Remember the F1 of old? You know the sort I refer to: Neck-to-neck racing, wheel to wheel, racer versus racer, unexpected moves, fanatical overtaking, unbelievable speed, and heart-in-mouth till the very last minute. It was never clinical, defined only by the virtues of a machine.
Why am I so sentimental? That’s because it was Spa day this Sunday, that fantastic Belgian circuit, which defines racing and racers. If Monaco has the glamour, Spa has technique and guts. It brings with it a glory of a different sort. All you need to do is look at the names of the racers who have multiple wins at this circuit. There is Juan Manuel Fangio, Damon Hill, Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. They are the masters of racing, the men Spa accepted into its hallowed fold. There is no doubt that Spa weeds out the boys, separating the chaff from the wheat. The stories it can tell are a mixture of amazing and gruesome. It is but natural then that Spa throws out races that are nothing short of heart stopping.
Spa did not disappoint us this time either. But the nightmare came before the glory. The race had barely begun when Romain Grosjean made contact with Lewis Hamilton. The Frenchman’s car flew over Fernando Alonso, missing the Spaniard’s head by centimetres. Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were also caught in the collision. It was a pile-up of nightmarish proportions and the drivers had a lucky escape. But as far as Alonso, Grosjean, Hamilton and Perez were concerned the race was over.
The track cleared and the race continued. But instead of settling into monotony, there came chaos. The man of the moment was Jenson Button, strong in the lead, silent, steady and unwavering. This was his moment in the sun – much awaited – and he played the role in an impeccable fashion. He later told F1.com, “I’m sorry to all the fans if it wasn’t very exciting at the front!” (But it was exciting Jenson and you were brilliant. It’s just that there was chaos behind you!)
Every position was a battle, each spot fought for and hard won. Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and Bruno Senna were, in the beginning, the strongest contenders. ‘The Hulk’ battled Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher to reach 2nd spot, but slipped to 4th by the end. It has however, been his finest performance in F1. Bruno meanwhile held off Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. It was a remarkable show of skill, but one that did not last too long. Vettel made a masterful move pushing Bruno back down the line. It seemed though that Bruno would still bring some points. But he slipped down to 12th by the end of the race, overtaken by the two Toro Rosso drivers – Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. Bruno later told F1.com that the team was going for a one-pit strategy. But the pace difference between the cars with newer tyres, he said, was too big. Bruno was forced to pit once again, right towards the end of the race. Mark Gillan, Williams’ chief operations engineer told F1.com that the culprit was a slow puncture in Bruno’s rear-right tyre. The last-minute pit stop ended Williams’ hope of gaining a few more points in this race. But it also left us with a glimmer of hope, as Bruno set the fastest lap of the race towards the end.
Meanwhile, Vettel edged his way to the top. The Qualifying was tough on Red Bull and the duo sought to carve their way up to that elusive podium. The stars were aligned for Vettel, who fought several battles to end up in 2nd. You have probably never seen a happier Vettel. Meanwhile, Kimi, who had shown great pace throughout the race, struggled with his Lotus. He was heard complaining, “More power” over the radio, even as he struggled to maintain his 3rd slot.
The victories at Spa have re-juggled the race for Championship. Alonso still leads with 164 points. But Red Bull is closing the gap with 140 (Vettel) and 132 (Webber) points. Red Bull still leads the Constructors (272 points), but McLaren is close behind 218 points followed by Lotus (207). The titles are up for grabs. Don’t make any bets just as yet. Mercurial and unpredictable are still the season bywords.
The last European race this season will, very fittingly, be at the extremely intense temple of speed, Monza. Rubens Barrichello holds the lap record at the track the Italians call La Pista Magica. It will be interesting to see the racers work their magic here. And from what we have seen this season, Monza promises to be a race we should not miss.
Rap on the Knuckles
…to Pastor Maldonado for two boo-boos. He jump-started the race and has been awarded a five-place penalty. (He says the clutch slipped from his hand. The stewards obviously disagree.) He got another five-place penalty for causing a collision with Timo Glock. He is definitely taking on the mantle of F1 bad boy.
…a bigger rap on the knuckles to Romain Grosjean for causing the first-corner accident at the start of the race. He gets a one-race ban and a fine of 50,000 Euros. Reserve driver Jerome D’Ambrosio will be taking his place at Monza.
The Big 300
I know I crib about Michael Schumacher. But hey, he has been around for centuuuriiesss. (I know I am being mean, so I will try and be nice now). Spa was the 300th race in his career. He ruled the F1 world, retired, came back, and even though he hasn’t had the best of races, he has stuck it out. But good ole Schuey is still not out of it. All you need to do is see his battle with Kimi. It was one from the old. And it was brilliant. Schuey later said in a press release, “I quite enjoyed my 300th race, and it was good fun out there with all the battles.” He however wasn’t lady luck’s favourite. The team’s one-stop strategy failed and they had to fall back on Plan B, and then Schuey lost 6th gear. He held out though and ended in 7th position.
We love Twitter and we love it when our racers tweet. It brings us closer to them, no doubt. But tweet-friendly Lewis Hamilton’s online blooper was more than just an uh-oh. He tweeted the telemetry from the two cars to show the difference between the new rear-wing Button was using and the old one he was using during Qualifying. The tweet was deleted soon after, but the damage has already been done. Button was later quoted as saying, “We work so hard to improve the car and keep things like that secret and private. I didn’t want to see it on Twitter.”