Rencken: No practice, just perfect
SPRAYTIME AT SILVERSTONE: Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber (left) and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso spray Champagne across the podium - and a hostess - at the Silverstone circuit. Webber won the race. Image: AFP
Author: DIETER RENCKEN
Two days of rain followed by a bright and sunny race day was guaranteed to make the 63rd British Formula 1 GP utterly unpredictable and so it proved once the 52-lap race had run its course without the pace car being as much as revved in the pits lane.
After the wettest June on record, plus more rain on Wednesday/Thursday than the British Midlands region, in which lies Silverstone, has in a month, the ground was saturated, resulting in standing water all the way around the high speed 5.891km circuit.
Friday proved little better, so when proceedings began at 10am it was clear teams would minimise lappery unless conditions improved drastically. There were three overriding reasons: being restricted to three sets of wet tyres for the weekend and rain forecast throughout it they were eager to save unused rubber for race day.
“The risk:reward ratio was just not there,” as Force India team boss Robert Fernley told Wheels24. Finally, constantly changing conditions meant teams had no consistent baselines for set-up. Result: eerie silence in the pits lane virtually throughout both 90-minute Friday sessions.
Saturday morning panned out little better but the teams were under pressure to appease fans, some of whom had paid the equivalent of more than R5000 for three-day tickets, yet seen only a handful of laps the previous day. However, it was soon clear that more than a handful of laps per car would be a total waste of time, effort and money: F1’s three vital commodities.
So on to qualifying: almost every driver was on the grass at some stage and not getting caught out by spills, yellow flags or slower traffic was a matter of luck, not judgement, as pole-winner Fernando Alonso said after getting it by five-thousandths of a second from Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber.
“This afternoon one had to be in the right place at the right time on the right tyres," he said, "and, to succeed in that, you also needed a bit of luck.”
Rain was forecast for sometime Sunday but unless it fell between 1pm and 2.30pm it would not materially affect the outcome. Of course England being England, few chances could be taken so teams settled on compromised set-ups to cater with the full range – from monsoon through intermittent rain to dry running – which brought with it additional complications.
When they lined up, with Alonso/Webber ahead of the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull, 23 drivers (Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham blew its engine on the formation lap) faced their first dry lap in competition. Somehow all save Paul di Resta’s Force India made it through, with Alonso assuming an immediate lead from Webber, with Schumacher leading a train headed by a Felipe Massa determined to retain his Ferrari seat despite some disappointing outings.
The Brazilian forced his way past his former team mate with 20% of the race run but by then most had settled in or pitted for replacement rubber. Through not having used Soft and Hard allocations, all started on new tyres, with Alonso selecting Hard for his opening stint followed by the same again before switching to Soft for the final sprint; Webber took Soft, Soft and Hard, with Vettel, who worked his way past Massa during the stops, following his team mate’s choice.
Alonso’s selection was his downfall but he had little choice: on full tanks his car chewed its Softs, so he was faced with either going for three stops, or grinning and bearing it – which the Spaniard did, as proved by post-race podium shots.
SECOND DOUBLE WINNER
He kept his lead through the second stops but it was clear he was losing pace after not staying out longer on Hards, and with five laps to go his Softs were such that he was a sitting duck. Webber snuck past as Alonso realised resistance was futile, speeding on to win his second GP of the season by three seconds.
This left Fernando – the only other double winner so far in 2012 - to concentrate on keeping Vettel, who had lost much ground while stuck behind Schumacher, at bay. The 2005/6 champion managed the feat by a scant two seconds despite heavily grained Pirellis.
Massa, on a Soft, Hard, Hard ride, took fourth six seconds behind the German, with the Lotuses of Kimi Räikkönen (S,H,H) and Roman Grosjean (ditto), the latter forced to pit for a replacement nose after clashing with Di Resta at the start, snapping at the rear wing of the red car.
Schumacher (S,H,H) tumbled down the order to seventh – although still faring better than team mate Nico Rosberg, who finished 15th after a poor start and troubled second stop - with the clearly unhappy local hero Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) starting and finishing eighth ahead of the Williams of Bruno Senna.
McLaren’s second car proved equally disappointing on home soil: Jenson Button salvaged 10th from 18th on the grid.
'SO NICE TO BE HOME...'
Thus, although Webber took seven points off Alonso, the Ferrari man continues to lead the Drivers’ championship from the former by 129 points to 116, with reigning double champion Vettel (100) now third ahead of Hamilton (92) as the 20-leg championship heads for the midway point in Germany in a fortnight.
Thanks to second and fourth in Britain Ferrari (152) leap-frogged both McLaren (now 142) and Lotus (144) in the Constructors’ category, although they are all well behind 2011 champion team Red Bull Racing’s 216.
During pre-season testing in February Ferrari faced an extremely long season with a car at least a second off the pace plus a seemingly lost Massa, yet after nine rounds the Scuderia not only leads the Drivers’ championship but is also second in the Constructors’.
But the day belonged to Webber, who lives in Buckinghamshie in the shadow of the classic circuit, and has a winning history there: in 1995 he won his first Formula Ford race at the circuit which hosted the first World championship GP back in July 1950 after travelling across from his homeland as a starry-eyed youngster, and won the GP there in 2010 before taking pole in 2011.
To what did the straight-talking Australian ascribe his latest victory? “Well, this morning I took the dogs (a ridgeback named Zimba and Shadow the Weimaraner) for a run. The good thing about going home to them is that they don’t know if I’ve had a s@^t day or a good day, they’re always happy to see me. It’s good to be staying at home…”