Vettel strolls to victory in Valencia

By on Monday, June 27, 2011

It’s fair to say that the Valencia Street Circuit is not the favourite track of fans. On paper, it looks great, like the love child of Monaco and Canada, with the harbour side settings and supposed glamour of the Riviera, and the close walls of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Except it hasn’t worked like that, as if it was abandoned at birth by its prestigious lookalikes but kept for 24 cars to race around on. The boats in the harbour were rather small and lacking in numbers, whilst the camera angles don’t do justice to the seaside setting and some genuinely attractive looking buildings. Instead, they show the port and the docklands, an area of a city that is always unappealing, irrespective of the country. There are walls, but they’re so far away from the circuit that only two drivers found them here as Hulkenberg crashed under braking on a very dusty circuit, whilst Kamui Kobayashi adopted his usual style. No further explanation warranted. The problem with the circuit is that the straights just, well, aren’t. The run down to Turn 12 is a long curve, whilst the run down to Turn 17 is comical. If you look at a picture, the cars simply go in a straight line whilst the walls come nearer and further on either side. It looks as if Tilke had downed too much beer when he dreamt that section up. That said, the circuit does have some redeeming features. The last sector is a breathtaking demonstration of speed, with the spectacle enhanced by a static camera on the inside of Turn 23 that was simply stunning. It was also where safety conscious Jarno Trulli decided to go slowly on the racing line and nearly launch Fernando Alonso on a flight towards Barcelona. Despite all of this, the race wasn’t as bad as many claim it was. Entering the weekend, there’s a mindset of ‘Oh its Valencia, it’ll be rubbish’ and therefore there’s already a negative mindset even before Sebastian Vettel has claimed pole position.

There was action in the race; therefore it immediately cannot be classed as a ‘rubbish race’. For that, go and watch 2008 again. Or 2009, where one move was recorded. 2010 was slightly better, but largely helped because Webber used Kovalainen as a launch pad. Up until that point, which was Lap 9, the race had already been labelled as ‘dull’. Expectations are also too high this year as well. Canada delivered one of the greatest races in the history of the sport, so Valencia was always going to fail to better such a weekend. The standard of 2011 races has also been exceptionally high, so whilst the European Grand Prix was a tame affair by 2011 standards, it was still an interesting race.

The start saw Vettel maintain his lead, but surprisingly it was Hamilton who bogged down and his cautious approach to the first corner – perhaps triggered by his antics in the last two races – saw him drop down to fifth, behind Alonso and then fast starting Massa. Vettel streaked into a 3 second lead within the first couple of laps, therefore rendering Webber unable to use his DRS. Button dropped behind Nico Rosberg, but carried greater speed through Turn 1 and slid up the inside into Turn 2. That was the only real action of the day for Button, with the winner of the Canadian Grand Prix nursing a KERS problem and coming home where he started in 6th.

Up front, Vettel still led by Alonso was continuing to hound Webber. Massa and Hamilton were slowly dropping off the pace but comfortably ahead of Button, who lost a great amount of time behind Rosberg. On Lap 21, Alonso got a greater exit from the swing bridge than Webber and outbraked the Australian into Turn 12. The DRS did not work as effectively as it has done in some races this season, but it nevertheless assisted the Ferrari driver in vaulting his rival. However, when the second round of stops approached, Red Bull once again showed their tactical ability by pitted Webber, forcing Alonso to complete another lap. That tour was crucial, as Alonso emerged from his stop behind the Red Bull. However, the battle was far from over as in the third round of stops, Webber pitted earlier again, but lacked pace on his medium tyres. Alonso stayed out longer on his soft tyres and was comfortably ahead of the Australian when he emerged from the pits. Webber then dropped further back as he was informed of a gearbox problem, although he had a comfortable advantage – around half a minute – over Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion had jumped Felipe Massa, who ran too long on his set of tyres and this was exacerbated by a slow stop.

Nico Rosberg took 7th – probably the best Mercedes could hope for – after passing Jaime Alguersuari on track. The Toro Rosso driver put in probably the best performance of his career by converting a lowly 18th place start into a points finish. Alguersuari pitted twice whilst most of his rivals stopped once more and this saw him equal his best result of 8th. With Ricciardo waiting in the wings, both Toro Rosso drivers now have 8 points and Alguersuari’s recent surge surely applies the pressure on his team mate.

Alguersuari managed to fend off Adrian Sutil at the end of the race as the German took off his comedy glasses (BBC viewers will understand this) and put his racing head on. The final point went to Nick Heidfeld in his Renault R31, which thankfully won’t sound like a machine gun on the downshifts any longer.

Outside of the points, there were many familiar faces that are usually higher up. This was because for the fourth time in history, all drivers finished the race. However, no field of so many cars – in this instance, 24 – have finished a race, therefore this became the race with the most classified finishers. Therefore Narain Karthikeyan has the honour – or dishonour – of being the only driver in F1 history to have finished a race in 24th place.

Sergio Perez tried a one stop strategy and his slow pace mid-distance was deceptive as it elevated him to 11th place. The only incident of the day came when Michael Schumacher hit Vitaly Petrov when exiting the pits. Schumacher had to pit for a new front wing, dropping him to the tail of the field and he could only recover to 17th. Petrov similarly had a day to forget as he never recovered from an unusually slow start and came across the line in 15th.

So after some false hope in Canada, Vettel reigns supreme again. He has now taken 186 of the 200 points from this season. Bear in mind that his winning total last year was 256. Before 2010 if you use the newer system, the champions back to 2007 also won with a similar tally. He has a 77 point lead, has pace in hand – as demonstrated yesterday – and the RB7 still has to take to tracks that should suit the car, such as Silverstone and Suzuka.

So if you don’t like the finger, look away now.

The European Grand Prix
Valencia, Spain;
57 laps; 310.080km;
Weather: Sunny.

Classified:

Pos  Driver        Team                       Time
 1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h39:36.169
 2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +    10.891
 3.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +    27.255
 4.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +    46.190
 5.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    51.705
 6.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +  1:00.000
 7.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +  1:38.000
 8.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
 9.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
10.  Heidfeld      Renault                    +     1 lap
11.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +     1 lap
12.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
13.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
14.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
15.  Petrov        Renault                    +     1 lap
16.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +     1 lap
17.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +     1 lap
18.  Maldonado     Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
19.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
20.  Trulli        Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
21.  Glock         Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps
22.  D'Ambrosio    Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps
23.  Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth               +    3 laps
24.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +    3 laps

Drivers:                                 
 1.  Vettel       186
 2.  Button       109
 3.  Webber       109
 4.  Hamilton      97
 5.  Alonso        87
 6.  Massa         42
 7.  Rosberg       32
 8.  Petrov        31
 9.  Heidfeld      30
10.  Schumacher    26
11.  Kobayashi     25
12.  Sutil         10
13.  Alguersuari    8
14.  Buemi          8
15.  Barrichello    4
16.  Perez          2
17.  Di Resta       2

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