Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Valencia GP - The Race

Credit: The 4 year old (from this week's School Diary)

Once in a while a race comes along that makes you realise why Formula 1 is the Greatest Show in the World. All hail the Valencia Grand Prix of 2012.

Given the previous snoozefests brought to us by Valencia, those are not words that I expected to be writing but this race was simply awesome from start to finish and immediately has catapaulted into one of my Favourite Races of All Time and incredibly no rain was involved which is normally the backdrop to a Truly Great Race.

Before I get too carried away (but I promise nothing and indeed the husband has already expressed some nervousness about the likely hysteria levels of this blog), I should first apologise for the complete lack of a qualifying blog. I’m frantically searching for a really good reason but the boring truth of the matter is that I was out most of Saturday, then had yet more enforced football watching in the evening and then the husband was at work all day on Sunday. As I dropped him off at the station (even I felt sorry for him being the only commuter – who in the name of insanity organises a strategy day on a Sunday in June!?) he casually remarked “I bet it will be a cracking race today”. Obviously because I know so much about F1, I shot him down in flames. I should have known that in this mad old season, nothing is as you would expect. Anyway I’ve done my sympathetic bit (it doesn’t come naturally as the husband well knows) and the great thing is the husband can read my blog and relive the magic of the race. Well sort of.

I did actually make some notes during the real-live qualifying on Saturday but helpfully Sky did a recap of qualifying just before the race (along with several hundred other recaps of various things) so I thought I could just neatly summarise the…er…recap and we can all pretend that I properly covered qualifying after all. What is important to note here though is that what happened in qualifying actually bears no resemblance to who finished where in the race.

Luca Di Montezemolo - He was really cross after qualifying
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

So here is a summary of qualifying in bullet-point form (you can tell what job I did in a former life can’t you?):

·  Timo Glock had food poisoning so didn’t take part. Ah well.

·  HRT had qualified ahead of Marussia. Lets hear it for Narain (and team-mate) for not being the slowest people on the grid!
·  Mark Webber went out in Q1 for no good reason.
·  Kovalainen started 16th. This is amazing as he drives a Caterham.
·  Ferrari massively screwed up by gambling that one set of softs would be enough to get into the top ten. Alonso started in 11th place and Massa in 13th. Worst of all was that Di Montezemolo had graced Valencia with a personal audience and was looking thunderous at the end of qualifying.
·  Schumacher was in 12th place, nestled in between the Ferraris.
·  Both Force India’s made it into the top ten.
·  Button was 9th which was a bit rubbish.
·  The two Lotus cars qualified in 4th and 5th and were looking very fast.
·  Nico Rosberg started 6th but was held up by Lewis Hamilton on the last corner of the outlap. Mercedes were very annoyed, went to the stewards to complain but Lewis was found Not Guilty.
·  Maldonaldo qualifed in 3rd. There was general amazement about this.
·  Vettel was on pole by 4/10ths of a second over Lewis Hamilton who was in 2nd place. In contrast, only 6/10ths covered P2 to P10. Vettel’s car has lots of new bits and pieces like a new exhaust and a new bodywork package. I’m saying nothing except Adrian Newey was doing a LOT of scribbling in his Top Secret Pad on the pitlane in Canada. Vettel at the age of 24 has equalled Prost’s number of pole positions and he is about as fun to watch. I don’t mean this in a good way.
·  So there were seven different teams in the top ten. This generally got people very excited and hopeful of a good race but even Brundle wasn’t going wild for the prospect of a Great Race. But hey, we can all get it wrong!

Hurrah that’s all sorted and now onto the race. I should explain that I ended up watching on Sky, even though lovely Jake Humphrey was back on the Beeb, due to the fact that the BBC coverage had failed to record as there was a clash with Four in a Bed. That probably reveals a lot about our not-so-highbrow televisual habits during the week.

So we had a line-up of Simon Lazenby-Thing (still apparently in a job), Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and the charisma-bypass zone that is Nick Heidfeld. He might be a lovely chap but he has the most boring voice I have ever heard in an F1 pitlane since Mika Hakkinen and at least Mika was mainly driving cars so we didn’t get to listen to him much. What’s the betting though Mika pops up in a future race seeing as Sky’s New Idea is to bring back a former F1 driver who isn’t doing much nowadays as a guest pundit.

We were shown some old footage of the 1999 European GP at Nürburgring which was a totally mental race, full of crashes and constant drama in torrential conditions. Johnny Herbert won for Stewart GP in the team’s one and only race win. I remember watching that race massively jetlagged in South Africa while lots of alpha male types were incredulous that a woman knew anything at all about Formula 1. Happy days.

Johnny Herbert driving for Stewart GP
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Next up, the obligatory quick interview with Christian Horner who had presumably hunted down the Sky cameras while we were reliving classic Nürburgring moments, then a surprisingly entertaining feature on McLaren (oh the irony) training the Sky Sports team to do a pitstop. By the end, the Sky team had got it down to 6 seconds. Worth remembering that small nugget of information.

Brundle working The Grid

So time for ♯MartinsGridWalk. It started a bit shakily as none of the cars were on the grid, then Martin and his camera crew had to try and avoid getting run over as the cars slowly made their way onto the grid. We found out that Massa appeared to have a person who held his sunglasses for him (or maybe that was Martin being droll) – I think he interviewed Felipe but I can’t remember what was said. It wasn’t important anyway. Button was in conversation with someone whose name was apparently Mikey Muscles (not sure if Mikey is an Official Sunglasses Carrier or does something more important). There was a very amusing interchange between Button and Brundle. Jenson asked Brundle about Le Mans (which he took part in the previous weekend) and remarked to Brundle how fast the young kids all are these days. To which Brundle made a comment to Jenson being ‘out of position because he didn’t get the job done in qualifying’. Time out guys.

Then Martin ran into his old friend, Tanja from German TV – I noted he wasn’t sarcastic to her! He managed a very quick word with Pastor Maldonaldo which might have been longer but Pastor needed the toilet and Martin gave him quite detailed directions to the nearest one. Pastor actually seemed quite grateful but I think he had forgotten he was still on live TV. Oh dear. Quick chats then with Kamui Kobayashi who seemed quite animated and excited by his own laconic standards and then a word with Ross Brawn. If you’re ever playing or devising F1 bingo, make sure you plump for a Ross Brawn comment on tyre degradation. He never fails!

Slightly disturbing shot of what appeared to be Bernie talking to Massa by pinning him (Massa being pinned, not the other way round!) up against the wall. We never got to the bottom of that but perhaps Massa’s Official Sunglasses Carrier took the wrong sunglasses by mistake.  As the seconds ticked down to the start, we saw lots of wannabe WAG types in bikinis standing in a swimming pool with a phenomenal view of the circuit. There is no justice in the world.

Time For the Start and Go Go Go...! Vettel, Hamilton and Grosjean all had amazing starts but especially Vettel which was potentially ominous. Maldonaldo slithered backwards and was squeezed out by Kimi, then Grosjean. Alonso had a stupendous start and had rocketed up into 8th position by the end of lap 1.

By lap 2, Vettel had pulled out a 2.2 second lead over Lewis in 2nd place. By lap 3, his lead had increased to 4 seconds. I was already praying for a mechanical fault or tyre delamination on Vettel’s car (in a totally non-dangerous way of course) otherwise this could be the most boring race ever. As is the way in Valencia…usually. Grosjean was rapidly catching Lewis and Kimi was having a massive scrap with Maldonaldo which for my money had Imminent Crash Followed By Safety Car written all over it. Meanwhile, Rosberg had plummeted down to 11th place and Schuey was still pootling around in 12th spot.

We had 1000s of replays of the start all of which (strangly enough) confirmed the above. All the meanwhile, Vettel was opening up a whopping lead which by lap 4 was 6.6 seconds. It wasn’t helping that Lewis was really holding up Grosjean (odd to think it was that way round but there you go). Just as I was thinking to myself that Lewis wasn’t having a good race, Radio McLaren told him he was doing a great job. I know Lewis is a bit fragile but like the rest of us he presumably could see Grosjean right on his tail and that the guy in front of him was…er…nowhere to be seen.

Vettel's car looked something like this

There was a blur of Sebastian Vettel Fastest Laps™ before I was jogged back into consciousness by a collision between Narain Karthikeyan and Charles Pic as they battled for 22nd place. That’s commitment for you.

By lap 10, Vettel had opened up a 10 second lead and the following lap, Grosjean put a stunning move on Lewis Hamilton to pass him on the outside. We all hoped now it was Game On but depressingly Vettel just kept extending his lead. New exhaust and bodywork you say? Had Newey inserted some kind of missile underneath it or what?! First into the pits was Button and Perez but they were languishing so far down no one really cared where they came out. Finally Kimi got past Maldonaldo in another great overtaking move. We salute Lotus and their brilliant, cavalier drivers who like to overtake!

Alonso meanwhile had overtaken Hulkenberg and Maldonaldo which meant by lap 15, he was now in 3rd place (without having pitted). Lewis came into the pits and incredibly nothing went wrong. We were told that Sam Michael at McLaren had promised the pit crew a round of beers if they did a good job although they did send Lewis back out into traffic so maybe the Pitstop Strategy person might only get an orange juice.

The lovely Nicole - she wears a lot of straw hats. I'm saying nothing.

Stop Press – we had a Straw Hat on the track (its hard to write those words without mentally saying them in a ‘Bryn from Gavin and Stacey’ voice). Anyway, it didn’t last long once Kimi and Maldonaldo’s cars had given Straw Hat the 200 miles an hour treatment.  

There were lots and lots of pitstops in rapid succession including Alonso who dived in and rejoined in 9th place. It didn’t seem that amazing a track position but since starting this blog, I have realised its always worth keeping track of where Fernando is. Honestly not meant to be a spoiler but I guess it kind of is!

Vettel came into the pits and tediously re-emerged back into the lead. In the words of Martin Brundle, he was looking a “very, very good prospect”. The 4 year old got temporarily excited to see Schuey was in 6th place, as did I until I realised he had not yet pitted. Blast it.  And to boot, Michael was causing something of a traffic jam as dozens of cars were piled up behind him. He defended his position brilliantly from Alonso for a while but eventually had to yield and let the Ferrari pass.

On lap 20, Schuey and Webber pitted which I remember feeling quite relieved as it was getting very congested out there and I couldn’t take another race where some nutter crashed into Schuey.

Time for our next incident (told you this was a corker of a race and, folks, this is the tip of the iceberg!) and it involved Senna and Kobayashi (two very likely candidates). They had a coming together after Senna didn’t spot Kamui coming up on the inside, resulting in a spectacular spin by the Williams which miraculously missed the wall and several other drivers. Poor old Bruno hobbled back to the pits to patch up the car and then got slapped with a drive through penalty.

Meanwhile, Vettel was still doing fastest laps (this was the one and only boring dimension of the race but in an odd way this only makes what followed even more exciting!) and we were told he was so many seconds or minutes (possibly even hours) in the lead, he could do another stop and still stay out in 1st place. Imagine our joy.

Paul Di Resta eventually pitted on lap 24. I can’t make that sound any more exciting. Sorry! Meanwhile (Smug Portent Alert), I have scribbled in my notes at this point in the race how well it always comes together for Ferrari (well obviously, I mean Alonso) on race day.

Jean-Eric Vergne - Take a bow
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
But just as the trophy engraver was finishing the ‘L’ on Sebastian Vettel, we had a Race Changing Crash on lap 28. Who would have thought a couple of backmarkers fighting over 17th place would turn the race on its head. Villain of the hour (or saviour of the race – discuss?), Jean-Eric Vergne suddenly cut across the track and weaved into the Caterham of Kovalainen resulting in both cars picking up punctures and lots of tyre being shredded everywhere. Time for the Safety Car. And bang went Vettel’s 20 second lead in one fell swoop. It wasn’t really fair but then fair can be boring and who wants boring!!

Most of the cars trundled into the pits to get their tyres changed including Lewis Hamilton. Time to crank up the McLaren Pitstop Disastometer and gazooks, it pinged up to 8 after a totally calamitous pitstop which meant that Alonso passed Lewis in the pits. The pitstop took a shocking 14 seconds which is a whole 8 seconds slower than the Sky Sports crew. I’m guessing that order for the round of drinks has been cancelled.

So time to take stock of the running order behind the Safety Car: 1. Vettel, 2. Grosjean, 3. Alonso, 4. Ricciardo (yes, really), 5. Kimi, and 6. Hamilton. After an eternity, the safety car came in on lap 33 and on the restart, Alonso jumped Grosjean to take 2nd place. Romain, my friend, watch and learn from the master. Just as one Ferrari driver displayed his brilliance in front of his home crowd, the other Ferrari driver made contact with Kobayashi and got a puncture. They’ve probably stopped caring what happens to Massa at Ferrari. But then who needs another driver when you have Alonso!

Updated image of Vettel's car

Then A SENSATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (I’ve left Bryn behind and now got the voice of Murray Walker in my head) on lap 34. Vettel was SLOWING and was OUT OF THE RACE. This meant that ALONSO (who qualified in 11th place) was leading the race. Stone the flaming crows. Crofty in the commentary box almost had a seizure and the camera flashed onto Adrian Newey looking utterly devastated. Cheer up Adrian, anyone would think you didn’t still have a driver in the race! Poor Mark Webber, the forgotten man of Red Bull.

Meanwhile, Massa was having a disastrous pitstop (did Ferrari borrow the McLaren crew for a laugh?) where the wrong tyres were put on his car. But never mind hey.

The 4 year old suddenly noticed that Schuey was in 5th place and asked whether five people could be on the podium. Imagine his lunatic celebrations if Schuey ever got on the podium?! As if that would ever happen. Suddenly Maldonaldo was on the charge, taking Webber, Hulkenberg and Di Resta. Clearly Good Driver Maldonaldo was in the house as opposed to Bad Driver Maldonaldo who crashes a lot.

Some bad news filtered through onto our screens. Narain Karthikeyan had been given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. On the down-side, this was hardly going to help his race but lets take the positives where we can – he was still at least in the race! Then to the general consternation of the commentators, me and (less so) the 4 year old who merely asked after every single incident ‘is it Schumacher?’, we discovered that Lewis Hamilton was under investigation.

Alonso meantime was doing ‘A Vettel’ and putting in some stunning laptimes while out in front. Then we had A FURTHER SENSATIONAL DEVELOPMENT. On lap 41, Grosjean’s car started slowing down and eventually just stopped. So after losing the driver who was leading the race, now the guy in 2nd place had conked out. So lucky old Lewis moved into 2nd place with Kimi in 3rd and Maldonaldo in 4th place. Just as I was starting to get a bit giddy about Schuey being nicely placed, he promptly pitted from 5th place. Amidst all the chaos (and you ain’t seen nothing yet!), it emerged that somehow, inexplicably, a Caterham, driven by Petrov, had reached the dizzying heights of 10th place. A Caterham might actually get into the points. Complete madness.

Seemingly forgetting that Alonso was in the lead, Radio Lotus were telling Kimi that he could win the race and Radio McLaren was telling Hamilton he could win. So we had three world champions slugging it out with 13 laps to go. The 4 year old and me were firmly rooted to the sofa and not moving for anyone or anything. Perez had woken up and was absolutely flying in 7th place and Schuey was looking very fast. Interesting times.

Time for another collision. I don’t think we’d now had one for a whole 5 laps. This time involving Ricciardo and Petrov. Oooops – goodbye to those precious first points for Caterham. We found out that no further action was being taken against Lewis after the Mysterious Investigation. Lap 50 and Schumacher put a brilliant move on Button to move into 8th place. Webber got in on the action and sneaked past Button who just looked painfully slow. The next victim to be gobbled up by Schuey was Perez, followed by Di Resta. With two laps remaining, Schuey was in 6th place.

Lewis Hamilton (or is it Basil Fawlty?)
Kimi was closing on Hamilton whose tyres had just fallen off the proverbial cliff and he clung on as long as he could but ultimately could not delay the inevitable and Kimi passed him for 2nd place. Next up to have a sniff was Maldonaldo and there was a frantic battle out on track as Lewis desperately tried to keep him behind. Eventually Maldonaldo tried to take Lewis on the outside and after drifting off the track, Lewis refused to budge and let him back on. Result: one McLaren sent hurtling into the barriers and an incandescent Lewis Hamilton who (much in the same way as the 4 year old when playing the Wii) hurled his steering wheel out of the car. I must admit that I initially thought Lewis was as much to blame as Pastor by over-zealously clinging onto his position and adopting a win or bust mentality. But various replays have shown that Maldonaldo was a bit of a muppet although Lewis perhaps should have kept a cooler head. Alain Prost he ain’t.

Despite having my own live-in Schumacher Watch, I had somehow missed the fact that Schumacher was now in THIRD PLACE WITH A LAP TO GO. Previously he had been behind the Hulk as had Webber but now Webber was bearing down on Schumacher. To say there was some tension and screaming in our lounge might be a bit of a understatement. The 4 year old was just repeating everything I was saying which was probably ill-advised but can be roughly translated as ‘go away, Webber, you poo-poo head’. It was like the Longest Lap Ever but surely the racing gods could not deprive Schumacher of a podium with a few corners to go. And they didn’t dare. Crossing the line past the chequered flag was 1. Alonso, 2. Kimi and 3. Schumacher. Is that not the best podium ever?! Old School Podiums Rock.

Rolling back the years!

So here are the results from the Valencia Grand Prix 2012:

1.     Alonso – A truly stunning drive by a supremely talented racing driver. Remember he qualified in 11th place.
2.     Raikkonen – Superb performance (you can see I’m going to run out of superlatives soon).
3.     MICHAEL SCHUMACHER – A brilliant drive and it was absolutely fantastic (and ever so slightly emotional) to see him on the podium again after all these years. The 4 year old was beside himself. We are not worthy.
4.     Webber – Good old Mark. You can always rely on him to deliver a 4th place (and a very useful 12 points). But, he is 2nd place in the drivers championship so who is laughing now?
5.     Hulkenberg – So much of his race passed me by but a very good effort in a Force India.
6.     Rosberg – Kept his head down and did pretty well.

The podium scenes were awesome. All the drivers were deliriously happy to be there although with Kimi it can be hard to tell. There was quite a love-in with the Ferrari Race Engineer (Andrea Stella) who had worked with all three former World Champions on the podium. Word has it that Schuey sung along to the Italian Anthem (force of habit) but the Spanish cameras were firmly fixed on their national hero, Alonso.

What a blinding race although it did shred most of my nervous system along the way! I’m off for a lie-down (it is nearly midnight). Next up in this most brilliant of seasons, it’s the British Grand Prix. I’ll have some valium at the ready.

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