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GP Week : Issue 163
23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: though, Fernando could impart some magic. And so it began. Avoid the mirrors out of the second hairpin and into the third one. Use all the road and perhaps a fraction more. And then settle into those last two right- handers. Run a little wide in the middle if necessary. Fernando could manipulate the weight transfer, there, between the two corners, with a subtle nudge to create torque twist. Minimise load for a clean run out of the last corner. Into Turn 1: again create that weight shift with an early turn-in, thus minimizing the amount of steering required mid-corner and leaving him free to adjust brake and throttle according to bumps, or the exit kerbs. Behind, Jenson would be doing what he always does superbly well – turning in late, line-locking the McLaren into a soft apex/early power application zone, hitting a high minimum speed – but then paying a penalty with more load on exit. The Ferrari, ‘lighter’ from mid-corner to exit, would gain advantage as Fernando straightened out. In freeze-frame it was all too clear: Fernando was turning-in to Turn 1 perhaps three kerb stripes earlier than Jenson’s McLaren. Fernando’s replication was thereafter breathtaking. Small errors were adjusted with such delicacy that they became ‘events’ rather than mistakes; they made no dents in the sector times. He looked from the outside to be ‘silky-smooth’; his combined hand- and footwork made it so – but there was no excess there, no edge. All of the movement was exactly apportioned; all of it happened in anticipation of what would next unfold. To the outside world, the Ferrari was a slot car. He would try to be 0.6 – 0.7sec ahead before that DRS detection point. He could feel the gap in his bones. And there was traffic! There were the red cars – the Marussias – and then some others. Wait, wait, DRS them – and then time the pass in an attempt to delay Jenson. Not easy, but another lap gone. Jenson was often there as they hit the brakes. Fernando was obliged to run centre-right into the second hairpin. Ease out of the brakes, apply initial steering, delay slightly, feel the grip, apply the substance of the lock – then accelerate hard but without jink. No way Jenson would try him out on the outside into the next right. No-one tries that outside stuff with Fernando... He held that gap for two laps and then three – for three and then five. And then an unexpected thing happened. More and more, as the race wound down, Fernando could pick up a couple of tenths through those last three corners. Jenson’s tyres were beginning to fade, just as Lewis’s had in Valencia. Seb Vettel began to distract Jenson. Fernando could once again breathe. Fernando dipped down to the pit wall as the flag waved. Three wins – and this one had come after a clear straight shoot-out with Red Bull and McLaren. He’d taken the pole and he’d won the race. Thank you. Thank you. It was good to see Jenson and McLaren back up there, for all that. This is his sort of circuit – nice and sheltered, some dinky slow corners, none of those Valencia-style ch-of-ds that can be so tedious – and the McLaren, dressed in new side pods, in both the dry and on intermediates (but not wets, oddly), always competitive. Seb Vettel, by contrast, was unable to do anything about Fernando in the early laps (despite those who predicted RBR walkaway domination after Valencia) or about JB until right at the end, when the McLaren’s Pirellis finally faded. Seb’s driving looked strangely ragged this day, in front of his home crowd (and Mark Webber, penalized by a gearbox change, was also surprisingly low-key). Jenson protected the inside after being DRS’d but Seb passed him on the outside-exit of the hairpin, up on the kerbs. Seb argued that he would have run into the back of the McLaren if he hadn’t darted to the outside kerb but the key thing here, in judging whether or not this was an illegal drag race, is the phrase in article 20.2 of the Sporting Regs which says, “a driver may not deliberately leave the track without justifiable reason.” I suspect that the stewards (who included Derek War wick) would have asked Herr Vettel: “Ah. And you couldn’t have just backed off....?” F1 >>> HOCKENHEIM