Monday, 8 November 2010

Thoughts on the Interlagos weekend

It wasn't up there with the all time classic Brazilian races but it sets things up beautifully for a thrilling finale to the season in Abu Dhabi...

Hulkenberg puts up a fight: Nico Hulkenberg looked pretty calm on the grid but, unseen on TV, appeared to have some sort of drama at turn 1 on the formation lap which allowed a few cars past but the German recovered to take his place at the front. It didn't last long as Sebastian Vettel and then Mark Webber dispatched him on lap 1. The Williams defended well from Fernando Alonso but eventually dropped to 4th on lap 7 and despite pressure, held off Lewis Hamilton until the pitstops. He eventually finished 8th which was enough to put Williams a point clear of Force India. The battle for 6th is the closest one left in the constructors championship.

Speculation continues over the Williams line-up for 2011. Don't expect official word until after the post-season tests in Abu Dhabi. You would think that the team would want to hold on to Hulkenberg after his weekend performance but with the team in a technical partnership next season with Hispania Racing, there has been some talk that the German could be offloaded to the Spanish team for a year before returning to replace Rubens Barrichello. Collin Kolles wants experience and youth at HRT next year and Pedro de la Rosa is believed to be in contention whilst Pastor Maldonado and Valterri Bottas, who are both testing with the team later this month, may also be slotted in at Williams request. I think that Maldonado will get into the Williams team so somebody will have to move on. This weekend could yet prove the final one for Barrichello in his long F1 career.

McLaren strategy keeps them hanging on: Lewis Hamilton was a grumpy man on Sunday afternoon. Things were bad even before the start as the 2008 champion reported vibrations with his brakes on the way to the grid, an issue he also suffered in Hungary this year. He was hounded by Alonso from the off and his McLaren looked a handful as he eventually slid wide allowing the Ferrari through. He also had tyre wear issues, overheating his tyres on his first 2 stints. Again the team excelled on the strategy side of things, responding to the safety car for Vitanonio Liuzzi's crash, caused by a mechanical issue, to put on fresh rubber without losing position. It was a fantastic move because it gave him the opportunity to attack Alonso and improve his title bid which was on the brink. However the amount of backmarkers between the leading cars caused havoc and meant that when Hamilton had cleared them all, Alonso was already 8 seconds. He needs a incredible turnaround to win the title but he's at least going into the final race with a chance, even if it is small.

Traffic, Traffic, Traffic!: This track was always going to represent some issues with backmarkers with it being so short but the fact that the record for most finishers (22) was equalled plus the safety car period towards the end compounded things. Nick Heidfeld got a penalty for ignoring blue flags and there were a few more, particularly the Toro Rosso drivers, who could have also been penalised. Felipe Massa even passed Nico Rosberg at one stage, who was 1 lap ahead of the Ferrari at the time! There was a rule a couple of years ago where the lapped cars unlapped themselves behind the safety car. That restored order but does mean some would gain back a lot of time. Perhaps allowing the cars on the lead lap to overtake backmarkers under the safety car should be considered for next season as the race was just a bit too mixed up in the closing stages.

Fernando continues the podium run: Having declared that 5 podiums in the last 5 races would be enough for the championship, Fernando Alonso has now achieved 80% of his goal. However a third title will only be certain if he is on the first or second step of the podium in Abu Dhabi. I feel that if he is behind a Red Bull 1-2 by lap 2 in Yas Marina then he'll need them to have some issues but we'll see how the weekend pans out. It is also believed that the engine that will be used in Abu Dhabi will be the same one that was used for Monza and Interlagos so managing that will be another pressure for the Spaniard to deal with.

Champions of the World!: Red Bull sealed the constructors title with a 1-2 and set both drivers up for a tilt at the drivers title. Much has been made of the approach taken by the team regarding the drivers championship. Of course they could have improved Webber's situation by letting him win but to be fair, Sebastian Vettel remains in the hunt. In theory, the best way to approach things from the start of the season is to back 1 driver completely like Ferrari did with Michael Schumacher. This however can mean much less excitement and credit must be given for Red Bull letting the pair fight each other. There could be a situation, which is not that unlikely, where Vettel is leading Webber in the final laps at Abu Dhabi. If Alonso is 3rd or 4th then Vettel can't take the title. So Red Bull will have to switch them to give Webber the title. Some think that the team will not do this but despite the ill feeling between the pair and the Austrian favouritism for Vettel, i will be hugely shocked if it didn't happened as throwing a certain title away would be simply crazy for the team or Vettel to do.

Misery all around for the Brazilians: No points garnered at all for the home drivers. Felipe Massa needed an extra pitstop after a wheel nut issue which left him scrapping it out at the rear of the field. Rubens Barrichello also had pitstop issues and then a puncture after contact with Jaime Alguersuari. Lucas Di Grassi had to spend time in the garage during the race whilst Bruno Senna came in 21st in the slow Hispania. He was up against Christian Klien but it was hard to compare the pair as the Austrian had issues pre-race and missed the race start. He also had to put more fuel in due to a pressure problem.

So the final week of the season is upon us. This promises to be a fantastic finale and 3 drivers definitely have a realistic chance of becoming world champion. Lewis Hamilton will need a shock result and issues for others but its only 1 race and it can still happen, just ask Kimi Raikkonen fans about 2007. It was a switch up front which cost Fernando Alonso that day and the same could happen again but will the Red Bull squabbling ultimately allow the Spaniard in for a third title. Engines are now heading towards the end of their life and reliability in the desert could also affect things. Webber even admitting that he thought his car was going to stop in the closing stages of Sunday's race with water pressure issues. All eyes now turn to Abu Dhabi...

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