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GP Week : Issue 161
A n early-morning run with the dogs and a smooth trip to the circuit on which he had won his first European motor race (in 1996). On a dry Sunday in 2012 he had made a great tyre choice – soft, hard, hard – but it would be a difficult race to compose: to keep it at a two-stopper he needed to match the right full-tank pace with the right tyre deg. A clean start. A solid first stint, tinged only with high-speed understeer. More front wing in the pit stop. An even stronger second phase. And then a third stint to be savoured: Mark on the durable but quick Pirelli hard and a well-balanced Red Bull RB8 to be pushed. No glitches with the DRS or KERS. No worries with the alternator. Just a pass to be executed with the help of DRS. A pass on Fernando Alonso. Which for the Red Bull guys was surprising, it has to be said. When Adrian Newey and the boys dissected and fuel- adjusted the weekend’s only dry practice period (Saturday morning) all signs were that Ferrari had the Silverstone edge, particularly in terms of high- speed grip and balance. The RB8 loved change-of-direction and traction-filled Valencia. Through the long, fast corners in Northants (and Bucks), the F2012 seemed to be there. Right there. Rain – more of it – was maybe going to be Red Bull’s greatest ally. Fernando’s day, by contrast, was very different. For he was the poleman: A different tyre choice – hard, hard, soft – because the harder tyre, on that Saturday morning, had been almost as quick as the soft and in addition had been a good deal more consistent. Fernando, at any rate, found that to be true. So did Romain Grosjean in the Lotus. For good measure, though, Ferrari gave Felipe Massa (who had qualified a strong P5) the soft, hard, hard combo. The length of Fernando’s final stint could then in some ways be defined by Felipe’s speed/deg delta at the heavy-fuel start. Good teamwork. On top of that: there was a 60 per cent chance of rain at some point of the race. Should Fernando switch to intermediates, he wouldn’t have to run the unloved soft Pirelli slicks. So it was a poleman’s choice. A logical, relatively conservative, poleman’s choice. Another issue, though: could Fernando win the start with the hard’s inferior grip? He made a goodish launch, sweeping immediately to his right, to protect the inside. Then, seeing Mark flicking back to his left, Fernando eased back to the centre. He had the lead. Fernando felt that he converted that lead into a strong first stint. He pulled out a five-second margin. The Ferrari felt good. No matter that the opposition (other than Lewis) all seemed to be running the other way – soft, hard, hard. Webber stopped on lap 14. Strangely – as it turned out – Fernando was called in a lap later. He could have run longer. The tyre life was there; he was as fast as anyone on the circuit. Now there would be more pressure on the second and third stints. Fernando hammered on, playing a little with Lewis Hamilton, who made his hard Pirellis run through to lap 21. As the second stop loomed, however, it was Fernando again versus Webber, with the rest of them racing to finish third. By lap 33, with Mark’s RB8 now perfectly-balanced, Fernando was nevertheless still 5.5 sec in front. It still looked to be his race – particularly as Felipe had successfully completed his opening, 13-lap stint on options without any sign of real degradation. Mark stopped for his second set of hards on lap 33. Fernando, stretching his hards on his decreasing fuel load, stopped seven laps later; the race, even now, seemed merely to be an extension of what had happened in qualifying.... How was the grid formed? How did Fernando win his pole? To attempt to understand the nuances of qualifying is to attempt to understand the ageless qualities of Pirelli’s intermediate tyre – a ‘product’, as the tyre men describe it, that has been bridging the gap between wet and dry, and the very wet and the slightly wet, for at least 20 years. It is a good 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> SILVERSTONE