Fernando Alonso has returned to the winners’ circle after a hard-charging drive to take Ferrari’s first win of the 2011 season at the British Grand Prix.
The Spaniard showed superior pace – and was helped by a bungled Red Bull pit stop for Sebastian Vettel – to take the win in the 52-lap race, which started out in typically damp conditions. Vettel had to settle for second place, while team-mate Mark Webber has right in his wheeltracks, refusing to obey to team radio instructions to hold position in the frantic closing laps of the race.
This latest boilover in the Red Bull camp – combined with the messy dispute over the implementation of the latest ‘blown exhaust’ rules clampdown – has given us plenty of talking points as we leave Silverstone…
The wet conditions were a blessing for Ferrari, as it allowed them to forego using the harder Pirelli compound – on which they had floundered to finish a lap adrift at the Spanish Grand Prix in May – and stick to the less-durable, but grippier, softer-compound tyres.
And so it came to be that Alonso found himself snapping at the heels of the leading Red Bulls from the start of the race, and he promptly took advantage of a slow tyre change for Vettel to take the lead and win by almost 17 seconds.
A rain shower had soaked the track in the hours leading up to the race, and as the field set out on their warm-up lap fitted with intermediate tyres, it became clear that some sections of the track were very dry, while others – particularly the stretch before and after the old start/finish straight were very wet.
Vettel got the jump on pole-sitter Webber when the race got underway, and he quickly set about building a comfortable lead while the Australian was left to fend off the advances of Alonso.
Not surprisingly, known wet-weather specialist Lewis Hamilton was quickly making progress through the field, rapidly climbing up the order from his tenth-placed starting position to be challenging Felipe Massa for fourth place in a matter of laps.
The move to slick tyres came about rather accidentally when Michael Schumacher – who was also moving steadily up into the top-ten – tagged Kamui Kobayashi’s sideways Sauber on Lap 10. Another front wing broken, the German headed for the pits and switched to slick tyres, promptly setting rapid lap times before he was brought in to serve a (rather severe, in our opinion) stop/go penalty for his part in the accident.
Unusually for this weekend, all penalties were to be served as stop/go rather than the customer drive-through penalties due to the new Silverstone pit-lane being quick to travel through than using the start/finish complex at racing speed!
But back to the action, and Schumacher’s pace quickly triggered a flurry of pit stop activity. Webber, Alonso and Hamilton all pitted without trouble on Lap 12, while Vettel and Massa stayed out a lap longer.
Pitting earlier was the wiser choice, and by the time the pit stops had been completed, Vettel’s lead over Webber had shrunk to just over 3 seconds. Webber continued to push and close the gap to 1.5 seconds, and this prompted Vettel to stretch his legs once again to keep his team-mate at bay.
Meanwhile, Alonso seemed to be struggling to get his slick tyres to work in the still-damp conditions, losing third place to the hard-charging Hamilton at Copse.
But when he was eventually able to get his tyres up to temperature, he swept by Hamilton once again at Brooklands on Lap 23 with a helping of KERS and DRS, and the pair then set about chasing down the leading Red Bulls.
The second round of pit-stops started on Lap 26, and slow pit stops for both Red Bulls proved enough for Vettel and Webber to rejoin in third and fourth, behind Alonso and Hamilton, who now occupied the top-two spots.
Now in clear air, Alonso started to charge and set about building a lead he wouldn’t lose, raking his 27th career victory – equalling the feat achieved by Sir Jackie Stewart – and his first win since last year’s Korean Grand Prix, all on the sixtieth anniversary of Ferrari’s first-ever Grand Prix win on this very circuit at the hands of Jose Froilan Gonzales, whose car Alonso sampled in the morning’s pre-race build-up.
With Alonso disappearing into the distance, Hamilton now found himself having to fend off the Red Bulls. He kept them at arm’s length until his final pit stop, but Vettel had pitted a lap earlier and managed to undercut the McLaren driver to move into second.
Hamilton’s final stint became about fuel-saving: his hard-charging drive had used up too much Mobil juice and he was forced to surrender third place to Webber if he wanted to have any hope of seeing the chequered flag.
Webber then set about chasing down Vettel – doing so with ease – and in the closing laps, the pair staged a thrilling battle for second place, as the Australian (it emerged later) ignored repeated instructions to “maintain the gap” to his team-mate. The two crossed the finish line nose-to-tail, and a none-too-happy Webber made his displeasure clear, leaving team boss Christian Horner to once again defend the team’s decision to collect 33 points rather than risk contact between his two drivers.
Certainly, this will do nothing to nullify sentiment that the team is very one-eyed in its support of Vettel, and the fans were quick to debate (for and against) the team’s decision on Facebook and Twitter after the race.
Behind the battling Red Bulls, Hamilton found himself under attack from a fast-closing Felipe Massa in the closing laps, but he hung on to fourth place with a wild, wheel-banging scrap with the Brazilian in the final corners, the pair crossing the line just 0.1 seconds apart.
Massa had moved to fifth place courtesy of a disastrous final pit stop for Jenson Button, who was sent out of the pit bay minus his right front wheel nut. He retired his car at the end of the pit lane, to continue his home-ground hex that has seen him fail to finish on the podium in twelve appearances at Silverstone.
Sixth place went to Nico Rosberg, who ran a two-stop race in his Mercedes GP, while Mexican rookie Sergio Pérez also ran fewer stops to claim another points finish for Sauber. His team-mate Kamui Kobayashi had a fraught – although entertaining – race dicing with other cars until his Ferrari engine tightened and went pop. The retirement may have had something to do with a dangerous pit release by his team, as he ran over a Force India wheel gun trying to avoid another car. The team was fined €20,000 for their troubles.
Despite the Renaults having their least competitive weekend all season, Nick Heidfeld somehow landed up in the points with eighth place, but team-mate Vitaly Petrov had a surprisingly anonymous race (in conditions where he has typically done well) to finish twelfth.
Michael Schumacher was an unlucky ninth after a charging recovery drive that saw the German show tremendous pace in the middle of the race. The former World Champion showed some demon overtaking moves as he scythed his way back into the points, but it was scant reward nonetheless.
Jaime Alguersuari took the final point with tenth place – his third points’ finish on the trot after his third successive Q1 elimination – but complained of a lack of straight-line speed during the race. Team-mate Sébastien Buemi had to retire his Toro Rosso after being clobbered (and suffering a puncture) by Paul di Resta.
It’s in conditions like this that the Force India drivers should take the opportunity to shine, but Adrian Sutil finished just out of the points in eleventh after a surprisingly quiet race, while di Resta – savaging Buemi aside – squandered his best-ever qualifying result when a team radio miscommunication led to a fluffed pit stop.
It was the same story at Williams, with both Rubens Barrichello (13th) and Pastor Maldonado (14th) finishing a lap adrift of the leaders after showing little in the way of outright speed on the team’s home soil. After qualifying so well yesterday, Maldonado plummeted like a stone down the timing screens in the opening laps and never recovered.
It was a bad day for Team Lotus with both Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli retiring early in the race. This allowed the two Virgins to finish best of the sophomore outfits, with Timo Glock finishing in sixteenth, one spot ahead of Jérôme d’Ambrosio.
Having not had the pace of their main rivals at the back of the grid, the two HRTs finished last, continuing their solid reliability record this year. Vitantonio Liuzzi finished in 18th place, while rookie team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was last and three laps behind (over a minute adrift of Liuzzi), bringing the car home on his debut outing for the team.
2011 British Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (52 laps):
|1.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||52||1:28:41.196|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||52||+ 16.511|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||52||+ 16.947|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||52||+ 28.986|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||52||+ 29.010|
|6.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||52||+ 1:00.665|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||52||+ 1:05.590|
|8.||Nick Heidfeld||Lotus Renault GP R31||52||+ 1:15.542|
|9.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||52||+ 1:17.912|
|10.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||52||+ 1:19.108|
|11.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||52||+ 1:19.712|
|12.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||52||+ 1:20.681|
|13.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||51||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||51||1 lap behind|
|15.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||51||1 lap behind|
|16.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||50||2 laps behind|
|17.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||50||2 laps behind|
|18.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||50||2 laps behind|
|19.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||49||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||39||Lost Wheel|
|DNF.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||25||Puncture|
|DNF.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||23||Oil Leak|
|DNF.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||10||Oil Leak|
|DNF.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||2||Gearbox|
|Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||41||1:34.908|
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