The last three weeks since China have been rather long. Perhaps it was the great nature of the race with all it’s countless overtakes, or maybe the hope that McLaren could genuinely take the battle to Red Bull this year.
All hopes that seemed to have died by 1 o clock yesterday after Sebastien Vettel scorched his way to pole position, leaving all others standing. With Mark Webber a string 2nd place on the grid and the McLaren’s down in 4th and 6th, The Red Bull’s were back to their dominant form. But it would be a lie to say they fully kept this in the race. A challenger emerged and not one that most were expecting!
Fernando Alonso was probably the best driver today as he and his Ferrari team finally fought back after a lacklustre start to the year. Alonso started 5th on the grid (for the fourth time this season), but was clearly very racey throughout, battling his way up to second place towards the end. Deteriorating tyres and a car which is clearly still better than the rest, ensured that Webber then caught and with DRS managed to overtake Alonso back, but it was great to see Ferrari finally joining this fight to make it a three-horse race again.
Sadly the second Ferrari of Massa faired less well. I’m unsure as to entirely why he finished so low down in 11th place (with so much going on, it was easy to miss events), but I feel it was undeserved. Massa was in a very fiesty mood and pulled some of the best moves I have seen from him since his horrific crash in 2009. Yet with a couple of dodgy pitstops and a few mistakes, he was unable to convert this skill to anything significant. As always, Massa remains the unlucky Ferrari driver.
The team many expected to be Red Bull’s challengers – McLaren – had a decidedly average day results wise. But on-track, both Hamilton and Button were incredible to watch. The battle between the two teammates was some of the most compelling racing I have seen in the sport in ages, with both overtaking one another at almost every turn during one lap. It’s a shame that like Massa, the team were unable to manage anything better than the positions they started – but they gave us a great deal of edge-of-the-seat entertainment throughout. F1 racing at it’s best.
But the racing today is something we need to look at. The ongoing Drag Reduction System saga continues as today it seemed almost too easy to overtake. We saw the likes of Hamilton, Webber, Alonso and Button all overtaking cars on the final straight before they reached the corner thanks to DRS. It was like watching (excuse the cliche) a video game and in a way it took the drama and action out of the racing as it was obvious who was going be ahead after the DRS zone.
Despite this, I am not against DRS. It was only in a handful of occasions that we saw the system actually give someone an easy ride to a position. In most situations it did what it was supposed to do, close the cars up and make them almost side-by-side by the following corner. It helped provide us with some great tight racing over the following chicane and the pit straight, which is what we want in F1. There’s no doubt it was far too easy for some to overtake without skill – but the FIA are still trialling this and I think with a few tweaks, DRS will become an exciting new aspect to the sport.
Once again, Pirelli helped us along to a great race. I love seeing four-stop strategies and the new tyres are certainly giving us that. It’s helped to bring pit-stops back into the equation without the danger of re-fuelling. Absolutely love it!
One more mention on the teams, Mercedes have really had a weekend of two halves. Qualifying was the teams first bit of good news for 2011, both cars through to Q3 and a top 3 position for Rosberg. But the race was where it all came undone. Rosberg managed to fight back to a ‘best of the rest’ position in 5th, but his pace was very disappointing throughout. And where do we start with Mr. Schumacher? For every moment of brilliance he has shown since his comeback, he’s made three amateur mistakes. He’s still not the racer he once was and although he can still duel well at points, there’s too much incident and error creeping in. I do wonder if he’ll still be around in 2012.
Kudos to Vettel and Webber, it was a class performance today and under a bit of pressure as well. They’re still the dominant force in the sport right now, but with Ferrari now on the chase along with McLaren, the season is starting to heat up. I do think that 2011 could turn out to be a vintage year.