Fernando Alonso scored his and Ferrari’s maiden triumph of the 2011 Formula One campaign with a commanding victory in Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
The Spaniard benefited from an uncharacteristically slow pitstop by early race leader Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull team to assume the lead of the Silverstone event, but from there displayed impressive speed to win by over 17 seconds from the world championship leader and fellow Red Bull Mark Webber. It was Alonso’s first race victory since last October’s Korean Grand Prix and came on the day that his team celebrated the anniversary of their first Formula One victory – done so by the Spaniard running a few laps in the very machine from 60 years ago in the race build up.
The race began with half the circuit with plenty of standing water thanks to a typical British summer shower, leaving the field with no option but to get underway on intermediate tyres – this option meant that the use of the slower, harder tyre was then not required as the race was started under “wet” conditions. It was more “damp”, but that’s not for Badger to decide. Vettel out-dragged poleman Mark Webber as the lights went out and ran comfortably at the head of the field, edging away from his team-mate as the Australian fell in to the clutches of Alonso. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton did what we can’t believe what we’re actually writing, and rolled back the years to make a terrific start to leap from tenth on the grid to be pressuring the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa for P4 in the early laps.
The first switch to dry rubber came on lap ten. Having tried to remold the front of his Mercedes in a collision with Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher took on slicks and quickly began setting fastest laps, prompting the rest of the field to follow suit.
The change to slicks initially proved difficult for Alonso. Whilst Vettel and Webber maintained their place at the head of the field the Ferrari came under pressure and was soon passed by an on fire Hamilton (figuratively, not literally).
However Alonso eventually recovered and improved upon his early speed, re-passing the McLaren to move back in to P3. The order would stay like this through the second stint and in to the next round of stops.
And it was here that the race swung. Webber stopped first from P2, but a mistake at Becketts cost him enough time to make retaining his place ahead of Alonso impossible. The Ferrari man and Vettel then stopped together, but a problem with the German’s rear jack allowed Alonso to sneak out in the lead. Vettel would also drop behind Hamilton.
Alonso now began to stretch his legs, pulling away from Hamilton to build a lead in excess of ten seconds. Behind him the McLaren and Red Bull were locked in battle, Hamilton doing a stellar job to keep the obviously-faster Vettel in his wake.
Vettel then elected to take his third and final stop early, hoping to leapfrog the McLaren with faster in and out laps. He was successful, the order at the start of the final stint reading Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber.
The expectation now was for Vettel to chase down Alonso, but the Ferrari’s pace was clearly genuine: he continued to pull away at the head of the field, comfortably dropping the Red Bull. Behind them Webber was too fast for Hamilton – who was being forced to save fuel – and moved ahead of the McLaren as the race approached its conclusion.
This would give rise to two thrilling end-of-race battles. Webber was now lapping faster than Vettel and chased the German down. Then – despite his team’s instructions to the contrary – he began to attack the German for second. He came close to a pass on a number of occasions over the final two laps but was forced to settle for the third step of the podium – and a post-race dressing down from team boss Christian Horner.
Meanwhile Massa had caught the fuel-saving Hamilton and was right on the Brit’s tail as they began the final lap. The Brazilian launched an attack at the penultimate corner but Hamilton fought back in to the final turn, locking up and making contact with the Ferrari. They were side-by-side as they pulled on to the pit straight to take the chequered flag but Massa ran out of road, straying off the circuit and allowing Hamilton to pip him to P4 by just 0.024s.
Meanwhile, well clear of both battles, Alonso took the flag as dominant victor. “I knew that it was a race to be calm,” he said afterwards, “With no mistakes I knew the car had enough pace to fight for the victory. At the end it came.”
Whilst Hamilton’s dogged run to fourth gave the bumper British crowd something to cheer about there was little joy for the other local stars. McLaren man Jenson Button had been running a steady race – and, unlike his team-mate, saving fuel – before a pitstop error forced him out. His front right wheel was not secured during the second round of stops, forcing the 2009 world champion out of the race as he exited the pits.
Qualifying star Paul di Resta also fell afoul of a pitlane mix-up. Having run steadily in the top ten the Scot’s team wrongly instructed him to pit, the resulting confusion costing him dear. He subsequently made contact with Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso, ending the race 15th.
Despite Alonso’s win Vettel has stretched his lead at the head of the standings, now sitting 80 points clear of team-mate Webber. Alonso moves to third spot, a further 12 in arrears of the Australian, with McLaren duo Hamilton and Button tied on 109 points. The championship next travels to Vettel’s home event in Germany, the race this year taking place at the Nurburgring.
Photos provided by this shaky handed Badger writer, attending his first Grand Prix.