The current Formula 1 World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, continued his solid 2011 form this weekend in Spain, culminating in a scintillating victory in Sunday’s 2011 Spanish Grand Prix, which took place in the baking Barcelona sunshine.
Vettel became the first person to win from a grid position other than pole for 11 years, as he put in an excellent performance to claim the win – despite coming under extreme pressure from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton for much of the second half of the race.
Hamilton finished within one second of Vettel, in second position, some 35 seconds ahead of fellow Brit, Jenson Button, who made up the final podium slot.
Mark Webber, who had been on pole, had to settle for a disappointing fourth place after he spent much of the race staring at the back of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari before the home hero’s pace fell away with his final set of tyres.
It had been Alonso who had burst out of the blocks, however, grabbing an amazing three positions to take the lead from fourth on the grid. The Spanish fans could not have hoped for more from their favourite, who dived up the inside of both Vettel and then Webber to lead the race as they rounded the first lap.
Jenson Button, who had started one place behind Alonso, in fifth, had entirely opposite fortunes: he soon found himself in tenth position once the cars had sorted themselves into single file after turns three and four.
But Alonso would soon discover that, while he was quick off the mark, and had good straight line speed (to prevent those behind him from getting past), he was completely unable to get away during the rest of the circuit. His work, were he to win this race, was clearly going to be defensive for much of the race, as he found Vettel – who had got the jump on his team-mate – and Webber impossible to shake off.
Lewis Hamilton had dropped just one place from his third best qualifying lap and was sitting in fourth.
Button soon started reclaiming his places, as Sebastian Vettel pitted early in order to attempt an “undercut” move by coming out of the pits into clear air.
Vettel then put in three passes – as he came out behind the battle for 6th, 7th and 8th from the pits. Vettel then roared past Button, Massa and then Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, as Alonso emerged from the pits just in front of the German, in what was, with hindsight, the most important spell of the race for the young World Champion. He kept in touch with Alonso as a result of these moves, before pitting early again to attempt an ‘undercut’ once more.
This time the move paid off, as Alonso pitted a lap later only to see the Red Bull already entering the first corner as he emerged from the pits – once more with Mark Webber doggedly following his every move.
This time it was Lewis Hamilton who had been left out in the race lead. The British driver set about putting in fast laps to also overcome Alonso, who had been holding up the pack, and quickly put in a fastest lap which put Vettel under threat. However, Hamilton stayed out for perhaps one lap too long, and his tyres quickly went ‘off’ as Vettel, on a fresh set of soft tyres, put in a fastest lap of his own.
Hamilton had to make a super-fast stop to get out ahead of Alonso and Webber, who were still scrapping for third and fourth place proper, but Vettel had put in fast enough times to comfortably slide past and retain his lead – his undercut paying off at the second attempt, and giving him around 4 seconds lead over Hamilton, who was quickly pulling away from Alonso and an increasingly frustrated Mark Webber.
Webber looked to have leapfrogged Alonso in the pits, but the Spaniard pulled away just in the nick of time and fans cheered as the Ferrari and the Red Bull raced with the former three quarters of a car length to the fore, with the cars neck-and-neck in a move that was equal parts daring and safe from both drivers.
Jenson Button, whose poor start saw McLaren switch him to a different three rather than four stop strategy then began hooking up some really fast laps with both Alonso and Webber in front of him running on hard tyres – his soft set of boots saw him eating around two seconds per lap from their times.
Webber put a good-looking move on Alonso on lap 35, but the ever-professional Spanish driver reclaimed third place one corner later as Webber ran a little wide, before Jenson Button put a move – which stuck – on both of these men in quick succession to take third, and pull quickly away.
Alonso, who had gambled his tyres on holding the lead as long as possible, then had a long stint to do on his final set, and began to fall away. Webber was round him – at last – and had Button, who was on a long final stint on hard tyres, to catch for a podium finish.
Unfortunately for Webber, it soon became apparent that Jenson Button was not as slow on the hard compound as Webber and Alonso had been, and they soon settled into the positions they had found themselves in: Button third, Webber fourth and Alonso fifth. They would finish this way.
But the real excitement – not that there had not been plenty throughout this race – was yet to come at the front of the pack, where Lewis Hamilton had caught Sebastian Vettel thanks to his superior straight-line speed.
Vettel’s Kers was faltering – in fact, it appeared not to be working at all on either Red Bull for much of this race – whereas Hamilton’s was not. Emphatically so. In fact, coupled with the DRS (reduced rear wing for overtaking cars), Hamilton was doing around 20 KPH more than Vettel at the end of the start/finish straight as the cars braked for the first corner.
For each of around the last 13 or 14 laps, Hamilton was flying up fast in Vettel’s rear-view mirrors as they rocketed into the first corner, and Vettel found himself under immense pressure from the British 2008 World Champion, Hamilton, who looked keen to get another 2011 victory under his belt.
But Vettel drove masterfully around the rest of the track, matching Hamilton’s pace, and even pulling out a tenth or two here and there, despite not having any Kers available to him.
Vettel also put on his one allowed defensive manoeuvre one or two times, when Hamilton got worryingly close to the back of his Red Bull machine, ensuring that the British driver could not pass, and, when the chequered flag finally came down, an almost audible sigh of relief came from Vettel’s cockpit after what must have been a nervewracking drive of terrific quality.
Vettel collected the 25 points in what was surely one of his best drives in a Formula 1 car. Lewis Hamilton, however, showed Red Bull that his McLaren is mere millimetres off them at this stage of the season.
Button, who picked up a good third from a dreadful start, will also be buoyed by the pace he showed during the middle part of this race, and the number of clean passes he managed to make in a drive that was great fun to watch.
The Red Bull procession which perhaps threatened at the start of the season looks unlikely to materialise. That is, as long as Sebastian Vettel stops driving out of his skin.
Vettel is very much the man to catch. If Red Bull can get their Kers working, it could well be curtains for the chasing pack.
Ferrari will be the most disappointed of the Big Three teams: Alonso, while starting brilliantly, simply did not have the pace to go the distance at the head of affairs. Felipe Massa had a torrid time, being passed and placed tenth before he called it a day and parked with a handful of laps remaining.
Mercedes men, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were solid once more, but did not have the raw pace of the Red Bulls and McLarens, nor could they match that which Fernando Alonso showed in his under-par Farrari, so their 6th and 7th was as good a return on their weekend as they could have expected.
Nick Heidfeld, who started 24th of 24 had arguably the most exciting time of the day, as he passed most of the field to get up to 8th position ahead of the two Sauber men, Perez and Kobayashi who drove well enough for the final points on offer in Barcelona.
But this Spanish Grand Prix was all about Vettel’s driving at key moments, and the raw pace of Lewis Hamilton. Jenson Button showed yet again that he is the man with a plan when it comes to tyre wear and managing the hastily re-formed plans entailed in that.
While a combination of the new tyre rules, Kers and DRS led to the most exciting Spanish Grand Prix in over a decade, it was a phenomenal driving performance from Sebastian Vettel and, at least in equal measure, Lewis Hamilton which stole the show today.
As a marker for how the rest of this season may go, the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix spoke of much excitement to follow.
Sebastian Vettel (118 points) is very much the man to catch in the Drivers’ World Championship for 2011: the German has extended his lead to 41 points over Lewis Hamilton (77 points) who is in turn 10 points ahead of Mark Webber (67 points).
The next Grand Prix? The small matter of Monaco on 27-29 May. McLaren will be desparate for a good showing to build on today’s promise if they are to slow down team Red Bull’s progress.
Formula 1 – Spanish Grand Prix de Catalunya 2011 – Final Standings
|1||GER||Sebastian Vettel||1||Red Bull-Renault||2||01:27.162||25|
|4||AUS||Mark Webber||2||Red Bull-Renault||1||01:27.187||12|
|6||GER||Michael Schumacher||7||Mercedes GP||10||01:29.463||8|
|7||GER||Nico Rosberg||8||Mercedes GP||7||01:29.155||6|
|12||GBR||Paul Di Resta||15||Force India-Mercedes||16||01:29.469|
|13||GER||Adrian Sutil||14||Force India-Mercedes||17||01:28.791|
|14||SUI||Sebastien Buemi||18||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||11||01:30.049|
|16||ESP||Jaime Alguersuari||19||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||13||01:29.132|
Formula 1 2011 Drivers’ World Championship Standings – Following Spanish Grand Prix 2011
|1||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Red Bull-Renault||118|
|3||Mark Webber||AUS||Red Bull-Renault||67|
|6||Nico Rosberg||GER||Mercedes GP||26|
|10||Michael Schumacher||GER||Mercedes GP||14|
|12||Sebastien Buemi||SUI||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||6|
|13||Adrian Sutil||GER||Force India-Mercedes||2|
|15||Paul Di Resta||GBR||Force India-Mercedes||2|
|16||Jaime Alguersuari||ESP||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||0|
Formula 1 2011 Constructors’ World Championship – Standings After 2011 Spanish Grand Prix