The Fast Lane – Fernando’s Ferrari Flies to the Front

We came to Silverstone on the back of the years dullest weekend in Valencia, hoping for just one thing – that maybe, just maybe someone would dethrone Vettel and take the victory. And luckily for us, they did indeed.

But before I get onto dissecting the race, it’s worth noting the changes at Silverstone. The brand new ‘Wing’ is undoubtedly a striking and impressive building with facilities rivalling the other key tracks on the calendar. The new technical section of track with the loop also threw up some interesting moments for the drivers, giving them a change of pace compared to the mostly high speed track.

But I do feel the track is missing something without the full complex and the legendary Bridge corner. It also feels odd that the pit-straight has very few grandstands, making both paddock areas looking a bit dull and quiet.

But these are things I’m sure we’ll get used to and will be sorted out in the future to ensure an improved overall experience. Right, on with the racing.

Conditions for the British Grand Prix were, as always, interesting. At the start of the race, one half of the track was bone dry whilst the other had an awful lot of standing water. Despite this, the opening laps of the race proved a little disappointing. After Vettel took an early lead from his team-mate and Hamilton drove around several cars to make it up to fourth place on early on(which was admittedly a sterling performance from the Brit), things calmed down all too quickly. The Red Bulls were dominant out front – in spite of their claims that the ‘new regulations’ would damage their performance – with the following Ferrari of Alonso, McLaren of Hamilton and sister Ferrari of Massa all spaced out by quite some distance.

Things were looking a bit bleak for a while as far as a race was concerned with the only action on track being a few tussles near the bottom of the pack. Of these the most notable was between Schumacher and Kobayashi – the former champion losing control and hitting the Japanese driver, losing his front wing and then being penalised with a stop/go penalty (a little unfair in my opinion). It wasn’t looking like a good day for Schumi down in 18th.

But this incident had an effect further up the field. When Schumacher pitted, he changed to slick tyres and was setting blitzing lap times. Instantly the top runners reacted, coming in and changing their tyres to the new slick rubber. This closed the pack up a bit and most notably put the Ferrari’s under pressure. Too much in fact as Hamilton made his way by Alonso in a powerful move down the new pit straight. In fact Hamilton was flying, catching the Red Bull’s up front who weren’t too far apart themselves.

But Alonso wasn’t finished yet, he continued pushing and was frequently matching and beating Hamilton’s times, all the time catching Webber and Vettel up front. Things were starting to play out interestingly for a close second-half of the race.

It was in the pit-stops that everything changed again. Hamilton had to pit early after damaging his tyres, along with Webber. This proved costly for both as Alonso, staying out longer, was able to make the undercut work and come out in front. But it wasn’t just Webber and Hamilton he beat in the pit-lane. It’s never nice to cheer at other people’s mishaps, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw Vettel’s pitstop going wrong. For the first time this season, the Red Bull pit team made a mistake – and it didn’t play into their hands.

Vettel come out behind both Alonso and Hamilton who he then engaged in a straight battle. This lasted several laps and it was interesting to see how the Red Bull of Vettel was able to catch Hamilton’s McLaren in the slower corners, yet was unable to capitalise in the slipstream on the straights – possibly the first sign of a weakness to the Red Bull 2011 car?

But Christian Horner is no fool, by pitting Vettel early, he was able to get ahead of Lewis and easily maintain second position from the McLaren. But one person who Vettel was no match for was the Ferrari of Alonso. Fernando continued to stream ahead, setting fastest lap after fastest lap. For one, the Red Bull wasn’t the top car on the day – be that due to a regulation change or not – and it meant that we finally saw Vettel properly outclassed on track in 2011.

The race wasn’t quite over yet. Hamilton was low on fuel after pressing hard in the early stages and had to drive conservatively letting a fiery Webber back through. This wasn’t enough for Mark who pressed on and found himself actually challenging Vettel for the final few laps. It was great to see these two battle it out on track once again, but in fear of a repeat of their collision last year, team boss Horner called off the fight – not that Webber was having any of it. And good on Webber. I understand Christian’s reason as team boss, but Mark has something to prove this year against Vettel and it’s great to see a proper racer who won’t give up until the chequered flag.

Perhaps Mark feels a bit undervalued at the team, as no doubt Ferrari’s Felipe Massa also does. He was mostly ignored by his team today, risking wrecking his race to ensure that Alonso had a successful day. Not the best way to run a team in my opinion.

Despite this, Felipe found himself battling Hamilton to the line in a thrilling race round the final section. It ended in contact, which could be seen as slightly dubious in the yes of some stewards, but was luckily ignored giving a fantastic drag race which Massa just lost out on. And to think, if Ferrari had bothered with Massa’s strategy a bit more he could have claimed another position…

But overall, a great day for Ferrari, brilliant to see them back at the top for the first time since Korea last year. Not so good a day for the Brits though. Hamilton was the highest British finisher in fourth place, with his teammate Button losing out due to an astonishing error by the McLaren team – they sent him out with a loose wheel! You could understand Jenson’s frustration, another British Grand Prix without a podium.

Thoughts also to Paul Di Resta. After a fantastic qualifying session, the Scot was denied any up-front action by a lousy pit-stop from the Force India team, leaving him finishing in 15th position after 52 laps. So all in all, a disappointing day to be British.

Except it wasn’t. This years British Grand Prix was a roaring success. The new pits and podium were fantastic, the new track layout is still in keeping with the old and we had an enjoyable race. The only problem is, as Alonso was the furthest behind Vettel (of the main contenders), Sebastien has actually extended his lead today. Still half the season to go, but it surely won’t be long before we can declare it his…

 

 

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