The last laps of the race proved to be the sting in the tail of the Spanish Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel again had to deal with fading brakes, and Lewis Hamilton had the same kind of accident as Heikki Kovalainen had two years ago when he drove...
The last laps of the race proved to be the sting in the tail of the Spanish Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel again had to deal with fading brakes, and Lewis Hamilton had the same kind of accident as Heikki Kovalainen had two years ago when he drove for McLaren, it's not clear what exactly happened, but a few sparks came from the left wheel rim, and then the tyre suddenly came off the rim, sending Hamilton in the tyre barrier. He was unhurt, but absolutely not amused, he lost second place and 18 points, but still was classified in 14th place, two laps behind the leaders of the race. No such problems for race winner Mark Webber, who had the race of his life with an absolutely flawless start-to-finish performance, a well deserved win for the Australian.
A very happy Webber about his race: "Today was a special day, no doubt about it and I'm very happy to capitalize on the pole position. I was very happy with how the first stint went and I had a nice clean pit stop. Everything went my way today, it was very good. It felt like the longest Grand Prix I've ever done though! We had a good set up and the car felt good. It's a credit to all the guys, they worked like hell both in the garage and in the factory."
Before the race started, it was already clear there was a huge gap between the Red Bull Racing team and the rest of the field, during qualifying the gap with the McLarens and Ferraris was one second. Red Bull took all five pole positions this season, Webber scored two pole positions, and Vettel three. Hamilton about the speed of the Red Bulls: "I don't think anyone expected them to be so fast this weekend. However we knew they would be quick, that is quite a decent gap." Michael Schumacher was also pessimistic: "I'm not particularly happy now. There is no reason to be happy to be more than a second off Red Bull's pace."
Heikki Kovalainen had a problem with the gear box of his Lotus before the race, he tried to start from the pit lane, but the faulty gear box prevented him to get out of the pit lane and his race ended before it had even started. It was a dream start for Red Bull, Webber took first position followed by Vettel and both drivers immediately started to build up a gap to Hamilton, Alonso, Button, Schumacher and Massa. Sebastien Buemi hit the rear left tyre of Pedro de la Rosa's BMW-Sauber, who had to limp back to the pits with a flat tyre. Bruno Senna's HRT ran wide into the gravel at Turn 4 and that was the end of his race.
The first twelve laps were pretty uneventful, but mid-field Renault driver Robert Kubica and Toro Ross driver Jaime Alguersuari were battling for ninth position. On lap 12 Vitantonio Liuzzi in his Force India made the first real pit stop of the race and changed his soft tyres for the harder tyre compound. On lap 14 Nico Rosberg made the first stop for the Mercedes team, but when he drove off he was stopped by the team because his right front wheel hadn't been properly secured, the pit crew had to push him back to secure the wheel. Poor Rosberg lost valuable time and rejoined the race in 17th position., unfortunately he wasn't able to recover from this costly mistake, he finished in 13th position, 1 lap behind the leaders.
On lap 16 Jenson Button pitted and changed from the soft to the hard tyre compound during a rather slow pit stop, and after exiting the pit lane he was confronted with a charging Schumacher, who showed no mercy and overtook Button. Button later questioned the way Schumacher overtook him on the outside of the first corner, but his team mate Hamilton had a similar situation at hand when he exited the pit lane after his stop, but he wisely literally kept his foot down and left Vettel behind him. Button could have done the same but instead he got stuck behind Schumacher, and whatever he tried, he couldn't pass the seven-times world champion, who gave Button a lesson -- which lasted until the end of the race -- in how to keep your opponent behind you.
By lap 22 all drivers had made their pit stop, De la Rosa retired from the race, the flat tyre on lap 2 also had damaged the rear suspension of his BMW-Sauber. De la Rosa: "We tried to continue but the car was undrivable. It just made no sense and we had to give up." After the pit stops Webber was still leading the race, followed by Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Button, Massa and the Force India of Adrian Sutil, who once again proved he is an excellent driver, a driver who can get the maximum out of any car.
Schumacher and Button were still fighting for fifth position, Massa took advantage of the situation and closed in on them, but could never get close enough to attack or threaten Button's position. He did get close to Karun Chandhok who was 2 laps behind, too close, and Massa damaged the left part of his front wing. Apart from the Schumacher/Button battle, further down the field Kubica and Sutil were fighting for eighth position, and Nico Hulkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi were dicing for twelfth position.
Alguersuari had a good race until he on lap 34 had to go into the pit for a drive-through penalty, on lap 29 he had cut across Chandhok after overtaking him, and drove off the front wing of the HRT. Schumacher had now build up a small gap to Button, and Petrov and Kobayashi were still fighting for 12th position, while Germans Hulkenberg and Rosberg were now fighting for 15th position. On lap 45 Webber was still in the lead, followed by Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Button, Massa and Sutil. But the luck of Vettel and Hamilton was about to change.
The sting of the tail
On lap 55 Vettel ran wide in Turn 7, the team initially thought his tyres were the problem, and Vettel made a pit stop and changed to the softer tyres again, but the real problems became apparent on lap 58, when his team radioed him to "take it easy on the brakes". The team had seen the temperature of the front brakes had become unacceptably high and two laps later the message from the pit wall became really alarming: "You're brakes are about to go! Be very careful, okay?" On lap 63 the team again urged Vettel to slow down: "You need to slow down, it's now critical!" After that warning Vettel finally slowed down, he shifted the brake balance to the rear wheels and used the brakes very early to avoid running wide again, and also used the engine to brake, and thus managed to finish the race unscathed.
So, how does it feel when your team tells you your brakes are about to fail and the situation has become critical, while driving 300 km/h and you are approaching a slow corner? Vettel: "When I got back out [after his unscheduled pit stop] the team told me that I should quit the race. They said the risk because of the broken brake was too great. They were pretty worried on the pit wall and I was constantly reminded to drive more slowly." About the result of the race he said: "I don't know how to feel, third is not a bad position but I think we had a quite bad race today with quite a lot of things happening."
And at the end of he race Hamilton became the last victim of the Catalonian circuit, he flew off on lap 65 and crashed into the tyres at Turn 3. McLaren is still not sure what happened, team principal Martin Whitmarsh: "We'll now gather up the parts, take them back to the McLaren Technology Centre, and then analyze them meticulously -- so, until we've done that, we won't really be able to make any definitive statements about what we think it was that caused the problem at the left-front corner of his car."
Webber was still leading the race when he crossed the finish line, Alonso took over second place from Hamilton, Vettel held on to third position, followed by Schumacher, Button, Massa, Sutil and the Renault of Kubica. For the complete race result and the current standings in the drivers' and constructors' championship, follow the links at the bottom of this page.
FIA Stewards Report
On Friday, during the first free practice session, the FIA stewards gave Senna a 1,400 Euro fine for speeding in the pit lane. On Saturday the Virgin team forgot to inform the FIA which gear ratios they would use during the race, an this mistake cost both drivers a five-place start grid penalty.
Petrov and Chandhok got the same penalty for a unscheduled gearbox change. During qualifying the Ferrari team was fined $20,000 for the pit lane incident between Alonso and Rosberg. Alonso was 'unsafely' released from the pit box and almost ran into Rosberg, who had to break hard to avoid a collision with the scarlet Ferrari.
During the race on Sunday, Buemi got a drive-through penalty for returning to the race in an unsafe manner, and Alguersuari a drive-through penalty for robbing Chandhok of his front wing with a dodgy overtaking maneuver. Alguersuari had no explanation for his erratic move, and claimed it was just a race incident.
Bridgestone race report
The Japanese tyre company already warned the left front tyres would be stretched to the limit at the Barcelona circuit. Almost all drivers were on a one stop strategy, only Hulkenberg, Alguersuari, Rosberg, Buemi and Vettel made a second tyre stop.
Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima: "Today was an interesting race where pit stop timing was crucial. This was illustrated by both Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher gaining positions through their choices. The hard and the soft compounds worked well today. The soft compound gave a good lap time straight away and was capable of longer first stints than we generally saw today." And about Hamilton's crash he said: "We are working closely with McLaren to understand what happened to Lewis Hamilton, but initial impressions are that this was not caused by a tyre issue."
Ferrari: Alonso is happy, Massa is not
Alonso was happy with his unexpected podium finish: "I am happy with getting this second place in front of my fans. It's true the result came in an unexpected way, but that's racing. After a few difficult races, I got back on the podium and I am second, three points behind the leader of the championship."
Massa however, was not happy at all, and Ferrari will investigate why the Brazilian was struggling during the Spanish GP. Massa about his problems: "Something is not going like I want, so I can't do the lap time or drive the car like I want. This is something that we need to understand, and improve." Whether it is Massa who has a problem is not certain, team principal Stefano Domenicali admitted Alonso also complained about the lack of grip this weekend.
Schumacher's progress not good for Rosberg?
This weekend Schumacher was faster than Rosberg during qualifying and the race, could it be that Schumacher got his way and now has a car that suits him, but does not suit Rosberg? According to Rosberg the upgraded Mercedes is a disaster for him: "Something is not quite right on the car, in the last race I was able to fight with Red Bull, now we're nowhere. We were very slow this weekend, especially me." Rosberg tumbled down from 2nd to 5th place in the drivers' championship after the race in Spain, but with 50 points he is still 28 points ahead of Schumacher, who is now in 9th position with 22 points.
Schumacher had a chance to check out his new B-spec Mercedes at the Rockingham circuit last week, when the Mercedes team was shooting 'a video for a commercial' at the British circuit. German papers and magazines are speculating about the position of Rosberg and accuse Mercedes of favoring Schumacher. But at the same time they praise the fourth place of Schumacher with headlines like: "Respekt! Note 1 fur diesen Schumi" (Respect! Grade A for this Schuey), and also praised the way he kept Button behind him for 49 laps. Austrian and three-times world champion Niki Lauda also praised him and spoke of the 'resurrection' of Schumacher's career.
Red Bull reliable enough?
Although Red Bull is currently not leading the championship, many insiders feel the Red Bull car is the fastest car on the grid, and so far has been superior during qualifying, but again like in previous races, small problems ruined their chances on race day. Which poses the inevitable question: is the Red Bull car reliable enough to win the championship? Team principal Christian Horner: "I think when you are pushing the boundaries, things [like this] can happen. Ultimately we have got two cars on the podium and were just three points off a maximum score. So I think the team managed the issue with the brakes very well."
Now that Red Bull seems to be the King of Qualifying, their chances on winning the race on the Monaco circuit are very high. It's next to impossible to overtake on the narrow street circuit, and the driver who takes pole position can control the race, provided he doesn't make any mistakes, gets involved in crashes, or is struck by mechanical failures. Tune in on Motorsport.com again this week for the preview of the Monaco Grand Prix, which will be available on Wednesday.