Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Post Race Analysis : 2012 British Grand Prix

Free Practice and Qualifying: 

It was a pretty horrible start to the weekend , with rain minimizing running in Free Practice 1 . I really cannot understand why the FIA do not increase the number of wet and intermediate tyres available during a weekend, its absolutely frustrating from a spectators perspective to go out there in the rain , travelling through the traffic only to reach and see drivers like Fernando Alonso not set a lap time. Mind you , I don't blame any driver for taking a conservative approach on this , I believe they all have been severely handicapped and although this might through in an element of surprise in terms of setup for the teams during the weekend , it comes at the huge cost of putting off the fans. This is truly one of those instances where people say NASCAR and Indy have the better of F1 ! The Americans have a way of making everything a spectator sport and simple steps to eliminate such nonsensical rules just give F1 a bad image. 

Luckily the fans saw some running in FP2 and a dry FP3 was met with Fernando Alonso setting the fastest time. Was this signs of things to come in qualifying and the race ? Dissecting the fuel levels and lap times, it was quite evident the Ferrari was strong at this circuit which favored high speed grip and balance something which Adrian Newey cars were previously feared for.

Qualifying in Q1 was met with trecharous weather and a rather surprising elimination of Jenson Button, despite his recent poor form , I'm sure that was still a shocker for him and his team.

Q2 started with both Ferrari drivers gambling on Intermediate tires while others choose Wet and boy did that almost ruin things for them. 

Later on , a  big moment for Alonso as he exited Chapel onto the Hangar straight ( luckily the race director had his onboard camera on at that exact moment ).Surely he's going to collide into that wall , I feared and as I held my breath and waited for the sound of a big thud, Alonso skillfully came on the breaks to slow down the car, his hands vigorously turning on full opposite lock the moment he lost the rear ,the car dancing sideways with locked front tires he gently left the breaks allowing the car to roll back and masterfully caught the second tank slapper as if it was business as usual. Apparently the whole press room erupted in applause the moment he did that. It was one of those instances which separates the men from the boys. 

Massa at the same corner , unfortunately wasn't so "smooth"

With tons of standing water on the track and the low ride height characteristics of modern F1 cars , a red flag was inevitable. Conditions were un-drivable . This was a life line for Ferrari as both their cars were in the relegation zone.
After the 90 minute rain red flag and with both Ferari's eventually making it to Q3. 

The final moments  of Q3 was an intense battle between the two championship leaders Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Due to nature of the intermediate tires and the light rain , qualifying was more action packed as each driver set out to put 5-6 consecutive qualifying lap , reminiscent of the old Bridgestone/Michelin era when the qualifying format was different and drivers tended to do continuous runs rather than go out and do a banker lap and then come back in to change tyres and do another.

At one moment it seemed that Alonso was on a different level as he set a blistering lap time which was 1 second faster than anyone else on track ! Mark Webber eventually bettered that time with 3 minutes to go and went even faster. As the chequered flag unfurled , came Alonso going just .047 faster than Webber. The first pole position for Alonso since the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix the 21st of his career equaling Lewis Hamilton's tally. 

The Race: 

Much to everyone's surprise , we had a sunny and dry Silverstone on Sunday afternoon. And even more surprising was that the only driver apart from Lewis Hamilton to start on the Pirelli P-zero Hard tyres was pole man Fernando Alonso. Worrying sights ? or did Ferrari have a trick up their sleeve. The start was frantic as Alonso chopped off Webber who didn't keep up to his name of being bad off the line , Felipe Massa had a blistering start as he overtook Vettel . Kimi Raikkonen made some good places as well but was pushed wide into turn 4 over the kerb , lost momentum and lost the place to Vettel . He so easily could have been in 4th. 

Alonos headed the field , Webber almost matching him initially, trying to use the best of his soft tires to keep in touch . Soon the softs faded away and he began lagging behind , not too far though as he pitted for the Hards on Lap 14 and Alonso pits a lap later ! I was extremely surprised by this as Lewis Hamilton continued on for 5 more laps on the same set of tires. This lost Alonso some time overtaking Hamilton for the lead , he lost 1.3 seconds in that lap alone compared to his previous lap time. 
Further behind , Romain Grosjean was setting purple sectors after purple sectors after pitting early due to a collision. He was showing the pace of the Lotus .

The race progressed and it seemed like a win for Alonso , something like his Renault days. A pole to flag victory with ruthless consistency!  But wait, Webber aka AussieGrit was never behind.....

The Aussie pressured Ferrari into stopping early with 14 laps to go for the final mandatory stint on the softs. The race logically seemed in the bag for Alonso with the Star Sports commentator Steve Slater starting with his praises for Alonso , he was perplexed by how Alonso managed to get out in front of Mark Webber despite being having a lead below 25 seconds (the time taken through the pit lane) . He accredited this to "a blindingly fast in-lap by the Spaniard" , this clearly wasn't the case as he lost some pace on his dying tires before pitting and the simple reason why Mr. Slater's calculations were in disarray was because he did not take into consideration the time gained by the pit entrance as drivers skip the penultimate chicane after Stowe corner. 

Soon the praises stopped as much to everyone's surprise Mark Webber closed in, he took chunks of time out of the Asturian's lead and eventually passed him on the outside into Brooklands with the help of DRS for his second victory this year.

Webber later commented that he could see Alonso had a balance issue and later on we all were informed that he did not have front end grip , quite opposite to the initial pre-season testing problems the Ferrari faced . 

So a stellar drive from Webber at the front , Grosjean in the midfield and not to mention Felipe Massa who scored his season best 5th place in a strong showing . He was consistently on the pace and even pulled off some good overtaking maneuvers. 

What made Alonso loose ? Ferrari was clearly not strong in the race on its softs, although as I mentioned earlier dry running in Free Practice 3 showed otherwise. 

I suspect the weather played a part in two ways. Ferrari probably thought of rain during the race and thought that if they could hold Alonso on the Hard Tires as long as possible , he would not have to pit for tires early and hence had one less pitstop if the rain arrived around lap 14. 

The second way the weather played a part was during the lap 15 laps when conditions suddenly became overcast and the track temperature lowered by 5 degrees. Sensitive to change in temperature , this hurt Alonso when he pitted as he could not bring enough heat into his tyres to get them in the problem working temperature. This was similar to Button's woes in the recent races when he cannot seem to get the tyres heated up initially and hence "destroys" those sets , in essence the tyres go bad and deliver poor performance as laps go by. 
Webber luckily pitted much earlier on lap 33 , when conditions were still sunny. He was hounding Alonso and had sufficiently warmed his hard tyres and they were working like a charm. Another thing to note was that , in qualifying and in the race , AussieGrit destroyed Vettel. He was clearly the much stronger driver during the weekend and rightfully deserved victory.

As a Ferrari fan this was a rather disappointing race . As a Formula 1 fan , this just intensifies the championship with just one race to go to the mid point of this season. 

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