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.