European GP - Sunday - Race Report
A handout for Rubens
Lewis Hamilton should have won the European Grand Prix in Valencia. He had the win in his hands. He had taken care of the challenge from Rubens Barrichello. No-one else was in the picture. All that was needed was to get through the final pit stop and avoid trouble. Alas, it all went horribly wrong.
Both the McLarens had started the race on the Bridgestone super-soft tyres, and they went for more of the same in their first pit stops, Barrichello (and Jenson Button) started on softs and repeated that choice for their middle stints. Hamilton had a lead of 3.6s over Barrichello by lap 36. The team was trying to get him to go an extra lap to reduce the chance of Rubens being able to grab the lead. The decision to call him into the pits was taken at the last minute.
"I was told to come in that lap," Hamilton explained. "I had saved fuel to go longer, but maybe they were a bit unsure whether I had enough. They called me in and I was just inside the white line and already committed to coming into the pits, when they told me to do another lap."
This meant that when he arrived at the garage the crew did not have his front tyres ready. That delay proved crucial. When Barrichello pitted from the lead on lap 40 he was able to resume ahead of Hamilton. And that was it. Hamilton was obviously disappointed but he put a brave face on it
"We win and we lose together," he said. "It's been a tremendous effort to get us here, so we can't be disappointed that we didn't get the win because we had extraordinary pace for the last three races. These things happen. I've had so many races with this team and this very rarely happens, this was perhaps the second time. After all the things we've done, they deserve a pat on the back."
Barrichello has looked like a man who is capable of winning races all year but it looked in Valencia as though that was not going to happen. The World Champion led easily from his pole position, as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen slotted in behind him. Barrichello had nothing to deal with their KERS systems. Further back Kimi Raikkonen was doing much the same with Sebastian Vettel. The German was trying to deal with this and get ahead of Jenson Button. The result was that Jenson was pushed towards the wall and had to back off. In doing do he lost out to Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. After that he was in real trouble. A lively fight with Alonso in the first lap caused his tyres to grain.
There was a bit of drama in the midfield where there was a bingle between Romain Grosjean, Timo Glock, Sebastien Buemi and Luca Badoer. The result was that Badoer was spun and the other three ended up going to the pits with varying degrees of damage to their cars.
As this was being sorted out the action focussed on Button as he tried to make up for lost ground and went past Alonso. It was a neat move but Button overshot and Fernando went back ahead and then Mark Webber closed up and overtook Jenson on lap eight to take fifth.
Out front Hamilton led until his first pit stop on lap 16. That was expected and Kovalainen took the lead for a lap and then headed for the pits. Barrichello went on for three more laps and as a result was ahead of Kovalainen when the stops were done. He then had to close up on Hamilton and aim to do the same at the second stops.
"In the middle stint we pushed each other very hard," Hamilton said. "The first part of the race was very well controlled and consistent, but in the second stint I was struggling with my tyres and to keep up the pace Rubens had, especially in the high-speed corners where he was catching me."
After the positions had switched and Barrichello was ahead Hamilton pushed as hard as he could.
"I pushed and pushed beyond the limit," he said. "Like qualifying laps. I can go home happy that I gave it all. The team did a fantastic job and it wasn't a pit issue; it was just unfortunate at the time. I tried to do that extra lap to push closer to Rubens, but we didn't get it. No worries. Congratulations to Rubens, he did a fantastic job."
Hamilton kept the pressure on Barrichello all the way, but could not close the gap by more than a couple of tenths each lap until Barrichello backed off right at the end.
The victory was the cause for much celebration for the 37-year-old Brazilian, who has not won since he left Ferrari four years ago.
"All race they were telling me to push, push, push, and lots of things go through your head, for yourself, your family, your country," he said. "The car was really brilliant. For sure my tyres were very consistent and towards the end of the second stint I was able to catch Lewis a little bit and push after he stopped.
"I wish this moment could be forever."
The win had special significance as it marked the 100th Grand Prix victory for a Brazilian driver.
"I don't care so much for numbers as I do for my work," he said. "I dedicate this to Brazil, but also to a special one, for Felipe (Massa). It's been emotional for me, but I never felt that the spring coming out of my car [and hitting him in Hungary] was my fault. I never wish that had happened to him. He is such a good friend and I wish him all the best. I had two wishes, actually: That he was the same guy - and he is; and I wish he is the same driver - and I think he is going to be."
It was a wish shared by many in F1. Massa was missed - not least by Ferrari. After the Michael Schumacher idea had gone wrong, the team resorted to Luca Badoer and he was clearly a long way out of his league. It was rather embarrassing, but Badoer kept his head down and did what he could. He will be better at Spa (one hopes).
So the hopes of Ferrari rested on Kimi Raikkonen and the relationship between the Finn and the team is a little stressed these days. Raikkonen has no desire to retire but the team seems to want to move on and sign up Fernando Alonso - not that anyone will say it out loud.
Raikkonen was pushing hard and he was able to move to third place in the race by getting ahead of Kovalainen during the second pit stops. On paper that should not have happened.
But in the end Heikki had to hold off an aggressive Nico Rosberg. The word is that he will be fending off Rosberg for his drive next season as well...
"To start second and finish fourth isn't ideal," Kovalainen admitted. "But I'm more pleased with my overall performance in this race than in Hungary. We showed good performance throughout the whole weekend, and I really want to thank the whole team for helping us to achieve that - it's good to see things improving like this. We don't yet have the pace of the frontrunners, but everyone has done an incredible job to get us to where we are. We've scored more points in the last three races than any other team."
Raikkonen was certainly happy with his work.
"On Friday we saw that the car was pretty competitive over a distance and we therefore thought we could fight for a podium finish," he said. "We were also aware that, in qualifying, we might have struggled, especially on light fuel. Both these predictions proved correct and today we were once again able to get on the podium. I managed to make up a few places at the start and my first aim was to pull out a bit of a gap over Rosberg, who was going to stop after me. In the second part of the race, I realized that I could close on Kovalainen and try and make the most of the run of pit stops to get ahead of him and I managed it."
Rosberg did a decent job again for Williams and he came home fifth, the seventh consecutive race in which has scored points. It is just a shame that he did not get more in the bank at the start of the year when the double diffuser teams had such an advantage. The good news for Williams is that the FW31 now seems to suit every circuit on which it races, and that is good news. It can only be a matter of time before we see Nico on the podium.
Kazuki Nakajima had a pretty miserable race. After the problem in qualifying, he then had a puncture on lap 38 and finally he was called in to retire with two laps to go in an effort to avoid damage being done to the gearbox. He was classified 18th.
Alonso's early charge set him up for points but it was not easy. The R29 is not a simple beast and the best that Alonso could hope for was sixth place. Grosjean had no chance of a good result after his first lap adventure and ended up 15th. The only bonus for him was that he managed to set a faster lap than Alonso, although circumstances obviously played in his favour in this respect.
Jenson Button came home in seventh place and that was bad news for Jenson. In recent races Barrichello seems to have had the edge over him, and Jenson was clearly confused after a strange race.
"Rubens did a great job and he deserves the victory, it's been a long time for him," he said. "We came here to beat the Red Bulls and we did, but I didn't expect my team-mate to finish so far ahead of me."
What was really strange was that in the closing part of the race Jenson was the fastest man on the track, when his car suddenly began to behave well on the rubber. For a few laps it looked like he might even challenge Alonso but then the tyres stopped performing and he slowed down and settled for seventh, which he had taken from Mark Webber during an excellent out lap after his final pit stop on lap 42. Whatever the case the World Championship leader had a bad day and the only good news was that things were worse with Red Bull. Vettel was running fifth at the time of his first pit stop on lap 16 but then he had to make another stop on lap 17 because the team wasn't able to get fuel into the car. That ruined his race and then to add insult to injury his engine lunched itself soon afterwards.
"It's not good," he said. "In terms of the Championship, I will fight until the last breath, but it's not good to have retired when you want to get more points than your opponent. You're in a position to do it, but then you don't finish the race."
Mark Webber was in a similar situation. He ended the day ninth. He admitted that he had struggled all through the weekend. It was the first time Red Bull Racing has failed to score since Melbourne.
Robert Kubica beat Webber to the final point, which gave BMW Sauber its first score since Silverstone. Kubica lost out in the early part of he race but was able to pass Webber in the second stops, which made all the difference. In the closing stages Webber was chased by Adrian Sutil but that was a hopeless chase. Nick Heidfeld finished 11th (again) after letting Kubica go early on in the race because the Pole had a much lighter fuel load. Giancarlo Fisichella brought the second Force India home behind him but he was still well ahead of the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock. And here we had another oddity. The Toyotas were hopeless all weekend, struggling for grip. And yet Trulli did not make a first stop until lap 34. Timo had to pit after the first lap incident but then ran 32 laps without calling in again. In the closing stages, however, the tyres kicked in and Timo ended the day by setting the fastest lap of the race... No-one seemed to understand that.
Down at the back the Toro Rossos did not look much good. Buemi ran into trouble with that opening lap adventure with Glock, and after that ran at the back until a brake disc problem halted him. Jaime Alguersuari was less impressive than he had been in Hungary and found the race much tougher. It did not help that for the last 10 laps he could not get anything from his drinks bottle.
Badoer ended the day in 17th. It was not a great performance.
The second Valencia street race was about as exciting as the first one had been. The track allows very little overtaking and the crowds this year were much smaller than last year.
One wonders if we will back again...