There has been much controversy around recent rule changes (or should be say clarifications) that are being instituted this season. The first of the changes, which forbids any changes to engine mapping between qualification and the race on Sunday, goes into effect this weekend at Valencia, Spain. Theoretically, cars are already frozen in terms of setup, tires etc. between Saturday and Sunday already, but changing downloading different coding to the engines electronic system on Sunday has been largely excluded from this.
The new move was seen as something of a shot across the box to Red Bull, who often have stunning pace in qualifying, but pull out less of a gap during the race. Today, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber proved that it’s more than just tweaking the engine mapping that has allowed them to capture pole at every race venue so far this season.
Of course, as Vettel himself said, the new rule chance (or clarification) affects everyone equally, so if ti were truly seen a measure to clip Red Bull’s wings and enhance the show, it was a pretty poor strategy — fortunately.
While I like a competitive grid as much as the next person, I hate to see the rules realigned or reinterpreted (mid season or otherwise) simply in an effort to handicap a single team. Several years ago, in the aftermath of Ferrari’s most successful season, the points system was changed to (theoretically) prolong the suspense of the title chase, and it prevented any single driver from building up an insurmountable lead too quickly. Unfortunately, it had the unintended consequence of also making it very difficult for a driver to recover from a DNF, which ultimately had a negative effect on the the show.
Down the road, at Silverstone, the second major rules tweak (clarification) will be implemented, namely, outlawing off-throttle exhaust blown diffusers. Again, some see this a a deliberate swipe at Red Bull. Red Bull, of course, are quick to say that their cars enjoy a performance margin over the bulk of the field for because their entire package is good, and not just because of a single trick element.
After the Red Bulls, the semi-usual suspects fell into line, with teams Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes filling out the next six positions. Felipe Massa came within a tenth or so of team mate Fernando Alonso’s time, something which he hasn’t done very often this year. Jenson Button trailed Lewis Hamilton by three tenths (the McLaren boys are sandwiching the Ferraris). And the Mercedes pilots, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were separated by 9/1000’s of a second. Last year, Rosberg was generally quicker than Schumi, but this year Schumacher seems more comfortable with the car, and has sometimes outperformed Rosberg, in the race if not in qualifying.
Although certainly Schumacher had input in the construction of this year’s car, I think his performance improvement is also due to the new Pirelli tires, which he finds more suitable to his style, and also to the simple fact that he has a full comeback year under his belt which has helped him become reacclimmated.
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 1m 36.975s
2. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 37.163s
3. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 37.380s
4 Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 37.454s
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 37.535s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 37.645s
7 Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 38.231s
8. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 38.240s
9 Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault no time Q3
10 Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes no time Q3
11. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault 1m 39.068s
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 1m 39.422s
13. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth 1m 39.489s
14. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari 1m 39.525s
15. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth 1m 39.645s
16. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari 1m 39.657s
17. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 39.711s
18. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 40.232s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault 1m 41.664s
20. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault 1m 42.234s
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 1m 42.553s
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth 1m 43.584s
23. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth 1m 43.735s
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth 1m 44.363s
107 per cent time: 1m 45.301s