The Brazilian GP closes the 2011 book

By on Thursday, December 1, 2011

Webber's win finally came at the last race of the season

A rather boring Brazilian Grand Prix put an end to one of the most sensational seasons ever. This year, Sebastian Vettel clinched his second consecutive title with Red Bull, becoming a double world champion along the way. Jenson Button beat his teammate to the runner-up spot in the standings. Fernando Alonso took more than double the points of his teammate Felipe Massa. Michael Schumacher was closer to Nico Rosberg this year but he was still beaten by his teammate, especially in qualifying. All the rookies on the grid this season were beaten by their teammates in the drivers' standings, although one can say that di Resta and Perez both did a good job in helping their respective teams’ championship campaigns. Force India continues its improving form over the years and took the 6th spot in the constructors' standings, the best result of the team so far. Toro Rosso fought right to the end with Sauber for 7th but they eventually finished the season in 8th. Still, they have lots of reason to cheer as they had a very good season, especially towards the end. Lotus (aka Caterham) separated itself from HRT and Virgin, one step closer towards becoming an established and competitive mid-field outfit in 2012.

The race saw Mark Webber’s first win of the season, albeit a gifted one as Vettel suffered a gearbox problem as early as on Lap 6. He had to manage it throughout the race and yield the position to his teammate to guarantee a Red Bull one-two. The German had been dominating the race when his gearbox failed and did not show any signs of losing his form. He had to be a team player by letting Webber pass in order not to hold him up against Alonso and Button. Red Bull, in fact, were lucky to have this failure here as their rivals did not seem to be match for them. Therefore, they easily managed the pace and the gearbox issue until the end of the race without any serious threat coming from McLaren or Ferrari. However, I don’t think Webber himself is too happy to win under such circumstances. But a win is still a win and you have to be there to pick up the spoils. Webber was there and good for him.

When the first pitstops arrived, it was clear that we were heading for a three-stop race as opposed to pre-race predictions about a two-stop strategy. Higher than expected temperatures resulted in more tyre wear, thus forcing the top runners to pit as early as Lap 15. A three-stop race was the winning strategy on Sunday. All the top runners went for three stops except for Massa who was forced to stop only twice when his team discovered that one of his soft tyres had a puncture after qualifying, leaving him short of a set of tyres. He had to use the medium tyres for as long as 26 laps, which meant at the end of the race a 30-second gap had opened up to his three-stopping teammate. Alonso also suffered on the medium tyre and lost the last podium spot to Button, who was on a different tyre strategy. Button had been more comfortable on medium tyres than on soft tyres all weekend so he chose to use two sets of medium tyres in the race. No other driver did that. Rosberg, on the other hand, suffered a balance problem throughout the race, which forced him to manage his tyres. He could not fight with Massa or Sutil and eventually ended up behind them even though he had outqualified both. Adrian Sutil did a very good job and finished the season on a high with a very respectable 6th place ahead of his teammate di Resta, who was on a different strategy. Force India tends to split their strategies between drivers, as we have been seeing for some races now.

Sauber again took advantage of its gentle tyre usage and managed to put Kamui Kobayashi in a point scoring position ahead of the Toro Rossos, securing Sauber the 7th spot in the championship standings. Kobayashi started the race from 16th on the grid and managed to make the soft tyres work better than Vitaly Petrov did, who had started from 15th on the grid. By making one less pitstop, Kobayashi was able to leapfrog Petrov. It was interesting that neither of them had any new soft tyres left after qualifying although they were both eliminated in Q2, unlike di Resta who kept a new set of softs for the race which eventually did him good as he finished in the points yet again. Toro Rosso didn’t look quite as competitive as they were in Brazil and they finished just outside the points in 11th and 12th, with Jaime Alguersuari beating his teammate.

Red Bull had opened the 2011 curtain with Sebastian Vettel’s win and it now closed with Mark Webber’s. They simply outdid their rivals on every aspect of F1: innovation, in-season development, qualifying, tyre usage, race pace, reliability, strategy, pit-stops, risk management and decision making. 2011 will be remembered for its electrifying races and Red Bull’s domination. Red Bull took 18 pole positions of out of a possible 19. They won 12 times and was on the podium 27 times. They also collected 112 points more than last year. They had been the team to beat in Australia as well as in Brazil. Undoubtedly, they will start 2012 as the team to beat as well.

Facts and figures: This race was Mark Webber's third race in which he led at least one lap. The Brazilian GP saw Mark Webber's most number of laps led in a race this year, which was 41. This race increased his total number of laps led to 59, a whopping 258 laps less than what he managed last year. Rosberg, Massa and Schumacher were the three other drivers who led a race this season but never translated it into a race win. Vettel led 739 laps out of a possible 1133. His nearest rival for number of laps led is Lewis Hamilton with 150 laps. The fastest pitstop in Brazil came from McLaren when Hamilton pitted for the second time on Lap 33: 20.396 seconds. Rosberg's and Alonso's fastest pitstops were exactly identical: 20.773 seconds. All of Red Bull's pitstops bar Vettel's last one were under the 21 second barrier. The only midfield team who managed to get under 21 seconds was Force India, with 20.745 seconds on di Resta's first pitstop. Only the top five drivers finished the race on the lead lap. In the Spanish GP, only the top four finished on the lead lap. The Brazilian GP also saw the second biggest gap between the win and second position, with 16.983 seconds between Webber and Vettel. The only other race with a bigger gap was in Australia where Vettel finished the race 22.297 seconds in front of Hamilton.

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