2012 Santander British Grand Prix Race Review
As was beautifully captured in the intro to the BBC coverage for qualifying, July in the United Kingdom provides a staggering array of historic sporting events. From the immaculate lawns of Wimbledon, the billiard-smooth greens of the British Open, the character of the pitch at Lords, the turf of Royal Ascot, and of course the asphalt of Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix and round 9 of the 2012 FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Of course in 2012 these events serve as an illustrious support act to the London Summer Olympic Games, however in the English summer, all operate at the mercy of one important factor… the rain. Because if there’s one thing that British sporting events take pride in, it’s the condition of their grass, after all it’s the surface upon which their events rely on. That last sentence may not make much sense as the British Grand Prix takes place on a surface of pure technology, however after the 2012 British Grand Prix weekend the BRDC can be left in no denial that the natural surrounds of the Silverstone circuit almost stole the show.
Usually in a Racefans race review I like to highlight the events on the track, however when off-track events are of such significance that they stand to threaten the ability for any events to happen at all, I’m willing to make an exception. By the end of practice on Friday and with the rain persisting, Silverstone’s managing director Richard Phillips took the unprecedented move of informing ticket holders who were relient upon Silverstone’s parking facilities not to attend, as these facilities could not be guaranteed. It quickly became apparent to the organisers that in the excitement of constructing a 27 million pound pit facility, little thought, effort, or consideration had been given to a large portion of paying spectators who unlike many enjoying the new pit building, are unable to arrive to the circuit via helicopter. These spectators are attracted by a well-encouraged tradition at the British Grand Prix that fans make good use of the grass carparks and camping areas surrounding the race track, however with little contingency for the problems that come with mixing earth and water, the parking facilities quickly resembled Glastonbury. Fortunately for Silverstone there most-ardent critic, Bernie Ecclestone, defended the organisers stating that “they probably couldn’t predict the rain”. Now while I’ll concede the rain was certainly heavy, it isn’t as though it has never rained in Silverstone before and, more importantly, it isn’t as though the organisers haven’t been aware of this problem. In 2000, when the Grand Prix was moved to the Easter long weekend, torrential rain created havoc with parking facilities and traffic, ensuring that many spectators heard the start of the race through their car radio. When designing the world’s tallest building you don’t cheap out on the elevators, but embarrasingly for Silverstone, the new facility appears unable to accomodate the increased spectator capacity that it was designed to attract whenever the ‘unlikely’ event of rain occurs.
In the build up to the race weekend, Santander, the Spanish bank that has developed a prominence in Formula 1 in a manner as rapid as that of Lotus but with surprisingly less suspicion, devised a proposal for a track layout around the streets of London. To describe the track as anything but pure fantasy would be a fallacy in the highest form, however this didn’t stop Sky Sports F1 HD presenter Georgie Thompson from raising such a prospect with Johnnie Herbert and Derrick Warwick, in a manner that makes you wonder whether the ‘F’ stands for Formula or Filler. Warwick, the current president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) was not fooled by the media reports concerning the prospects of such a proposal, refreshingly declaring that it was simply “Bernie talking it up… fills the middle pages during the week… doing his thing”. Warwick justified his opinion on the grounds that Britain had “one of the greatest race circuits in the world coupled with now one of the greatest facilities”. The question to Warwick however is loud and clear, 27 million pounds on new facilities and not enough money to park cars on grass. Were such a debacle to transpire again, the prospects of the British Grand Prix will go down the drain, much like those that surround the proposed London Grand Prix.
Following the chaos caused by the inclement weather on Friday and Saturday, the teams and fans alike were greeted with blue skies on race day and the prospect of stable conditions for the duration of the race. As the five lights glowed the prospect of one of the sports best starters in Alonso versus one of the worst in Webber wouldn’t have put many on the edge of their seat, however they would soon be off it as Webber launched brilliantly off the line and headed for the racing line as Alonso came across to the right to defend. The visibility from the cockpit of a Formula 1 car is notoriously limited, so it is probably more a matter of sheer luck that the Ferrari didn’t chew the Red Bull’s front wing off. After the opening few laps one thing appeared certain, if anyone behind Michael Schumacher was habouring ambitions to win the race then they had to get past the seven-time champion quickly. However, it wasn’t until lap 3 that Felippe Massa was able to get past Schumacher on the entry into Club corner but by this stage both Alonso and Webber had amassed a sizeable lead. Behind, Vettel who had been overtaken for fifth by Raikkonen in the opening corners, pitted early and in clean air, began to demonstrate his impressive pace shown at the European Grand Prix two weeks previously. Such was the German’s pace that he rejoined from his stop effectively third.
Behind the front-runners Peter Sauber could only watch as his teams cars came off second best in two wildly different incidents. For Sergio Perez it was another early-race retirement and again at the hands of Pastor Maldonado “The Baron”, who despite impressive qualifying times and the Spanish Grand Prix victory, has still only scored 29 points. Despite the crash resulting from some clumsy driving by the Williams driver, understeering into the path of the Mexican, it was one crash too many as Perez lambasted The Baron with the media, describing Maldonado as a “stupid driver” and “dangerous”. For all the flare and impressive speed that Maldonado has shown in 2012, it is the overriding sense of madness in some of his driving tactics that is damaging his image and potential ascension in the sport. Even 1980 Formula 1 World Champion Alan Jones, a guest commentator for Channel Ten Australia, couldn’t resist having a jab at the Venezuelan, suggesting his name within the paddock was ‘Pasta Marinara’. Meanwhile teammate Kobayashi gave hope to us meer mortals that while an F1 driver can take Becketts at 300km/h, parking it remains tricky. This would be easy to speak light of were it not for the four Sauber mechanics that were skittled in the process, all fortunatley escaping serious injury. In case drivers were unaware of the disincentives (there are more than one) involved in running over 4 of your team personnel, the race stewards fined Kobayashi 25,000 Euro. While some said the penalty was too harsh, others defended the penalty as ensuring drivers wouldn’t attempt to see how many men they could try to kill while only receiving a fine.
While Alonso continued to lead from the front their was a twist in the tale to come. Opting to start the race on the harder compound Pirelli tyre, Alonso opted for the hard compound again at his first stop. In interviews after the race, the Spaniard revealed that the Ferrari had performed better on the hard tyre and as a result, if it had rained the team would not have needed to put on the less-favourable soft tyre. While Ted Kravitz, in his post-race notebook segment on Sky Sports F1 HD, looked to suggest that gambling on the rain was a tactical error by Ferrari, I would disagree as Alonso would have had to use the soft tyre during the race anyway so it was quite canny that the team delayed that decision for as long as possible. However, while on the hard tyre Alonso simply could not get a big enough lead on the Australian, the importance for which became apparent with 7 laps to go, when the gap to the lead narrowed like a Greek surplus at which point Webber passed and the gap lengthened like a Greek deficit.
For Webber, it’s races like these that make championships. After a gradual start to the season, two wins in the last four races, both of which he won in 2010, has him 13 points behind Alonso in the championship lead. Yet any thought of security the Australian might have must surely be subdued by the ominous form of the boy from Heppenheim who, when given clear air ahead, appears to put even more of it behind. Next stop Germany and unfortunately for Webber… it’s not at the Nurburgring.