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GP Week : Issue 122
T he sTaTs will inevitably pile up as sebastian Vettel continues his charge through the grand prix circuits of the world – but here’s a couple more, courtesy of the Grand Prix of europe in Valencia: not only was this the third proper F1 race (we won’t count Indy ‘05 here) in history to finish with no retirements; it was also the one with the greatest number of finishers (and therefore starters) – ie, 24. A lot of people would also like to add, I’m sure, that this was the most boring of the year to date – but that’s another story: that’s a reflection of Seb Vettel’s total and easy-looking domination of F1, 2011- style. The clamouring throngs are calling for ever-more passing and overtaking (“A quick fix! Now! Otherwise we switch channels!”) yet Seb keeps denying them, regardless of what they throw in his direction. DRS? No-one in Valencia could get near enough to Seb even to try it. Ban changes to the engine maps after qualifying? All that did was give us a Red Bull Racing one- two on Saturday – and, it would appear, a much less competitive Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team on Sunday. Boring, though, this was not; not from where I stood. There was a moment, after pit stop two, when Seb accelerated back into the race with Mark Webber’s RBR7 and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari filling his mirrors. The gap from the leader was officially 1.4 sec; watching them, they were about a blink apart. Seb had blown it under pressure in Canada; and Fernando had already proved he could out-race Webber: he had passed him, having pushed Mark into a braking error, earlier intherace(onlap21).Now–lap31– Webber had regained second place with a better pit-stop cycle. And so here they were, running one-two- three – Vettel, Webber and Alonso. Webber would have to push Seb hard; he would have no option. And Fernando would want to regain second place, thus to put Button-like pressure on Seb Vettel. For me, the 20-or-so laps that followed were amongst the best we’ve ever seen from Vettel – and I say that not because he was ultra-spectacular in the oversteer- sense of the word or because he was necessarily having to overcome any massive disadvantage. I say it because the only way he was going to win this race was by making no mistakes and by gradually, sector by sector, carving out the tiniest of margins. He needed to conserve his tyres (Pirelli options at this point); to take no risks amongst the back-markers; and he needed to conserve his fuel. He needed, under pressure, to be perfect. Which – as we have seen over the years, and as we saw as recently as Canada – is one of the most difficult things in F1. Fernando was quick, too, in Sector 1 of Valencia; very quick. He could see the two RBR7s ahead of him, rear wings flashing in the afternoon sunshine, rear tyres square to the road under acceleration. Fernando could gain ground on Webber under braking for Turn 2 – and he could match, generally-speaking, the RBRs in terms of raw grip. The 2011 Ferrari had never felt better – and Fernando had shown that at the start, from the dirty side of the grid. He should have qualified third but he had made his first major mistake in qualifying this year – had fallen foul of that old weak spot. Braking from terminal velocity at the end of the long straight, where the rear flap had been flat, Fernando had jabbed the Brembos a fraction too hard and had unsettled the rear. He caught the moment with stunning reflex, as he does, but decided instantly to abandon the lap and to speak of “saving the tyres”. P3 was gone, though – a genuinely-attainable P3. Fernando would have to redress on Sunday. Fernando often ‘sees’ the first corner with total clarity - and he did so at Valencia. The move, he could sense, would be to the outside: there’s plenty of room there at the tight Turn 2 and most drivers seek the racing line through the very fast Turn 1. Moving to the inside is an instinctive reaction, born of the FIA’s strict no-weaving code and a desire to protect the racing line. And so Fernando vaulted down the outside from what could have been fifth or sixth...to third! The crowd erupted! The race was on... Now, after the second stops, the race was delicately-poised. Fernando began to push Webber hard; Webber began to put pressure on Seb. The crowds rose to their feet each lap as the trio burst past. Fernando needed only a few metres more again to find two straight-assistance from his DRS. What stood out in clear 3D at this point was Seb’s complete intransigence. He hit the same piece of scorching tarmac every lap; he applied the power at exactly the same moment, give or take a millisecond or two. And he bound all his inputs with rounded, polished transitions. With Webber, certainly, and to some extent Fernando, there was always a moment when, first, they were travelling in straight line and, second, they were arcing into a corner. There would be jink, a flair, just before they reached the point of minimum speed. With Seb, the moment of change was almost imperceptible, woven as it was into one complete moment. The ‘smoother’ the style the fewer the jolts; the fewer the jolts the more the driver feels the surface of the road; the more he feels the surface the less he is caught Sebastian Vettel took his sixth win of the season in Valencia with a lights-to-flag masterclass. Boring? Not a bit of it, says Peter Windsor. ANALYSIS Peter Windsor F1 Columnist F1 EUROPE >> THE JOY OF SIX 23