Sebastian Vettel made the most of his pole position at the European Grand Prix today, driving through the streets of Valencia, Spain, at a pace easily quick enough to hold off challenger and Formula One championship leader Lewis ...
Sebastian Vettel made the most of his pole position at the European Grand Prix today, driving through the streets of Valencia, Spain, at a pace easily quick enough to hold off challenger and Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
"It's good to be back winning and on a circuit where we didn't expect to be that strong," Vettel said, "but we were quick enough at all times in the race to pull away, find the gap and then guide the car home, but it wasn't as easy as expected. It's good to get a lot of Championship points and the guys can be extremely proud, so a good weekend for them."
At the start, the two were focused on the battle into the first turn that they ended up having minor contact which Hamilton admitted it was a no-fault situation: "Into Turn One, I was very close to Seb [Vettel], I went for the gap, I out-braked him and we went into the corner side-by-side. He gave me room, but we touched and the contact damaged my front wing."
The distance between the two leaders was miniscule but after a drive-through penalty on lap 27, the Briton was able to make up some ground on Vettel late in the race but finally crossed the finish line five seconds behind the Red Bull driver.
"Whenever a Safety Car comes out, it's difficult to compute all the information. There are all these beeps in your ear, and lights flashing on your dashboard too. There's got to be a certain time between the 'Safety Car 1' line and the 'Safety Car 2' line, and between those two lines you can go fast. So it's all a bit complicated," explained Hamilton.
"So I pushed past the last Safety Car line, and was obviously then trying to close the gap to Seb," he continued. "But as I came out of the first corner, all of a sudden I saw the Safety Car coming out, so I backed off and went across the line as I did that, so I thought I was okay."
Vettel and Hamilton ran the entire race 1-2, but behind them the field was shuffled heavily after Vettel's Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, took Red Bull's "gives you wings" advertising slogan too literally: after an early pit stop, the Australian ran into the back of Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus on lap 10, somersaulted in the air and onto his roll hoop before the car bounced back onto its wheels.
"First of all it's good news that both of us are ok," said the Finn. "Mark had a hardcore flight, and it could have ended up much worse, so it's good we're both fine. It's such a shame the race ended that early - I was going really well, pulling away from the guys behind by about half a second a lap, and with Mark we were racing for position so I was always going to defend. I didn't do anything wrong and he just ran into me. I think he missed his braking point and he ran into me at a very bad angle - his front tyre hit my right rear and he took off. I had to make a mandatory visit to the medical centre, and shook hands with Mark there, but I'm absolutely fine, and glad Mark is too."
Webber escaped injury and commented on the incident, "I was going a lot faster than Heikki and then a long, long way before the braking point he braked - about 80m before - and at that point I'm a passenger. The car, thank God, was very safe. I am OK, I lost some points, but in the end when you're up there, you're not worried about points, I was worried that I was OK and ready for Silverstone.
"You cannot control where you are going and how hard the hits are going to be. Of course, the hits were pretty hard but it's good that I am OK. It was my Monte Carlo and Barcelona winning chassis and one which has secured a lot of pole positions, so the chassis has been good to me, and it has been good to me today as it saved me from some injures," added the Australian. "I remain incredibly positive, we go on, it's half way through the Championship. Bloody hell, let's get on with it."
When the safety car came out, the front-runners were already past the pit entrance and so had to do another lap. Jenson Button, Hamilton's McLaren teammate, and Williams' Rubens Barrichello came out best from the dash into the pits, exiting fourth and fifth respectively, and eventually finished third and fourth.
Defending world champion Button enjoyed today's challenge and said, "The first lap was great -- I loved it! I was alongside Robert [Kubica] for 10 corners, then we both went around Mark in Turn Eight, one on the inside and one on the outside! We continued fighting until Turn 10, but I couldn't get around the outside of him there -- it was just too tight.
Barrichello offered up his take on the close racing: "It was great fun out there today and the car was behaving well throughout the race. We really seem to be heading in the right direction with the development of the car and I hope that this improved performance continues for the rest of the season."
Staying in the hunt for position were Renault's Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil for the Force India team. While the action was taking place in front and behind them, Kubica pulled out a gap of over three seconds to place fifth. Sutil and his Mercedes powerplant were able to garner sixth.
The first lap was quite and adventure and Kubica added his thoughts on his battle with Button, saying, "Jenson and I went through the next two corners side by side as well, so it was a pretty fun first lap and I came out on top of the battle.
"After that, we got lucky when the safety car came out: I was already braking for the last corner when the message came on the steering wheel, so I decided to head straight to the pits," added Kubica. "Unfortunately, though, we didn't manage to take maximum advantage of the opportunity: I was the first car into the pits but the third car to leave. If everything had gone smoothly, we could have finished on the podium this afternoon, but unfortunately we didn't manage to do so."
The drive of the day, though, might have been that of young Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel of the decidedly midfield Sauber Ferrari. While everyone else pitted, the 23-year-old Japanese stayed out, moved up to third as others pitted, and then held off Button for more than 40 laps.
"I started on the harder ones and didn't pit when everybody else did," said Kobayashi. "It was great racing there at the front, but it was not easy either because I had Jenson Button close behind me all the time, and also I had to look after my tyres. I was careful not to overdrive them."
With just four laps remaining, Kobayashi dropped into the pits to take on a set of soft rubber and returned to the track in ninth place, just behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. But he forced the two-time world champion into a mistake and then slipped past Sebastian Buemi to take a well-deserved seventh place.
"After my pit stop I had only four laps to make use of my fresh tyres. At this moment I had better grip than anybody else, and I felt I had to make the most out of it," Kobayashi said, "Of course it was a risk to overtake Alonso and Buemi. If it hadn't worked out and I had crashed I would have been in trouble."
Buemi could not hold off the Japanese driver but did cross the line to place his Toro Rosso Ferrari in eighth. The Swiss driver's teammate Jaime Alguersuari was back in 15th.
It was another disastrous outing for Ferrari, with Alonso taking just two points for ninth place, and Massa coming home empty-handed, mired in 14th place. The two ran third and fourth in the opening laps, but while they were past the pit entrance like Vettel and Hamilton, they were collected by the safety car, letting the two leaders get away. Massa then had to wait even longer in the pits, queueing behind his teammate.
On the other hand, the Sauber team had a good showing, with Pedro de la Rosa taking 10th. Rookie Vitaly Petrov followed the Spaniard to the checkered flag by one second to end up 11th for the Renault team.
Like the Ferrari team, the Mercedes GP team has shown the speed in practices and, at times, in qualifying but they have yet to match their rivals in race action. Nico Rosberg had the best finish (12th) while Michael Schumacher was four positions back.
Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi ended 13th in the second of the two Force India single-seaters, just ahead of Massa.
The new teams appear to still be cutting their teeth. In today's race on the street circuit, it was Virgin-Cosworth's Lucas di Grassi who won the battle, taking 17th over HRT's Karun Chandhok, also using the Cosworth powerplant.
German Timo Glock placed the second Virgin car 19th with HRT's Bruno Senna 20th. With Kovalainen taken out earlier, that left it up to his Lotus teammate Jarno Trulli, who ended up four laps adrift of Vettel in 21st.
Besides the DNF placements of Webber and Kovalainen, Nico Hulkenberg went out of the race on the 50th lap in his Williams-Cosworth. The German was running up in the top 10 until the safety car entered the track but as he explained, "When the safety car came in I couldn't keep Alonso behind me, but after that it was quite a processional race up until something caught fire on my car. That obviously ended it for me."
Race winner Vettel added his thoughts on what happened to his teammate: "Most important of all today is the fact that Mark had quite a big shunt but he's fine - it shows that the cars get safer and safer but still there is a lot of risk so it's good that he's OK."
Hamilton still holds the championship standings with 127 to Button's 121. Vettel moves into third with 115 points. With 248 points, the McLaren-Mercedes team sits on top of the constructors' standings with Red Bull-Renault 30 points back.
The Formula One teams will return for this year's title contest in two weeks time for the British Grand Prix on the Silverstone circuit.
Editor's note: The FIA stewards announced that nine drivers have been given five-second penalties under the safety car rules, "failing to stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU when the Safety Car was deployed."
The nine who received the penalty are: Button, Barrichello, Kubica, Sutil, Buemi, de la Rosa, Petrov, Liuzzi and Hulkenberg. Of those nine, Button, Barrichello, Kubica and Sutil did not lose their finishing positions. Nor did Hulkenberg who DNF'd.
Due to the penalties, Alonso now will be listed in eighth, moving Buemi to ninth. Rosberg slots into 10th and Massa places 11th, which drops de la Rosa 12th. Alguersuari gained two positions from 15th to 13th, Petrov dropped to 14th.
The seven-time world champion even gained ground but still out of the points paying positions. Schumacher ended 15th with Liuzzi moving down to 16th.
In addition, a 20-second penalty was handed to Glock for "ignoring blue flags" but he still retains 19th in the revised outcome of today's race.
See also: European GP: Race results (REVISED)