11/07/2011

British GP - battles until the bitter end!

My colleague Darshan Chokhani usually writes these whole weekend reviews however he is undergoing exams at the minute so while he's busy studying i (Peter Santamaria-Woods) will be taking over his article - we wish Darshan the best of luck!

So the F1 circus arrived at Silverstone which made a refreshing change after racing around the street-style circuits of Monaco, Canada and Europe recently. Various teams brought upgrades to this race in the hope of boosting performance and with the whole off-throttle blown diffuser argument rumbling on it was always going to be an exciting weekend.

Here is the detailed report of the weekend:

FP1:
As always teams were desperate to gather data in an attempt to determine how well their cars were working with new upgrades however the track was wet. The problem with a wet track in practice is that teams are limited on wet tyres and need to save them for qualifying and the race in case it begins to rain in those sessions - which in a country like Britain is highly likely! Furthermore, how wet is wet exactly? Laptimes are skewed in the wet weather and inconsistent amounts of water on the circuit doesn't help the teams analyse how quick their cars actually are. Teams were so desperate to gather data however that we actually saw Lewis Hamilton going onto the wet track on slick tyres! Very brave from him and it made for interesting viewing. Speaking of interesting viewing there was an amusing incident when Mark Webber's head rest decided to pop-up from the car while he was on track, luckily he realised and held it down until he got back to the pits. Several drivers had incidents on the slippery track and Fernando Alonso had a very dramatic spin. The biggest incident however was Kamui Kobayashi - getting onto the wet curb, spinning round at high speed almost flipping the car and slamming into the barrier, thankfully he walked away uninjured.

Mark Webber ended the session a the top of the pile followed by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. The Force India's of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta were 9th and 11th respectively with Karun Chandhok in 20th. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was 13th but of course in these conditions the laptimes counted for very little.

FP2:
The track was wetter for FP2 after a shower just before the session began and this meant that only four midfield runners ventured onto the track for the first half of the session much to the disappointment of the British fans. After that the track was slightly dryer however and more drivers began to explore the circuit - most drivers learnt from their spins in FP1 and kept their cars on the track well. The major incident of the session was Nico Rosberg aquaplaning on the straight but doing a brilliant job to keep his car pointing in the right direction - incredible control! Teams got onto the intermediate tyres towards the end of the session but no-one managed to make it onto slicks.

The session was topped by Felipe Massa followed by Nico Rosberg and Kamui Kobayashi (who had not slowed down at all after his FP1 crash - in fact he was being more aggressive if anything!). The Force India boys had a strong showing in the session finishing 6th and 7th; but yet again positions meant nothing at this stage due to varying fuel loads and differing amounts of water on the circuit.

FP3:
Intermittent showers greeted the drivers for the first Saturday session however for the first time of the weekend they did get some dry running in towards the end of the hour. As drivers became more and more confident we naturally began to see less and less incidents - the only incident in this session being a spin for Hispania driver Vitantonio Liuzzi from which he recovered and continued his session.

As the track was continually drying we saw some strange results which can be attributed to leaving quick laps later (for a dryer track), for example Pastor Maldonado was up in 5th place and Sergio Perez was 9th. Vettel topped the session with Alonso second and Webber third. The Force India boys were strong once again in 10th and 12th (Paul ahead of Adrian).

Qualifying:
Q1:
Qualifying started on a damp circuit but there was a prediction of rain early on and so everyone set banker laps at the beginning of the session to try and pre-empt the rain. All eyes were on Team Lotus (the fastest of the newer teams) to see if they could spring a shock in the tricky conditions. Towards the end of the session the guys in the dropzone were Alguersuari, Buemi, Glock, Trulli, D'Ambrosio, Liuzzi and Ricciardo - and that's when the rain started to fall, quite heavily in fact, meaning no-one could improve their laptime. Two Toro Rosso's were out and Kovalainen squeezed into Q2 for Team Lotus, a good effort!

Q2:
The track was drying during Q2, getting faster and faster with more cars laying more rubber on the circuit and the biggest shock of the session was probably Michael Schumacher qualifying down in 13th place, he was disappointed. Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez only just narrowly missed out on Q3 however their teammates Paul Di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi made it in along with an impressive Maldonado. The dropzone was Sutil, Perez, Schumacher, Petrov, Barrichello, Heidfeld and Kovalainen.

Q3:
The track was continuing to dry and laptimes were beginning to tumble. This time all eyes were on Sebastian Vettel, could he get pole once again? The answer was no however Red Bull still grabbed pole, his teammate Mark Webber did a great lap on what was still a damp track, finding enough grip to put him top of the pile! Vettel was alongside in 2nd place. There were two major shocks in this session though, Di Resta qualifying in a career best 6th place for Force India and Hamilton having a poor lap to come only 10th. The top ten on the grid for Sunday would be: Webber, Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Button, Di Resta, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Rosberg and Hamilton.

Race:
The action began even before the race started as Sergio Perez managed to have an incident on the way to the grid, running across the gravel and damaging his front wing! However it got replaced before the race and he was okay to start. The track conditions were a nightmare for the drivers, the first half on the lap had a bone dry circuit, the second half was very wet! Tyre choice was intermediates for everyone.

As the race began Vettel immediately stormed into the lead, having a better start than Webber and he lead into the first turn. The other man to have a good start to the race was Lewis Hamilton, getting up to 4th place from 10th very quickly. Di Resta was a man who lost out to Lewis and dropped to 7th. Sutil remained in 11th position.

Michael Schumacher was the first man to have contact in the race, he slid into the side of Kamui Kobayashi meaning the German had to pit for a new nosecone, he also put on the dry tyres in that stop - the first man to do so - and at that point he was much quicker than everyone else so we saw a flurry of activity in the pits with everyone switching to the dry tyres.

With everyone now on slicks the racing could resume and Hamilton flew past Alonso into 3rd place; Alonso was clearly struggling for grip. Meanwhile further down the grid we had lost both Team Lotus cars - Kovalainen (gearbox) and Trulli (oil leak) were both out of the race. Kobayashi would also later retire with an oil leak.

It was looking good for Force India with their cars sitting pretty in 7th and 8th places, Di Resta ahead of Sutil.

Fernando Alonso then managed to start getting his tyres to work and managed to take the 3rd place back from Lewis Hamilton. Both of them were lapping very quickly and closing in on the Red Bull cars out front. 3rd and 4th then became 1st and 2nd for Alonso and Hamilton after the Red Bull cars pitted for tyres - it was at this point where the race was won and lost. Alonso got his head down and put in some brilliant laps, pulling away from Lewis Hamilton at one second per lap. After they all stopped for the first time the order was Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber ... Alonso and Hamilton had jumped both Red Bulls, partly due to pace, partly due to poor Red Bull stops.

Alonso was pulling away in the lead whereas Hamilton was coming under increasing pressure from both Red Bulls. Vettel stopped a lap earlier than Hamilton trying to undercut the British driver as his home GP, did it work? It did work, as Hamilton pitted then emerged back onto the track behind the Red Bull of Vettel. At the other end of the McLaren garage Button's race was over after an error from the McLaren lollipop man in the pit who released the car to early with the front right tyre not secure on the wheel - Button had to retire from the race.

Elsewhere Di Resta looked good until the second stop for Force India when a miscommunication between pitwall and mechanics meant that the wrong tyres were waiting for the Scottish driver, he had to wait as the team brought out the right ones and that cost him a lot of time. Then while back on track he collided with Buemi, putting the Swiss driver out of the race and meaning Di Resta had to pit once more, ruining his afternoon. Adrian meanwhile had fallen back during his pit stops and found himself in 11th place, quickly closing on Alguersuari in 10th who only pitted twice and was struggling on worn tyres.

At the front the order after the second round of stops was Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Webber, but Hamilton had an issue with fuel consumption! The problem was that McLaren short filled Hamilton too much expecting he would be stuck in traffic early on in the race (starting 10th) thus using less fuel ... but due to his good start he was attacking and used more fuel. He now needed to back off the pace a little which allowed Webber through into 3rd place. Webber then found some speed and was quickly gaining on Vettel, he started to attack for 2nd at one point, ignoring messages from his team to "maintain the gap" - nevertheless he could not find a way through.

At the end of the race Hamilton and Massa had a very close duel for 4th after Hamilton backed off to save fuel. The two cars touched on the last lap in the second to last corner as Massa dived down the outside trying to get past ... a piece of front wing flew off the McLaren as they entered the final turn! Both were going for it into the final turn, Massa ran wide to keep his foot on the throttle and they crossed the line with a 0.0second interval! Great racing!! Hamilton did just cross the line ahead of Massa to grab 4th place.

Meanwhile at Force India, Adrian Sutil crossed the line 0.6seconds behind Alguersuari, he finished in 11th place whereas Di Resta had a dismal afternoon finishing in 15th ahead of the new teams and retirements.

The points scorers were: Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Massa, Rosberg, Perez, Heidfeld, Schumacher and Alguersuari.

A comfortable day points wise for Red Bull and championship leader Sebastian Vettel - although i'm sure he would have preferred another win! Sauber scored six points to pull further away from Toro Rosso and Force India unfortunately!

Overall an exciting race though! Next up is Germany, the Nurburgring, in two weeks time! Darshan Chokhani should be back then to write his weekend review =)

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