The whole weekend was dominated by Red Bull. In practice, they had the field covered by nearly a second with Sebastian Vettel comfortably ahead of Mark Webber. This race, unsurprisingly, looked like another Red Bull coronation waiting to happen. However, a critical error cost Vettel the win and forced Webber to push his tires harder and farther than anyone believed possible to pick up the win.
Things went half according to script when the lights went out. Vettel got away well enough to hold onto the lead. Webber didn’t get as good a start and was pipped by Fernando Alonso heading into the first turn. And that’s how the race progressed until the safety car came out for debris. That caused the race to be flipped on its head.
Vettel and Alonso stopped just as the safety car was deployed and came out of the pits first and second. They weren’t first and second on the track because, rather than stack the stops, Red Bull left Webber out on track. He’d have to squeeze all the speed possible out of his soft tires to keep from being mired mid-pack. The soft tires were said to only have about five laps of good running in them so Webber would need more luck than skill to get ahead of the pack but he was still likely to be better off than having a stacked pit stop.
Much to the surprise of the TV analysts, Webber wasn’t just able to keep the lead. He was able to storm away from the field. He laid down fastest lap after fastest lap and pulled away from second place over the course of his 43 lap first stint. Nobody was able to get close to the Aussie after that as he mowed down everyone on track and lapped everyone from 7th on back with a margin of victory of over 17 seconds.
The battle for second was decided under the safety car. I know I said that Vettel stayed ahead of Alonso through the pit stops but he managed to find another way to cost himself the win. The rules state that cars must stay within 10 car lengths of each other so as not to impede the restart. Behind the safety car, he fell well behind teammate Webber on the front-straight and was penalized with a drive-through penalty which dropped him to third where he would finish the race.
The highlight of the safety car period wasn’t the Vettel penalty because all hell broke loose on pit road. First, Nico Rosberg was released without a properly attached left-rear wheel. He pulled out of his pit stall and the wheel promptly fell off. There was a bit of a scare as the wheel rolled and bounced down pit lane. It sped through the Sauber pit stall just before Pedro de la Rosa made his stop. From there it bounced to the Williams garage where it was caught/stopped by one of the team’s truck drivers. He went to the medical centre for a quick checkup on his ribs but was back in time for Williams’ highlight of the race. Oh, and for their troubles, Mercedes got a $50,000 fine. Last year, that would have been a one race ban. (More on that in a minute.)
Just up the road from the three-wheeled Mercedes, Renault and Force India had a too close encounter. Robert Kubica’s Renault was released from his pit stall just as Adrian Sutil pulled into his pit stall for his stop. The Force India was pitting directly ahead of the Renault so the pair collided. It was game over immediately for Sutil while Kubica was able to circulate for a couple more laps. For their troubles, Renault was handed a $50,000 fine. So it’s $50k for causing a collision but shuffling the order of cars is twice that. That’s about $200,000 too much money that the FIA has collected from F1 teams over the last two weeks.
Webber wasn’t the only one to skip pit stops under the safety car. Rubens Barrichello also waited until the last minute to make his stop. Unlike Webber, Barrichello wasn’t able to pull out a gap on the rest of the field. Instead, he relied on the Kobayashi strategy from Valencia. He’d pit late and try to storm through the field on his fresh soft tires while the rest struggled on over 50 lap old hard tires.
Barrichello’s stop left him 11th but he quickly caught up to 10th placed Michael Schumacher. His Mercedes was slipping and sliding all over the place on his hard tires. Schumacher was also struggling with brake issues which had been nagging the MGP 001 since the start of the race. The Brazilian got a run on his ex-teammate on the front-stretch so his Stigness, in typical Schumacher-ian fashion, put the squeeze on Barrichello. Rubens was shoved right to the pit wall and would have been in it if the pit wall was about ten feet longer. Despite the close call, Barrichello was able to pick up the final points paying position. He was also quite vocal over the radio that he felt Schumacher should have been penalized for his tactics.
The question now becomes whether that was hard racing or dangerous driving. In my opinion, it’s a bit of both. Was going to the pit wall excessive? Yes. But was Schumacher entitled to defend his position? Yes. Nothing said that Rubens had to keep his foot in it. Nothing said that Rubens could have tried the other side because he had enough of a run to clear Michael on the outside. One thing we did learn from this is that despite his lack of speed, Michael hasn’t lost that killer instinct that made him a seven-time World Drivers’ Champion. I can’t fault him for still having that drive.
The incident was investigated after the race by the stewards. They dropped Schumacher 10 places on the grid of the Belgian Grand Prix for “illegitimately impeding car 9 during an overtaking manoeuvre.” I guess that means that the chief steward of F1 will soon be IndyCar’s Brian Barnhart. Any attempt to defend your position will be penalized severely.
After qualifying, here’s what Sebastian Vettel had to say about the track: “Yeah, the circuit is quite a tricky one. It’s probably like a woman alongside you who doesn’t behave well. It’s not always easy to get around here. The bumps are quite harsh and the car is very nervous. It tends to move a lot.” Is it just me or did that make absolutely no sense?
The site of the future home of the US Grand Prix was unveiled this week. We don’t know what the layout of the track is but we do know that it will be near the airport and some neighbourhoods. Apparently, some topographical maps show that there is some 30 metres of elevation change on the property. We won’t know how good the track will be until we actually see it in action but it seems like a good enough start. The track layout is expected to be unveiled after presentation to the FIA for approval. If all goes well, the official layout should be made public in September.
Lost in the shuffle of a crazy day at the Hungaroring was the flexible front wing scandal that has surrounded Red Bull and Ferrari. Their wings were checked out after the German Grand Prix after rival outfits felt that the wings had to be flexible because of how close to the track surface they were running. After that race, they were given the all clear. This week, the teams are asking FIA race official Charlie Whiting to change the rules to ban these sorts of wings so the teams don’t waste millions of dollars in developing their own version of these wings.
First, where was this demand to change the rules when Brawn, Williams and Toyota came out with the double diffuser last year. Teams put in a token protest but all had their own double diffusers the second they were deemed legal. And how about those F-ducts. Complaints were lodged about those but teams had no qualms about developing those for only three-quarters of a season. Nobody says that these teams need to develop these things. It’s just a typical bit of F1 hypocrisy.
Okay, rant over. Back to the wings. I’m not convinced that the wings are flexible in any way. Like NASCAR front splitter that are glued to the race track, I think this is a trick of the suspension. After all, Red Bull has already figured out how to glue the floor of its car to the track whether it’s running full fuel loads or in qualifying mode. Looking at some of the photos, it sure looks like it’s the suspension that is the key to getting the front-wing endplates next to the ground. Soften up the front suspension enough and those endplates will scrape the road. At a place like the Hungaroring, you need to run a soft suspension setup so I would be surprised at anything other than low front wing endplates.
Of course, common sense and reasonable explanations aren’t things that the FIA understands. They announced that they will introduce a new flex test at the Belgian Grand Prix. Under section 3.17.8 of the sporting regulations, the FIA can introduce new load tests on any part that is suspected of moving while the car is in motion. So the Red Bull and Ferrari wings will have to pass 100 kg load test instead of the standard 50 kg. I wonder if those teams can attach one that will break on that load, then raise hell that they’re being persecuted by everyone. Then they can refit the proper wings for the race. It’s really just getting a bit excessive now. The current attitude in F1 seems to be that if somebody’s car is better than yours, it must be doing something illegal.
Meanwhile, Webber’s win put him to the top of the Drivers’ Championship. He’s four points up on Lewis Hamilton who retired due to a broken driveshaft. Vettel stays in 3rd and is only 10 points back of his teammate. Button sits 14 points back of the lead in fourth. Fernando Alonso is only 20 points back of the top in 5th. That’s less than a one-race gap to the point. Suddenly last week’s swap between Alonso and Massa doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
The next race will be a long time coming. The Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps will be in four weeks’ time as the Formula One World Championship will take its annual summer break. We’ll check in with a quick news wrap-up at some point over the break and have a bit more of a preview of Belgium then.