A normally dull race was turned into quite the compelling afternoon at Barcelona in another chapter in the drama which is F1 2011...
It was very telling in the scenes before the podium just how relieved and elated Sebastian Vettel was with his victory. He cleared his team mate off the line but was passed by the flying Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. His first stop seem ill timed as he faced traffic on his return to the track but cleared it well and quickly, something which is key this season. From there Hamilton closed in on the hard tyres and harried him home but the German kept everything smooth. He also coped with a KERS unit which was used intermittently. Seems like cooling was an issue for Red Bull. Mark Hughes on the BBC website highlights a possible factor of Red Bull's differential between qualifying and the race being the Pirelli's are too fragile to take the sheer speed the Red Bull achieves. Spain seen the new hard compound and for the first time it seem that rather than protect the tyres it was a case of getting them switched on. Vitaly Petrov described them on Friday like driving on ice. However Red Bull has produced good long runs as well as 1 lap pace so there's more to it than just this one factor, something which i'm sure the other teams are trying to work out!
Whilst the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes suffered a huge drop off in the second half of the race and found themselves lapped, the Red Bull and McLaren cars seem to have an immense pace on it and were able to get superb speed out of them in comparison to others. To see Hamilton so competitive on what should be a strong track for Red Bull was very intriguing. And to see Alonso so horribly slow in the final stints after his fighting podium at Istanbul and start on Sunday was quite surprising and a turnaround indeed.
So onwards to Monaco, where it seems like the pressure has been on to get set up for practice tomorrow. Things not helped by a truck catching fire and causing tarmac at turn 1 to be relaid. Nick Heidfeld said today that he had heard that somebody was smoking whilst handling fuel and that is what triggered it. So Ste Devote might be a bit slippery and we've seen many accidents there in the past. Less in recent years but with DRS allowing higher top speed it might just be tricky again. Super soft and soft tyres this weekend: will that benefit Ferrari who have struggled on the harder compounds? Lotus are hopeful on a track where aerodynamics aren't so critical and the drivers can make a difference.
A safety car period is a good possibility and with so many stops this year that could really mix things up, especially if there is 1 between pit windows which would really see a shake up. Pit and lose track position or try and hang on with old tyres? Should be some fun and games even on the super tight streets of Monte Carlo. Vettel seems to love the circuit but it hasn't always went well for him here so it'll be fascinating to see how Webber, Hamilton and Button (all past winners) go against the dominant force of 2011. Tyre usage will still be key but qualifying will hold some more importance than other places. DRS won't be producing overtakes but should be interesting to see who is bravest using it during qualifying. However no use of it is allowed in the tunnel. Rubens Barrichello has been very vocal about this but if he doesn't want to use DRS in the tunnel then don't activate it, it's that simple! All this moaning coming from a guy who decided it was a good idea to throw a steering wheel onto the track last year as well. Anyway that's the way it is and hopefully it'll be an exciting weekend.