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Silverstone shows more than one chink in Red Bull’s armour

Posted by Carrot on July 10, 2011 | No Comments

Red Bull are dominant and some people are calling the season boring – everything always seems to change at Silverstone, doesn’t it? The entire weekend in the paddock was spent politicking over the off throttle blown diffuser restrictions with Renault and then Mercedes both being given certain latitudes due to reliability issues. Eventually some sort of agreement was made before the start of qualifying with the understanding that the cars would then revert to Valencia specification for the rest of the year. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Add in a typical British summer to curtail the Friday running and shake up qualifying and the race and the stage was set for the entire field to stumble, the outcome being dependent on whoever stumbled the least.

Very quiet all weekend, going about their business with their upgrades and avoiding the shouting matches between the Mercedes and Renault powered teams, Ferrari slipped through and ran their own race to an excellent win. Mixing it up with the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton in the first half of the race, Fernando Alonso took advantage of Red Bull’s poor pit stop and then never looked back as he had clear air to unleash his form. Having made gains in Valencia, the continued progress enabled Alonso to go one better this weekend and take the top step of the podium in a manner that can only be described as commanding. Team mate Felipe Massa also did well this weekend, ultimately coming home fifth after a hard battle in the last few corners with Lewis Hamilton. It might not be enough for Massa to remain at the Prancing Horse if certain other drivers go cockpit shopping for next year.

Completing the podium were the two Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel probably considers this his worst weekend of the year. It says something when his worst weekend is when he qualifies and finishes second. This means he’s only dropped 21 points from a maximum during the year. Added to the fact that every time┬á he’s finished second there’s been someone different ahead of him means he’s nigh constantly extending his advantage. The radio messages from the end of the race that all but say Red Bull will favour him this year mean he’s all but got the championship wrapped up this year, it’s just a case of picking up the points and then the crown. Mark Webber on the other hand won’t be as happy with those radio messages and given his demeanour at the end of the race he’s already looking for a new seat for next year.

The only McLaren to make the line was Lewis Hamilton in fourth. Jenson Button was forced into retirement by a pit stop error. Although Hamilton came out on top in his battle with Massa, it’s not the Ferrari he wanted to be fighting against. The new diffuser rules hurt McLaren’s qualifying pace and made it an uphill battle for the race. Things weren’t helped when the team guessed wrong when filling the car with fuel. It’s changes like this that are causing McLaren to be the continual bridesmaids of the championship, there needs to be a year when they give up and attack the next year. Constantly chasing the front runner isn’t allowing them to win nearly as much as they’d like.

Both Mercedes finished in the points, though Michael Schumacher was much further down than he could have been if he’d avoided unnecessary contact. Mind you, if he’d have avoided unnecessary contact he’d be down at least one World Championship by now, so swings and roundabouts. At least Mercedes now jump Renault in the standings, though they’ll need a good couple of races from both their drivers to cement their position. With Button out of the race there was an extra points slot open for the midfield to fight over. Sergio Perez took the highest slot available to him, seventh, in his Sauber and ahead of Schumacher. It’s an excellent result from the rookie who’s still recovering from the solid impact he took during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. Also ahead of Schumacher was Nick Heidfeld in the Renault who managed to hold on to finish eighth. Rounding out the points was Jaime Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso. It’s important for the young Spaniard to deliver results now that the immediate pressure has gone due to Daniel Ricciardo being placed at Hispania for the rest of the year. He’ll still need to make a case to retain the seat next year, and the best way to do that is consistent points finishes.

So, you’re wondering what these chinks in Red Bull’s armour are, aren’t you? They’re nothing that you don’t already know, but Silverstone managed to lay them out for all to see. The car doesn’t like the regulation change, Vettel was ten seconds ahead of Alonso in Valencia and ended up fifteen seconds behind him in this race. The impact of the new regulations gave the Ferrari 25 seconds over a race distance. There’s the dislike of the changeable conditions, Alonso was only able to win because he could keep them in sight for the first stint. Even the McLarens came into play due to the Red Bull not being at home on a moist track. Finally and most importantly is the internal tension in the team. At this race last year Mark Webber had his front wing taken away using the excuse that he wasn’t ahead in the standings, later in the year there was not reciprocal help when he was ahead of Red Bull’s favoured son, Vettel. This year he’s told to hold station and finish behind Vettel, the look on his face after the race said everything. Webber’s being publicly screwed, and that’s going to cause him to fall out with the team, and people in the team that are loyal to him will mean that the garage will be very tense for the rest of the year.

In Canada Button and Hamilton ran into each other, does anyone think that in the two races since they’ve had warnings over the radio when they’ve got close to each other? Of course not. Red Bull are doing this to protect Vettel and the excuse they’re using is that they don’t trust their drivers to be professionals. Their actions were legal though, team orders are back in F1, but let’s remember that they were banned due to two drivers not being allowed to race in order to protect one driver that had a massive lead. On the day that Stefano Domenicalli, who revolutionised the public image of Ferrari, was magnanimous over contact with Massa, does Christian Horner really want to start picking up Ferrari’s old bad habits? We don’t need a villain in F1, we just need people to be consistent in their conduct and based on how Webber was treated today and in the latter half of last year, that’s not the case.

Red Bull did show weakness this weekend, and the regulations aren’t likely to revert if some teams have a say in it, but this could actually be the best thing for their 2012 challenge. There was talk of Ferrari abandoning development if they didn’t get some good results soon and after today they’ll definitely be continuing on their challenge. This means they won’t be able to spend aeons of time developing next year’s car ahead of Red Bull, which level the playing field for Red Bull. On a level playing field Adrian Newey always shines.

Two weeks until we head to Germany, to the Grand Prix layout of the N├╝rburgring. Vettel’s going home and there’ll be a lot of pressure on him to perform well, but the last time we went there two years ago it was for Mark Webber’s maiden win. With all the tension in Red Bull and the threat of advances by Ferrari and McLaren it should make for interesting viewing. See you all there.

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  • Drivers Championship 2013

    1 Kimi Raikkonen 25
    2 Fernando Alonso 18
    3 Sebastian Vettel 15
    4 Felipe Massa 12
    5 Lewis Hamilton 10
    6 Mark Webber 8
    7 Adrian Sutil 6
    8 Paul Di Resta 4
    9 Jenson Button 2
    10 Romain Grosjean 1

  • Constructors Championship 2013

    1 Ferrari 30
    2 Lotus 26
    3 Red Bull 23
    4 Mercedes 10
    5 Force India 10
    6 McLaren 2
    7 Toro Rosso 0
    8 Sauber 0
    9 Williams 0
    10 Marussia 0
    11 Caterham 0