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GP Week : Issue 117
23 Thereweremoments,inthebuild-up to the Santander Spanish Grand Prix, when it looked as though this one might just get away from the World Champion. In qualifying, for instance, Mark Alan Webber not only enjoyed a trouble-free run towards the only sub-1min 21sec lap of the weekend but also to his first pole of the year. He loves Sector 3 in Barcelona – and in particular Turn 14, a seemingly-innocuous tight left-hander that has a run-on effect to T16. He had Seb there in 2010 (in terms of a slight edge) and he was reasonably confident that he’d have him there again in 2011. As it turned out, though, the comparison was needless. Seb lost much of FP3 on Saturday morning (electrical ‘coil’ problem) and was then KERS-less for qualifying – a problem that will hurt you most in S3 at Barcelona because of the emphasis in that last sector on engine torque. Mark’s pole indeed showed that he’d been 0.3 sec quicker than Seb through S3 but how much of that was Mark and how much of that was KERS? We’ll never truly know. What we did know was that Mark climbed from his car not with a smile on his face but with the Silverstone visage of victory- under-fire. For there had been just enough time, after Mark had taken the pole, for Seb to try once more. The tyre guys brought forward another set of softs; the wheel guns clattered; and Seb’s Number One began to clear the car. Over on the other side of the garage, meanwhile, one Australian racing driver was quietly going bananas, asking his guys why Seb was heading out on another set of tyres when they’d agreed in Turkey that they’d both do one run in Q3 if they were one- two with a bit of margin. Mark’s engineers conflabbed on the pit wall with the RBR management. There was a discussion. There was a decision. And the nod went to Mark: There would be no second runs. Seb removed his steering wheel and climbed from Adrian Newey’s masterpiece. There were other signs, too, that this was not your average Seb Vettel weekend: Mark’s young GP3 protégé, Mitch Evans, took the pole for the GP3 race early on Saturday morning and converted that into a feature- length win in the late afternoon. That was two-up for Team Webber. All he needed was a clean start on Sunday. From Seb’s standpoint, therefore, this was a tough race whichever way you cut it. He’d missed FP3; he had the KERS issue about which to worry (especially over the first 440 metre drag race into the T1 braking area); he was on the dirty side of the grid; and he would be racing a team-mate who flies at Barcelona when he isn’t in a winning car and dominates it (as per 2010) when he is. In the paddock, at Force India’s early- evening ‘Taste of India’ party, the talk was thus about Webber. Could he take the race to Seb? Would this be the start of another Aussie streak? Would tomorrow re-ignite the championship? Not that the others were out of it completely. Lewis Hamilton was an ‘animal’ on the hard tyre on Friday (a McLaren engineer’s word, not mine!), exploring the very edge of what is humanly possible in a car that still generates significantly less downforce that the RBR, and on Saturday, unsettled by the new Ferrari rear wing being ruled illegal on Friday night, Fernando Alonso was perhaps all that and even a fraction more in the F150o. “ That was as good a lap as I have driven,” Fernando said after qualifying fourth. “Give me another 20 laps and unlimted sets of tyres and I still wouldn’t be able to repeat it.” One thing we all wanted to know was exactly where on the qualifying lap drivers like Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso were using (or not using) their rear flap adjusters but F1’s poor data supply feed (for an artificial aid that is only there for the benefit of the show) provided few answers. I asked both Nico Rosberg and Fernando if they were anywhere near flat-flap on the exit of Turn Three and their responses were amusingly different. Nico looked back at me in amazement – amazed that I could even contemplate such a thing – whilst Fernando gave me one of those smiles that says “No – but I thought about it...” Fernando did confirm, too, that he was throttle-flat through T3 on his epic qualifying lap – and I believed him. Pirelli brought a completely new ‘hard’ compound to the Spanish Grand Prix, a tyre designed (a) to increase the speed differential between it and the soft tyre (again for the benefit of The Show) and (b) to live a little longer on a surface that is abrasive as Barcelona’s. Fernando expressed his frustration with the new hard on Saturday morning (when Ferrari were admittedly playing catch-up with a ‘back-to- square-one’ rear wing, while Lewis on Friday got to throwing the McLaren around on the hard compound as if he was balancing a front-engined sprint car on a quarter-mile oval. It was fun to watch but probably quite disarming for the meticulously neat Jenson Button to follow. Right through the field the message was the same: the new hard lacks the grip of its predecessor; the soft works well. In the Pirelli compound, the engineers said, “Good. That’s the result we wanted.” Question One, then, concerned Seb Vettel’s KERS system: would it fail him off the line and sink the RBR into the lower order? Answer: No! It seemed to work without problem. He perfected his traction off the marbles, moved left, moved right and then left again onto the racing line (three moves!) where he found a nice, grippy braking area into Turn 1. Mark, from the pole, sustained a slight edge in first and second gears, moved to the right, to protect the inside – but was then out-gripped and out-braked by Seb on the outside. That wasn’t all, however. Even further down the inside (by way of – shock-horror – four moves!), and also out-braking ANALYSIS Peter Windsor F1 Columnist F1 SPAIN >> “Over on the other side of the garage, meanwhile, one Australian racing driver was quietly going bananas ...