2007 had all the makings of a truly vintage F1 season, even before any of this season's cars had turned a wheel in testing, never mind competitive anger. The biggest news, of course, was that Michael Schumacher would be absent from the grid, with Kimi Raikkonen taking the seven times world champion's place in the Red Car alongside Schumacher's prot?g?, Felipe Massa, at a newly restructured Maranello concern. Reigning double world champ, Fernando Alonso, would be taking Kimi's seat in the McLaren Mercedes alongside British GP2 champion and F1 rookie, Lewis Hamilton. 2007 was looking good for Honda and Jenson Button too, buoyed by their first GP victory in Hungary we were all expecting great things from the Brackley-based team, then they let someone who had never designed an F1 car pen their challenger - and it all went wrong.

So, with every major championship contender either retiring or moving teams, we knew that 2007 would be a good year. But I don't think anyone would have dared predict that it would be as exciting and intense as it has been.

Lewis Hamilton

Could anyone have dared predict this?

In theory you could argue that if you put any of the drivers in this year's championship in the McLaren racer, they would be on the podium with the kind of regularity Hamilton has enjoyed so far, but I don't think this really tells the true story of just how good Lewis is turning out to be. To line up on the grid for your first ever F1 race in fourth position, then to simply drive around the outside of not just your team mate, but the double World Driver's Champion doesn't just take guts, but a bag of talent and skill the size of which you and I can only imagine. His composure throughout the first half of the season has been quite amazing for any driver, let alone a 22 year old 'Newbie'; yes he has come into the sport more prepared than any other driver ever has, but contrary to most of the available evidence Lewis Hamilton is a human being. And a young one at that, so the way he has kept his head in some truly challenging situations has been deeply impressive. I suspect even Ron Dennis is surprised that his prot?g? is now well on his way to achieving an unprecedented rookie year World Driver's Championship.

Naturally, the response in Britain has been incredible - when was the last time you heard about F1 on the news? Or saw a British F1 driver in an advert on TV outside of the 'breaks' that pepper ITV's coverage? At the recent test at Silverstone I saw more people in there than I ever have, and they started charging a tenner this year too! It goes without saying that the British GP was a sell-out.

But, it's not all sweetness and light at McLaren's HQ in Woking. It is becoming clear that Fernando Alonso is not taking kindly to being beaten by the young rookie and, particularly after the events in Hungary, it seems that even Lewis has given up on attempting to convince us that he and Alonso are anything but the fiercest of rivals. Indeed, only today a story has emerged suggesting that Dennis has opened the door for Fernando to leave the team.

Hamilton's first win

Lewis and Alonso don't talk anymore

"The events in Hungary"

A scandal to rival any of Schumacher's dirty tricks

At the start of the third qualifying session in Hungary last weekend the drivers lined up at the end of the pitlane with Hamilton up front and Alonso and Raikkonen close in behind him. When the lights turned green Lewis was told by McLaren to relinquish his position to Fernando for 'tactical reasons' but he failed to do so, much to the irritation of the team's number 1 driver. For the most part the rest of the session passed without incident. However, right at the end of 'Q3', the top guys tend to dive into the pits to get fresh tyres - so they can have one last ditch effort at setting an unbeatable time when they have the minimum fuel and, therefore, minimum weight - in the car. Alonso came in first, closely followed by Hamilton, who queued up behind the Spaniard in the pitlane. The mechanics fitted tyres to Fernando's McLaren and waved him off - no movement. He hadn't stalled, the lollypop had been raised and the team was now frantically signalling for him to go - but still, no movement. After nearly half a minute he left the box, leaving Hamilton with no chance to make it round the circuit in time to complete a final lap.

Later on, Alonso claimed that he had been waiting for a radio countdown to leave the pits, while Hamilton explained his refusal to allow his team mate to pass as being caused by a concern for letting Raikkonen by him too. Who you believe is probably down to whom you are a fan of since, in truth, there is no way of knowing who was in the right. One thing we have learned though is that both these guys - despite seeming like awfully nice chaps - are totally ruthless competitors who will only toe the party line for as long as it doesn't affect 'their' championship.

Pole controversy in Hungary

McLaren 'summoned by stewards'

Alonso denies sabotage

The Spying Row

Quite exciting to begin with, one could argue that the row between McLaren and Ferrari is now starting to damage the reputation of the sport

The purity of what has, so far, been a fantastic championship battle, has been sullied somewhat by the wrangling between Ferrari and McLaren over some documents that were stolen/anonymously received by McLaren that were/were not used to design this year's challenger and/or give the British team a competitive advantage over the Italians by allowing Ron Dennis' team access to The Scuderia's testing and race data. Needless to say, the whole affair leading up to the recent hearing in front of the World Motor Sport Council is unbelievably complicated - full of accusations of not only espionage, but smear campaigns, cheating, favouritism from the FIA and general skulduggery. It's a maelstrom of conspiracy theories that would take pages to pick through, so I shan't bore you with the gory details.

Essentially it now comes down to this - McLaren were found guilty of being in contravention of a rule - as it was proven that at least one member of the team had been aware of the Ferrari documents - but, since there was no evidence to prove the data had actually been used by the team itself (Mike Coughlan, the McLaren Chief Designer who was in possession of the dossier, claimed he had kept the pages of data out of 'engineering curiosity'), the FIA decided that no punishment would be necessary. It goes without saying that Ferrari are less than pleased and, for a reason no one can really understand, Max Mosley has decided that the case will go to appeal. Once again, McLaren run the risk of being chucked out of the 2007 and 2008 World Championships. Possibly losing Hamilton and McLaren the World Championships and, if some stories are to be believed, McLaren the services of Fernando Alonso.

Spying Row 'timeline'

CRASH!

Big accidents in F1 are, thankfully, few and far between these days, but this season has seen a couple of really big ones

The most notable of which being BMW driver Robert Kubica's enormous shunt during the Canadian GP. Ten years ago a crash the size and ferocity of that would have almost certainly meant an untimely end to a young driver's life but, with the latest crash structures, helmets and the all-important HANS Device the promising Pole was able to 'walk away' with just a sprained ankle and a bit of a sore head. And that, let us not forget, was after hitting a concrete wall head-on at almost 150mph before barrel-rolling across the tarmac, clobbering another barrier and coming to rest on his side at the bottom of the hairpin.

Unbelievably, he was back racing just two races later.

Kubica unharmed after crash

Pictures of the aftermath

Another of the serious incidents this year was Lewis Hamilton's head-on smash during qualifying at the Nurburgring in Germany, when a failed suspension component caused his front right tyre to explode, flinging the young Brit off the road and into the tyre wall. This will have hurt. A lot. But he was able to climb out of the car with just a pretty serious winding and, again, probably a bit of a sore head to show for it. Some people I have spoken to reckon that the impact absorption characteristics of modern F1 chassis are so good, you could crash into a wall at 40mph and not feel a thing.

Lewis was back in the car and on the grid for the race the next day.

Hamilton taken for CT scan

Pics of Hamilton's McLaren, post crash

 

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