Formula One summer break season review - From Bahrain to Monaco With all the problems and scandals in 2009, Formula One was looking forward to the 2010 season, a season which also brought changes in the regulations. The most significant changes...
Formula One summer break season review - From Bahrain to Monaco
With all the problems and scandals in 2009, Formula One was looking forward to the 2010 season, a season which also brought changes in the regulations. The most significant changes were the refueling ban and the introduction of the narrower Bridgestone front tyres. After Honda, BMW and Toyota had left the sport in 2009, the FIA admitted three new teams: Hispania Racing (HRT), Virgin Racing and Lotus F1. Lotus replaced the unfortunate US F1 outfit, who had failed to materialize their plans, and didn't have the money nor a car to make the American Formula One dream come true. HRT, formerly known as Campos, were seriously cash-strapped and owner and former Formula One driver Adrian Campos was forced to sell his team to Spanish businessman Jose Ramon Calabrante, who hired Colin Kolles to get the team back on track again.
Swiss Peter Sauber had to postpone his retirement and bought back his Sauber team, in which he still owned a 20 percent interest, from BMW. After the German car manufacturer agreed they would pay the major part of the bills, Sauber struck a deal with Ferrari to supply the engines and the BMW-Sauber-Ferrari team was rescued. Renault didn't have a trouble free start either, after the crash gate scandal team principal Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds were forced to leave the team, and the Renault mother company also wanted to withdraw from the sport. Again a similar scenario unfolded, Renault would pay the bills and with the extra cash of second driver Russian Vitaly Petrov, Renault, now with Eric Boullier at the helm, also made it to the first race of the season: the Grand Prix of Bahrain.
With three new teams, all eyes were on the newcomers. Although HRT team principal Kolles' dogged determination had beaten the odds and the team plus two cars had arrived at the Sakhir circuit in time, HRT had never actually run their car and had to do shakedown tests during the free practice sessions. When reporters asked rookie HRT driver Karun Chandhok if the car would last long enough to make it to the first pit stop he answered, "I'm not sure, if we do, it will be interesting, because we haven't had the time to practice any pit stops yet."
All eyes were also on three returnees: Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP), Pedro de la Rosa (BMW-Sauber) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari), the latter was forced to sit out the 2009 season after his accident at the Hungaroring. There were no surprises during qualifying, Sebastian Vettel rushed his Red Bull to the first pole position of the year, followed by the Ferraris of Massa and Fernando Alonso. Vettel led the race after the start and kept his first place after his mandatory tyre stop. Alonso had passed Massa at the first corner after the start and was chasing Vettel.
But the German had the race under control and kept Alonso in his Ferrari well behind him until his Renault engine started to make ominous sounds and began to lose power. Vettel managed to get his car to the finish line in fourth place, but Alonso, Massa and Lewis Hamilton had slipped past him, giving the win to Alonso in his first race for Ferrari. Although he realized the factor luck also had contributed to his victory, the Spaniard was very happy with the result, "This is a special day for me. Coming back to the top of the podium is always special but it's even more special when you are driving a Ferrari because of all the history behind the team and the expectations a driver has of driving for them."
It was also a good comeback race for Massa who finished second behind Alonso and thus gave Ferrari the first 1-2 of the season. He had to save fuel 30 laps before the end of the race and had problems with the temperature of the engine but Massa was nevertheless happy with the result, "I was lucky that Lewis was not so quick at the end, so I could manage to save a lot of fuel and also hold the position. It was not an easy race but just a fantastic result for the team who did a great job."
Hamilton finished third and Nico Rosberg and Schumacher finished in fifth and sixth position respectively, a good result for Mercedes.
None of the new teams finished the race, Chandhok hit the curbs very hard during the first lap and had to give up his race with a damaged suspension. The other drivers were plagued by gearbox gremlins, which were caused by leaking hydraulic lines that operate the gearbox and clutch. The race was labeled as very boring, but one thing became clear in Bahrain: Formula One had become a whole different ball game due to the refueling ban and the new Bridgestone tyres. Cars now have bout 200 kg of fuel on board at the start, there are no more three-stint race strategies, and only one pit stop for tyres instead of the usual three stops in 2009.
In Australia the Red Bulls again dominated qualifying and the other teams were, at this point already speculating about the secret of the RB6 designed by Adrian Newey. Hamilton got into problems with the local authorities after he made a few donuts and burn-outs on the public roads of Melbourne. His Mercedes road car was impounded by the police and Hamilton got a free ride in the back seat of a police cruiser to the nearest police station where he was charged for dangerous driving.
On Sunday it started to rain just before the race, all drivers started the race on intermediates, and all teams were forced to review their race strategy just minutes before the race. The rain turned the race in an action-packed Grand Prix, with battles all the way down the field, collisions, and many pit stops. During the start Button and Alonso collided then Alonso spun and hit the Mercedes of Schumacher, and a few corners further down the track BMW-Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi lost his front wing, went through the grass and hit the Williams of Nico Hulkenberg. The Safety Car moved in to give the marshals time to clean up the mess, and by the time the Safety Car came back in, the rain had stopped.
Button took a big risk and went into the pits for slick tyres, but when he came out the conditions were still very treacherous and Button went off into the gravel trap, but managed to keep going. By the time the other teams started to realize he was much quicker on slicks it was already too late, after the others had pitted for slicks as well, Vettel was leading the race with Button, Robert Kubica and Massa behind him. But again Vettel had problems with his car, he felt some vibrations and not much later sparks were flying from his left front wheel and when he hit the brakes for Turn 13, nothing happened, and Vettel ended his race in the gravel. It later emerged a faulty wheel nut had come lose and had caused a wheel rim failure.
Button inherited the lead and went on to win the race. Kubica ended in an excellent second position, and was followed by Massa, Alonso, Rosberg and Hamilton. Spectators at home and at the circuit got what they wanted: the most thrilling Australian Grand Prix of the last decade.
The rain came down during qualifying in Sepang, and both Ferrari and McLaren made a capital mistake: they came out very late during Q1 thinking the rain would subside, but it started to rain even more and they failed to qualify for Q2, a classic rookie mistake, made by two top Formula One teams with decades of experience. Mark Webber took pole position, followed by Rosberg and Vettel. The F1 teams by now also had found out how the McLaren F-Duct worked, and started to work on their version of the clever wing stalling system that delivers an extra 6 or 7 km top speed on the straights, and were frantically working on their version of the system.
No rain during the race, but during the start Webber left the door wide open for Vettel who had already passed Rosberg, both Red Bulls were now leading the race and they soon disappeared at the horizon. Vettel about his start: "I passed Nico, then got the tow from Mark. It's a long sprint down to Turn One here, then I took the chance. Then it was just a question of getting away from our competitors."
But with McLaren and Ferrari starting from the back of the grid, it was no surprise most of the action took place midfield, and drivers showed overtaking is still possible, even without rain. Hamilton and Button had to carve their way up the field, but were surprised by the speed of Petrov's Renault and the Force India of Adrian Sutil, and were only able to pass them after they made a pit stop. When Hamilton made his pit stop he was again stuck behind Sutil where he stayed behind the German until they crossed the finish line after 56 laps. Red Bull scored their first 1-2 of the season, Vettel won the race, followed by Webber, Rosberg and Kubica, who again showed Renault is still a force to be reckoned with. Sutil finished fifth and Hamilton sixth.
Like they did in the first three races, Red Bull dominated qualifying in China again, Vettel grabbed his third pole position while Webber took second fastest time. This time no mistakes by McLaren and Ferrari, Button and Hamilton were fifth and sixth, and Alonso and Massa third and seventh. The competition was by now worried about the incredible speed of the Red Bull RB6, and they accused the team of using an illegal ride height system, and asked the FIA to check the car and to clarify the regulations about ride-height systems.
When the race was started there was some light rain, but all drivers started on slicks. Alonso jumped the start and was given a drive through penalty. At the back of the field Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his Force India and hit the Sauber of Kobayashi and the Toro Rosso of Sebastian Buemi, all three retired and the Safety Car came out. Almost all drivers raced to the pit lane to change to intermediate tyres, but not Button, Rosberg, Kubica and Petrov, they decided to stay out, a decision they would not regret.
During the race Hamilton got what he always had dreamed of: a direct confrontation with seven-times world champion Schumacher. Both were dicing for positions for several laps, but on lap 16 Hamilton won his first fight with Schumacher and passed him. The Safety Car was again deployed after Jaime Alguersuari had lost his front wing, and this time Button, Rosberg, Kubica and Petrov welcomed the opportunity to change from slicks to intermediates without losing too much time. After the Safety Car pulled off the track it started to rain even more, and again drivers pitted to replace their by now worn out intermediates. No such problems for Button, he was on fresh intermediates and used his smooth driving style to preserve his tyres.
Button cruised to the finish line to win the race, followed by Hamilton, Rosberg, Alonso, Kubica and Vettel. After Ferrari and Red Bull had already done so earlier, McLaren now took their first 1-2 of the season. The race was painful for Schumacher, who again was outclassed by Rosberg, and many in- and -outsiders began to wonder whether his return to Formula One was about to turn into a nightmare of epic proportions. Schumacher himself remained calm and confident and said he would return to his usual form during the first race on European soil: the Spanish Grand Prix.
The F-Duct saga continued in Spain, but although a number of teams had designed and used their new F-Duct, they were not able to equal the results of the McLaren F-Duct, although it is a simple device, it's very difficult to get it working properly. Ferrari had problems with their design and even found it was actually was hampering the performance of the car in corners, while the advantage on the straights was minimal. The Red Bull duo again took the first two places during qualifying, Schumacher scored a sixth place with his new long wheel based Mercedes which suited the German's driving style much better.
It became a perfect race for Webber, who led the race from start to finish, and he scored his first win of the year. Vettel had a good race until he encountered brake problems, he ran wide several times and his team told him to slow down, but he was able to finish in third position. It was a strong race for Hamilton as well, until on the penultimate lap when a sudden tyre deflation sent him through the gravel trap and straight into the tyre barrier. Schumacher scored his best result of the season and crossed the finish in fourth position. Button had been stuck behind him for almost all the race, and he and other divers later complained about the defending tactics of the seven-time world champion. Alonso took second place after Hamilton had crashed and Massa finished in sixth place.
Monaco is by far the most glamorous race of the season, and every driver dreams of winning this race. Webber was again on pole while Kubica surprised everyone by taking second place, followed by Vettel who took third position. Alonso could not participate in qualifying after he had crashed and damaged the monocoque of his Ferrari during Saturday practice, and the Spaniard had to start the race from the pit lane.
The race started with several incidents, and the Safety Car came out for the first time when Hulkenberg lost control of his Williams and crashed hard into the barriers at the end of the tunnel. Button had to retire during the second lap when his engine overheated because one of his mechanics had forgotten to remove a panel in the side pod when he drove to the start grid.
The Safety Car came out for the second time after Barrichello crashed at Beau Rivage, he hit the barriers at both sides of the track. The angry Brazilian tossed his steering wheel out of the car, which then got stuck under the HRT car of Chandhok. He lost it again in the tunnel, and this time his team mate Bruno Senna ran over the $50,000 steering wheel. The race was restarted again, but the Safety Car came out for the third time after marshals detected the reason of Barrichello's crash: a lose drainage cover at Beau Rivage.
The race became somewhat boring after the restart, but again the Safety Car came to the rescue after Jarno Trulli's Lotus had leapfrogged the HRT of Chandhok at the same place where Schumacher parked his Ferrari in 2006, to make sure Alonso couldn't improve his time. Webber, who was leading the race, was lucky not to crash into the piled up cars, he went on to win the race, followed by Vettel, Kubica, Massa, Hamilton and Alonso, who did a superb job on a circuit that is notorious for its lack of overtaking opportunities. Schumacher thought he was smart and overtook Alonso for sixth place when the Safety Car went into the pit lane moments before Webber crossed the finish line, but the FIA stewards gave the German a 20 second penalty which demoted him to 12th position.
Red Bull celebrated their second 1-2 victory in style and partied until early next morning, when all teams left Monaco for the next race: the Grand Prix of Turkey, which would become a controversial race for Red Bull and McLaren.
Join us again next Thursday for the second part of this review: From Turkey to Hungary.