F1 European GP: Bull Rush

The Red Bull Racing boys picked up their fourth 1-2 qualifying result of the season. They also picked up the lion’s share of the highlights in this race, though they finished at opposite ends of the field. Sebastian Vettel picked up the win while Mark Webber made a spectacular early exit. The big story of the race may have been the penalties handed out during and after the race. During the race one podium driver received a penalty but it didn’t affect his race. After the race, ten drivers were penalized but there wasn’t much shuffling around of the order.

It was a lights to flag victory for Sebastian Vettel. He was pressured a bit by Lewis Hamilton but a penalty and a few quick laps made it a fairly secure victory for the German. The win moved Vettel to third in the Drivers’ Championship standings, only 12 points behind second place finishing Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton’s finish was more than a bit controversial. The safety car was deployed on lap 14 (more on that in a minute) and the runners from 5th place Jenson Button on back were able to make stops straight away. Vettel had already started his 15th lap so had to finish his lap to pit. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton led the two Ferraris as they came up on the safety car leaving pit lane. Hamilton backed off as he came up to the safety car but powered past it before it could exit the pit road exit lane. However, Hamilton left his move too late and had illegally past the safety car while quite skillfully blocking the Ferraris behind the car. Hamilton was penalized for his move with a drive-through penalty. By the time he was told to serve it, he already opened up enough of a gap on third place that he was no worse for wear. That irked Fernando Alonso who was running back in 9th as a result of being balked by Hamilton. So Hamilton ruins the days of two drivers who could have contended for victory and walks away literally no worse for wear. How can NASCAR hand out instant penalties with 43 cars on track but the FIA take over 20 minutes to hand out a nothing penalty with only 20 cars on the road?

Jenson Button finished third but that wasn’t a certainty, even at the end of the race (more on that in a second). As a result of the safety car kerfuffle, Kamui Kobayashi restarted the race in 3rd, behind Hamilton but ahead of Button. The Sauber driver hadn’t stopped for tires but did well to keep in front of the Brit for most of the race. When Kobayashi finally did stop for his mandatory tire change, Button was promoted to 3rd. Button hadn’t passed a soul all day but somehow managed to get a podium finish. It could have been so much different if the FIA’s penalties had teeth…

•••

Right, so on to all my griping about the FIA’s poor job of handing out penalties during the race. My issues with the Hamilton penalty should be obvious. It was a fairly clear cheap tactic to end the Ferrari threat. While what he did was within the letter of the rules, it definitely wasn’t within the spirit of the rules. Hamilton used a technicality to get by the safety car while trapping the opposition behind. Granted, he was rewarded with a drive-through penalty but it came so late that it just delayed him slightly rather than penalized him. It amazes me that, given the vast technology in F1, no one noticed that Lewis passed or potentially could have illegally passed the safety car. The safety car driver should have radioed that in immediately and Hamilton should have been given a drive-through penalty to be served on the first green lap or he should have been sent to the end of the line. None of this 20+ minutes between infraction and sentencing.

Mind you, while the lack of penalty to Lewis is outlandish, it doesn’t explain the non-existent penalties to about half the field. Under that safety car, nine drivers violated the new rule specifying how fast they can drive to pit lane. When the safety car is deployed, a time is displayed to the drivers on their steering wheel. This is the fastest time allowed for them to drive to the pit lane. Go too fast and you get a penalty. Sometime after the Hamilton penalty, it was announced that the FIA’s stewards would investigate the possibility that some drivers may have gone too fast after the race. That they would have to even look at it amazes me because that should have popped right up on their monitors but what do I know.

Anyway, the situation was investigated after the race and the stewards found that all nine drivers drove too quickly under the safety car. As a result, they were all given 5 second time penalties added to their race time. Keep in mind that prior to this, we understood that, after the race, stewards only issue grid penalties, drive-through penalties (20 seconds added) or stop-and-go penalties (30 seconds added). The 5 second penalties sure came out of the blue. As a result, only two drivers were demoted. It should be noted that if the rule was enforced during the race, each driver would have been given a drive-through penalty which translates to 20 seconds post-race. Apparently nobody told the race stewards anything about consistently applying the rules.

As a kicker, Timo Glock was handed a post-race penalty for failing to obey the blue flags. His penalty? 20 second.

•••

And now onto the safety car. It came out as a result of a scary incident between Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen. Webber got a slow start off the lights and was shuffled back to 9th on the first lap. The team decided that the best way to get him back up the order was to make as early a pitstop as possible to get him in clean air. That plan almost worked but problems with the left-front wheel foiled plans for a quick escape. He did find clear air, just farther back on the grid than he would have liked.

On the run to the hairpin at Turn 17, Webber came up on Kovalainen’s Lotus as a fast rate of speed. Webber tucked behind until the last possible second to take advantage of the slipstream. However, both drivers seemed confused as to where the other was going. Webber ran over the back of the Lotus, flipped in the air, landed on his roll-hoop before rolling onto all four wheels in the biggest accident of the season. Webber was okay but his car wasn’t. You can watch the accident in the video below.

•••

Let’s get a few 2011 rules notes out of the way before I forget. First, KERS is going to be back. No word on what the boost will be and how much of it a driver will get per lap. This does mean that the dry weight of the car will go up to 640 kgs to minimize the advantage of not running the device relative to running it. Of course, not running KERS means that you have that weight to move around as ballast but we’ll have to see if that’s allowed to be as much of an advantage as it was in 2009.

Also being introduced to aid overtaking is the “Mario Kart” rear wing. I never saw anything like that in Mario Kart but I never had a SNES so how would I know. Anyway, next year will see an adjustable rear will that will see the top flap lower by about 20 mm when a driver activates it. The thing is that drivers following another car by less than a second will be the only ones allowed to activate it. So if you’re trying to defend a position or to chase someone down, forget about it. It’s a bit ridiculous to have both seemingly infinite power boost and a lowering rear win. Anything to improve the show, I guess…

It should be noted that Pirelli was officially named the sole tire supplier from 2011 to 2013. It looks like they’ll follow the Bridgestone system for now with four different compounds produced in total with two brought to each race. If there’s a real development in the tire situation, we’ll fill you in. For now, it’s a non-story.

•••

It was a tough weekend for Mercedes GP. The weekend started full of promise but it disappeared by qualifying. After Nico Rosberg was fastest in the first free practice session of the weekend, the pace quickly disappeared. Michael Schumacher was never on pace. He was trying to learn the circuit and fighting tire issues. Rosberg’s fastest time of the three practice sessions was good for 11th overall while Schumacher’s best time was 15th. The pair both failed to make the third part of knockout qualifying with Rosberg timing 12th and Schumacher 15th (though he was lucky to be that high after needing a last lap effort in Q1 to escape an early exit in that session). Things didn’t improve in the race. Less than 20 laps in, both drivers were told to take care of their front brakes. Thanks to the penalties for speeding under the safety car, Rosberg was promoted to 10th while Schumacher coasted home in 15th after making two pit stops.

•••

Apart from the penalty controversies, this was as dull a race as expected. Sorry, Valencia, for putting you on the schedule after an exciting race like Canada instead of a snoozefest like Hungary.

•••

The next round of the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship is at the redesigned Silverstone Circuit for the British Grand Prix. The track was reprofiled for the MotoGP race that was to replace the British GP that was supposed to be going to Donington Park. When that fell through, the race came back to Silverstone and race promoters decided to hold the race on the new motorcycle circuit. The track now turns right at Abbey which skips classic turns like Bridge and Priory. The MotoGP race there was said to have been exciting so I’m hoping for big things from this new layout.

Once again, look for Red Bull and McLaren to be the class of the field. Given the high speed of the new circuit, Force India has a chance to surprise here. They run well at Spa and Monza so this high-speed Silverstone layout should favour the midfield runners well. Also be on the lookout for Ferrari to avenge the injustice of this race. Fernando Alonso is a hell of a driver when he is so inclined but doesn’t do so well when angry. If he can channel his anger rather than let it overcome him, he can contend for a win.

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