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GP Week : Issue 159
He eyed-up Hulkenberg – which is no easy thing around Valencia. The walls are oppressive; the heat builds up when you follow another car. Fernando trailed him – and then got him. Lap 12. Then it was the Maldonado Williams, slowing at that stage of the race because of debris in the radiator inlet. P6 . Fernando’s tyres still felt good; in practice in Spain there had been no signs of the sudden drop-off that killed his race in Canada. Ahead, only a few metres ahead, Fernando could now see Kimi. ...who duly stopped for used options. Knowing that he could stay out for one lap more, Fernando now pushed as hard, aware that here was ground for the taking. From his beautifully-smooth stop, Fernando indeed emerged ahead of Kimi; and both of them, in turn, passed Kamui in the cycle. Fernando was now effectively fourth (after factoring-out those who had started further down the grid and had yet to make their first stops), behind Seb V and then Romain and Lewis. More importantly, Fernando was only 10 seconds behind Grosjean. There was a motor racing to be run. Fernando, enjoying that second new set of new options – the flipside to the compromises on Saturday – found he was easily able to take ground from Lewis. The McLaren, obviously, was using its tyres harder – and those tyres were new primes, not the grippier soft compound Pirellis on Fernando’s Ferrari. Two-tenths here, three-tenths there: Fernando’s body language was of a driver who was about to do something special. The crowd rhythmically rose as he shimmered into sight and then faded again only when the vision – Lewis, Fernando, Kimi – had long since passed. Something was in the air. Magic was about. ASafety Car was the precursor for all that was to come. Mid-field accident debris had to be cleared. All the leaders stopped for their final rubber. Red Bull and Ferrari were clean. So were LotusF1. McLaren’s pit stop for Lewis Hamilton, though, was a disaster. A jammed left-front. Two jacks. Ten seconds lost. Grosjean jumped Lewis. So did Fernando and Kimi. Fernando was now P3 – with a re-start ahead of him. A re-start that would begin prior to an interesting last corner. That didn’t mean the obvious – that we were going to see some moves into that tight left-hander – but it did suggest that a clean run onto the pit straight might make for a dramatic Turn One. Romain Grosjean had no reason to doubt that he would retain at least P2: he was focused on Seb Vettel – on the hope that the double World Champion might just make a glitch or two and thus leave a door ajar. Besides, he, Grosjean, had been the star of Turn On an hour or so before. He had perfectly weaved between the greats. It never occurred to him that he might be passed.... And thus we come to Moment Three, after five long laps behind the Safety Car, after 20 minutes of the pits reminding Fernando (in Italian, of course!) about the tyres (new primes for the final stint) and the brakes and the KERS and the re-starting point. Here we come to the moment when a professional driver of F1 cars can stay calm and let the race come to him or when racing drivers – Alonsos, Mansells – can use the forces to balance perfectly the adrenalin with the opportunities to be created. The blue seas lapped on the sands nearby; thermometers climbed still higher; thousands of Spaniards roared at every corner; race engineers adjusted their headsets. On cue, the lights went out on the roof of the Safety Car. There were 24 laps left to run. Seb Vettel and Romain dived to the inside for that last corner – the first of the re-start – just as Fernando expected them to do: Seb needed to protect himself and Romain, young and ambitious, inevitably thought about a possible pass. Fernando, as planned, stayed way out to the right before swinging in for a kerb-biting apex. Even as Romain was straightening the Lotus, aiming for the outside, Fernando appeared to be dropping the Ferrari down into first gear to facilitate its rotation (just as he done on occasion in Canada, in T2). By the time Fernando was out of the corner, running parallel to the red and yellow kerbs by the pit wall, he was tucked in right behind the Lotus, with momentum on his side ... Momentum – and flicking out of the draft – is one thing; how do you pass, though, into Valencia’s Turn One? Fernando stayed a little to the left (to the outside of Romain) as the Frenchman peeled into the apex for the right-hand kink. Fernando stayed a car’s width to the outside, off the racing line, right foot planted. Seb Vettel, leading, took the centre-left of the road, for Romain, he could see, would not be a problem. Romain, for his part, dived to the right: there, on the inside, he could annoy Seb and protect his position from Fernando. Fernando, though, braked late ... late ... late. He’d anticipated Romain’s move and he braked exactly to the point he’d been eyeing – right there, plumb on the groove – for the past 100 metres. And then, at precisely the correct rate, he eased out of the Brembos, ensuring there were no lock-ups as he teased in the steering. There was the unknown; there was the grip of the coldish primes; so the rate of brake decrease would be all about touch and feel, touch and feel ... ... but it was perfect! Fernando was there, half a car’s length ahead of Romain, as he turned-in to the first corner. Romain wouldn’t give – but he wouldn’t squeeze Fernando, either. He’s a racing driver with class, Romain Grosjean. And so they went through Turn One, side-by-side. A short straight followed – and then the left- hand kink. Fernando flicked the Ferrari onto the apex kerbs of the kink – and suddenly P2 was his. He’d had the better acceleration run; Romain was behind him. Finally we – and they – could breathe. 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> EUROPE