The Alternative Review: Spain

The Spanish Grand Prix saw Fernando Alonso storm to his 32nd career victory, balancing his strategy with a devastating race pace and some good tyre management – but that’s the short of it. For that, you can read our race analysis. The Altenative Review has bigger fish to fry.

"What this? Oh, it's, um, success ballast?"

“What this? Oh, it’s, um, success ballast?”

Not so simple for Alonso: he was flagging

Fernando Alonso’s win was one of his easiest as the Ferrari ticked every box in Barcelona. However, two incidents very nearly wrecked the team’s perfect weekend. Paul Hembery revealed after the race that Alonso had suffered a puncture en route to his final pit stop (more on Pirelli later), which would have probably ruined all chances of victory. With Felipe Massa also suffering with his tyres towards the end of the race, it suggests that the Ferrari F138 is not totally comfortable on the new Pirellis for 2013. However, the same can be said for every other team bar Lotus, who lack the pace to keep up with Ferrari and Red Bull it would appear over a single racing lap. The more bizarre concern for Ferrari came after the chequered flag. Alonso, as he did in Valencia last year, took a Spanish flag off a marshal and held it aloft from his car on the warm-down lap. According to the FIA, this was a breach of the rules, and the stewards gave him a slap on the wrist. During a weekend when the GP2 and GP3 races resembled something out of Wacky Races, for the stewards to pick up the winner of the race on such menial grounds was a shame. However, it did nothing to tarnish a great win for Ferrari.

Divided opinion on the tyres

Yes. The elephant in the room finally rears it head. Pirelli have finally held their hands up and said “we got it wrong”, knowing that the optimum strategy of four stops was too many for the fans to handle. It is worth noting that this is not the first victory in the dry on four stops (Ferrari pulled the same trick at the 2004 French GP), but it is beyond the point: two or three stops is what fans want. For the drivers, opinion is divided. If you ask Ferrari, they won’t be too bothered. For Red Bull though, the tyres are stunting the pace of the RB9 (allegedly), meaning that this move for the British GP will aid them and harm Lotus. Formula One should see drivers pushing hard, not tip-toeing their way around a lap. Let’s apply some economics to this:

  • Tyres are durable, drivers push flat out, one stop races all round (a la 2010) OR
  • Tyres wear quickly, drivers tip-toe around some laps, multiple stops and strategies.

These are the two variables, and it is all about finding that “equilibrium point” which should (theoretically) lead to good racing. Whichever way you look at it, there were five different leaders in Spain, and it was a three-way fight for the lead. Ipso facto, to quote David Brent.

Mercedes tyre-d of going backwards

"See you in five laps, Nico"

“See you in five laps, Nico”

It’s very rare for a team to start P1 and P2 but then go on to finish P6 and P12 without a car failure being to blame. Therefore, this race was an oddity in that Mercedes, the pole car and by far the quickest over one qualifying lap, was way off the pace. Rosberg held onto the lead admirably at first, yet it was just after the stops where it all went wrong, just after Rosberg had been fitted with fresh tyres. It makes little sense, but it shows just how much of a rear-tyre destroyer the W04 is. A quite unspectacular result that has certainly raised a few questions in the paddock. We enter F1′s ‘jewel in the crown’, Monaco, with an interesting hypothesis: we know that Mercedes will stick the car on pole, and you would be unwise to bet against an all-Silver Arrow front row. The thing is, what next? Monaco is traditionally very difficult to overtake around, making the only sticking points tyre wear and pit stops for Mercedes. Relying they can fix the problem, as Niki Lauda unconvincingly said they would to the BBC after the race, for the Monaco GP, then the issue could be remedied. It is worth noting that despite two pole positions, Nico Rosberg currently lies behind Massa, Grosjean and di Resta in the championship. Problematic to say the least.

Gutierrez’s neat sombrero tip to his critics

Esteban Gutierrez was the star of the race for many. His brief time in the lead may have been aided by good strategy (much like Sutil in Australia), but throughout the race he was causing problems for McLaren and Mercedes in a car which, frankly, has struggled so far this season. The Mexican driver has come under a lot of fire, and he was told to get his elbows out for the Spanish GP much like Perez was in Bahrain. Gutierrez responded by trouncing his teammate (Hulkenberg reckons he would have finished P8 without the pit lane run-in) and missing out on his first F1 point by 0.3 seconds. Promising stuff though.

“Guysh my wheelsh aboutch to fall offsh.”

Yes, it’s a Dutch joke about Giedo van der Garde. Holland is a lovely place (this writer recommends Bloomendaal in particular), but van der Garde’s radio transmission to his team was highly entertaining, and quite hard to take seriously. Anyhow, Caterham will be disappointed for his weekend to end in such fashion after such a good showing up to that point. van der Garde had outqualified Bianchi, Chilton and Pic with a good time, and thanks to Gutierrez’s penalty, he started P18. A good start saw him move up to 16th ahead of 0673CB7D9486McLaren’s Jenson Button (no, really), and then keep him there for a few laps. Had he finished the race, van der Garde would certainly have been near his teammate who only finished 2.4 seconds behind Bottas in the Williams (talk about a change in fortunes for that team). Returning to the pits on three wheels wasn’t the smartest move ever, but the FIA decided not to penalise the team for this, unlike Vettel at the 2009 Australian GP, limiting it €10,000 for the wheel not being fitted properly. Fair dues there. Now to go and ask a Dutchman how to pronounce “Giedo” (gee-ay-doh; gee-doh; hee-ay-doh – help would be appreciated).

Spanish 101 with Eddie Jordan

Face it. On the podium, there’s no-one quite like Eddie Jordan. To come on and say “hola! hola!” in the most Irish-sounding Spanish you could wish for takes a good deal of bravery. Perhaps the even braver move was to introduce Kimi Raikkonen as the fan favourite in front of a sea of 100,000 fans draped in Oviedo blue and Ferrari red. Regardless, it was another great podium interview purely for the number of laughs it produced. This new setup has been slated, but it appears to be winning the fans over. The BBC had a good second live race of the season, even if Ben Edwards did talk over Alonso’s Spanish message to the fans (#habloespanol), and the interviews grabbed after the chequered flag on the forum were fantastic: Paul Hembery and Eric Boullier both threw fresh light on the rumours circulating. With James Allison rumoured to be seeking a return to Ferrari, Boullier was asked “does he like pasta?” Cleverly, he answered “he did like pasta, maybe he wants some more?” Good job being funny and sitting on the fence Mr B.

Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.

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