Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Next generation explode onto the scene // Eventful race allows youngsters to shine as Vettel’s gearbox failure blows championship wide open

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Well, what a difference eleven laps make. Coming to the end of lap 41, Sebastian Vettel looked odds on for a simple victory, and given the circumstances in the world championship, it really looked like a race where ‘the championship was won’ with Kimi Räikkönen in third and Fernando Alonso in fifth, allowing Vettel to open up his lead in the championship.

Championship points comparison
DriverBefore GPLap 40After GP
S Vettel132157132
F Alonso96106111
K Räikkönen8810398

But barely half the story had been told by this point, as Vettel’s retirement triggered a safety car, a mad rush into the pits for the strategically aware as well as a chaotic sprint finish; not to mention bait for Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso.

Much has been said criticising the British fans for cheering Vettel’s retirement but I have to say that I don’t blame them. First of all, it was a flashpoint in a seemingly processional race up front, as well as a moment that changed the complexion of the title fight entirely, that’s always going to cause a reaction. I also have to add that I was at the Belgian GP in 2009 when Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were both knocked out at Les Combes on lap one and the majority if the crowd on the Kemmel straight went mad, so I see it as revenge for that too. I’m not so sure about the ‘multi-21’ theory though.

Third row points to the future

Di Resta exits his garage
Credit: Sahara Force India Formula One Team

It turns out that there was actually some racing on Sunday, although you wouldn’t have believed it with all the complaints in the media afterwards. (Yes, there is a problem with the Pirelli tyres, but let’s find out what the problem is before we start talking about solutions). And despite the fact that only one of these drivers started on row three, their performance on Saturday as well as Sunday warrants top billing here.

While Lewis Hamilton took the plaudits on Saturday, deservedly so when you watch his pole lap, behind the Mercedes vs. Red Bull battle was an interesting fight for best of the rest, even without Ferrari and Lotus. Paul di Resta and Daniel Ricciardo are both interested in Mark Webber’s Red Bull drive next year and need to start showing it on the track, though I think Di Resta is more likely to be aiming at Kimi Räikkönen’s Lotus seat if he replaces Webber.

That said both were on top form in qualifying, within half a second of the Red Bulls, showing just how close the midfield is to the front of F1. The missing 1.5 kilos in Di Resta’s car might well have been the difference as both came of age.

After such a great performance in qualifying, it was disappointing to see Di Resta, rightly, put to the back of the field, but it gave him a chance to show his class, rather than standing still as the Red Bulls and Mercedes drove off into the distance. The Scot got a bit of luck with the timing of the first safety car to bring him into play for a points finish, as well as other contenders having issues of their own. But then the safety car for Vettel’s stricken Red Bull cost him as others were allowed to pit for fresh tyres and the flying Scot’s charge came to a halt in ninth.

Ricciardo at Silverstone
Credit: Paul Gilham

Ricciardo was also a victim of the Vettel safety car for the same reason and it probably cost him a career best result as he had performed well to hold a place in the top four for much of the race before the likes of Räikkönen, Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and Massa came surging through after various issues. Where could he have finished had he pitted late on as his rivals did? A podium wasn’t out of the question.

Regardless, it was a terrific drive by the Aussie, one that he needed after Webber’s announcement, though I still think that Räikkönen and Vergne, who would have had a good result but for a puncture, have a better chance of the drive.

Rosberg doesn't need second invitation

He may well have been overshadowed by Hamilton in qualifying, and struggled for pace early in the race behind his teammate and Vettel, but from the moment Hamilton’s tyre delaminated, Nico Rosberg came alive. He stuck with Vettel throughout when many, including me, expected the Red Bull to cruise away. He had the pace to fight Vettel, but if it weren’t for the triple champion’s retirement, he wouldn’t have won the race, partly because he wasn’t catching him quite fast enough, but mostly because of the fact that his own tyre was about to fail catastrophically.

I can’t believe that the Mercedes is suddenly so much faster that it can challenge Red Bull

Still, Rosberg was good enough to stay with Vettel, and I can’t believe that the Mercedes is suddenly so much faster that it can challenge Red Bull on race pace after the clandestine test. Mercedes are faster, but so is Rosberg.

The German is clearly the real deal, only seven points behind Hamilton, but I have to say that neither he, nor Hamilton have the pace to fight for the title. They do have the pace to affect the title in a big way, however. What’s more, his defence against Webber in the final laps was impressive, especially from a man who is known to be soft in close combat, and it will do his confidence the world of good.

Webber bows out (sort of) in style

It wasn’t Webber’s final race, but it certainly felt different. It tends to give a driver a bit of a lift after an announcement like that, and none more so than Mark Webber, who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Alonso and Webber post race
Credit: Paul Gilham

He came closer than ever to beating Vettel in qualifying this year ending up fourth, but couldn’t take advantage, having an average start that got worse when he had terrible wheelspin in second gear. He was in the midfield by turn one and contact with “first lap nutcase” Romain Grosjean only made things worse, dropping him to 14th.

But then his Aussie grit shone through as the fight back began. He had fought his way up to seventh by the time he pitted on lap ten, replacing his nose to bring his car back to full strength. He clearly had a speed advantage as he battled through the field and was in the pound seats when he had a ‘free’ pit stop to change to fresh rubber for the last ten laps. It allowed him to breeze past potential successor Ricciardo, Adrian Sutil and Kimi Räikkönen, and mount a challenge on Nico Rosberg, where he came up just short. Still, not bad for a number two driver.

The German Grand Prix is now a watershed moment for F1 for so many reasons. Firstly, the championship could sway on it. Sebastian Vettel has always struggled at home, much like his hero Michael Schumacher did, and another bad result could really open the title fight up if Ferrari and Lotus can get back on form.

But F1 itself will have bigger issues. There is no point putting solutions in place until Pirelli fully understands what causes the tyre failures. They should know that by Wednesday, leaving no time to change the tyre construction, though that takes months, not days anyway. But last minute solutions, such as curb alterations, may be needed. And, if they are required for safety reasons, they will be forced through by the FIA. I would be stunned if a boycott, or a repeat of Indianapolis 2005 happens this Sunday.