runners all pitting for wets. Only Timo Glock on the Toyota didn’t pit as he continuing on with intermediate tires. Hamilton was getting lot of pressure from the Toro Rosso of Vettel. On lap 69, only 2 laps left; the BMW Sauber of Kubica was unlapping himself was forced Hamilton wide. Allowing Vettel to take 5th, Hamilton down to 6th. Which means both Massa and Hamilton will both be on 97 points, but Massa will be the champion as he won 6 races to Lewis’s 5 races.
Massa crossing the line thinking he will be the world champion, but unknowingly to both Lewis and Felipe, Glock is still slowly limping around in 4th. With all hopes seemingly gone, Vettel and Hamilton pass Glock at the final corner. Which Martin Brundle quotes going into the F1’s folklore:
“IS THAT GLOCK?”
Hamilton crossed the line and becoming the youngest driver at the time to win the Formula One championship by a mere one point. Closing out an incredible season with ups and down. Also ending McLaren’s drought for a world championship since 1999.
The MP4-23 was one of the most revolutionary car in terms of aerodynamics performance. Claiming 6 victories, McLaren finally find the redemption they were waiting for after a rocky 2007 season. A huge part of the championship was contributed to Ron Dennis as he helped Hamilton climbs the rank of karting and junior single seater before becoming a Formula One World Champion.