|Phot Courtesy of Team Lotus|
Qualifying started badly for Kobayashi. He was first person out on track and suffered an engine failure on his out lap. Despite coasting as far as he could he didn't make it back to the pits and was first man out in Q3.
During Q2 an unusual call over the radio to Michael Schumacher was heard. "Magic paddle Michael. Magic paddle latched". Awesome phrases seem to be coming out of every race this year, and this is certainly one of the best. Instant speculation started as to what it might be, but Ross Brawn and the drivers were being a little secretive about it. Ross only mentioned that it allows them to make several set-up changes in one go. My guess would be fuel system, brake bias and differential settings, but it could be as simple as the DRS paddle which would probably make more sense of the "latched" part.
Q3 saw Red Bull taking an incredibly cool approach. Both drivers waited for the middle of the session before going out. Vettel promptly set the pace by going almost half a second faster than Webber, which sent everyone else off for their final run. Vettel and Webber meanwhile, got out of their cars and wandered off. The confidence on show must be bringing the other teams down, but its not misplaced. No-one else could get anywhere near Vettel. Nico Rosberg upset the normal order by putting himself in third, Hamilton having to be satisfied with fourth. Alonso got a faster time than Button, The Spaniard seems to be making fifth place on the grid his own this year. While Schumacher's magic paddle wasn't quite as special as his team-mate's, he could only manage eighth.
You know its nearly time for the race when Martin Brundle's grid walk starts. He tried to interrupt Vettel, with a superb disregard of manners, while the German was already being interviewed. Jenson tried to get in on the act with the quotes. Martin asked, "How's it looking?" and got the reply, "As good as Eddie's shirt." Quality stuff!
The race started well for Lewis Hamilton, which lasted for about 20 seconds until it turned into a disaster. He made it to the outside of turn 1 trying hard to fight for third and suddenly discovered there was no grip on the outside. This saw him falling backwards as everyone else found the apex he missed. Mark Webber lost out to Nico Rosberg who was being chased hard by Button. Lewis didn't want to stay there though and started fighting hard to get back in front.
Vitaly Petrov attacked Michael Schumacher on the way into turn 11 with a great slide up the inside and got repaid by Michael turning in on his rear wheel and taking his own front wing off. It was an odd mistake from the legendary driver, you have to wonder what he was thinking. That put him into the pit for repairs straight away.
Vettel was already making himself a gap in the early stages of the race while Jenson and Lewis were battling hard again on lap 7 and 8. They had a great battle, trading places very cleanly, several times before Lewis managed to get ahead in the end. Fernando Alonso was in third place hanging on to the back of Webber, as Nico Rosberg started going falling down the field. The Mercedes, despite its qualifying form, looked slow at the start of the main event.
Lewis Hamilton seemed to be losing speed and Massa overtook him just before both cars stopped for new tyres. McLaren won the pit stop race and released Lewis just before Ferrari were ready. The lollipop/traffic light man didn't seem to notice and Massa came out directly alongside Lewis. Somehow the red team didn't get a penalty for that, but you have to think it would have been deserved if they had.
Lewis was warned that he was being put onto plan B as was Nick Heidfeld. Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld had a bit of argy-bargy, both trying to push each other off the track and waving at each other to pass the blame. Meanwhile Kamui Kobayashi had made his way up as far as 13th from dead last by not taking a pit stop. Jenson also left his stop late and got himself in front of Vettel, holding him up for a while until his tyres ran out of grip. Vettel passed him and Button got into the pits for his first stop.
Rubens Barrichello put a nice move on Schumacher, who kept fighting a little too long again. Coulthard, in the commentary box, mentioned that Michael doesn't seem to know when to give up. Brundle replied, "What, on his career?" Its nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks its time to jack it in for the German. As if to prove the point he was taken shortly after by Kobayashi and Sutil.
By this stage it was becoming clear that Button was working on a three stop strategy. Alonso was keeping pace with the Red Bulls and Nico Rosberg was finally getting his performance back in gear.
Felipe Massa managed to get past him eventually though closely followed by Jensen Button who pulled a smashing move around the outside of turn 14.
The second round of pitstops was underway by now and Jenson forced Felipe to get his underway as he breezed past and forced a mistake from the Brazilian. He locked up heavily and dived straight into the pits after nearly missing turn 12.
Hamilton's next stop was a disaster as his right front wheel just wouldn't go back on. As soon as it did he tried to get away but was stopped again as Massa pulled into his pit. It gave him a huge delay but in the end probably didn't do his race too much damage. Apart from Massa missing turn 8 and having losing a big wedge of time, the race then settled down for a bit. That was probably a bit of a relief because it had been pretty hectic up to that point, and I for one needed a little time to figure out what had happened!
Towards the end the race started warming up a bit as the tyres started to run out of grip for some. Paul Di Resta broke down and parked his car, the Scot having a disappointing end to another good race. Lewis was catching Jenson fast as Button struggled to make his tyres last to the end. Webber passed Alonso who fought back as hard as he could. It wasn't enough to retake the place though and he had to settle for third. Massa caught up with Schumacher and struggled to get in front. Michael held his place through the last corners but then Felipe managed to stitch him up nicely into turn 1. Jenson's strategy was definitely proved to be the wrong one as Nico Rosberg went through again.
The race finished with the Red Bulls in first and second (no prizes for guessing the order,) and Alonso in third. Hamilton missed the podium with Rosberg behind him and Button ended in sixth.
Kamui Kobayashi made a great race of it ending up in 10th place after starting in 24th. McLaren cost themselves some points with a bad strategy call for Button and a pit stop error for Hamilton. Ferrari have found some performance from somewhere, although there don't appear to have been major changes on the car. Mercedes have problems with their performance at the start of the race, but nothing seems to be wrong by the end of the race. The DRS zone was perhaps a little too long for this track, some of the overtakes were too easy. But the race was definitely exciting, which is what has been needed after too many years of dullness.
The European season gets underway properly next time out in Barcelona. Upgrades will be coming thick and fast. Will it be enough for anyone to get near to Red Bull? Will the drag reduction system activation zone be set properly this time? Will Schumacher have had enough yet? All these questions might be answered in two weeks time. And maybe we'll get some more quality quotes as well.