It was Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in Brazil yesterday. Due to the difference in time zones I wasn’t able to watch any of it live, but I did watch the qualification replay on Sunday afternoon and let me tell you it was one of the most entertaining and impressive qualifying battles I have ever seen.
Coming in to qualifying, we saw a mixed bag in practice with Robert Kubica posting the fastest Practice 3 time, but Vettel had the fastest time overall with a 1:12 in Practice 1. This is all pretty meaningless but can be a good indicator on driver mindsets and team improvements since the last race.
Q1 saw the usual suspects drop out, along with Adrian Sutil in the Force India. Sutil laid a lot of the blame on his teammate, Vitantonio Liuzzi who he accused of blocking him every inch of the way along the track. I’m not sure he was right and he probably should have found something else to blame in front of the cameras but at ultimately he found himself sitting out Q2.
The surprise of Q2 was defending world champion Jenson Button finding himself in P11, and watching another nail in his 2010 coffin being hammered into place. without a win this weekend he had no chance of remaining in contention for the championship.
And so the stage is set for the final showdown in Q3. It had been wet all morning, but it was starting to dry up and Kubica was the first to fit slicks with 4 minutes to go and this is when qualifying just came alive. He suffered a little bit being the first, but everyone followed. Hulkenberg set a fast time and was mid range in P6 but as expected Vettel, Webber and Alonso bumped him down. Then Hulkenberg posted an amazing lap to take provisional pole. Everyone had at least one more lap and while they improved their own times, they were unable to beat Hulkenberg. But Hulkenberg had one lap left and went round like a man possessed and managed to post an even faster time than his last hot lap. He just completely pasted everyone, and along the way did great things for his career and next years contract. It was amazing to watch.
All the other drivers (except Alonso, boo Alonso) congratulated him and you could tell it was all heartfelt and genuine. It was interesting and exciting, but Hulkenberg’s performance didn’t really have any bearing on the championship at this point and nobody lost out on anything because because he got pole and would get a clear track. One commentator said it was “a curve ball, but not a monkey wrench”.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be a fairytale for Hulkenberg, as duing the race he was overcome by Vettel and Webber before the end of the first lap. To his credit, though, he didn’t get lost in the moment and do something foolish like find the wall on the first corner. He succumbed to Hamilton and Alonso a few laps later and managed a respectable eigth.
Vettel ultimately won the race, with Webber second, Alonso third and Hamilton fourth. Button, who needed a win to remain competitive, finished fifth. It was daylight to the also-rans with 20 seconds between Button and 6th place Rosberg.
Once the points were distributed, it still left Alonso in the lead but Webber took a small bite out of it. Vettel moved himself the third ahead of Hamilton:
That gives us a very exciting final round in Abu Dhabi next weekend as any one of these four can take it. It’s a long shot for Hamilton as he’d have to rely on a win and the other three not finishing but, as Hulkenberg showed in Brasil, anything is possible. For Webber to win the championship, he has to win Abu Dhabi and have Alonso finish no better than third. If Webber wins and Alonso is second, Alonso will win by one point. If Vettel wins, with Webber second and Alonso fourth or more then Webber will share the championship with Vettel which isn’t such a bad result. If anyone other than Vettel wins and Webber comes second, then he has to hope that Alonso finishes fifth (in which case Alonso and Webber share the championship) or worse (in which case Webber takes it).
Too bad Red Bull have no standing “team orders” like Alonso benefited from in Germany where Massa was told to let Alonso by with a few laps to go. The thing is he wasn’t told outright, but given an encoded message while leading along the lines of “Alonso is faster. Do you understand?” Nudge nudge, wink wink. This is illegal and shouldn’t happen and as we can see it becomes tremendously important towards the end of the season. So, here’s hoping for an Abu Dhabi win for Webber. In speaking to various fans it’s pretty obvious he’s the sentimental favourite. I’ll be glued to the TV next weekend from Practice right through to the chequered flag.