So we are back at everyones favorite circuit. The lovely container-harbour area of Valencia. /end sarcasm. No, but I think we can all agree that the 3 previous races here have been pretty boring. 8 overtakes in all have been registered here so far. With Kobayashi alone holding 25% of that statistic from his superb performance last year. One of the moves was even done on Fernando Alonso.
Needless to say I was hoping for a far better spectacle this year with KERS, DRS and the Pirelli tires in the mix. I mean, if that doesnt help then I am tempted to say that nothing will.
SILLY SILLY FIA
The powers that be, or FIA as we call them, suddenly got the idea that they should ban the engine maps that allowed for exhaust gases to be blown through the diffuser when off throttle. Not at the end of the season but now – starting from Silverstone. A maximum of only 10% throttle would be allowed when the driver is not on the gas. Not only that but a last minute notice went out just days before the Valencia GP, that it would not be allowed to change engine maps between qualifying and the race. This to prevent extreme maps that blow even more off-throttle gases to the diffuser. It’s considered very hard on the engine but is deemed safe for 2 runs in Q3.
Many pundits consider these changes to hit Red Bull especially hard as they are believed to have perfected the blown diffuser design. And some say that these changes are even aimed directly at Red Bull to slow the car down to prevent them from running away with the title early on. The thing is, it’s not Red Bull that is running away with the title per se.. It is Sebastian Vettel that is doing that so far. He is far ahead of his teammate on points and he seems to be able to extract that extra bit of performance out of the brilliant RBR7 when needed.
I am calling out Charlie Whiting on these decisions. He is the primus motor behind these mid-season rule changes. It makes no sense to do this now and so sudden. The double diffuser ran not only to the end of 2009 but all of 2010 as well. The F-duct was allowed to run to end of season too. I am personally fed up with this non-stop fiddling with the rules whatever the motive or reason is. I think there should be a darn good reason – such as safety – to make a mid-season change. The F-duct is such an example. Drivers had to take their hand of the wheel to operate it. And yet it was allowed to run. Such a thing is not the case here. It reeks of politics and I think it is insulting to the fans that follow the sport intensely. It smells of trying to slow the dominant team/driver down. In my opinion, Red Bull did a better job – the rest of the teams just have to deal with that.
Sure, the argument is that the off-throttle maps burn a lot of extra fuel and we cant have that in this green age. Pure hypocrisy if you ask me. F1 is a sport that travels around the world every forthnight on planes and countless trailers with equipment. Not to mention the 7-figure number of fans that go to the races each year – and I dont think they are using pedal-bikes to get there either. So what is 20-some cars going around a track for a couple of hours going to do? Not even make one ounce of a difference. I realize it is about sending an ‘environmental’ message but this is ridiculous. Ok, rant over.
I could not help feel a satisfaction deep inside me when I saw two Red Bulls top the time sheets at the end of qualifying. Clearly the banning of the ‘quali-maps’ did not prevent them in locking out the front row. Sebastian Vettel even went below the 1.37 mark. First ever person to do so on this track. But we will have to wait two weeks before we see how much the off-throttle ban will affect the different teams. Hamilton qualified a strong 3rd and Canadas race winner a somewhat disappointing 6th. Between the two McLarens were the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa.
Lights go out in sunny Valencia and its a long dragrace down to turn 2 and 3! Massa gets the best start of the front runners and is briefly in 3rd. He chooses to have a look on the inside of Webber which proved a mistake as a lack of room slowed him down. Alonso who had dropped to 5th after the start went on the outside at turn 1. With plenty of room he is able to get by both Hamilton and Massa in one fell swoop. A smart move that obviously pleased the local Spanish crowd.
On lap 5 we see probably the overtaking move of the race. Button gets past Rosberg with some superb late braking at turn 2. No DRS needed. Spectacular and perfectly carried out. Watch it here if you are fast before FOM gets their grubby hands on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btKZw137a8Y
At the front, its Vettel, Webber and Alonso. A 3-horse race that would last pretty much until the end of the race. Vettel starts pulling out a gap – as usual. But it doesnt build quite as fast as we have seen before. Is this his true pace or is it tire management in effect? Alonso on the other hand has his sights firmly set on the back of Webber and seems to be going all out. He is setting some very fast sector times, determined to get within the 1 second mark to be able to deploy the DRS system on the 2 straights. (Just like Canada, its a double DRS zone in Valencia)
Webber can’t build a gap to the charging Spaniard behind. And soon enough, Alonso can utilize his rearwing to aid in passing the Red Bull. However, Valencia is a tricky track to pass on and Webber can defend with his KERS to keep Alonso at bay. Webber pits first of the two and actually gains a small gap after Alonsos pitstop.
Meanwhile we see Schumacher coming out of the pits and tries to make it to the first corner before Heidfeld. That doesnt work out. Result – another broken frontwing on the Mercedes. He has to drive all the way around the track for a new wing, his race effectively destroyed. But he does manage to pass 2 cars with his front wing dangling loose! I suspect he was fuming..
Alguersuari is looking racey having a bit of a dice with Rosberg. His 2 stop strategy was working pretty well for him this afternoon. It comes at a good time for him too, as there have been talks of a change of seats in the stables of Toro Rosso. He takes 8th place eventually. His second of the year. Well done.
Back to Alonso and Webber. The Spaniard has closed the gap and gets a run on Webber in the DRS zone on lap 21 and passes him without any real drama. Would Vettel be chased down next? Not to be. Vettel keeps the gap to around 3-4 seconds in spite of Alonso doing all he can. Alonso comes in a lap too late as his tires had deteriorated and slowed him down. This moved Webber ahead of him.
He now has to do it all over again. He closes the gap to the Red Bull, but Webber is not being fooled twice. Now there is no way around him so Mr. Eyebrows have to bide his time. There is a scary moment on lap 32 when Trulli doesn’t appear to have seen both Ferraris coming in his mirrors. He moves as Massa passes him to dive into the pitlane but makes no room for Alonso behind. Incredibly, Alonso finds the time to do his signature indignated handwave of disapproval. I guess there is always time for that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mp-q7mATTU
For the final round of pitstops, Webber comes in first again of the top 3. This had proved to be a good call before. But switching to the harder tire now put him at a disadvantage as it was a bit slower than even the worn softer tire. Coming out in some traffic did not help either. Alonso puts in a couple of good laps and gets by him with good margin after his own stop. We hear Red Bull telling Webber to short shift due to a gearbox problem, so he would not have been able to keep his 2nd place anyway.
Hamilton was having his own race down in 4th position. He has managed to jump Massa in the pitstops and now he has to deal with his pesky race engineer telling him that he has to preserve the tires and control his pace. The nerve.. Hamilton responds that he is NOT going to slow down. Nevertheless, he kept 4th place but was almost half a lap down on Vettel in the end. It was the best that the silver car could achieve here. McLaren have some work to do.
After Vettels switch to the harder tire he really starts building the gap to Alonso. The harder tires are not Ferraris best friend. It is up to around 10 seconds before he cruises comfortably around the final lap to take the chequered flag in Valencia for the second year in a row. Never really under pressure and calmly responding to anything thrown at him. In 2011, he has shown the doubters that he does indeed handle pressure and that he can overtake when needed. Just a great drive on a pretty uninspiring track. He is now 77 points ahead of his closest pursuers, Button and Webber. Thats a 3 race buffer. Incredible.
DRIVER OF THE DAY
I think the top 3 guys all deserve a mention here. They were by far the fastest and they stood for the better part of the excitement in the race. It is Sebastian that stands out however. Whenever he was threatened by Alonso, he just upped his pace slightly. And when the harder tires went on, he was in a league of his own. 6 wins and 2 second places is outstanding but Alonso actually did something similar in 2006. 6 wins and 3 second places in the first 9 races. So to beat that, Vettel has to win at Silverstone. Not entirely impossible as Valencia is considered their weakest track.. It would still take quite a feat to beat Schumachers 2002 season however.
DOUCHE OF THE DAY
I cant really find someone I want to pin this on today. I mean, Schumacher had an incident with Petrov where he was unlucky to damage his frontwing. Not the first time this year. But it was a racing incident which happens so I will just move along.
SORENS RACE RATING
You may expect me to slam this GP – and perhaps I should. Compared to the racing we have had so far this year, its a 5 at best. But maybe we should consider that we have already become a bit spoiled. Go back a couple of years and a 3-way fight at the front like we had in Valencia would be considered a pretty darn good race. Last year I gave this race a 6 out of 10. This year, I give it a 3.5 out of 10 when compared to the previous races. It was better but not enough. The fight between Webber and Alonso was great but it is also very clear that this track is seriously flawed. A shame since the surroundings are great. (The beach and the city of Valencia) They should really try to make some adjustments to the layout.
I do have to give some praise to Pirelli while I remember. I think they have done a tremendous job so far. They had limited preparation time for this year after Bridgestone pulled out of the sport. But they have delivered tires that have added to the spectacle. And they seem to be genuinely involved in the racing and how to make it the best possible. I think their comments after the race shows how immersed they have already become: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/92689
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Take care now,
Images © WR12/Nextgen-Auto.com/Mark Thompson, Paul Gilham, Red Bull, Getty Images/Daimler/Ferrari spa, Ercole Colombo