Commentary

2008 a veritable roller-coaster ride in F1

From the economy to sex scandals, the 2008 F1 season produced its share of memorable headlines. But none was bigger than Lewis Hamilton winning his first world title, writes Dan Knutson.

Updated: January 11, 2009, 8:34 AM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

Raikkonen and KissAP Photo/Ercole ColomboLegendary rock band Kiss made a new fan in Kimi Raikkonen while performing a postrace concert at the Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton won the drivers' world championship and Ferrari won the constructors' world championship in 2008. But there were plenty more winners and losers, highs and lows, and crazy moments during the Formula One season. Here are some of the best and worst:

The most thrilling 30 seconds of the season: The final 30 seconds of the last lap of the last race. Felipe Massa crossed the finish line in Brazil, winning the race and, briefly, the world championship because Lewis Hamilton was in sixth place. But then, 17 seconds before Hamilton crossed the finish line, he managed to pass Timo Glock to grab fifth place. And that was enough for Hamilton to snatch the championship back from Massa by a single point.

Sportsman of the year award: Goes to Massa for the dignified and chivalrous way he handled the last-minute loss of the title in Brazil.

Best car: The Ferrari F2008 edged out the McLaren Mercedes MP4-23.

Most improved team I: Scuderia Toro Rosso scored only eight points in 2007. In 2008, the team racked up 39 points and earned its first pole and win thanks to Sebastian Vettel's superb performance in Italy.

Most improved team II: After going winless in 2007, Renault won twice in 2008 and overtook BMW Sauber to become the third-best team behind Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes by the end of the season.

Most disappointing team: A tie between Honda and Williams, which both performed far below what they are capable of.

Fairy-tale moment I: One year after a terrifying accident in Montreal, Robert Kubica won the first F1 race of his career at the same track.

Fairy-tale moment II: Vettel's maiden F1 win in Italy was one of those feel-good moments for just about everybody, including the drivers he beat.

Best race: The Belgian Grand Prix had it all, including exciting battles for the lead between Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, and Hamilton and Massa. There was drama when rain in the final laps jumbled the finishing order, followed by controversy when race officials demoted Hamilton to third for cutting the chicane and handed the win to Massa.

Most controversial ruling by race officials I: The penalty they gave Hamilton for "gaining an advantage" on Raikkonen in Belgium. After getting the lead by cutting across the chicane, Hamilton gave it back to Raikkonen only to quickly repass him. Later almost every other driver supported the ruling, saying that Hamilton had indeed gained an advantage, but the whole thing left a sour taste.

Most controversial ruling by race officials II: When Sebastian Bourdais exited the pits in Japan he encountered Massa and they raced side by side in Turn 1 and collided. Officials deemed that Bourdais had caused an avoidable collision and dropped him from sixth to 10th.

Lance Armstrong award: Bridgestone PR man Andy Stobart cycled the 430 miles from England to Magny-Cours for the French Grand Prix. The trip took five days, including a 24-hour stopover in Le Mans, to watch the race there.

[+] EnlargeHonda Crew
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelWorst team uniforms? Look no further than the crew at Honda.

Best Bat race: Toyota promoted the new Batman film "The Dark Knight" at the British Grand Prix. The Batmobile took to the track alongside one of Toyota's F1 cars on Thursday afternoon. And the Bat-Pod motorcycle was on display in the paddock.

Biggest hotel rip-off: Hotels in Singapore raised their room rates to exorbitant levels for the race weekend. Then the local government added a 25 percent tax on top of that.

Worst taxi ride: A team mechanic had a nasty taxi ride in Budapest when the cabbie stopped in a remote street. Two men grabbed the mechanic, took him to a cash machine and forced him to withdraw 100,000 forints ($668).

Best driver: Robert Kubica made virtually no mistakes all season long. The Polish ace was able to get every last ounce of performance out of his BMW Sauber at every race. The same could not be said for the likes of Hamilton and Massa.

Most disappointing driver: Two wins and third in points would be pretty good for most drivers. But it was a disappointing performance for 2007 world champion Raikkonen, who seemed to be asleep at the wheel at times.

Worst team uniforms: The queasy lime green pants worn by the Honda crew for the first half of the season.

Best pass: With two laps to go on a rain-slicked track in Belgium, Raikkonen took the lead from Hamilton by slicing through a tiny gap between Hamilton and the lapped car of Nico Rosberg. It was all for nothing, however, as Raikkonen hit the wall in the next corner.

Rookie of the year: Although Vettel and Glock participated in their first full seasons, they both had previous F1 starts under their belts. Of the "true" rookies, Kazuki Nakajima fared better than Bourdais and Nelson Piquet.

Worst race: Street circuits such as Monaco and Melbourne normally serve up plenty of action and incidents. But the walls of the new street circuit in Spain's port city of Valencia did nothing to help improve what turned into a boring processional race.

Best new rule: Banning traction control and other electronic "baby-sitting" driver aids.

Quickest poser: After Raikkonen paused for a mere seven seconds and then 10 seconds at the two areas for official preseason driver photos in Australia, the FIA ordered him to put his driving suit back on and return to pose again for a longer time.

Best party: For those who got invited that is, it took place in Monaco on the Indian Empress yacht (which is literally about as long as a football field) owned by Force India team owner and billionaire Vijay Mallya.

Best toy collection: Besides his yacht, Mallya has a private car collection of about 250 classic and historic race and street cars.

Most embarrassing mistake by a driver: Hamilton didn't see the red light at pit exit in Montreal and rammed into Raikkonen, who was stopped and waiting for it to turn green. Then Rosberg did the same thing and ran into Hamilton's car.

Most embarrassing mistake by a team: In Singapore the Ferrari crew released Massa from his pit stop a couple of seconds too early. His car ripped out the refueling hose and dragged it down pit lane. The resulting time loss and a penalty cost Massa valuable points.

Most embarrassing accident by a father: Lewis Hamilton's father, Anthony, took a spin in a half-million-dollar Porsche Carrera GT. Literally. He lost control of the borrowed car just 200 yards from his home and spun it into a hedge.

Best night moves: Racing at night for the first time was not that big a deal for F1. But what made the event spectacular was the fabulous camera work by the TV crews that showed off the brilliantly lit and dazzling backdrop of Singapore's business district and harbor.

Worst traffic: As always, the bridge spanning the Bosphorus Strait created legendary traffic snarls for those trying to get to and from the city of Istanbul and the track for the Turkish Grand Prix.

The crying shame accident: Adrian Sutil was in fourth place in his Force India entry in the waning laps at Monaco when Raikkonen tried to pass him and knocked his car into the barrier. Members of the little Force India team were in tears as their one real chance of scoring points all year crashed.

Best comedian: Sutil can quote lines from Monty Python and other British comedies. He always seems to have a one-liner quip or a joke ready to go.

[+] EnlargeFelipe Massa
AP Photo/Eugene HoshikoNo, that refueling hose sticking out of Felipe Massa's Ferrari shouldn't be there.

Best first-turn pass: Massa qualified his Ferrari third in Hungary behind McLaren Mercedes' Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. Massa passed Kovalainen at the start, and then went around the outside of Hamilton in the first turn to take the lead.

Crushing defeat from the jaws of victory moment: After dominating the Hungarian Grand Prix, Massa stopped three laps from the finish with an engine failure.

Worst first-turn move: Hamilton qualified on pole in Japan but made a slow start. Trying to regain the lead, he audaciously barged into the first turn, forcing a number of drivers, including Ferrari's Raikkonen and Massa, off the track. Further accidents and penalties ensued and Hamilton scored no points.

Best postrace concert: Legendary rock group Kiss performed after the Australian Grand Prix.

Toughest paddock security: People who had a pass to get into the F1 paddock in Singapore had to go through airport-type security procedures.

Quickest back-to-back fine earner: Bourdais copped two pit-lane speeding fines in 12 minutes in practice Friday morning in Malaysia -- one for 1,000 euros and one for 3,000 euros.

Mountain climbers of the year: Vettel and Honda tester Alex Wurz climbed Mount Fuji on the day after the Japanese Grand Prix. They started before dawn so as to arrive at the 13,000-foot peak to watch the sunrise. However, they have a long way to go to match former F1 driver Takuma Sato, who has scaled some of the highest peaks in the world.

Best celebrity turnout: The Monaco Grand Prix was attended by Lance Armstrong, Kate Hudson, Elizabeth Hurley, Brigitte Nielsen, Michelle Yeoh, Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas.

Rockiest moment: The skipper of Raikkonen's $6 million Sunseeker yacht made a wrong turn offshore of a Finnish island. Fortunately the boat suffered nothing more than some deep scratches to the hull when the wind blew it onto some rocks.

Worst thing for U.S. F1 fans: For the second straight year there was no U.S. Grand Prix.

Worst news for North American fans: With the Canadian Grand Prix not on the schedule next year, 2009 will be the first time in the history of the Formula One World Championship that there will be no race in North America.

Best-kept secret: Fernando Alonso got married in November 2007 to Raquel del Rosario Macías, the lead singer and songwriter in one of Spain's top rock bands, El Sueno de Morfeo (Morpheus' Dream).

Luckiest accident: After tagging the wall in Monaco, Hamilton had to pit. That unplanned early pit stop altered the team's race strategy, which subsequently meant that he won the race.

Best charity poker game: Eight drivers took part in a high-stakes televised game in Italy after the race. Rosberg was the big winner, earning $43,828, half of which went to charity. Kubica, Giancarlo Fisichella, Eddie Irvine, Giorgio Pantano, Tonio Liuzzi, Alex Zanardi and Sutil also played.

Unsung hero award: Goes to Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley, who has channeled the Brazilian's fast but wild style into a winning formula.

Most dangerous truck stops: Thieves targeted 20 race and hospitality transporters at the track or leaving the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain. They fed sleeping gas into the trucks and stole computers, passports and other valuables while the drivers were knocked out.

Best press room food: Montreal hired local chefs and restaurants to provide the media with a different local specialty each day. Sure beat the water that is all many press rooms serve.

Biggest scandal: FIA president Max Mosley was filmed in an S&M orgy with five sex workers in London.

Most bizarre reason for retirement: The Red Bull team said that an electrical surge from an underground tram fried Mark Webber's gearbox in Singapore.

Best stats I: Seven drivers won a race, the most since eight won in 2003. And 15 drivers led at least one lap, tying the record set in 1954, 1956, 1957, 1960 and 1975.

Best stat II: Monaco marked the 600th Grand Prix for Frank Williams as an entrant.

Most expensive three minutes: The FIA fined Hamilton 5,000 euros ($7,433 at that time) for being a mere three minutes late to the FIA's Thursday news conference at the European Grand Prix.

Spins award: Massa had five spins in the rain in the British Grand Prix.

The longest trip: Assorted delays turned Glock's eight-hour flight from Australia to Malaysia into a 40-hour ordeal. It was his birthday, incidentally.

Best charity auction: Happened in Monaco for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Raikkonen bought Sharon Stone's 1974 Corvette for $315,492. Force India owner Mallya bid $356,506 for one of Elton's pianos and raised $591,548 by selling a week on his Indian Empress yacht.

Best charity fishing: The artificial lake in front of McLaren Technology Centre in England was the site of a children's cancer charity function when team boss Ron Dennis and other team members pledged to pay for each fish 13-year-old cancer sufferer Liam Fairhurst caught. He reeled in 25 carp.

Worst postseason news: Honda pulls out of F1 for 2009.

Best postseason news: The ruling body FIA and the teams work together with unprecedented cooperation to agree on a sweeping set of immediate and long-term cost-cutting moves that will help keep more teams from withdrawing from the sport.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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