Monday, 31 August 2009

Belgian Grand Prix

After the streets of Valencia hosted their second Grand Prix, there was no time for respite before the gaggle moved up to a good old fashioned track with a great pedigree.

Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes Forest is a hilly and challenging course, with a deep ingrained sense of history. Many drivers past and present spent the weekend eulogising it as their favourite circuit, and the undulating Eau Rouge section taken at maximum speed was exciting enough to give the viewer an adrenalin rush, just from the on-board camera.

Former winner David Coulthard was wearing a very dapper jacket in the paddock whilst Jake indulged him, allowing him once again to reflect on past glories. The coverage was no more than four minutes old when Eddie Jordan was given his grumpy head to dismiss McLaren’s investment in computer strategy as a complete waste of time. “If you want to save money, get rid of them.”

Luca Badoer’s antics last week had led to a general feeling of pity from the rest of the Formula One world. In qualifying, he was ridiculed by the commentary team for taking his foot off the accelerator on his way up the Eau Rouge. He then secured what is becoming a customary twentieth spot on the grid before spinning off the track on his in-lap and smacking his rear end into the barriers.

The rumour is that Giancarlo Fisichella will be rescued from Force India and parachuted into the Ferrari team before the next race. If that’s true, then it’s a pretty strong indicator that Kimi Raikkonen is on his way out of the team at the end of this season, with Fisichella partnering the recovered Felipe Massa.

Fisichella was questioned before practice, but under lukewarm questioning from Jake and Eddie, he refused to confirm anything, although he was easily coaxed into saying that driving for Ferrari was a childhood dream.

As if to throw down the challenge to the Italian team, Fisichella finished top of the pile during qualifying. Force India have not threatened the front row all season but Fisi was inspired, and Ferrari will have taken note as they watched Badoer’s car being lifted from the track.

Like Valencia, the grid line-up was peculiar. Bearing very little resemblance to the World Championship standings, the first shock was the premature departure of both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. They qualified twelfth and fourteenth respectively. Spurning their opportunity to maximise, the Red Bull drivers also struggled, with Vettel and Webber qualifying eighth and ninth.

Behind Fisichella, the top slots were taken by other lesser lights of the paddock. Trulli’s Toyota was third, whilst BMW had a successful session with Heidfeld and Kubica finishing third and fifth. The only championship contender near the front was Rubens Barrichello who qualified fourth and would have slept well on Saturday night, confident that he would further eat into his team mate’s lead.

Since I rekindled my interest in F1 this year, I've remained puzzled about the various tyre choices available to the teams. It's evidently crucial to the relative performance of the cars, but my knowledge was poor.

As if directly addressing my confusion, David Coulthard voiced a charming little VT package underscored with some whimsical guitar music and punctuated by a sequence of computer generated tyres bouncing down the Spa track.
The relative merits were explained of the four different types of slicks, the intermediates and the wets. I now have a better knowledge, but am still mystified as to why it really needs to be so complex.

When we moved on to the grid walk, Martin Brundle seemed somehow subdued. Last week in Valencia, he had ostentatiously elbowed a female Australian journalist aside in his quest for an interview with Timo Glock. I suspect he had received a slapped wrist because he was much more restrained, although Trulli, Heidfeld and Barrichello all gave him some time. This despite the fact he was wearing a black leather jacket which I suspect he won during his time in sports cars in the early nineties.

As the race started, the first lap was a complete disaster for Brawn. Barrichello's anti-stall kicked in at the start line, with Raikkonen screaming past him. By the time they exited turn one, Barrichello was last, and Raikkonen was second, chasing Fisichella hard.

At turn four, with the traffic still very tight, Sebastian Grosjean bumped the back of Jenson Button, both spun off the track, and subsequently took out Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari. With the World Champion and the Championship leader out of the race, the safety car came out and everyone took a breath.

As soon as the safety car pulled off, Raikkonen snatched the lead from Fisichella - his probable team mate in the next race – as Barrichello started a charge through the field, overtaking Raikkonen’s current team mate, the hapless Luca Badoer.

The pattern of the race at the front end remained fairly static with Raikkonen just ahead of Fisichella. The Force India gave the appearance of being faster than the Ferrari, but Raikkonen’s KERS meant that Fisi just couldn’t get past him. Eventually, the Finn won his first race since he last gave a damn, and Fisichella came in a couple of seconds behind him.

The smart money is on them being team mates by the time they line up for the next qualifying session at Monza in a fortnight.

Vettel managed to drag himself up to third place, but couldn’t overtake Rubens Barrichello for second place in the championship table. The Brazilian rescued seventh place and two valuable points from his disastrous start.

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