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F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 7) - Strategy calls - Being on the right tyres at the right time makes all the difference

Published by Christine

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Hello, welcome, this is the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, a mini series of bite size episodes running through the key events of the season, what made it shine and what we could have lived without. Last time we talked about Red Bull’s risky business in Monaco, and it continues here with Day Seven - Strategy calls.

Mark Webber won the Monaco Grand Prix, but the team knew that they were playing fast and loose with the rules surrounding the floor of the car. At least three teams had raised questions with the FIA over a hole in front of the rear wheels, and although Red Bull were allowed to keep their victory from the principality, it wasn’t long before their new design was banned.

A week before the Canadian Grand Prix, the FIA issued a ruling to the teams, saying that from Canada onwards they would not be allowed to use the design displayed by Red Bull. The team reacted swiftly, playing down the impact on them by saying they weren’t intending to use the Monaco configuration anyway, so there would be no need to modify the cars ahead of the race in Montreal.

And, quite predictably, it was Sebastian Vettel who took pole position on Saturday in Canada, as if to prove a point. Lewis Hamilton was just behind him, with Fernando Alonso third. Further back, Pastor Maldonado crashed his Williams car in the second session, avoiding a big smash into the wall, but hitting it hard enough to damage the suspension. He qualified 17th, and the team opted to change his gearbox as well which pushed him all the way down the order to 22nd - a far cry from the winning ways of the early part of the season.

Vettel got a good start as the rest of the field made it through the first corner cleanly. The first half of the race saw the cars gradually spreading out, with things somewhat processional until the pit stops began. Hamilton had managed to keep tabs on Vettel in the first stint, and despite a poor stop from the McLaren team, he managed to come out ahead of the Red Bull. Fernando Alonso also gained in the stops and managed to jump both drivers, but Lewis wasn’t about to let him get away with it, and took his position at the head of the train. When Romain Grosjean pitted from the lead, it promoted Hamilton to P1 from which he never looked back.

Meanwhile, Sergio Pérez had qualified his Sauber way down in 15th place, but by opting for a one stop strategy, he had managed to claw his way up to fifth place, sitting just behind Kimi Räikkönen in fourth who was also trying to one-stop. It wasn’t until Lap 42 that Pérez made his one and only stop, coming back out of the pitlane in eighth place.

Just behind him, Michael Schumacher had been running eighth, but his DRS developed a problem with the flap stuck open. He dived into the pitlane and the mechanics gave it a good shove but it wouldn’t budge. The car was too dangerous, not to mention illegal, to drive with it constantly open, so his race was over from there.

The second stint saw Hamilton open up a gap to the drivers behind him, and it became clear that if all things remained as they were, there was nothing Alonso or Vettel could do to make up the gap. The pair decided, independently, to switch to one stop strategies, knowing that McLaren would call Hamilton in for a fresh set of tyres and they would end up in front.

This came to pass, but the trouble with staying out longer than you had originally planned is that the tyres don’t always agree. Both Alonso and Vettel saw their lap times dropping off, and it was easy for Hamilton to come back through on his fresh rubber and retake the lead. With the win gone anyway, Vettel opted to take a late stop and came out in fifth place. Alonso remained out on track, but was an easy target for those behind him. Romain Grosjean passed him, then Sergio Pérez and even Vettel, so that it was Alonso who finished fifth when the chequered flag was waved.

Lewis Hamilton secured his first win of the season, the seventh different driver on the top step of the podium. Alongside him, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Pérez, the second visit for each driver to the trophy ceremony.

Canada has been known for delivering chaotic races in the past, but in 2012, it was about watching the strategies unfold and seeing how the teams would react to them - a slightly calmer affair but still one that spoke volumes about the way the racing would be in the coming weeks.

That’s all for this episode of the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, thank you for listening and for getting through seven days, one whole week, of bitesize memories. I’ll be back next time with another short recap of a key moment of 2012, so I hope you’ll join me then.

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