Saturday, 14 April 2012

Qualifying Surprises of a Different Sort

Once again it's a grand prix weekend, with this week's action coming from China. Qualifying took place at 7 this morning, and it definitely held a few surprises which should make for an intriguing race tomorrow. This season, McLaren have been confident in all the race weekends so far - despite Lewis Hamilton's sometimes grumpy demeanour. While 2011 was Red Bull's qualifying season, this year it looks as though McLaren have the advantage, securing a front-row lock out in Australia and a third place slot for Lewis in Malaysia. However, this weekend the team have had a few hurdles, with Lewis having to take a 5-place grid drop due to a gearbox change, meaning that his second position on the grid actually translates into seventh. Jenson Button also had a somewhat disappointing session, only qualifying sixth (translating into fifth after Lewis's penalty).

With the McLarens further down, you'd expect the other two big teams to be ahead. Well, this also prompted suprise this morning. Despite Alonso's promising win in Malaysia, Ferrari this week could only manage 9th and 12th, with Alonso out-qualifying Massa once again. Whether the team can turn this around in the race is a question to be answered tomorrow. So what of the Red Bulls? Well, this was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, with Webber no higher than 7th and Vettel not making Q3 for the first time since 2009, instead only managing 11th place.

Now, you should all be aware that I'm a Red Bull girl anyway, and Vettel is without doubt my favourite driver, so I'm leading on to a slight rant here. After Q2 with Vettel out of Q3, Twitter was awash with what I can only describe as childish tweets. Some people were simply laughing at the driver's misfortune, others were making sarcastic comments, and still more were questioning Vettel's ability in F1. While I understand that we all have our own favourites and not all drivers are to all tastes, the frankly low comments I saw on Twitter were embarrassing. I know for example that I'm not the biggest fan of Lewis Hamilton (largely for the fact that his personality has shifted since he first started driving and since he won the 2008 championship - that and the earrings), however I don't ever mock him if he gets a bad result. I certainly don't question his ability in an F1 car either. I recall a comment by Martin Brundle that there are seven billion people in the world, and only 24 F1 drivers in the sport right now. Surely then we should all have respect for every one of those drivers on that grid, as they've proven their talent throughout their careers? Thus, one bad result doesn't mean that the competitor isn't a good driver, and we have to examine other aspects to the session which could contribute to a poor result (for example, Vettel running an old spec exhaust while Webber ran the newer spec).

I think the Vettel-hate on Twitter is largely to do with the success of the driver, and from reading comments (and through personal experience in my academic career) I've noticed that people generally don't like successful people and rejoice when they fall. It seems silly to question Vettel's ability as a result of one bad qualifying session. The guy's won two world championships and was absolutely dominant throughout last year. Before you utter the age old cry 'but it was the car!', I'd ask you to consider that Webber could not match Vettel's performance in the identical Red Bull, so I think that this is a point which is null and void. This year, Red Bull clearly haven't got the dominance with the car, hence the poorer results for both drivers. A similar thing happened after Brawn became Mercedes - the car which dominated 2009 just dropped away in 2010. These things happen, even if the ability of the driver stays the same.

Another case in point is the performance of Alonso. Ferrari have obviously been having issues in the past couple of years, and yet I don't see anyone questioning whether Alonso is a good driver or not. So why the target on Vettel? Like I said before, all 24 of these drivers have exceptional talent to make it this far, and to post childish comments on a social networking site is just petty to me and I'm urging fans to grow up just a little, and at least form some coherent arguments! With any luck, as the season progresses we'll be able to see an improvement for the Red Bull guys, and hopefully the petty comments will stop so we can all go back to watching races and appreciating them no matter who is driving.

So, with the top three teams suffering in China's qualifying session, who took the top slots? Well, after Hamilton's penalty we've got an all Silver Arrows front row, with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg occupying the first slot (a career first for Rosberg) and Schumacher following close behind. This is a phenomenal achievement, and Mercedes are proving that their car has the pace in qualifying. It could be argued that the aerodynamic system on the rear wing of the car is helping a lot during qualifying (as use of DRS is pretty much unlimited during quali and practice sessions), however we've yet to see this sort of advantage during the race itself. Again, tomorrow will tell us exactly what Mercedes can do.

The third and fourth slots on the grid are also occupied by some surprising drivers. Third place went to Kamui Kobayashi, which is promising for Sauber considering their excellent achievements in Malaysia. Fourth place went to Lotus Renault's Kimi Raikkonen