F1 Turkish GP: Tangled Webb

It was supposed to be fairly academic. Mark Webber would lead away from pole. Sebastian Vettel would take advantage of the clean line from his third place starting spot to pass Hamilton for second. Then it would be a simple Sunday drive to the finish and another weekend of Red Bull domination. Unfortunately for the energy drink brigade, it didn’t go according to plan. While Red Bull’s plans didn’t come together, Bernie’s plan for a return to America finally came together and Pirelli’s plan for an entrance into F1 is all but sealed.

The Red Bull coronation didn’t really materialize. Webber led away from the lights. Vettel got by Hamilton but was quickly passed back. It stayed Webber, Hamilton, Vettel, and Button for the first stint of the race with everyone note to tail. Vettel was the first to make his pit stop which allowed him to pass Hamilton for second. It stayed close until lap 41.

On lap 41, Vettel got a run on Webber heading to the final corner. The German pulled alongside the Aussie and Webber tried to squeeze Vettel into thinking twice about making a move. Vettel decided to enact Newton’s law about equal yet opposite reactions and turned into Webber. The resulting crash took Vettel out of the race, dropped Webber to 3rd and moved the McLarens to first and second.

Of course, you’d think that watching the Red Bulls take each other out while fighting for the league would cause the Macca boys to ride out the race. Well, F1 drivers aren’t exactly paid to think. Button activated the F-duct and tried to pass Hamilton the same way Vettel attempted to pass Webber. Hamilton ran wide which allowed Button through but Hamilton stayed glued to his teammate and passed him in turn one. The two did make contact but were able to continue on. After that fun, the McLaren pit wall radioed in and suggested that the boys save fuel and the battle was over.

Fans (myself included) have been complaining about the lack of passing on track this season. In this race, we had two aggressive moves for the lead that resulted in contact. I think we’ve been spoiled by this race. Three passes for the lead were made on track (though the first Hamilton pass probably shouldn’t count because he inherited the lead). If only we can figure out what the secret from this race was and find a way to replicate this on all cars.

•••

There’s some hot debate over who was at fault for the Webber/Vettel crash. As I said on Twitter, if it hadn’t been teammates running over each other, we’d write this off as a racing incident. Two boys battling for the win and coming together as a result. But because we’re talking about teammates, we have to lay blame. That’s not an unreasonable thing to do. After all, taking out your teammate is a cardinal sin in motorsports. However, neither was willing to give the other room. Webber moved left on Vettel, Vettel moved right on Webber. A collision was inevitable.

The other point to be made is that not every driver can be Rubens Barrichello. In an era where team orders are banned, not every driver will be content with staying in line under an “assumed” team order. Therefore, Vettel did his job in attempting to pass Webber. Sebastian had a run so he attempted a move. It failed spectacularly but he shouldn’t be penalized by the team or race stewards for attempting to race.

•••

There was another collision in a battle for position. Fernando Alonso barged his way past Renault’s Vitaly Petrov for 8th. However, the first Russian in F1 didn’t come through unscathed. He had to make a pit stop to repair damage which dropped him from the points. Adrian Sutil finished ninth and Kamui Kobayashi finished tenth to score the first points of the season for Sauber.

•••

Well, I thought that the F1 circus was going to give America a long pass before a return. After all, Ecclestone wasn’t too happy with Indianapolis saying that they were the wrong type of fan. I assume that meant that Indy fans were used to passing, exciting racing, and close finishes which Bernie seldom attempts to provide. Anyway, the Jersey City experiment ended thanks to a game of municipal politics rather than municipal economics. The Monticello Auto Club looked like it could be a replacement but needed some upgrades to get up to “F1 standards.”

In place of a New York or Manhattan Grand Prix will be the Texas Grand Prix. Austin, Texas, will play host to the Formula One World Championship for ten years starting in 2012. The land purchased for the track is about five miles from the city limits so Bernie may get his wish of a metropolis skyline in the background at an F1 track even if it’s not Manhattan. There are two problems with the upcoming Austin Grand Prix: 1) They don’t actually have a track yet and the race is likely 24 months away; and 2) The track that will be built is being designed to F1 standards by Hermann Tilke. Yes, that Hermann Tilke who has designed such gems as Sepang, Bahrain, and China, and redesigned Barcelona and Hockenheim. Oh, this new one ought to be a treat.

•••

Oh yeah, there were more than just the Red Bulls and McLarens in the field today. Michael Schumacher finished fourth. It’s the second time (officially) that he finished ahead of his teammate Rosberg. Interestingly, both times were in the long wheelbase version of the W01. Rosberg finished 5th, Robert Kubica finished 6th, and Felipe Massa finished 7th.

•••

The F1 tyre situation is a bit more clear now. All signs point to Pirelli getting the contract starting next season. Michelin was the only other company considered in the running for the contract despite Avon also bidding. While Michelin’s F1 experience and the team’s familiarity with their operations made them a strong possibility to get the contract, it seems as though everything is coming down to money. The Pirelli offer is rumoured to be in the neighbourhood of €500,000 less per team. When teams like HRT are just hanging on and money is likely tight for several other teams, the fact that the Pirelli deal is all but signed isn’t much of a shock.

While no deal has been reached yet, it’s expected that a decision will be announced before the Canadian Grand Prix.

•••

When we rejoin the Formula One World Championship in two weeks, it will be at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada. The Canadian Grand Prix is best known for the amazing party that Montreal throws for the teams. There are contradictory stories about how much the teams want to come to North America for one race but all the teams love the night life on Montreal.

The other thing that the Canadian GP is known for is being unpredictable. Big crashes and safety car periods are the norm. In each of the last two races, the winner has been a first-time winner. In 2007, Lewis Hamilton won his first career race. That race was also remembered for the massive crash suffered by Robert Kubica. He was obviously fine because he came back in 2008 to win the race. That 2007 crash was also notable because Kubica’s replacement at the 2007 US Grand Prix was Sebastian Vettel.

As for favourites in this race, McLaren’s F-duct will be very valuable given the number of decent passing zones that Montreal features. Red Bull will be a threat no matter what the track is. If you want a darkhorse, look at Nico Rosberg of Mercedes. Given the Canadian GP’s propensity for having first-time winners, Rosberg’s first win coming in the next race would surprise few.

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