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Pirelli responds…

I like Pirelli’s response not only to the FIA statement of yesterday but also to the specific tyre problems we saw at Silverstone.

Milan, July 2, 2013 – After exhaustive analysis of the tyres used at Silverstone, Pirelli has concluded that the causes of the failures were principally down to a combination of the following factors:

1) Rear tyres that were mounted the wrong way round: in other words, the right hand tyre being placed where the left hand one should be and vice versa, on the cars that suffered failures. The tyres supplied this year have an asymmetric structure, which means that they are not designed to be interchangeable. The sidewalls are designed in such a way to deal with specific loads on the internal and external sides of the tyre. So swapping the tyres round has an effect on how they work in certain conditions. In particular, the external part is designed to cope with the very high loads that are generated while cornering at a circuit as demanding as Silverstone, with its rapid left-hand bends and some kerbs that are particularly aggressive.

2) The use of tyre pressures that were excessively low or in any case lower than those indicated by Pirelli. Under-inflating the tyres means that the tyre is subjected to more stressful working conditions.

3) The use of extreme camber angles.

4) Kerbing that was particularly aggressive on fast corners, such as that on turn four at Silverstone, which was the scene of most of the failures. Consequently it was the left-rear tyres that were affected.

The only problems that had come to light before Silverstone were to do with delamination, which was a completely different phenomenon. To stop these delaminations Pirelli found a solution by suggesting that the teams use the tyres that were tried out in Canada from Silverstone onwards. When this proposal was not accepted, Pirelli found another solution through laboratory testing, with a different bonding process to attach the tread to the carcass. So the problem of delamination has nothing at all to do with what was seen in Great Britain.

Following the conclusions of this analysis, Pirelli would like to underline that:

1) Mounting the tyres the wrong way round is a practice that was nonetheless underestimated by everybody: above all Pirelli, which did not forbid this.

2) In the same way, under-inflation of the tyres and extreme camber settings, over which Pirelli has no control, are choices that can be dangerous under certain circumstances. Because of this, Pirelli has asked the FIA for these parameters will be a topic of accurate and future examinations. Pirelli has also asked for compliance with these rules to be checked by a dedicated delegate.

3) Pirelli would also like to underline that the 2013 tyre range does not compromise driver safety in any way if used in the correct manner, and that it meets all the safety standards requested by the FIA.

The logical conclusion is that it is essential for tyres with the performance and technical sophistication of the 2013 range to be regulated and carefully controlled by Pirelli itself. In order to ensure the optimal functioning of the tyres, the Italian firm would need real-time data from the teams regarding fundamental parameters such as pressure, temperature and camber angles. While waiting for new regulations that would permit Pirelli access to this data, vital for the development and management of these state-of-the-art tyres, the following measures are proposed for the forthcoming grands prix, in agreement with the FIA, FOM, the teams and the drivers:

1) The use of the evolution of the current tyre that was tested in Canada (and proved to be completely reliable) for the German Grand Prix this weekend. This represents the best match for the technical characteristics of the Nurburgring circuit. In particular, the rear tyres that will be used at the German Grand Prix, which takes place on July 7, have a Kevlar construction that replaces the current steel structure and the re-introduction of the 2012 belt, to ensure maximum stability and roadholding. Given that these tyres are asymmetric as well, it will be strictly forbidden to swap them round. The front tyres, by contrast, will remain unaltered.

2) From the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, the introduction of a new range of tyres. The new tyres will have a symmetrical structure, designed to guarantee maximum safety even without access to tyre data – which however is essential for the optimal function of the more sophisticated 2013 tyres. The tyres that will be used for the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards will combine the characteristics of the 2012 tyres with the performance of the 2013 compounds. Essentially, the new tyres will have a structure, construction and belt identical to that of 2012, which ensured maximum performance and safety. The compounds will be the same as those used throughout 2013, which guaranteed faster lap times and a wider working range. This new specification, as agreed with the FIA, will be tested on-track together with the teams and their 2013 cars at Silverstone from 17-19 July in a session with the race drivers during the young driver test. These tests will contribute to the definitive development of the new range of tyres, giving teams the opportunity to carry out the appropriate set-up work on their cars.

Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director, said: “What happened at Silverstone was completely unexpected and it was the first time that anything like this has ever occurred in more than a century of Pirelli in motorsport. These incidents, which have upset us greatly, have stressed the urgency of the changes that we already suggested – which will be introduced during for free practice in Germany on Friday. We would like to acknowledge the willingness of the FIA, FOM teams, and drivers to act quickly to find an immediate solution to the problem. In particular, the adoption of winter tests, arranged with the FIA, that are more suitable for tyre development and the possibility of carrying out in-season testing will contribute to the realisation of tyres with increasingly improved standards of safety and performance. I’d like to re-emphasise the fact that the 2013 range of tyres, used in the correct way, is completely safe. What happened at Silverstone though has led us to ask for full access to real time tyre data to ensure the correct usage and development of tyres that have the sophistication we were asked to provide and extremely high performance that has lowered lap times by more than two seconds on average. While we wait for a change in the rules, we will introduce tyres that are easier to manage.”

Low pressures and high camber angles have been standard practice up and down the pit lane – and it’s interesting that Pirelli condoned the swapping of tyres, left to right. The kerbs are the kerbs, though, as the BRDC’s Derek Warwick said recently. The  early-race on-boards of Lewis Hamilton, which I have seen, show that he uses only a tiny amount of apex kerb at T4. Fernando Alonso uses more – maybe a foot more – but conversely had no problems. It could be, of course, that the “safe” line at T4 was Fernando’s but it’s also interesting to note that Daniel Ricciardo, for instance, never touched the T4 apex on any of the on-boards I viewed. 

More notes from Sepang


  • Adrian Sutil was stunning to watch today – a Kimi Raikkonen clone in terms of his cornering technique.  This is a smoother, more compliant Sutil than the one we saw at the end of 2012 – and even then he was very consistently quick.  The new Sutil is all that and more.  Into Turn Six he was able to arc-in a good half-a-car’s width earlier than his team-mate and secure a beautifully-straight exit.  It was no surprise to see him run top-three in both dry qualifying sessions.  It went away in the wet but that was no surprise.  A suspected broken engine seal precluded any wet-weather running on Friday and Adrian, in these early comeback races, is in any event logically going to leave a little bit of margin in the wet.
  • Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton again showed their timing and class as qualifying came to a boil.  Seb, as normal, had refrained from using the options in Q1 and consequently made the show by less than half a second.  Mark Webber looked good in Q2.  Then, in Q3, when it mattered, Seb reminded us that his prodigious success rate isn’t entirely due to his maximizing Adrian Newey’s downforce in the dry.  His was a skillfully-honed pole, under pressure, in the mist.  At AMG Mercedes, meanwhile, it was again Nico Rosberg who set the pre-Q3 pace.  Lewis would do a time; Nico would better it.  Lewis’s driving even began to look like Nico’s. Then, a little earlier than Seb, on the wet track, Lewis was suddenly Lewis again.  Beautiful little neutral zones just when he needed them.  Just the right amount of steering input versus load.  Brilliant.
  • A big hand, too, for Felipe Massa.  Felipe looked very Webber-esque on his quickest lap, flinging the F138 from one side to the other in a way that suggested he had total and utter confidence in Pat Fry’s running gear.  Felipe’s edge is ragged;  Fernando’s remains more-rounded.  They make an interesting combo now that Ferrari’s Number Two is again quick enough to win.
  • Romain Grosjean, by contrast, is very different from the driver we saw last year.  As reactive and on-the-edge as Romain is, “quietening down” was always going to lead to slower lap times.  It’s only the vee-drivers – the manipulative drivers like Kimi, Lewis, Seb Vettel, Fernando (when he feels like it), Sutil, Bottas and a couple of others – who can develop maturity without eroding away their natural pace.  No doubt Romain will soon let frustration get the better of him and will move the counterweight in the reverse direction; and that’s a good thing, I believe.  If he isn’t going to change his technique, then there’s no point in just driving slower, even if he is going to finish more races.  Above all, Romain Grosjean is a racing driver, not a professional F1 point-scorer.  Let him be, say I.
  • Over in the GP2 paddock the scene was staggeringly underwhelming.  Sweating under a giant tent, the Eu4m teams were separated only by temporary banners.  There was no access for the GP2 personnel to the F1 paddock;  there were no frills under that fan-cooled tent.  Actually, I have nothing against communal garages like this.  They used to work a treat both at Watkins Glen and Long Beach – and in Detroit, for that matter.  The Monaco car park is too big to be included in the list but Sepang could have been very different if everyone had mucked in together and decided to go “open plan”, with the fans walking down the aisles as they watched the mechanics at work.  As it was, Sepang’s GP2 paddock to my eye was just a sad attempt to look like F1’s second cousin twice removed.  The awnings were there to give the team names some prominence – but who was going to take photographs?
  • I tweeted from Melbourne that Red Bull Racing are “potentially” going to try Hitco brakes in the near future.  This is still the plan, I understand, although the rain in Melbourne and the obvious chance of rain in Malaysia has made their traditional Brembos the obvious choice in the short-term.  It is confusing for mere observers, though, because it’s now well-nigh impossible to identify brake types without close examination of the products in question.  Take the situation at AMG Mercedes, for example:  Lewis Hamilton has lost no time in persuading the team to switch from their traditional Brembos to Carbone Industrie (the brakes he raced on at McLaren) but Brembo’s Massimo Arduini told me after Malaysian qualifying that Merc had reverted to Brembos “because they are so good in the wet”.  As it happens, both Lewis and Nico qualified on Carbon Industries, so, if nothing else, I guess this just underlines how competitive the brake battle has become.More about that in next month’s F1 RacingIMG-20130323-00680

Notes from the Belgian GP

The frustrating thing about the glorious circuit in the Ardennes forest they call Spa-Francorchamps is that it’s very difficult to move yourself around it.   It’s big, it’s hilly and, these days, it’s full of plenty of “no admittance” signs. Watch at Eau Rouge and you can only imagine what they’re doing through Pouhon;  spend the morning out at Pouhon and the mysteries of Blanchimont – and the hard braking zone after it – remain exactly that.

So forgive me if you saw otherwise:  for my part, I can only say that not once – not in the wet on Friday nor in the dry thereafter – did I see Jenson Alexander Lyons Button even approach the zone we Philistines call “opposite lock”.  He was again Mr On-Rails, light of touch, nimble of step.  He was again the epitome of the racing driver’s art.

(Correction.  Of course there was a moment.  Silly me.  He flicked the wheel from side to side in adulation as the chequered flag flew.  For a millisecond, the rear of that beautiful McLaren broke lose.  Jenson, by his pit wall, allowed himself a slide.)

I mention this because we need to find some way of explaining Jenson’s two exemplary pole laps at Spa – laps that left him free of any first-corner skirmishes.  You can overtake at Spa – but you can also quickly run to ground at La Source if you qualify amongst the dross.  Pole, then – or the front row – is vital at Spa – as vital as it is at Monaco.

I watched qualifying, as it happens, from the exit of La Source – a relatively boring location, you may think, given the menu of corners from which to choose.  It was convenient, though –  and there is always something about that run through the gears down the hill, towards Eau Rouge, grandstands to the left of them, GP2 and GP3 stars to the right, that makes the blood tingle.

What we saw there was Jenson feeding on the power in perfect proportion to the unloading left rear.  We saw Jenson steering – not power-sliding – to the exit.  We saw Jenson’s gloved hands moving hardly at all.  We heard no ripples from the Merc engine as he reached the edge, for Jenson met the kerb; he didn’t ride it.  And then we saw his McLaren, straight and true, barking its way down the hill.

What we didn’t see, of course, was what Jenson had been doing on entry and mid-corner.  We didn’t see the decreasing brake pedal pressure against steering load;  we didn’t see the actual substance of the corner from Jenson’s perspective – the moment when he felt that he could rotate the car with maximum benefit to the rear;  where we were, we only caught the result.

Even so, the view was selective.  Lewis looked as smooth and as seamless in the other McLaren.  So did Kimi in the Lotus-Renault and Michael in the Mercedes.  Fernando, though, came into view with one slide already under half-control.  And then there was another – out there on the kerbs, as he gave it full throttle.  His wrists flicked to the left as the revs peaked in first, rippling their complaint as the Ferrari fanned the kerbs.   Romain was the same – perhaps more so.   Felipe, too – although his movements, like Romain’s, were a reaction to what was happening to the rear of the car rather than actions in anticipation.  Felipe’s and Romain’s exits were slightly more segmented than Fernando’s or Kimi’s.  You could see the joins;  the telemetry would show the spikes.

Then came Kamui Kobayashi.  This’ll be fun, we thought.  Not a bit of it.  In Q3, with but a minute to run, Kamui looked to be Kimi.  Car tightly wound mid-corner, when he burst into view, the throttle and steering were then released as one.  Perfectly.  It was Sergio Perez, in the other Sauber, who expended the arm energy.  He was Romain – all reflexes and reaction.  All tail-on-the-kerbs.

Out came Pastor Maldonado, having only just made it up from Q2 in the Williams FW34.  Minimal movement.  Wonderful release.  Lewis-like.  Paul di Resta had looked similarly poised (save for a last-millisecond twitch at the rear, nudging the Force India onto the exit kerb).  Nico Hulkenberg used more opposite lock from mid-corner to apex.  The flashes of steering correction quickly evolved into a di Resta exit, however, as if he was reminding himself of how it should be (rather than playing it how he wanted!).

Up there on the big screen to our left they were on-boarding with Mark Webber.  And you could see why the FOG (Formula One Group) Director had selected him:  Mark looked Fernando-quick were I stood at La Source;  and, that morning, during Third Practice, his RBR8 had had seemed particularly stable through Eau Rouge (relative to the twitchiness of the Ferraris).

The lap time, though, was not there.  As quickly as you can read this, the names appeared in order:  BUT, KOB, MAL.  No HAM!  No RAI!

In this sense, my vantage point had mattered not a jot.  My eye could discern no difference between, say, Jenson and Kimi.

It was only later, when we learned that Jenson had been running a lower-downforce set-up, that the quality of his driving came into focus.  If he was able to make the McLaren look that good on corners like La Source, what was he doing over the full lap of Spa, where the long straights and fast corners would reward less drag?  Lewis, it transpired, was using a higher-downforce wing that left him with almost zero feel for the road.  Under the circumstances, his La Source work was also a piece of art.  Kimi and Romain were not running the team’s new wing-stalling device (sadly) and were thus playing Lewis’s game.  Fernando was on the limit of grip-versus-top speed wherever he went.  The Ferrari was edgy, nervous.  The Williams was again a major contender – and Pastor was again maximizing it.  (Bruno didn’t make it out of Q2 but not for the want of trying:  a half-lift into a fast corner left the DRS still open;  a massive spin was the result.)  And the Saubers were amazingly quick “through the air” thanks to the genius of Willem Toet.  The job then for the drivers was to lose no time on the slower stuff.  This they did not.

You know what happened on Sunday.  Romain made a great start, headed for a diminishing gap…and didn’t back off, as young guys on big waves of expectation rarely back off.   Spacial awareness didn’t really come into it:  he was an arrow, heading for a tiny target.  It was going to be up to the others to give him room.  I think Romain will tell himself that he didn’t cause the accident because his right rear hit Lewis’s left front (ie, he was half-a length a head of the McLaren) and because he  made just the one legal move to the inside; but that’s the problem, of course, with too much legislation:  it takes away the common sense. Romain was the only driver out there in a position to prevent any sort of collision, given the dynamics and the positionings involved.  He could have backed off.  He could have given Lewis more room.

As it was, Lewis continued on his dead-straight, inside line from which he was under no reasonable obligation to back away – and inevitably the combined energies erupted.  I predicted last Wednesday, on The Flying Lap, that Fernando was likely to DNF at Spa because of some sort of drama at La Source – but I certainly never imagined the carnage that would actually take place.   Out went Lewis, Fernando and Sergio Perez – and Romain, of course  – and we can all be thankful that no-one was hurt, even though Fernando’s shoulder was a bit sore afterwards (whiplash) and for a few seconds he was in the wrecked car motionless, unable to breathe because of the extinguishent.

Into the void, driving beautifully from mid-grid, rose Sebastian Vettel.  The RBR8 was not a quick car in Sector Three on Saturday afternoon, but Seb belied its mediocre chicane grip with some gorgeous track craft and sumptuous passes on Sunday.  So good was he, indeed, that he induced the worst from Michael Schumacher – incited Michael’s last-second dart into the pit lane entry from the wrong side of the track in the path of said Seb Vettel.  It was appalling to see – not massively dangerous, as such, but clumsy and ugly and about as poor an example of track etiquette to which any well-meaning Formula Renault driver should ever be exposed.  Yes, they were both playing a game of “After you, Claude” re pit stops.  There’s no excuse for entering the pit lane from the outside, however – particularly if there’s a car alongside you.  Seb, in protest – and seeing Michael diving into the pit entry, manipulated his Red Bull into a semi-donut and drag-stripped it down the finishing straight.  His actions said a thousand words.

There were some great drives in this mangled race.  Jenson continued to do what he did on Saturday for corner after corner, lap after lap.  He stopped but once for Pirelli primes without losing the lead.  His margin of victory was 13.6 seconds but it could have been much more.  He wasn’t sweating when he climbed from the car;  and Union Jacks flew in abundance in the packed spectator banks and stands.  McLaren had won again at the venue on which it all began with Bruce back in 1968.  Seb finished an excellent second for Red Bull Racing; and Kimi, frustrated by a lack of top speed (repeat:  “Shame about the device!”) was third for Lotus-Renault.     Nico Hulkenberg drove superbly, I thought, to finish fourth for Sahara Force India;  and Felipe was fifth in the difficult Ferrari.   Both STR drivers looked good – particularly Jean-Eric Vergne on this occasion – but poor Kamui could finish only 13th after suffering bodywork damage at the first corner.  No matter:  Willem Toet is as confident as experienced racers can ever be confident about the next round of “flyaway” updates for the Sauber C31.  At Suzuka, particularly, the car should fly…and it shouldn’t be slow at Monza, either!  I should also mention both HRT drivers – Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthekayan.  Neither were out-classed by other back-of-the-griders.  Pedro hit first corner debris and and Narain’s race ended when the left-front wheel came adrift as he turned-in to Stavelot (lose wheel nut after his second pit stop).

And so Fernando has had his first DNF since Canada last year.  It had to happen eventually – and it was predictable that it would happen at La Source, where Fernando was always likely to be amongst the traffic.  I’ve maintained since January, however, that Fernando’s biggest rival for the World Drivers’ Championship will be Lewis Hamilton – and so, from that perspective, Spa was by no means a disaster for Fernando.     Now to Monza where, for the most part, the track is wide, fast and open.  There’s just that pesky little first chicane to negotiate on the first lap of this tightest of tight F1 seasons, in the year in which the top runners are separated by paper-thin margins.  Again, the pole is where you’ll want to be – where Ferrari and Fernando need to be if they are to insulate their hard-won half-season advantage.   The Tifosi , I’m sure, are secreting their way to Monza even as you read this…

Lewis Hamilton posted this interesting telemetry overlay after qualifying, comparing his lap with that of Jenson Button.  The annotations speak for themselves – although they should of course be seen in the context of a first-class F1 team opting for two different aerodynamic solutions to a very demanding lap


World Class Fernando

In one of the year’s most dramatic weekends of sport, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso emphasises his global stature

And so Fernando has won another.  Those of us who predicted he would win the 2012 World Drivers’ Championship, even as the F2012 was furrowing brows and giving early-season pace away to the McLarens, Red Bulls, Lotus-Renaults and Mercedes, are in no way surprised.  Ferrari were always going to regroup; and there’s no-one better than Fernando when it comes to maximizing the good qualities of a car, minimizing its bad ones and stringing together a race weekend.  Spin on Fridays, win on Sundays.   The wonder, looking back, is that anyone didn’t think that a tight year like this would go Fernando’s way.

Hockenheim was standard Fernando fare:  changeable conditions and rain (defying the highly-rated weather forecasters) on Friday and Saturday afternoon.   No problem.   Push the car hard on both inters and wets, find the grip wide of the conventional racing line, stay quiet, smile the smile, wear the shades and take the pole – take two poles, as it happened, because his last two laps were good enough for P1.  Said timing was perfect, too:  quickest of all before the rain fell on Saturday morning, Fernando in the afternoon took advantage of the tracks left by other cars, the more so as time wore on.  He was out there, hunting for a lap, even as the chequered flag was unfurling.

The blue skies of a sparkling Sunday brought new tests.  Remember the dry-weather pace of Saturday morning.  Win the start.  Pull out a DRS-free lead.  Manage the tyres.  Manage the back-markers!

He did all of that.  In perhaps the truest test we’ve had yet of  the F2012’s current status, he was able to handle all aspects of Seb Vettel’s Red Bull (with margin to spare).  He could even enjoy a nice little cameo, courtesy of his old mate, Lewis Hamilton.  Delayed by an early-lap puncture, Lewis rejoined just behind Fernando and Seb on the road (but a lap down in reality) before proceeding to show his pace, using DRS to pass Seb without issue into the hairpin.  Incensed, Seb half-heartedly fought back, confused, I think, about whether he was “racing” Lewis or letting him go;  that is what his waved arms seemed to suggest, at any rate.   Fernando, in front, could only smile inwardly as his gap to Seb began to grow.  (It was difficult to see what Seb’s problem was:  if a guy like Lewis Hamilton isn’t allowed to unlap himself and race to the flag, then what was the 1967 Italian GP all about?)*

It was when Jenson Button jumped Vettel in the second pit stop (in part thanks to the time Seb had spent faffing around with Lewis, in part to McLaren’s amazing 2.3sec tyre change) that Fernando’s job description changed.   Suddenly he had a silver car in his mirrors, all over him, potentially butting into his DRS zone.

Suddenly Fernando, the great Manager of Races, had to become a Racing Driver, pure and simple.  Pit stop strategies had been played out. Radio messages from the pit wall about KERS or diff settings became superfluous, mere smokescreens.  Somewhere, somehow, he needed to dig deep, to find an advantage.

It came on the only sections of Hockenheim  worthy of the description “decent corners”: the last two right-handers of the lap and then Turn One – the quick right-hander followed by a shortish straight.  If Fernando could be perfect here for lap after closing lap then maybe he could generate enough space to protect himself from DRS detection out of the hairpin.  The McLaren would be better in and out of the slow stuff on the other parts of the lap;  no question about that.  The Ferrari is still no MP4-27 or RB7 – not when it comes to grip vs balance vs traction.   On the quicker corners, though, Fernando could impart some magic.

And so it began.

Avoid the mirrors out of the second hairpin and into the third one.  Use all the road and  perhaps a fraction more.  And then settle into those last two right-handers.  Run a little wide in the middle if necessary.  Fernando could manipulate the weight transfer, there, between the two corners, with a subtle nudge to create torque twist.   Minimise load for a clean run out of the last corner.  Into Turn One: again create that weight shift with an early turn-in, thus minimizing the amount of steering required mid-corner and leaving him free to adjust brake and throttle according to bumps, or the exit kerbs.  Behind, Jenson would be doing what he always does superbly well – turning in late, line-locking the McLaren into a soft apex/early power application zone, hitting a high minimum speed – but then paying a penalty with more load on exit.  The Ferrari, “lighter” from mid-corner to exit, would gain advantage as Fernando straightened out.   In freeze-frame it was all too clear:  Fernando was turning-in to One perhaps three kerb stripes earlier than Jenson’s McLaren.

Fernando’s replication was thereafter breathtaking.  Small errors were adjusted with such delicacy that they became “events” rather than mistakes; they made no dents in the sector times.   He looked from the outside to be “silky-smooth”;  his combined hand- and footwork made it so – but there was no excess there, no edge.  All of the movement was exactly apportioned;  all of it happened in anticipation of what would next unfold.  To the outside world, the Ferrari was a slot car.

He would try to be 0.6 – 0.7sec ahead before that DRS detection point.  He could feel the gap in his bones.  And there was traffic!  There were the red cars – the Marussias – and then some others.  Wait, wait, DRS them – and then time the pass  in an attempt to delay Jenson.  Not easy, but another lap gone.

Jenson was often there as they hit the brakes.  Fernando was obliged to run centre-right into the second hairpin.  Ease out of the brakes, apply initial steering, delay slightly, feel the grip, apply the substance of the lock – then accelerate hard but without jink.  No way Jenson would try him out on the outside into the next right.  No-one tries that outside stuff with Fernando…

He held that gap for two laps and then three – for three and then five.  And then an unexpected thing happened.  More and more, as the race wound down, Fernando could pick up a couple of tenths through those last three corners.  Jenson’s tyres were beginning to fade, just as Lewis’s had in Valencia.  Seb Vettel began to distract Jenson.  Fernando could once again breathe.

Fernando dipped down to the pit wall as the flag waved.  Three wins – and this one had come after a clear straight shoot-out with Red Bull and McLaren.  He’d taken the pole and he’d won the race.  Thankyou.  Thankyou.

It was good to see Jenson and McLaren back up there, for all that.  This is his sort of circuit – nice and sheltered, some dinky slow corners, none of those Valencia-style ch-of-ds that can be so tedious – and the McLaren, dressed in new side pods, in both the dry and on intermediates (but not wets, oddly), always competitive.  Seb Vettel, by contrast, was unable to do anything about Fernando in the early laps (despite those who predicted RBR walkaway domination after Valencia) or about JB until right at the end, when the McLaren’s Pirellis finally faded.  Seb’s driving looked strangely ragged this day, in front of his home crowd  (and Mark Webber, penalized by a gearbox change, was also surprisingly low-key).  Jenson protected the inside after being DRS’d but Seb passed him on the outside-exit of the hairpin, up on the kerbs. Seb argued that he would have run into the back of the McLaren if he hadn’t darted to the outside kerb but the key thing here, in judging whether or not this was an illegal drag race, is the phrase in article 20.2 of the Sporting Regs which says, “a driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.”   I suspect that the stewards (who included Derek Warwick) would have asked Herr Vettel:  “Ah.  And you couldn’t have just backed off….?”

Kimi Raikkonen had one of his better days of the year so far, racing aggressively in the early stages to finish a convincing fourth for Lotus-Renault (if there is such a thing as a “convincing fourth”; the P3 Kimi inherited thanks to Seb’s penalty actually makes much better reading); and both Sauber drivers – Kamui particularly – drove well to finish fourth (ahead of Seb on penalty time) and sixth, beating Michael Schumacher’s three-stop, P3-starting Mercedes in the process.  Nico Hulkenberg also looked very good for Sahara Force India, particularly in wet qualifying, but faded in the dry eventually to finish ninth; and Scuderia Toro Rosso  had their best race in a long while.  In the context of 2012 that doesn’t say much but full credit is due to Franz Tost and the boys nonetheless for making solid progress.  The Caterhams, too, were tantalizingly close to the mid-field, their recent updates clearly buying them some ground.

One race to go, then, before the summer break – and still Fernando sets the gold standard.  On a weekend when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France; when Hashim Amla, in an astonishing example of self-control for spiritual reasons drank no fluids nor consumed food whilst scoring 311 not out for South Africa at a sun-baked Oval in London;  and when another great South African, Ernie Els, won The Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, Fernando in Germany was able to stand right up there with the best of them.  F1 has its own, very brilliant, Class Act.

*At Monza, in 1967, Jim Clark famously unlapped himself after an early-race pit stop.  He then drove flat out in his Lotus 49, re-taking the lead of the Italian GP in the closing stages.  Jim ran short of fuel on the last lap, handing victory to John Surtees, but the die for posterity had been cast.



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