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GP Week : Issue 122
unawares; the fewer the surprises the better he manipulates the car; the better his manipulation the greater his consistency; and so on and so on. Corner by corner. Sector by sector. Lap by lap. The temptation, of course, when you’re leading in situations like this, is to brake later, to apply the power sooner. Seb wasn’t seduced by that. He concentrated 100 per cent on feeling the car. It would be the only way–thetrueway–towin. Nor was Seb substantially faster than Mark or Fernando: he just made no mistakes – or fewer mistakes than the two he had to beat. One tenth gained here. Another there. His RB7 seemed to float over pieces of road that tortured others. Running as they were – zap, zap, zap – the differences between the three of these drivers stood in clear relief. Looking back, Mark did a great team job in this phase of the race – even if this implies that Seb could relax in the knowledge that Mark was ‘dealing with’ Fernando. In reality, Seb knew that Mark was looking for every possible opening that might occur – and that Mark was in a car as good as his own. And he knew that Fernando on fresh Pirelli softs was never going to go away. The only way forward was through consistent, near- perfect, inputs. And so it unfolded. The gaps began to grow. 1.4 sec became 1.5 sec. 1.5 sec became 1.8 sec. Fernando drew closer to Mark; traffic intervened; Seb was baulked – and then he was on free road again. Again he inched away. This was where Seb Vettel won the Grand Prix of Europe – here, in the eye of the mid- race storm. By the time they reached the third pit stop window (Pirelli primes), Seb was clear. Only a slow pit-stop – or some other mishap – could beat him. Fernando did regain second place. Mark ran wide as he entered the pit lane and then subsequently was obliged to go into short-shift mode to protect the lower gears; he would finish third. Fernando was 8.6 sec behind Seb V as he emerged from his final stop – and at that point he backed away. P2 for Ferrari, in Spain, would be reward enough. McLaren?McLarenwerestrangelyoffthe race pace. Lewis Hamilton qualified third, as I say – but it was an unconvincing third in the context of Fernando’s error. Jenson Button, for his part, found oversteer in Q3, which for Jenson meant that he was effectively out of contention. Then, in the race, neither driver could live comfortably with Ferrari’s pace, let alone Red Bull’s. If McLaren knew why this was the case of course they would have put things right. As it is, we can but speculate that maybe they were hurt by Pirelli’s decision to race the soft, rather than the super-soft in Valencia. McLaren looked good on the red tyres in both Monaco and Montreal; on the yellow (soft) and the white (medium) they looked nothing like as grip-laden. From a more distant viewpoint you could also say that McLaren seemed to be even less competitive in the race than they were in qualifying – an implication that they were hurt more than most by the FIA’s tight new engine map rulings. It was a long, hot, competitive race – the more so because of the lack of retirements. Jaime Alguersuari qualified 18th after missing some untimed practice but gained huge track position with a 23-lap middle stint and only two stops overall; he finished an excellent eighth. Adrian Sutil upstaged the (under-performing) Lotus-Renault GP drivers by qualifying top ten and finishing ninth; and Sergio Perez made a heroic comeback by running one-stop to finish 11th, comfortably out-racing his team-mate, Kamui Kobayashi. There wasn’t a lot of overtaking – but that was for the good, for the passes that did take place were significant. Jenson Button couldn’t find a way around Nico Rosberg early in the race, even with the help of DRS – so Jenson made the pass into Turn 2, just when Nico was least expecting it. DRS in reverse. And then, later in the race, the same Nico was able to catch and pass Alguersuari mainly with the help of DRS. There wasn’t so much passing that it was ridiculous, in other words – but there was more than there would have been without the dreaded aid. The overall problem, of course, is that the Valencia street circuit itself is not particularly interesting or dramatic. As good as it looks from aerial shots, from ground level it is all walls and similar corners – all 25 of them. It is never going to be a circuit that produces lots of overtaking – DRS or not. None of this, however, detracts from the circuit’s capacity to extract the maximum the world’s best F1 drivers and their most sophisticated of cars; on the contrary: we saw three of the best out there in Valencia – Vettel, Webber and Alonso – in close, spellbinding stand-off. That cameo will in time be seen as a part of the much larger, all-enveloping production that will be F1, 2011-style. Seb Vettel’s 2011. What stood out in clear 3D at this point was Seb’s complete intransigence ... F1 EUROPE >> 25