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Vettel in dominant form as he wins European Grand Prix
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Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Jun 2011   |  2:59 pm GMT  |  168 comments

Sebastian Vettel dominated the European Grand Prix in Valencia, his sixth win from pole of the 2011 season and extended his championship lead to 77 points.

A week short of his 24th birthday, he gave himself a present of pole position, win and fastest lap and he has the championship in his hands. It was also a great response to critics after he made a rare mistake on the last lap in Montreal two weeks ago.

He also became the first man to finish either first or second in the first eight races of the season. He has only dropped 14 points this season.

What’s helped him build his massive championship lead is that is no single main challenger this season; in the six races he has won four different drivers have finished second.

It was the German’s 16th victory in 70 Grand Prix starts.

He beat off a determined challenge from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who managed to get the better of Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, through a mixture of overtaking and strategy. Webber’s third place gave Red Bull its 50th podium in F1.

Alonso managed to match the pace of the Red Bulls for much of the race, but Vettel was always able to keep him at arms’ length, opening a gap when he needed to without taking too much out of his tyres.

It wasn’t as dramatic a race as the first seven this season, but was a decent race by the standards of the recent Valencia races as the DRS and Pirelli tyres made a difference.

Track temperatures were 47 degrees at the start of the race, the hottest they had been all weekend. Only Petrov and Perez decided to start the race on the medium tyres. The rest of the field went for the soft and the leading drivers ended up making three pit stops.

It wasn’t a good day for McLaren or Mercedes; they simply didn’t have the race pace and Lewis Hamilton sounded despondent at times on the radio, unable to go slower when his tyres were overheating, nor to speed up, when another set had lost grip. He finished over 45 seconds behind the winner. Meanwhile Rosberg’s Mercedes was 100 seconds behind Vettel.

At the start, Vettel got away well as did Webber, while Massa shot past Alonso and Hamilton, but then got boxed in on the inside of Webber, allowing Alonso to go around the outside of him, into third place.

Rosberg had an excellent start up to sixth place, but Jenson Button was faster in the early stages and was able to pass him on lap six.

Alonso looked faster than Webber in the battle for second place but couldn’t make the DRS wing count to overtake him.

The first stops came on laps 13-15 with Hamilton and Webber coming in first and Vettel, Alonso and Button reacting. Hamilton’s early stop got him into fourth place ahead of Massa who pitted four laps later.

Schumacher’s race was compromised when he broke his front wing on his outlap from the pits, smashing it into one of the Renault cars on his exit from the pits.

On lap 21 Alonso was able to use the DRS wing to pass Mark Webber and move up to second place. Vettel responded immediately, setting his personal best lap of the race to that point.

He held the gap to Alonso to three seconds.

Webber pitted on lap 29 for the second time and took another set of soft tyres. Ferrari reacted to the move bringing Alonso in, but he had lost time on that extra lap and Webber went past him, back into second place.

Meanwhile McLaren did its best to slow Hamilton down, his rear tyre temperatures were high. “I can’t go any slower,” said a frustrated Hamilton. McLaren seemed to be using its rear tyres up more than the opposition.

Massa stayed out the extra lap again and Webber passed him, as did Alonso. Massa lost five seconds in his pit stop with a left rear problem. This gave Jenson Button a chance, but he couldn’t take it as his KERS wasn’t working.

Vettel pushed to open a gap to Webber in the third stint as only Alonso’s Ferrari could match them for pace. The McLarens were a second a lap slower, as was Massa. Vettel eased away from Webber as he took less out of the rear tyres lap after lap.

Hamilton’s pace in the third stint was poor and he started to fall into Massa’s clutches.

Webber pitted on lap 43 for medium tyres, as did Hamilton. Alonso on the used softs was faster than Webber. He was 19.9 seconds clear, not enough to make a stop and rejoin ahead. He delayed a lap and pulled it off, pitting on lap 47 and holding second place.

Alguersuari put on an excellent performance, running much of the race in the top ten, making a set of soft tyres last longer than most. He started 18th but his two stop strategy got him up to eighth place, ahead of Adrian Sutil. After three consecutive poor qualifying sessions this was his best race result of the season and a good response to the pressure on his drive from reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo.

It was a day of astonishing reliability, with all 24 cars finishing the race. Webber had to nurse a gearbox problem in the closing stages.

Vettel could afford to take a holiday during the British, German and Hungarian Grands Prix and still be leading the championship after the summer break.

EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX, Valencia, 57 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull 1h39:36.169
2. Alonso Ferrari + 10.891
3. Webber Red Bull + 27.255
4. Hamilton McLaren + 46.190
5. Massa Ferrari + 51.705
6. Button McLaren + 1:00.000
7. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:38.000
8. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 1 lap
9. Sutil Force India + 1 lap
10. Heidfeld Renault + 1 lap
11. Perez Sauber + 1 lap
12. Barrichello Williams + 1 lap
13. Buemi Toro Rosso + 1 lap
14. Di Resta Force India + 1 lap
15. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
16. Kobayashi Sauber + 1 lap
17. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
18. Maldonado Williams + 1 lap
19. Kovalainen Lotus + 2 laps
20. Trulli Lotus + 2 laps
21. Glock Virgin + 2 laps
22. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT + 3 laps
24. Karthikeyan HRT + 3 laps

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1

What a bore that was, why the teams allow this is beyond me.

2

James,

Maybe this is off topic, sorry about that!

Now that the marriage made in heaven, Alonso-Ferrari is not producing the results it intended to produce, I wonder whether you could post something on the lines of “Steffano D being vocal about Alonso being better than Raikkonen in developing a car” and that how wrong he was. From the F1 press, it was evident that it was Domenicalli who primarily wanted the Spaniard in place of the Finn and they have lost huge in the deal in the form of Raikkonen’s buy out. They really had to start winning in 2010 after stopping the development mid season in 2009, leaving Kimi helpless, yet they didn’t. They are in tatters.

I wonder if Kimi will remain their last WDC for years to come 🙂

3

…said a Kimi fan…!!

4

ofcourse I’m a Kimi fan but I was going through some of your posts of late 2009 which had something like “Alonso is better than Raikkonen in development” as opined by mr. Domenicalli. He hasn’t done anything substantial with a car which is similar to what Raikkonen drove in 2006. I wonder where’s that 0.6 of a second gone though 😛 In the same article, I saw you mentioning how critical is it to for Ferrari to get back to winning ways with Alonso.

5

Somebody shoot me! God that was mind numbingly dull! 50 something parade laps. Get Rid!!

6

Valencia is completely worthless as a circuit, the only thing I like about it are the pit buildings. The new rules have spiced up every circuit this year* apart from Valencia – Barcelona is normally a procession but was very good this year, it will be interesting to see how good Abu Dhabi is, although at least they’ve made a couple of changes to the circuit this season.

(* Except perhaps Australia which was as good as normal)

7

Ferrari are just poor at pit-stops.

Everytime both drivers come in the pitworkers are just too slow or they have a problem with a nut, or something else.

What happended to my beloved team?

8

So much for everyone thinking that Red Bull would be relegated to has-been status with the rule change.

Their car is certainly benefiting from the sum of many, many little tricks and design features. Between the barely-legal flexible front wing, their ingenious high-rake set-up, their great DRS wing, and probably about 15 other unique features that no-one but Newey and two or three other key people know about, the RB7 is definitely a wicked little car, and the other teams have some catching up to do.

Of course, Newey is as good as anyone at updating a car, so catching up to Red Bull won’t be easy.

Expect more of the same at Silverstone, despite the off-throttle exhaust-blowing ban. 🙂

9

It must be time to get rid of this race from the calendar. Why have two races in Spain, surely better to encourage a new country to hold a race and drop this off the calendar.

Even the artificial DRS didn’t make this an entertaining race.

Not sure which is worse – Valencia or DRS (other than both Valencia and DRS, of course).

10

Obviously, given that F1 is a spectator sport dependent upon visual excitment, having a cars that are so much faster than the rest is stupid. Who would make a film in which the plot ends half way through! Come on F1 place some limits on this nonsense.

Maybe time for them all to have basically the same car (could still be a Newey design with latest green engine technology etc) and let the actually race it out…

It’s fine having such variety when it delivers excitment but not when it ultimately destroys it.

An idea, as soon as Vettel gets enough points to win the WDC, RBR (or whomever) is then excluded from racing for the rest of the season so we have only the remaining cars fighting it out and similarly for any other cars reaching a new points target would be excluded…

11

I think the season will become better then what we saw at Valencia, but the battle for WDC is finished.

One thing is annoying. If a car is too hard on its tyres like McLaren in Valencia, it’s bad. If a car is too light on its tyres like Ferrari, it’s bad also. Is bad because they cannot stay too long because those who changed the tyres will go a lot more faster.

These tyres provide good fun at some races, but at others..they’re just terrible.

12

I wouldnt describe the race as boring, sure it was not filled with a lot of excitement but it wasn’t that all bad , there were some few overtakes there and there , Alonso certaintly drove a good race.

The one thing that I’m noticing is how Mark Webber is constantly being beaten by Vettel. Vettel at the momement looks to have the upper hand , I expected Mark to be Vettel’s closest rival but at moment it looks like Alonso could be the one challenging Vettel for the title. I know there is that whole issue of RED BULL favouring Seb over him and that always makes people wonder whether Vettel has an advantage of some sort but I think Mark really needs to pull something out of the bag especially in qualifying because Vettel is very consistent at the moment, he is pulling a lead with every race.

13

I think some of the races this season have been really enjoyable thanks to DRS, KERS and the new pirelli tyres.

However I have never really liked Valencia, it’s just an upscaled Monaco which takes away the challenge of racing around a street circuit where the barriers are right on the edge of the track.

I would prefer F1 to return to Magny Cours, Imolaor visit the new Spanish track at Aragon where MotoGP races rather than return to Valencia. Or they should return the European GP to its home at the Nurburgring!!

14

The ‘European Grand Prix’ doesn’t have a home.

Historically, it was always moved around to enable a country with more than one good circuit to use them both.

Obviously didn’t work in Spain!

France hasn’t had a G.P. for some years now, & some good circuits too, but Bernie doesn’t seem keen on Europe.

There’s not enough money in it.

15

Was a little surprised how far Hamilton, Massa & Button were off the leading 3 at the end. I’m guessing the ‘boring race’ can be attributed more to the local tv direction than the racers or circuit, as there was battles midfield we saw early glimpses of and should have become the default focus if the front runners are well gapped and aren’t swapping paint. We see other local broadcasters find the juicy stuff, so maybe just poor tv direction from the Valencia TV team(s).

Maybe those more historically familiar with yesteryear F1 can answer this question: Should the current concept of Car Management be the determining factor of results and seeing the best out of the drivers in the sport? Is it directly comparable to yesteryear F1 (I’ll say pre Schumacher era)? Was there problems shown and could be potentially learned from the old days that we are in danger of seeing repeated (or are actually being repeated) now?

16

Now that we know the Redbull car is actually powered by the tears of Mclaren fans I expect an even better showing at Silverstone despite the rule changes ;).

17

James, do you think the European Grand Prix would have been more interesting if the soft and super-soft tyres where used, instead of the medium and soft tyres?

18

Not sure the supersofts would have held up for long in the heat..

19

Hate to even think it, but it might be time to concede to season is effectively over as far as the WDC is concerned.

Vettel keeps padding his lead while the number 2 position is being shuffled between Webber, Hamilton, Button, and perhaps soon Alonso.

It hasn’t helped that when Vettel hasn’t won he’s come in second.

I continue to marvel at how bullet proof these cars have become, particularly the Red Bulls. I recall when the FIA mandated multi-race engines and trannys many fans were up in arms. But just like mandatory seat belts and airbags in the car industry, the teams have found ways to thrive, like they always do.

Guess Valencia showed that even with DRS, it’s still a pretty boring race. And absent something like rain always will be.

McLaren needs a gut check. This race really exposed the car in terms of grip and tire wear. That was a fun exchange between Hamilton and his engineer. “Slow down'” “I can’t go any slower.” “Go faster” “I can’t go any faster.”

Not to take anything away from Vettel, I think for the most part he’s driving faultlessly and everything seems to be falling his way. But when you see how effortlessly he takes pole, you have to ask is he now suddenly so much better than everyone else, or is the Red Bull so much better. A bit rhetorical. Then again, one has to wonder how Webber has fallen off so much after his great year. Did all the trials and tribulations from last year take so much out of Webber that he’s lost his mojo? Or has Vettel upped his game so much that he’s completely outclassing Webber, even accounting for Webber’s remarkable run of issues with his car? I suspect it’s a bit of all of the above.

I can only hope that something changes up the mix soon. While I like a full calendar of races, there’s nothing worse that having 6 or 7 races left with everything already decided.

20

I should probably say though, that Valencia has definately been an anomaly so far this year. Even if Vettel continues to dominate, I think we’re still in for an exciting second half of the year

21

*Wakes up*

Has the race finished yet? Who won?

Seriously though, dunno if it was the contrast with Canada, but that was one of the dullest races I’ve ever seen. No retirements, hardly any overtaking, no weather, and very few position changes after the first few laps. Didn’t help that the cars qualified almost perfectly in pace-order, and then just stayed there for the race.

However, when was the last time that every single car finished? I don’t recall ever seeing it before?

22

Race was a bit better but still had the boring factor of Valencia. Hope Valencia will disappear from the calender soon.

Vettel’s got the WDC in his pocket. Who wanna bet against it?

He’ll be crowned the youngest World’s Double Champion and wipe Alonso’s record from the books. Followed by other records for sure.

James, when do you feel Vettel will wrap up the WDC, more than how many races before the season ends? Sorry for asking as hope for ‘down to the wire’ fight has evaporated.

23

Well if we were three races from the end, he’d be champion now. So my hunch is that gap will come down, but still expect him to clinch it with one or two races to go.

24

5 races to go

25

Am I the only seeing Vettel (and sometimes Webber) administrating his time difference as he wants, doing a fast lap whenever he needs it?

Am I the only who thinks that he is driving at the 80%?

Am I the only who saw Webber doing slow laps in this GP and then, when Alonso overtaked him, doing absolute fast laps at the same level as Vettel?

Does this mean RedBull are/were joking Ferrari and McLaren all this seasson and started far away of the 1 sec. gap we all thought at the first GP of 2011?

26

i think Webber was driving as fast as his abilities allowed. Do you think he deliberately drove at 80% until Alonso overtook him and only then decided to drive faster?

27

I don’t know if he did it deliberately, but he did it. And if you remember last seasson, Webber was fighting Vettel in every race, so since this is the first race where he is in pace with Vettel, we should expect, at least, a little pressure on Vettel (the same pressure Massa did to Alonso at Montreal) and not a 5 sec gap all the race, which was something he could do in view of his lap times after Alonso overtaked him. So the only explanation to this is, in my view, he was giving Vettel some air to manage more relaxed the race, and distracted Alonso/Ferrari to impose them fight only with Webber. This is the same thing that happened in Abu Dhabi (deliberately or not, we don’t know!)

But this year RedBull dominance is strange, we are not used to see one team perform in that way in every track. I remember the Ferrari/McLaren Ferrari/Renault battles, where Alonso, Schumacher and Raikonnen were able to fight for the victory in every race but not with a half second gap in quali at every race, and alternating the more suited tracks for every team.

28

one of the dullest races ive ever seen, at one of the dullest tracks i’ve ever seen – a street circuit sanitised to the nth degree.

i cannot believe bernie even hinted that this could replace barcelona.

there might not be any overtaking at barcelona but at least its a good circuit with interesting corners.

29

Ok, that one’s done.

Now, I’ve forgotten – what rule are they changing *this week??

30

Championship well and truly over.

Vettel looks like smashing the race wins in a season record. No ones stepping up to the plate at all in Quali to at least challenge him.

Fair play to him though he’s making the best out of dominance.

31

I may be wrong but I think the track is to blame. It has one line and no real straights. Cars get spread out too much and it just causes a procession. Even budapest will be a good race this year!!

32

Hi James,

There have been numerous rumours all season about the Red Bull, ranging from the flexi front wing through to engine mapping etc. I’m of the opinion that Silverstone will finally uncover the fact that the Red Bull is simply a fundamentally better car. Am I right in saying this or do you think that the engine changes will level the playing field a little?

33

You are absolutely correct.

Red Bull(In Vettels hands) will continue to dominate…

All the rule changes that try to reign them in are only pushing their rivals further back..

Proof of this – mark webber coming closer to finishing second….

There has been lotsa speculation on where red bull advantage comes from: flexi-wing, qualifying engine maps and active suspension (lower for light qualifying, higher for heavy race)…. rules were introduced around these areas – and there was many weekends we were told the redbull advantage would be wiped out — but it never happened…

I believe that the RebBull/Vettel advantage is not in one area or even 5 areas….

They are the complete package…

Also, remember, in the 2 race in which Vettel has been beaten, he was overtaken with only a handful of laps remaining.. being surprised by pace of cars on different strategies…

I really dont believe that we have seen Vettel drive the car @100% in a race — but thats what the new rules demand of a winner!!

34

I didn’t think it was that bad a race in the 2010 style of things. It had plenty of potential at most times, even if it ultimately failed to deliver but that’s the difference between the suspense and action genres. There were also excellent drives from Vettel and Alonso, together with some enjoyable midfield scraps.

I am not a fan of Valencia – it rates with Bahrain as my least favourite track – but the idea of DRS having varying effects at different circuits appeals. It is an added complexity and will require a different approach to different races. If some fans choose to only watch certain races, that’s up to them and is, in any case, likely to become increasingly normal because of the constantly expanding season.

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