|Photo Courtesy of Force India|
Early on Saturday third practice saw Vettel fastest again while Pedro de la Rosa took the back wheel off his borrowed Force India. McLaren again couldn't get close to the Ferrari's and Vettel. Mark Webber however didn't get any running at all as his car was pulled apart to try and repair the KERS. Once again the KERS system costs Red Bull. Apparently their System only puts out 66% of the maximum allowed power. They claim that the lower weight and smaller size allow them to gain back performance in other ways. So far the balance seems to be right but if the KERS doesn't work at all, as seems to be happening so far, they are definitely losing out.
As qualifying started Martin Whitmarsh claimed that McLaren are setting the car up for wet weather due to the weather forecast showing a 60% chance of rain during the race. A lot of cars got out nice and early for qualifying 1. It looked as though there could be a chance of rain at any minute and there was also the chance of an accident stopping the session that forced them out for a banker. The drivers were opting for up to 3 flying laps as well, the soft tyres seemed to get faster as the temperature built up.
The top 6 was established pretty early on in the session with Fernando Alonso setting the fastest time. Paul Di Resta put in a fantastic lap to put himself in 8th place by the end of the session. Pedro De La Rosa provided some entertainment by running a little wide and skimming the wall with both wheels causing a shower of sparks. Somehow he avoided any damage and complete his lap but his speed was nothing to write home about.
Q2 saw some pretty close times, with seven minutes remaining the seven drivers were all within 3 tenths of a second. Kobayashi once again proved himself an absolute hero as he tried to get the best out of his car. The rear end got a little loose in the last chicane. He kept his toe down and drifted it round while looking like he was steering straight at champions wall. He survived it but it was clearly not the fastest way to do it. Paul Di Resta was also trying hard but couldn't do any better than 11th this time out. Massa was on top by the end of the session but only by a very small margin.
Q3 was almost settled by halfway through. Most of the cars went out for a second run but failed to improve except for Alonso who jumped just past Massa to put himself second on the grid. The final grid order was Vettel on pole, Alonso second and Massa third. Hamilton ended up in fourth followed by Webber while Button could only climb up to 7th. It turned out that Mark Webber wasn't able to use the Red Bull KERS at any time during qualifying which shows exactly how much damage it can do to the performance.
|Photo Courtesy of Force India|
The track was wet as the start of the race approached, but it wasn't actually raining which raised hopes that the race would be able to start normally. Those hopes were to be dashed though, the safety car was at the front of the grid as the cars pulled away. Jaimie Alguesuari seemed to have made a great decision at this point. He had elected to start from the pit lane to allow the team to make some changes to the car and now he didn't even have to catch up with the end of the field.
The safety car came in on lap 5 and the teams were put into a race situation on full wet Pirelli tyres for the first time. Vettel tried to start early to get a jump on Alonso but the Spaniard was right with him and trying hard to challenge on the start finish straight. As the rest of the cars followed through Hamilton found himself outbraking Mark Webber. It seemed as though he bounced of the kerb a little and knocked the Australian into a 180. The stewards almost immediately sent out a message that they were investigating the incident, no surprises there!
It appeared that Vettel was pulling out a four second lead, but replays showed that he had a short cut across the grass to help him with at least some of that. As Hamilton tried to regain the positions he had lost after his contact with Webber he came up behind Button. On the way out of the last chicane he got a much better run and dived towards the pit wall to try and overtake. Either Jenson hadn't seen or just wasn't expecting Lewis to be that fast as he moved over and the cars hit each other and Lewis hit the pit wall. Hamilton's car looked as though it was losing a wheel but he tried to make it back to the pits. He had to give that up by turn 5 though and parked it on the track, which bought the safety car back out again.
Jenson dived straight into the pits for a check up and a set of intermediate tyres. The car seemed to be ok and he rejoined the race a long way back and the only one on those tyres. A new message arrived from the stewards at this point. The investigation against Lewis for contact with Webber was dropped (yay!) and a new one was started. This time it was for being too fast under the safety car, Jenson got in on this one as well so that Lewis didn't feel left out.
On lap 12 the safety car came back in one more time and Jenson was handed a drive through penalty. Mark Webber was now in 9th place and trying very hard to improve. Once Jenson had completed his drive through he started to show some real pace on the intermediate tyres. Perhaps this had been a strategic master-stroke? Rubens obviously thought it was a good choice as he dived into the pits to try it out himself. Mark Webber didn't seem to be hanging about and pulled himself up to seventh. Fernando Alonso also liked the look of Button's pace, he dove into the pits for a new set of tyres as well.
By lap 19 the rain was starting to fall again as proved by Button aquaplaning towards the hairpin. It suddenly turned into an enormous downpour which bought the safety car out again to avoid any incidents. Alonso and Button both dived into the pit straight away to get back onto full wets. Sebastien Vettel followed them in next time around and thanks to the safety car not picking up the leader straight away managed to get away with only losing a place to Massa. Even that didn't last long as he also pulled in for a tyre change, Vettel gets all the breaks!
The rain was now increasing even more and the red flag was shown on lap 25. The cars lined up on the grid Vettel in the lead followed by Kobayashi, Massa, Heidfeld, Petrov, Di Resta, Webber, Alonso, De La Rosa, Button and Rosberg. Kamui had not pitted at any point in the race and could now reap the rewards, a free tyre change and second place on the restart. The rain eventually stopped and the street sweepers were out in force to try and clear the track. The race was finally set to restart after a two hour four minute red flag delay.
The safety car led the cars off and after a few laps Kovavleinen was seen going slowly with what appeared to be a slipping clutch. He made his way back to the pits to retire and as it was announced that the safety car would come in on lap 35 D'Ambrosio jumped into the pits to go to inters. That was one lap too early as it turned out and he got himself a drive through.
On the restart Vettel made his usual break for it and Kobayashi was too busy defending from Massa to worry him at that point. A fair few cars dived straight into the pit for intermediates and even more did the same on the following lap, including Jenson Button. Next time the Ferraris both went into the pit and had to queue for tyres with Alonso losing out. As he left the pit he ended up in front of Button who immediately tried to get up inside coming into turn 4. Alonso wouldn't give it up though and touched Button, spinning himself up onto the kerb and ending his race. Button got a puncture to show for it and made his way slowly back to the pit once again.
The stranded Ferrari meant that the safety car came out for another run, so Vettel stuck it back into the pit for a fresh set of tyres with no positions lost, while Button found himself in 21st and last place. Another investigation announced for the Button/Alonso incident.
By lap 44 Button had worked his way up to 15th place. Kobayashi was starting to struggle and Massa was trying very hard to take his place. By lap 46 DRS was being enabled and it looked like it was becoming time to change to slicks. Webber was well within the DRS activation zone was not able to take enough advantage to make a pass on Schumacher. Lap 49 and Button was up to 12th place. Buemi was sliding all over the place and that allowed Button to take his place, by lap 50 he was up to 10th.
Mark Webber was the first man to dare to go for slicks on lap 51. Kobayashi made a mistake on the way to the hairpin and Massa got alongside him. Neither of them could get any power down on the way out of the corner and Schumacher took full advantage of the situation and passed the pair of them to put himself into 2nd place. Lap 53 and Button pitted again, this time for slicks, with Schumacher and Massa doing the same on the following lap. Massa moved onto the wet part of the track to pass a back marker, lost all traction and knocked the front wing off his Ferrari but survived to continue to the pits.
Hiedfeld hit the back of a slow Kobayashi and broke his front wing supports. On the following straight the wing fell under the car and sent him flying down the escape road. The debris on the track caused the safety car to come out once more on lap 57. The order was now Vettel, Schumacher, Webber and Button with only 19 cars left in the race.
The race restarted on lap 61 with Vettel immediately opening out a lead on the other three. They stayed in order until the DRS was re-enabled. Then the fight began in earnest, Webber was trying incredibly hard but although he got alongside Schumacher, he ran wide on the final chicane. He had to give the place back and managed to do it without losing out to Button. He tried again next time round but this time couldn't keep the car straight on the way out of the chicane and lost his place to Jenson.
Button's DRS was obviously working better than Webber's as he passed Schumacher well before the chicane and started chasing Vettel. The German had a three second lead with only four laps remaining but Button gained back well over a second on the next lap. Webber finally got past Michael on lap 67 and Button was now only 1.3 seconds behind Vettel. Button went on to set the fastest lap of the race and finally get into the DRS zone on the last lap of the race. The pressure was obviously getting to Vettel and he put a wheel into the wet part of the track and half spun allowing Jenson to sweep past into the lead. He recovered to take second place followed by Webber and Schumacher. Massa used his DRS to catch up to Kobayashi and just managed to get a wheel in front on the line.
An incredible win by Button who had pretty much everything thrown at him during the race. It must have been incredibly dissapointing for Vettel who only made one small error in the whole event, but it was the most costly one it could have been. After everything else working out so well it was surprising to see such a slip-up from the man who, so far this year, could do no wrong.
Hamilton seemed to be trying too hard again. He was attempting moves that few others would try but that is how he got himself a championship. When they work he is the hero of the day, when they don't, he looks a bit foolish. That seems to be the result too often in the last few races, but if they gave out points for effort he would already have the championship sewn up. I'd rather see that than too much caution any day. Button said after the race that he just didn't realise Hamilton was trying to overtake when they touched. According to the team, no hard feelings. But you do have to wonder a little!
Schumacher finally managed to produce a performance worthy of his previous career. Some are saying that DRS cost him second place, but I'm not so sure. Once he was overtaken DRS didn't seem to give him back second place or even third after all.
Button and Alonso were not given Penalties for their contact, thankfully. In an incident packed race it seemed that far too many were being given out. One that changed the result of the race would have been a step too far for what was essentially a racing incident.
Surely there is no way Valencia can top a race like this, even with DRS and Pirelli tyres? I guess we'll find out in two weeks time!