Five Emerging Themes from the British Grand Prix
An extremely rough start with a spectacular finish characterized the racing week and weekend of the 2012 Formula One British Grand Prix. Maria De Villota's freak accident, waterlogged conditions on and around the track, limited running, potential race cancellation, and other issues all added to a series of frustrations for teams, drivers, and fans alike.
The grand prix weekend could have easily been mistaken for the WRC Wales Rally GB
Despite these setbacks, the iconic Silverstone circuit ended up playing host to quite an exciting race that contained all the right elements that has made the 2012 F1 season an exciting one to watch. There were strong comeback drives, fierce wheel to wheel battles, Maldonado related incidents, and dramatic order changes spread out throughout all stages of the race.
While the masterful driving of Mark Webber and his exciting pass on Alonso was one to remember, there are other themes that took place at Silverstone that require a closer look. So without further delay, here are my top 5 themes to take away from Sunday's British Grand Prix.
1. Wet practice & qualifying, not Pirelli tyres, lead to several shakeups on the grid
Despite sustaining damage to his car in practice, Alonso was able to score his first pole position since 2010.
The biggest factor contributing to such a shakeup on the grid in qualifying and even the race was the abnormal and variable weather conditions. The weather leading up to the race was absolutely atrocious and even prompted track organizers to consider canceling the entire event! From what a few of my friends are telling me, words just can not properly describe the severity of the waterlogged conditions in the car parks and the muddy areas throughout the track. All I can say is that it is that you know things are serious when the British are complaining about how unusually wet the conditions are!
However, the conditions presented an even greater challenge for the drivers and their respective teams. Friday practice was out of the questions for many as the water buildup on the circuit was too risky to get any meaningful laps in. The short time that cars were on track proved to be a dangerous gamble that ended in frustration for drivers like Bruno Senna and Fernando Alonso who suffered damage to their cars. Many armchair analysts questioned if the effort was worth the risk. It certainly was. At this level of close competition a team or a driver has to take anything they can get. Even a small amount of data can be analyzed by the driver's engineers and has the potential to make the biggest difference come race day.
Pirelli maintain that the unusual weather and lack of dry practice and a wet race was a larger contributing factor to the state of the grid rather than their tyre compounds. I am inclined to agree. Theoretically, Alonso had a good strategy but it seemed like the lack of setup development during the rain soaked practices was the main contributing factor in relation to the RB8. If Alonso had a more finely tuned setup it could have been a different story. The same goes for Michael Schumacher. He qualified so well because of the wet conditions but once the race started he had trouble holding on to 7th let alone 3rd.
2. Ferrari may finally be striking back
In previous blog posts, I mentioned that if the other teams continued to produce inconsistent results from one race to the next and/or if the competition was simply too tight that Ferrari would eventually bounce back from their blunders in early season development for the F2012. The performance of Ferrari at Silverstone may be the confirmation of this prediction.
Alonso has carried Ferrari throughout the first half of the season by scoring points in every race
Alonso's outstanding win in Valencia was followed up by a solid performance from both himself and Felipe Massa at Silverstone. This return to from has allowed Ferrari to overtake Lotus and position themselves 2nd in the constructors championship. While they are certainly not out of the dark yet, it seems safe to say that Ferrari's hard work coupled with Alonso's consistency in achieving good results has allowed the team to merge into the fast lane on their road to recovery.
Felipe Massa enjoyed a solid return to form at the British Grand Prix and finished fourth. His highest position in the season thus far. Massa has finished in the points on only three occassions and has been way off form when compared to his double world champion teammate. However, internal sources and fans alike claim that he has finally acquired a solid understanding of the Pirelli tyres and that his most recent performance is evidence of this newfound knowledge.
I don't buy this for one second... at least not yet.
While Massa did perform well and is generally regarded as a good driver, it is still premature to claim that he is back on form. In order to make that claim and regard it as one that is legitimate, he will have to keep producing strong results in the races ahead. Like any good science experiment, the data needs to be replicated in order to draw a viable conclusion.
Apparently, Massa opted for an extremely aggressive track cutting strategy in order to score his best result of 2012
This same sort of consistent replication goes for the rest of the team as well. While the prancing horse have improved by leaps and bounds compared to the beginning of the season, they still have an immense fight on their hands in order to stay competitive with Red Bull and Lotus. The team will have to dig even deeper, if that is even possible, in order to maintain this pace and stay on the right track with their development. Lotus have two very quick drivers at their disposal and could easily reclaim their position ahead of Ferrari in the races to come. Massa better be back on form or Ferrari will lose out. It is only a matter of time before Lotus secure that first win of the season.
3. McLaren are definitely falling back. Upper management calls for a “crisis meeting”
The headaches continue for McLaren as the team has proven to serve as a strong metaphor for the tyre situation in 2012; A strong start for a short period of time followed by a period of “falling off the cliff”. Something has to change in order to get the team and the car competitive again. Button is off form, the MP4-27 hasn't scaled well relative to the other top tier teams, and there have been several mistakes taking place during pit stops. Despite there being a lack of dry weather practice and Button's qualifying blunder, both drivers seemed reasonably comfortable with their car. Unfortunately, this hasn't translated over into strong results as the other teams seemed to have had greater levels of grip in the slow and fast corners during Sunday's race.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh will have to exercise strong leadership in order to bounce his team back into contention.
The lack of performance has clearly baffled both drivers. Hamilton was surprised he didn't finish higher in the order as he felt like he extracted the maximum from the car and Button made a depressing, yet realistic, comment that the team is “.. just not there on pace. It’s not just the Red Bull which is stronger than us, it's the Ferraris, the Lotuses and even the Williams and the Sauber. It's tough.” Teams like Lotus and Mercedes are already making things difficult for McLaren while Williams and Sauber are making strong pushes to shove the famous Woking-based team out of the way in order to claim a top tier status.
It goes without saying that McLaren didn't become a top tier team by mere luck. They know what they need to do in order to recover and team principal Martin Whitmarsh has indicated that the team has been working very hard to correct this issue. They have reportedly held a crisis meeting and are placing their hopes on the upgrade package designated to be installed on the MP4-27 in 8 days time when the German Grand Prix takes place at Hockenheim. They are currently fourth in the constructors championship and two points behind a very strong and consistent Lotus team. If they spin their wheels for too long they may find that gap to rapidly extend as the season continues.
4. Pastor Maldonado will be found guilty of nearly every incident he is involved in
Pastor Maldonado has made some serious mistakes and refuses to take blame for them. He is a double edged sword in that he is a quick driver but he always seems to surpass his boundaries on patiene and ends up making terrible judgment calls. He then exasperates the problem by not admitting to these mistakes after the fact. One can imagine that this doesn't bode well with other drivers in the paddock. The teams, drivers, and stewards are not going to show any mercy on Pastor because of these consistent mistakes and his displayed attitude towards these mistakes.
Silverstone was an excellent case in point. Maldonado looked to have lost control of the car and it seemed like his collision with Perez was nothing but a racing incident that could have easily happened to anyone else. However, because Maldonado’s past occurences and the attitude he has taken towards these incidents, he is now being handed severe penalties for even the slightest racing incident. As of press date, Pastor still contends that he doesn't need to change his driving style.
If Maldonado keeps this attitude up, he will be found guilty every time regardless of the situation and will face steeper penalties than just a mere fine.
5. Batman and Robin's Secret Identities Revealed!
Some of you may have noticed the Lotus car advertising the upcoming and highly anticipated film The Dark Knight Rises. However, what some of you may not know is that Robin, the famously cheesy sidekick of Batman, is actually Romain Grosjean.
Raikkonen and Grosjean are training hard by fighting crime.. go ahead and hum the theme. You know you want to!
In this case, the boy wonder suffered a brain fart and thought he was driving the tumbler when he struck the back of Paul Di Resta's car. The pit team fired off the Bat signal and Robin leapt into action as he changed into Romain Grosjean to produce a stunning comeback drive. Kimi was the pointman out of this dynamic duo and performed in a very Batman-esque manner. Look for some crazy upgrades on the Lotus in the races ahead.
Brandon Warren is a part time freelance writer with a focus on a variety of motorsport categories as well as topics related to the genre of sim racing. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and is currently attending graduate school with the aim of gaining a Masters in Political Science. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org