This was quite a year for Formula 1...

We witnessed the sublime arrival of Lewis Hamilton, the dismal transformation of Fernando Alonso from quiet hero to petulant villain amid the insidious 'Stepneygate' affair, and finally, the emergence at Interlagos last Sunday afternoon of Kimi Raikkonen as the rightful world champion and dominant driver of the year.

Raikkonen won six races, two more than both McLaren drivers and finished the year with a flourish, making the podium in every race he finished over the season's second half and winning three of the last four races.

Unfortunately, Formula 1 is characterised by the great industrial espionage 'Stepneygate' saga and the way it's been handled by the FIA rather than the on-track competition. And following Sunday's Brazilian GP there was more squabbling, this time over the temperature of Ferrari's fuel with at least two other teams protesting the race results. Under Max Mosley's leadership the FIA has turned F1 into a lawyer's paradise where it's all about legal arcana and big egos trying to demonstrate who's the smartest of all.

As my colleague Nigel Roebuck has written, spitefulness and paranoia rule, and I have to say I cannot disagree with Jackie Stewart that a change in leadership is needed at the FIA to push F1 in a new direction where sport is more important than politics. It seems futile to believe that such a thing is possible, but you can only hope.

Meanwhile, despite all the raving about Hamilton it has to be said that on his and Ferrari's day, Raikkonen was the man to beat this year. He had one or two uninspired races but was the strongest performer in the second half of the season and showed how tough he is by shrugging off a big crash in practice at Monza in September and coming back to finish third in the race.

Before the season there was plenty of talk about how difficult it would be for the laid-back, party-hearty Finn to replace the disciplined, hard-working Michael Schumacher as Ferrari's team leader. Yet Raikkonen and the team seemed to get stronger, not weaker, as the season wore on. Kimi's pure speed and uncomplicated ways may not be so bad after all.

Different than Schumacher for sure, but maybe just as effective.

Team-mate Felipe Massa proved to be better than expected. He was great on his best days, won three races and showed his class at home in Brazil last weekend. Having spent a very pleasant evening with Massa in London five or six years ago, I have to admit I'm a fan of the little Brazilian, and I'm delighted to see him enjoy such a strong season with Ferrari.

Hamilton has been hailed as the most impressive rookie ever to appear in F1 and it's difficult to argue otherwise.

He's been carefully groomed by Ron Dennis through four years in England and Europe's open-wheel ladder system reckoned to be worth at least US$8 million, followed by some 6,000 miles of F1 testing prior to the start of this season. I can't think of anyone who was more carefully prepared for his rookie F1 season. In the end, you can say Hamilton lost the championship because of a series of rookie mistakes after slithering into a sand trap in China then messing-up on the opening lap in Brazil, but it was still a superb rookie season.

Alonso made quite a few mistakes on and off the track. Across the board, he didn't look like the same guy who won two championships in such consummate style with Renault. But there were times when we saw every inch of the great driver inside the enigmatic Spaniard. He was clearly faster than Hamilon in four or five races and scored a great victory at the Nurburgring after rapidly catching and passing Massa in the closing laps.

Maybe the big lesson of the season is that team work really is the key to success. When you get dissension and squabbling inside a team it's going to cost you and Ron Dennis has a terrible track record of managing his drivers and creating an environment in which they work closely together like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR and Raikkonen and Massa in F1. You can go back to the Prost-Senna days, but let's not forget that in recent years Dennis wasn't able to get the best out of the remarkable Raikkonen-Juan Montoya combination.

Raikkonen spent five years with McLaren before leaving last winter for Ferrari where he appears to have come into his own.

"I need to give a big thanks to the team," he said on Sunday after winning the championship. "I love the team. I have such a good time in the team. I enjoy Formula 1 much more now than I enjoyed last year. I have much better feelings from this year than any other year."

To read the rest of this Gordon Kirby column and other 'The Way It Is' columns go to



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