Sunday, 11 September 2011

Vettel edges closer to second title

Sebastian Vettel can't win the World Championship at the next race in Singapore, but we might as well all go home, this one is over.

A poor start today, or rather a lightning start from Alonso, meant that he had a fight on his hands but such was the superior speed of the Red Bull, again, it was only a matter of time before he was back in front. To give him his due though, Vettel did pull off a very bold move round the outside of Alonso at Curva Grande which left him partially on the grass.

Thereafter it was a case of switching focus to the battles further back in the pack because a Vettel win was all but guaranteed. Hamilton, Schumacher and Button provided much entertainment and while Schumacher was forthright in defence, I saw him doing nothing that every other driver would do. The one move takes you across to the inside but it is a natural second move to take you back to the racing line - Hamilton himself was doing this and much worse on the pit straight in Malaysia so complaints from him were particularly rich.

Hamilton was perhaps a bit more subdued than usual though, and the result was fourth place well shy of his team mate Button who clawed his way up to second - and equal third in the Championship.

So Vettel is now 112 points ahead in the Championship, which means Alonso has to be third or better and Button and Webber second or better in Singapore to stop him winning the title there. It's worth noting Alonso's position in second place in the standings. It's been a season-long case of damage limitation for Alonso who for the most part has had the third fastest car on the grid, one that seems unable to operate effectively in anything other than a very narrow window of conditions. The fight for second place in the Championship is now, unfortunately, the only point of interest that remains this season.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Superb Button wins in Hungary

On the circuit where he took his first win, way back in 2006, Jenson Button took his 11th Grand Prix win in his 200th race - and not in dissimilar fashion to that first win he took for Honda.

As ever the sprinkling of rain, before the start and on occasion during the race, provided much of the excitement but there was also a good deal of strategy which added some extra spice.

For once Sebastian Vettel got off the line perfectly, leaving the Mclarens firmly in his wake while the Ferraris fought amongst themselves and Alonso dropped all the way back behind both fast-starting Mercedes. Hamilton was in his element initially, far quicker than Vettel in the conditions and he was soon past the German.

Hamilton looked odds on favourite for the victory before a shower of rain played havoc with the order, bringing Button right up with his team mate, briefly ahead of him, and then back behind him again. The crucial moment of the race came at that moment, Hamilton made a disastrous call to come in and put intermediate tyres on while Button opted to stick it out - the call won him the race.

Vettel, who was promoted up the order first by Hamilton's erroneous call and then thanks to Hamilton's drive-through penalty (a fair one, in my view), looked to be closing the gap to the leader but Button had the pace to cover it.

It's difficult to say, given the circumstances of the race, whether Mclaren really have eliminated the Red Bull advantage, but at various points in the race the silver cars, and the Ferrari too, looked very fast indeed. I don't think there's much between the top three teams. That makes it all the more frustrating that Vettel leaves Hungary with his points lead in the Championship bigger than ever before. 85 points ahead with only eight races to go is close to insurmountable, but on the evidence of today we hopefully have some great racing still to come.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Imperious Hamilton wins in Germany

Sometimes Lewis Hamilton is just irresistible. Today was one of those days. After his astonishing qualifying lap put him on the front row yesterday he overcame a spirited Fernando Alonso and strangely lacklustre Mark Webber to collect his second win of the season.

Alonso might feel had he had his wits about him coming out of his final pit stop he might have clung on to win, but Hamilton's superior pace on the harder tyres at the end of the race suggested he might have made it past anyway. In any case, Ferrari have long suffered from issues over getting heat quickly into their tyres.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel added fuel to the speculation that he's a lights-to-flag merchant, he was only able to get past Felipe Massa thanks to a slow Ferrari pit stop right at the death. Such is his Championship lead however, he may have taken the perfectly legitimate decision that points accumulation is better than risking a non-finish. That's exactly why he's not as fun as Hamilton or Alonso though.

Vettel still sits comfortably atop the standings though, fully 77 points clear of Mark Webber (not a threat) and 82 clear of Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso is right to think that, oddly, Mclaren and Ferrari need to work in tandem to have any hope of overhauling the young German - even then still the faintest of hopes at that.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

A chink in the Vettel armour?

It might not seem immediately obvious that today represented light at the end of the tunnel for anyone hoping for some kind of championship fight, given that Vettel seems now to have explicit number one status at Red Bull, but I think it did expose one weakness.

It is the same weakness that means I think he cannot be regarded in the same light as Hamilton and Alonso in terms of pure speed. Vettel is an accomplished driver, more than that, he is lightning fast and almost 100% reliable when he's puts it on pole and can just cruise off into the distance. But when he has to battle his peers? He's no Fernando or Lewis in that regard.

He's still young enough of course to prove me wrong, he may go on to become a racer in the mould of the two mentioned, but he's not there yet.

Not to mention the fact of course that he didn't win today, Fernando Alonso picked up his and Ferrari's first win this season, and first win since the Korean Grand Prix last October. He might still be 92 points behind but the extent to which Ferrari seem to have genuinely closed the gap on the Red Bulls mean he is the most likely to mount any kind of challenge, however unlikely it may seem that anyone but the German can win the title now.

The race also marked something of a return to form for Mark Webber (despite having his wings clipped by Horner) and Felipe Massa, who although still well short of Fernando's pace, is quicker than three or four races ago.

Two weeks hence is the German Grand Prix, where Ferrari bagged a 1-2 last season (and their own team orders controversy), if they can do something similar and Vettel has a rare off day, who knows what it might spark.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Real chance of a non-Vettel win

For the first time in a good few races there is the very real possibility that someone other than Sebastian Vettel will emerge victorious in today's Canadian Grand Prix.

Yes the young German has put his Red Bull on pole position again, and yes if you watch his fastest qualifying lap he probably had two or three tenths in his pocket (he turned in twice to turn five and went wide at the hairpin), but the two Ferraris directly behind him represent a very genuine threat.

Ferrari, for the first time in 2011, gave good qualifying pace and at one stage it looked like they might even grab pole. Felipe Massa appears to have regained some form, and not before time either, although he was still pipped to second slot by Alonso.

Alonso is in a good position, given his fast starts of late, to hustle Vettel into turn one and if Ferrari can continue their trend of being quicker in the race than they are in qualifying it could be a titanic battle.

Add to that the nature of the Montreal circuit and the possibility of a drop of rain or two, this race is set to be a real treat. Put your money on a safety car.

Race prediction: 1. Alonso 2. Vettel 3. Hamilton

Sunday, 29 May 2011

No Lewis, it's not because you're black...'s because sometimes you drive like a fool.

The move on Felipe Massa was extremely ambitious, it was unquestionably causing an avoidable accident, and he was rightly slapped with a drive through penalty. The move on Maldonado was equally unlikely, and made all the more obvious by the fact that it was the closing stages.

It doesn't make sense to me that he is served with the same penalty twice, that's not much of a disincentive. His remarks after the race were petulant to the point of being hilarious, he needs to grow up fast. We saw the best and the worst of Hamilton today, his move on Schumacher was brilliantly timed (much better so than the other two moves) but we also saw the very worst.

Meanwhile, Vettel won again, but he didn't have it all his own way. Mclaren had an off day today, their knee-jerk decision to bring Button in when the safety car appeared cost him the win as Vettel and Alonso cruised past him. Alonso himself had a good day and at one stage it looked like his shrewd tyre strategy might have given him the win, but the safety car on lap 72 made his task almost impossible. It was nonetheless another good drive from him

Vettel didn't have his best race but he still came out on top, that's the mark of a man in form. Webber will be disappointed with fourth after a poor start, Kobayashi drove an intelligent race to take fifth and Hamilton held on to sixth after the post race penalty failed to penalise him. Felipe Massa continued to struggle before being edged into the barriers by that man Hamilton in the tunnel.

Vettel is now in such a commanding position atop the table that it's almost all about the fight for the positions behind him. It will be interesting to see if Alonso can continue his mini-resurgence and if Mclaren can continue to press.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Who else?

But Vettel. The championship leader will start the race on pole again and will be even more difficult to beat than usual at the street circuit tomorrow.

I would've said the only man with the sheer pace to beat Vettel this weekend was Lewis Hamilton, but he and Mclaren got his qualifying strategy all wrong today, electing to do just one flying lap, a plan which was scuppered by Perez's accident just two and a half minutes before the end of the session - he ended up 7th. As ever with Lewis, he was not slow in moaning about how the team got his strategy wrong.

Jenson Button did well to snatch second, but almost a full half second shy of Vettel, Webber will be disappointed with third as will Alonso with fourth given his practice pace. Felipe Massa was poor again, though less so than in recent races, he was nonetheless out qualified by Schumacher who looked for all his 42 years to be driving the car harder than ever.

With the next quickest man all the way back in 7th place it is yet again hard to look past Vettel for the win. If Button gets a flier he could put a spanner in the works, but Vettel will have the pace to jump him at the stops. This is starting to get very repetitive...

Race prediction: 1. Vettel 2. Webber 3. Hamilton