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GP Week : Issue 161
compound, in other words – one that has straddled the eras. It’s a motor racing classic. And here’s the thing: it is of course exactly the same intermediate that Pirelli raced in 2011, when most teams, by and large, had no problems with it. It helped Fernando Alonso to victory at Silverstone a year ago; and in Q3, 2012, Fernando used it on the lap that many had been expecting of Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull also made it work; and Mercedes weren’t a million miles away. McLaren, though, couldn’t get the inters to work – even in the hands of that great generator of temperatures, Lewis Hamilton. Lewis felt the surface temperatures with his hand as the cars sat hot and steamy in Parc Ferme on Saturday afternoon: Fernando’s were hot; his were tepid. Why? McLaren were quick on Friday, when it was wet, wet, wet – and they were pretty fast (P2, P6) on that dry Saturday morning. Nor was Lewis off the pace in Qs one and two. On Pirelli wets, and looking every bit a pole man, Lewis was quickest in the back half of Q2, when the track was a little drier. Hamilton: 1min 54.897sec; Alonso: 1min 56.921sec. Then came Q3. Lured, thanks to that Q2 speed, into starting the final minutes on wets, Lewis lost a bit of time as he rushed back to the pits for a set of intermediates. Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher did likewise. Michael instantly found pace with a 1min 52.0 – good enough for P3. Lewis instantly found a whole bunch of wheelspin. First lap: 1min 55.293sec. Second lap: 1min 53.543. It was bad enough for P8. Other references: Fernando Alonso’s first lap on new intermediates (when the track was still at its wettest in qualifying) was a 1min 53.699sec. Concurrently, Pastor Maldonado’s opening lap was a 1 min 58.016. That’s a massive difference, even if you factor-in Fernando’s experience and general mastery – particularly as Pastor had not been slow at any stage of the weekend. (He ran a promising-looking seventh early in the race before tangling with an impatient Sergio Perez after their first pit stops. Again, Pastor was blamed – this time with a fine.) Thus we – and they – the teams, the drivers – began the analysis: Downforce has ‘changed’ since 2011. The cars are as quick but the downforce is generated differently, from different areas of the car, and the lap is therefore composed differently. Some teams, in the dry, have been finding temperature differences from front to rear of up to 20 deg: that is a characteristic of 2012 when things aren’t working as they should, when the balance, and the grip, has gone. And that sort of anomaly – a function of the differences in the way the downforce is being generated from car to car, from team to team – manifested itself in the wet at Silverstone through the intermediate tyre. Some made it work; others didn’t. And no-one knew why. Ferrari’s pace was impressive – and Fernando just maximized his opportunities. There was the late- afternoon spin on Friday in the rain, when no real harm was done. And there was the beautifully-controlled tank-slapper in Q2, when it looked for all the world as though he was going to pitch it into the fence as it flicked back the other way. Fernando held it beautifully, though – exquisitely; and, with other drivers (most notably Lewis Hamilton, who at that point was lying P2 behind Sauber’s Sergio Perez) drawing radio attention to the atrocious conditions, practice was conveniently stopped. Fernando (and Felipe Massa, who had also aquaplaned harmlessly) had time to re-group and to try to make the Q2 cut. They were 15th and 16th when Q2 was halted; they were 6th and 9th (Felipe ahead) by the time Q2 was over. That’s the sort of ... management ... that typifies Snr Alonso. Be ready for the Big Points. And play them well. He did. His pole came on the last lap of a finely-paced Q3, crowned by a shimmer as he left the Club Corner exit kerb, the back end of the Ferrari releasing suddenly and pitching it a little to the right. Felipe, also looking very good, came in at P5. But for losing the rear of the F2012 under brakes for said Club, it could have been a P1-P3 for Ferrari. Mark Webber on Saturday excelled in the sort of conditions in which he has revelled throughout his career. This was the flipside of the Mark who won Monaco at the slowest possible speed: this was Mark the racing driver, showing his pace and class through Copse, Becketts and Stowe. Webber: 1min 51.793 – a neuron away from the pole and the receiver of a “Good Lap” commendation from one Sebastian Vettel. Seb liked the intermediates and had no dramas. On this day of ever- changing standing water, wet kerbs and filthy visors he was just a tad slower than MW. Time: 1min 52.199. P4. Mark: 1min 51.793. P2. Lotus weren’t particularly happy by Saturday night: Romain Grosjean had looked like a genuine contender for the pole on both Friday (quickest in a wet FP1) and Saturday morning (P3 in the dry). He was on a quick lap after the Q2 re-start, with plenty of purple behind him, when he lost it where Felipe later had his moment. Embedded in the gravel trap, he had to sit out Q3, paying the price you sometimes pay when the pressure is heavy and you rely only on brilliant reflexes, bravery, a tightrope of a line and reactive input. As a result, he damaged his front wing on the opening lap on Sunday. His pace after that stop was phenomenal and a reminder again of the E20’s poise. Kimi Raikkonen, the ultimate manipulative driver – the counterpoint to Romain – also looked threatening but faded, as I say, when he began Q3 on wets and then switched to intermediates. 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> SILVERSTONE