Well it wasn’t a cracker, but this afternoon’s Spanish Grand Prix went someway to reignite Mark Webber’s title tilt.
Prior to this weekend’s event Webber had stressed that it would only take one race weekend to transform the championship standings and with an emphatic victory, whilst his rivals faltered, the Australian got what he wished for.
Ultimately, the race victory was decided when Webber made sure that his team-mate Sebastian Vettel did not try a repeat of his Malaysian Grand Prix start. If Webber had been sleeping then, he was wide awake today. While Vettel did try to pass him on the long run into turn one, Webber held strong and forced the German to yield on the outside of the corner..
From there on Webber was untouchable and made his highly-rated team-mate look rather ordinary in the opening laps as he vanished into the distance. Until he made his pit stop, on lap 17, car number six was faster on every tour and managed to build an unassailable lead to allow its pilot a cushion for the remainder of the race.
Given the conditions around the Circuit de Catalunya today’s race victory was really won and lost in the first stint and it is therefore impossible to accurately judge the pace of Red Bull in comparison to its rivals. Although Lewis Hamilton eventually set the fastest lap of the race on lap 59, by then Webber was already cruising and appeared to have plenty in reserve. Furthermore, given its pace when fully fuelled, the RB6 did not wear its tyres as it had been expected to do. Webber’s fastest lap in the first stint was nearly six tenths faster than Hamilton’s McLaren which will be ominous on some of the calendar’s more traditional circuits such as Silverstone.
This is not to say that the Milton Keynes-based squad will not be caught as the season progresses. However, one must conclude that their rivals will have breathed a huge sigh of relief that Red Bull’s challenger continued to be fast but fragile in the hands of Sebastian Vettel.
So after today’s crushing display has Mark Webber been transformed into a credible championship challenger? On today’s evidence he certainly has been, but it is appearing ever evident that consistency will be key in this season’s championship and that is something which Mark has failed to do so far this season. Additionally Webber has always been strong around the Montmelo circuit – you only have to recall last year’s largely-unnoticed drive to third to prove that.
Webber will only remain a championship challenger if he can continue to maintain the upper hand over his team-mate. The pressure resumes in Monaco, a race in which Vettel will surely be fired up in a bid to eradicate the memory of his embarrassing exit last year.
Misery for McLaren
One man who will be looking to bounce back next weekend is Lewis Hamilton, who suffered a disappointing exit in today’s race when his right front tyre deflated with only two laps remaining. The 2008 world champion was superb today and emerged as the only man able to take the fight to the Red Bulls. Hamilton had duly capitalised on Vettel’s poor pit stop to steam out of the pits side-by-side into turn one and evidently spooked the German into taking to the run off area. With this, Hamilton looked on course for a deserving second place, only for disaster to strike right at the death.
How much will the British driver be cursing his misfortune today, given that today’s result would have allowed him to close right up to his team-mate Jenson Button and reignite his championship challenge?
Button’s race was ruined in the pits when an earlier dash display failure which meant that the clutch of his MP4-25 dragged as he attempted to leave his box. This released him directly behind a rejuvenated Michael Schumacher, who defended brilliantly for long enough to force the life out of the Englishman’s tyres and subsequently force him to concede the place.
Local hero rewards fans with second, but Ferrari struggle
Fernando Alonso may well have been luck to claim second in today’s race, but the crowd favourite continued to keep himself right in the title hunt with a rather lonely drive. It was clear from Friday that Ferrari did not have the pace of its rivals – not even with the F10 sporting a new F-duct though to have been as much as 7 kph faster than some of the other cars down the main straight.
Whether Alonso was relying on crowd power alone to find the extra speed he did, the Spaniard will know that the deficit to the Red Bulls at the front is worrying and that Ferrari must now press on with a vigorous development plan if it is to stay in the hunt.
More compelling was Felipe Massa’s poor performance. The Brazilian appeared to lack confidence with the car for the majority of the weekend and never looked like challenging for a podium in the race. Whether Massa’s spell in the wilderness has anything to do with the horrific crash he sustained last year or that arrival of Alonso remains to be seen. However, Spain was meant to be one of his strongest circuits on the calendar and with Robert Kubica recording another solid weekend for Renault, question marks about the little Brazilian’s future will remain.
Onwards to the Principality
So the opening European round of the season once again failed to produce substantial on-track action. Unfortunately it would appear that the majority of Formula One’s fans have resigned themselves to relying on long-distance forecasts in the hope of a rain shower to add some spice into the mix.
Although Monaco will be more of a test for man and machinery than Catalunya, there is no guarantee that there will be an increase in action. Monaco has produced some pretty processional races in its time and with there every possibility that the Red Bulls will lock out qualifying we may well have our winners before the lights go out on Sunday.
Thankfully the FIA race director has not allowed for a split qualifying session, for it may well be the only way to ensure that we have an exciting grid with a variety of top names out of position.
And who wouldn’t want something like that? Well, of course, apart from some of the drivers.