Lewis Hamilton lines up 13th for today’s French Grand Prix after taking a ten-place grid penalty.
Three years ago Kimi Raikkonen, also driving a McLaren, started in the same position and climbed though the field to second. Can Hamilton do the same?
How Raikkonen did it
Raikkonen made up two places at the start and picked off Jacques Villeneuve on lap two to take tenth.
Running a very long first stint Raikkonen had reached second place by lap 26 simply because all the other drivers in front of him had pitted.
He banged in three more quick laps in his MP4-20 – the fastest car in F1 that year – which proved enough to hold on to second place ahead of team mate Juan Pablo Montoya after Raikkonen made his first stop on lap.
Leader Fernando Alonso was long gone, and Raikkonen was left to rue a potential win lost thanks to the engine failure that had caused his penalty.
Read more about the 2005 French Grand Prix: 2005 French Grand Prix review
Raikkonen’s run to second three years ago will be of little consolation to Hamilton because he faces some very different circumstances.
The 2005 French Grand Prix was held before today’s knockout qualifying system was used. All the drivers qualified on their race fuel loads. Today only the top ten do, everyone else has the option of filling their tanks with fuel and most of them take it.
Within the top ten, the slower drivers will typically use much heavier fuel loads than those in front of them, as they have no hope of qualifying on the first few rows of the grid with a realistic fuel strategy.
Whereas Raikkonen could rely on most of the drivers in front pitting before him, Hamilton’s situation is different. This is why he has to go aggressive with a lighter fuel strategy, the complete opposite to what Raikkonen was trying in 2005.
For an illustration of how much harder Hamilton’s job is than Raikkonen’s was, consider that Fernando Alonso started tenth in a McLaren last year and only made it to seventh.
Hamilton’s other problem is that his MP4-23 does not have the speed advantage over its rivals that the MP4-20 had. But he has already made things a bit more difficult for himself by making two mistakes in qualifying. Raikkonen, on the other hand, in 2005 qualified his McLaren third with much more fuel on board than his immediate rivals.
If anything has given Hamilton cause for solace it will be the sight of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota fourth on the grid. He has often struggled to get as close to his qualifying pace in race scenarios as his rivals. Indeed, he ran second for the first 18 laps of the 2005 race, which aided Raikkonen’s cause, and Hamilton will be hoping for more of the same.
The ever-changing weather forecasts at Magny-Cours will be toying with Hamilton’s hopes. Wet weather opens up an opportunity for closer wheel-to-wheel racing which would aid his passage through the field.
If it doesn’t rain we may see that Hamilton has followed the suggestion of several strategists who pointed out that he might run a lower rear wing angle for better straight line speed to aid his overtaking potential in the dry. It would also go some way towards expaining his high-speed oversteer errors at Nurburgring in qualifying.
All the same, I expect he’s been hoping for rain.
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