Spanish Grand Prix 2010 - 13/05/10

A whole winter of rigorous testing, a mini-season of flyaway events, four grands’ prix worth of practice sessions, qualifying and races rife with difficult circumstances and opportunities to display latent qualities. This is what it took for Jenson Button to establish himself as a multiple race-winner and equal to Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. This is how long Nico Rosberg had to toil in order to cement his position as Mercedes front man and serious competition to million-time world champion Michael Schumacher. This was the amount of time required for Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel to distil their incendiary pace and apparently fragile vessel into crushing dominance laced with respectable reliability. Yet, despite two months of tide-stemming battle against prevalent perception, it has taken a single weekend of rain-free happenings in Barcelona to reaffirm the old beliefs.

Schumacher outperformed and outpaced Rosberg all weekend at Mercedes, spending a majority of his race repelling the gentle advances of Button’s McLaren. The inevitable opinions surfaced again, that Mercedes and Ross Brawn have tailored the Mercedes to Schumacher’s preferences at the expense of a previously promising teammate. Rosberg vehemently denied such stories throughout the weekend and claimed the improvements to the car were genuine. Jenson started 5th ahead of Schumacher but due to a costly pit lane episode emerged behind Schumacher and spent the rest of the day there. Various attempts by Button to pass into turn 1 were foiled by the Old Man moving across to the inside, forcing the McLaren to go around the outside. Predictably, whispers emerged that McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton would have continued up the inside and forced his way through at the first possible opportunity, as opposed to the impression one got watching Schumacher remain completely in control of the situation, comfortably keeping Button at bay and finishing 4th ahead of him.

Hamilton, having qualified 3rd behind the dominant Red Bulls and just ahead of home favourite Alonso, had a good start and nearly stole the lead from the Red Bull pair. With no change in position at the very front, the race settled down very quickly as the top four of Webber, Vettel, Lewis and Alonso led the way. Lewis spent an impressive-yet-typical Spanish GP afternoon staying well in touch with Vettel’s Red Bull, even leapfrogging him in the pits as Vettel had more pit lane difficulties. Hamilton’s excellent drive to second place unravelled 2 laps before the end as a wheel rim failure caused deflation of the left front tyre, sending him off at high speed, rewarding Alonso’s Ferrari and Vettel’s ailing Red Bull with the final podium spot.

Sebastian Vettel’s ailing Red Bull. A familiar phrase this year, however it is possible that Red Bull’s continuing reliability headaches were somewhat soothed by the crushing speed they displayed with Mark Webber’s stunning pole position nearly a full second a head of Hamilton in 3rd. Webber and Vettel’s speed was such that despite finishing so far ahead of the second placed Ferrari of Alonso, it was widely believed that Webber had left much in reserve. Vettel for his part managed to maintain thoroughly respectable race pace even after an extra pit stop and the shadow of impending brake failure forced him into cruise mode for the closing stages of the race. A tremendously ominous Red Bull one-three capped a Spanish GP where their early season advantage seemed to have actually grown over the chasing pack, with no hint of an F-Duct or outboard mirrors. What is not to be forgotten though is that five races into the 2010 season, Red Bull drivers are neither first nor second in the drivers’ championship with the team still keen to hand gifts to rival outfits. Mark Webber can clearly lead faultlessly from the front, but surely the team are concerned how most of the issues are occurring on Vettel’s machine. Much like the Brazilian GP last year, Mark’s imperious performance was somewhat sidelined by Hamilton and Vettel’s late race incidents, as well as the considerable airtime dedicated to Schumacher and Button. But make no mistake, this win was far from academic.

The fact that no team is having their season unfold according to plan is terrific news for the championship battle. Button still leads on 70 points with Alonso just 3 behind on 67. Vettel sits third on 60 points with teammate Webber next on 53. The biggest losers have been Hamilton and Rosberg who endured no-scores. Other drives of note include Rubens Barrichello’s run to 9th and Jaime Alguersuari’s eventful journey to 10th and another championship point. Both made spectacular starts, passing multiple cars and then consolidating their positions. Jaime again put another great move on fellow rookie Hulkenburg, but undid much of his good work by taking Karun Chandhok’s front wing with him during a botched lapping manoeuvre. His extra pit stop and subsequent drive-through penalty probably cost him further 2010 glory. There was further confirmation also of the genuine points scoring pedigree of the Force India and Renault in Sutil and Kubica’s hands respectively, as well as Fernando Alonso’s continued advantage over the seemingly baffled Felipe Massa at Ferrari.

So should we relax in the comfortable and familiar knowledge that order has once again been restored to the F1 universe, a place where overtaking doesn’t occur, where races are decided by pit lane blunders, a place where hyped drivers eclipse their teammates even if they are behind, a world where a Newey car can be one second per lap faster than its rivals and still not win the title? A few days in Monte Carlo ought to make these questions a little bit more difficult to answer.

1 comment:

AERO_HDT said...

You raise some excellent points there Maz, about order being restored in the F1 universe - except this season is shaping up to be one of the best of the last two decades. Four races in and I have no idea who's going to win the championship.

Redbull are very very strong, but hampered by reliability. Ferrari are engaged in a titanic struggle with MacLaren for runner-up dominance and I think both teams are going to strip away points from Redbull quite consistently and stay in the hunt.

Mercedes have a long way to go, but I think by the end of the season, they'll be up there in with Mac and Ferrari challenging for wins.

Monaco is going to be EPIC.