Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Valencia retrospective

Despite its previous association with the induction of narcolepsy, this year's European Grand Prix at Valencia provided a perfect combination of visceral, wheel-to-wheel thrills; fascinating technical innovation from Red Bull; and an engrossing race-long strategic weave; all played out against a sociologically and aesthetically stimulating juxtaposition of beach-front, quay-side, container-port, harbour-scape, and residential apartment complex.

For Sky TV viewers, the post-race analysis provided an opportunity to admire Georgie Thompson's gluteal sulcus and word-perfect diction, but failed to deconstruct one of the most fascinating phases of the race: that which occurred between laps 13 and 20. This period essentially consisted of an interference pattern between two travelling waves of different phase. The first wave contained those who pitted early (Hamilton at the end of lap 13, Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Maldonado on lap 14, Alonso on lap 15, and Vettel and Grosjean on lap 16), and the second contained those intending to pit later (di Resta and Rosberg leading this bunch, followed by Schumacher, Senna and Webber).

Hamilton had rejoined behind Senna and Schumacher, and dealt with Senna a little tentatively into turn 12 on lap 15, and then DRS-ed Schumacher down the straight into the same corner on lap 16. Grosjean rejoined in front of Hamilton at the beginning of lap 17, having lost places to only di Resta and Rosberg. Alonso, in contrast, had rejoined just in front of Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Maldonado, (although it should be noted that Fernando actually passed the Williams before the pit-stops, using the DRS to overtake into turn 12 on lap 14).

After 17 laps, then, the order was as follows:

di Resta

Whilst the first five were reasonably spaced, the group led by Alonso had immediately closed on Schumacher, Senna and Webber. Into turn 2 on lap 18, Alonso plunged down the outside of Webber, and further round the same lap outbraked Senna into turn 12, again around the outside. Seconds later, he was trying the outside of Schumacher into turn 17. Onto lap 19, with a madly snaking train of cars behind them, Schumacher again defended the inside from Alonso, this time into turn 2, but the Ferrari cut a tighter apex through the left of turn 3, resisted a squeeze from Michael, and outbraked him into turn 4.

Fernando now set off after Grosjean and Hamilton, who were calmly DRS-ing their way past di Resta and Rosberg. Things, however, were getting frantic behind Schumacher. Senna unsuccessfully tried the outside of the Mercedes into turn 17, but at the same moment Raikkonen was going around the outside of Webber. Massa, Hulkenberg, Button and Perez, meanwhile, had joined the tail of this train, and disaster seemed inevitable.

At the end of lap 19, Schumacher and Webber pitted, and as they left the pits Raikkonen was out-accelerating his way past Senna exiting turn 4. When Kobayashi tried to follow him through, contact ensued, the Williams slewed sideways down the track, and this phase of the race reached its culmination.

The entire seven-lap period was an interesting 2012 case-study, demonstrating the high probability of destructive interference between waves of different phase in a field which doesn't disperse. Through all the perilous complexity, however, came one man, pulling successive audacious moves around the outside with barely a locked wheel. Impressive.

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