Spanish GP 2011

MAY 22, 2011

Spanish GP, 2011

Sebastian Vettel, Spanish GP 2011
© The Cahier Archive


Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing took their fourth win in five 2011 races in that rarest of things - an exciting Spanish GP at Barcelona.

Once again, a full one second gulf in qualifying pace between Red Bull and their closest challengers did not translate in the race, as Lewis Hamilton harried Vettel all the way to the flag and Jenson Button, using a different strategy, comfortably beat pole man Mark Webber to the final podium position.

How come? It's a question being asked repeatedly.

"It's all about the tyre," said RBR team principal Christian Horner. "We got a great lap out of it in qualifying but I don't think you can drive them like that in the race. If you tried, you'd have been going for a five-stopper here. Two weeks ago Ferrari was very competitive in the race and here, McLaren was. The encouraging thing for us is that we've been to five different types of circuit and we've been competitive everywhere."

Quite how much it was all about the tyre was perfectly demonstrated by Fernando Alonso. Vettel and Hamilton both drove superb races but you had to have sympathy for Alonso. His qualifying time stunned McLaren. From a Q2 time that was the best part of a second down on both McLarens, he split Hamilton and Button on the grid, three thousandths slower than Lewis and two thousandths quicker than Jenson.

"It was the perfect lap," Fernando said, "I could try 20 times and not repeat it." Having put the Ferrari fourth on the grid, he made a fantastic start and, as Webber moved to cover Vettel, he shot down the inside of both Red Bulls to lead through Turn 1. All things being equal, a qualifying lap and start like Alonso's should win you a race. But, in Barcelona, all things were far from equal.

The fact that Ferraris are not at their best on hard compound tyres, be they Pirellis or Bridgestones, is not a new concept. But here, with the debut of an even harder compound Pirelli, Ferrari was in trouble on the prime. Consider this: on lap 18, just before his second tyre stop, Alonso led the grand prix. Eleven laps later, with his three sets of used softs all gone, he bolted on his first set of new primes. And by lap 63, three seconds a lap off the pace, he was lapped!

The fact that both Red Bulls fell behind Alonso at the start spelled ultimate frustration for Webber. As Christian Horner explained: "It made it a very interesting and difficult race. We thought that if anyone might get the jump on us at the start it would be Lewis but Fernando seemed to get a tow and got past both our cars. Then he didn't seem to have fantastic pace and you end up trapped behind in the dirty air stressing your tyres.

"We therefore went for an aggressive undercut with Seb (pitting him after nine laps). There was a risk to it because it put him out behind Jenson and Massa but he lost little speed re-passing them."

Alonso and Ferrari responded on the next lap, however, and Fernando hung onto his lead. Red Bull tried the same tactic after another nine laps, Ferrari again responded by pitting Alonso next time around, but this time Vettel jumped him.

"Unfortunately, Ferrari reacting each time meant that we couldn't get Mark past," Horner said. "Also, the aggressive undercut at the second stop meant that the tyres had to go a long way. We had to make sure we didn't degenerate them too much and end up in a world of pain."

Webber went through the frustration of pitting on the same lap as Alonso at each of the first three stops (laps 10, 19 and 29 of the 66). Webber had a new set of softs to Alonso's used set at the second stop but still couldn't do anything about the Ferrari. The last corner at Barcelona being so quick limited the closeness anyone could get to the car in front, and hence the effectiveness of DRS, added to which Webber didn't have the use of KERS, again, from early in the race.

Trapped for the entire stint, he almost got ahead at the third stop as the Ferrari and Red Bull left the pits as one, but with Fernando just ahead. Webber finally found a way by into Turn 10 after 35 laps, but ran a fraction wide and Alonso re-passed.

In the end, it was left to the team to sell Ferrari a dummy. Just five laps after Vettel had put his first set of hards on (lap 34), the Red Bull mechanics headed out into the pit lane again and Ferrari, obviously thinking RBR were trying to undercut them with Webber, called Alonso in after just 10 laps on his first set of hards. Fernando, in front of Webber on the road, pitted, the Red Bull mechanics headed back into the garage, and Webber stayed out.

Once sprung, Webber was 2s quicker but by then he was the best part of half a minute behind his team mate. Vettel had Hamilton's McLaren within 1.5s and Button, who had been switched to a three rather than four-stop strategy when he came around 10th at the end of the first lap, was also on course to beat the second Red Bull.

Suggest to anyone on Saturday night that Webber would finish the race without mechanical drama but would not be on the podium, and they'd have sent for the men in white coats. Already on Saturday, and not for the first time this year, Webber had been expressing his doubts about this year's prime tyres.

"We need to be careful in F1 with our long run pace, that we don't get too close to the other categories in terms of lap times," he said. "We still need to be the pinnacle of the sport and we need to be able to push the cars to the limit throughout a grand prix and have strong lap times - man against the machine, pushing to the limit. I don't think the long run time around here were very impressive for F1 cars. Some of my laps towards the end were 1m30s, which was only about 8s quicker than the GP3 cars, and I think the budget's a little bit different..." And perhaps he had a point. The GP2 cars were down to in the 1:33s...

It would perhaps be wrong though, to set too much store by Webber's race this time, with a specific combination of unfortunate circumstances combining to get him home 48s behind the winner.

For McLaren, it was a first rate afternoon, their starts notwithstanding, with an updated chassis that could almost have been a B-spec car. Hamilton got by Webber at the first stops despite pitting a lap later. He was helped by the ability to do a lap in clean air when they both stopped and the fact that Webber pitted out behind Button. Jenson, who qualified fifth, found himself hung out to dry on the outside of Turn 1 and was only 10th at the end of the opening lap. He lost touch with the front-runners when he spent the first four laps behind Sebastian Buemi's Toro Rosso, hence the decision to change to three stops.

McLaren, rather than respond to Red Bull's aggressive strategy, chose instead to maximise their useage of the option tyre.

"The drivers did a good job of looking after the tyre and trying to minimize the time on the prime," team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. "Every time you could extend the stint length you were extending your time on the faster tyre, and you would also have fresher tyres at the end, that was the thinking."

In fact, Vettel also ran a long third stint on his one set of new options and so Lewis was only in one lap later than the world champion for each set of primes. If anything though, McLaren was quicker than Red Bull on the prime tyre and Vettel had his hands full for the last stint.

"We were pretty hopeful when Lewis caught him," Whitmarsh said, "but Seb is driving very well and he was also assisted quite a few times by backmarkers, so that he could defend with DRS, which was a bit disappointing."

Vettel, delighted with the win, said: "Going into the last 10 laps I was feeling a bit like China. I felt my tyres going away and I was praying that the same thing would happen to Lewis. He seemed to be so much quicker, especially in the last sector, so he was always getting into the DRS zone, so he could use his wing on the straights."

What saved Sebastian though, was that Lewis couldn't get the McLaren through the last corner as quickly as a car with the Red Bull's downforce.

"By the end of the straight though, you looked in the mirror and he was there or thereabouts and you didn't know if you should defend or not," Vettel explained. "It was really close."

He was not helped by Red Bull once again having to finely manage the use of KERS. "When you get a message to say you can't use it, it's not the best thing in the world to hear!" Vettel smiled.

Behind Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Webber and Alonso, Michael Schumacher beat Nico Rosberg in a race for the first time this year, largely by dint of a fabulous start which saw the seven times champion go from 10th to sixth. Rosberg tracked him to finish seventh, the pair of them only just getting to the line ahead of a fast-closing Nick Heidfeld.

Heidfeld's race was interesting. After the trials and tribulations of his Saturday morning fire in the final session of free practice, he hadn't taken part in qualifying and so started at the back of the grid, but with three brand new sets of option tyres.

Renault started him on the primes to get them out of the way and Heidfeld did a great job to pass six cars on the opening lap before getting trapped behind Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus. He ran them to lap 21, then took three sets of softs on laps 21, 36 and 50.

It mirrored Webber's approach to Shanghai and while not as spectacular, Heidfeld was not in a Red Bull and the DRS zone was not as influential as China, so it was still a fine effort. Good enough, in fact, to finish half a minute in front of Vitaly Petrov in the other Renault, who had started sixth, ahead of the likes of Rosberg and Massa. Food for thought.

Sauber scored points for the fourth consecutive race with Sergio Perez collecting the first two points of his F1 career for ninth place, while Kamui Kobayashi overcame a first lap trip into the gravel and puncture to deliver a typically fighting drive back through to 10th.

And so Sebastian Vettel continues on his imperious way at the top of the championship table, now 41 points clear of Lewis Hamilton and 51 ahead of Webber with five races down. But Monaco is next, just seven days hence. The supersoft Pirelli makes its debut, in partnership with the soft. On current form, anything could happen...

22 MAY 2011

1 - Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull)
2 - Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren)
3 - Jenson BUTTON (McLaren)


Q: Sebastian, congratulations, a fourth win in five races and a thrilling, intense battle between yourself and Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages. Give us a taste of your emotions right now.

Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, it was pretty tough. At the beginning of the race, I think I had a good start but I didn't understand where Fernando (Alonso) came from. He started behind me, some 16 metres behind, and half way down the straight he was already side-by-side. He went on the inside of Mark (Webber) and I went on the outside, so he was leading after the first lap. We couldn't get really close enough to get into the DRS, so we got (no) advantage and (couldn't) pass him but then we got him with a pit-stop. Fairly early, everyone was getting the options out of the way. Then it was basically half of the race left with the hard tyres. McLaren were very strong and Lewis was very strong in particular and they stayed out a little bit longer. A different strategy, which brought them up to second behind us. From then onwards I knew it would be very, very close. Going into the last 10 laps I was feeling a bit like China. I felt my tyres going away and I was praying the same thing would happen to Lewis, as he was catching up. He seemed to be so much quicker, especially in the last sector, so he was always getting into the DRS zone, so he could use his rear wing on the straights. He was sitting for some time on the limiter at the end of the straight but still, sometimes, if you open the straight, it is quite far away. The end of the straight, you look into the mirror and he is there or thereabouts. You don't know if you should defend or not. It was really close. Then, thankfully, in the last two laps I think I got quite a good run in the last sector and enough to make it stick. On top of that we had sometimes KERS on, sometimes KERS off. I was playing around with the buttons and the brake distribution so it wasn't an easy race and obviously McLaren and Lewis especially gave us a very, very hard time. It is quite a big relief when you cross the line or you open onto the main straight and you know there is the chequered flag, and we made it, so I am very, very happy. A great result and after yesterday I think another confirmation that we are very strong. Many people said today would not be a race, but only between Mark and myself. But we have seen, poof, turn one, the Ferraris are there, and then the McLarens gave us a very hard time, so that is why I am even more happy today that we made it as these guys were pushing very hard. I am just happy now.

Q: Lewis, does today McLaren coming home second and third show that when it comes to the racing your team is very much back in it or is there a tinge of disappointment that you couldn't get past Sebastian in the end, no matter how close you were to him?

Lewis HAMILTON: I don't think you can be disappointed with today. The team did a fantastic job throughout with the pit stops and throughout the weekend to get us up there and put us in the fighting position. I didn't get the best start but was able to just keep up with the Red Bulls, with Mark in particular, as I think Fernando was holding the two Red Bulls up. I was able to keep with them just for a while and as the race went on we clearly had some serious pace but it was very, very tough to get past Sebastian in the end. They were massively, massively quick in the high speed turn three, turn nine and through the last corner. His downforce was incredibly clear for me to see. But, nonetheless, I gave it my all to move forward and score some good points and retain second place. It is great for Jenson as well and great for the team points.

Q: Jenson, it wasn't the best of starts. I don't know whether you were planning a three stopper or a four-stop strategy. But the three stop worked for you in the end.

Jenson BUTTON: Yeah, my first lap was an absolute disaster. I got a poor start. It didn't feel too bad but then everyone just came by. I got stuck on the outside of turn one and then turn three. I don't know where I was but I think I was 11th or 12th after the start. Very, very tricky then, and the guy in front was making it very difficult to overtake. But I was able to pick them off and with a fantastic strategy, I would say this race, we were able to get a podium. It was great fun for me coming through and passing Fernando and Mark when they were on the prime tyres and I was on the option and we made the three-stop work. Two weeks ago it wasn't the right call, but this week it was and it is good to get some nice points and also to have fought my way through. I really felt like I raced today.

Q: Sebastian, it's four out of five wins but the fact that once again your KERS was working intermittently, is that becoming something of an annoyance to you at the moment?

Vettel: Well not in a way. We are pushing very hard and we are giving the guys in the factory a very hard time, as you are sitting in the cockpit and you end up changing maps and changing buttons, which you have to do quite a lot on top of pressing the button. You can see the effect, especially around here onto the main straight it was extremely crucial. When they told me about 10 laps from the end not to use KERS it wasn't the best message I was hoping for. I knew that is what McLaren were waiting for. Some laps to the end I had KERS again which was quite useful. But I don't have to say it here, they know it has to work in the future. Absolutely necessary. I think after the loss of KERS yesterday in qualifying it was a big step that it was working today but we are not there yet where we want to be.

Q: Lewis, qualifying for you. How imperative is it now to get much closer to the Red Bulls and that you can challenge them on a Saturday, not just on a Sunday?

Hamilton: Well, I think in the last race people were saying qualifying is not so important, but clearly it is very important and while strategy can still help quite a lot throughout the race, I think positioning for us, trying to pass the Red Bulls and Sebastian is very, very difficult with the step in downforce they have against us. We are just going to continue to push. Hopefully, we will have something good coming in Monaco next week. It is good to come from this race on a positive foot(ing) going into Monaco, where a driver can make even more of a difference, so hopefully the gap will be even closer from me and Jenson to the Red Bulls.

Q: Jenson, looking to you for Monaco and looking back slightly to this race and another battle with Webber and Alonso for so many laps. Can you envisage that being even tighter on the streets of Monaco?

Button: I don't think you are going to be having fights like we had out on the circuit in Monaco. There is going to be a lot of tyre degradation as we have got the super soft and the soft tyres there, so it is going to be very tricky for all of us but we are all in the same boat. It will make it fun for sure. But lastly, I need to say a big thank you to the team for the pit stops as well. We have been working on them and this race they were much improved as Lewis would probably say from the last race.


Q: Sebastian, how much pressure was Lewis putting on you. Three times he seemed to catch up to you?

Vettel: Yeah, he did catch up, so ask him how much pressure he tried to put. He tried everything he could. We were in the same boat, just the other way around. We tried to defend, he tried to attack. The start of the race we were very surprised by Fernando and his start in particular. I don't know where he came from. Then he was holding us off a little bit. He did a good job, so I don't think we could have gone massively quicker but it would have helped especially against the McLarens. In hindsight if you look at the race surely you know we were quite aggressive in order to get past. It didn't work the first time, then the second time it did. Lewis was on a new set of tyres for the second stint, which allowed him to catch up and he stayed out even longer. That's how he found his way past Fernando. But if you see 48 laps still to go and you have already had two pit-stops then yeah, it will be a long final three stints. I knew that the time on the primes would be extremely important and McLaren seemed to be quicker, full stop. I don't think we were massively down but when the guy puts some pressure on and then especially gets close enough to get into the zone with the rear wing it helps as it gives you three-tenths per lap. Arguably he is close in the first‘‚    ‚  ‚ ¡‘‚     ‚ ‘‚    ‚ ‘‚ ‘  sector and he cannot stay that close around the high speed corners but he was pushing a lot. I was hoping to always get enough into the last sector as that is where we seemed to struggle a bit to maintain the gap on the straight. We knew that we were quite slow on the straights plus with 10 laps to go you get the message not to use KERS is not really what you are hoping for. You are hoping for the opposite: we have found a second KERS in the car so use that button! But it wasn't the case. It didn't make it easier but I think even more it shows we kept out heads cool and got the best possible result today, no matter which style. We were hoping for a little bit different race so we need to see where our pace went. But I am very happy. It was a lot of fun. Ten laps to go I thought my tyres are going off, I am on the primes and Lewis is coming from behind very similar to China. This way it was the other way around so I am extremely happy.

Q: Lewis, how much pressure were you putting on Sebastian? How close did you get?

Hamilton: Not close enough, clearly. I never had an opportunity to overtake. I was quite impressed with the job we were able to do today, myself and Jenson, considering that their car is quite a good step faster than ours, particularly in the higher speed (corners). Our race pace really has improved since the last race so that was a positive, but I just wasn't able to follow (Sebastian) through the high speed Turn Three. It was incredible how much downforce he had, a good step on us, and also through Turn Nine and through the last corner. So I was never ever able to get close enough to maintain the gap that I was then able to use the DRS to get by. I'm thoroughly happy with the job (done), the pit stops were much, much better today, I think, for both me and Jenson, and to be able to apply the pressure to a Red Bull, considering the circumstances, is quite an achievement.

Q: You seem to be playing catch-up every stint, three times.

Hamilton: I think our raw speed was... we were faster. If I was able to get past I think I would have been able to pull away. I was really losing quite a lot through the high speed behind but nevertheless, as I said, they are quicker through certain corners and we were quicker through some others, so it was almost balanced.

Q: Jenson, maybe you were a little bit surprised to be on the podium after the first lap?

Button: No, the first lap was a disaster. I got a pretty poor start and three or four cars came past and then braking for Turn One I was on the outside of about three cars and I ran wide and the same in Turn Three. It was a frustrating first lap and then initially, I couldn't overtake the car in front. But once we got up to speed, the pace was good and I was able to make some pretty good overtaking moves. We went for a different strategy to most people which worked very well. I had a lot of fun overtaking Mark and Fernando. They had been fighting for about forty laps, I think, so to come up and overtake them within one lap and then pull away was a lot of fun. It was a fun race - after lap one - and great to get on the podium. I think it really proves how good a job we've done with the car but also as a team, through the pit stops and the strategy, so yeah, I'm happy with the result but it would be interesting to see what would have happened if I didn't have those issues at the start.

Q: And was that three stop strategy planned before the race?

Button: I couldn't possibly say. But as soon as I knew we were on that strategy I was happy, looking at what other people were doing. All weekend we've been saying that the prime is a tough tyre and it's a long way off the option tyre so for me to do a three stop was a no-brainer really, and it worked out pretty well in the end.


Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado do Sao Paulo) Jenson and Lewis, it looks like the result is under investigation because Hamilton and Jenson maybe didn't respect the yellow flags, didn't reduce speed as the marshals wanted. I received this information now.

Button: That's not something that's to be talked about here then, is it? But yeah, in a race situation you see yellow flags and you obviously back off. I'm guessing that Lewis did the same.

Hamilton: Yeah, absolutely, you know, but the thing is that we're always going to be getting quicker and quicker and I don't know when the yellow flags were out exactly but I think at the time we were maybe out on fresh tyres, I don't know what the situation was. But if we'd gone quicker in the sector it's only because that was the way the track was going. Of course when you see an incident you obey the rules and try to stay clear of it.

Q: (Michael Schmidt - Auto, Motor und Sport) Lewis and Jenson, have you any explanation why your car was so much better in the race this time? In Turkey, the difference between qualifying and race performance was not as big as it was today.

Button: No, I think is the answer on my side. We obviously have upgrades on the car which have helped our performance compared to the cars behind but yeah, to see such a big difference in qualifying, a second to the Red Bull and then see our pace in the race, I was a little bit surprised. And the car felt better than what we experienced on Friday. I think the circuit came to us a little bit and maybe the temperatures helped. But the car was much better today than it has been. For me, it's got better throughout the weekend which is great.

Q: (Livio Oricchio - O Estado do Sao Paulo) To all of you: were you surprised that all of you fought with Alonso and suddenly he was a lap behind?

Button: One lap?

Vettel: Yeah, I was surprised. At some stage, I saw into turn seven that there was a Ferrari that went off but it was Felipe and then I think ten or fifteen laps to the end - ten laps from the end - we caught up Fernando and we lapped him. Obviously we passed him, I passed him, I undercut him at the pit stop and Lewis stayed out longer and went past him that way but I don't know. Obviously I had Lewis in my mirrors for the rest of my race so I was quite busy so I don't know what happened to him, but then I saw his number going down on the tower on the straight, but I don't know why there was such a big gap all of a sudden.

Button: I don't think his pace was very good in the race and basically he stayed in front because people couldn't overtake.

Q: (Byron Young - The Daily Mirror) Seb, could you just explain what the crazy frog impression was for, over the team radio?

Vettel: It's a long story, to be honest. I think the first time we picked it up was in 2009 at Silverstone when we won the Grand Prix there, and then, I don't know. It's a bit of a joke between my race engineer and myself that he comes on the radio and gives this crazy impression and if I feel like it I do it back.

Q: (Mike Doodson) Jenson, you mentioned the passing of Mark and Alonso; we don't often see great races here so that was a pretty exciting moment for us, but do you think you caught them by surprise, is that how you got past them? Could you tell us what was the advantage you had?

Button: Well, I was on the option tyre and they were on the prime. I knew, when I caught them, it was going to be very, very difficult to overtake, because Mark was obviously able to use DRS to overtake Fernando, so when you're behind a guy that can use DRS it makes it very difficult to overtake, because he's got the same advantage as you. But I think Mark dropped back a little bit from Fernando and I was able to get in the DRS zone and use DRS and get him into turn one which was a lot of fun, and then I think that with Fernando, I don't think that he expected me to be able to pull alongside out of Turn Ten. I also saved KERS - I was saving it for the end of the lap and it was the perfect opportunity to get on the power and use KERS and it gave me a little boost up the inside. It was fun to make the move, but I still - as most races this year - I still didn't know where I was going to end up. I'd taken third place but we were on different strategies so I wasn't sure where I would end up - but in the end it was a good result.

Spanish Grand Prix Results - 22 May 2011 - 66 Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 66 1h39m03.301
2. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 66 0.630
3. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 66 35.697
4. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 66 47.966
5. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari 65 1 Lap
6. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes GP 65 1 Lap
7. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes GP 65 1 Lap
8. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault 65 1 Lap
9. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari 65 1 Lap
10. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari 65 1 Lap
11. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault 65 1 Lap
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 65 1 Lap
13. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes 65 1 Lap
14. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari 65 1 Lap
15. Pastor Moldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth 65 1 Lap
16. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 64 2 Laps
17. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth 64 2 Laps
18. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault 64 2 Laps
19. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 63 3 Laps
20. Jerome d'Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth 62 4 Laps
21. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth 61 5 Laps
R Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari 58 Gearbox
R Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault 48 Accident
R Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth 28 Gearbox
  Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 52 1:26.727