It was not the most exciting race of the season but still, it was a great weekend in Spain. I am really glad that it was this race that this year coincided with my annual summer trip to Europe. Spain is definitely a great place to enjoy Formula 1 weekend and the setting in Valencia is simply great. And perhaps next year the Formula 1 cars will also be able to show us the kind of racing GP2 offers .
Already on Friday it was becoming obvious that Ferrari will be the team to beat in Valencia. And at the end that also was the case. Felipe Massa claimed the pole and was well set for the victory. His first pit stop (a lap earlier than Hamilton) and the smiles on face of Martin Whitmarsh made the commentators on the track to hand the victory to Lewis Hamilton, but when Hamilton emerged from his own pit stop behind both Massa and Raikkonen, the speculations about possible superior McLaren tactics ended. From then it was pretty about Massa not making any errors and his car giving him no Hungary like shocks. The scare came during his second pit stop. His crew released him straight into the path of Adrian Sutil (who was a lap down). These two almost collided and the incident was under investigation. Massa himself blamed Sutil for it, not understanding why Sutil needed to rush ahead of Massa in the pitlane when he would still have to let him pass on the track. From the outside it looked more like an error of Massa’s crew. In GP2 race Karun Chandhok received drive through penalty for similar error, in F1 it was to be investigated after the race. It is hard to say what approach is better but … should not the officials apply the same penalties (or procedures) for the same violations (or incidents) ? I am not questioning the fact that Massa escaped without penalty (I do not think he deserved one) but the FIA’s inconsistency that naturally leads to debates about certain teams escaping lightly.
On the track Felipe Massa’s Ferrari held on and he cruised to a deserved victory. Kimi Raikkonen on the other hand had yet another “not so good” weekend. He was fastest in one of the Friday sessions but that was about it. He again disappointed in qualifying. Then not much went right for him in the race. First he lost out big way after first round of pit stops. Towards the end of his second stint he managed to close down on Kovalainen and he seemed to be set to get ahead of him when both pitted at the same. But then he tried to leave the pits with the refueling hose still attached (running over one of his crew in the process) and lost several seconds. Short while later came the icing on cake and his engine let go …
Lewis Hamilton apparently suffered from some health problems for the most of the weekend and if that was the case, he must be more than happy for his solid 2nd place and extended championship lead. His only overtaking chance came at the start but Massa did not give him much chance. Heikki Kovalainen had rather quiet race after his Hungarian win. The fourth place however means he finally jumped ahead of Nick Heidfeld in the standings.
Robert Kubica capitalized on his great qualifying performance and returned to the podium for the first time since his win in Canada. There were some concerns about his car early on in the race but all worked out for him. He kept Kovalainen and Raikkonen safely behind. The two guys in the front were beyond his reach. The gap to Ferrari and McLaren (when in good hands) is still too big.
Nick Heidfeld again had a scare in qualifying but this time made it to Q3. He only qualified 8th however. He lost few places in the race and finished empty handed in 9th. He still has his 100% race finish record this season but I wonder if that would be enough for Mario Theissen to offer quick Nick new deal …
Now to the rest:
Another great weekend for Toyota. Both their drivers finished in points and Trulli did not seem to have too difficult time keeping up with Kovalainen and Raikkonen (while he was still on track). Toyota guys seem to be serious about finishing 4th in constructors table.
The surprise of the weekend must be Toro Rosso. Both cars made it to Q3 (I believe this is first time this has happened), Vettel was quickest in 2 practice sessions, both cars finished the race in top 10, Vettel in great 6th place. What is more important they totally outpaced their big brothers from Red Bull proper.
Renault had another race to forget. After some promising speed in practice sessions I actually believed that Alonso may make it to the podium. It was not to be. He failed to make to Q3, had to start from deep down in midfield and became a victim of it. Kazuki Nakajima hit the rear of his car and Alonso’s race was over on lap 1. Nelson Piquet did not make any serious mistakes but also did not show much. His race engineer was almost non stop on the radio pushing him forward to catch up with what should have been slower cars ahead of him. Never happened. At the end he finished 11th, not a had result in his standards, but he will have show more passion on track if he wants to keep his seat …
Red Bull – Their season goes down hill since Coulthard’s 3rd place in Montreal. Mark Webber, the early season regular point scorer finished in points only once in last 6 races. In Valencia, their juniors in Toro Rosso outpaced them and the only teams they could compete with were Honda and Force India.
Nico Rosberg returned Williams back to points after a good weekend for the team. After good qualifying he lost few positions but thanks to Raikkonen’s retirement he jumped back to top 8. Kazuki Nakajima survived his early get together with Renault of Fernando Alonso. He however lost lots of ground after the pit stop he had to make to repair the damage.
Jenson Button was surprisingly quick in free practice and also early on in qualifying. At the end however neither Honda made to Q2 and both drivers took their usual places at the (almost) back of the grid. They still seem to be a bit better than slightly improved (now with seamless gearbox) Force India. The only Force India memorable moments came from Adrian Sutil. First his Alonso like pledges to the team to let him pass slower Fisichella (he really sounded like Fernando Alonso few years back in Renault ), and then the spin that ended his race.
Stay tuned for the photo gallery from my Valencia trip. It may take few days before I manage to sort out the photos though .