Thursday, 14 July 2011

Formula 1 - British Grand Prix 2011

Naturally the race attracted a few British VIPs, including Damon Hill, Jackie Stewart, Prince Harry and Murray Walker
Interesting Fact: The prestigious Silverstone circuit (which hosted Britain's 66th Grand Prix last weekend) is in-between two counties, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire. Now that the Start/Finish line has been moved to the bottom end of the circuit, the 2011 race is classed as taking place in Buckinghamshire, whereas it was previously run 'in Northamptonshire'. True story.

More Interesting Fact Than That: This is the first weekend of the season where Sebastian Vettel didn't win at anything on Saturday or Sunday. No win, no pole, no fastest lap. His only claim to fame here was the fastest time in the third Practice session by just 0.04 seconds. This turnaround could be down to the one-off ban on blown diffusers (when exhaust gases are sent through the diffuser and the throttle stays on a bit to maintain downforce through slow corners and give much better traction out of them), which it could also be argued turned out well for Ferrari, who had stayed suspiciously quiet about the whole row over banning it or not. This also rekindled speculations by some that FIA is actually short for Ferrari's International Assistants, something that seemed very apparent in 2007/8. Anyway, enough of that. Fernando Alonso can claim this win on merit after seizing an opportunity and charging to victory under typically British weather (read: weather that was all over the place).

On the grid it was a close tyre call, as it was damp-but-drying. TV viewers would juggle between playing it safe on Intermediates and risking it on slicks... right up until the Formation Lap took place and they saw that drivers calling the track half and half weren't kidding - from just before Brooklands to the Hangar Straight, it looked like a wet race, but the bottom half of the track, where the new pit straight is, looked almost dry. This definitely called for Intermediates. Off the line, Vettel pipped pole-sitting team mate Mark Webber to the first corner, with Alonso hot on their heels. Jenson Button in 5th place overtook Felipe Massa in the same place to take 4th. Michael Schumacher also made good ground in the opening lap, gaining three places to become 10th by the Wellington Straight after what's now turn 4, as did Lewis Hamilton, who went from a disappointing 10th on the grid up to 7th, before overtaking Scotsman Paul Di Resta on the Hanger Straight for 6th place. Going into lap 2, Button got it wrong in the new Farm section (the first few corners) and got passed by Massa in turn 3, before team mate Hamilton went down the inside at Brooklands corner at the end of the DRS zone - although it was not active at that time - and dropped Button to 6th. Hamilton wasn't always successful in this corner, running wide two or three times and thanking the organisers for replacing the gravel with tarmac run-off area. All the while, Alonso was pressing Webber for 2nd place.

On lap 9, Michael Schumacher was trying to overtake Kamui Kobayashi going into Brooklands corner when he lost the back end on some standing water and slid into Kobayashi's left rear wheel, spinning him around and taking off the Mercedes GP's front wing. This put him in the pits twice, once for a new front wing (and the first set of slicks for the race) and once for a frankly harsh 10-second Stop 'n' Go penalty for "causing an avoidable accident". After that, Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil pitted for dry tyres as well, once Schumacher had set the fastest lap of the race thus far. Webber, Alonso and Hamilton all came in on lap 13, as did Kobayashi, who was released too soon and had to run over Force India's wheel gun to avoid Pastor Maldonado's Williams, who technically had right of way. This would've landed him a penalty for an unsafe release, had the Ferrari engine in his Sauber not given up first...

A lap later, both McLarens overtook a Ferrari each, with Button risking it on the outside of Massa at Stowe corner, keeping his foot in it as they exited the corner side-by-side and winding up with the inside line going into Vale to take 5th place, after which Hamilton went down the inside of Alonso at Copse corner (previously turn 1) to take 3rd, going off-line onto wet road on his slicks to do so and ending up on the dry line for the exit, however Alonso would take him back in the DRS zone on the following lap. Paul Di Resta's first ever home Grand Prix in Formula 1 got ruined a few laps later, when he arrived in his pit box looking at Sutil's tyres, and had to wait for the team to sort themselves out (his day wouldn't improve, as he would put a move on Sébastien Buemi into Brooklands that would break his front wing and puncture the Toro Rosso's left rear tyre). This wouldn't prove to be the only major pit error in the race.

On lap 28 of 52, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso pitted in from 1st and 2nd places, quite close to each other. Red Bull's pit box is right at the end of the pit lane, two ahead of Ferrari's, which made it very easy for us all to see when Vettel's left rear wheel failed to go on properly and Alonso drove right past him to take the lead of the race. Vettel now had his work cut out, as he exited the pits just behind Lewis Hamilton.  Over the next 8 laps however, he failed to pass Hamilton before pitting again, and Alonso pulled out a 7-second lead over the pair of them. Vettel looked good to mirror Hamilton's move on Alonso into Copse corner more than once, but backed out of it each time, strengthening my opinion that despite being the fastest man on the grid over a flying lap, he's not one for overtaking unless it's easy. In any other team, this would seriously hold him back from winning all those races if he had to fight and couldn't. I guess that's the consequence of always being in front.

The third pit-related blunder came from McLaren, when the man on Jenson Button's right front wheel tried fixing the wheel on without a wheel nut and the lollipop man mistook his reaching for the nut as a ready sign, thus sending Button out with an unsecured wheel, which he immediately noticed before pulling over on the pit exit and being wheeled away. After a great race at his home track - which he's never finished on the podium - he was forced to retire in a perfectly operational car...

The race carried on, with Webber passing Hamilton for 3rd place before reeling in team mate Sebastian Vettel in 2nd, who couldn't undo his team's error and had no answer for Alonso's sheer pace in this phase of the race, and indeed overall. With just two laps to go, Webber started to challenge Vettel for 2nd place (there's no love lost between the two RBR drivers, and perhaps Mark felt he had a point to prove). Alas, on the last lap after some very close battling, team boss Christian Horner came on the radio to Webber and simply said "Mark, maintain the gap". That's a very clear message, and one that had to be said at least five times before Webber would listen and settle for third place just 4 tenths behind the German, but nearly 17 seconds behind an ecstatic Fernando Alonso, scoring his first win of the season, his 27th overall (matching Jackie Stewart's total number of wins) and Ferrari's first win since Korea last year. But just because the leader has crossed the line, doesn't mean the entire race is over. Going into Vale, the penultimate corner, Felipe Massa dived down the outside of Lewis Hamilton in a desperate attempt to take 4th place before the end of the race, but Hamilton was having none of it, muscling his way alongside Massa going into Club before ducking behind him, getting on the inside and squeezing Massa onto the run-off area and keeping 4th, but only by a mere 0.024 seconds! 6th place went to Nico Rosberg, whose team mate Michael Schumacher managed get back into the points after a new nose and a Stop 'n' Go, finishing 9th. The two Mercedes GP drivers were separated by Sergio Pérez, Nick Heidfeld, and 17.257 seconds. Grabbing the final points-scoring position was Jaime Alguersuari in the sole remaining Toro Rosso-Ferrari, after Buemi failed to get back to the pits on three tyres.

And so ended another fantastically exciting race at good old Silverstone, home to the first ever Grand Prix. These old circuits still feature more exciting racing than the new ones, and that is clearly highlighted by putting Silverstone next to Valencia. It doesn't look old-hat now either, with the new section put in for 2010 and this year's new "Wing" facility on the relocated Start/Finish line. Personally I hope that the pre-Tilke circuits stay on the calendar for a long time to come. Next up is the another oldie, the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring F1 track, two weekends from now. Will Vettel score a home victory? Will Webber be allowed past him? Tune in after the 24th July to find out! Or watch the race. That's advisable too.

*As usual, I don't own any of the race photos*

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