From the shear disappointment of over 20,000 fans turned away for a sodden qualifying session, to the amazing last lap manoeuvres from the likes of Mark Webber, Bruno Senna and Michael Schumacher, and finally to the ludicrous new podium procedure, the 2012 British Grand Prix has provided very mixed results and emotions.
Whatever your thoughts on the fan turn-away on Saturday or the ridiculous new podium farce, I don’t think many people will come away from the actual track action with disappointment.
Track conditions played a colossal part in Silverstone’s 2012 qualifying session.
After a soaked Friday practice in which only a few drivers had even bothered to brave, many were extremely thankful that Saturday morning was dry. However, typically, just seconds before the first qualifying session was set to begin, the rain began to fall.
The rain had been so heavy that many fans had been advised not to attend qualifying.
There was a mad dash to queue for crucial track position, and it came as no surprise when the wet track led to the drag reduction system being disabled.
Early on it was clear that Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault were fast, but it was strange to see such unimpressive early times from the Red Bulls and McLarens. The Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton soon found some better speed, but Jenson Button’s recent dip in form continued to take a nose dive as the driver plagued by Silverstone bad luck never really left in the drop out zone.
The track tried as qualifying one unfolded, but it was a little overoptimistic of Sauber to fit slick tires with six minutes left (both drivers soon pitted for a return to intermediate tires).
The times remained close, but it was pretty clear that the new teams weren’t going to cause any upsets in the changeable conditions. Having said that, although the new teams were unable to make a difference on the time sheets, arguably Timo Glock’s last lap spin (and the yellow flag it caused) almost certainly ruined Button’s last lap attempt to survive Q1.
Button had fitted a new set of intermediates and was running much better on them, but when he was forced to slow under yellow flag conditions he was powerless and his Silverstone woes continued.
Qualifying two seems to have split many fans opinions. The rain had begun to fall much heavier and conditions were tricky to say the least. We saw some huge spins from the likes of Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Paul di Resta.
The session was red flagged after about nine minutes after several radio messages from drivers complaining that it was too slippery. Now, a lot of fans seem to think that this was farcical and that the session should have continued, and some have even tried to suggest that it was only stopped after Alonso complained on his radio (some seem to think that Alonso/Ferrari thought they wouldn’t qualify well in the conditions).
First, the Alonso/Ferrari favouritism claim is, in my opinion, ridiculous, as many seem to have conveniently forgotten that the likes of Hamilton and Schumacher were also concerned with the conditions, and secondly, you could clearly see how dangerous the track was!
Anyway, the session restarted after about an hour-and-a-half and everyone raced to the track in a mad rush for survival. The racing was close and exciting as drivers popped up as high as P2 before dropping as low as P13!
With seconds to go it was clear at least one big name would be dropping out in Q2, and despite Alonso’s early speed on the re-start it looked like he was one of them.
In fact Alonso nearly suffered the same fate as Button, as a spin from Romain Grosjean caused yellow flags again. Alonso crossed the line in P9 and crucially did so without setting a fastest time in the yellow-flagged sector of the track.
Qualifying three was excellent, despite there only being nine runners (Grosjean made it into Q3, but he was forced to stop after his spin in Q2).
The fight for pole was between the Ferraris and Mark Webber. It was extremely refreshing to see Felipe Massa performing so well and challenging for pole.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the relative slowness of Hamilton. He never really got much higher than P6 and eventually had to make do with P8. Last-gasp laps from Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher spoiled Massa’s fun, but the real fight was between Alonso and Webber.
It was close, but Alonso eventually emerged as the winner, beating his rumoured future teammate by just 0.00.47 seconds!
This was Alonso and Ferrari’s first pole since Singapore 2010.
1. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
2. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault
3. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes
4. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault
5. Felipe Massa, Ferrari
6. Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus-Renault
7. Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Renault
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes
9. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes
10. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault
11. Paul di Resta, Force India-Mercedes
12. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari
13. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes
14. Daniel Ricciardo, STR-Ferrari
15. Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault
16. Jean-Eric Vergne, STR-Ferrari
17. Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari
18. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes
19. Vitaly Petrov, Caterham-Renault
20. Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham-Renault
21. Timo Glock, Marussia-Cosworth
22. Pedro de la Rosa, HRT-Cosworth
23. Narain Karthikeyan, HRT-Cosworth
DNQ Charles Pic, Marussia-Cosworth
We saw our first retirement before the race even began when Petrov was forced to stop out on the track on his way to the grid. His Caterham’s technical difficulties proved to be terminal, and despite his team's best efforts, he was unable to take part in the race.
The start itself was excellent.
Alonso had decided to start on the harder tire whilst his rivals behind him were all on the softer compound (with the exception of Hamilton in P8). The softer tires usually give a stronger getaway, and conscious of this, Alonso decided to dart right in front of Webber as soon as the lights went out.
Both Webber and Alonso drove with intense skill and respect as Alonso was able to hold on to P1 into the first corners.
There were also great starts from Massa and Button, but it wasn’t too long before we were watching our second retirement of the day. As the snake of cars took to the first few turns, Grosjean’s Renault made contact with the back of di Resta’s Force India. Both cars were forced to pit, and although Grosjean was able to rejoin, di Resta’s race was over.
The next laps provided some great action, with punchy performances from both Saubers, Massa, Vettel and Schumacher.
The positions after two laps were:
Alonso, Webber, Schumacher, Massa, Vettel, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Senna, Perez, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Button, Rosberg, Vergne, Ricciardo, Glock, Di la Rosa, Kovalainen, Karthikeyan and Pic.
Around Lap 6 the race had begun to cool. It was around this time that we learned that both McLarens were struggling with grip.
Vettel was the first front runner to pit, and he interestingly choose to fit the hard tires that seemed to be working so well on race leader Alonso’s car. Around this time, the action began to hot up again, first when Massa was able to excellently pass his old teammate Schumacher for P3, and secondly when Perez and Maldonado made contact going into Brooklands corner.
The two drivers were battling for strong points positions, and as they took to the corner, Perez had decided to go around the outside. As the cars entered the turn, Maldonado seemed to lose full control of his car and his Williams spun and bumped into Perez’s Sauber.
Maldonado was able to recover, but the contact had been terminal for Perez. The young Sauber driver was furious and made no hesitation in accusing Maldonado of very dangerous driving.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the incident, as I don’t believe Maldonado deliberately drove into Perez. I think he lost control going into the corner, but the problem is, his history in such incidents does not count in his favour.
After this incident, the rest of the pack began to make their stops.
Little did we know it at the time, but these stops were race changing. Although very few positions changed, Ferrari’s decision to re-fit hard tires instead of getting a short stint on the soft tires out of the way may well have eventually cost them the race.
This was clearly a tough decision, but ultimately I think the team made the right one in their second stop. I think they probably should have started on the softs, but then who knows how the race would have started and where Alonso would have eventually finished.
The next bit of excitement came from what can only be described as an awesome old-school dog fight between Alonso and Hamilton. By Lap 19, Hamilton had yet to stop and Alonso had closed up to the back of his 2007 teammate.
The drivers changed positions through at least four corners and it really felt like watching racing from the 1980s and '90s. Alonso eventually won the mini-battle, but it was far more important for him to get through and stay in front as he was being chased by the Red Bulls on a different strategy.
By Lap 28 it looked as if Alonso was in control, and although there were some interesting little tussles, the race had cooled. The action heated up again around Lap 33 when Hamilton’s tires began to fall away and his strategy (the same as Alonso’s) looked to be failing.
This must have sent warning signals to the Ferrari team but they were powerless to do much about it. Alonso decided to pit on Lap 38 for the soft tires, and although he rejoined ahead of Webber, it looked as though it would only be a matter of time before his softer tires wore away and Webber would be able to pass on much harder tires.
The battle for pole was close and exciting, but with the DRS zone and such a difference in tire ware, I think a lot of the punch had been taken out of the action. I think if it had just been a case of the tires, we could have seen a much closer battle, but with the ridiculous DRS system, Webber was eventually able to pass without much trouble.
I really do hate DRS. There were several occasions in today’s race when I felt that the action would have been far better without that crappy little button that makes passing such a farce in modern F1. I think in my heart I know that Alonso wouldn’t have been able to hold off Webber on those tires (that’s a fight for another article) but I do think he could have held for a little longer.
In the end, I think many will criticise Ferrari for their strategy, but I would argue it was well worth a try, and they have ended up finishing in strong positions and are now second in the Constructors’ Championship. Mark Webber drove fantastically and was fast precisely when he needed to be whilst also staying in control of his tires.
I think my only complaint with the 2012 British Grand Prix will be with the embarrassing new podium procedure in which the drivers are interviewed just after the champagne.
The drivers were tired and clearly very unprepared for the interviews and it ended up making the sport look very amateurish. You need time after such intense action to collect your thoughts, and who the hell is going to be able to make any sense seconds after a two-hour race and an intense chug of champagne!?
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull 216
1. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
3. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault
4. Felipe Massa, Ferrari
5. Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus-Renault
6. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault
7. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes
9. Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault
10. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes
11. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari
12. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes
13. Daniel Ricciardo, STR-Ferrari
14. Jean-Eric Vergne, STR-Ferrari
15. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes
16. Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Renault
17. Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham-Renault
18. Timo Glock, Marussia-Cosworth
19. Charles Pic, Marussia-Cosworth
20. Pedro de la Rosa, HRT-Cosworth
21. Narain Karthikeyan, HRT-Cosworth
Ret Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari
Ret Paul diResta, Force India-Mercedes