The Fast Lane – It finally falls in place for Webber in 2011!

November 27, 2011

We’ve come a long way since lights out in Australia earlier this year. We’ve seen some of the most on-track action in many a season, but also the most dominated one since the Schumacher years (funny how things work out!) Since Vettel won the championship in Japan we’ve had a few mediocre races at the newer tracks, but today saw us return to a classic, Brazil for the final GP of the season.

Qualifying on Saturday was – as it has been for most of the season – a Red Bull washout. Vettel was in a class of his own to get pole position, followed by his team-mate Mark Webber in second with the Mclarens and Alonso following. But surely anything could happen on Sunday  – especially with rain in the forecast…

Unsurprisingly, the rain never came and as the race started out in dry conditions, Vettel and Webber proved how dominant Red Bull could be – both were clear of any rivals they had by the third corner of the GP. However the biggest winner off the start was Alonso. It’s been a great year for Alonso’s launch starts and today was no different. He dispatched of Hamilton off the line and took only 10 laps to sail round the outside of Button for third position. Unfortunately, by this point third place was already over ten seconds behind the blitzing pace of Vettel and Webber.

Michael Schumacher is no stranger to success around the Sao Paulo circuit, but today he found himself in tenth early on, battling with local hero Bruno Senna. This was to be Schumacher’s highest position of the day as on lap 11 he collided with Senna going into the first corner. It was a close one to call, Schumacher did seem to turn in on Senna, but there was little movement between them in the braking zone. I would have called racing incident, but the stewards decided Senna was to blame and handed the Brazilian a drive-through penalty. Schumacher also fell back after a puncture from the incident.

Sadly, this was as much on-track action as we were to get in the early to mid-stages of the race. The far more interesting action was happening over the radio as Red Bull confirmed on numerous occasions that Vettel had a serious gearbox issue. This led to a slower (although admittedly only slightly slower) Vettel and a yield to teammate Mark Webber on lap 30. Now, this will be the topic of much debate – was this a gearbox issue or not. Red Bull are adamant there was an issue and didn’t expect Vettel to finish the GP. However it seems more than a little strange that Vettel continued to set very hot laps whilst carrying his gearbox issues. Was Mark Webber gifted a first victory of 2011 by his team?

What is certain is that Vettel wasn’t the only one with gearbox issues. Bruno Senna was reportedly stuck in sixth gear for a lot of the race and Lewis Hamilton was forced to retire after his gearbox gave up on lap 48 topping iff a lacklustre weekend for the Brit. Perhaps the constantly re-used gearboxes finally took their toll at the end of the year – but it was strange to see such a reliable season end with three gearbox failures!

Looking a little further back and it was another disappointing weekend for Massa. After a strong start, the Brazilian just saw himself fighting to keep positions instead of challenging for others, the most interesting of these being a three-lap scrap with Lewis Hamilton before he retired. Felipe needs to work to regain his full-race pace in 2012, he often has cracking starts but cannot last the same race distance – I hope we see more from him next year.

A notable mention should go to Force India and Adrian Sutil today who fought valiantly with Nico Rosberg to provide some heart-stopping moments into the first corner. Sutil came out on top and managed to grab a strong sixth position for the team. His team-mate Paul di Resta also put in an impressive performance to finish eighth.

But the race wasn’t over yet. Jenson Button did his usual trick of storming the last quarter of the race. After his final pit-stop it took him mere laps to catch up to Alonso and pass the struggling Ferrari driver with ease. After this his sights were set on Vettel. Sadly, as we have often seen, it was too little too late for any further action, Vettel held second comfortably and came home second to Mark Webber’s first victory of the season.

And it’s worth celebrating Mark’s drive today. In 2011 he has been completely overshadowed (on track but certainly not in height!) by his team-mate Sebastien Vettel. Coming back to what I wrote earlier, Mark was not gifted this win, he earned it with a solid drive from start to finish – not a foot wrong throughout. I think this is summed up by his three consecutive fastest laps on the last three laps of the race, despite desperate cries from his team not to push too hard – that’s a true racer, well done Mark!

The season finished with the tyre smoke of Felipe Massa billowing towards the home-straight. Good on Felipe for giving the fans what they wanted with some good ol’ doughnuts and ignoring the silly FIA regulation against them.

Of course, here in the UK, we’re looking towards a quite different 2012 coverage-wise. It will be split between the BBC and Sky. Sky will show all races live with in-depth analysis on their brand new channel, whereas the BBC will show 10 races live and provide re-runs (that’s what Jake said!) and highlights of the others.

This has angered many, who understandably believe all F1 races should be live on free-to-view TV. However, after todays race, I was left more than a little underwhelmed at the lack of on-track action and actually crave a slightly shorter highlights package. I felt like it was all a bit of a waste of my Sunday, which isn’t how I’ve been feeling about F1 for a long time.

All I’m saying is that I wont be getting the Sky coverage and really don’t think I’ll mind missing half the season live.

Of course the true test of this will come next year when the first two GP’s of the season are exclusively live on SkySports, but right now – for the first time in a while – I’m ready for a break from Formula One…

 

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The Fast Lane – The great Hamilton return of Abu Dhabi 2011

November 14, 2011

As we all sat down around the world at 1.00PM GMT yesterday to watch the Abu Dhabi GP – a track where only one man, Sebatien Vettel has ever won a Grand Prix, where the same man was currently sitting at the front of the grid in the best car of the 2011 season – there was one thing no-one was expecting to see. Vettel out at the second corner!

Now it’s mean to celebrate at others misfortune – I’ve written on this blog how much I admire Sebastien’s driving and I think we all know what amazing talent that man has – but I couldn’t help but leap for joy when I saw that second corner spin! At last, a race Vettel wasn’t going to win simply from the front.

It turned out that the German had suffered the unlucky fate of a rear puncture causing him to lose control of his Red Bull. The sad news was that this really was it for Vettel’s day – despite nursing the car back to the pit, it was too badly damaged to continue and any valiant drive through the field we may have hoped for was not to be.

It was Lewis Hamilton who took up the baton that Vettel dropped and led the field through the early laps. Just behind him was an impressive Alonso who had taken every chance at the start, driving around both Webber and Button with ease. Judging by Ferrari’s performance this season, you might have thought Alonso would soon fade away and be taken by both Button and Webber, but it wasn’t the case. The Spaniard got something special out of his car and managed to match and beat Hamilton’s lap times out front – remaining around 2 – 3 seconds behind the Brit. Maybe it was the shadow of the impressive Ferrari World spurring him on!

Behind the top two, a slightly different battle was going on between Button, Massa and Webber. Massa initially started to out pressure on Button who was suffering with a KERS issue. With the double DRS available at this track, it was looking possible for the Brazillian to sneak through. But all this focus forward had made Massa lose sight of the man behind him. It took several laps and even more DRS zones, but Mark Webber was clearly the faster car and managed to make his way past the Ferrari driver.

Webber took to chasing down Button, but as we have seen throughout the year, if there’s one thing Button can do, it’s look after his tyres. Webber couldn’t, in fact he rather destroyed his, forcing an extra pit stop and an extra set of soft tyres. This tactic moved Webber past Button into third position, but it wasn’t to last. Webber still had to pit for his harder tyres, doing so on the final lap and losing the position.

The top two had an astounding pace, both trading fastest laps throughout the race. But it was Hamilton who remained the dominant, always a few seconds down the road from Alonso and avoiding any wheel-to-wheel racing (boo!). This was a man back on form – it’s a shame we couldn’t see how close he was to Vettel on track.

The undisputed villain of the race has to be Pastor Maldonado. I’m unsure what on earth he was doing throughout the GP. He was constantly ignoring blue flags and generally getting in everyones way – nearly crashing into Felipe Massa. It’s poor form to be this bad at following the simple F1 rules and something which yesterday was rightly punished (although that just put him in even more people’s way!)

Lewis Hamilton has said of his win, that this is the start of a new beginning for the driver. Lets hope so, because I feel that the Lewis which won the championship in 2008 has been missing in action ever since. The question still remains though, how does Lewis at his peak shape up to the might of Vettel. Maybe in Brazil in two weeks, at the BBC’s last full F1 broadcast, we will find out…