- Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column
Alonso's master class kept Vettel honestKarun Chandhok June 30, 2011
From the outside, as an objective viewer, it's hard to put a positive spin on the European Grand Prix from last weekend. The race in 2008 was painfully dull but 2009 and 2010 were quite interesting, albeit due to strategy and incidents rather than actual on-track action. We all know that the street circuit in Valencia is one of the least overtaking-friendly circuits on the calendar and normally people wouldn't have been so bothered. This season however, Formula One has totally reinvented itself and the racing has been simply superb with overtaking happening even in Barcelona.
I would have liked to tell you first-hand about the circuit this weekend but unfortunately we had a gearbox issue which stopped me even doing one timed lap so I'll have to count on experience from last year to write about! As a layout, I don't mind the Valencia circuit. It's not a classic street circuit like Monaco or Montreal, nor is it a particularly tricky challenge like Melbourne, but the heat does make it hard work especially on the Sundays.
Seb Vettel once again showed his class by taking pole position, despite aborting his final lap, and then dominated the race, doing enough to win but not too much to damage the tyres. It was a classy display of pace management and one that's rewarded him with a championship lead large enough to drop three race wins (at the least) and still hold the lead.
The fact that Fernando Alonso raced hard and beat one of the Red Bulls tells us two things - 1) once again the double world champion out-performed his car to get an extra three points and 2) we're not quite yet at a stage to panic and think we have another Michael Schumacher/Ferrari period of dominance on our hands in Formula One. Fernando hasn't had a podium in Valencia from the previous three races held there and this time around he finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about with a typically charging drive. His relentless pursuit of the Red Bulls is just a master class in how a driver should never give up and his ability to push 110% every corner of every lap while having his mind on the strategy and tyres. It is a huge part of what makes him the asset that he is to Ferrari.
I thought Valencia was Mark Webber's strongest weekend of the year. For the first time he seemed to have a clean run through free practice and it showed as he got closer to Seb's time than he has in recent races. On Sunday, despite some issues with lapped cars, the Aussie seemed comfortable enough to run in that lead pack of three - not really close enough to challenge Seb but always in the vicinity in case something went wrong.
Despite Fernando pulling off a good DRS-assisted move on him, the team used the undercut strategy at the second pitstop to jump back ahead. At the final stop though, two things didn't quite go to plan - 1) Mark ran a bit wide coming in to the pits and 2) The swap to the prime tyre meant his outlaps weren't great as the tyre came up to optimum operating temperature and that allowed the Ferrari to get back in front. Still a podium in a normal dry race without safety cars, etc. will be a nice boost of confidence for the man who triumphed at Silverstone last year.
McLaren and Mercedes-GP both seemed to have difficult weekends and weren't really in a position to challenge the Ferraris on Sunday despite Lewis outqualifying both the scarlet cars. It's been an interesting sub-plot this year to see how the battle for second fastest team has ebbed and flowed between Ferrari and McLaren with the odd cameo from Mercedes. The Brackley-based squad is now firmly fourth best I think it's safe to say, ahead of Renault, Sauber and Williams. But once again Schumacher's afternoon was compromised by breaking his front wing on the back of Vitaly Petrov's Renault when leaving the pits.
Jaime Alguersuari was one of the stars of the race. Having been knocked out in Q1, he drove a great race managing the tyres on a two-stop strategy to haul himself into the points. Yet again however, it was a good illustration of how having an extra set or two sets of new tyres can pay off massively in the race. The Spaniard was able to run on a strategy out of sync with the others and therefore slightly out of the traffic which helped him drag his Toro Rosso to eighth by the finish. I'm sure there will be plenty of strategists from the other midfield teams in the pit lane looking at the pace and the strategy employed by the Toro Rosso.
Silverstone's a great driver's circuit but it will be strange to go there and not charge down to Copse corner as the first corner of the lap. There's been a lot of talk about the new pit complex in the press, and while it does look impressive I find it hard to get excited about a building - what always impresses me is the circuit and how quick and enjoyable it is to drive at Silverstone! The Maggots, Becketts complex is one of the best places in the world to watch a Formula One car live and anyone who has a chance to get down there and watch should absolutely do so at some point in life!
Karun Chandhok gives his views exclusively to ESPNF1 at the end of every grand prix weekend