Hamilton Hits The Reset Button
Heading out to the grid, Nico’s practice start highlighted a serious issue with the clutch. After heading into the pits and changing the steering wheel, it was assumed that the problems had been solved. However, this small gremlin had emerged to be something far more significant and despite a hive of engineers frantically attempting to solve the issue, the German failed to get away. After it emerged that the only operational function on the steering wheel was the gear shift paddle’s, (and even this was a temperamental function), the first pit stop marked the end of a bitterly disappointing afternoon for Rosberg.
Following analysis, the team have cited a faulty wiring loom in the steering column as the root cause of the issues. It is another case of Mercedes unreliability – they may have the fastest car, but throughout the season, it has demonstrated an incapability of finishing a race on a number of occasions. What is so intriguing is that on each occasion, the technical fault has been entirely different. Meanwhile, after breaking down more times than a Morris Marina during pre-season testing, Red Bull’s RB10 has been surprisingly reliable, particularly recently. Of course, some minor issues have affected both Vettel and Ricciardo, yet considering how far the team have come in eight months, you wonder where Mercedes have gone wrong. It seems as though every time they cure one ailment, another arrives to surprise them. The W05 may go down as one of the most dominant Formula 1 cars in history, but it certainly won’t be found on the most reliable stakes.
The Winning Overtake
The safety car and final pit-stop certainly complicated the race for Hamilton. Once the Mercedes SLS AMG (which looks even more stunning under lights, might I add,) pulled into the pits, it was well and truly “Hammer Time” for Lewis as he needed to build a substantial gap to the chasing pack, in order to ensure that he had to pass as few cars as possible in order to win the race. The Brit most certainly delivered some stunning laps, which meant that he emerged in P2. Only Sebastian Vettel separated him from the all important 25 points, and on fresh tyres, the German was somewhat easy meat.
Regardless, the overtake which Hamilton delivered was breathtakingly brave, yet some might say that it was a risk that he did not need to take. Sebastian left him just enough room at the full throttle apex of Turn Six, but admitted that he was surprised that Lewis did not wait for an easier chance to gain the initiative. “I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing,” Vettel stated. “It seemed like he couldn’t wait to get back into the lead! But here was no point fighting because I didn’t have the tyres to fight him.”
Some would say that this was a typical Lewis Hamilton victory and I would tend to agree. The Brit never likes to make it easy for himself and as events conspired against him, he maintained his composure and snatched victory, knowing that victory would not come to him. With Hamilton and Rosberg now separated by fractions in the championship, it is effectively a five race dice to see who can be crowned World Champion in 2014.
One Step Closer
Sebastian Vettel is yet to taste victory in 2014 and after such an incredible end to 2013, he has been catapulted back to earth with quite a bump. Regardless, signs that the old specification Vettel is returning began to emerge throughout this weekend and his efforts were qualified with his best finish of the season in P2. It was a very accomplished drive and while this is to be expected from a four time World Champion, it may have convinced some sections of the community that the German’s star quantities have not disappeared – they are merely being concealed by a number of factors which, ultimately, only Sebastian himself can confirm.
P2 of course meant that Vettel finished ahead of Ricciardo, which will surely provide a much needed boost of confidence for the former. While Ricciardo may have faced technical gremlins affecting both the brakes and the powertrain, (perhaps an MGU-K issue,) the German was able to resist the sustained pressure from his teammate, which he was not able to do at Spa. A step in the right direction for the reigning champion still trying to find his feet in this new era of the sport.
However excellent P2 and P3 may sound for Red Bull, many pundits, including myself, believed that a true challenge could be posed to the Mercedes this weekend. While Hamilton was forced to pass Vettel in order to take the top spot, this was as a result of his additional pit stop, rather than the RB10’s outright speed. In truth, the pace difference between Hamilton and the chasing pack was significantly greater than the qualifying results suggested.
My theory behind this is that the Brackley based team decided to run reduced power settings in both practice and qualifying, in order to preserve engine performance for later races. It does make sense, considering the aforementioned reliability woes that the team have faced, coupled with the tight title fight between their two drivers. Perhaps I am adding two and two together and finding seven, but the theory does explain why Hamilton was able to create an early margin, (using a more aggressive engine map) to Vettel and then sustain a comfortable gap throughout the first half of the race.
Proving A Point
While this expression has been used in Formula 1 circles very recently indeed, today it was for all the right reasons. Jean Eric Vergne, the Red Bull refugee, drove an unbelievably gusty race to equal his best ever finish, in P6. Moreover, the Frenchman had to contend with a five second penalty after exceeding track limits when committing to one of many overtakes, all coming in the closing stages of the race.
As Valtteri Bottas was beginning to rue Williams’ decision to two stop, the Finn began to build a rather substantial train of cars behind him. Vergne, who was fourth in the train, dispatched Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Bottas in the space of half a lap, to elevate himself into P6. Once there, the Frenchman posted a series of quali laps and managed to gain the five seconds required to cling onto the position.
An exuberant Vergne, displaying the type of smile which is usually reserved for a certain Aussie, stated; “Sixth is like a podium for us, and I am extremely happy.” This, need I remind you, is a man who will be unemployed next season, should he not manage to raise sufficient funding required in order to outbid similarly hungry drivers looking for a Formula 1 seat. If ever a team needed proof of JEV’s credentials, today was just the evidence they were looking for.
“Best Performance of the Season”
The Caterham and Marussia battle may not always receive the coverage that it warrants, but a special mention is certainly in demand this time out, with Marcus Ericsson enjoying his best drive of the season, and by quite a margin. The Swede managed to beat both Marussia’s home, finishing fractions ahead of Jules Bianchi as the two battled throughout the closing stages. Both performed two stop strategies and ultimately, Ericsson drove the better race.
Cynics will say that he should have trumped Bianchi and Chilton before now, but considering that the political issues at Caterham show no sign of abating, coupled with the fact that Marcus had to carry the weight of expectation of the entire team after Kobayashi’s failure to complete the parade lap, it was a job very well done.
Driver of the Day
While both Vergne and Ericsson would also be candidates for the accolade, McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen was is my Driver of the Day. The Dane may have only scored a solitary point, yet I doubt he will ever work so hard for such scant reward again, as his seat was overheating during the race as well as his drinks bottle. Essentially without any means of replenishing fluid, Kevin fought hard to obtain the team’s only point of the weekend.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
5 Felipe Massa Williams
6 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
7 Sergio Perez Force India
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
15 Marcus Ericsson Caterham
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia
17 Max Chilton Marussia
R Jenson Button McLaren
R Adrian Sutil Sauber
R Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
R Nico Rosberg Mercedes
R Kamui Kobayashi Caterham