Sebastian Vettel finally tied it all up last night in a fascinating Japanese Grand Prix. Lets be clear, it’s been a while since there was anything other than mathematical doubt as to who was going to win the drivers titles this year.
It’s been another compelling season of racing and the comfort of Vettel’s championship, won with four races left, had taken little of the drama away.
The winning margin this year is impressive because both the driver and the team cut out the mistakes. Last year he was clearly the quickest, but errors by both parties cost him points on more than one occasion. This year there was none of that, just a team and driver at their very best.
I can think of only two significant errors this year, and that is remarkable. The last lap mistake in Canada that gave Jenson Button an outstanding win, and a spin in Germany, that’s it.
Nine wins and twelve pole positions in fifteen races is impressive. Yes, there were weekends where he was dominant, but there were others where he had to fight for every point and did so. But wait there’s more, he’s the only driver to have finished every race and what’s more finished every race except for Germany on the podium. That’s impressive.
Perhaps his most dominant weekend was Turkey, it was clear from the Friday times that everyone else was looking at second. Team principal Christian Horner was asked after qualifying by one of the press pack if Vettel had any weakness. He replied, “Yes, when he turned up this weekend he had quite a dodgy haircut.”
It was the same story in Australia, Valencia, Belgium, Italy and a couple of others. Monaco was shaping up to be an outstanding fight to the end before a safety car ruined the spectacle. Read more…
So we made it through to race day and the weather was per forecast – wet. Personally, I like watching wet races, it adds a lot of unknowns to the equation. One of the big unknowns was how the cars will work on the Pirelli wets and intermediate tires as the teams have done little or no testing on them.
And today delivered, I’ve no idea when there was a race as full as this one. Today was why racing can be so special. It was a absolute top drawer drive from Jenson Button, 21st and dead last to top step of the podium. Being in the wonderful position of having no real skin in the game I was able to sit back and enjoy the spectacle that unfolded in front of me.
This has been a great Grand Prix weekend, Montreal is a city that totally embraces this race, and downtown hums every evening over the weekend. I was lucky I had invites to a couple of events, but even without that there is so much going on. Boredom is never an option in this city. ”’i just wish I’d had the energy to keep up with the parties, receptions and events that I got invites too.
The race was stopped after 30ish laps due to rain, it was coming down so hard and from my seat at the second hairpin there was no cover. I had a couple of options on where to watch from and for me this is the pace to watch a F1 car in action. Braking from 305KPH to 50 and then accelerating through the gears as it pulls away. Add a wet track to the mix and the braking zone became a very exciting place to watch.
It took a little over two hours before the race restarted, I think they were a little too conservative, most of the standing water had been removed and the rain had stopped.
Prior to the restart I moved a grandstand after the final chicane. Mostly because it was under cover, a little late as I was soaked through, but it provided a wonderful spot to watch the race unfold with so much happening right in front of me.
Where I ended up had the England-Spain game from the UEFA U21 championship on TV, at half time the TV got switched back to the race channel and we were off again. Unfortunately it was behind the Safety car, but after two hours all I cared about is we were going again..
The race went green and almost immediately it drying out and once someone showed the switch to intermediates was a good idea everyone would go. Four laps later everything started to happen.
Alonso was high centred after a coming together with Button (who was having a busy afternoon). This brought out the safety car once again, and Button came in for his fifth stop of the afternoon. He left with a new wing and fresh rubber. Alonso was out and Button was dead last of the 21 cars left running.
Nearly everyone took the opportunity to come in after the Safety car left to change from wets to intermediate tires.
A fantastic battle was emerging for seconds between Kobiayashi (really good in the wet, lost time as it dried. Japan may be yet to produce a world champion, but Japanese drivers all know how to drive in the wet), Massa and Schumacher. Schumacher looked excellent and went from fourth to second just before everyone decided pretty much en-mass that it was time for slicks.
There was enough of a dry line that emerging that slicks were the right decision and were worth an immediate 3-4 seconds a lap advantage. Schumacher looked like this may be the comeback race that will show he is still to be reckoned with. He went for it on slicks, showed flashes of what we expected when he came back last year, and looked especially good under braking.
Another safety car closed everyone up again, this was turning into a very fun race with so much going on up and down the field. Out front Vettel looked comfortable, he was a happy 5 or 6 seconds in front and seemed to be able to keep that distance what ever happened behind him.
Most notable, Button went from 21st to fourth in about 20 laps and was not done yet. Webber made a mistake and Button took third and shortly afterwards took care of Schumacher as they crossed the start line. Schumacher on the dry line and Button deep into the damp part of the track with the DRS deployed. It was brilliant, brilliant stuff from Button, taking huge risks going onto the damp track looking for the opportunity.
There were 4 laps left, Button was second, taking significant time out of Vettel every lap and the German was unable to respond. On the penultimate lap Vettel made a huge mistake and had a big tail out moment (not sure where, second chicane maybe) that gave Button the chance he needed to take the lead. I think Turkey last year was the last big mistake I can think of from Vettel, considering how dominant he’s been since then that’s remarkable.
This was a great individual drive, not in a “Senna at Donnington – genius at work” way, but because anything could have happened today. That Sunday at Donnington we watched a master in control, today was an inspired drive by Jenson Button, but one full risks. He got a little luck to go his way (and a mistake by clearly the best driver in the sport) and made the best of it. I don’t mean to diminish what Button achieved, as he drove a great race and must be very satisfied with his drive, it was a privilege to watch.
This is one of the most memorable races I’ve ever seen in 25 years of following the sport, and not just because I was there. This contained everything a great sporting moment needs, drama, unpredictability, someone riding their luck a little and producing something spectacular from it.
I was soaked to the skin, and I mean soaked. Even my wallet was saturated, I just hope the camera starts working again when it dries out.
Time to head back to the hotel, dry out and think about dinner tonight. Wet races are unpredictable, and today was no different. That was an outstanding race, and England came back to draw 1-1 with Spain. Thank you to Brian, Joel and Sue for the tickets. This was a great weekend of racing. I love this sport.
Oh yeah, one last thing, it started sheeting down with rain again a few minutes after the race finished.
So today was final practice followed a couple of hours later by qualifying. A very interesting day at the track. Vettel looked good, easily leading the practice session and took a fairly comfortable pole by almost two-tenths of a second.
Ferrari (and their thousands of supporters) must be content with their speed this weekend. A little distance behind Vettel, but clear of everyone else.
The practice session ended early when Sauber driver Pedro de la Rosa (who will be buying a lot of mechanics dinner tonight) brought out the red flag right at the end after damaging both the front and the back of his Sauber exiting Turn Four. It was clear early that the McLarens were off the pace this morning, taking fifth and sixth, and well over a second off the pace.
One note, Mark Webber never took part in the morning session after problems with the car.
Then to qualifying and times were not for credit. The Q1 session (to get the top 17) threw up a couple of surprises, the HRT have been (relatively) quick this weekend, both drivers qualified comfortably and for once was not bottom of the timesheets, that honour went to Jerome D’Ambrosio’s Virgin. Liuzzi had a big spin in Q1, but ended up 21st (out of 24) and the team seemed very happy with having both cars in the race.
Best of the new boys was Lotus (as usual), but still a little space to make up with the rest. Jaime Alguersuari was the last driver not to make it to Q2, the team has looked good at times this year and this is about where he’s been all weekend (I love having the printouts, makes it easier to compare).
After Q2 it was the usual suspects, Red Bull, Renault (paint looks even better up close), Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes all made it through to the final qualifying session.
Vettel really did look in control and knew what he had to do, and did it. He does make it look effortless and that’s the sign of a great driver. And unlike that “other” German actually seems to have a personality.
Alonso won the battle between the two Ferraris, beating Massa by a tiny 18-hundreths of a second. Alonso’s final lap was on the monitors at the track and he looked like he gave it everything to claim P2. Great stuff to watch.
Mark Webber was fourth, while McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were disappointed with only fifth. Nico Rosberg was sixth, Button seventh ahead of Schumacher. There is a significant gap between these drivers and the top three.
I get the feeling McLaren fancied their chances this weekend; they are off the pace and seemed rather mystified as to why.
Qualifying behind both Red Bulls and Ferraris was unexpected. A lot of people felt this was the weekend they track were supposed to start to make up ground and the ultimate pace is not close. Tomorrow is race day, nothing counts for points yet, but there were a lot of worried looks on the faces of the McLaren engineers this evening as they try to work out a solution.
The biggest question is what’s the weather going to do. The forecast is for showers tonight and through out tomorrow. That will make for a very difficult and unpredictable day for all.
What ever happens it’s going to be fun tomorrow. All by itself the noise of 24 F1 cars live is earth shatteringly incredible. Tonight is a reception and once again I will use the trouser press for something other than making toasties…
Time to leave the track, back to the hotel and nap time!
Made it to the track for the afternoon practice session. It was stopped a couple of times for accidents, but it ended with Alonso fastest, almost 0.369 seconds ahead of Vettel. Massa was third, Ferrari must be happy with that, even if in reality it means very little. McLarens are fourth and fifth, while di Resta ends a creditable sixth.
Barcelona in the book and Vettel has made it four wins out of five this season, a dominance reminiscent of Schumacher at is best. Today he did not have it all his own way and worked hard to fight off a great effort by Lewis Hamilton.
Clearly the Red Bull is the class of the field, but McLaren can be encouraged by their showing and for a time Hamilton did something I don’t think anyone else has done this season and took the battle to Vettel. The Red Bull driver did what the greats do and responded with faster and faster laps in what turned out to be a great duel in an entertaining race.
The Red Bull car was at it’s best on the fast, sweeping parts of the track and able to pull out enough of a lead in the final corners of that Hamilton had no chance under braking into the first turn. It would seem that once we get past the lottery of Monaco the following two races in Montreal and Valencia could suit the Red Bulls very well.
Barcelona is not a track renown for it’s overtaking, and after the record number of on-track position changes in Turkey it was going to be interesting to see what the Drag-Reduction-System (DRS) did here.
DRS is complex, but essentially if the second driver is a second behind the leading driver at a certain point on the track (Activation Line) they are allowed to open up a rear flap, reduce their drag along a designated straight and gain a little speed to challenge for the corner.
In the second half of the race Hamilton was almost always within a second as they crossed the DRS activation line, by the time they went through the big sweeper onto the start-finish straight the gap was always too large for Hamilton to have a run on Vettel into the first corner.
While DRS was not as big a deal as it had been, the new Pirelli tyres were the dominant story and this led to a number of 3/4/5 pit stop strategies. As always this made for a very interesting race.
This is home turf for Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari. He was fourth on the grid and made a lightning start. Overtaking Hamilton with ease and taking a run down the inside at the two Red Bulls into the first turn. He gave absolutely everything on the start and it was fun to watch Alonso have a go at the Red Bull’s over the first 8 or 10 laps.
Alonso could not keep that sort of pace up for long and did not have a spare set of the faster soft Pirellis after being forced to use an extra set in qualifying. His tires were done by lap 10, the first of his four stops.
Button on the other hand did a great job with preserving his tires and stopped only three times. After a bad start Button was 10th at the end of the first lap. His fight to get back to 3rd was a great drive and his run at Alonso down the outside of turn ten to take third was just superb. Today a three-stop strategy looked like the right call, but such was the speed of the Red Bulls and McLarens that they were the only four cars not to be lapped.
In the standings Vettel has a 41-point lead over Hamilton, that’s a big lead, but there is a lot of racing still to go this year.
And as good as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Buttons drives were (and they really were) I think the best performance came from Nick Heidfeld in the Renault. He had a big fire early on Saturday and never completed a flying lap in qualifying so was last on the grid. He finished a superb eighth, behind the two Mercedes’s drivers.
It was a fascinating race, next weekend is the race everyone should visit once, Monaco. It’s a special place and a total lottery. It seems the McLarens are good on the slow, more technical sections, could it be their turn? It’s a place that occasionally throws form out the window and as ever it will be fascinating and qualifying could be an exceptional battle around the streets of the principality as everyone looks for a clear track.
There was a lot of change over the F1 off-season. New tires, rear wings, aero regulations, more power for the stewards and of course politics by the truckload. However last night all that mattered for nothing and the cars ran in anger for the first time.
Discovery-one, not much changed. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull is the class of the field. If his maturity can match the speed of the car then he looks like he will be hard to beat. Not only did he win, he won in style. Vettel took pole by a huge margin, led from green light to checker flag.
Discovery-two, the new regs made a difference. The Drag Reduction System (RDS, or the “flappy rear wing”) is interesting and seemed to allow cars to have a decent run at each other under braking. The purist in me has issues with this, I think you need to earn the place and this aids the overtaking driver. However, in reality, it was awfully fun to watch cars overtake each other.
Hamilton had a great race; he had some undertray problems at the end, but was quick enough to hold a relatively untroubled second place. After the really poor showing in testing over the last 6 weeks McLaren have put in a huge amount of work, simplified a few things and found a lot of time.
Clearly this weekend Vettel was the class of the field.
Third place and maybe the best performance of the weekend was Vitaly Petrov in the very, very sexy looking Lotus-Renault. Kept away from the drama and stayed in front of Alonso’s Ferrari.
Ferrari looked to be close to Red Bull in testing and have to come away from the weekend disappointed with their performance with Massa unable to do better than eighth. However it was nothing compared to Mercedes race, Schumacher could not even make the final qualifying session and was out qualified by Rosberg. Neither car finished, Schumacher got a puncture early on and eventually retired, while Barrichello’s Williams took out Nico Rosberg.
Another team that looked good on the track was Sauber. New driver Sergio Perez made it a one-stop race, the only driver to do so. The tactic paid off when he finished seventh, one place in front of Japanese driver Kobayashi. Unfortunately the Saubers were later disqualified for technical infringements over the wings.
Lots of overtaking, clearly Vettel was the class of the field, and by some margin too. The circus arrives in Malaysia in a couple of weeks, a very different style of track. Some teams obviously have catching up to do; it’s going to be a busy two weeks for the teams.
It’s only day one of the first test of the year and really means nothing, but Vettel is top of the timesheets in the new Red Bull and by a little distance. Force India had a good showing, Ferrari were not much off the pace (but was reliable, Alonso did 98 laps today, but Ferraris Twitter feed is so boring) and Mercedes had issues and were a little off the pace.
To be clear, the times from Valencia are pretty meaningless, but there was some interesting stuff on show today. First day of pre-season testing is typically interesting, there was always something new to look at, drivers getting back into the groove and the glorious sound of more than one car running at any time.
When there were fewer rules on testing the bigger teams would test throughout the winter. There were plenty of freezing winter mornings in Silverstone, warmer winter days in Barcelona and shorts and the occasional t-shirt weather in Kyalami. But almost always there would only be one or two cars at a time on track, this would change at the first “official” test where there would be a handful of cars out at anyone time and it sounded absolutely glorious. While mechanics rarely enjoy testing, the noise did let us know the season was getting closer.
Other than the massive surprise that Vettel and the new Red Bull were quick, what else did we learn?
Ferrari are a little down, with Alonso behind the two Force India cars. I’m a big fan of Hulkenberg and his times were not only quicker than Alonso, but also very consistent. Last year I thought Force India may have a good year and net a few podiums, it’s way too early to say, but perhaps it will be this year?
The new Mercedes was unveiled today and from the pictures looks very sexy. While racing has disproven the “if it looks right it is right” saying more than once, it did look very nice. Niko Rosberg said the cars is a huge advance from last year, again the noises being made by the drivers are exactly what you’d expect.
The tech story of last year was McLarens F-duct that was used to stall the wing at high speed, very innovative and by the time mid season had rolled around the principals were worked out and copied by everyone else on the grid.
This year it seems Renault/Lotus has the first of the tech stories. I have to say the Renault looks spectacular in its black and gold. Last year a lot of teams were using their exhausts to make the diffusers more effective by directing the exhaust gasses under the car. Now this is banned and Renault now route the exhausts forward and vents it under the car. I think this must increase the downforce created by the floor/diffuser by accelerating the air traveling under the car and according the Bernoulli this would increase down force. First thought is the downside is the hot exhausts are now forward and next to the driver and could produce cooling issues with the exhaust gasses being pulled through the sidepod.
I wonder how many computers and wind tunnels are running hurriedly cobbled together simulations tonight to work out exactly what Renault are up to. It will be fascinating to see if this is the new must-have like last years F-ducts.
McLaren have yet to release the new car, they will be running it in a couple of weeks at Barcelona. That test will give a better comparison between the top teams and perhaps the times will be worth looking at.
This was maybe the most exciting drivers title chase in a long time, certainly since Senna and Prost traded wins in the late 80’s.
Vettel did what he had to do today in Abu Dhabi. He went out, dominated the race and took care of everything he could control. His drive today was fitting a world champion and it would be difficult to argue that he did not deserve it.
Vettel and Red Bull have been the fastest combination on the grid all year, over a single lap there have not been many that have been able to stay with him. However a mix of driver errors, a few mechanical problems and a significant amount of bad luck had meant that the first time Vettel led the drivers’ championship was this afternoon after the race.
The start, as always, was crucial and Red Bull led from pole, and the first lap finished Vettel-Hamilton-Button-Alonso.
For Vettel to win he needed Alonso and Webber to have issues, and they did. Webber never got past his poor qualifying performance, compounded by poor race strategy and coming in for fresh rubber too early. Alonso made the same error in pitting too early and being forced to try and battle his way through the field. It was a huge error by Ferrari. The team forgot the first rule of race strategy, track position is everything.
Once Vettel had come in for his stop on lap 24 and got out ahead of Hamilton it was just a matter of the car being reliable and staying out of trouble.
Prior to Bahrain this is what I had to say.
“Based on testing times it looks a little like the F1 world has returned to business as usual with McLaren and Ferrari a little ahead of the rest. The rest are led by Red Bull and Mercedes, with Sauber, Williams and Force India looking very competitive.”
“As I’ve said, this could be a fascinating year with four world champions, really quick drivers like Vettel and Weber who want to join that club, and potentially 6 or 7 teams capable of competing at the sharp end.”
The 6 or 7 teams competing at the sharp end part was a little optimistic, Sauber certainly flattered to deceive, but I think a lot of that was down to budget. Force India had some good races, but like Sauber never developed through the season.
Overall I’m rather pleased with the accuracy of my thoughts from 9 months ago. It’s been a great season and I’ve been lucky enough to make it to a GP. There will be more next year, that I’m sure of. With five world champions in the top three teams, plus Schumacher if Mercedes is able to their shit together for next year could make it another great year.
It was the first time four drivers had ever gone into the final race all with good shout of the title. The fifth, Button, was only eliminated last week in Brazil.
What has made this year so compelling was very basic. A number of superb drivers in cars that were evenly matched. Looking forward to 2011 the same five drivers are contracted to be with the same teams, Webber is the biggest question mark after his statements over the last couple of weeks.
Of the rest Kubica has shown he belongs at the sharp end of the grid with some great drives in mid-table machinery. If Renault can give him a good car and Mercedes do the same for Schumacher it could be another great season.
However, it’s also possible Vettel and Red Bull will learn how to eliminate the mistakes, if that happens it would be difficult to see who could stay with him.
It’s less than three months until testing starts for 2011.
As the 2010 F1 season has gone on I’ve come to like the current Q3-Q2-Q1 knock out qualifying system more and more. The tension ramps up nicely to the 10-minute shootout in Q3 for the top10 on the grid.
Abu Dhabi was a fascinating final qualifying session. There was none of the waiting until the last moment for Vettel, he went out early, set a very fast time and made it clear to everyone who was the guy to beat today.
Hamilton did something simular, he set an early time that he was unable to better. Both McLarens were consistently quick through out qualifying and Button lines up fourth.
Alonso was struggling down in 6th early in the session, his last chance lap was started with just a couple of seconds left in the session was enough for third. His comment at the presss conference was “just one more day of perfection needed.”
The biggest looser today was Mark Webber. He could do no better than fifth, he needs a good start tomorrow.
Abu Dhabi GridVettel Hamilton Alonso Button Webber Massa Barrichello Schumacher Rosberg Petrov