Spanish GP – The Race

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The King of Spain
The King of Spain

Barcelona. Stunning city. But generally throws up a total borefest of a race. The Circuit de Catalunya doesn’t do overtaking or drama but if you’re fond of uneventful, processional races, then Barcelona will float your boat. For some inexplicable season, this track has been on the F1 calendar since 1991. Probably because everyone likes coming to Barcelona for a big party after the tedious long haul schleps to Shanghai and Sakhir (lets face they wouldn’t appear in too many top 10 places to visit before you die).

In the 22 races we’ve had in Barcelona, the winner has started from pole 18 times. Another 3 drivers have won from P2 on the grid meaning the only person who has won not starting from the front row is (but of course) the Great Michael Schumacher™ with a truly magnificent drive in torrential rain in 1996*. God I loved that season.

*(edit: before yesterday that is)

The Rainmeister, Barcelona 1996
The Rainmeister, Barcelona 1996

It is hardly a spoiler of epic proportions to reveal that the winner did not come from the front two yesterday, given it was the two Mercedes who secured a front row lock out. So that means that the most predictable race on the calendar must have been a bit more feisty and interesting than normal? This is a good thing, no? Actually turns out the answer is no. Everyone (except for Ferrari and Kimi who doesn’t give a stuff) is slagging off the race to high heavens. In a variant of the usual Villain of F1 being a highly successful German driver, it is now apparently Pirelli who is Satan Incarnate.

Yesterday, we had a mind-blowing 82 pitstops. No safety cars involved. No wet weather. Just hundreds of tyres that degrade just by looking at them. Its pretty hard to think how to blog about this race without literally just listing who pitted on what lap. Pirelli would say its what they have been told to do (really though – was their brief to make tyres that start degrading after 4 laps?) but something needs to be done as literally you need a degree in astro-physics to be able to follow a Grand Prix these days. I don’t often agree with him but Paul Di Resta spoke for many when he asked from the cockpit “can anyone tell me what’s going on?”.

Tyres as ordered by the FIA
Tyres as ordered by the FIA

Anyway we kicked off with #MartinsGridWalk and Martin told us there was a carnival atmosphere at the track. Previously Martin has talked of the electric atmosphere at Shanghai so I take some of his enthusiasm with a pinch of salt. First up to be interviewed was The Nicest Racing Driver Of All Time, Rubens Barrichello. Or Rubinho, as the husband and me tend to call him ever since his two biggest fans in the whole world gatecrashed our dinner for two in Monaco (hey we knew how to live once) and proceeded to tell us how much they loved Rubinho (ad infinitum). Anyway lovely Rubinho now does a #RubensGridwalk (doesn’t everyone these days) which he said he found much more nerve-wracking than driving.

#RubensGridwalk
#RubensGridwalk

Martin then spoke to the man who runs Bernie’s bus and plays backgammon with Bernie. He was a man of few words (at least in front of a camera playing to millions of people) so that was a waste of time. Then Martin chatted to Paul Hembury from Pirelli who told us authoratively that it would be a 3 stop race. Sure about that, Paul?

To be honest it was the most boring gridwalk ever – none of the drivers wanted to be interviewed and we had to make do with Sebastien Loeb who I’m sure is very nice and all that but not really going to give us a great insight into F1. Still the next gridwalk will be in Monaco when A-listers will be sashaying down the grid and we get to see Martin interview a girlband he has never heard of. Oh and if we’re really unlucky, Geri Halliwell will be there too.

Geri effortlessly blending in with the petrolhead set
Geri effortlessly blending in with the petrolhead set

So the top ten lined up as follows:

  1. Rosberg
  2. Hamilton
  3. Vettel
  4. Raikkonen
  5. Alonso
  6. Grosjean
  7. Webber
  8. Perez
  9. Massa (bumped down 3 places after qualifying)
  10. Di Resta

Notable mention for Giedo van der Garde starting in the exalted position of 18th place. Perhaps he is not the new Narain after all.

Time For the Start and Go Go Go…! Vettel muscled his way past Hamilton who locked up suddenly into 2nd place and Alonso had a breathtaking start, not lifting off at all to force his way past Kimi and then Hamilton to move into 3rd place. Rosberg got off the line well and maintained his lead ahead of the chasing pack. We knew it was only a matter of time but even I didn’t expect Nico to get a warning about preserving his tyres on lap 3. Next time round, I’m going to do a sweepstake as to what lap Mercedes will issue their first tyre warnings. Gallows humour yadda.

Button in an astonishingly awful 17th place reported he couldn’t get any heat into his tyres and Hamilton was experiencing brake issues. He had now caused a little traffic jam of Kimi and Massa to build up behind him and on lap 7, Kimi finally got past the struggling Mercedes and then started driving kamikaze style, ie. sideways around the corners. You can bank on Kimi at least to make Barcelona more interesting.

Massa made his move on Hamilton on lap 8 and then came into the pits the following lap along with Sutil and the Hulk. Grosjean limped into the pits having suffering a dramatic suspension failure and all the front runners started to pit from lap 10. The front two of Rosberg and Vettel exited the pits into the path of a surging Fernando Alonso who forced his way between them and began putting immense pressure on the race leader which still (incredibly at lap 13) was Nico Rosberg.

Nico battling very hard to keep position
Nico battling very hard to keep position

Alas for poor Nico, in the space of 3 laps, he was helpless to prevent Alonso, Vettel, Massa and Kimi passing him. Meanwhile slumming it further down the pack we saw Ricciardo pass Hamilton. Somehow its more embarrassing to see a team clinch pole position and just collapse in Every Single Race. At least when cars qualify in the relative ignominy of 14th their total absence of race pace isn’t a surprise.

There was a change of underpants moment for Giedo van der Garde when he hysterically informed his team that he felt the wheels were going to come off his car. Literally. On lap 23, poor Giedo steered his 3 legged and ever so slightly lopsided car into the pits and it was race over.

Ooops, there goes Giedo's wheel
Ooops, there goes Giedo’s wheel

Meanwhile there was barely a cigarette paper’s length between Vettel and Kimi but before we could work ourselves up into a frenzy (and the husband was starting to), Vettel naturally had to pit on lap 25 as did Kimi two laps later. Next up to pass Hamilton’s Mercedes was the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. And did Lewis not like that very much. As he pointed out to the team “I have just been overtaken by a Williams”. To be honest I’m way more distressed to think that Williams are now regarded as total shambles than I am at Lewis’s plight. To think Maldonado won this race last year. Claire Williams has one big job on her hands.

Anyhow it made for one of the more interesting vignettes of the race as Lewis re-took Maldonado. Cue an amusing aside from Brundle who said Maldonado should complain he has just been overtaken by a Mercedes. Then Lewis on being told to look after his tyres blurted out “I can’t drive any slower”. It’s a fair point.

A lot can change in 12 months
A lot can change in 12 months

Halfway in the Spanish GP with Alonso leading, the chasing two of Vettel and Kimi were having a fierce battle for 2nd place. Eventually Kimi passed Vettel in a sweeping move and almost immediately he opened up a huge gap to the Red Bull. It gives us all hope for the season ahead.

Both Ferrari’s pitted again on lap 36 for the third time just after A Moment in the pitlane where Hulkenberg had been released into the path of Vergne. That is what they call an Unsafe Release. Off to the naughty step for the Hulk. Then further catastrophe for poor Vergne. His tyre delaminated into a zillion pieces and he hauled his car into the pits before rejoining stone last.

On lap 39, Alonso passed Kimi for the lead and with one stop each to go but with Alonso on much fresher tyres, the race was slipping away from Kimi. On lap 45, Kimi pitted for the final time and came out behind the leading Ferrari’s in 3rd place.

If I may just quote my notes from this point in the race verbatim, they now say “Pretty boring phase. Everyone bored”.

One of Ferrari's 8 pitstops of the race
One of Ferrari’s 8 pitstops of the race

On lap 50, Alonso (with a commanding lead) pitted and rejoined quite comfortably in the lead. Massa with a much smaller cushion over Kimi, pitted two laps later and slotted back in 3rd place as expected. Meanwhile Jenson Button driving the worst McLaren we have seen for a very long time overtook Hamilton for 10th place. I’m going to guess it wasn’t party central in the Mercedes garage later.

With the leading pack all sorted out and no real prospect of changing, there were a couple of interesting little battles unfolding between Rosberg desperately trying to cling onto 6th place and seeing the unwelcome sight of Paul Di Resta bearing down on his exhaust with ten laps to go. Also Perez was rapidly closing in on Jenson Button who you may remember threw all his toys out of the pram after his team-mate’s antics in the previous race. And on lap 62, a not-at-all-coded-message from Checo’s race engineer “we can’t afford to damage the tyres too much trying to get past Jenson.” Those pesky tyres sure come in handy sometimes.

Really its cool, it was all about the tyres. We don't have team orders here.
“Really its cool, it was all about the tyres. Of course we don’t have team orders here.”

And finally after 82 pitstops, the chequered flag fell and to the relief of many, the race came to an end.

Here are the results from the Spanish Grand Prix 2013:

  1. Alonso – A masterclass of controlled brilliance to romp home victorious in his home race and put himself back in the title frame.
  2. Raikkonen – Yet another podium for Mr Consistency to continue his superb run of form. That’s 22 straight points finishes now.
  3. Massa – He is driving so much better this season and Ferrari will be delighted he took points off Vettel.
  4. Vettel – A moderately lacklustre outing for Vettel who saw his lead in the championship cut to 4 points.
  5. Webber – Who knew he was running that high? Or even running at all. Certainly not me though I may have dozed off a few times.
  6. Nico Rosberg – Nothing short of Herculean to finish that high (Lewis Hamilton went from front row to 12th place).

So what did we all really think of the race?

Now clearly 82 pitstops is just ridiculous. When all the drivers (bar Kimi) doing 4 stops a race, it inevitably disrupts the natural flow of things. We don’t get to see drivers tussling for position or the thrill of the chase as much as one or other driver will have to pull off into the pits every few laps. Tyre preservation has always been important in F1 but the degree to which it is dominating is ridiculous – drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport shouldn’t be complaining that they are having to drive too slow.

So do the tyres make much difference? Podium looks pretty reasonable to me.
So do the tyres make much difference? Podium looks pretty reasonable to me.

BUT (there’s always a but), you can argue the cream does usually rise to the top. A podium of Alonso (the most complete driver and IMHO the finest driver currently in F1), Kimi (arguably the most naturally talented driver in F1) and Massa (who came within a whisker of the title a few years back and is reborn this season) looked like a fair reflection of the drivers’ abilities and their respective cars. As did the top 6. One of the skills of a truly great driver is to adapt to changing conditions and find a way to drive a bit smarter. In many ways Pirelli has made races more exciting by bunching the cars much closer together. Back in the pre-DRS and pre-Pirelli era, we had a LOT of one-stop processional races and F1 got serious amounts of flak. Remember the unbridled excitement of overtaking in the pitlane anyone?

Its Monaco baby.
Its Monaco baby.

But I’ve waffled on enough. Next time it is Monaco (SCREAM!!!) where the rule-book and form guide can be thrown into the bin as there is no track like it on earth.

Kimi for the win.

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