Sunday, 26 June 2011

Valencia, the Low Point of an Exciting Season

The European Grand Prix at Valencia was definitely more exciting than the last three times it has been run. But sadly in a year of stunning races, this was definitely the most dull. Can anything save this race from being a bit rubbish or is it just a lost case? And how can anyone persuade Bernie to get rid of it? It showed promise early on though...


Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
It was very hot for the start of qualifying and continued to get hotter throughout the session, combined with the slippery track here there was a chance of some errors creeping in. Predictably, Vettel set the early pace but Jenson found a little more speed shortly after as the track improved. Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull were all very close as the session continued and then Nico Rosberg jumped up to fourth as the last runs began to show that Mercedes are still involved as well. The shuffling started to push Webber and Massa down towards the drop zone but they both saved themselves at the last with Massa taking fastest lap by 0.6 seconds.

In Q2 most of the drivers had their fast laps done nice and early which was lucky for them. Pastor Maldonaldo broke down in the middle of the track and bought out the red flags for a few minutes as a crane had to rescue him. The fast guys didn't bother to go out again after that. Paul di Resta was trying hard at the end but his lap was too scruffy to be quick and he lost out on a place in Q3. His team mate, Adrian Sutil, did make it in though, which made for a good result for Force India.

With 5 minutes of Q3 remaining  the top six was Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Webber, Button and Massa. The top 4 all decided to do another run at the end, Webber set off first and Vettel was the last. By the end of his flying lap though, Vettel hadn't improved and jumped into the pits to save his tyres. Webber managed to get a faster time but only good enough for second. Button somehow ended up in 6th place as the cars all came home and another slightly disappointing qualifying session ended.


The cars lined up on the grid on an even hotter day than Saturday which was making the teams nervous about how long the tyres might last.

Photo Courtesy of Force India
As the lights went out both Ferraris got good starts with Massa getting the best of all. Hamilton bogged down a little and both of the red cars were past him by the first corner. Alonso made the best of the second turn though by running around the outside and putting himself into third on the way out of the corner. Massa tried to continue his run off the grid but had to back out of it and settle into 4th. In the confusion Button ended up knocked down to 7th as Rosberg squeezed past into 6th behind Hamilton.

By lap 2 Sebastien Vettel had opened up a 1.3 second gap on Webber and didn't look as though he would have any trouble keeping it. As the DRS became active it was Button who was in the best position to take advantage to it. Sadly it didn't seem to be working to well for him, he was getting closer to Rosberg with the flap activated but not close enough to get past. Rosberg started to get a bit ragged as the pressure built, but it was on the way into turn 2 where Jenson finally just forgot to brake for a few metres and dived through on the inside.

Fernando Alonso was closing on Mark Webber up to lap 6 but didn't seem to be making enough headway to get through. In trying to hard he ran very wide on turn 20, right across the astroturf section and giving Webber a little more breathing space. Vettel was widening the gap as Fernando started again on catching Webber.

Lap 10 saw Massa overshoot turn 17 but Hamilton wasn't close enough to take advantage. The pit stops began on lap 12 with Heidfeld and Kobayashi being the first to blink. Hamilton was in the next lap and it was clear that nobody would be able to make the tyres last much longer as Vettel was starting to get some oversteer moments. Webber was the first of the Red Bulls to stop followed by Vettel on lap 15 with Alonso right behind him and Massa the lap after.

Michael Schumacher came out of the pits and tried to take the inside of turn 2 as Petrov was coming past. Vitaly thought the corner was his and turned in, loosening the front wing of the Mercedes. It proceeded to get more broken and despite managing to get past a Force India it ended up trapped under the side of the car by the tie he made it back to the pit. After an investigation by the stewards no action was taken.

The top three drivers were still less than 4 seconds apart by this stage. Webber found himself stuck behind some traffic at this stage which let Alonso get a little closer and the Spanish crowd were starting to get up on their feet every time he went by. He finally found a space and out-braked the Australian on the way into turn 12 and started to open out a gap.

By lap 22 Button was being told on the radio that the cars in front would start "degging" soon, indicating that their tyres would be degrading fast. A couple of laps later and Hamilton was informed that he was on the same pace as the cars behind. Normally this would get Lewis asking what about the cars in front, but not this time. The McLaren cars didn't seem to be showing the same pace they have had in the last few races, and it seemed as though this might be as far up the field as they could make it.

Later on during lap 27, with a fresh set of tyres, Lewis still found enough to put in fastest lap of the race up to that point. His engineer was on the radio asking him, "please manage your pace," or in other words, "don't wear your tyres out too quickly!" Webber made his second stop on lap 29 with Alonso coming in one lap later but he came back onto the track behind Webber.

By lap 30 Lewis was getting warnings from the pit again, this time his rear tyre temperatures were too high. To which he replied, "I can't go any slower." That's the sort of attitude we like to see! As Button pitted for his second time, Webber was catching Massa fast and dived past him as the Brazillian dealt with some traffic on the way into the pits.

Button was on the radio on lap 33, being told that his KERS was not working. This prompted the McLaren engineers to go and get their rubber gloves out. Hamilton was again not doing the right thing and on lap 40 he got another message from the team to up his pace. The reply this time, "I'm going as fast as I can go!"

Now the track started to make its mark on the race properly as no real progress was made by anyone for a long time. There were some good scraps in the midfield, but compared to the races so far this year it was quiet and almost processional. Despite the top three still being within 12 seconds on lap 50 nothing really seemed to be heating up and the top 6 finished as they had been for more than 10 laps.

Vettel seemed to be particularly pleased with this victory for no reason that anyone could fathom out. It just looked like another of his pole to flag victories, despite his romantic claims that its him against the car and the track. Sadly for us it seems to be the track that is the problem. As Tiff Needell tweeted afterwards, "Even Pirelli's best efforts and the wing flappy thing can't turn a truly boring circuit into a racing track."

The final result ended as Vettel from Alonso with Mark Webber taking the final podium position. Hamilton stayed in fourth with Massa, Button and Heidfeld behind that. Jaime Alguersuari got himself a good eighth place to boost his season, despite this being one of only three Formula 1 races ever where everyone who started also finished. And one of those was the infamous Indianapolis race where only 6 cars started.

Valencia is just a track which doesn't seem to inspire any racing and its hard to say why. It's a great location, not as narrow as a street circuit but still with walls that should make mistakes count. Long straights, tight twisty sections. Everything it should need is there, but just put together in a way that makes it dull.

Still, next time out is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and that is a track that often produces a good race. It can be helped out by the Great British weather of course, but this year there are also major changes to the circuit. Specially designed to create mistakes and introduce more passing. With the added bonus of the Pirelli tyres and DRS this should help make it the sort of race that has been keeping us interested for the first part of the season. Come on the Brits!

Full Result

Championship Standings

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