Silverstone: Race Report

Call in the Maintainance Men

The Race:

New beginnings

There was definitely a theme this weekend, one of renewal. Renewal of Silverstone itself with a £28 million makeover of the pit complex, and a revised track layout from the dramatic in 2010 to the switcharoo of the start/finish line. Renewal of the fighting spirit, Fernando Alonso’s win added a third team to the winning tally and the hope of a battle for the title chase. There were also less positive renewals, old wounds were opened when Red Bull were perceived to be favouring Sebastian Vettel when then asked Mark Webber to ‘maintain the gap’. And even worse, a renewal of bad fortune, a consecutive poor weekend for McLaren was compounded by the home locale and record crowds.

Pushing to the line

A ‘home race’ label can span several countries for a driver or team, for McLaren it’s Silverstone or bust. Two British drivers in a wholeheartedly British team piles on the pressure when the track flag matches, Lewis Hamilton has previous tasted the sweet victory on home turf in his championship winning year. However his compatriot and team mate Jenson Button has had no such luck, he’s never reached the podium in 12 attempts and this year failed to survive one of his pitstops. McLaren’s weekend joins several other teams pit lane woes, in line for a podium they had to ask Hamilton to conserve fuel only releasing him to race in the dying laps, but he just managed to salvage 4th…minus a few pieces of carbon fibre. Where Hamilton was under-fuelled, Button was under-nutted, his front right tyre departed him as he left the box (see Rookie Mistake below).

Not listening

Side-stepping McLaren’s woes for the moment, we can wander either way up and down the paddock to discover some more. The paddock itself caused some issues when the subterranean pitlane hid the top teams from the paying crowds, it even hid them from the Paddock Club guests…not that anyone is little bit happy about that. But the Silverstone organisers are on top of it, so expect to see more grandstands next year to compensate. Which garage shall we poke out heads into now? How about Red Bull? (We’ll get to Ferrari, always best to end on a high note) Mark Webber exhibited the same fighting spirit we got used to last year, except this time he was expressly told not to. This will circle the paddock until Webber inks a new deal or leaves the sport (I’m putting my money on the former, he’s still got something to prove). Horner admitted he was surprised at Webber’s subterfuge, but the Australian has never been known for his corporate sympathy, however he is just an employee (admittedly a well compensated one) and a member of a 500-odd strong team. It was wrong for Webber to disobey the order, but he was equally right to push the driver in front to the chequered flag. Have you noticed though, the Aussie is closing in on the championship leader, never has he been this close during the season so far.

Have they got the competition licked?

Time for a good old fashioned rags to riches story, it all happened a long, long time ago…cliche aside, it did. On the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win Fernando Alonso waltzed away with a win so sweet, even the most ardent McLaren fan had to applaud his skill. Both Ferrari’s were on the pace all weekend, and now they have been awarded not just a win but the accolade of being named Red Bull’s closest rival. Who would have thought 7 years ago Ferrari would be pleased with such an acknowledgement. When Vettel got the jump on Webber as soon as the lights went out (Webber really needs to improve his starts and first stints to remain competitive), and Alonso was right up behind the pair keeping them honest. Frenetic pace kept him in contention throughout the day, and when the opportunity was gifted to him in the shape of a rear gun failure for Vettel, he leapt on it and spun a tale that may just begin, ‘once upon a time’.

Heikki Kovalainen’s Team Lotus may have qualified ahead of Nick Heidfeld’s Lotus-Renault, but losing 4th gear almost instantly put paid to a charge up the field, Jarno Trulli followed him into the garage 8 laps later with an oil leak. Toro Rosso and Sauber experiences split fortunes, the former scoring a point via Jaime Alguersuari and a DNF from Sebastien Buemi (accident damage from a contact with Paul di Resta). Sauber scored points with their rookie, but had a day full of unusual woes from Kobasyashi. And last and by no means least, big congratulations to Daniel Ricciardo who successfully completed his first grand prix, cleanly and without incident.

Penalties: Schumacher – collision with Kobayashi (stop and go), Kobayashi – unsafe release (stop and go), Sauber – unsafe release (€20,000 fine), McLaren – unsafe release (€5000 fine)

Retirements: Kovalainen – gearbox (2), Trulli – oil leak (10), Kobayashi – oil leak (23), Buemi – accident damage (25), Button – wheel nut (39)

Results:

Position Driver Team Time
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:28:41.196
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:28:57.707
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:28:58.143
Fastest Lap Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.908

Read: Full race results for Silverstone

Best Driver:

What a race from the Spaniard! He joins a select few who have beaten Sebastian Vettel this year, and he did it in considerable style. Actually he did it in a style we usually expect to see from the man to beat, as the FOM feed was more concerned with the Massa/Hamilton and Vettel/Webber battles, Alonso quietly cruised to the chequered flag. So what was so strikingly similar? How about the ease in which he pulled out a one time 17 second lead. He crossed the line with a little over 16.5 seconds in hand, he didn’t just beat Vettel, he beat Vettel in a car that has struggled all season long. Last year Alonso proudly declared he could win the title after this very race, and let’s not forget, he almost did. Now can he overhaul a 92 point deficit?

Best Team:

There’s certainly a long, long list of who wouldn’t make the nomination stage. McLaren with their under-fuelling and under-nutting. Red Bull with a 180° on team orders. Lotus with a driver error free double DNF. Ferrari are certainly gathering momentum, slowly they have been getting closer to that magic first win of the season and in Silverstone they did it. Not just content with spoiling Vettel’s day, he crossed the line first on the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win, fated perhaps? Deserved, definitely. I do have a criticism, however, regarding their pit strategy. Ferrari have a one in front system, where the leading driver gets preferential treatment down the pit lane, usual practice and something we see up and down the pit lane. However there were times where Felipe Massa was fighting to keep his car on track, due to his current set of tyres having leapt the cliff in dramatic fashion he was losing valuable time. The team waited until Alonso had chosen to pit before then allowing Massa to come in, with his improved pace a podium may not have been just a pipe dream.

Eddie Jordan moment of inappropriateness:

The off-throttle diffuser ban has again highlighted the FIA’s inability to make a decision and stick to it, this year so far Formula One has had to combat criticism over their fluidity about racing in Bahrain. This is certainly a less global issue, but perhaps just as important to the sport. It has rumbled on since Valencia, and the indecision went right up to the wire, before the cars were readied for the grid team principals were leaving meetings with the final set of specifications, and drivers were getting into unfamiliar cars. But after all this, after all the posturing, we’re back to the Valencia spec, so was this Ferrari results a one-off? There’s only one way to find out…

Rookie mistake:

The pit lane was the scene, like many other races, of where results were turned upside down. A rear gun failure during a Vettel/Alonso head to head pit stop allowed the Spaniard to get the jump on the race leader, it is also worth noting that Webber’s tyre change (who had pitted just before Vettel, strategy to give him the undercut) was also a little sticky around the rear end. Kobayashi left his pit stop far too slowly and came into contact with an incoming Maldonado, and took a Force India wheel gun for good measure too. Perhaps the hardest mistake to watch was the wheel nut that failed to make it onto Button’s front right wheel. He was heading for a possible podium, the first one ever at home, when a front wheel gun fails to gets the nut on, as the gunner switches the lollipop man releases Button before the error can be caught and rectified. As the Brit leaves the pit he radios his team to inform them, with a heavy voice, that the ‘front left’ (it was the front right) is loose. Pulling over, it’s clear that he can’t shake the curse of his home race.

Rookie of the Race:

He binned his car on the formation lap, skidding off the wet section of the track at Becketts he required a new nose cone after losing one in the Pirelli advertising boards, but the Mexican rookie made up for his expensive faux pas during the race. His team mate Kobayashi had a unusually eventful race, where he lost a few fair pieces of his own car during the event, but Perez again showed his knack for keeping his tyres optimal. Apparently Perez prefers to avoid frequent visits down the pit lane in an effort to eschew any extra trouble. Considering Kobayashi destroyed a Force India wheel gun, Button lost a wheel, Vettel got stuck…it’s probably very a wise decision indeed.

Banzaiiiii!!!!:

If Webber had managed to get past Vettel that surely would have been the overtake of the race, easy. But he didn’t so we must look elsewhere, and there are two that caught the imagination of the crowd and they both feature the same pairing of McLaren vs. Ferrari. The first being Button’s spectacular pass on Massa at Vale (lap 14), taking the inside line the crowd went wild as their man got ever closer to his first Silverstone podium. With the cheers echoing in his ears, Hamilton took this as inspiration and passes Alonso at Copse off the racing line, in the wet, on the next lap.

The 1000 word picture:

Say what?:

“Mark, maintain the gap.” Christian Horner to Mark Webber in order to avoid an ‘inevitable’ collision…Webber ignored the calls, chaos ensues.

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