The detailed review of the weekend is down here:
Practice Sessions, FP1:
A very hot and sunny day in Spain to begin the weekend and straightaway the teams set their eyes on the tyre performances in various heat temperatures. It being a street circuit, qualifying became a bit more important due to lack of overtaking places. In the end it was Maldanado who topped the time sheets with Vettel at P2 and Webber at P3. Jules Bianchi was driving in place of Hulkenberg in the morning session as he finished P15. On the other hand Di Resta finished at an encouraging P6 and also topped the S2 time. Karthikeyan finished at P23, not far off from his teammate.
The temperature continued to surge as teams prepared themselves for the afternoon session. The times have rather been very close as we have been seeing in this season. Just thousands of second separate top 10 or 12 or 15. The trend continued in the afternoon session. Vettel topped the time sheets with Hulkenberg at P2 (back at the SFI car after missing the morning session), and Kobayashi at P3. Di Resta in the other SFI car again finished at P6 and once again he topped the S2 time. The team and drivers were upbeat about their Friday performances and were hoping to repeat it on Saturday & Sunday. Even McLaren duo of Hamilton & Button were amazed and surprised with SFI’s performances. Karthikeyan finished at P23 while his teammate shunted out.
A brand new day but the weather was dry and hot. Final session before the all important qualifying session. The teams generally run lesser laps than they do in first or second session and it was no exception in Valencia. Button topped the time sheets bringing in McLaren as a possible pole contender with Grosjean at P2 and Kimi at P3, another team to pop up before the qualifying. SFI continued their super performance as Hulkenberg ended at P4 and Di Resta at P5 and he also topped the S3 time. It was seriously looking good for the team. Karthikeyan continued with his good performance ending at P23 though his team were suffering a bit from brake in the hot conditions.
The pole position battle was pretty spread out as RBR, McLaren, Lotus, SFI, Williams were all looking to fight for it. The firm favourite remained Vettel as he demonstrated in the last lap of FP3 where he didn’t post any time but an unpredictable weekend would spring a surprise. I was pretty sure that both the SFI car will make it to Q3 and possibly finish in top 5 or grab a pole, there was some serious pace. Karthikeyan had some brake troubles but the team were looking good to challenge Marussia’s.
Before the start of qualifying, it was announced that Timo Glock won’t be participating in qualifying due to stomach bug and so it was down to only 23 cars. The track temperature rose by almost 10C from FP3 to Q1, which might have unsettled few teams. Maldanado headed the time sheets with Di Resta at P2 and Hulkenberg at P3, a great start to quali for the team. Unfortunately, Webber due to DRS problem bowed out along with Vergne as Caterham’s Heikki made it to Q2 on merit for the first time. Karthikeyan ended at P22 beating the Marussia and finishing close to his teammate.
The real test was in Q2 as the top 17 cars headed out to get into the top 10 and believe this was the closest Q2 we have seen this season. The top 13 were covered by mere 0.230s in the end as Grosjean ended at P1 followed by Rosberg at P2 and Di Resta at P3. The likes of Alonso, Schumacher and Massa bowed out. Both SFI made it to Q3 as was expected and with the times, a top 5 was all the more possible that is if they don’t make any mistakes.
Surely, the European GP qualifying has been the closest this season yet as about 0.906s separated P1 and P10, all covered within 1 second which is amazing really. The times kept on tumbling towards the end of the session but no one could match anywhere close to Vettel’s time to beat him from getting pole. At the end of FP3, we knew he had pace which he didn’t show and when it mattered he did. Following him were Hamilton at P2 and Maldanado in P3. A bit setback from SFI as both of them suffered from lock ups on their fast lap as Hulkenberg ended at P7 and Di Resta at P10.
Phew!! It was one of the best qualifying session we have had this season. In the end it took a special lap from Vettel to get to pole. Surprisingly Maldanado ended at P3 with Grosjean at P4 who was tipped to take pole. Surely, SFI had hoped for top 5, even I did but the mistakes on the fast lap proved vital. Nevertheless the positions were good and double point finish or even podium was possible from there. Karthikeyan’s best job would be to keep Marussia behind.
For the record, I couldn’t watch the race on Sunday but watched it on Monday early morning. To begin with, it was scorching hot on Sunday and track temperature was quite high. Would the strategies change? We had to wait and watch. The start was fairly all right for all the drivers with not much drama of opening lap yet again. From past 1-2 seasons we haven’t had many accidents which shows how much the drivers have worked on. Vettel led the way with Hamilton behind but not for long as Grosjean made a move on him to take the P2 position. The SFI duo made a good start as both made a position on the opening lap. Karthikeyan made a steady start as he remained ahead of Pic. Pic’s teammate Glock was ruled out of the race due to stomach bug. For the start of the race, it was all silent with teams focusing on getting the tyres and strategy work in the conditions.
Things changed by lap 34 when we had a Safety Car for brief time before that due to Vergne & Heikki’s crash. Vettel was still at the lead but then his alternator failed and his car to a halt. In all this drama, Alonso was silently getting up there and after Vettel’s DNF, he took the lead overtaking Grosjean. We were looking forward to an interesting battle but soon Grosjean’s car gave away as well leaving Hamilton at P2 and Kimi at P3. Behind those battles, we had Schumacher & Webber coming up through the field, they were up in the top 10 behind Di Resta looking for opportunity to pass the Force India while Button, Massa & Rosberg were having a silent race. Outside the top 10, we had Senna, Perez, Ricciardo, Petrov fighting it out hard. Petrov was running as high as P10 at one stage. Karthikeyan lost out to Pic due to a drive through penalty and was running behind his teammate most of the time. His pace was good enough and the car didn’t suffer any serious brake problem.
Coming to the SFI duo, both drivers having made a steady start moving places were lapping good times. Di Resta was on one-stop strategy while Hulkenberg on two stop. Both of the them were fighting out hard there having several battles, one notably was between Hulkenberg & Alonso where Hulk managed to keep Alonso behind but he eventually moved up after a great move from Alonso. During the SC period, it looked that the team might not get a healthy point finish but due to other car having different strategy, the team managed to back in top 10 and moved higher up, possibly looking for a podium finish. Towards the end both of them were running a good P5 and P6 fending of Schumacher, Webber, Rosberg who were charging up due to fresh tyres.
After Vettel’s DNF, Alonso lead the race all the way to chequered flag without much hassle from the driver behind him. Grosjean did threaten but his DNF cleared the way as Hamilton was fighting with Kimi. When Kimi got ahead of Hamilton, it was too late for him to challenge Alonso and thus we got our winner as Fernando Alonso, from P11 to P1. Kimi finished at P2 while surprisingly Schumacher on P3 after a crash between Maldanado & Hamilton in which Hamilton suffered a DNF while Maldanado a penalty which took him out of the top 10. On the very last lap both Schumacher & Webber charged through the field to go past Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Rosberg to finish P3 & P4. Di Resta also lost the P6 to Rosberg on the last lap in this melee. A podium was very much in sight for both Hulkenberg & Di Resta after the incident but their tyres gave way and they had to settle with P5 & P7 which is still great as they are now just a point behind the Williams in the CC. Karthikeyan ended at P18 behind his teammate, he lost out mainly due to the drive through penalty.
Another thrilling race in the season, the podium place was decided only on the very last lap. We got to see Schumacher back on the podium, the first since his return. This season has really been one of a kind, I am loving it to the core. The race has not really thrown open anything with regard to the table though it’s all looking good for Alonso in DC while RBR in CC. SFI has closed in the gap and are looking strong now, just need the podium finish to equalise and go ahead. It’s gonna be a close championship and we are in for some great races ahead. Next up is legendary race with British GP, a very close track for all the drivers. Ciao till then, take care & drive safe!!