Vettel rises to the top as Webber falters
Sebastian Vettel has won his fourth race of the season after survivng a charge from Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the Spanish Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion jumped team-mate and pole-sitter Mark Webber off the line before seeing off challenges from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton to extend his lead in the championship to 41 points.
‘Yabbadabbadoooo!’ he shouted through his team radio in celebration. ‘Ring, ding a ding ding ding ding!’
It remains to be seen whether his crazy frog impersonations are as welcome in Formula One as his youthful enthusiasm.
The final stint of the race looked to echo that of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier in the year, with race leader Vettel losing grip on his tyres as Hamilton reeled him in.
Then, Red Bull’s strategy left Vettel a few laps too short. This time, he just managed to last the distance, withstanding significant pressure from the Briton for the last ten laps.
‘The last few laps I felt like China, with my tyres falling away,’ said Vettel.
‘He [Hamilton] was always getting in the DRS zone but in the last few laps I got a good run in the last sector to make it stick.
‘McLaren were very strong, Lewis in particular.’
It was positive news for McLaren, however, as they seemed to have a car that could, on most of the circuit, match Red Bull on pace despite the disparity between the teams during qualifying.
‘I wasn’t expecting to be so quick today, as the race went on we had some serious pace, but he [Vettel] was massively quick in the high speed corners,’ explained Hamilton.
Despite this round of the championship seeing the longest DRS zone of any race so far, overtaking aided by the adjsutable device was significantly lower than expected – thanks, in part, the slow chicane leading on to the straight.
Although Hamilton remained within one second of Vettel for much of the final stint, the rear wing couldn’t provide him with enough speed to overtake at the first corner.
Alonso impressed off the line, climbing from fourth on the grid to lead after the first corner, catching the Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton by surprise.
Mark Webber suffered from another uninspiring start to fall to third, thanks in part to an underwhelming KERS boost in the second phase, but managed to hold off Hamilton on the first lap.
Meanwhile Jenson Button had a ‘disastrous’ start after dropping to five places to tenth before the first corner. Luckily, McLaren had planned to split their strategies and run Button with a three-stop race, who opted to avoid more than one stint on the hard tyre.
‘It would have been interesting to see what would happened if I didn’t have a bad first lap, but all in all it was a good day and good to get a podium,’ said Button.
Button’s three-stop option – the only of its kind amongst the frontrunners – meant that pole-sitter Mark Webber would ultimately fall to fourth come the end of the race.
Alonso, despite his promising start, succumbed to tyre wear in the second half of the race, during which he used the experimental hard compound exclusively.
His team-mate, Felipe Massa, looked unhappy in his car for much of the Grand Prix. He complained of lack of grip on the hard tyre, and eventually stopped on track with a gearbox problem.
Alonso, though having led the race for 18 laps, admitted that his position was a better reflection of Ferrari’s overall pace.
‘It looks a little bit sad when you start losing positions but we need to understand that P1 was maybe not our position at that moment,’ said Alonso, speaking to the BBC after the race.
‘We were not competitive, especially in the race pace, we were too slow – with the hard tyre even more.
‘There are clearly two teams ahead of everybody. We need to change this situation. We need to work more and more and we’ll see.’
Schumacher led home Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg for the first time since Turkey 2010. It was a good recovery after his disappointing showing at Istanbul last round, and a positive showing for Mercedes, who are making small steps towards competing at the front in 2011.
Heidfeld found his way up into eighth place despite starting from 24th. After a fire during Saturday practice left his car too damaged to compete in qualifying, he made good use of his fresh tyre allocation to fight his way into the points.
Petrov, however, finished a disappointing 11th after starting from sixth on the grid.
‘I am naturally disappointed not to make better use of my grid position and not pick up some points,’ Formula One’s first Russian driver told Autosport.
‘I managed to start okay and move up a position into fifth, but it was then difficult to get to the leading pack, which is where we want to be.’
Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi completed the points-paying positions for Sauber. After his exclusion in Australia, these are Perez’s first Formula One points, whilst Kobayashi drove an impressive race to recover from a first-lap puncture.
‘I’m really happy we made it. My first points in Formula 1 are obviously something special for me, and it is good for the team that Kamui also scored,’ Perez said to Autosport.
It was announced shortly after the race that Hamilton, Button, Webber and Jaime Alguersuari are under investigation by the stewards for failing to slow down under yellow flag conditions, though each escaped with a reprimand.
Formula One heads to Monaco this week, with the race kicking off at 10PM AEST on Sunday, 29 May.