The Fast Lane – Vettel Victorious in Valencia

This years Formula One season has been edge of the seat stuff (well if you ignore the guy out in front which has hardly changed!). Tracks which have traditionally served up little overtaking have given us amazing on track action and a record number of overtakes thanks to the new Pirelli tyres and DRS addition. But some things never change. The European Grand Prix in Valencia has seen very few overtakes since it’s introduction in 2009 and today was no exception.

Having said that, the beginning of the race did see some great opportunistic moves, mostly from the Ferrari’s. Massa continued his current run of good starts by powering past his team-mate and the slow starting Hamilton. Heading towards the second corner, Felipe moved to the inside of Webber and looked certain to take second place from the Aussie, but was forced to yield. This allowed Alonso back through (after he too had passed Hamilton) into third place.

Further down the field, the second McLaren had made an equally poor start with Button losing out to Nico Rosberg, but just keeping in front of Michael Schumacher. Vitaly Petrov also had a poor start losing five places by the second corner, a bad weekend for Russian who also fell out of quali early on Saturday.

With so many moves at the start, it was looking like a good race was in prospect, but sadly it never materialised. After Button had dispatched of Rosberg, there was very little action on track. The top three of Vettel, Webber and Alonso stayed close for several laps, but there was no sign of an overtake early on, each having a comfortable margin over each other. Massa and Hamilton were close on track for fourth place, but again, despite DRS, Hamilton was unable to capitalise and take the position.

Eventually on lap 20, there was a bit of interest once more as Alonso made the move on Webber to take second place. It was a well executed move from the Spaniard, but it lacked any real excitement as it was completed with DRS (although one has to wonder if we’d have had any overtaking if it wasn’t for this system).

The Webber/Alonso battle did admittedly continue throughout the race, but the rest of it was to be played out in the pits. The positions were revered on lap 29 when Webber retook the place by undercutting Alonso. But a combination of traffic and some poor outlaps from Webber on the hard tyres gave the position back to Alonso after the final round of pit stops.

Further down the field, there were a variety of small battles, Paul Di Resta stands out as one of the drivers who made an impact, taking several opportunities and making them work without losing his front wing this week. That’s more than can be said for Michael Schumacher, who after a brilliant showing in Canada, faded into the background this weekend after losing his wing in a clumsyaccident coming out of the pits.

Kobayashi had his fair share of tussles, but none of them really paid off except passing his team-mate! Jaime Alguesuari is perhaps the man to mention from the rest of the field. By gambling on a two-stop strategy instead of three he was able to move up to eighth and battled hard to keep it to the flag.

One man I’ve hardly mentioned is Vettel. It’s perhaps unfair that I don’t say much about Sebastien, he drove impeccably as always. But the problem is, when he makes no mistakes and is involved in no incidents/fights there’s not a lot to say. The reigning champion stayed a few seconds in front of the field for the entire race and made it obvious that he had plenty in reserve, pulling out an 11 second lead by the finish line. A pure class drive as always, just a shame it makes it a bit dull.

So the story from Valencia has two clear conclusions. Firstly, not even the new tyre strategies and DRS can liven up this street-circuit. It’s never been entertaining, has never captured the magic of Monaco and Singapore and I quite frankly wouldn’t miss it if it was cancelled from next year onwards.

The second is that there’s still a lot of catching up needed for anyone else to even be competitive with Vettel, let alone beat him. Ferrari were strong today (for the first time this season really), but McLaren failed and were no real match at all.

Vettel remains way out in front, in fact he could miss the next three races and still be leading the championship! I’m starting to think it’s more likely he’ll quit out of boredom rather than someone will actually overtake him in the championship!

Next time out we’re at Britain, the new Silverstone. Hopefully the speedy straights and tight corners can reignite the F1 flame!

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