That error in Montreal just two weeks ago is seemingly a dot in Sebastian Vettel’s rearview mirrors, after the Red Bull Racing driver resumed his almost total domination of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship season by comfortably winning the European Grand Prix at Valencia.
The defending world champion was never really threatened after leading away from pole position, setting up his race with an early sprint to build a three-season lead in the early laps. He then maintained and steadily built that advantage for the remainder of the race, winning from Fernando Alonso by over 10 seconds. Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber finished third.
For the first time in the sport’s history, a driver has finished either first or second in each of the opening eight races of the season, and Vettel has also eclipsed his total number of race laps led in comparison to last season. He now holds a 78-point lead in the championship over Webber and Jenson Button, who are tied for a distant second in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
The changes to the engine mapping regulations did little to stymie the advantage that the Adrian Newey-designed RB7 has enjoyed over its rivals, and the other teams will be hoping that the rules severely limiting the use of the off-throttle exhaust blowing will bring the Milton Keynes squad back to the rest of the pack. But for now, everyone should just sit back and compare the team’s achievements to that of Mansell/Williams in 1992 or Schumacher/Ferrari of 2004.
Despite the advent of two DRS zones around the marina complex of the Valencia ports, the race produced more overtaking than had been seen here in previous races, but it was still a rather dull race in comparison to some of the spectacles that we’ve seen this year. Unfortunately much of this lies at the feet of the track’s layout, which was again found wanting for producing anything in the way of serious wheel-to-wheel racing that fans are coming to expect.
Incredibly, despite the warm conditions, there were no race retirements at all, marking the first time since the 2005 Italian Grand Prix that a full field had managed to complete a Grand Prix.
The conditions made managing tyre wear of particular concern, and while the frontrunners all opted for a three-stop strategy (saving the harder tyre compound for their final stint), others elected to run with fewer stops in the hope that it would play out later in the race.
The driver most able to make this work was Jaime Alguersuari, whose seat at Toro Rosso was coming under increasing speculation after his third successive failure to make it out of the first phase of qualifying yesterday. But the Spaniard put in a magnificent drive on a two-stop strategy to net eighth place and back-to-back points’ finishes after his identical result at the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight ago. He’s now tied with team-mate Sébastien Buemi on 8 championship points, with the result now easing the Italian squad into seventh in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Conversely, the McLarens found the warm conditions too much for their rear tyre wear, and the pre-season problems of a lack of rear downforce again reared its head as both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button struggled in the conditions. Button didn’t help his cause with a poor start that saw him bottled up behind Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in the opening laps, and he generally drove more consistently than team-mate Hamilton to finish sixth, despite the loss of KERS midway through the race.
Hamilton was two spots ahead, but he didn’t do himself any favours by over-driving in the opening laps of each new stint on fresh tyres, and consequently burning them out too quickly. By the end of the race, he was coming under severe threat by Felipe Massa, who was catching the former World Champion at a rate of knots. But for a slow final pit stop, Massa would probably have finished ahead of Hamilton on the road, having also made a demon start to leap into fourth place on the opening lap.
Up ahead, Fernando Alonso finished an excellent second on home soil, having also jumped the slow-starting Hamilton when the race got underway. He made a neat move around the outside of the quicker-starting Massa at Turn 2 to take third, and then set about shadowing second-placed Webber in the opening phase of the race.
On lap 21, the Spaniard managed to take advantage of a sloppy lap by Webber and a healthy dose of DRS to pass the Australian. But he was unable to pull away from Webber, and when the Red Bull peeled into the pits one lap sooner than Alonso, the positions switched back into Webber’s favour once again.
But the battle wasn’t done yet, and the positions switched once more at the final pit stop sequence when Alonso stayed out for three laps longer on his used soft tyres, while Webber was trying to build temperature in his harder, fresher tyres. He emerged just metres in front of Webber when he exited the pits, and any hopes for a grandstand finish were over when Webber was told to ease off and conserve his gearbox, which was starting to play up.
Having battled for a while with Alguersuari midway through the race, Nico Rosberg ended his brief run without points by finishing in seventh place and actually finished a lap ahead of the Spaniard by the chequered flag.
The German’s team-mate Michael Schumacher lost any hopes of a points’ finish after he tangled with Vitaly Petrov when he rejoined the circuit after his first pit stop. The seven-time World Champion lost his front wing as the Russian chopped across him turning for the Turn 2 apex, and Schumacher was back into the pits and out of sequence with everyone else. He finished a lowly 17th.
Alguersuari had to spend the closing laps of the race fending off a fast-closing Adrian Sutil, who claimed more points for Force India with a competitive weekend that saw him qualify inside the top-ten for the first time this season. Team-mate Paul di Resta finished 14th, a perhaps not unsurprising result given his lack of practice mileage in the lead-up to the race, and he’ll no doubt be questioning the team’s wisdom of running third driver Nico Hülkenberg in his car when he’d never driven on the track before. As it was Hülkenberg binned the car in opening practice, and di Resta lost plenty of track time as it was getting repaired.
One spot behind and claiming the final point was Nick Heidfeld, who epitomised Renault’s gradual decline from its podium-clinching form at the start of the season. The black and golds cars were really found wanting in race conditions, and team-mate Petrov only finished 15th after making an appalling start.
By the mid-point of the race, most pundits thought that Sergio Pérez and the Sauber team had completely lost the plot after the Mexican rookie was seen to be steadily falling down the order on very worn soft tyres, while everyone else was enjoying the fruits of having pitted for fresh rubber. It looked as though the team was opting for the same one-stop strategy that had worked to great effect in Australia (as well as Valencia last year), and it almost paid off again, with the youngster finishing tantalisingly close to the points in eleventh on his race return after a two-race absence due to injury. Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi was unable to repeat his point-scoring heroics here from last year, and finished a distant 16th.
Williams fell back to earth with a bump and took no points away from Valencia after an uncompetitive weekend, with Rubens Barrichello achieving the better result with a quiet run to 12th place. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado never seemed to really have the car hooked up – despite being more proficient on street circuits – and he finished behind the hobbled Schumacher in 18th place.
At the back of the field, it was a Noah’s Ark formation finish for Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and HRT, with Heikki Kovalainen finishing best of the sophomore bunch in 19th place, two laps adrift. Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli – who has been the subject of retirement rumours this weekend – endured another lacklustre showing and finished one place behind.
Timo Glock made a brilliant start when the race got underway and made up several places, but it was rather predictable that he wouldn’t able to sustain the pace, and he finished 21st at the chequered flag, with team-mate D’Ambrosio one spot behind.
Despite working the publicity machine quite hard on home soil, the two Hispania entries brought up the rear and were found wanting on this more aero-dependant circuit. Vitantonio Liuzzi finished second-last ahead of Narain Karthikeyan, and neither earned themselves huge accolades for some rather clumsy attempts to get out of the way of the leaders when being lapped.
2011 European Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (57 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||57||1:39:36.169|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||57||+ 10.891|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||57||+ 27.255|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||57||+ 46.190|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||57||+ 51.705|
|6.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||57||+ 1:00.065|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||57||+ 1:38.090|
|8.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||56||1 lap behind|
|9.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||56||1 lap behind|
|10.||Nick Heidfeld||Lotus Renault GP R31||56||1 lap behind|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||56||1 lap behind|
|12.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||56||1 lap behind|
|13.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||56||1 lap behind|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||56||1 lap behind|
|15.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||56||1 lap behind|
|16.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||56||1 lap behind|
|17.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||56||1 lap behind|
|18.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||56||1 lap behind|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||55||2 laps behind|
|20.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||55||2 laps behind|
|21.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||55||2 laps behind|
|22.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||55||2 laps behind|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||54||3 laps behind|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||54||3 laps behind|
|Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||53||1:41.852|
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