Grand Prix of Europe - Against all odds: A pretty eventful race in Valencia After the European Grand Prix at the circuit of Valencia in Southern Spain, German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel is back in the race for the championship. His team ...
Grand Prix of Europe - Against all odds: A pretty eventful race in Valencia
After the European Grand Prix at the circuit of Valencia in Southern Spain, German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel is back in the race for the championship. His team colleague Mark Webber had a bad day, with a bad start, a bad pit stop, and a bad crash after he hit the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen. McLaren did an excellent job and Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button secured second and third place, McLaren is still leading the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship, and Red Bull still has work to do to ensure they will stay in the running for the championship.
The Williams team surprised everyone with a solid performance, Rubens Barrichello took fourth position, the best result for Williams this season. His team colleague Nico Hulkenberg was in tenth position, but on lap 41 there was some smoke behind his car, and on lap 49 he had to give up his race, a part of his exhaust had broken and had hit his right rear tyre and also had damaged the bodywork that was partially on fire. Renault driver Robert Kubica and Force India driver Adrian Sutil landed the fifth and sixth position respectively, and again showed both teams are now capable of keeping up with the big teams and in Valencia they left Mercedes and Toro Rosso far behind them.
The luckiest man of the race
Webber was very lucky to emerge unscathed from the remains of his Red Bull after he hit the back of Kovalainen's Lotus and somersaulted with high speed over the Lotus before he miraculously landed right side up again and slid hard into the tyre barriers. Webber was visibly shaken, but was fair and even mild in his comments about the crash. His crash was also his first retirement of the season, Webber about the accident, "I have a few cuts and bruises, but otherwise I'm fine. What's frustrating was that this accident should never have happened. I mean, how long was Heikki going to stay ahead of me? Another 15 seconds? He must be asking himself whether it was worth it."
It is too easy to claim the accident was a direct result of the slower Lotus, technical director Mike Gascoyne vigorously defended Kovalainen's actions and also defended the position of the new teams, and rightly said they are very much a part of the competition, and admitted he does expect his drivers to race and defend their position. Gascoyne also partially blamed Webber for the crash, "He [Kovalainen] was defending his line and racing for position, and that's what we will always do in that situation. It's just a great shame, and we're very glad that neither driver was hurt. It's the responsibility of the guy behind [Webber] to make the overtaking maneuver safely. He blatantly didn't."
The man who stole the show
Kamui Kobayashi was without a doubt the man who stole the show in Valencia. The Japanese BMW-Sauber driver wasn't even sure he would be racing in Formula One this season, and had already planned his return to Japan. Luckily for him, Peter Sauber was impressed by the 24-year old driver when he replaced the injured Timo Glock at Toyota during the last two races of the 2009 season. In Valencia Kobayashi gave BMW-Sauber something to be proud off again, and after a long time Peter Sauber was seen sitting at the pit wall with a big smile on his face.
Kobayashi had started on the hard tyres, and made his mandatory pit stop to change to the softer tyres on lap 53, with only 4 laps to go, thus driving an incredible 53 laps on the hard tyres. The Sauber team had opted not to change tyres during the safety car intervention after Webber's accident, perhaps a gamble, but it certainly paid off. From lap 10 on he was in third position, and could easily keep up the pace, and behind him Button, Fernando Alonso, Kubica, Sutil, Sebastien Buemi and Felipe Massa simply couldn't match the excellent pace of the BMW-Sauber.
After Kobayashi had pitted, the show wasn't over yet, he was now able to make the most of his fresh soft tyres, while others were struggling on their older tyres. "The end of the race? Not quite yet!", Kobayashi must have thought after he had rejoined the race in ninth position. During the last lap he forced Alonso into a tiny mistake and passed the Spaniard without a problem, and in the very last corner of the race he also surprised Buemi in his Toro Rosso, sneaked by on the inside, and took a well deserved seventh place. Kobayashi once again showed his fighting spirit, something everyone in Formula One very much appreciates.
The unhappiest man of the race
Alonso must have been the unhappiest man of the race, Alonso, Massa and others had to wait behind the safety car before they could go to the pits for new tyres, while Hamilton overtook the safety car and only received a drive-through penalty half an hour later, which according to Alonso, 'ruined his race'. By then, Hamilton had build up enough time to the number three of the race, Kobayashi, and he was able to take his drive-through penalty without losing his second position. "When you do the normal thing, which is respecting the rules, you finish ninth, and the one who doesn't respect them finishes second.", Alonso complained. He even suggested the race had been manipulated by the FIA Stewards and continued his tirade, "Unfortunately everything goes against us and it seems they are allowing everything."
Team principal Stefano Domenicali refused to give any comments right after the race but later said Alonso's comments were made during the heat of the moment, but the fact remains that Ferrari, Alonso and Massa on Monday again accused the FIA of favoring McLaren, and felt they had been deceived and called McLaren 'thieves' who were up to their 'usual tricks.' Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo repeated Ferrari's complaints about the FIA, "Those who didn't follow the rules were penalized by the race officials in a way that was less severe than the damage suffered by those who did respect them. That is a very serious and unacceptable event that creates dangerous precedents, throwing a shadow over the credibility of Formula One."
The unhappiest team of the race
Mercedes, despite the confidence they had in the upgrades they brought to Valencia, were disappointing to say the least. Ross Brawn had to admit his team was just too slow after Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher had qualified in 12th and 15th position on Saturday, the worst result so far this season. During the race, Schumacher made a good start and gained four positions, and he was already in fifth place when the safety car was deployed. Two laps later he was in third position when he decided to pit for new tyres. At the moment he wanted to exit the pits again the lights were red and he had to wait until the safety car and all cars behind it had passed, and rejoined the race in 19th position, ruining his chances of scoring points.
He then decided to change tactics, and came back into the pits to change to the hard tyres again, hoping he could finish the race without another pit stop. But it was the same scenario as in Montreal, Schumacher was in 17th place stuck behind the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari, and he was not able to pass the him. Again he decided to change tactics, went into the pit lane for the third time, hoping he could catch the Toro Rosso on his fresh soft tyres. But to no avail, the Mercedes was too slow to overtake Alguersuari and Schumacher ended the race in 16th position.
Rosberg had brake problems with the second Mercedes, and after 20 laps the team told him to slow down, and warned him the brake problems were critical. But despite his brake problems he ended the race in 12th position. Rosberg about his race, "It wasn't a great race for me today and not much fun out there. I struggled for grip throughout and had to work really hard to save my brakes which completely took away the ability to challenge and try to make up positions." And drew the right conclusion about the problems Mercedes had in Valencia, "It's been a poor weekend from us all round and we have to try to resolve our issues and improve from here."
Bridgestone tyre report
The Japanese company had predicted an uneventful race from a tyre point of view because they didn't expect the same dramatic tyre degradation as in Montreal. Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima, "Today tyre performance was strong from both tyres, and we saw fastest laps being set by both compounds." He also praised his compatriot Kobayashi, "Kobayashi demonstrated the durability of the medium tyres here with his long first stint, setting competitive lap times, even with over 50 laps completed on them. He was then able to use the super soft tyres when the track was most rubbered-in, enabling him to overtake even on a track which is not well known for its overtaking opportunities."
The safety car regulations
Drivers are obviously not well informed regarding the safety car regulations. Schumacher again wanted clarification of the safety car rules, but in fact, they are crystal-clear, for anyone who takes the trouble to read them that is. Regarding Schumacher's complaint, the rules are very clear, Art. 40.10: "Whilst the safety car is in operation, competing cars may enter the pit lane, but may only rejoin the track when the green light at the end of the pit lane is on. It will be on at all times except when the safety car and the line of cars following it are about to pass or are passing the pit exit."
Schumacher believes, although the safety car was already four laps on the track, the light should have been green because the rest of the field was not 'properly lined up' with the safety car when they passed the pit lane. But the rules don't say anything about 'properly lined up', and the whole situation could have been avoided if the team would have called Schumacher in one lap earlier.
Hamilton's drive through penalty is also easy to explain, the safety car is officially on track when it has passed the second safety car line at the exit of the pit lane. Many drivers are still not familiar with the phrase 'safety car line', it is not an imaginary line, but it is actually painted on the circuit. Hamilton passed the safety car after it had crossed the second safety car line. In fact, if Hamilton would not have hesitated because he wasn't certain about the rules, he would have passed the safety car while it still hadn't crossed the line, and his overtaking would have been perfectly legal.
Nine drivers exceeded the maximum speed while the safety car was deployed and were handed a five second penalty. Again the regulations are clear, Art. 40.7: "...from the time at which the "Safety Car Deployed" message is shown on the timing monitors until the time that each car crosses the first safety car line for the first time, drivers must stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU."
Again not a new rule, it was introduced last year for safety reasons, in the past the FIA was not happy with drivers who literally raced to the pit lane, while the safety car was deployed and yellow flags were being waved, and that is exactly what those nine drivers were doing. The minimum time is set electronically and is relayed to the car's ECU, and a driver can see that time on the display of his steering wheel and he can actually see whether he is below or above that time (the FIA calls it 'delta time information'), it is therefore no surprise none of the nine drivers complained when they were caught by the FIA.
The right decisions, but the wrong penalties?
After examining the Safety Car Regulations, it becomes clear the FIA Stewards have made the right decisions, and the FIA has no plans whatsoever to review or perhaps even change the safety car rules, as Mercedes and Ferrari have proposed. Ferrari was outraged about the race in Valencia, but the FIA Stewards have now also reacted, they are angered by the Ferrari statements, especially about the remarks the race had been 'manipulated' and have even considered taking disciplinary action against Ferrari.
However, it is true that it took the FIA Stewards a very long time to finally hand Hamilton his drive-through penalty, but at the same time they were also busy with the 5-second penalty for the nine drivers who had exceeded the maximum speed while the safety car was deployed. The FIA Stewards also had to manage the safety car period itself and had to supervise the removal of the debris from the track and the retrieval of Webber's damaged car, a lot of things were happening at the same time.
Although the Stewards had postponed the investigation about the 5-second penalty until after the race, they carefully had to review the times of the nine drivers who were reported to be too fast, and had to retrieve and view the onboard footage from both Hamilton's car and the safety car, before they could make a decision whether Hamilton had indeed overtaken the safety car or not. Of course, the penalties the FIA gave are also questionable, a drive-through penalty for overtaking the safety car seems very mild, and a 5-second penalty for speeding is also very mild.
Next stop: Silverstone
But before we go to Silverstone, a final word about the new teams, after Webber's accident Montezemolo said he was right after all about the 'GP2' teams, but what else can one expect of a man who has bashed the new teams from the day their names were published by the FIA last year. In the end there are only two possibilities: either we continue to ignore their presence in Formula One and keep pretending there is an A- and B-class race, and expect them to move out of the way as soon as an other car shows up at their rear wing; or we simply accept them, including their shortcomings, and help them to overcome their difficulties. Obviously, the last option makes a lot more sense.