Sunday, 8 May 2011

Formula 1 - Turkish Grand Prix 2011

2011 Formula 1 Podium Design Proposal. National sponsors affect background race by race
For the third time in four races, Sebastien Vettel has won from pole position. In the one race thus far that he didn't win, he came 2nd... from pole position. Is anyone else getting a little fed up with this guy? Sure, he seems like a great guy out of the car - quite fun and good-humoured for a German - but his dominance in the early part of the season, coupled with what would've been a more dominant 2010 with better reliability, is really starting to bug me somewhat. He just runs away in 1st place at the start of the race and stays there. The only time he didn't win (in China three weeks ago) was when he was overtaken at the first corner and put on the back foot. He later regained the lead, only for Lewis Hamilton to catch him on fresher option tyres as his clever tyre strategy made a win for the Brit inevitable in the closing stages. Vettel's faster than anyone else over a flying lap, most likely because the fastest car on the grid was designed around him, as being the reigning World Champion solidifies your status as No.1 in the team quite effectively, but his weakness is overtaking people. What kind of weakness is that in an F1 World Champion?! Is it mainly down to the car that he's on top? It certainly seems so at times, and did last year as well. He needs to be dethroned once and for all, be it by a McLaren, a Ferrari, a Lotus-Renault (hey, don't rule them out) or even his own team mate Mark Webber, who I would have preferred to win the championship last year out of the two Red Bulls. Alas, a disastrous finale at Yas Marina meant it wasn't to be...

The short run to turn 1 meant few position changes at the start.
Anyway, the race. By and large, it called for a four-stop strategy, something that was rare in the recent Bridgestone era. The McLarens - Red Bull's closest challengers - got off to a shaky start, with 4th place Hamilton running wide early in lap 1 and dropping down to 6th, just behind team mate Jenson Button. Nico Rosberg had got his Mercedes MGP-W02 up into 3rd in qualifying and overtook Webber in the first corner, making a promising race weekend for Ross Brawn's struggling team, alas, the DRS activation line was placed a little too early on the long backstraight, which caused a few drivers to overtake him in the final complex over the first few laps, causing disappointment for the German. Further disappointment came for Mercedes GP when Michael Schumacher defended poorly from Vitaly Petrov in turn 12 and ran into him, breaking his front wing and forcing him in the pits from 8th place on lap 2. His race became a quest for points, as he swiftly dropped to 22nd place. Sadly for him his quest failed, as he ended up finishing in 12th position, two places out of the points.

Over the next few laps, the two McLaren drivers were wheel-to-wheel, evoking memories of last year's race when they jostled for position at a late stage. They must have swapped places about 3 or 4 times during this phase. After falling back in lap 1, Hamilton went to "Plan B", which turned out to be the better one, as his Plan B was a four-stop pit strategy. Button's three-stop strategy meant that he ultimately lost this battle, finishing in 6th place despite leading the race in lap 12. Hamilton ended up finishing where he started, in 4th. Getting in the mix was Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, who battled with Hamilton when his tyres were wearing thin. In the pits, they went in together with Massa in front, but Hamilton's stop was faster. Ferrari countered, it seemed, by releasing Massa just when the McLaren driver was going past their pit box, in a last ditch attempt to get him out in front. The two nearly collided, and because Hamilton's wheels were in front of the Brazillan's (plus he technically had right of way), the Brit left the pits ahead. Massa was not entirely out of McLaren's hair, however, as he wound up doing battle with Jenson Button later on, in the middle of the race. He stayed ahead for several laps before making a mistake in turn 12 and having to pit again. He finished in an unfortunate 11th place.

Kamui Kobayashi ahead of Michael Schumacher.
Meanwhile, at the sharp end, Vettel did his usual trick of fleeing from trouble in his Red Bull RB7, leaving Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber to fight for second. Alonso was quicker in the third stint (both drivers did four stops), but Webber retook 2nd place on lap 51 out of 58 in the usual overtaking place, the turn 12-14 left-right-left complex at the end of the lap. This lead to Red Bull Racing's first one-two finish of the season so far, and a result that could also have happened last year, had they not squabbled for the lead going into turn 12 and hit eachother.

McLaren weren't the only team having a civil war, either. Lotus-Renault GP let its two drivers fight it out as well (that's the black Lotus team that's actually Lotus Cars and not the old Lotus F1 team, rather than Team Lotus, the old Lotus F1 team, which isn't really Lotus, but whom just bought Caterham, who make a car that actually used to be a Lotus but isn't any more). At one point Vitaly Petrov even shut out his German team mate Nick Heidfeld in turn 13, almost forcing him in the pits! Heidfeld got his own back though, by finishing in 7th, just ahead of the Russian driver in 8th.

Elsewhere in the grid, there was a huge amount of overtaking, thanks in part to that large DRS zone. Japanese madman Kamui Kobayashi started last after failing to set a qualifying time (the stewards allowed him to start the race because his practice laps were comfortably within 107% of the pole position lap time) and promptly made up fourteen places, five of them in the first lap, to finish in 10th position and get a single World Championship point. His Mexican team mate Sergio Pérez lost his front wing in the manic first lap, but made his way back up the grid to finish 13th. Sebastien Buemi also put in a strong performance and finished 9th, after starting in 16th place.

What else happened? I can't even remember. That's the long and short of it though. In a fortnight's time, the F1 circus is off to Circuit de Cataluña in Barcelona, Spain. This is a track that typically demands a good car in order to win and the teams usually bring major upgrade packages to this race. Three guesses who's getting pole position there then...

The full results and points table is here:

Race images are from and are not mine

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