When four become two!
The Spanish GP was the second dominant win for Red Bull this season and although the car may appear fragile it is still certainly the class act of the field. But what else can we say about the state of play in F1 now that the circus has returned to Europe. Well at the very least we can now watch races at a sensible time of the day. Brilliant!
Conclusions from Spain
So to Spain, being a dry race, it gave us our first real chance since Bahrain to evaluate the pace of each team relative to its competitors. Clearly when it rains the playing field is more level amongst the top teams, which has made for a lot closer racing and perhaps a mixed up championship order that doesn’t reflect the accurate state of F1. Red Bull are still some way ahead of the rest, but for me it’s starting to look more and more like its going to become a two horse race between Red Bull and McLaren for the titles. Realistically Mercedes are out of the hunt and Ferrari are hanging on by virtue of some lucky results.
So why do I feel this way? Let me try and explain.
Firstly lets look at Ferrari. The last few races of Australia, Malaysia and China have masked this fact, but in my opinion Ferrari have now slipped to the third best team this season and if they don’t rectify this soon, it may put them out of the title hunt completely. Since their magnificent 1-2 finish in Bahrain they haven’t really run at the front or been race-winning contenders. Ok yes they’ve had some positive results like in Australia and Alonso’s 2nd in Spain, but apart from that they’ve not looked like scoring the big points necessary to fight for the championship.
Alonso in Spain was VERY lucky to inherit 2nd, after Hamilton’s off and Vettel’s failing brakes opened the door. If there’s anyone to have inherited Schumacher’s luck its Alonso. Yet without the other drivers woes he would have been 4th, possibly 5th if Button hadn’t got stuck behind a chronically slow Schumacher, but we’ll come to Mercedes in due course.
Even in the post race analysis Alonso was saying how ‘lucky’ he felt to have four top five finishes this season, but you could see his concern in this. At no point during the Spanish GP did the team look to be taking the fight to McLaren or Red Bull. Alonso sat comfortably 5 seconds off the back of Hamilton and Vettel, while Massa sat a couple of seconds off the back of Jenson Button being constantly hurried up by race engineer Rob Smedley. Both were unable to make any impression on there competitors whatsoever, they weren’t even close! At least Jenson was trying to pass Schumacher. Alonso admitted that he thought the best he could achieve was 4th! Now that is not the mentality he needs to have if he wants to win the Championship.
If we look at the other side of the Ferrari garage, Massa is not fast at the moment and to be honest looks like he’s struggling to keep on pace with his two-time World Champion teammate. Like Richard has already mentioned, even Piquet Jr could keep within 8-tenths of Alonso! This plus the speculation that Robert Kubica could be coming to race for Ferrari next season really can't be good for Massa’s state of mind or confidence in the team.
Now don’t get me wrong Ferrari have the history and the pedigree to get themselves back to the front and in the fight, but if they continue on in this same vain the team have no hope of winning either Championship.
By comparison Mercedes have slipped even further back from the front. Not that they have actually been at the front yet this season. The upgrade that went onto the car in Spain, which Ross Brawn had hopped to start the season with, has clearly not had the desired effect. If anything it’s had the opposite effect. Before Spain Rosberg had been the faster and more consistent Mercedes driver, mixing it with the McLarens and scoring regular strong points finishes. But with the team trying to make the car more suited to Schumacher’s driving style what they have actually done is make it worse for Nico to drive.
For the first time this season Schumacher out classed Nico in every session, but the problem is that at the moment Schumacher is not fast. He said himself that he wants to attack rather than defend, but the car lacks the pace to do so. It reminds me of BMW Sauber’s mistake back in 2008. They tried to design and shape the car to fit Nick Heidfeld, thinking he would be the driver to take up the fight where it was actually his teammate Robert Kubica. As a result the team lost time and momentum trying to make the car work for the wrong driver. At the moment I can't seriously consider them a Championship contender.
Monaco and Predictions
Its for these reasons that I see Mercedes and Ferrari falling out of the Championship hunt, but it will be the next couple of Grands Prix that mark this turning point, particularly Canada and Turkey. The blistering pace that Red Bull demonstrated in Spain will also come to the fore in Canada and especially Turkey, baring any mechanical woes Red Bull will move comfortably into the lead. On current form Mercedes and Ferrari will lose out massively on scoring the points necessary to keep in touch. Thus making it a two horse race. Perhaps Mercedes, but more so Ferrari will have these current weaknesses covered up in Monaco, as it’s not a high down-force or high-speed circuit.
In Monaco lets face it; overtaking will be difficult if not impossible, particularly when overtaking the backmarkers. But in my view contrary to the whinging of Lewis Hamilton and McLaren, who seem to think this issue is the end of the world, its just part of the challenge - get on with it! You have to feel that if Red Bull get an all front row, which is not to hard to believe given their current qualifying form in 2010, they are going to drive away with it.
McLaren on the other hand are a different kettle of fish altogether. Their updates have only allowed them to move ahead of Ferrari on pace, but nowhere near the pace of the Red Bulls. Pre-season predictions that Hamilton would wipe the floor with Button have gone completely out of the window, as Button has taken two victories for the team, as well as an early lead in the championship. This compared to Hamilton who has spent the majority of the season thus far complaining about absolutely everything and suffering quite badly from a lack of management. They have the reliability and stand in good stead to pick up the pieces of a Red Bull failure. Certainly scoring more points than Ferrari or Mercedes.
Unquestionably I think Mercedes are out of this years Championship battle and Ferrari are not that far behind. There only hope is Fernando Alonso. The 2010 championship challengers are going to be thinned down to realistically McLaren and Red Bull.
The way the new points system is structured now drivers who want to battle for the championship can't afford to keep coming in 4th or 5th every week. They have to go for the big points haul of a win or a 2nd, which Mercedes and now Ferrari aren’t able to get without mechanical problems from Red Bull or McLaren. F1 seems to be fixated on this term of the “top four teams”, when it’s clear that is no longer the case. Four have definitely become two.
Now some might argue that this state of play has come about because Red Bull has massively under performed and Alonso has out performed his car. But given that Red Bull are the team that has scored the most points of any team in the last three races, its my view that they are going take a strong lead in the championship. Perhaps an unbeatable one?
However as dear old Murray Walker loves to say “anything can happen in F1” so roll on Monaco…
|1||M Webber||Red Bull||1:35:44.101|
|2||F Alonso||Ferrari||+24.0 secs|
|3||S Vettel||Red Bull||+51.3 secs|
|4||M Schumacher||Mercedes||+62.1 secs|
|5||J Button||McLaren||+63.7 secs|
|6||F Massa||Ferrari||+65.7 secs|
|7||A Sutil||Force India||+72.9 secs|
|8||R Kubica||Renault||+73.6 secs|
|9||R Barrichello||Williams||+1 lap|
|10||J Alguersuari||Toro Rosso||+1 lap|
|11||V Petrov||Renault||+1 lap|
|12||K Kobayashi||BMW Sauber||+1 lap|
|13||N Rosberg||Mercedes||+1 lap|
|DNF||L Hamilton||McLaren||+2 laps|
|DNF||V Liuzzi||Force India||+2 laps|
|16||N Hulkenberg||Williams||+2 laps|
|17||J Trulli||Lotus||+3 laps|
|18||T Glock||Virgin||+3 laps|
|19||L Di Grassi||Virgin||+4 laps|
|DNF||S Buemi||Toro Rosso||+24 laps|
|DNF||K Chandhok||HRT||+39 laps|
|DNF||P De la Rosa||BMW Sauber||+48 laps|
|DNF||B Senna||HRT||+66 laps|
|NC||H Kovalainen||Lotus||+66 laps|