Barcelona provided the dullish race we all expected. It does have the longest run of the season to the first corner but even that let us down with the top runners holding position. At least Vettel’s problems and Hamilton’s deflation added a couple of points of interest. Fine drive from Barrichello to finish ninth from seventeenth on the grid; shame we saw so little of that. The season looks poised with Red Bull fastest but struggling for reliability.
Mark Webber became the 52nd driver to win leading from start to finish. Aryton Senna managed this nineteen times from his 41 wins, Jim Clark 13 times amongst 25 wins, and Michael Schumacher on 11 occasions from 91 victories. Other current drivers to achieve this are Alonso (twice), Barrichello, Button, Hamilton and Vettel.
That Red Bull seem to have extended their advantage should be treated with a pinch of salt. (Apologies if this gets too technical.) McLaren are better at the straight bits and Red Bull the bendy bits, and Barcelona has a high proportion of turns that are long curves rather than pointy corners. Not only does this exasperate the lack-of-overtaking problem but was bound to play to the superior downforce RBRs. Last year, Red Bull were better with high-speed corners than slow ones, but claim to have solved this, so are expecting to be strong at Monaco – as long as they do not fall apart!
I wrote here about Red Bull’s rumoured ability to run a low ride height for qualification. To partially reprise, teams have to set the ride-height for qualification allowing for how much it will sink when race-fuel is added next day. In race commentary, it was mentioned that because the Renault engine is more fuel-efficient, the Red Bulls start with a smaller fuel load. The weight-saving this provides will help for a quicker start, be of the biggest advantage towards the beginning of races (with the standard single pit-stops not that far into the race), will enable a smaller fuel tank for a trimmer, more aerodynamically efficient tub, and will decrease the difference between ideal ride-height setting for race and qualification. The way these advantages snowball, I wonder if rival teams should have fitted slightly smaller tanks and planned on running races with leaner fuel-mixes and lower rev-limits?
We are all aware Ferrari decided to remove their Marlboro barcode logo. It was seen as caving in to the accusation that it was subliminal cigarette advertising. Marlboro were probably hacked off at the latest attack on them but probably also pleased the publicity reminded (or informed) the viewing public they still sponsor Ferrari. Did they change it to offset the criticism or to extend the coverage of the story into the race weekend? (I was amused a few years back watching the British GP when a car crashed into an advertising board, which fell off revealing underneath an old Marlboro hoarding for the rest of the race.)
The F-duct is to be banned for 2011 which is eminently sensible. It is a very clever dodge that drives a tank through the spirit of the rules. This season, McLaren deserve the advantage, but next year everyone would have had it. Last year, Brawn deserved the advantage for the double-diffuser, but why could it not have been banned, be it by FIA or FOTA, for this year? Without it, overtaking would be that bit easier.
Monaco qualifying is to remain unchanged. The idea of split sessions with twelve randomly chosen cars in each was not that great. Unfortunately, it is probably in the interest of the new teams to have the first section of qualifying traffic-ridden. Normally, Q1 is lose the new teams plus one other driver. With six slower drivers on a shortish track, maybe one or two extra established team drivers will fail to reach Q2, allowing one or two from the new teams to qualify top 17. With the ability to block for position, points for the top ten and a good chance of a high attrition rate, it will probably be the only glimmer for a new teams to get a point-scoring finish, and in one blow win the season over the other new teams.
(There was a time when they allowed less starters at Monaco. In 1983 at Long Beach, McLaren’s John Watson and Nicki Lauda qualified 23rd and 22nd but finished first and second, reflecting a trend of the team qualifying badly but finishing well on temporary circuits. It was presciently pointed out only twenty starters were allowed at Monaco, and indeed neither driver qualified. It is to date the last time a World Championship Grand Prix started without McLaren. Knowing Ron Dennis’s hatred of failure, if he kicked the cat on getting home, it is probably still in orbit.)
Finally, Michael Schumacher outshone his team-mate. Not only were the cars updated but Schumacher was given a new (used in testing) chassis. On the debate of if he is still good enough, he had so much talent that even if he is not quite what he was, that would still make him pretty damn good (damn him). Watching how painfully he struggled in the China GP, there had to be something wrong with the car. Mercedes look in trouble in the battle of the big four with the prospect of race-wins looking bleak.
However, in the internecine battle, Nico should watch out as he has interests outside F1, like studying economics and having a life, whereas Michael is obsessive and will be at the factory again and again reminding everyone what he needs from the chassis. Teams tend to worship drivers that do that. John Watson complained to Brabham boss, Bernie Ecclestone, in 1978 that Nicki Lauda was getting better treatment. Ecclestone told him he could make John number one and it would not make a difference. It pays to be pushy in Formula One. It is no coincidence that the introverted Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Räikkönen are not driving this year.