Sebastian Vettel had the field covered again today in Valencia. He led from pole and won handily, making it all look easy. A year or two ago, some of the paddock wags started referring to him as “Baby Schumi,” but he soon outgrew the moniker, and one suspects there will come a day, a decade or so, when paddock pundits start labeling other young drivers as “the new Vettel.”
Vettel’s lead was never seriously challenged today. He lost it only during the usual pit stop shuffles, and finished ten seconds ahead of runner up Fernando Alonso. One suspects that by race end, Vettel was simply controlling the pace. Alonso never stood a realistic chance of catching him.
Nor did anyone else, for that matter. There had been speculation that McLaren might be closing in on the Red Bull boys, but that was hardly the case today. Lewis Hamilton finished a distant fourth, 46 seconds behind the leader, and Jenson Button was a full minute behind.
One of the most impressive drives of the day came from Fernando Alonso. Alonso is regarded by many as being the most complete driver on the grid these days. He’s a hard charger, but also a canny strategist who generally thinks in big-picture terms. He makes the occasional error, but fewer than Lewis Hamilton does, and he doesn’t generally blame everyone else including the track marshals when it happens. He also has the ability, as do most great drivers, to make his car look better than it is. Today he did just that, stayed out of trouble, and was rewarded with second place.
The third podium slot was filled by Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who trailed Vettel by nearly half a minute. Although Webber was running at a parity with Vettel for much of last year, this season he’s looking very much like the team’s de facto number two. Vettel is generally quicker than he is, both in qualifying and in the race. Chris Horner has paid lip service to Webber’s difficulty in coming to grips with the new Pirellis this year, but I suspect that the shifting Vettel-Webber dynamic has more to do with Vettel’s improvement this year, than it does with Webber’s tire troubles.
There’s a rumor afoot that Renault might have an interest in Webber for the coming year, and this could make a lot of sense for the Enstone sqaud. Vitaly Petrov seems born to be a number two driver, and Nick Heidfeld, who’s standing in for the injured Robert Kubica, isn’t really living up to expectations, even as a surrogate (although he did rack up a championship point today).
Hiring Webber would give them some needed insurance. Assuming Kubica comes back next year, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be quite up to speed after a year off (especially considering that his hand was partially severed in his rally crash this year). Webber would be able to take up the slack. There’s also the possibility, however slim, that Kubica might not return to the team, in which case Webber would make a natural team lead.
The risk for Webber, of course, would be two-fold. One, while Renault seems to be making performance strides, they’re no Red Bull, and clearly Webber would be more apt to stay with a team where he plays second fiddle but is able to pick up the occasional win, rather than a team which has no hope of taking wins at all.
There’s also the chance that Kubica would come back next year, be fit as a fiddle, and leave Webber in the shade, in which case he’d be trading number two status at the number one team for number two status at the nunber five team. Not much of a trade.
McLaren’s day was relatively uneventful. Lewis Hamilton didn’t crash into anyone, and the track stayed dry, so Jenson Button wasn’t able to show off his ability to let a difficult race come his way. Hamilton, in the privacy of his motorhome, was probably thinking, “Yeah, you know all that rubbish I said about being committed to McLaren? Let me rephrase that.”
Mercedes also had a day not worth remembering. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher started seventh and eighth respectively, and probably would have finished that way, had Schumi not blotted his copybook again by running into Petrov while exiting the pitlane. Schumi hates to cede position (what driver does?), but clearly in this case discretion would have been the better part of valor.
Petrov finished only 15h today. Schumi probably could have let him by at that juncture, and gotten past him later. Instead, Schumacher lost both his front wing, and an enormous chunk of time. He finished only 17th. He later admitted the error was his, but even stalwart Ross Brawn admitted frustration at the lost points opportunity.
It was a good day for force India’s Adrian Sutil, who managed to finish in the points. Sutil (under indictment for his recent nightclub brawl) has been regularly shown up by his rookie team mate Paul di Resta this year. Today, he bettered di Resta by several positions.
While Valencia is certainly a picturesque venue, rivaling many of the other seaside street circuit courses, it has never been an exemplary track strictly in terms of racing. In fact, previous races have been processionals. This year’s deployment of DRS, KERS and the Pirelli tire compounds have enhanced overtaking greatly, but even so, this proved to be a less exciting race than others run this year.
Or did it only seem tepid because Sebastian Vettel’s win seemed so assured from the opening lap?
Points Paying Positions:
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 57laps 1hr 39m 36.169s
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 10.8s
3. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 27.2s
4. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 46.1s
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 51.7s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +01m 00.0s
7. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +01m 38.0s
8. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
9. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
10. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +1 lap
Out of the Points:
11. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
14. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
15. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +1 lap
16. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
17. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +1 lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +2 laps
20. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +2 laps
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
23. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +3 laps