British Grand Prix 2010 - 19/07/10

As the 2010 season’s momentum once again passes through Red Bull hands like a baton, a pattern is emerging as to how the Milton Keynes squad deliver their victories compared to a seasoned winning outfit like McLaren. When Sebastian Vettel won in Valencia, Mark Webber had a dreadful start and ended up using Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus as a launch pad to a horrific airborne accident. And as Mark Webber strode away to his series-leading third victory of the season at Silverstone, teammate Vettel received a puncture from Hamilton at the start and spent most of the day at the back of the grid, eventually recovering to 7th. The net result is that as Red Bull Racing emerge from the first half of the season with back to back wins, they are neither top of the drivers’ or constructors’ table despite their majority 5 wins this year, compared to McLaren’s 4 victories.

Conversely, McLaren came out of their Turkey-Canada purple patch leading both championships, and even after RBR’s brace, are still on top with Hamilton leading Button by 12 points with Webber a further 5 behind. As the season wears on, it seems McLaren are able to score the 1-2s whereas one Red Bull driver appears to benefit to the great detriment of the other. However, one should not forget this is a new situation to Red Bull and McLaren themselves suffered in a similar fashion during 2007.

The newest chapter of Red Bull controversy found its roots in 3rd Practice as Vettel’s wing developed an issue and the Red Bull management decided to take the one remaining new component they had off Mark Webber’s car and place it on Vettel’s car without Webber’s consent. Their reasoning was that at the time Vettel was leading the intra-team championship, and in that unique situation of having only one specimen of a new front wing, it went to Vettel. This of course did nothing to smooth over the already tense atmosphere of rivalry and alleged favouritism within the Red Bull camp. As Vettel took pole in qualifying, with Webber a tenth or so behind, any illusion of harmony evaporated. That cloud over RBR never quite dissipated throughout the weekend.

Even though the gap to the Negative Energy Duo was huge, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton produced excellent efforts to fill the second row of the grid, the latter suggesting it was the best lap of his career. McLaren had to remove the new blown diffuser exhaust system from their car after they weren’t able to maximise it during practice due to balance and unpredictability issues. Jenson Button found his MP4-25 “undriveable” as he overheated his tyres to a disappointing 14th on the grid at his home GP. Nico Rosberg had a massive eight tenths over teammate Schumacher in Q3, with Sauber’s Pedro De La Rosa netting a superb 9th on the grid, confirming their improvements.

Incredibly, with Vettel and Alonso in P1 and 3 respectively on the clean side of the grid, both got dreadful starts due to clutch gremlins. Vettel tried to close the door on Webber but Mark squeezed through on the inside and a fast-starting Hamilton mugged Alonso, as did Kubica, Rosberg and later on the same lap, Felipe Massa. As Vettel swept through Copse on lap 1, his right rear soft was poked by Hamilton’s front wing endplate, causing a puncture that sent him spearing off through the Maggots and Becketts complex, eventually seeing him fall to the very back of the pack before crawling into the pits for hards at the start of lap 2. Massa and Alonso also had a coming together as Fernando fought to regain some forward momentum after his disastrous launch, condemning Massa to an afternoon at the back of the pack after he too pitted to fix a puncture and took on the harder compound. One can easily forget the number of times Fernando and Felipe have found themselves on the same piece of tarmac this year, a possible situation brewing at Ferrari should not be discounted so readily even if Alonso has comprehensively outperformed Massa so far this year. Felipe should eventually find his feet, as will Ferrari, and then it may well be a different story between these two.

As Hamilton clung to Webber menacingly for the first few laps, with usual suspects Kubica and Rosberg flying high, Button made up a fantastic 6 places on the first lap to run 8th behind Barrichello and Schumacher. With the front two pulling away, Schumacher, Alonso and Barrichello pitted around the lap 12/13 region to the detriment of all involved as Kubica remained ahead after his stop on lap 14 and Rosberg set the fastest lap on the same tour. Button was now also matching the pace of the leaders and making up valuable ground lost in qualifying. After the flurry of stops, Webber had emerged further ahead of Hamilton just before he could put a lap on teammate Vettel, with Rosberg ahead of Kubica and Alonso and Button close behind. Between Hamilton and Rosberg were the long-runners Hulkenburg and Alguersuari.

Lap 17 saw one of the most prominent talking points of the weekend as Alonso hunted down an ailing Kubica and tried a move around the outside of Vale corner for what was 6th place, but Kubica moved across leaving Alonso nowhere to go to avoid contact except across the grass. As Alonso rejoined the track ahead of Kubica and held his position, both got on the radio in preparation for the inevitable. In modern F1 and considering the new Silverstone layout, to actually have caught him at that rate and gotten alongside, Fernando was clearly significantly faster. Letting Robert back past and taking him again would surely not have been such a compromise compared to the eventual drive-through penalty he was handed. Much has been made since of the radio traffic between Ferrari and Race control; opinions, recommendations, technicalities and practicalities all seemingly getting in the way of a degree of common sense. The way things were going for Alonso in 2010, was it worth the risk? While he was genuinely forced across the grass by ruthless and aggressive yet legal defending, even without the unfortunate timing of the subsequent Sutil/De La Rosa safety car interval, a quick swap would have ensured Alonso got past Kubica eventually and still had time to mount a serious attack on Rosberg. Regardless, the punishment handed to Ferrari and Alonso due to Kubica’s retirement shortly after, and considering the fact that Alonso had since passed Alguersuari as well, was understandably hard to swallow for the Maranello boys. Speaking of Rosberg, a classy overtake on Jaime Alguersuari had the unfortunate side effect of slight contact, resulting in a bargeboard piece taking its leave of the Mercedes on the Hangar Straight as Alonso hunted him down.

The end of the aforementioned safety car period that started on lap 28 saw Alonso serve his penalty, promoting Button to 4th and it also brought Sebastian Vettel back into play in the later stages. Webber and Hamilton escaped again at the front, with the Red Bull always appearing to have another gear to engage when necessary, as Rosberg had to first make his way through a number of backmarkers at the restart. Having run full fuel mixture in the early part of the race, Button had to go easy in the closing chapter of the race, therefore unable to mount a significant challenge to Nico’s 3rd place. As the top places appeared to be spoken for and settled, the action started lower down for the smaller points. Lap 32 saw Adrian Sutil pass Michael Schumacher with Vettel’s incredible RB6 demoting Massa a lap later, then dispatching Jaime Alguersuari and Vitaly Petrov shortly after. As Alonso found a way past Sebastien Buemi for 15th place on lap 34, he memorably requested no further radio transmission. Vettel was now in the points having nearly been lapped, and took Hulkenburg for 9th place on lap 38. On lap 40 he took Michael Schumacher as the former champ squeezed him for all he was worth into Brooklands. Ferrari’s forgettable British GP was compounded by a near-crash for Felipe Massa at the exit of Luffield, the Brazilian diving into the pits unexpectedly for new tyres. Alonso had further dramas himself too as a battle with Liuzzi’s Force India saw him get a puncture, pitting one final time on lap 49. Alonso and Massa came home 14th and 15th having set the fastest laps of the race on their final fresh tyre, low-fuel laps.

As the chequered flag loomed, Vettel became increasingly desperate in his pursuit of Adrian Sutil’s 7th-placed Force India. Both Force Indias had put up staunch defences against raging bulls and prancing horses, and Vettel went off-track sending up plumes of dust on lap 50. He rejoined quickly and finally clattered his way past Sutil on the penultimate lap, Adrian himself having had another colourful afternoon swapping parts with various cars. Nico Rosberg’s first podium since China, Jenson Button’s 10 place gain, Rubens Barrichello’s superb drive to 5th and Kobayashi’s excellent 6th were all highly commendable efforts, as was Lewis Hamilton’s ultimately fruitless chase of Webber, but car number 6 (not “number 2”) was the class of the field, serenely leading from start to finish and only using as much pace as was necessary to keep a flat-out Hamilton out of arm’s reach. Webber’s vociferous defence of himself in the media predictably necessitated emergency discussions at Red Bull with both parties now portraying an image of a cooled-down, well-ordered and once again purposeful family. It is quite unfortunate that the team’s well-known brand catchphrase should include the words ‘wings’ and ‘bull’.

Photography by Paul Hitchens

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