Tom Clarkson's 2008 Spanish Grand Prix race report

Published: 28 April 2008

After the race, no-one at McLaren could give me the stats surrounding Heikki Kovalainen’s accident on lap 22. The impact speed, the G-forces and even the cause of the left front wheel failure were all a mystery.

So I went looking elsewhere and a source that was at the scene of the accident estimated the impact speed “to be close to 125mph”. Head-on. That Heikki was only briefly unconscious and otherwise unharmed was a wonderful testament to the strength of F1 cars.

For seven laps the field snaked past Kovalainen’s wrecked MP4-23 while behind the safety car. Every lap Lewis Hamilton glanced left to see if his team-mate was okay, and for a while no-one could be sure because Heikki had a tyre wall resting on his head. But it never crossed Lewis’s mind not to continue in the race, demonstrating a level of commitment that left McLaren boss Ron Dennis feeling “proud”.

For all Lewis’s bravery en route to third place, his car’s lack of pace relative to the Ferraris and Renaults was alarming. As predicted, the Ferraris were untouchable at the front of the field, and could it be that Renault’s R28 is in the throes of usurping McLaren’s MP4-23 as F1’s second fastest car?

Fernando Alonso proved in Q1 and Q2 during qualifying, when all the cars are running with light fuel loads, that the R28 has taken a massive step forward since the last race. Its new ‘Y’-shaped damper system, combined with some aero mods, has given it a lap time gain of about 0.4secs.

This improvement was coined 'The Alonso Effect' in the Barcelona paddock and it led me to conclude that McLaren are missing the double world champion. For all his obnoxiousness out of the cockpit, Fernando sure knows how to develop a racing car. Just ask Renault.

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller