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GP Week : Issue 163
22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: And so Fernando has won another. Those of us who predicted he would win the 2012 World Drivers’ Championship, even as the F2012 was furrowing brows and giving early-season pace away to the McLarens, Red Bulls, Lotus-Renaults and Mercedes, are in no way surprised. Ferrari were always going to regroup; and there’s no-one better than Fernando when it comes to maximizing the good qualities of a car, minimizing its bad ones and stringing together a race weekend. Spin on Fridays, win on Sundays. The wonder, looking back, is that anyone didn’t think that a tight year like this would go Fernando’s way. Hockenheim was standard Fernando fare: changeable conditions and rain (defying the highly-rated weather forecasters) on Friday and Saturday afternoon. No problem. Push the car hard on both inters and wets, find the grip wide of the conventional racing line, stay quiet, smile the smile, wear the shades and take the pole – take two poles, as it happened, because his last two laps were good enough for P1. Said timing was perfect, too: quickest of all before the rain fell on Saturday morning, Fernando in the afternoon took advantage of the tracks left by other cars, the more so as time wore on. He was out there, hunting for a lap, even as the chequered flag was unfurling. The blue skies of a sparkling Sunday brought new tests. Remember the dry-weather pace of Saturday morning. Win the start. Pull out a DRS-free lead. Manage the tyres. Manage the back-markers! He did all of that. In perhaps the truest test we’ve had yet of the F2012’s current status, he was able to handle all aspects of Seb Vettel’s Red Bull (with margin to spare). He could even enjoy a nice little cameo, courtesy of his old mate, Lewis Hamilton. Delayed by an early-lap puncture, Lewis rejoined just behind Fernando and Seb on the road (but a lap down in reality) before proceeding to show his pace, using DRS to pass Seb without issue into the hairpin. Incensed, Seb half-heartedly fought back, confused, I think, about whether he was ‘racing’ Lewis or letting him go; that is what his waved arms seemed to suggest, at any rate. Fernando, in front, could only smile inwardly as his gap to Seb began to grow. (It was difficult to see what Seb’s problem was: if a guy like Lewis Hamilton isn’t allowed to unlap himself and race to the flag, then what was the 1967 Italian GP all about?*) It was when Jenson Button jumped Vettel in the second pit stop (in part thanks to the time Seb had spent faffing around with Lewis, in part to McLaren’s amazing 2.3sec pit stop) that Fernando’s job description changed. Suddenly he had a silver car in his mirrors, all over him, potentially intruding into his DRS zone. Suddenly Fernando, the great Manager of Races, had to become a Racing Driver, pure and simple. Pit stop strategies had been played. Radio messages from the pit wall about KERS or diff settings became superfluous, mere smokescreens. Somewhere, somehow, he needed to dig deep, to find an advantage. It came on the only sections of Hockenheim worthy of the description ‘decent corners’: the last two right- handers and then Turn 1 – the quick right- hander followed by a shortish straight. If Fernando could be perfect here for lap after closing lap then maybe he could generate enough space to protect himself from DRS detection out of the hairpin. The McLaren would be better in and out of the slow stuff on the other parts of the lap; no question about that. The Ferrari is still no MP4-27 or RB7 – not when it comes to grip vs balance vs traction. On the quicker corners, F1 >>> HOCKENHEIM