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GP Week : Issue 124
take the gamble – or play conservative, depending upon how you looked at it.) Mark Webber was later to say: “Oh yeah. The start. I think in those greasy conditions it was probably better not to be on the ‘clean’ side of the road. Not that it made any difference. What happened at the start had no impact on the result...” What might have made an impact, as Mark again trudged slowly way from another pole, fiercely won, was the sight of that pesky Seb Vettel again disappearing into yet another early-lap lead. It was one thing to be slow away; it was another again to have to follow that superbrisk kid of a team-mate... That was for later in the afternoon, however; for now, it was Seb V where we invariably see him – ahead of the rest, the master of the F1 universe. Mark fell into a familiar back-up role, heading the Ferraris and the McLarens, amongst which Lewis Hamilton was aggressive and fast, especially where visibility was low and the grip level poor. Then the track then began to dry and the sun to shine. The capacity crowd stirred. Pit stops loomed. Still the RB7s led the race. Lewis rose to third, fighting hard to subjugate Fernando, who was cautious in his first laps on slicks (Pirelli options). Then Fernando found his rhythm and sparred back. Close enough at the hairpin to use DRS on the ‘club’ straight, Fernando must have smiled as Lewis moved left, onto the wet, to protect the inside line under brakes. Annoyed with himself, Lewis immediately stopped early (lap 24) for his second set of options. It was a decision that would define the race. Mark Webber stopped for his second set of options on lap 26 (no primes would be raced thanks to the opening-lap phase on intermediates). That left Fernando in second place, 5.8 sec behind Seb V. Close enough, in other words, to be able to track him. Fernando thus followed Seb into the pits on lap 27. He pulled carefully into the Ferrari ‘box’. Ahead, Vettel’s RB7 was already on its jacks. Fernando sat quietly, awaited his signal and then perfectly engaged hand clutch against revs. Then he was momentarily distracted: ahead of him, to his very pleasant surprise, he could see Seb’s car still up on its jacks.... The rear jack had gone in slightly at an angle and had sheared against the undercar stop. As is their way, the RBR boys went into back-up mode. A second, spare jack was rapidly inserted. Seb was out, accelerating neatly, with only eight seconds lost. This – seeninrecovery–wasanF1teamatits slickest. Even so, you’d have thought that Mark Webber would now be leading. He had been ahead of Fernando; his pit stop had been the usual Kenny Handkammer blur of movement and speed. Mark, too, had lost time, however. A massive slide at Becketts coloured his in-lap; and then, in the pit lane, maybe he dumped the clutch too hard, or gave it too many revs – or maybe there was another tyre warmer issue, as in China; whatever, he just sat there, once the jacks were released, spinning his rear wheels. He was back in fourth place, still behind Seb, by the time this pit stop cycle was complete. Which meant that Fernando was in a dream position: Seb V had rejoined just behind Lewis Hamilton, whose options were good and hot now because of that early stop. Seb, looking for grip, could do nothing in early response. It wasn’t until around lap 33, by which time Fernando was a good eight seconds in front, that Seb was close enough really to annoy Hamilton. And this time, of course, Lewis was not going to make the same mistake. He stayed right on the dry line as they braked for Luffield: Seb, he knew, would try nothing down the inside on the still-damp Tarmac. On one lap, so relatively good was the RBR’s traction out of Woodcote, Seb was right up and alongside Lewis as they blasted down towards Copse. Millimetres from contact, Seb eased his right foot a little. The capacity crowd was exultant. For Seb, though, the race was quickly disappearing. All that was left, then, was for Fernando to continue to shine, like Silverstone in the afternoon sun, on this special day for Ferrari. RBR pulled Seb in early for his final stop, giving him some new track position and front wing angle – but the call was only half- right; behind Lewis, the feedback had been turbulent. The front wing adjustment made little or no difference. He ‘undercut’ Lewis okay, but the mountain ahead was steep: Seb, needing to gain about 12 seconds in 10 laps in order even to catch the Ferrari, backed away to finish a safe second. Except that Mark Alan Webber had a different perspective. He had won the pole and he had had his fair share of dramas. Now, in these dying stages, he could see that he was catching Seb with relative ease. Who knew what could happen? Maybe Fernando would have a problem. Maybe the race with Seb would be for the lead.... He quickly closed a four-second gap, oblivious to frequent radio instructions to “hold position”. Seb knew only of the diminishing margin; he imagined that Mark would catch him but would then hold station. It erupted as Mark began to dart off-line over the last two laps. Seb suddenly realized that he was racing Mark – just as Gilles Villeneuve appreciated too late at Imola, 1982, that Didier Pironi was not playing games. And it made uncomfortable viewing from the RBR garage. On neither car were the Pirelli options in great shape. Mistakes could be made – just as Seb made an error on the last lap in Canada. Seb defended beautifully on this occasion; Mark attacked creatively – and like that they finished. It could, though, have been ugly. Hours afterwards, the drivers and the RBR management were still behind locked doors, hammering away at an issue that has been around since the day RBR decided to sign the two quickest drivers they could find. There was a skirmish in the closing laps, too, between Felipe Massa, who had been racing for much of the afternoon with a debris-damaged floor, and Lewis Hamilton. Felipe pulled off the pass as they braked for the last, tight left-hander – but then Lewis retaliated by giving Felipe a nudge as they exited Club. They were separated by 0.4 sec as they crossed the line, Lewis ahead – with the Stewards, surprisingly perhaps, quickly deeming the touch a ‘racing incident’. Flags and caps against a still-blue sky. And so Mark Webber was right: Fernando won. The signs were there in FP3 and qualifying, when Ferrari were so good on fast corners that Fernando now thinks they need to work on their slow corner grip, for Pete’s sake; and the win was consummated when Seb Vettel, for once, had a pit stop drama, albeit an amazingly organized one. The win came, too, on the 60th anniversary of Jose Froilan Gonzalez’s first victory for Ferrari – at Silverstone, in 1951. Fernando drove Gonzalez’s sister car (the Alberto Ascari chassis) on Sunday morning at Silverstone, sliding it into oversteer drifts that would have brought a smile to the face of the tough old Pampus Bull, who at 88 was watching the TV feed live in Buenos Aires, courtesy of Fox Deportes. For once, despite the years of politics and ‘commercial issues’, the F1 industry had allowed a famous circuit to touch its famous past. For once – amazingly – F1’s heritage had won the day. 24