Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
As the chequered flag waved to mark the end of the Formula One 2011 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Mark Webber outperformed his World Championship winning team mate, Sebastian Vettel to take his seventh victory in his F1 career to date.
Webber explained how he felt after winning the race and how the season went as a whole.
“It feels very good; it’s always nice to win… Looking back it wasn’t the greatest season for me, but also not the worst. I had a weak start to the year and wasn’t able to capitalise on misfortune from others or put myself in a situation to win fair and square, which is what you want, but in motorsport you take the victories when they come. So, it was a very important win for me today and for the team to finish on a high is great. I really enjoyed the last few laps. This is a great track for the team and we have gained three wins in a row here,” commented Webber.
Despite Vettel starting from pole position at the start of the race, he experienced gearbox problems with his car which he had to nurse until the end of the 71 lap marathon. The double World Champion had to settle for second place today, which was a solid result in the circumstances, and he picked up a few more points to add to his first place in the Drivers’ Standings.
McLaren’s Jenson Button completed the podium line up, as he secured third place for himself. Although the 2009 World Champion could not catch Vettel before the end of the race, Button put in a solid performance in any case with some impressive overtaking manoeuvres along the way.
Before the five red lights went out to signal the start of the 19th and final race on the calendar, all 24 drivers lined up on the grid and were poised for the action ahead of them. Inevitably, Vettel maintained his lead as the field approached and passed through the first corner of the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Webber had the early challenge of catching his German team mate, who quickly made a getaway into the distance and Button held onto third place behind Webber as well. Of the other front runners at the top end of the pack, the Ferrari duo also had a reasonable start. Both Fernando Alonso and his Brazilian team mate, Felipe Massa did not yield their positions to the threat of the midfield drivers on their tail. Nonetheless, one midfield driver was running well and in the mix, as Force India’s Adrian Sutil maintained a top 10 position from the beginning of the race.
For Massa in particular today was a special race, not only for him racing on home soil but also because it marked his 100th Grand Prix start in his career so far. He was accompanied by his fellow countrymen, Williams’s driver Rubens Barrichello and Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna who were also racing on familiar territory. Of these two drivers, Senna remained in a steady position as the proceedings got underway, but Barrichello struggled initially when he dropped from 12th place down to 19th position. Barrichello shared a similar experience to Mercedes driver, Michael Schumacher who also fell down the field in the first couple of laps. Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari also suffered the same fate and found himself worse off position wise in the initial stages of the Grand Prix. On the other hand, Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen had an impressive start and found himself in 15th place early on. However, this appeared to be a temporary stroke of luck, when the Finnish driver was soon overtaken by Barrichello and his Williams team mate Pastor Maldonado. After the pair passed by Kovalainen, he dropped down to 19th place.
Meanwhile, Vettel was true to form in the first few laps of the race, and the 24 year old was already running away with the lead. He topped the timesheets on lap three with a lap time of 1:18.240secs. At that stage in the racing action on the track, Vettel was building a gap away from Webber and had 2.2 seconds between he and his team mate. As Vettel had the business end of the field in control, his other title contenders were scrapping for position behind him. The first battle for position that formed early on, was seen between Button who was running in third place then and fourth place man Alonso. Around the time that this was taking place, Button’s team mate, Lewis Hamilton appeared to be struggling for pace. The 2008 World Champion had dropped down one place at the start and was running in fifth place at the time.
Where the midfield runners were concerned, the popularity of scrapping for position seemed to catch on. On just lap six Senna found himself battling for position with seven time World Champion, Schumacher. Consequently, Senna had the upper hand at this stage and was maintaining ninth place from the German on his tail. Shortly after this scrap began to unfold, Schumacher seemed to struggle slightly when he experienced under steer at one point. Fortunately, the former Ferrari driver managed to hold things together, and prevented the issue from affecting 10th place that he was running in then.
Towards the front of the field the attention turned back to Vettel on lap eight. He had increased his lead from second place man Webber by 3.2secs. Following the scrap for position between Button and Alonso earlier on, the pair appeared to have company once Hamilton had found his feet and wanted to muscle in on the action. The trio of drivers battling over third place then lined up with Button the highest of the three. Alonso trailed the Englishman and was running in second place ahead of Hamilton just behind the Spaniard.
Even though there had already been some exciting action on the track, the situation soon heated up when Schumacher and Senna had a coming together. On lap 10 Schumacher was seen going down the outside of Senna in an attempt to take ninth place. As Schumacher tried to pass by it appeared that there was limited space between the pair, which resulted in them having a small coming together on the track. Consequently, Schumacher ended up with a left rear tyre puncture and Senna suffered damage to his front wing as well. Inevitably, the incident caught the attention of the stewards, who decided to investigate it on lap 11. Before a decision was made by the stewards on the incident, Senna visited the pits for a tyre change. At the same time as the pit stop for tyres it was suspected that the front wing may be replaced due to the end plate damage. However, Senna left the pits after his tyre change, and continued without any problems running with the same front wing.
When the incident between Senna and Schumacher was at the heart of the action, Alonso found a window of opportunity to take third place from Button. The pass appeared to be very smooth and with ease, which led Button to slip down to fourth place for the moment.
As Senna had previously pitted for a tyre change, Schumacher appeared in the pits to repair the tyre puncture from the incident. Schumacher then rapidly fell down the running order to the 24th and final position, and Senna was slightly ahead in 18th place at the time.
With some of the drivers experiencing a few ups and downs early on, it soon rubbed off on the Red Bull team and specifically for Vettel on lap 14. Via the team radio the engineers reported to Vettel that there was a problem with his gearbox. Shortly after this was confirmed to Vettel, the gap he had built between he and Webber had inevitably reduced.
Over the next few laps the key moment arrived for the all-important pit stop window. Following earlier reports that the rear tyres on the cars were starting to wear away, the timing of the pit stops could not have been better in the circumstances. Button was among the first of the front runners to pit for a tyre change on lap 16. He re-joined the race in seventh place, and managed to get out in time before Force India’s Paul Di Resta could catch him.
Once the time came for Hamilton and Alonso to pit, the pair had a nail biting pit stop race. Both drivers were under pressure at this point, not only to try and get out ahead of each other but with the likes of Button, Di Resta and Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg on the scene as well. As a result of Vettel having to visit the pits for his tyre change, Webber took over the lead on lap 18. Massa then followed behind the Australian in second place. Vettel re-joined the race in third position ahead of Alonso. Button had the upper hand over team mate Hamilton, and was holding onto fifth place at the time, while Di Resta was just behind Hamilton and trailing in seventh place.
After their deliberation on the incident between Senna and Schumacher, the stewards issued Senna with a drive through penalty on lap 18 for causing a collision. The Brazilian driver served his penalty on the following lap which led him to drop down to 17th place. It seemed that the men racing on home soil were experiencing mixed fortune at this stage in the race. While Senna had to face the consequences of his penalty, Massa was running well in first place but was still yet to pit. Barrichello was in a similar situation to Senna, as he was running way down the field and out of the top 10.
When the time came for Webber to pit for tyres on lap 19, this handed Massa the lead temporarily but he soon found himself under pressure from Vettel. Sadly, Massa became under fire and Vettel was able to resume the lead once again. Massa then dropped down to second place, but did not leave it too long before he visited the pits for a tyre change. He re-joined the race in sixth place and in a better position to fight back on new tyres.
Although Vettel was back on familiar territory at the front of the field, Webber looked strong after his pit stop and this proved to be the case on lap 22. He was the fastest man on the track at this moment, when he topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:17.612secs from second place.
Meanwhile, towards the midfield and further back, Barrichello seemed to have a bit more luck on his side. He found an opportunity to pass Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli on lap 22. Barrichello then set Alguersuari in his sights as his next target to pounce upon.
While the drivers at the back of the field were in the limelight at this point, it did not completely surround their involvement in on the track action. Sadly, Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock was forced to retire from the race on lap 21. The German had made a pit stop for a tyre change just before this came about. However, on his way out of the pit box it appeared that a wheel nut was not secure on one of his tyres and he flew off shortly after. This then led Glock to make a swift exit from the race and he had to abandon his car off the track just outside the pit exit.
When it was reported earlier on in the race, the Red Bull engineers reported once again to Vettel that there was a serious gearbox problem. This indicated that Vettel would need to nurse the problem through the remaining laps in the race. As a result of Vettel experiencing this on-going problem in the race, Webber seemed to be gradually closing in on him.
Following previous scraps for position between the midfield runners, this trend resumed on lap 26 but on this occasion was between Senna and Maldonado. Despite Senna’s penalty which caused him to fall down the running order, he had the upper hand over Maldonado in this battle. Senna was leading in 16th place at the time and Maldonado was on his tail in 17th position. Although Senna’s front wing was damaged in the incident with Schumacher, Senna raced on in any case and was relieved of the end plate on lap 27. When Senna cruised round Turn two, the end plate suddenly dropped off the front of his car. On the other hand, Lotus Renault seemed to be unaffected by it, and continued to race on with a surprising promotion up the field soon after.
Even though Maldonado had been having a healthy scrap for position with Senna, on lap 28 the Venezuelan driver spun off the track which spelled the end of his participation in the race. He was forced to abandon his car at Turn eight, where it was positioned close to the barriers and tyre wall.
Despite having gearbox problems which were on going, Vettel seemed to find a bit more pace on lap 30. He was recording faster lap times at this point, but with team orders now in place Webber was suddenly past by him with the help of DRS at Turn four. Consequently, Vettel slipped down to second place and Webber was the leading man.
On lap 32 it seemed that the next pit stop window had arrived, as Button was the first man to blink and made his stop for another tyre change. He re-joined the race in sixth place after a second trouble free stop. Some of the midfield runners also jumped on the band wagon, with the likes of Senna and Lotus Renault team mate Vitaly Petrov also visiting the pits for their tyre changes. However, unlike Button re-joining the race in a reasonable track position, Petrov and Senna were slightly off course compared to the top title contenders. Petrov was in a higher position though, and slotted into 14th place, while Senna was a bit further down the field in 18th place.
As the racing action nearly approached half distance, Webber was still leading from Vettel. Alonso was maintaining third place from Hamilton. Massa was next in the line-up in fifth place and in front of Button at this stage. Rosberg was just behind Button and holding onto seventh place. The Force India pair were also running in top 10 positions. However, Di Resta had the upper hand and was ahead in eighth place with Sutil trailing him. Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi also had a hold on a point scoring position and was running in 10th place at the time. Like Kobayashi, the Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi appeared to get through the race without getting involved in too much action. The Swiss driver was just outside of the top 10 mid-way through the race, and was in 11th place at this point in the proceedings. Kobayashi’s Mexican team mate also shared a similar situation and appeared to keep out of the limelight, he was just behind Buemi and in 12th place then.
After falling down the field early on in the race, the situation did not improve for Alguersuari and he found himself down in 13th place but was in front of Petrov. Former Ferrari team mates Barrichello and Schumacher came next in the line-up. Meanwhile Kovalainen was the leading man over his team mate Trulli, with the Finnish driver ahead in 17th place. Senna split the Team Lotus drivers at this point and was in the middle holding onto 18th place, as Trulli was just the other side of him in 19th position. Towards the final few runners at the back of the field, Marussia Virgin Racing’s Jerome D’Ambrosio was in 20th place . The Belgian driver also had an advantage over rival team Hispania Racing, as Vitantonio Liuzzi trailed him in 21st place. Liuzzi’s Australian team mate, Daniel Ricciardo was the final runner making up the back of the pack in 22nd place. By this point in the race both Glock and Maldonado had already retired from the race.
With the line up looking quite comfortable for the remaining drivers, there were still some that were yet to pit which led to a shake-up in positions once again. Alonso was the first of the top runners to make a pit stop for a tyre change and re-joined the race in third place. Webber had to pit a few laps later from the lead and he emerged from the pits to slot into second place. Vettel was holding onto the lead once again while Webber was out of the way temporarily. However, Webber soon had his chance to get back to the front, when Vettel had to make his stop and he re-joined the race in second place. Button was also on the move towards the front of the field. He jumped up into fourth place when he put his DRS into action and made an easy overtake on Massa who slipped down to fifth place. At the same time as the shuffle at the front going on, there was an interesting in-team battle forming between Sutil and Di Resta. Sadly, Di Resta lost out to his team mate and dropped to ninth place, with Sutil promoted into eighth position after passing the Scotsman.
Although things looked to be running smoothly for the majority of the field, Hamilton was reported to have gearbox problems like Vettel was experiencing. Via the McLaren team radio it was confirmed to Hamilton on lap 38.
Despite Hamilton having problems with his car, this did not appear to stop him challenging his rivals for position. On lap 40 Massa found himself under fire from Hamilton. The pair have been in the limelight on numerous occasions this season, when they have had scraps for position or a coming together on the track. Hamilton’s team mate Button had already gotten past Massa, which led the Brazilian driver being in Hamilton’s path. At this point in the race Massa was ahead in fifth place, and Hamilton trailed him in sixth position. After being stuck behind Massa for several laps, Hamilton had a bit of rest bite when he decided to pit on lap 45.
However, Massa soon made his pit stop as well and managed to get out ahead of Hamilton. Massa was running in fifth place still and Hamilton followed him in sixth place again.
Back at the very front of the field though, Webber was the fastest man on the track as he topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:16.484secs on lap 41. While things were running smoothly for Webber, the Red Bull engineers got on the team radio to Vettel once again. From the message that they sent to Vettel, it indicated that they were warning him to tread carefully. Similarly, Hamilton’s struggles with his gearbox came to an unfortunate end around this time. He was forced to abandon his car off the track and said via the team radio “Gearbox has gone”. Consequently, this spelt the end of his race and his first retirement since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August last year.
As the race was really in full swing at this point, the midfield scraps for position came to life once again. Rosberg was running in sixth place and followed by Sutil in seventh position. The pair then went head to head for sixth place, and were side by side at one moment. Although Sutil took a chance to pass by, Rosberg fought back to defend his posistion. However, Sutil had a second stroke of luck and was able to make the move stick this time. He was promoted to sixth place after slipping by on the straight and Rosberg dropped down to seventh place.
Towards the back of the field there was also some activity. Barrichello was in 13th place but under attack from Perez just behind him in 14th position. On lap 54 Perez was able to make a successful overtake and took 13th place from Barrichello in the end.
While the midfield scraps for position were going on, Button made another pit stop and re-joined the race in fourth place.
Schumacher was next to blink and emerged from the pits to take 15th place. Alonso also made his stop at similar time and got back on track in third place.
Before Webber’s pit stop window approached, he topped the timesheets on lap 56 with a 1:16.114secs. On the other hand, Button also found momentum once he had been in the pits and went on to beat Webber’s lap time with a 1:15.989secs. Following Webber’s necessary pit stop, he resumed the race in second place. On lap 59 Vettel then had to pit after holding onto the lead with Webber in the pits. Vettel then re-joined the race in second, and Webber was back at the top in first place.
While Webber and Vettel were comfortably holding onto the top two positions, Alonso and Button were having a competitive scrap for the final podium spot on lap 60. Alonso had the upper hand initially though from third place, but was soon to be under pressure from Button in fourth place. Button did open his DRS to make his first attempt at taking third , but did not quite have the pace to pounce on the Spaniard. Suddenly, on lap 62, Button had his opportunity and the two World Champions went head to head on the track. Button managed to make his move stick this time with the assistance of his DRS. Consequently, he moved up to third place after catching Alonso napping at Turn four. At the same time, Vettel temporarily took the scenic route, when he ran wide at Turn five on the same lap.
Meanwhile, Webber upped his game at this point and topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:15.492secs. Sadly, Liuzzi was not experiencing the same fate as Webber and was about to make his exit from the Grand Prix. On lap 65 he was off the track at the first corner, and abandoned his car which spelt the end of his race.
Although Liuzzi could no longer participate in the action, it was still very much an on-going battle and particularly with the front runners. Button picked up the pace further after passing Alonso, and was chasing down Vettel on lap 67. Unfortunately, Button got caught up in a back log of traffic, which caused a slight delay in his mission. Button ran out of time and laps though to be able to attack Vettel for second place. Nonetheless, Button still had a solid race and ended up with a better result than the last few at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Button’s last and only podium finish at the circuit was for the Honda team back in 2006.
In the closing stages of the race Alonso was having a few problems. He reported via the team radio that his “rear wing doesn’t work”. With this issue in mind relating to the DRS, it may have contributed to him not being able to put up a fight to Button’s overtake. Despite these issues late on in the race, Alonso just missed out on the podium, but finished in fourth place in any case.
On the other hand, it was first place driver and eventual race winner, Webber that was really the man of the moment. He topped the timesheets on the penultimate lap with a 1:15.487secs. On the final lap Webber then went on to better that lap with a 1:15.480secs, and finally a 1:15.324secs which added to his victory and means he ends the season on a high.
Although Massa ended his home race just behind his team mate and took fifth place, he has picked up a solid finish as he celebrated his 100th Grand Prix today. Despite it not being a race win on a special day, it will be one to remember in any case and he already has two home victories to his name.
Sutil was the highest finishing Force India, and ended up in sixth place overall. Rosberg came next in the line-up and picked up seventh place for himself. Even though Di Resta was pipped by his team mate who finished ahead of him, he still had a good result and secured eighth place. Kobayashi and Petrov came through the field quietly on the whole, and completed the point scoring positions to land ninth and 10th place respectively.
Sadly, the Toro Rosso duo missed out on the points and ended up with Alguersuari coming ahead in 11th place, and Buemi followed behind his Spanish team mate to take 12th position. Perez was also out performed by his Japanese team mate Kobayashi, and Perez had to settle for 13th place in the end. However, he did pip Barrichello who was racing on home soil. Barrichello came across the line to take 14th place.
Schumacher was beaten by his youthful team mate Rosberg, as the Veteran racer was further down the field and finished in 15th position as the chequered flag waved. Kovalainen had a reasonable result at the end of his race, and he came just behind Schumacher to take 16th place ahead of Senna who trailed him. The second Team Lotus driver Trulli was next and secured 18th place for himself, while D’Ambrosio and Ricciardo took the final two places of the 20 drivers that completed the race. Unfortunately, the following four drivers retired from the race: Liuzzi, Maldonado, Hamilton and Glock.
With the 19 race marathon of the 2011 season now over, the final Driver and Constructor Standings can be confirmed.
Vettel added to his first place today and has 392 points to his name. Button secured second place for himself and ended the season with 270 points. After picking up the win at the end of today’s race, Webber takes third place in the Championship with 258 points. Alonso has ended up in fourth place and just one point adrift Webber with 257 points. As Hamilton retired from the race his points remained the same from the last race. He takes fifth place with 227 points and is 30 points behind Alonso. Felipe Massa comes next with 118 points in sixth place. Rosberg has pipped his team mate Schumacher to secure seventh place for himself with 89 points, while Schumacher comes next in the line-up with 76 points. Adrian Sutil has also beaten his team mate and takes ninth place with 42 points. Petrov has landed 10th place with 37 points.
As Senna replaced Nick Heidfeld during the season, Heidfeld is still listed in the Drivers’ Standings. He finished the season with 34 points in 11th place. Kobayashi was just four points behind and has 30 points to his name in 12th place. Di Resta is in a similar situation but is three points adrift Kobayashi with 27 points and has landed 13th position. Alguersuari has 14th place and is one point behind Di Resta with 26 points. Buemi is a few points behind his team mate but takes 15th place with 15 points. Perez comes next to complete the line-up of drivers that finished the year in double figures. He has ended up in 16th place with 14 points. Barrichello has secured 17th position for himself with just four points to his name. Senna has scored two points and takes 18th place in the Standings. Maldonado is the last of the drivers to put some points on the board, and picked up one point for himself to take 19th place. Meanwhile, the following drivers failed to score a single point and from Pedro de la Rosa in 20th place up to the 28 drivers that have taken part are, Trulli, Kovalainen, Liuzzi, D’Ambrosio, Glock, Ricciardo, Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.
While the Drivers’ Standings was a close contest between some drivers, the Constructors’ was slightly further apart between the teams. Red Bull inevitably holds the top spot with a massive 650 points, and McLaren are in second place with 497 points. Ferrari have secured third place for themselves with 375 points and are ahead of fourth place Mercedes who have 165 points to their name. Lotus Renault have taken fifth place with 73 points and have beaten sixth place Force India who have notched up 69 points. Sauber comes next in seventh position with 44 points. Toro Rosso have taken eighth place and were just three points behind Sauber. Williams were the final team to have some points to their name, and secured ninth place with five points. The following three teams failed to score a point throughout the season, and from Team Lotus in 10th place, Hispania Racing finished in 11th position, and Marussia Virgin Racing take the final place in 12th position.
Following a thrilling 2011 season with action packed races, and qualifying sessions dominated by Vettel, the drivers and teams can now look ahead to the 2012 season beginning at the Australian Grand Prix in March next year. For some teams and drivers they have had their ups and downs, and particularly for Vettel and Red Bull it has been a very victorious season. On the other hand, the other teams and drivers have demonstrated exciting action on the track as they have battle between each other, and those closest who have challenged Red Bull and Vettel where possible.
The winter break will give the F1 fraternity time to re-charge their batteries and prepare their new cars to start on a clean slate next season. However, it is very likely that Red Bull and Vettel, for certain will want to pick up from where they left off at the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons of success.