28/06/2011

Valencia - A Dull But A Tough Race

We didn’t find anything exciting in the race apart from few moves from Webber & Alonso, Button over Rosberg, Sutil over Heidfeld. Throughout the race there were no retirement (which is good with respect to drivers & teams), no DNF’s and no much drama’s to excite the people watching on TV and from Grandstands. But having said this, it was very tough for the drivers & teams out there, the weather didn’t help either as it was too hot. Sebastian Vettel emerged as the Winner with Fernando Alonso second & Mark Webber third.

Here is the detailed report of the Weekend:

FP1:
The teams were back in Europe for the European GP in Valencia, Spain. The second street circuit of the season after Monaco. The teams were testing the Medium Compound tyres, it was for the first time they were going to use it in a race and the Soft Compound allocated for the race. The pace setter in FP1 was Webber of Red Bull. Force India had a good start with Sutil finishing at P8 while Hulkenberg (sitting for Di Resta) crashed out after hitting the wall at Turn 12, he finished at P18. Karthikeyan of HRT finished at P23. Chandhok (sitting in place of Trulli) couldn’t set a time due to gearbox problems in his Team Lotus car.

FP2:
The second session began after lunch on Friday as the teams collected more data for Qualifying & Race. Just when it looked its another weekend for Red Bull, Ferrari jumped in the fray as Alonso topped the time-sheets at the end of the session. Force India continued with there strong outing as Sutil finished at P11, leading the mid-field pack while Di Resta having only got 20 minutes of running finished at P14. Karthikeyan in his HRT continued to bring out the best from the car, ending at P23.

FP3:
The teams headed out for the Final Practice making the necessary changes to their cars from the data’s collected yesterday. Red Bull bounced back as Vettel topped the time-sheets at the end of the session. Force India once again lead the mid-field pack with Sutil finishing at P11 while Di Resta drove well (after lack of practice in FP2) to finish at P13. On the whole, it was turning out to be a good weekend for Force India and it surely looked that they will be on the toes to make it to the Top 10 in Qualifying. Karthikeyan in his HRT finished at P24, trying to stay within the 107% rule in Qualifying.

We had an interesting battles in our hands for pole as Ferrari were looking strong to challenge Red Bulls. McLarens were a bit down but they posed a threat too. Force India were the only mid-field team looking good along with Williams as Sauber & STR were having problems.

Qualifying:
Q1:
The teams were set to go out for the first qualifying session. Qualifying is important in a street circuit as its difficult to over-take. It was a tricky session as even the top drivers were very close to go out of Q1. In the end along with the six drivers of the new teams, Jamie Alguersuari bowed out of Q1. Massa topped the time-sheet with a time of 1:38.413 (107% time being 1:45.301). All the drivers qualified under the 107% time. Karthikeyan qualified at P24 in his HRT with the time of 1:44.363 ensuring he is under 107% time. Both the Force India made it to Q2 as I was expecting them to. Q3 for both cars was possible and I was hoping for that (a bit optimistic).

Q2: 
The times in Q1 didn’t exactly show the true line-up but we could predict the teams fighting for pole as Red Bull & Ferrari were looking strong. Force India could get in to Q3 at the expense of either Mercedes or Lotus Renaults. The pace was already set by Vettel with McLarens jumping in for the front row as well. By the end it was looking as if it will be again the Top 5 teams making it to Q3 but a late surge by Force India’s Sutil removed Petrov from the 10th spot, thereby securing a place in Top 10 for the first time in the season while his team-mate Paul was running to take a spot in Top 10 but he slid in Turn 13 which compromised his place in Q3. He qualified at P12 with the time of 1:39.422, a good result considering the lack of practice. I expected one car in Q3 and it happened, points was very much on the cards.

Q3:
The battle for Pole began with the Top 4 teams along with one Lotus Renault & one Force India. We knew it will be another weekend for Vettel taking away the Pole even if others were trying hard (the drivers knew too) and that’s what happened in the end. Vettel making it 8 out of 8 with regard to Pole. His team-mate Webber was behind him with surprisingly Hamilton in third (as the McLarens were not looking that strong). Both Sutil & Heidfeld chose not to run in order to save tyres for the race as they knew they won’t move high up the order. Sutil eventually qualified at P10, his best qualifying performance in the season. I was happy with Force India’s performance as they showed during the Practice Sessions, I was hoping for some good points in the race.

I was hoping for a good race in the hands as there were two DRS zones along with KERS which would have helped in over-takings even though it was a street circuit.

Race:
It was a very hot Sunday afternoon as the teams geared for the Eighth Race of the Season. Vettel was as usual starting from Pole with Webber alongside him and Alonso & Hamilton behind. We could have hoped for the exciting start, the First Lap/Corner action but yet again it was a smooth start for all the drivers. Vettel lead the way, Ferrari’s had a great start leaving behind the McLaren’s. Force India’s Sutil too over-took Heidfeld and gained one place, while Di Resta benefited from Petrov’s slow start.

From then on the race had nothing to excite the fans, apart from some battles like that of Alonso & Webber who moved back and forth for the P2 position. They did provide some cheer in the crowd (especially Alonso the Home hero). The move of the race went to Button over Rosberg, yeah he did it without the help of DRS, it was pure skill. We saw just one small incident involving Petrov & Schumacher where Schumi lost his front wing when he was coming out of the pits, he braked late, resulting Petrov kissing his car. That pretty much ended Schumi’s point scoring chances.

Force India’s Sutil had a good battle with Heifeld, at the start and during their first pit-stop as well. Sutil stayed comfortably ahead of Heidfeld. Towards the end he was fighting hard with Jamie for the P8 position but couldn’t over-take even with the help of DRS, thereby ending at P9 with two points. Jamie drove a good race considering he did a 2 stop race while most opted for 3 stop. Perez did even well as he finished P11 with just one stop. While Paul had a good start but I think the strategy didn’t favor him as he lost places in his last pit-stop and the traffic as he came out didn’t help either. He ended at P14, which was not bad considering the lack or practice he had.

In the end it was Vettel who won the race, making it 6 out of 8 race wins in the season. Alonso came home at P2 ahead of Webber at P3. The race will also be remembered as the race where all the 24 cars finished the race with no DNF’s. Karthikeyan was classified as the 24th finisher (a record he wont be proud of). All in all I wont rate this race as the best of the season even though all finished but I must congratulate the engineers who have worked hard on the reliability of the cars. I was happy that Force India got some points as it worked to be one of the strongest weekend for them, they still have loads of work to do in order to get ahead of Sauber & STR in the championship. In two weeks time we look forward to (an iconic) Silverstone GP, it will be first of Force India’s home race. It should be an interesting with some rule changes on board and also some changes to the race track.

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