Lots of talking points, even though there wasn’t that much on-track action.
Infact, the first session of qualifying was probably the most interesting part of the whole weekend. Track conditions were clearly not too good, probably as a result of Silverstone’s famously unpredictable wind conditions. All of the drivers seemed to be struggling badly until the very end of the session. Even then, there seemed to be a somewhat pedestrian feel to the session, as though nobody could quite be bothered to put a lap in.
The laid-back attitude combined with the windy conditions meant that two big names dropped out in the first knockout stage — Mark Webber and Jenson Button. Button qualified in a truly awful 19th position. This put him ahead of only Jarno Trulli, who was unable to set a time because his engine blew, and the chronically slow Super Aguris. Super Aguri is meant to be a Honda B-team, but given Button’s recent form they may as well toss a coin to decide which is the B-team.
It is yet another example, though, of Honda’s silly little mistakes. Honda hoof it over the bar time and time again. Jenson Button did lose three minutes in the qualifying session by being randomly called in to be weighed. But every driver knows that there is a possibility that they will be weighed. It is a part of the sport and the team should have factored this in when planning Button’s schedule. It is not an excuse. At least Honda seem to be holding their hands up and taking the blame, but they shouldn’t have done that in the first place. Some commentators, notably ITV’s Ted Kravitz, claimed that Button still had time to set another lap, but Honda chose not to. If that is the case, then the error is scandalous.
At least the race looked a bit brighter for Button. He had a really good start to the race. He was looking fast and got up to 12th when he had an oil leak that spun him into retirement. At least you can put this down to bad luck, as I don’t think the oil leak is a common problem for Honda. A chink of light at the end of the tunnel for Honda perhaps.
The season so far for Honda can definitely be split into two. The first few races saw the sort of overblown hype we’ve come to expect from Honda following a highly successful winter of testing. Button seemed convinced that he would win a race this season, and he was qualifying superbly, even if the race pace wasn’t quite there. Rubens Barrichello, meanwhile, was struggling to get to grips with his new car.
Then there was a change at the Nürburgring. Since then it has been Barrichello who has been coming up with the results for Honda. Button’s qualifying pace has disappeared, and race results have fallen through the floor. Button’s confidence has gone. His shoulders are slumped. His Honda is no longer a potential race-winning car. Honda have a lot of work to do if they are to become serious World Championship contenders. And they need to start by cutting out the silly errors.
(Update: No quick fix for Button.)
The starting grid was mouthwatering. At last, we had the three greatest drivers in the world occupying the top three positions. Kimi Räikkönen really pulled one out of the bag to qualify second. He left it really late to set his final flying lap. He had to treat his out lap like a qualifying lap. It may wear down the tyres, but I wonder if it was actually (unintentionally) advantageous to Kimi. Instead of touring round on the out lap to conserve tyres, Kimi was going full speed. He must have been really pumped up, and he ended up setting a blistering time.
It wasn’t quite enough to beat Fernando Alonso, and the Spaniard proved today that he really is the driver to beat at the moment. At the start of the race it looked like we would have a close battle between the three best drivers in the world: Alonso, Räikkönen and Michael Schumacher. But Alonso just sat back and drove off into the distance.
Räikkönen must have had a fantastic lap to be able to qualify second, because his McLaren simply hasn’t got the pace of the Renault or the Ferrari. It is probably fair to say that Räikkönen impeded Michael Schumacher today. Räikkönen looked like he had 2nd in the bag, but Ferrari’s tactician Ross Brawn came up with a genius plan which gave Michael Schumacher one lap on a clear track to overtake Kimi in the pits. Schumacher did his duty and set the timing screen alight. After Räikkönen’s pit stop, Schumi was easily ahead. I dread to think where Räikkönen would have finished the race had he not qualified so well yesterday.
Despite Räikkönen’s problems, the fact that these three drivers were at the head of the field for the entire race is good for Formula 1. It is a demonstration that being a winner doesn’t just depend on having a good car. The top three all came from different teams. Renault, Ferrari and McLaren each have a world-class driver, but they also each have a mediocre driver. There are reports today that Montoya will not have his McLaren contract renewed. Fisichella has a mountain to climb if he is to stay at Renault. And I will be amazed if Felipe Massa is still driving a Ferrari next year. Then again, the top six places were all occupied by these six drivers.
7th and 8th were taken by BMW, in another solid weekend for them. They look like finishing ahead of Williams in this year’s Constructors’ Championship. Rosberg missed out on a point by just 0.8 seconds. Honda and Toyota both had another underachieving race.
The only other notable incident was the crash involving Scott Speed, Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber. Martin Brundle was quick to criticise Scott Speed. I am not so sure. I see it as a borderline racing incident. Speed didn’t really have anywhere else to go, because Vitantonio Liuzzi was right behind him, so if he hit the brakes that might have caused a different crash. Certainly, Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber were innocent parties there.
Formula 1 is moving on to North America next. Let’s hope they don’t bollocks it up this time!
- Race result
- Update: F1Fanatic: 2006 Stats Update: Britain
- Update: F1Fanatic: British Grand Prix 2006 Review. There were many drives of quality at Silverstone this year. But you could only see them by squinting at the timing sheets after the race and by putting qualifying performances in the context of race fuel loads.
- BlogF1: Alonso Takes British Victory