Monday, 19 November 2012

Hamilton on Fire, Alonso just about keeps the dream alive

Put it away lad, you've not won the cup yet!

Well what a race that was, finally someone has the cracking idea of taking the all the memorable bits from around the world and sticking them on one track.  Take Beckets from Silverstone, The horse shoe turn seven eight and nine from Turkey, the uphill turn two from the A1 ring in Austria and you end up with a superb track.

Just how superb it’ll be with soft sticky tires remains to be seen. But with hard solid tires the cars looked like they were driving on ice at times. The exit of turn 19 was especially difficult for everyone with pretty much everyone taking a trip across the run off during the weekend. The only driver to look like he had his car dialled in was Vettel who was a good half second faster than everyone during the practice sessions. He looked a shoe in for pole but had to work at it in the end to stay ahead of Hamilton, who just got better and better as the track came to him.

A driver not looking like he had any idea what the car was going to do from one corner to the next was Alonso. He was all over the show as the grip appeared to desert his car. He trashed it within an inch of its life but still only made it to ninth when the chequered flag dropped. To keep the championship alive he needed to be as close to Vettel as possible, he wasn’t going to get much done from back there. Meanwhile Massa qualified in sixth ahead of Alonso and looked to have a much better handle on the car.
Grosjean had to change his gearbox, so got a five place penalty pushing him back to tenth and Alonso to eighth and the dirty side of the grid.  Normally the start grid of a track will have a ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ side to it, the racing line will have plenty of rubber on it and all the dust will be swept off to the other side. But this track has seen no action before this weekend, is still green and dusty off line and the tires were taking four laps to get proper grippy. So all the car on the even numbered dirty side at the start were predicted to be two places further back by the time they got up the hill to turn one.  

Any team worth its FIA entrance fee has a Zen master who has read the rules cover to cover and divined every single word and every single nuance of the rules and they’re exact meaning and the subtext to that meaning and the legal and ethical meaning to that meaning. Then they read them again.
 Ferrari spotted that if Massa in sixth was to have a gearbox ‘issue’ he would be penalised five places back to eleventh which would promote Alonso up to seventh and they’d both be on the clean side of the grid .
They wrung their hands for about two nano seconds over the ethical nature of this course of action, then broke the seal on Massas gearbox and called the FIA over to have a look. Redbull climbed on its high horse about other teams having to use ‘cynical tactics’ to keep their championship alive, how Horner kept a straight face I’ll never know.

So once all the hoo harr was over with we got a race, and what a race it was. The prediction that the even numbered grid slots would lose two places off the line was a little wide of the make.  Hamilton lost second place to Webber as Vettel took off into the distance and Alonso had a cracking start and was up to forth by the end of the first lap.
What happened next were 20 laps of wheel to wheel action as cars struggled to find any grip and actual real driver skill made the difference. Hamilton caught and passed Webber after four laps and was soon up behind Vettel making life uncomfortable for the German. Lap after lap the Redbull and McLaren traded fastest laps. Hamilton would nail the long fast sweeping corners of sector one but couldn’t quite close the gap to under a second for the DRS to kick in. Down the long fast back straight they were even stevens with McLaren just closing up as the very end of the straight. Vettel’s Redbull just had phenomenal drive out of the hairpins of sector three enough to pull put an advantage and stay ahead each lap.

Webbers race lasted until lap 16 before that pesky Renault alternator packed in again and left the grumpy Australian stranded out on the circuit. Thankfully this is FIA racing so we didn’t have to sit around for eight laps behind a safety car as the American marshals got their act together. Webber was cleared with the minimum of fuss as the race got on around it.

The two leaders came in for tires, Hamilton was stuck behind Kimi for three laps before the lotus driver made his stop and the fight for first could be rejoined.  Hamilton crept up to the back of the Redbull then fell back as Vettel pulled another fastest lap out of the bag, then he got a message from the team that the tires and fuel were going to be okay and he could turn the McLaren all the way up to 11 and take the fight to Vettel. For 18 laps he was tantalisingly close to the Redbull but never quite close enough for the DRS to give him that slingshot into the lead. Then on lap 42, our favourite last place driver Karthikeyan who was minding his onw business in last place suddenly found he had two much faster cars behind him in the middle of the fast sweeping turns of sector one. He desperately tried to get out of the way but with nowhere to go he held Vettel up fo r that crucial half second that Hamilton needed. Onto the back straight Lewis was now close enough to pick up the tow from Vettel and DRS did the rest. Vettel went to the inside to defend the corner but Lewis was already past before they got there.
Vettel wasn’t quite beaten yet and stayed with the McLaren as the two drivers continued to trade fastest lap. Alonso up to third with a good driver was 30 seconds down the road so wasn’t going to trouble the leaders. Vettel perhaps mindful of the championship didn’t try too hard to beat Hamilton and was only 0.6 seconds behind as they crossed the line.
Hurrah, it’s always good to say a race won with a pass for the lead.

So with that second and Alonso back in second the championship will be decided in Brazil next weekend. It’s always good for the championship to finish with a race that matters, Can Alonso steal this from under Vettel nose ? i don’t think so, but it’s going to be fun to watch.

Hamilton first and he thoroughly deserves it. I'm not too sure if he’s going to miss McLaren more than they miss him, but their partnership has been one of the more successful stories for the Woking based team. I think he’s now ahead of Prost in the all time list of McLaren winners. He just got faster and faster all weekend in Austin, he needed Vettel to be held up for just that half second to take the win, but you make your own luck in this game.  He never stopped trying and it was wonderful to see the happy bouncy Lewis of old when he got out of the car at the end of the race.  After the heartbreak in last few races.

Vettel second and pretty much has both hands on the trophy now. He’ll need to not finish and Alonso will have to be in the top three for the German to fail to become the youngest back to back triple world champion. Given than Renault doesn’t appear to have fixed that pesky alternator issue and if Alonso’s jammy luck makes a sudden return, that’s not beyond the bounds of reason. In reality Vettel just has to finish in the top ten and not be too far behind Alonso. But the Redbull is on song right now and Vettel seems to be able to stroke it to the podium. He’ll want to go for the pole, win and fastest lap just to prove a point. And that might just be his downfall.

Alonso, despite Massa taking one for the team he was still almost 40 seconds down the road at the end. Can he steal this at the end, I just can’t see it. It’s going to need that Renault alternator to go bang mid race, for the Spaniard to stand any chance. The Redbull is just faster than the Ferrari despite Alonso driving the nuts off the scarlet pony and that been the story of the season.

Massa was fourth with a pretty damn good drive in the end. You could call the gearbox penalty as unsporting by Ferrari, i think is a bit cynical at worst, but they didn’t have anything else on the table and ultimately it worked for them. Massa has a contract for next year and he’s back to the form that took him to within one point of the title. Whilst the likes of Webber moaned about having to follow team orders, Massa gave a rueful smile and said “Alonso was lucky to have a team mate like him”. He out qualified Alonso with ease and if he’d not been bumped at back to Eleventh i think he might very well have made the podium.

Button couldn’t find the grip in qualifying and started way back in 12 but like Lewis the track came to him and he was able drag the car back up the grid to fifth at the end. He’ll be the day facto team leader next year and drives like this will help him cement that. Perez can’t qualify either so the two of them will be having fun driving through the field next year.

Kimi was sixth and with a car that spent as much time going sideways as forward.  It looked a handful for most of the weekend and must have been a bit of a come down after the win last time out.

Grosjean too spent a lot of time trying to catch the car as it tried to spin out of the corners. He was his usual banzi self with several heart in the mouth moves on his way to seventh. It looks like he’ll keep his seat for next year, due mainly to the sponsorship rather than his racing skill though.

Hulkenberg confirms his best Force India driver tag with another fine top ten finish. Di Resta is most certainly yesterday’s man as the Hulk brings it home in eight.

Maldonado continues his rehabilitation with a ninth place result, passing Senna with a handful of laps to go just to prove there’s more to him that a dirty great shed full of state money backing him.

And the still contractless in 2013 Senna rounds out the top ten.

Karthikeyan was dean last as usual and that is Austin GP review.

Only one race left this year and thats next week.  Good luck and good night.  

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