Saturday, 28 July 2012

Formula 1 - British Grand Prix 2012

Silverstone Circuit. Memorise the corner names.
As Formula 1's most exciting season in a while rages on, I've struggled to keep up in terms of write-ups. Thus, the Canadian and European races will appear on here out of sequence, hopefully during F1's three-week summer break across August. You've probably already seen the races, but if I write them then I can refer back to them in future.

Anyway, three weeks ago, Formula 1 came home. Silverstone played host to the first ever race in the first ever Formula 1 World Championship, in 1950. England today is home to eight of the twelve teams (with Ferrari and Toro Rosso in Italy, Sauber in Switzerland and HRT in Spain) and many drivers as well, such as the McLaren boys and Mark Webber - yes, the latter is Australian, but he moved here because he knows what weather we have and "relishes a challenge". I may have made that last bit up. At any rate, most of the management is also British, and frankly, we just own this sport, and many many other motorsports too. Quite why we didn't add an Olympic Grand Prix to the 2012 Games, I don't know...

Maybe the weather would've been a problem, or maybe Senegal would've complained that they couldn't afford to build a car for the event. Or maybe after the race weekend Silverstone endured, people would've been slightly put off the idea. It rained like Chuck Norris was pissing through a sieve for Friday and Saturday, meaning that Practice and Qualifying were interrupted and the car parks were so muddy that people without reserved spots were actually told not to go to qualifying, lest they turn the car parks into a mud bath Glastonbury would envy, although everyone was encouraged to go to the actual race the next day. Hard-standing for next year, guys?

Starting Grid:
1st - F Alonso, 2nd - M Webber, 3rd - M Schumacher, 4th - S Vettel, 5th - F Massa, 6th - K Räikkönen, 7th - P Maldonado, 8th - L Hamilton, 9th - R Grosjean, 10th - P di Resta, 11th - N Rosberg, 12th - D Ricciardo, 13th - B Senna, 14th - N Hülkenberg*15th - S Pérez, 16th - J Button, 17th -  K Kobayashi** 18th - V Petrov, 19th - H Kovalainen, 20th - T Glock, 21st - P de la Rosa, 22nd - N Karthikeyan, 23rd - J-E Vergne***24th - C Pic* [>107%, but allowed to race]

*5-place Gearbox Penalty. **5-place Collision Penalty for hitting Felipe Massa (Euro GP)
***10-place Collision Penalty for side-swiping Heikki Kovalainen at high speed (Euro GP)

Mercifully, Sunday was dry, although clouds threatened all day. Having successfully out-qualified a noticeably-quick Red Bull RB8 in his ever-improving Ferrari F2012, Fernando Alonso got off to a quick start, but for once, so did Mark Webber, meaning Alonso had to defend immediately Sebastian Vettel was the Red Bull with the slow start, dropping behind Felipe Massa at Abbey and almost losing out to Kimi Räikkönen in the newer infield complex. On the exit of The Loop, Romain Grosjean glanced Paul di Resta's right rear tyre, puncturing it and sending him sliding off at Aintree. He limped back to the pits for a new set of tyres, but the rear floor damage meant that in the end he only made it five laps into his home Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Jenson Button was making up places, climbing from 16th to 12th in half a lap, Pastor Maldonado got past Kimi, and Nico Hülkenberg ran wide out of Copse corner, rejoining behind Sergio Pérez in 11th. He tried to get past down the Hanger Straight and into Stowe, but Pérez didn't bend easily, even going around the outside at Vale so he could pass the German in his Force India up the inside of Club to take the place. Aside from Massa passing Vettel, the sharp end of the grid remained the same.

After Lap 1:
1st - F Alonso, 2nd - M Webber, 3rd - M Schumacher, 4th - F Massa, 5th - S Vettel, 6th - P Maldonado, 7th - K Räikkönen8th - L Hamilton, 9th - B Senna, 10th - S Pérez, 11th - N Hülkenberg, 12th - R Grosjean, 13th - J Button, 14th - K Kobayashi15th - N Rosberg, 16th - J-E Vergne, 17th -  D Ricciardo 18th - T Glock, 19th - P de la Rosa, 20th - N Karthikeyan, 21st - K Kovalainen, 22nd - C Pic, 23rd - P di Resta, DNS - V Petrov (engine failure during Formation Lap).

Romain Grosjean didn't start lap 2 very well, running wide at Abbey and allowing Jenson Button past, but both Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi tried overtaking the Brit as he braked too early for Village, with Grosjean on the inside and Kobayashi on the outside. The Japanese driver went right around Button and even squeezed down the inside of Grosjean - who also passed Button - into The Loop, before running wide and allowing Grosjean back through. At the other end of the Wellington Straight, Kimi Räikkönen tried a move on the outside of Pastor Maldonado, getting past but running wide onto the green fuzzy stuff beyond the kerb, which was holding water, meaning Maldonado retained his place as they entered Luffield. Nico Rosberg had had a bad first lap, losing four places, but he successfully overtook the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne around the outside at Brooklands.

After the familiar complex of Copse corner, Maggots, Becketts and Chapel, Kobayashi had another go at Grosjean, getting him down the inside of Stowe. It was at this point that the Frenchmen darted into the pit lane for a new nose, as his Lotus was damaged from the contact with di Resta's Force India. Later on lap 3, Massa went for a look down the inside of Michael Schumacher at Copse, but only the brave or stupid try a pass there, especially on Michael Schumacher, so backing out was a good call... except that he ran wide with oversteer, allowing Sebastian Vettel to get right up behind him, trying down the inside at Becketts and staying alongside him before Massa pulled away on the inside of the left-hander before Chapel and retaining his place, even after another attempt at Vale. Massa continued pressuring former team mate Michael Schumacher as the race moved on.

The new-layout Silverstone has added more overtaking spots to the very high-speed circuit, but even with DRS down the Wellington Straight, the cars were closely following one another without any major overtaking moves happening. The wait for tyre stops in the 52-lap race ended on lap 10, when Sebastian Vettel came in to swap Options for Primes. A lap later Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Pérez pitted in for Primes as well, and when they both headed into Brooklands, Maldonado went for a move up the inside, but lost grip under braking and slithered into the closely-alongside Sauber C31 of Pérez, sending them both sideways into the run-off area, at which point they banged wheels at a dodgy angle and Pérez's rear suspension broke, meaning that for a second race in a row, Pastor Maldonado had been involved in an incident that spelled the end for a fellow driver's race. While this one was much more of a racing incident (how are you supposed to avoid suddenly losing grip under braking?) than the collision with Hamilton in Valencia, it doesn't exactly help improve his current image of being an inexperienced hot-head who doesn't respect other drivers, as a heated Pérez pointed out in an interview after the incident...

Fernando pitted on lap 16. Unlike the rest of the grid (except Jenson Button), the lead Ferrari started the race in Prime tyres, meaning they would go longer into the race before pitting, although he only squeezed an extra four or five laps out of them, perhaps due to heavy fuel. Ferrari put another set of Primes on his car. The McLarens were doing better for tyre life, with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton also on Prime tyres. Hamilton was still on his original rubber on lap 18, when Alonso caught back up to him. The Spañard pressured him for half a lap, eventually getting past in The Loop by entering wide and exiting on his inside , using DRS to get away... until Lewis dropped in behind and picked up a massive slipstream, getting back past the Ferrari to the delight of the crowd, at least half of which were wearing orange McLaren caps. Alas, on old tyres, he ran wide out of Brooklands and Alonso passed him once and for all into Luffield. Very entertaining! And intriguing that the chasing McLaren got a draft from the Ferrari's open rear wing. Does the air going straight through the wing flow over the McLaren effectively? I don't know. Hamilton finally pitted on lap 22, and for once it was without incident. On his new Option tyres, he watched the battle between Kimi Räikkönen and Michael Schumacher as he exited behind them, and he wanted in. Räikkönen passed Schumacher with DRS quite easily, but Hamilton had to go for a harder move, into Copse where Felipe Massa had bottled it early on. Schumacher's worn tyres made it easier for Lewis to nip down the inside and carry on.

Lewis did only 7 laps on Options before pitting in for more Primes, which were the tyre to be on at that point. Those were to be the tyres he finished the race on. He eventually caught up to his team mate, on lap 31, and they raced eachother for a bit, although again, the difference in tyre quality meant that Button was easily passed through Copse, even being passed in an opportunist move by Romain Grosjean, who was the car Lewis ended up racing against strategically. Grosjean passed him with DRS on lap 36. At this point the race was a strategy game, with Ferrari keeping Option tyres off Alonso's car until the last part of the race, whereas the Red Bulls were doing something more typical, starting soft and going hard. How would they stack up by the end? Alonso pitted five laps earlier than Gary Anderson reckoned was necessary, on lap 37, coming out a second or two ahead of Mark Webber in 2nd place. Meanwhile, Kamui Kobayashi was busy running over his pit crew. He locked up under braking for his pit box and side-swiped four or five Sauber pit crew members who had no room to escape. He was later fined and was of course apologetic about the ordeal.

By lap 45 of 52, Webber had halved his gap, knowing that with more durable tyres, he could use them more aggressively. Within a second of the Ferrari at the start of lap 46, he could use DRS down the Wellington Straight, to no avail this time. A situation similar to the Bahrain GP arose, where if Webber didn't make a move very soon, his one and only chance would disappear and Alonso would pull away on fresher, faster tyres. He still wasn't close enough to pass in Brooklands on lap 47. A lap later, after Michael Schumacher had passed Lewis Hamilton further down, he was close enough, using DRS to take Alonso around the outside of Brooklands, having the inside to finish him off into Luffield and take the lead of the race on lap 48 of 52. He seized his one chance and was rewarded with victory for the second time in three years.

The battle for 10th place raged on in the closing stages, with Bruno Senna having been trying to get past Nico Hülkenberg for a long time, finally doing so into Brooklands while a chasing Jenson Button watched from behind. Hülkenberg tried to retake the place into Copse, but it didn't work out for him, and he ran wide. So wide, in fact, that Jenson Button was able to just drive past him, along with Kamui Kobayashi. Bad luck Nico! Button didn't manage to get past Senna in time, meaning that while he did come back from qualifying 18th and starting 16th to get a point at his home race, Williams scored two points at their home race.

And so Mark Webber became the second repeat winner of the season (after Alonso won in Valencia), having also won at Monaco. It was Red Bull - Ferrari behind them as well, with Sebastian Vettel finishing 3rd, ahead of a resurgent Felipe Massa. The Lotuses came 5th and 6th, while Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton finished ahead of the battle for 9th and 10th. This meant that Hamilton was unable to improve on his lacklustre qualifying position, finishing where he started. It wasn't a classic British Grand Prix, but it was a perfectly fine race considering the high drama this season has provided so far. No British success on home soil, but as you may have heard, there's another sporting event on at the moment where that might not be the case. A Write-up on the German GP will appear next week, when I'm back from my holiday. Results and points below:

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