For the second time on two races, Nico Rosberg dominated the AT&T Williams team's practice and qualifying effort, but it was Alex Wurz that not just claimed points but secured the team's first podium since the European Grand Prix in 2005. The...
For the second time on two races, Nico Rosberg dominated the AT&T Williams team's practice and qualifying effort, but it was Alex Wurz that not just claimed points but secured the team's first podium since the European Grand Prix in 2005. The points haul has significantly consolidated the team's fifth place in the Constructor's Championship and has catapulted Alex Wurz up the drivers' standings to 8th place.
Friday's free practice sessions were not terribly informative, with the track progressively rubbering in and the grip benchmark continuously changing. With increased afternoon temperatures, Alonso improved on the best time of the morning session by around 1.2s. Rosberg, who had sat out the morning while Kazuki Nakajima took on the driving duties, was immediately on top of the circuit and the car, recording the 6th quickest time of the afternoon session.
By Saturday afternoon, it became clear that McLaren dominance at the front was the order of the day, but it appeared that BMW might usurp Ferrari, and so it proved with Raikkonen and Massa tucked in behind Heidfeld. Red Bull showed continuing potential for Webber to claim P6 and it was a frustration that Nico Rosberg posted time just six thousands slower to earn the seventh place on the grid for Sunday. Team-mate Alex Wurz, by his own admission, had struggled and could do no better than P20, although Kovalainen's ten place grid penalty would promote the Austrian to 19th for the race start.
Both drivers had good starts, Nico moving up two places by turn two and Alex claiming four places to fifteenth by the end of the first lap. On lap nine, Alex sustained car damage when Scott Speed hit the rear of the FW29 in an unrealistic overtaking attempt. The impact damaged the rear wing endplate and lower wing. However, the structural work is completely managed by the twin centre pillars, so the team were confident to let Alex race on, albeit he was losing around 4kph in top speed due to extra drag, as well as losing downforce.
The pitstop window opened on lap 20 when Heidfeld stopped. Nico was scheduled to stop on lap 23 but unfortunately fell foul of the new regulations as the safety car was deployed just at the time of his proposed first stop. Rosberg had to pit even if the pitlane was closed, as did Alonso, and they both had to accept a 10s stop go penalty to prevent running out of fuel on the race track.
Nico served his penalty on lap 36, costing him 31 seconds of lost track time and dropping him from fourth on the road to 16th. In his haste to reclaim lost ground, Nico suffered a spin when trying to pass Jarno Trulli, and also struggled with gear selection when the on-board anti-stall system engaged. With precious few laps due to the extended presence of the Safety Car on track, Nico had little ability to retrieve his strategy and finished the race in P10.
Meantime, Alex pursuing his one-stop strategy, was heavily penalised by having to refuel under the second safety car, but then steadily advanced through the field and by lap 54, when most two-stopping cars had been in twice, he had climbed to P4, which became P3 as Barrichello pitted for his second stop. Alex had to contend with the damage to his car as well as running his long second stint on the super soft tyre, and, like the closing stages in Monaco a fortnight before, came under challenge from behind with Kovalainen running on soft tyres. Not only did Alex successfully defend against the Renault, he also closed up on BMW's Nick Heideld in the final stages of the race before claiming his third career podium.
TYRES & FUEL
Nico & Alex ran different strategies to reflect their respective grid positions, with Nico stopping on lap 23, the fifth two stopping car to pit. Alex ran on the soft tyre in the initial phase of his one stop race, essentially to provide the best opportunity of making up ground as the two-stopping field pitted once, and in one or two cases, twice before his scheduled stop. Alex then ran the super soft tyre to the flag, suffering some graining but with the tyre improving into the 40 lap stint. It was impressive tyre management from Alex considering the fuel load he was carrying.
SYSTEMS & RELIABILITY
In Friday's FP sessions, Rosberg's car had a pneumatic leak and Wurz's car required attention with a fastener on the suspension. After Friday, both cars ran without any reliability problems.
The team is in now in Indianapolis preparing for this weekend's race. Immediately afterwards, Kazuki, Nico and Alex will return to Europe for the Silverstone test (19 -- 21 June).
"It was great to score points and even better to be on the podium with one car. Nico showed great pace and was covering the Ferraris as well as Alonso before he fell foul of the new Safety Car regulations, and of course Alex fought really hard to bring some valuable points home. Our next ambition is to try and ensure both cars are in a points-scoring position in the USA."