Saturday, July 11, 2009

Webber and Barrichello get back in the game in Germany

We're half way through the Formula One season and so far only two men have got to the top step of the podium. Jenson Button has won 6 races, and Sebastian Vettel has won 2, including Jenson's home race at Silverstone 3 weeks ago.

The talk coming into the German Grand Prix was whether Jenson would get his own back and win Vettel's home race.

In fact, it's Button and Vettel's team mates, Australian Mark Webber and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello who won through in a thrilling qualifying session which was punctuated with showers and was horrendously difficult to call for drivers, teams and anyone watching. Anything could have happened. People were dashing in and out of the pits for intermediates and then Brawn's knack for calling it right saw Rubens Barrichello come in first for slicks.

I have been thinking for days, even before I saw Lewis Hamilton storm round the track in a McLaren that's been given a new lease of life, that I'd have to watch Q3 from behind a pillow. The weather which had blighted Brawn's chances in the British Grand Prix was forecast to be, if anything, even colder at the Nurburgring. For some reason the way the Brawn is built means that if it's cool, they just can't get heat into and consequently enough grip from the tyres. When it's hot, this works very much in their favour as we saw in Monaco when the softer tyres were goosed in a few laps on the Red Bulls but lasted the Brawns a race winning stint longer. It certainly didn't look as if we could expect great results from the Brawns and their practice times weren't spectacular.

Q2 provided the first really scary moment when it took Jenson until the dying moments to get into the top ten. It was so close to being the first time Brawn had not made the final session and would have been a disaster. However, with his talent for pulling it out the bag when it matters he made it and my blood pressure went back to something like normal. Not so lucky was Alonso. I was glad that his team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr, whose jacket is rumoured to be on a very shoogly peg, but who has won the hearts of the F1 Twitterverse this week, made it into Q3. If Flav wants to get rid of him now, I suspect he'll find an angry mob of F1 tweeters at his door.

Q3 was its usual on the edge of your seat kind of stuff. The Brawns got out there first, and Barrichello was the first to post a time. The lead them seesawed between the Brawns and Red Bulls with Hamilton briefly grabbing the top slot. Nobody else was anywhere.

I can understand the frustration of British cricket loving F1 fans, who on one channel could hear Australia giving England a good kicking around Cardiff and who tweeted "f***ing Australians" as Mark Webber clinched his first ever pole position. I don't share that sentiment, though. I really like Mark Webber. He came across here with barely any money and worked like a demon to make his way into F1. He has earned any success that comes his way. Read this feature the Sunday Times did recently to see what a good bloke he is.

Having said that, if he is to make the podium tomorrow, I'd obviously prefer it to be behind the Brawn boys. I was so thrilled to see Rubens qualify ahead of Jenson and I'd like it even more if he won. He has given a huge amount to the team and his generosity in sharing set up information at races when Jenson was finding it hard to hit his groove has proved that lovely Ross was right to go for him rather than Bruno Senna.

An honourable mention has to go to Adrian Sutil, too. Ok, he might have been lucky with the weather, but for a Force India to qualify in 7th is fabulous.

I wonder if blind fury has a place in deciding qualifying position. The McLaren team only managed to make one set of upgrades for their car. We don't know whether the management decided themselves or whether Heikki Kovaleinen and Lewis Hamilton arm wrestled for them in the motorhome, but they all went on Hamilton's car. Kovaleinen was reportedly not a happy bunny. However, despite Hamilton's advantage in practice, Heikki finished just behind Lewis on the grid, although the gap was a stonking 1.2 seconds he is still breathing down Hamilton's neck.

It's also worth feeling sorry for poor old Timo Glock, who saw a succession of disasters knock him and his Toyota out in Q1, in 19th place with a time of 1:32.423 which was actually quicker than Jenson qualified in 3rd at 1:32:473.

We still don't know what the German weather will bring tomorrow - there have been reports of everything from dry to deluge. If, like me, you are having trouble waiting that long, here's a wee treat. There's a much longer, historic 24 km track at the Nurburgring called the Nordschleife. Enjoy this footage of Nick Heidfeld going round it in a BMW. It's quite spectacular.


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