The Fast Lane – Vettel still in front in Spain… by a whisker

F1 2011 is turning out to be a fantastic year for on track action (admittedly a lot of that is down to Pirelli). But despite the hundreds of pitstops and countless overtakes, one man is still dominating and Sebastien Vettel remained number one in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, but only just. 

For only the second time this season, Vettel was out under real pressure throughout the race and had to prove his credentials as a world champion to remain in front. Strange as it may seem for 2011, Vettel didn’t even take the lead until lap 19 of the race, it was a quite unexpected protagonist who had led up until then.

I was more than pleased to see Fernando Alonso find form again in front of his home crowd. More than just form, his first lap was incredible. I sat in awe as Alonso shot past Hamilton and then took advantage of the quarrelling Red Bull’s to sneak up the inside of turn one in what was one of the best starts I have ever seen in Formula One.

Sadly though for Alonso and Ferrari fans everywhere, the start was not truly indicative of the prancing horse’s overall pace. After holding up the top four drivers for 19 laps, (giving us a very bunched up lead pack, which was nice!) Alonso pitted and promptly lost both first and second place to Vettel and Hamlton. As his pace continued to slow through the hard tyre phases, Alonso fell further still to finish in fifth.

The Ferrari is clearly still not up to the pace of the top two and is struggling to remain ‘the best of the rest’ – Alonso is driving the car way beyond it’s ability, but still at least he’s not having the woes of his teammate Massa. A lot of head scratching needs to go on in Maranello.

But unlike most expected, Vettel wasn’t able to dominate from the front, he had a worthy opponent. Lewis Hamilton is quickly emerging as the only likely candidate to steal 2011 from Vettel and he today showed that the same will and determination he possessed when he entered the sport in 2007, still burns strongly.

There seems to be a somewhat peculiar opinion in F1, that it’s not worth pushing a car to the end of the race. Many teams like to conserve their engines and concentrate on holding position up until the line. Not Lewis Hamilton. We watched on the edge of our seats as Lewis closed lap-on-lap on Vettel. Sebastien had the measure of the Brit in the end, but it gave us something F1 has been lacking for a few years, a proper race to the line – great stuff.

The team-mates of both Vettel and Hamilton had very middling days. Button could have no doubt pipped his team-mate for second (or at least helped in the Vettel assault) if it wasn’t for his truly shocking start. But with his smooth driving style, he was able to make the Pirelli’s last (the only competitor who realistically could) and it meant his three-stop strategy worked a treat for a podium position.

The very opposite happened for Mark Webber, who as always got stuck behind the wrong traffic at the wrong time. Still, he didn’t pull out the amazing moves that both Vettel and Hamilton did to keep them in contention through the traffic. Hate to say it, but Mark’s not quite on it anymore.

A quick mention for the Mercedes. It was a solid, but once again disappointing weekend for this team. It was great to see both finish in the points, most notably Michael ahead of Nico after another cracking start. But I’m sure Ross would like to be challenging the front runners and after finishing over 30 seconds behind a struggling Alonso, they’re just not there.

Another team who seem to be on a downward spiral is Renault. They were no-where to be found today despite a decent qually from Petrov on Saturday. Heidfeld did make it through the field to finish eighth, but that was mostly due to clever tyre management. Renault seem to be another team with great promise who aren’t quite hitting the mark.

Tyres were of course the subject of the day again. The new primes turned out not be as much of an issue as originally claimed, but the degradation of the soft tyres is shockingly quick. That’s fine by me, keeps us with some very close racing, unlike this weeks DRS showing which failed to have any significant impact. I’m confident DRS will eventua

lly get ironed out though and maybe next week at Monaco it could be just perfect… or more likely an accident waiting to happen.

Sebastien Vettel is still the man at the front, he deserves to be, but Mr Hamilton is closing in for what is shaping up to be one of the most action packed seasons so far. Let us not forget, we’ve just watched the Spanish Grand Prix, traditionally boring and won from pole-position – not today!

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