Monday, 22 June 2009

Sebastian Vettel wins in Silverstone in a hugely dominant weekend for Red Bull Racing

It was 61 years ago in 1948 that on this very Northamptonshire race track, the era of Grand Prix racing officially began and two years later in 1950, the first race of the inaugural FIA Formula 1 World Championship was the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Similarly, there are plenty of other reasons one could find as to why this legendary track is viewed by many as the home of motorsport. Just like in cricket there is the Lord's cricket ground, in football there is the Wembley stadium, in Formula 1 we have Silverstone. Coming into round 8 of the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship, it was not a surprise that more than a 100,000 British motorsport fans gathered among a sell-out crowd at Silverstone to cheer for local boys Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. The defending World Champion won this race last year with a brilliant drive in torrential rain. So far this year, the other Briton had been leading the driver's World Championship in his BrawnGP car, and looked hot favourite for what would be Button's first ever home Grand Prix win.

The start of the weekend however wasn't particularly promising for the Brawn team. It was mainly because the Brawn car had been designed in such a way that it is very gentle on the tyres, which means that in extreme hot weather conditions when other cars struggle with graining, the tyres on the BrawnGPs last a lot longer. At the mild temperatures of Northamptonshire though, the BrawnGPs were struggling to get heat into the tyres throughout the weekend. Tyres for Formula 1 cars have to operate within a specific temperature range to give optimum levels of grip, below that range and the tyres will struggle for grip and above the range the tyres will wear out very quickly otherwise known as graining. This temperature range varies from car to car, as different teams' cars have different aerodynamic properties all affecting the balance, grip and downforce of the car. So while the BrawnGPs work better in hot conditions and struggle for grip in milder temperatures, their closest competitor Red Bull Racing's cars work superbly at low temperatures but are known to wear out quickly in hotter weather. On top of that, add the updates that Red Bull brought in for their cars this weekend which include a new nose cone, a new rear diffuser, a new floor and a new wing end plate. All that made the Milton-Keynes based team the favourites to win this race.

So when Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel stormed into pole position in Saturday's Qualifying session, not a lot of people were surprised. His team mate Mark Webber however, only managed 3rd on the starting grid as he was held up a little bit on his last flying lap by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the Hangar straight. Local favourite Jenson Button only managed to qualify for 6th position, as a lack of tyre temperature meant he was struggling with understeer and a lack of grip. Although it was not all doom and gloom for the Brackley based team as their other driver Rubens Barrichello qualified on 2nd, alongside Vettel on the front row. Toyota's Jarno Trulli qualified in 4th whereas Williams' Kazuki Nakajima qualified in 5th, his best ever starting position. The two Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa only managed 9th and 11th.

For Jenson Button to have any chance of a podium finish let alone victory, it was very important that he gets a good start. Although he had a clean getaway, he failed to get past Jarno Trulli within the first lap. Sebastian Vettel in front had a flying start and immediately started to pull away from the rest of the pack at over a second a lap. The two Ferraris, the only cars that ran KERS this weekend as even McLaren decided to run without it, had very good starts as well as within the first few corners they have moved up the grid to 5th and 8th position respectively. But this race was all about Sebastian Vettel, who despite running a heavier fuel load than most of the front runners, was pulling away at over a second a lap faster than anyone else. By the time he pitted on lap 21, he had built up a gap of almost 23 seconds over 2nd placed Rubens Barrichello.

Near the back of the field, in the first stint of the race, there was a very interesting duel between Nick Heidfeld and Lewis Hamilton and between Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso. Heidfeld damaged his front wing a little bit at the start of the race, but despite his team's request he denied to make an early pit stop and stayed on with the damaged wing. He was however understandably struggling for pace, and was feverishly trying to defend his position from current World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Ahead of them, the other BMW of Robert Kubica was holding up Fernando Alonso who despite several attempts, was finding it very hard to overtake the BMW. In the last part of the race, we saw another epic duel but this time between current World Champion Lewis Hamilton and former double World Champion Fernando Alonso. That fight was on for 16th and 17th position, and provided a very good spectacle for the highly enthusiastic local crowds.

One thing that was clear though that a two-stop pit strategy was the way to go here. All the drivers who started lighter than their team-mates finished behind their team-mates. A prime example of this was Ferrari. Raikkonen started with a light fuel load, but due to a lack of overtaking opportunities, he failed to capitalise on that. His Brazilian team mate Massa however, started from 11th with a fuel load heavier than everyone else's in front of him. So while all the front runners went in for their first pit stops, Massa stayed on for a long first stint and coupled with a good race pace for the F60, Massa was up in 2nd by the time he made his first stop in lap 23. Massa eventually finished in 4th position and his team mate in 8th, a pretty remarkable performance from Ferrari seeing both their drivers finish in the points.

When Red Bull Racing's 21 year old German driver Sebastian Vettel took the Chequered Flag on lap 60, the grand stand at Silverstone gave him a standing ovation to congratulate him on his first dry weather victory. It was also the second time this season, the first one being in China, that the Milton Keynes based Red Bull Racing had finished with a one-two position. Behind Mark Webber, BrawnGP's Rubens Barrichello finished in 3rd while his British team mate Jenson Button finished in 6th. The other Briton Lewis Hamilton could only manage 16th, in another dismal weekend for McLaren-Mercedes.

But the day entirely belonged to Sebastian Vettel. When he walked up to the podium, he gave a trademark Schumacher-esque jump to celebrate his victory. It was also a trip down memory lane for someone like me to hear the German national anthem on the podium at Silverstone for the first time since 2004, and back then it was of course played for seven times World Champion the legendary Michael Schumacher. Formula 1 now takes a short break from the on-track action before it returns in three weeks' time at the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. It will be Sebastian Vettel's home Grand Prix and he will be very eager to continue his winning form in front of his home crowd. Don't miss it but until then, drive safely!

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