After the first five races of the season, Fernando Alonso‘s superhuman will power had pulled his Ferrari across the line enough times to have him tied at the top with the defending champion Sebastian Vettel, whereas team Lotus were proving to be a dark horse, sitting comfortably in 3rd position in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes. The action on track though, was just getting hotter.
With a never before seen competitiveness amongst virtually all runners, the 6th stop on the calendar, F1′s most glamorous event, the Monaco Grand Prix promised to be a spectacular one, and it delivered an exciting, yet processional race. Mark Webber became the 6th man to win a Grand Prix this year, thereby creating a new record. 6 races, 6 winners was an unprecedented event. Monaco also saw some vintage Schumacher magic, as the veteran stormed to provisional pole position in qualifying, only to be pushed down 5 places due to a penalty he had recieved in the previous race. Nico Rosberg proved that he was equally quick, as he closely followed Webber for majority of the race to take a strong 2nd place. Fernando Alonso continued pulling the Ferrari across to score another podium, taking the lead in the points standings by 3 points over the thwo Red Bull drivers in joint second place.
The 7th round took us across the Atlantic, to the city of Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Memories of last year’s race were fresh, where a rain delayed race saw Jenson Button come up from the back of the field to take the win from Sebastian Vettel on the last lap. This year’s event though, was completely dry. It turned out to be a race of tyre management. Ferrari were, for the first time in the season, fighting for an outright win, unaided by weather or safety cars. Fernando Alonso led the race until the final 7 laps, when his Pirelli tyres fell off the proverbial cliff, enabling a late stopping Lewis Hamilton to come back and pass him comfortably on the back straight for the win. By the end of the race, Alonso had slipped to 5th behind Hamilton, Grosjean, Perez and Vettel. Both Grosjean and Perez took full advantage of the ambient heat and their cars’ good tyre wear management to finish on the podium. The record was stretched once again as Hamilton’s win made him the 7th different winner from the first 7 races of the season.
Round 8, the European Grand Prix in the dockyards of Valencia, another home race for the Spaniard Fernando Alonso, and did he reign supreme on that Sunday! Sebastian Vettel led the race comfortably until a safety car intervention bunched the field up. On the restart, Alonso, who had started in 11th, but was up to 3rd by this time, jumped the Lotus of Romain Grosjean at the first corner to get right up in the hunt for the top spot, and when theRenault engine in the back of Sebastian Vettel’s RedBull failed, Alonso was lying in wait, eagerly taking the lead and running off with it. Grosjean was mounting a strong challenge, when his Lotus Renault also came to an abrupt hault, leaving Alonso in the lead, and Raikkonen chasing Hamilton. Raikkonen did manage to pass Hamilton, who was punted out in the closing stages of the race by Pastor Maldonado, gifting the 3rd place to Michael Schumacher. It was a moment for the old scrapbooks, as we saw Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher back together on the podium after 6 long years, with their colors interchanged. Alonso beacme the first repeat winner this year, finally snapping the record streak.
Silverstone is always an exciting track to race on and the layout changes from last year have just added to the challenges. To add to it this year was torrential rain on Saturday. So much so that the qualifying session had to be stopped mid way to ensure safety of the drivers. Fernando Alonso emerged on pole position yet again. He led the race imperiously on a dry track yet again, choosing to opt for a long final stint, whereas the pursuing Red Bull of Mark Webber chose to do a shorter last stint, enabling the Aussie to make a remarkable on-track pass on Alonso, with just a handful of laps to go. The third podium place went to Sebastian Vettel. Felipe Massa had his first decent race of the season, taking 4th place, while Kimi Raikkonen continued to impress in 5th. The star of the day however, was the other Lotus driver, Romain Grosjean, who after having to pit on lap 1, battled all the way from the back of the field to take a strong 6th place finish. But with both McLarens finihsing well below par, the championship now looked to be developing into a three horse race between Alonso and the two Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber.
The German Grand Prix took us to Hokenheim this year, as opposed to Nurburgring last year. Another wet qualifying session saw Lotus impress whilst it was dry, but the masterful Alonso bagged another pole, and the rainmeister Schumacher propelled his Mercedes to a 3rd place on the starting grid. The race was all dry though, and the resurgent McLarens stole the show. Jenson Button put in an amazing drive to hold second position for the better part of the race. His teammate Lewis Hamilton pulled a real stunt, as he raced the leaders to unlap himself in the middle phase of the race, earning a few earfuls in the process. A controversial move by Sebastian Vettel on Jenson Button for second place at the hairpin ended badly for the defending champion, as a time penalty dropped him down from 2nd to 5th on the grid, giving Button 2nd place and Raikkonen 3rd. While all this was unfolding behind him, Fernando Alonso drove yet another superb, incident free race, and managed his tyres just well enough to secure a comfortable victory, extending his lead in the drivers’ championship standings. Button’s performance allowed McLaren to hold on to a slender one point lead over Lotus for 3th place in the constructors’ championship led by Red Bull and [with daylight spearating them] Ferrari.
With 10 rounds done, at the halfway point of the season, The championship scene was starting to get a bit clear, but there was no time to catch one’s breath as the next Grand Prix was to be held the very next weeekend, at the Hungaroring. The Hungarian Grand Prix is traditionally known for processional races, attended by a heavy Finnish fan following. This was was no different in those terms, but was not short of drama. Lewis Hamilton continued McLaren’s resurgence by snatching pole position by a big margin in an otherwise tremendously close qualifying session. Romain Grosjean put his Lotus on the front row, teasing if this would be the race when Lotus finally bag a race win. He followed Hamilton around for 2/3rds of the race, through slow first pit stops, and quick second stops, but the Iceman had other things on his mind. Stuck behind Alonso with a misfiring KERS, Raikkonen Put in some absolute storming laps as soons as Alonso pitted to get the jump on him, and in his second stint, was awesomely quick to make time up on the duelling Button and Vettel, coming out of the pitlane, right beside Grosjean on track. The absence of team orders in Lotus became apparent as Raikkonen edged out Grosjean for the second spot, exiting turn 1. The flying Finn went on to put in thunderous laps to open up a 14 second margin by the time the final pit stops came around. 18 seconds would have been enough to come back out in the lead, but as it turned out, Hamilton retook the lead in the pits, and despite a spirited charge from Kimi, managed to retain his slender lead until the chequered flag.
At the end of 11 rounds, and going into the summer break, Fernando Alonso finds himself well clear of his chasers, though he cannot quite feel comfortable yet, given the closeness of the competition, the resurgence of McLaren, the resilience shown by Lotus and the ever competitive RedBulls. The Drivers’ Championship standings now look thus:
1. Fernando Alonso 164
2. Mark Webber 124
3. Sebastian Vettel 122
4. Lewis Hamilton 117
5. Kimi Räikkönen 116
Lotus are the real surprise package of this season. With a revamped driver lineup and an extremely solid basic design, they have managed to surpass a lot of expectations. Finding themselves leading powerhouses such as Merceds and Ferrari, given their relatively meagre resources is a great achievement. They now trail McLaren by just one point. RedBull are predictably the championship leaders, since Alonso has been the lone consistent Ferrari driver, and McLaren have been largely mercurial in the early season. The Constructors’ Championship standins tell the story really well:
1. Red Bull Racing-Renault 246
2. McLaren-Mercedes 193
3. Lotus-Renault 192
4. Ferrari 189
5. Mercedes 106
The summer break will last throughout the month, and racing will resume in Belgium, at the legendary Spa Francorchamps circuit. It also marks the start of the silly season, when transfers, renegotiations and rumours are rife. Mark Webber has already confirmed his drive at RedBull for the next year, but Lewis Hamilton’s contract was up for renegotiation at McLaren. Felipe Massa’s fortune has been a subject of much discussion, linked with a possible Ferrari signing of Webber or Perez. Webber is now out of the equation, making Perez a strong contender for a scarlet driver next season. Another high profile driver with an uncertain future is the legendary Michale Schumacher. His provisional pole at Monaco and podium finish at Valencia have shown that he still has the speed and hunger, but his comeback has been undoubtedly overshadowed by Nico Rosberg’s performances in the Mercedes car for two and a half seasons now. Whether he will find it in himself to keep going is something we’ll all be looking very intently at.
With that, I’ll take your leave for the time being, see you when the racing resumes!