Sunday, 10 July 2011

Dramatic Finish at Silverstone

Good old British weather and confusion over blown diffusers helped to make an exciting race for the Silverstone Grand Prix. The regulation change on fuel flow while off the throttle was being discussed right up until the start of the qualifying session. Concessions due to reliability issues were the main discussion point and nobody really seemed sure what the final result would be or indeed what the final effect on car set-up would be. The final meeting was over literally 5 minutes before the session began.


Photo Courtesy of Force India
As Q1 began there were reports of rain starting at Copse which pushed everyone out of the pit nice and early. Alonso set the early pace but was quickly overshadowed by Vettel. The Spaniard then ran wide and was forced to drive around the outside of the gravel trap to get back on the track. The track was clearly drying rather than getting wetter and so the times quickly started to fall. Lots of drivers took a go at the top, including Pastor Maldonaldo, but it was Mark Webber who was in P1 as the rain started again with 6 minutes remaining.

The shower was over by the start of Q2 so again everyone was keen to make the most of the time available. It seemed to be only Copse that was wet while the rest of the track was very dry, so many of the cars decided to go back into the pits and wait for some improvement. There weresome runs after 5 minutes or so which saw Adrian Sutil at the top of the time sheet then another patch of quiet while everyone prepared for the last attempt. With 4 minutes left those attempts began again. After the dust cleared it was Felipe Massa on top with Webber and Alonso behind. Paul di Resta made it into P9 and through to the final session.

Another early start to Q3 again. The uncertain weather pushed the drivers out early which is always good for the excitement. Unfortunately it seemed that McLaren didn't have any performance in this session. Was it a consequence of the last minute discussions on blown diffusers? Paul di Resta made a great effort to put himself into 6th with 5 minutes to go. The rest of the drivers kept trying, but ran out of steam before the end. The final grid ended with Webber on pole, Vettel second and Alonso in third. Di Resta held on to his 6th place just behind Button, but Lewis couldn't manage anything better than 10th. A dissapointing end to the session for McLaren but a great result for di Resta.


Photo Courtesy of Team Lotus
As the drivers prepared for the race, the track was half wet and half dry. So much so that there were spins on the way to the grid. This meant that everybody decided to start on the intermediate tyres. As the lights went out it was Vettel who got the best start and took Webber on the way into turn 1. Button and Hamilton also got good starts with Button taking Massa and Hamilton firing himself into seventh by the time the first lap was settling down. He carried on and by lap 2 was overtaking Button.

Vettel and Webber were (as usual) making themselves a gap over the rest of the field at this point. Lewis meanwhile was out braking himself and running wide at Brooklands. Thanks to Jenson not actually having any pace at all, Hamilton managed to maintain his position and set off once again. The DRS was left off by race control until lap 6 due to the wet conditions.

Lap 9 and Alonso was gaining back some lost ground on Mark Webber. Schumacher tried to take advantage of DRS to get past Kobayashi but misjudged it badly and took his front wing off and spun the Japanese driver. He was given a penalty for that, at this track it was a 10 second stop due to the pit lane configuration making a drive through faster than completing a lap. Lewis was now gaining time Massa who was sliding about through Becketts, but not enough for Hamilton to make the pass.

Lewis continued hounding Massa as, on lap 12, Button pitted to change to dry tyres. It was clear that the intermediate tyres were running out of grip and the track was drying out fast. That was proved as Schumacher, who had changed to dry tyres with his front wing change, set the fastest lap of the race. This triggered pit stops for everyone else and Hamilton won out against Massa in the changes.

It was Jenson's turn to be fast now, and he set a new fastest lap and caught up to Felipe Massa. He couldn't do anything about it in the wet part of the track though. Lewis was now right behind Alonso. Jenson finally got into Massa's slipstream but was forced to the outside of the turn. He kept his foot in though and braved it out to get him on the way through Club. Lewis used his DRS to get close to Alonso and then got a good run onto the old pit straight where he put his car in the wet part of the track and out braked the spaniard into turn 9.

Kobayashi came into the pits a short while later and after a hesitation on release had to take avoiding action from another car. He ran into the Force India wheel gun hoses and pulled a couple of them down earning himself a penalty for an unsafe release. Meanwhile Alonso had caught back up to the back of Hamilton as his tyres were wearing, forcing the British driver to go on the defensive. Alonso got past using his DRS and Hamilton pitted on lap 25 as Alonso set another fastest lap.

Paul di Resta's luck ran out as he pitted to find the wrong set of tyres waiting for him and causing him a massive delay. Webber, Button and Massa all pitted on lap 27 while Alonso kept on increasing the pace. Vettel and Alonso headed for the pits on the next lap but the Red Bull team got a stuck wheel and Alonso got out in front. Hamilton made it through before Vettel could get out of the pit and Webber was right behind him.

The top 6 were only 11 seconds apart on lap 29 but it was clear that Alonso was going faster than the chasing Hamilton. By lap 33 Vettel was right behind Lewis. Webber was chasing him hard as well but he made an error and ran wide, bouncing across the kerbs and losing some time. Vettel mounted an attack on Hamilton but his defensive driving kept the German behind. He had to wait for his next pit stop on lap 37 before he got the chance to get past Hamilton. Button pulled into the pit for his final stop but in the rush an engineer reaching for a new gun was mistaken for the all clear signal. Jenson made it halfway back to the track with the wheel wobbling furiously before he pulled over to the side of the track.

Hamilton was being told on the radio that he needed to save fuel. This probably wasn't good news as Webber was catching him fast. It took a few laps to get there, but by lap 46, Webber managed to use his DRS to get past and into third. Alonso was now 17 seconds ahead of Vettel and safe, Webber was faster than his team mate though and set off to catch him. Massa suddenly seemed to come alive as well and despite being quite a way behind Hamilton, was closing down the gap by well over a second a lap.

Even Patrick Stewart Couldn't 'Make it so' for Di Resta.
Mark Webber caught up to Vettel on lap 51 and despite a good try he couldn't make it past his team mate. A radio message was sent telling Webber to hold the gap but it didn't look like he was taking much notice. On the last lap Massa had caught Hamilton and tried to outbrake him on the outside, Lewis held on and hit the Ferrari in the side. Massa was in front on the way into the last turn but couldn't get the power down and ran wide trying to save a slide. Hamilton kept his head and just managed to get in front on the way over the line. It finished up with Alonso first, Vettel second and Webber in third. Hamilton took fourth from Massa with Perez taking sixth.

It later came out the Webber had been told several times over the closing laps not to overtake Vettel but had decided to ignore the orders and carry on. Fair play to the Aussie but he can't be making himself popular in the team with moves like that. It can't be forgotten that team orders are allowed this year, Red Bull were perfectly justified in asking him not to overtake. Of course its Webber who has the wheel in his hand and thank goodness he's not the kind of guy to settle for just any old position.

Lewis Hamilton's last ditch attempt to keep his place was a great demonstration of why he is always in the news. It was surprising hearing the talk before the race how many people talked up his chances despite there being two other Brits on the grid in front of him. (Scotland still counts as long as they're doing well right?) Hamilton's sheer passion and drive to do well really puts some people off. But for others, its the whole reason he's popular. I'm can see why he turns people off, but he has to have that kind of self belief and passion to get himself into his position, never mind get the results he does. He doesn't take any prisoners and when it pays off, like today, its a heroic move. But when it doesn't, well we all saw what happened after Monaco.

The blown diffuser confusion was the oddest news of the weekend though. It had seemed as though everything was decided well before the event began, but F1 is a complicated business and things are never quite that straightforward. Most of the complaints seemed to be arguing that reliability would be hurt by the regulations, followed by a fair bit of, 'well if they can do that, we should be able to do this.' Some of it may well even be true, but it certainly doesn't look well organised from here. There were assurances from various people that its all sorted out now, but is it? I guess we'll find out very soon. It does seem that McLaren lost out, Ferrari gained and Red Bull probably stayed where they were. Again we'll find out if there is a way to even the score very soon.

Bring on the next race!

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