Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A champion's drive?

Smoother than Roger Moore in his prime, and with the surgical precision of Professor Sid Watkins in-theatre, Jenson Button scythed through the field to win the Formula 1 World Championship on Sunday.

This was a fabulously exciting race, and reminded one that a Grand Prix conducted in dry weather conditions can still be exciting if the track favours a low-downforce set-up, and if a number of the faster cars start the race behind a number of the slower cars. Formula 1 racing has always been cerebral, but there was a time when the cerebral was entwined with the visceral, and the opening laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix were a reminder of those days.

In fact, many of the drivers almost appeared to have 'gone feral' in the opening laps, and the first incident occurred on the run down to turn 4 when Mark Webber veered across to block Raikkonen, and Kimi's front-wing was crumpled against the rear wheel of the Red Bull. Mark's move was later than a winning goal in extra-time at Old Trafford, and as such was an almost carbon-copy of the move Michael Schumacher pulled on Juan-Pablo Montoya on the first lap in 2002. Kimi almost got his fingers burnt here, but whilst Montoya's post-race criticism of Schumacher was vociferous, Kimi merely filed the incident away for future reference.

A minute or so later, as Raikkonen departed the pits with a new nosecone attached, he must have been at least somewhat startled to find Kovalainen's McLaren veering into his path like a V-bomber, its trailing proboscis offering the tantalising prospect of some air-to-air refuelling. The moment was brief, however, and after driving through the consequent conflagration, Kimi was left to reflect once more upon how close he had come to getting his fingers burnt.

The other major incident of note on the first lap occurred as an indirect result of the Webber/Raikkonen accident. As Kimi slowed through turn 4, Sutil's Force India had to get off the power momentarily, and Trulli opportunistically attempted to run around the outside of the Force India in turn 5. Sutil, however, ran the Toyota out wide, forcing Trulli over the kerbs, where he lost control and punted Sutil amidships, spitting the Force India into the infield and the Toyota into the wall. As the Force India hurtled over the grass, Fernando Alonso appeared to be strangely oblivious to its trajectory, and clobbered it as it returned to the track in the middle of Ferra Dura.

Trulli immediately remonstrated with Sutil by the trackside, and after the race accused the German of deliberately driving him off the road. Perhaps, however, this was something of an over-reaction, and one might recall that Robert Kubica's potentially fatal crash at Montreal in 2007 was also caused when he tried to run around the outside of a driver who didn't know that he was there. That driver was Jarno Trulli.

All of this mayhem eliminated four cars which would otherwise, most probably, have finished ahead of Jenson Button. Along with the retirement of Nico Rosberg, this was actually the primary reason that Jenson was able to seal the World Championship on Sunday. His overtaking moves were ballsy and brilliant, but they were executed to pass four rookie drivers (Grosjean, Nakajima, Kobayashi and Buemi). To put Jenson's drive into perspective, it's also worth noting that two of the established drivers who qualified behind him (Hamilton and Vettel), both finished ahead of him. In the case of Vettel, his Red Bull simply had superior pace to the Brawn, and in Hamilton's case his natural elan was combined with a superior one-stop strategy.

So, whilst it is indeed time to pay tribute to Jenson's triumph, with some irony it is actually Sebastien Vettel's team-mate, Mark Webber, to whom Jenson Button should owe the greatest thanks this week.


Sean said...

So then whos gonna win it next year?

Gordon McCabe said...


Sean said...

I would not bet against that, but i would like to see Button with the monkey off his back put in a good defence. Its next year when he has to prove he is a worthy champion.

How do you think Red Bull will go?

Gordon McCabe said...

Their choice of engine for next year seems to be limited to Renault or Cosworth, in which case I think they'll struggle to mount a championship challenge.

With the abolition of refuelling next year, and the need to lengthen the wheelbase of the cars to accomodate the larger fuel tanks, watch out for the return of fuel consumption as a vital performance determining parameter next year. If your engine has poor fuel consumption, it'll force you to opt for a dynamically unfavourable wheelbase at a design stage.

Sean said...

Goodness me I will miss those pitlane fuel pump dramas.

Another big factor in full grand prix mode will be driver fitness.