F1 wrap-up: British Grand Prix
SILVERSTONE, England - Before the start of the 2011 British Grand Prix Fernando Alonso sped off into the distance in a Ferrari Grand Prix car as Bernie Ecclestone looked on nervously – and justifiably so, for the red car not only belongs to him but is reckoned to be irreplaceable.
The occasion was the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first World championship win, scored by Argentine Froilan Gonzalez back in 1951 here at the same venue. But, much as Alonso enjoyed the classic experience, he soon put it behind him to concentrate on putting the entire field behind him as he targeted Ferrari’s first win of 2011.
In the event he gave the Scuderia double cause for celebration by trouncing reigning champion Sebastian Vettel by more than 20 seconds. Alonso at one stage languished fourth - behind Vettel, Red Bull team mate (and pole starter) Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton, who robustly fought forward from 10th after McLaren screwed up his qualifying – so this was no runaway win, but it is a mark of a man who refused to give up on taking the chequererd flag.
Having used his overtaking aids to catch and take Hamilton at the one-third mark, Alonso set off after the Red Bulls. They were not easy meat but, but with Webber dispensed with during the second stop reshuffle, only Vettel lay ahead – and, voila, the 24-year-old’s crew fumbled his tyre change and ‘Ferdi’ was through.
"I didn’t know I took the lead until the team radioed me because I did not know Vettel had a problem in the pits," Alonso said during the post-race media conference. "We passed Hamilton and then we used the kers and DRS to catch the Red Bulls and attack them.”
After that Alonso raced ahead to finish a fifth of a lap ahead the runaway championship points leader, putting the matter beyond doubt and suggesting Alonso would have won even without Vettel’s problem. In fact the defending champion, who was forced to fend off a chastened Webber - who has yet to lead a lap this year in the closing stages - after Webber refused to bow to a team order to "keep position", said as much afterwards.
If things between the two Red Bullers were tight, they still didn't touch as did Hamilton and Felipe Massa, the latter putting the nose of his Ferrari ahead of the silver car as they entered the final turn side by side, only to have the door slammed firmly shut. Massa slid wide, Hamilton kept his foot down, and the Ferrari crossed the line fifth, a second behind the 2008 champion.
Yes, mixed conditions played their part up and down the field, as did kers, DRS and Pirelli’s degrading rubber, but none of these innovations forced drivers to race nose-to-tail or even nose to sidepod. Where there was little of this in Valencia a fortnight earlier, in Silverstone there was action galore, confirming what has long been said, namely that F1’s gimmicks are nought without a flowing, high-speed, classic track - particularly one which positively encourages overtaking.
All this excitement meant the idiocy of the past few days was quickly forgotten after the race, with hardly a soul in the paddock referring to the ludicrous on-off-on-off-on-off "blown diffuser" situation, which resulted in rule changes on the hour, almost every hour, throughout the weekend.
Sanity has now (allegedly) prevailed, with the technical rules reverting to Valencia spec, meaning unignited (only) exhaust gas may be blown across underbodies. Thus hot blowing is banned while cold blowing is permitted until 2012 when exhausts need to exit 330mm beyond the rear bodywork extremity.
All this, though, did not bother Alonso one iota; he's been saying since Monaco that the Scuderia was back to its winning ways. A late-race red flag blunted his charge in Monaco; in Montreal he was taken out by the eventual winner while ahead; in Valencia he was second.
Sixth place went to Nico Rosberg, the young German again out-classing Mercedes team mate Michael Schumacher who continued his run of serial crashes by colliding with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, necessitating a nose change. The third of the season for Michael – in nine races…
FERRARI - BACK WITH A VENGEANCE?
The seven-times champion recovered to finish ninth behind Sergio Perez (Sauber) and Nick Heidfeld (Renault). The final points place went to Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), while Jenson Button (McLaren) was the race’s highest-profile retirement - his McLaren crew failed to secure his right front wheel during a pit stop.
In the end Alonso, now third in the title hunt behind the Red Bull drivers, summed it up best: "Sixty years since Ferrari’s first win, same car, same circuit and the same passion shown by all the people working for this fantastic team. In some cases it’s the sons and daughters of the people who worked (on Gonzalez’s car) then."
Let there be no doubt that Ferrari is back with a vengeance but, with Vettel effectively holding a three-win advantage at the half-way point, a title charge looks unlikely for the boys in red. But oh boy, watch them try now their wind tunnel issues are solved, and the diffuser situation (sort of) sorted.
Watch Fernando Alonso drive the 1951 Ferrari F375: