Vettel's cakewalk to sixth victory leaves fans hungry for Silverstone
Monday 27 June 2011
If all Formula One races were run on tracks as infernally dull and uninvolving as the one here, the FIA might as well hand another world champion's trophy to Sebastian Vettel right now and forget the rest of the season.
For the second year and European Grand Prix in succession, the German ran away and hid from his rivals in the multi-cornered kart track that meanders around the old port area – and completely avoids the more spectacular architecture in an exciting city – to make it six wins in eight races.
Fortunately we go to Silverstone in a fortnight, to a proper race track that thankfully owes nothing to the so-called art of F1 circuit design's go-to guy, Hermann Tilke. But yesterday the world had to endure Valencia, and the effort taxed even the hardiest observer of a sport that has produced electrifying races thus far this season in Malaysia, China, Turkey and Canada. At all of them, the drag-reducing rear wings played their key role in spicing up the action, but they are only really effective at venues that enable the 200mph-plus cars to breathe.
Yesterday, this asthmatic point-and-squirt track merely left them struggling in line astern of each other for most of a deadly dull afternoon. For heaven's sake, even kids with their Scalextric come up with better layouts.
Having taken his seventh pole position of the year with an ease that struck fear into rivals, Vettel lit off into the lead at the start. Behind him, his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber just hung on to second place as Lewis Hamilton, third on the starting grid, got bogged down and swallowed up not just by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari but Felipe Massa's too. Further back, from sixth on the grid, his McLaren colleague Jenson Button fell prey to Nico Rosberg.
That all left two fancied challengers with their own little battles to fight before they could even think of Webber or Alonso, and getting anywhere near Vettel was the stuff of dreams. No, scrub that, the stuff of fantasies.
Hamilton did not dispose of Massa until the first round of what turned out to be three pit stops apiece for the front runners. His came on the 12th lap, the Brazilian's on the 15th. Button had used his DRS wing to find a way past Rosberg on the sixth, but thereafter it was clear that this day the McLarens did not have the pace to stay with the fight for second place. Hard though both Britons pushed, they could only realistically aim at a decent share of points.
It was the battle between Webber and Alonso that saved the race from complete tedium. While this year the Australian did not replicate the spectacular, stalled backflip that marred his 2010 race, he clearly had his hands full with the darling of the home crowd.
Webber held the position with seeming ease to begin with, but soon Alonso began to home in and after five laps they were separated by no more than a second. Webber held on through their first pit stops, on lap 13 and 14 respectively, but the Spaniard's attentions soon became more and more urgent until he slipstreamed by on the 21st lap.
"In the beginning when I was behind him I was trying not to be too far back," Alonso explained later, "and then I overtook him under braking for Turn 12." He stayed there until his second stop on lap 29, when Webber went back in front having pitted a lap earlier.
The third and final stops proved decisive. When Webber made his on the 42nd lap he slid wide going into the pit lane and lost a little time, and later admitted that switching so early to the harder-compound Pirelli tyres – his choice – had cost him. Alonso stayed out for three more crucial laps on the softer tyres, and got back out of the pits ahead of the second Red Bull.
Typically, Webber put his hand up. "It was my fault," he said. "The team were right about Fernando coming beneath me in the stops, but I wasn't sure how the medium tyres would perform and wanted to switch sooner, so it was my fault that we missed second today."
True, up to a point, but Webber's car did later develop a gearbox fault that forced him to back off in order to make sure of finishing. He was so far ahead of Hamilton, however, who came in 46.1 seconds behind Vettel, that his podium place was never in doubt.
In Hamilton's wake, Massa brought his Ferrari home fifth ahead of Button. Behind them, Rosberg finished a lonely seventh for Mercedes, ahead of a spirited chase between Jaime Alguersuari, who ran a great two-stop strategy, and Force India's in-form three-stopper Adrian Sutil, who was only 0.4sec behind the young Spaniard .
Vettel's victory brought his points tally to 186, with Button and Webber sharing 109 and Hamilton and Alonso following on 97 and 87 respectively.
The world champion was elated. "It's better than anything I could imagine," he exclaimed. "The car felt wonderful today. Even though I had a gap before the first pit stop it was quite close again, pushing hard, judging the tyres' wear, trying to foresee the strategy.
"For some reason I enjoy this track, and last year I had a smooth run too from beginning to end. Every year we come here and say 'Ooh, this might be tricky, it may not go so well for us and may not suit our car'." Clearly it did, more than anyone else's.
"It probably looked like a boring race," Vettel chirped, "but I enjoy it so much when it's between you and the car." Trouble is, he was probably the only person in Valencia who could truly have said that after the season's dullest race.
The complete finish
* Yesterday was only the fourth time in which every driver completed a single Grand Prix, and the 24 drivers that finished in Valencia also set a new record, surpassing the 23 that crossed the line in China earlier this year.
* The other three occasions:
1961 Netherlands (Zandvoort)
2005 Italy (Monza)
2005 United States (Indianapolis)
F1 European Grand Prix, Valencia, Spain: Final positions after 57 Laps: 1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 39min 36.169sec; 2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:39:47.060; 3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:40:03.424; 4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:40:22.359; 5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:40:27.874; 6 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:40:36.234; 7 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:41:14.259; 8 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap; 9 A Sutil (Ger) Force India at 1 Lap; 10 N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault at 1 Lap; 11 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams at 1 Lap; 13 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap; 14 P di Resta (GB) Force India at 1 Lap; 15 V Petrov (Rus) Renault at 1 Lap; 16 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 Lap; 17 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP at 1 Lap; 18 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 1 Lap; 19 H Kovalainen Fin Lotus F1 at 2 Laps; 20 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 2 Laps; 21 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 2 Laps; 22 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing at 2 Laps; 23 V Liuzzi (It) HRT-F1 at 3 Laps; 24 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 at 3 Laps. Drivers' Standings: 1 S Vettel 186pts; 2 J Button 109; 3 M Webber 109; 4 L Hamilton 97; 5 F Alonso 87; 6 F Massa 42; 7 N Rosberg 32; 8 V Petrov 31; 9 N Heidfeld 30; 10 M Schumacher 26; 11 K Kobayashi 25; 12 A Sutil 10; 13 J Alguersuari 8; 14 S Buemi 8; 15 R Barrichello 4; 16 S Perez 2; 17 P di Resta 2; 18 P de la Rosa (Sp) Sauber-Ferrari 0; 19 J Trulli 0; 20 V Liuzzi 0; 21 J d'Ambrosio 0; 22 H Kovalainen 0; 23 P Maldonado 0; 24 T Glock 0; 25 N Karthikeyan 0. Manufacturers: 1 Red Bull 295pts; 2 McLaren 206; 3 Ferrari 129; 4 Renault 61; 5 Mercedes GP 58; 6 Sauber-Ferrari 27; 7 Scuderia Toro Rosso 16; 8 Force India 12; 9 Williams 4; 10 Lotus F1 0; 11 HRT-F1 0; 12 Virgin Racing 0.
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