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GP Week : Issue 144
30 The signs that Sunday would be a long afternoon were there from the start, literally, with the Canadian Grand Prix commencing under the safety car. Now, I do not bemoan the red flag and the two hours of seeing drivers prune-up like they were in a bath. By this time – lap 25 – it really was undriveably wet and the only thing the race director could do was wait for the heavens to pass. But the safety car start was inexplicable to me and, from what we heard over their radios, nonsense to the drivers as well. Was it that a few days roaming continental North America turned the FIA on to IndyCar-style starts and fear of a few drops from overhead? At over four hours long (4:04.537 to be exact), this was the longest grand prix in the championship’s 61-year history. Tough for the drivers, tougher for the TV commentators. It was a truly epic drive from Jenson Button. For a while there, undergoing two investigations and serving a drive- thru, a top ten was looking unlikely. He was dead last. A nightmare weekend for McLaren. Ron Dennis – who was in town - might well have been seen wondering towards his Mercedes with a bottle of Scotch and a hosepipe under his arm. But then, things change awfully fast at this race track. Not since Brazil 2003 had the race winner led only the final lap. The McLaren’s pace was blistering, and under pressure Sebastian Vettel made his first mistake of the year. Tellingly, though, he still picked up points for second and increased his lead in the championship. Button hailed it as possibly his best ever drive. But it wasn’t faultless, as the stewards will tell you. I am very glad – and was confident this would be the case – that the stewards chose not to penalize Button for his contact with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Lewis had his nose down the inside early, he was much faster, and Jenson didn’t see him. He looked in the mirror, but only saw spray. Hamilton was shocked when Button continued to pull left, following the racing line. It was a racing incident. Going into the race there had already been a lot of talk about Lewis’ driving standards. Emerson Fittipaldi (who was stewarding in Canada) weighed in to say that Hamilton had been too aggressive in Monaco. Now I don’t disagree with that, but he went on to say Ayrton Senna wouldn’t have taken such risks. Er, yeah he would. Go talk to Martin Brundle about that. Ayrton would put his car in a position where contact was inevitable and left it to the other guy to decide if he wanted an accident or not. Senna is clearly an inspiration to Hamilton, as a driver and as a man. Senna believed he was an outsider battling the dark forces of the establishment. Hamilton’s post-Monaco comments hinted that that is his mindset also. CANADA Pole position – Sebastian Vettel Podium: 1. Jenson Button 2. Sebastian Vettel 3. Mark Webber The European Grand Prix wasn’t quite as boring as everyone complained, it’s just that we’d been spoilt of late. Sure, after the drama in Canada and Jenson Button’s last-lap win from the back, it seemed a bit tame. But really it was just more normal. The double DRS zone did provide more overtaking than we usually see – including an epic pass by Jenson on Nico Rosberg. And there were some good battles, particularly the fight for lowly 14th place between Paul di Resta, Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi. With no championship points – or money – at stake, just pride and a need for speed, it shows what really motivates these young men. Despite being beaten by Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber seemed surprisingly chipper afterwards, citing this as his first ‘proper’ race of the season, having dealt with technical gremlins and poor starting positions for much of the year thus far. He celebrated his podium finish by playfully threatening to pop a champagne cork in the eye of the Mayoress of Valencia, and then squirted the grid girls with bubbly. In the immediate aftermath of the grand prix there was minor controversy surrounding Red Bull when motorsports adviser Dr Helmut Marko attributed Mark Webber’s P3 finish to driver error, while race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam said traffic was to blame. But Webber swept any drama under the carpet when he accepted full responsibility for the loss in position. “I was worried about Fernando coming underneath me around the stops and it was not really known how the medium tyre would perform on the out lap,” Webber said after the race. “For sure, it is not as good as the soft but is it better than an old soft? That was the risk I decided to take. I lost out. Fernando stayed out for a few more laps and also I came out behind a little bit of traffic, so my fault we missed second today.” His cheerful demeanor told us he was glad just to be up there, though, in a year where it’s clear who the number one hope is at RBR. Vettel, with six wins and two second places from eight rounds, would have to do something unimaginably daft to let this sure-fire title slip from his grip. As the red lights went out and the cars roared off the starting grid Vettel made it look easy. As he exited Turn 1 in first place, there was a groan from the media centre that the results were already in. This victory equaled Sir Stirling Moss’ record of 16 wins. “Wow,” smiled Seb when he heard, “but I think Stirling still beats me with the girls.” EUROPE Pole position – Sebastian Vettel Podium: 1. Sebastian Vettel 2. Fernando Alonso 3. Mark Webber Fernando Alonso got big cheers at Silverstone the morning of the race as he threw a 1951 Ferrari 375 F1 car around – the car that won Ferrari’s first ever F1 race at this very circuit 60 years previously. The Spaniard spent one lap waving to the crowd and the other giving it beans, drifting it around the circuit’s high speed bends. One or two veteran members of the media looked teary-eyed in appreciation. He followed it up with his first – and, it would prove, only – win in 2011, on this important anniversary for the Tifosi. For me, though, the biggest story of the day was Mark Webber who was instructed towards the end of the race not to challenge Sebastian Vettel for second place. He ignored team boss Christian Horner’s repeated orders and pushed to the last. Webber has a curious (and, in many ways admirable) psyche. I believe he is a man driven by conflict. He needs a dark force to rally against. If one doesn’t exist, he will go out of his way to create one. He thrives off being the underdog. On the face of it, this suggests he makes his life unnecessarily difficult, but it’s what makes him perform at his best. They love him in Milton Keynes, at the Red Bull Racing factory. They like that he’s so approachable, and that the guys on the shop floor can call him up and go for bike rides. Mark has a close bond with them, too. But his perception – rightly or wrongly – that he’s the ‘number two’ in the eyes of Red Bull’s brass has caused him to rebel. I was thrilled to learn that Mark raced to the finish. Good on him. That’s what you want from a racing driver. And Mark and Fernando are proper racers both. ENGLAND