Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Post Race Analysis:2012 German Grand Prix

"Spaniard in an Italian car , designed by a Greek winning the German Grand Prix"

A weekend similar to the one we had a fort night ago at Silverstone - a predominately wet practice sessions , teams scratching their heads about dry setups and tyre wear , a wet qualifying although luckily not red flagged and a familiar man on pole position proving again this season he is the man to beat when the going gets tough. A man who delivered not one but two pole position laps......Fernando Alonso. 

Four hours before the race and things were spiced up a bit a suspected technical infringement by the FIA , although the FIA cleared Red Bull , they did however mention that Red Bull have indeed breached one of the regulations however the FIA claimed no action could be taking due to the ambiguity of the rules.
Although Red Bull were accused of cheating since this is not the first time they've been involved with an infringement, I see this as another aspect of F1 . The engineers and teams constantly thrive to find loop holes in the rules and seek performance and that's their job. If it all went right , then just as Brawn GP in 2009 with their double-diffuser they would be called clever and brilliant. I think this makes things interesting and given F1 this added dimension off the track which makes it even more enjoyable. 

"There's no clause in the regulations that refers to the spirit of the regulations"

After an year off , Hockenheim saw two familiar faces on the starting row of the grid on Sunday although roles reversed. As the front runners lined their cars on the grid after the formation lap , the clever Spaniard angled his car to the right , pointing it to the apex of Turn One, giving signs to the home-race-hero that he still remembered how he was squeezed out two years by him giving way for Massa to inherit the lead , his intentions obviously to unsettle the German ,make him ever so cautious and who know's botch the start ? 

When it comes to mind games , there is no one who can play it better than the cunning Spaniard.

As Karthikeyan took his place to complete the grid of 24 , the marshall waved the green flag giving an all clear. As the five red light illuminated, little did we know we that Hockenheim would provide us with great battles all throughout the grid for 67 laps.

It was go , go , go....

and it was familiar sight of a scarlet car , the Cavallino Rampante living up to the name getting away cleanly and zooming off into the distance undisputed into turn one. Following him were two Germans , a master in a silver arrows threatening his young protege' in a charging bull. The young two time champion racing wheel to wheel into turn 2 at the very same track almost two decades ago where he watched his first formula one race , all to get a glimpse of the man who was threatening to take his second position. 

The battle only lasted for the next 4 corners with Schumacher getting close enough in the breaking zone on the outside , trying to get a good traction out of the hairpin of turn 6 to be able to undercut his rival into the next hander. He was on the inside for it , but got squeezed by him and couldn't put his nose in front , the young protege clearly showing he's learnt a trick or two from idolizing his hero.

Further down the field the other Ferrari lost its front wing , Hamilton dropped back and Button made places at the start and yet another race where Romain Grosjean was involved in an incident before the end of the first sector.

The two race leaders looked to pull away from the others. We were set for a scenario we last witnessed only at the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix, something which fans longed for this season. A straight fight between two double world champions - Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, matching each other for pace . Setting similar lap times , Vettel ever so slowly crawling back into the DRS zone , Alonso maintaining the pace . This was one of those moments where you clearly saw what everyone goes on about Fernando Alonso , his mind-set , his calculations into every lap , his sheer ability to think under pressure. It was very evident as he entered the stadium complex (Sud Kurve) that we could see the Alonso of the Renualt days with an aggressive , strong turn-in , right on the ragged edge getting a good exit onto the start finish straight , nailing turn one and then boosting with 50% of KERS into the Parabolika This enabled him to get a good enough gap and nullify the DRS his opponents had.

Vettel was trailing but never got near , Alonso it seemed wasn't slightly tensed , you could almost sense the Asturian controlling this race , toying with his rivals , confident in his ability. His opponent getting frustrated , mind games galore ! 

And then, came the Joker to have spoil the party in a chromed and updated McLaren. The pace was there ,although Hamilton was a lap down, he had pitted for fresh tyres and with his give-it-all attitude thought to have some fun. He could see the upgrades on the car were working , he was faster than Vettel , a pass would give him and his team confidence in the car ,and with Button not trailing far behind now , it would send a message to Red Bull. McLaren is back...they have the pace to quite literally challenge the front runners.

Vettel frantically waved his hand and later after the race called Hamilton stupid for the maneuver. Hamilton's response was simple and precise "Guess, it shows his maturity".
I feel almost wrong criticizing a double world champion but he really should have just let Hamilton pass him the moment he felt the Brit breathing down his neck. The McLaren was fast, faster than him and Alonso , being on fresher tyres yet Vettel defended. If he did allow the McLaren to pass him easily in the DRS zone he would not have lost time battling him in the braking zone for Turn 8. With Vettel fending off Hamilton , the McLaren driver soon wore out his tyres and his pace dropped , comparable to that of Vettel . This meant that after Hamilton overtook Vettel , he did not have the tyres and the pace to overtake Alonso, Hamilton's pace settled behind the leader and Alonso was able to build a sizable gap to Vettel again.
Alonso's post race comments claimed that he was never wary of Hamilton overtaking him only that the McLaren driver never actually really got the chance and if he indeed did , Alonso would have let him breeze past in the DRS and not lost time waving his hands or outbraking him off the racing line.

 "For me, yes, I didn't feel any risk to be honest. I knew that if Lewis was close enough and using the DRS and trying to overtake, going for it, I had a problem to leave the space and I knew that he was not in the race, so we didn't want to risk anything. For me, it was a good position to have Hamilton between me and Sebastian because we were approaching the pit stop time and having Hamilton there meant that Hamilton was around a second behind you and Sebastian was another second or 1.5s behind Lewis, so this 2.5s to Sebastian was very good, approaching the pit stop time so I tried to keep Lewis behind."

Overall , despite Hamilton not finishing on his 100th Grand Prix ; McLaren have a lot to look forward too. Some people may argue that if Hamilton was fighting for the win he probably would have achieved more than Button but I highly doubt it . We saw the old shades of Button that day, its interesting to note that Button truly out qualified Hamilton the first time this season (except for Spain ofcourse) and that too in conditions where Button has been struggling and where Hamilton is an artist. Button drove a superb race , making up places at the start , overtaking Schumacher and was spurred on by his race engineer that his pace was really good and that he can win the race despite being in 3rd position at that time and 2 seconds behind Vettel. McLaren orchestrated the under-cut beautifully, the pit crew immaculate in achieving the fastest pit-stop in Formula One history - 2.6 seconds and crucially a full second faster than the Red Bull mechanics were able to achieve with Vettel. That coupled with his flying outlap , managed to get him in front of the German home hero. The crowd gasped....

Vettel though was shattered, he was fighting for the lead with Alonso a lap ago , desperately trying to win his home grand prix and break his July jinx and now he was in 3rd with Button closing the gap to Alonso and building a gap to him. He was under -pressure , overdriving the car into Turn 1 , the Sach Kurve , the Mercedes complex , he was all over the place.We got reminded that he's still young , maybe not an old head on a young body ?  But then Button's tyres lost it , Vettel had a chance with the Germans jeering for him , all he had to do was wait it out , wait for Button to fall of the cliff and second place would be his,easy. 

Vettel cracked again, Button was clearly on the inside into turn 6 and the over zealous two time world champion lost his composure and overtook the McLaren miles off track on the kerb.

Alonso, grinning , coasted to the finish line.

It was victory number 30 of his career for Alonso , one behind Nigel Mansell on the all time list. His race craft supreme , and right now without a doubt the most complete driver on the grid, the best even? His race craft unprecedented , better than Schumacher might I add echoing the words of Ferrari employee Andrea Stella. His consistency and pace unquestioned as Stefano Dominicali said "Fernando gave us 67 laps of qualifying" .

This wasn't the first time Alonso received such comments from his team boss. In 2001 , his first Formula One season with Minardi ,  he finished eleventh at the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix —five places outside the points but ahead of Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Prost, the BAR of Olivier Panis, the two Arrows and his team-mate Alex Yoong.Four years later, his team boss from the Minardi days, Paul Stoddart, described his race as "53 laps of qualifying". 

And to top it all off , Ferrari printed out his radio message 5 laps from the end when his race engineer was getting worried about tyre wear. The words simply amaze me 

Rough Translation :"I know it is not 'easy, but try to stay calm. Here 's its all right"

A post race penalty demoted Vettel to fifth for his overtaking prowess, in a race where second place was his if he waited and where more crucially he would have made up points to his team-mate Webber. The Australian had a disappointing race, he was never at speed with the rest of the front runners and seemed to struggle. It was one of the Mark Webber performances which really make me doubt whether he will be world champion. Sometimes, like Button , he just doesn't have the pace in a car which is without a doubt currently the fastest on the grid. 

Sure , the Ferrari is fast and has massively improved. But currently , the Red Bull still is extremely strong in the mid-slow speed corners , McLaren are back too , in terms of pace they are ahead of Ferrari but then again they seem to still haven't understood the tyres and struggle. Everyone is expecting Lotus to win atleast one race, a Spa victory for a certain Finn would be poetic. And who's going to bet against it ? Especially with Lotus trying a Super DRS ; I don't think we can call that "prototype" a double DRS since it doesn't stall the front wing and only gives a Boost in reducing drag to the rear wing . But since they didn't race it , we still don't have a good idea to what it really can achieve or for that matter how effective is it ?

Sauber had a fantastic race, with Kobayashi finishing 4th ahead of Vettel and Perez finishing 6th in an inspiring drive from the back of the field.

Mercedes have lost their way and unluckily I think its when Schumacher has finally got back in his game. You could sense the old-timer's hunger as he relentlessly attacked Vettel for P2 into the first couple of corners knowing full well his car was not competitive. I really hope they bring a sizable update and we see victory number 93. 

Overall, a great race again . Not entirely similar to the other races this year , I would say a little reminiscent of the old Bridgestone era since the final stint wasn't based on strategy and was a pure dog fight till the end. With guile , tactics and technique all in the equation , the 2012 season has thrown us another delight. As many feared seeing Vettel's pace in Valencia that Red Bull are back at it, disappointment looms for their fans. Alonso is on a roll and McLaren look bloody quick on a weekend where they really could not fully test their upgrades.

Luckily, this time we don't have to wait too long. Hungary beckons this weekend. 

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