Sunday, 10 July 2011

Half Wet, Half Dry, Team Orders And A Spaniard

Did we all enjoy that? Today's British Grand Prix was a far cry from the boredom of Valencia two weeks ago, much to the relief of F1 advocates everywhere. Silverstone always seems to be a special race, with plenty of controversy (Mark Webber's "Not bad for a number 2 driver" being an example) and debate, as well as pure racing. This year was no different.

In terms of the racing spectacle, qualifying was a somewhat testing affair for the teams. The quintessentially British summertime led to rain falling during the session, so we saw much slower times than normal. The 'unsettled' weather (a favourite phrase among British weather forecasters) meant that in Q1 it was the Toro Rossos of Alguesuari and Buemi who fell along with five of the six drivers of the new teams. Making it through to Q2 due to the bad luck of the Red Bull sister team was Kovalainen of Team Lotus. The usual suspects made it through to Q3, with the only surprise of Schumacher qualifying 13th. Of course, being ahead in your home race is always something which drivers relish, however the McLarens of Button and Hamilton had a trying time in the rain. Lewis qualified 10th on the grid with Button qualifying 5th. The final Brit on the grid was Paul Di Resta, who performed quite impressively once again, out-qualifying his team mate Sutil and the McLaren of Hamilton to end up 6th on the grid. It was however, the usual team at the front of the grid: Red Bull. Although this time the order was switched around slightly with Mark Webber putting in an extremely brave lap in the rain, leaving Sebastian Vettel to qualify second.

Aside from the drama on the track, Saturday brought the typical British Grand Prix controversy. This time, the debate surrounded the issue of blown diffusers, where exhaust gases are pushed over the diffuser even when the driver is off throttle, giving more downforce in the corners. Martin Whitmarsh and Christian Horner were at the centre of the debate, with Whitmarsh claiming Red Bull was running 40% over the 10% off throttle limit. Of course, Horner rubbished such claims, however it was no secret that Red Bull would be disadvantaged by the limit on use of the blown diffusers. The debate ultimately led to meetings with the teams until an agreement was reached about how the diffusers were to be run. Of course, nobody could see who would be affected the most until race day.

So, here I am at 6PM on Sunday evening and I have the results of who was running well and who was not. Fernando Alonso of Ferrari ultimately won the race, after his team had been decidedly quiet on the diffuser debate. Did this mean that Red Bull had suffered terribly due to the ban? Had we finally seen the charging Bull halted? No. Vettel finished second with Webber finishing third. So, what about McLaren? Well, arguably they had a poor race, with Hamilton finishing fourth and Button retiring from the race due to an error in the pit stop whereby the wheel nut was not fixed on to the front right tyre. Up until that point, the British driver had a fairly good race, and the race being cut short was a result of error in a high pressure situation - these things happen! Hamilton also suffered at the end of the race, as his fuel levels were critical. As such he was powerless to stop Mark Webber charging past. In the dying laps of the race Filipe Massa was informed that Hamilton was vulnerable in fourth place, and the Ferrari man charged up towards Hamilton, giving some absolutely fabulous racing on the final lap. However, Massa running wide meant that Hamilton kept his fought-for fourth place.

Now, I've written the above as though it was all straightforward in the race. However, Red Bull opened some discussion when they saw Vettel in second with a KERS problem. Webber, then in third, was chasing down his team mate, pushing Vettel hard into defence when we heard a radio message telling Mark to 'maintain the gap' - obviously team orders. In Germany last year Ferrari were absolutely slated for telling Massa that 'Fernando is faster than you... Can you confirm you understood that message'. However this year there is no ban on team orders. In the post race interviews Webber stated that he had ignored several messages from the team and continued racing Vettel, although ultimately he finished behind Sebastian. I'm divided on my opinion of this use of team orders. On the one hand I'm disappointed that the guys couldn't race, on the other I can understand that Sebastian is leading the championship by a huge margin and that the team doesn't want the drivers to repeat Turkey 2010 and end up in a wall somewhere. Mark was clearly annoyed that the team had given him orders, and no doubt will be having stern discussions with boss Christian Horner and the rest of the team.

So, that was Silverstone. The end of this race marks the end of the wait before I go to Germany for my first ever Grand Prix. It's amazing to think that the next time I don my Red Bull shirt and my Vettel hat I'll be wearing them whilst standing by the side of the Nurburgring! For tonight though, I'm content with watching Seb racing around the Top Gear test track - something I'll recommend to everyone!