Fernando Alonso claimed his first Grand Prix victory of the season following a stunning drive at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone.
The Spaniard came home a clear 16.5 seconds ahead of Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who – controversially – rounded out the podium line astern.
Alonso deserved this win in every aspect, yet the double-World Champion may except that enjoyed a dose of luck during the Grand Prix – including slow pitstops for both Red Bull’s.
The Wet and the Dry Stuff
Indeed the opening portion of the race saw much movement through the field, helped by varying weather conditions across the Silverstone circuit – something that Sauber pilot Sergio Perez discovered to his detriment pre-race. A spin on his way to the grid, saw the Mexican damage his front wing, necessitating a pitstop.
While the opening few turns remained dry, the run from Brooklands to the Becketts complex became sodden and treacherous. There was little doubt the field would need to start on Pirelli’s intermediate tyres.
Not like it mattered to Vettel. Another great start by the German saw him jump Webber off the line, while Alonso maintained 3rd ahead of a quick-starting Jenson Button (McLaren) and Felipe Massa in the other Scuderia machine.
Uncomfortable on his intermediate tyres, Button soon lost confidence – within a lap, the former World Champion had lost spots to both Massa and teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton also had an excellent start in his McLaren MP4-26. The Englishman surged from 10th to 7th in the first few turns, before stealing 6th from Force India’s Paul di Resta, moving into the top five thanks to his move on Button.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi maintained 8th off the line, ahead a quick starting Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) in 9th.
Feeling pressure from the rear, Kobayashi carefully guarded 8th from Schumacher in opening stint, only to feel the clump of a Mercedes front wing on the ninth lap.
A spun Kobayashi enjoyed a little luck – the Japanese pilot lost just two positions in the still damp Brooklands corner, while Schumacher destroyed his front wing. Taking note of the damage, Mercedes brought the veteran in for new nose and dry tyres – a move that would change the race.
With the circuit drying, Schumacher began to set quickest lap times, until a stop / go penalty parachuted the veteran back down the order; however the point had been made. Schumacher held his hand up for the initial error:
“Having used DRS for the first time in the race, I was arriving at the corner with over-run. Underestimating the effect, my braking was not good and this is how the collision happened. It was right to get a penalty but why it had to be a stop-go, and not a drive-through penalty, I would like to understand better as I felt it was too hard.”
Sadly for Williams, their lack of race pace in the wet was showing once again. Having started 7th, Venezuelan rookie Pastor Maldonado dropped to 10th in the opening few turns.
It would not be long before Adrian Sutil (lap 4), Nico Rosberg and Perez (both lap 5) demoted the Williams driver further, with Maldonado struggling for any grip on a damp and inconsiderate surface.
Maldonado’s veteran teammate Rubens Barrichello was also having a tough first few laps with the Brazilian started 15th, only to fall to 18th as the field sorted itself out. Only the three back-of-the-field squads (Lotus, Virgin and Hispania) were running behind the Williams.
Unfortunately for Lotus, neither driver had much of an opportunity to take advantage of the difficult conditions. The race was only three laps old when a gearbox failure curtailed Heikki Kovalainen’s participation, while an oil leak ended Jarno Trulli’s day early (lap 10).
Threats from Behind
Vettel was having no such problems up front. The championship leader spent the first stint pulling away from Webber. By the tenth tour of the circuit, Vettel had pulled an eight second lead over his Australian counterpart.
Webber, for his troubles, had been contemplating the threatening Alonso, as he snaked around his mirrors, yet the Australian neatly answered every proposition Alonso raised with guile. Meanwhile, Vettel – in clear air – pulled away from the 2nd / 3rd place battle.
By the eleventh lap, Schumacher’s quickening pace on dry tyres signalled the first tyre stops of the day. An obtuse strategy would make a loser of Massa – the Brazilian had been kept on track too long by the Ferrari team, duty bound to wait for Alonso to stop.
Staying on circuit until long after his tyres grew weary, Massa eventually gifted 4th place to Hamilton. It would only get worse for Massa. With his tyres cold and feeble, Button reeled the Brazilian in and forced the issue around the outside of Stowe.
Massa fought the Englishman hard through Vale, but the McLaren driver completed the pass for 5th into Club.
Kobayashi also lost out in the first stops. As the Japanese pilot exited his box, Maldonado was prepared to enter his; with a clang, the Japanese driver speared the Williams car, nearly taking down several Force India wheel guns. It would earn the Sauber driver a ten-second stop / go and signal the start of a disappointing spell.
Not long after the Sauber rejoined the race, he had been passed by Renault’s Nick Heidfeld. After starting a disappointing 16th, Heidfeld had climbed to 13th by the end of the first round of pitstops – moves on Maldonado and Kobayashi took Heidfeld to the edge of the points.
Kobayashi would also lose out to Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari. The Spaniard had spent the race climbing the ladder, having qualified 18th. Battling amongst teammate Sebastien Buemi and Vitaly Petrov (Renault), as well as Perez, Schumacher, Maldonado, Heidfeld and Kobayashi, Alguersuari eventually rose to 12th by lap 20.
Meanwhile, Kobayashi’s misery was completed as Maldonado too seized a position, prior to the Sauber man taking his stop / go penalty. Tell tail puffs of smoke from Kobayashi’s Ferrari engine signalled that all was not well with his power plant – by lap 28, the unit expired and Kobayashi was done for the day.
Schumacher – in recovery mode for the second time – swiped a position off of Petrov to trail Maldonado in 14th.
Maintaining the Gap
There would be no problems for Vettel as the pack filtered out; the Red Bull man maintaining a 6.4 second lead over Webber and an eleven second gap ahead of Alonso and the charging Hamilton.
Webber, comfortable on his Pirelli slicks, closed the gap to Vettel to less than two seconds, before the wary German responded. For the first time in 2011, Vettel was truly feeling a push from his Australian counterpart.
Hamilton – on the tail of Alonso by the 15th tour – made a decisive move for 3rd into Copse, beginning a chase after the leading two. Alonso, however, has rarely ever been a pushover.
With time, Alonso’s Pirelli’s came to temperature, giving the advantage back to the Ferrari – it would take until lap 23, but the Spaniard crawled back onto Hamilton’s rear wing, forcing a pass one lap later. Just like Valencia two weeks previous, the Pirelli’s on the McLaren were struggling, leaving Hamilton to necessitate a second stop on the 24th tour.
The 2008 World Champion was not alone in the pits. Having run a quiet 7th for much of the race, Paul di Resta also took a second service on lap 24; however the Scot arrived in his box to discover tyres destined for Adrian Sutil.
A rushed swap for the correct tyres cost di Resta 25 seconds, dropping the Force India man down to 16th and out of contention; whereupon he would clash with Buemi on his outlap. Sutil was clearly left disappointed:
“I think we made the switch to dry tyres at the right moment and we were running well. Then I got a call to come into the pits again, but when I got there the team were expecting Adrian, so there was obviously some confusion. That cost us about 25 seconds, which pretty much ended my chances. So it’s a frustrating race…”
The Toro Rosso pilot suffered an immediate puncture – Buemi travelled a short distance, before his strained suspension gave up the ghost, his day done. Another pitstop for a new front wing and set of tyres effectively finished di Resta’s day; too far from the midfield proper to manage a point scoring finish, but too far ahead of the tailenders to have to worry about battling them for position. Out of the car, Buemi was aggrieved:
“I would like to see the footage with Di Resta again to see exactly what happened, but from the cockpit, I was on the dry line, he tried to come up the inside of me where the track surface was still very wet. He had touched my left rear tyre which shredded it.”
Sutil, meanwhile, had suffered a puncture just as di Resta signalled for a stop (hence the confusion), but went without delay during his tyre change.
Even the Best Can Do It
Mistakes aren’t the sole property of the midfield teams. Indeed Red Bull made a couple of clangers – and it would hand the race on a plate to Ferrari.
This did not come about without Alonso’s help of course. Once passed Hamilton, the Spaniard reeled in the Red Bull pairing, plying the pressure as only he could. As Webber pitted on lap 27, the tyre change was sluggish, costing the Australian up to four seconds.
Vettel pitted a lap later, yet another stuck tyre allowed the Red Bull mechanics dramatically. Alonso – who entered the pits three seconds behind Vettel, emerged two seconds ahead. So slow were Red Bull in the pits, that Hamilton also jumped the Vettel / Webber pair.
From 1st and 2nd, the Red Bull’s slotted into 3rd and 4th as Alonso headed Hamilton, Vettel and Webber – there was, however, still the small matter of the rest of the race…
Again on used soft Pirelli’s, Alonso was in his element. That two second lead became over four seconds by lap 30; just under eight by the 33rd circulation and 9.5 seconds one tour later.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was feeling the pressure; his silver and red wing mirrors filled with the ominous blue and red smatterings of Vettel. The German too was on the lookout; all the while keeping tabs on Webber just behind him.
In the background, the scenery flourished with Jenson Button’s shadows. The Briton had stopped with Massa on lap 26, keeping his lead over the Ferrari, but as the Brazilian waited for his tyres to come up to temperature, Button escaped his sights.
As the second Ferrari fell away from the top five, Button drew to within two seconds of Webber’s rear. Once again, it appeared this looked like it would be decided in the pits.
Come the 36th tour, Vettel became the first to bite the bullet, with Hamilton stopping one lap later. It would be enough for the reigning Champion – a single lap extra on fresher tyres gained Vettel enough time to leapfrog Hamilton’s gripless McLaren, although it was a close run thing.
As Vettel emerged, he was trapped behind Massa’s slipping Ferrari. Determined to maintain his momentum, Vettel pushed his was passed Massa at Copse, immediately hitting top pace.
Hamilton – keen to maintain the battle with Vettel – also manoeuvred his way around Massa at Woodcote one lap around, but by this time, Vettel had already disappeared. Around them, Webber filed in for his last stop on lap 38, with the Ferrari pair pitting on laps 39 (Alonso) and 41 (Massa).
With a straight run to the flag, Alonso led from Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and… Massa?
Alas, McLaren’s day was to take a turn for the worse. Button, too, made for the pits on the 39th lap, only for things to go seriously awry. In the midst of his tyre change, a failed wheelgun ensured a loose right front – thinking the change had been completed; Button was released only for his tyre to work its way off at the pit exit.
With only three wheels left on his rather expensive wagon, the former Champion pulled off and out of the race.
Just as the team soaked up the loss of one driver, red lights started flashing for their other. Having battled hard with both Alonso and Vettel earlier in the race, Hamilton started picking up low fuel warnings from the pit lane.
With less than ten laps remaining, the McLaren man became a sitting duck for Webber – who sliced through with ease on lap 46 – while Massa, a further fifteen seconds adrift was now a lingering threat.
To the Flag
Not like it mattered much to Fernando Alonso. With the Red Bull’s cleared, the Spaniard set to the flag, pulling out a gap of over sixteen seconds at the flag.
For Alonso, it was celebration – for Ferrari, it was sheer relief. It didn’t come by accident and wasn’t wholly influenced the realigned engine mapping regulations either. Just when the team from Maranello needed upgrades, they arrived and Alonso delivered.
“The team did an amazing job and I dedicate this win to everyone at Maranello and at the track, whose work has allowed me and Felipe to drive such a good car. The track characteristics were not really suited to our car, but clearly, the improvements we brought here helped a lot. At the start, it was not easy to drive because parts of the circuit were very wet and others were only damp in parts. I only realised I could win when I came back out on track after the final pit stop. Clearly the problem at Vettel’s stop helped, as did the fact that, for a long time, Hamilton kept the two Red Bulls behind him, but I have to say that in the dry we were very strong.”
Less happy, however, were Red Bull. Beaten on both the circuit and in the pitlane, Sebastian Vettel took a consolatory 2nd place, in spite of Mark Webber.
The Australian, on a high following his Hamilton pass, captured Vettel in the dying laps. Determined to finally put one over on his teammate this season, Webber pushed Vettel to the limit, very nearly coming together with the German in Copse with three laps to go.
To the dismay of both Webber and the fans at home and in the stands, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner ordered Webber several times to stand down his attack.
Refusing to acknowledge, the Australian continued to push Vettel to the limit, before seeming to relent on the final tour. The pair crossed the finish line only 0.4 of-a-second apart, yet Webber was clearly unhappy, feeling a 2nd place could have been his. Webber did not try too hard to disguise his disappointment:
“It was a mixed race, it was very slippery at the start with the intermediate tyres, half the track was dry and half was wet and we had to wait for the slicks to come into play. I felt strong at the start of each stint, but less so towards the end of the stints – both Seb and I were having trouble with the tyres at the end of the race. I tried to pass him, but not quite, and that was the race.”
Massa was also on a charge. Aware that Hamilton was shy of fuel, the Brazilian scooped a-quarter-of-a-minute out of Hamilton in the final five tours. Sadly for the Ferrari driver, it wasn’t enough, but it was very close.
By lap 49, Hamilton led Massa by 7.9 seconds; then 4.3 one lap later and 1.7 seconds as the started the final tour. Indeed the pair spent much of the final lap together, fumbling for position and banging wheels – barging their respective machines, fighting hard, as ever, for each potential point.
For a moment through the final turns, it looked like Massa might have it, but as the pair exited club, Hamilton held the advantage and 4th place, taking the position by 0.024 of-a-second.
There Were Others
With one McLaren gone, all those behind moved up a position, including Michael Schumacher. The Mercedes driver had certainly been through the wars at Silverstone – not for the first time – however his pace was good.
The veteran had fallen back to 17th after his stop / go penalty, but quick running and the kindness shown to his tyres saw Schumacher climb the standings. Indeed by Schumacher’s final stop on lap 31, he had already reached 12th. A brief stop to fit new softs saw the multiple Champion only drop a single spot.
A pass on Alguersuari (lap 32) took Schumacher back to 12th, until the rest of the field stopped several laps later, leaving the German 9th behind Heidfeld, where he stay for the duration.
Schumacher’s teammate, Nico Rosberg, also utilised a somewhat unlikely strategy. After a poor start dropped him to 12th, Rosberg opted for only two tyre changes, slowly bringing the Mercedes back into contention.
Realistically, the Mercedes team are in something of a limbo. Not as quick as the top three teams, but a deal quicker than Renault’s often leaves the silver and turquoise machines fighting amongst themselves.
The British Grand Prix was no exception. Once Rosberg had scythed passed the slower midfield runners in the opening stint, the race had simply to come to him. As Button removed himself from the action, Rosberg slotted into 6th, admittedly not disturbing those ahead; however he faced a fierce battle from behind.
Sergio Perez also utilised an off-kilter strategy. Deciding on a two-stopper, the Mexican ran in 8th for most of the race, becoming 7th following Button’s retirement.
Thanks to a soft touch, Perez chased Rosberg on his decidedly fresher Pirelli’s, closing the gap to just half-a-second in the final few tours. Showing his muscle, the Mexican pressed, but Rosberg would not budge – it was enough to take the bite out of Perez’ rubber and the Sauber lost five seconds in the last two laps.
It was another quiet race for Heidfeld, yet the substitute brought yet more points to Renault’s table. After battles in the first stint, the German kept his R31 out of harms way as he slowly climbed the table.
Having taken his last stop on the 31st lap, the Renault man kept his wits about him, despite falling to 13th – as the field eventually filtered out, Heidfeld emerged in 8th place. A decent result indeed, but there is a distinct feeling of Renault falling behind Mercedes with each race.
An unusual tyre strategy for Alguersuari lifted him up the field. Having spent much of the race residing outside of the top ten, the Toro Rosso man utilised long runs to lit him up the order. Alguersuari persevered, eventually delivering his third consecutive points finish in 10th for Toro Rosso.
Following his puncture, Adrian Sutil rarely featured, yet still slyly reached 11th, pressurising Alguersuari to the flag. Sutil, himself, possessed only a nine-tenths lead over 12th place Vitaly Petrov as the race drew to a close. Having qualified on the seventh row, the Russian was never a factor in what was one of his most disappointing races of the season.
Disappointing carries an altogether different meaning for Rubens Barrichello. The Williams driver came home ahead of teammate Pastor Maldonado to take 13th and 14th respectively, although neither looked like troubling the points. Unable to recover from his mid-race issues, Paul di Resta had to make do with 15th.
Both Virgin’s came home two laps down, with Timo Glock leading Jerome d’Ambrosio at the line. Hispania’s Vitantonio Liuzzi beat new teammate Daniel Ricciardo in his first race.
It was a respectable weekend for Ricciardo who set out to finish his first Grand Prix and did so with little fuss.
All this manages to extend Vettel’s lead. With no consistent rivals stepping up, the German’s points total grew to 204 points – an advantage of 80 points over Webber, with Alonso a further 12 points behind.
Both Hamilton and Button have collected 109 points (three adrift of Alonso), meaning that this is surely a fantastic Championship battle for… second place.
With Vettel’s home race in Germany coming up next, it’s unlikely that his lead will shrink just yet.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5
2011 British Grand Prix (Rd 9) Pos Driver Team Time 1. Alonso Ferrari 1h28:41.194 (52 laps) 2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 16.511 3. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 16.947 4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 28.986 5. Massa Ferrari + 29.010 6. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:00.665 7. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1:05.590 8. Heidfeld Renault + 1:15.542 9. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:17.912 10. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:19.108 11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:19.712 12. Petrov Renault + 1:20.600 13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap 14. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap 15. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap 16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps 17. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps 18. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps 19. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps Fastest lap: Alonso, 1:34.908 Not classified/retirements: Driver Team Gap Button McLaren-Mercedes 11 Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 26 Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 28 Trulli Lotus-Renault 41 Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 49 World Championship standings, round 9: Drivers: Constructors: 1. Vettel 204 2. Webber 124 3. Alonso 112 4. Hamilton 109 5. Button 109 6. Massa 52 7. Rosberg 40 8. Heidfeld 34 9. Petrov 31 10. Schumacher 28 11. Kobayashi 25 12. Sutil 10 13. Alguersuari 9 14. Buemi 8 15. Perez 8 16. Barrichello 4 17. Di Resta 2 World Championship standings, round 9: Drivers: Constructors: 1. Red Bull-Renault 328 2. McLaren-Mercedes 218 3. Ferrari 164 4. Mercedes 68 5. Renault 65 6. Sauber-Ferrari 33 7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 17 8. Force India-Mercedes 12 9. Williams-Cosworth 4