Red Bull finally join battle

It’s difficult to know what to think of this season. Although there is a novelty in the fact that the big teams are all floundering, the racing hasn’t exactly been top-notch all season — certainly not at the front. Even with Button neutered, it just left the door open for someone else to put in a dominant performance at the front.

Incidentally, my brother made a good point that I hadn’t thought about before. There isn’t really anything novel about the people at the front at all. He noted that since the early 1990s, the vast majority of championships have been won by two men: Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn. From 1992 until 2004, these two men hoovered up every title going. Look whose cars are battling for the Championship this year.

It is still nice to see a couple of small(-ish) teams showing the big names how it’s done, but it doesn’t make the racing any better. The British Grand Prix continued the trend. There was not much overtaking, and we saw a noticeably sluggish Nick Heidfeld, lapping at around 1.5s slower than those in front of him, have very little trouble keeping the pacier Alonso behind, and an orderly queue duly formed.

From lap 2 onwards, everyone’s first stint was interminably dull. It doesn’t say much for the new aero regulations. It’s tempting to blame the FIA, but you may as well blame the Overtaking Working Group, mostly made up of people who today represent Fota.

I sensed everyone becoming bemused at just how little overtaking there was. At one point during the BBC’s coverage the FOM World Feed cut to an onboard of Lewis Hamilton when he should have been lining someone up when Martin Brundle suddenly blurted: “He’s on the rev limit!” like a lightbulb went off in his head. The FIA’s engine regulations prevent overtaking.

In fairness, Silverstone doesn’t particularly lend itself to overtaking anyway, being mostly made up of high-speed corners. It is more the sort of place where drivers will get caught out by the difficult high-speed sections and the sharper drivers can take advantage in these moments.

So we saw a half-decent battle between Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton as first the Spaniard made a mistake at Woodcote. Then Hamilton got caught out at Becketts to allow Alonso to re-take the position. But Alonso was totally powerless in the first stint to do anything about the slow but steady Heidfeld. We had to rely on drivers making unforced errors for any position changes to be made.

Apart from the lack of overtaking, what are the major talking points of the race?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the weekend was the fact that Button never got to grips with the situation. I always suspected that Barrichello would have the upper hand at Silverstone. It is effectively his second “home” race, he knows the place like the back of his hand and he has always gone well there. But I wasn’t prepared for the scale of Button’s struggles.

We have seen time and again this season Button struggle through Friday Practice and only get to grips with his car on Saturday, sometimes just in time to set his final flying lap. This weekend it was as if it never happened. The Brawn doesn’t like cold temperatures, and the British Grand Prix will be among the coolest of the season. There were also no heavy braking areas, which is apparently the Brawn’s strong point. Meanwhile, the high-speed corners played to Red Bull’s advantage.

But look at who Button was beaten by. Ahead of him on the grid were Jarno Trulli and, of all people, Kazuki Nakajima. Ahead of him in the race were Massa and Rosberg — and even that was mainly due to a Brawn strategy. It is true that Button was heavily disadvantaged at the start by Trulli’s sluggish getaway, but it was Button who qualified behind Trulli in the first place.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel, who must be the favourite to challenge Button for the title, put in a flawless performance. In stark contrast to Turkey, where Button was majestic and Vettel floundered, the young German star didn’t put a foot wrong all race. He pulled out a lead of over a second per lap in the first stint, which you don’t see too often these days. As the cars passed the chequered flag, Vettel’s advantage over Button was 46 seconds.

Nakajima had a career-best 5th position on the grid, but was unable to take advantage. In fact, he mysteriously dropped down the order after his first pit stop, and afterwards Nakajima was at a loss, saying, There weren’t any particular reasons for it. The good qualifying performance is encouraging, but it means nothing if the driver can’t make the most of it during the race.

Nakajima even ended up behind Giancarlo Fisichella’s Force India. But in fairness, it was a stellar effort from Fisi, helped largely by an awesome start which saw him gain five places in the first lap. He is, at last, beginning to turn in some head-turning performances in that car, and they surely deserve to score a point with him soon. 10th place is excellent, especially considering there were only two retirements, and they were both behind him anyway.

Then there is the collision between Heikki Kovalainen and S├ębastien Bourdais. I think you have to blame Kovalainen for that one. He didn’t seem to know what he was doing, and was weaving about like a drunk driver. Bourdais did very little to aggravate the situation and I don’t know what else he could have been expected to do.

So for the first time in a while we have seen Brawn on the back foot, and Red Bull have been given wings. We sit effectively at the half-way point of the season, and you wonder if this sets the scene for the rest of the season. But with a three week break until the next race in Germany there is a lot of time for the teams to improve their cars and for everyone to reflect on the situation.

There is a bit of politics to get out of the way first though, and I fear that the intervening three weeks will be dominated by non-racing matters.

2 comments

  1. I hate to admit this, but the politics of the breakaway series is the most interesting aspect of this season (which isn’t really saying much).

    As you said, a couple of independents are out front, but they are dominating the same way the big teams used to. The one thing that could make this season interesting, having the the big boys get there stuff together and really challenge RBR and Brawn, has been scuppered by the fact that McLaren built a dog, and the exit of Jean Todd has unraveled the Ferrari team discipline.

    I’m just glad I still have the 2008 Spa race along with the 2008 season ending Brazil race on my DVR. Controversies aside, that was some really fun racing to watch.

  2. As we say in Hollywood: Ding dong, the witch is dead!

    > I hate to admit this, but the
    > politics of the breakaway
    > series is the most interesting aspect

    The soap opera is part of the spectacle. Anyone remember the old TV show Dynasty from 25 years ago? I like to think of Ferrari as a the busty Joan Collins. But this morning, it’s like JR got shot again….