Sunday, 10 July 2011

British GP Report: Nando's Red Revival

Some things are just meant to be. On the 60th anniversary of Ferrari's first ever F1 win, also at Silverstone, Fernando Alonso brought it home for Ferrari in fine style to win the British Grand Prix today. And this followed on from him, just before the race, doing a demonstration run around Silverstone, that he clearly enjoyed, in the car José Froilán González used to win all those years ago. Alonso was right to call it a 'very special day', for more than one reason.

Fernando Alonso was untouchable at Silverstone
Credit: / CC
Further, today seemed to represent a genuine red revival for Ferrari, as for the first time in a long time the Red Bulls, including Sebatian Vettel, were left breathless on pace during normal running (I reckon Monza last year was the last time it happened, and that could be explained by Monza being an unusual track). Yes, Alonso's taking of the lead was down to Red Bull botching one of Seb's pit stops, but he almost certainly had him on pure pace anyway. He took over a second out of Vettel lap by lap in the dry conditions in the second half of the race, even when Seb was in clean air, and was twenty seconds up the road on the start of the last lap. And all this at a track that was supposed to be Red Bull country.

This revival is likely to reflect a number of things. One is that the Ferraris (well, Fernando's Ferrari anyway), have been the Bulls' closest challengers in recent races. Alonso came a close second in two of the last three races, and could well have won the other, in Canada, given a dry day. Further, the Scuderia brought a big technical upgrade to Silverstone, which clearly worked, and suggests their re-structured tech department is delivering. Many also suggest that Silverstone's one-race-only off throttle blown diffuser regulations helped Ferrari in particular. That may be so, and we'll find out the extent that it is so in the German race in a fortnight, when we go back to the Valencia spec. But the fact that Ferrari agreed to revert to the previous exhaust regulations suggests that they at least are confident that their supremacy isn't all down to that.

(As an aside, yes the teams have agreed to revert to Valencia spec off throttle exhaust blown diffusers for the remainder of this season. So, after all the huff and puff, we end up back where we started, just as in the FIA's attempts to reinstate the Bahrain race this year).

Ferrari have probably ceded too much ground in both championships to threaten either title, but they could yet make the races interesting. It'll also be fascinating to see how Red Bull react if Ferrari are on their case more regularly.

The race at Silverstone was wet-dry, continuing the weather theme of the weekend. The track at the race start was in a curious state, with the Brooklands to Becketts section wet, and the rest bone dry it seemed. This necessitated starting on intermediate tyres. Vettel, having taken the lead from Webber off the line, scampered off with supreme bravery and commitment, just as he did in similar conditions in Korea last year and Canada this. Everyone changed to slicks around the lap 12/13 mark, after Schumi took a punt on a change after a clash with Kobayashi, and immediately went faster than anyone else.

Once the track dried, Vettel had no answer to Alonso's pace
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
At this stage of the race Alonso didn't seem to have much of an answer to the Red Bulls, and as he struggled to get his slick tyres up to operating temperature he fell behind Lewis Hamilton into fourth. Eventually, once his tyres 'switched on' he came alive. He made a DRS-assisted pass on Lewis, and cruised onto Webber's tail in second, lighting up the timing screens as he went. The next round of tyre stops arrived almost immediately, and Alonso managed to jump both Bulls, helped by a fumble in Seb's stop, as mentioned. From that point on no one saw Nando. He was helped by Lewis (of all people) performing rear gunner services for a time, keeping Seb back, but even in clean air Alonso had the legs of the Red Bulls.

Far behind the Spaniard, there was a bit of fun at the end of the race. First off, Mark Webber closed on team mate Vettel in the late laps, and showed every intention of taking second place from him. Then Christian 'we let our drivers race' Horner instructed Webber to 'maintain the gap' to his team mate. As I've previously indicated, I don't have a particular problem with team orders, they've been part of motor racing since its inception. But it's the apparent hypocrisy that gets me, from someone who didn't miss an opportunity to be holier-than-thou after Ferrari imposed a team order at last year's German race. Horner's defence today was almost word for word what Stefano Domenicalli's was then. Webber in any case didn't pay heed to the advice from his team principal, but couldn't make it past. He was surprisingly stoic about the whole thing after the race.

The new Silverstone 'wing'
Credit: / CC
And Lewis had a tenacious run. He looked racy in the tricky conditions early on, moving up rapidly from starting in P10. He looked well on for a podium before, curiously, having to go into fuel saving mode for the latter part (due to the team assuming he'd be in traffic early on, and would therefore use less fuel than usual). He eventually claimed fourth place, holding Felipe Massa off by the width of a tyre it seemed in a desperate last corner battle.

And shout outs to Nico Rosberg, Sergio Perez and Nick Heidfeld who came home sixth, seventh and eighth respectively after employing one-stop strategies (if you don't count the change from intermediates to slicks). And Schumi drove very well, again showing he's got the whole driving in changeable conditions thing licked on his comeback at least. He finished ninth, recovering from a clash with Kobayashi which lost him his front wing, and a resultant stop-go penalty.

But it was Alonso's and Ferrari's day. Nothing was ever going to stop either of them at this event.

Race result
Race highlights from the BBC (UK users only)

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