7 Jul 2012

F1 - Silverstone - Qualifying

In conditions that can only be described as wet the F1 circus showed us yet again why it is one of the most entertaining sports in the world.  The cars - 750bhp and 600kg of elegance created individually for each season's racing and refined for each and every race on the calendar - are designed to race fast and hard on smooth flowing tracks and where 1/10th of a second can make the difference between first and tenth.  These beautiful creations are driven by the most talented men and women in the world, often inches from barriers and each other, to give us 'the show'.

This season has certainly given us the show.  Nine races, eight winners.  The Ferrari started slow but the driver, Alonso, outdrove it and now the car is starting to catch up with his talent they are becoming a potent, unstoppable combination.

But the events of earlier this week have brought everyone involved in the show back down to earth.  Maria de Villota, conducting some straight line testing for the Marussia F1 team, crashed into the race team's transporter.  The apportioning of blame would not be appropriate at this point but it does seem that it was car, rather than driver, related.  Maria condition has been moved from critical to serious, but she has lost her right eye, and remains in hospital.

The teams and drivers, who spend all year competing against each other for pride, glory and money, have unified in support of Maria.  It was heartwarming to see so many speaking out in support and offering comfort.  Maria's 'symbol', a star, has been placed on most driver's helmets - indeed Lewis Hamilton was seen carefully applying his star himself.

That event brought f1 down to earth.  The rain has brought it down even further.  Friday was a washout.  Fans and drivers alike, frustrated by the weather, drove few miles and when they did drive it was slow.

So to Saturday and qualifying.  At 1pm the cars lined up at the end of the pit lane.  75,000 fans had managed to get into the circuit.  Some were in covered grandstand but others were in the cheap seats - and they don't have roofs.  The rain was steady but not torrential - yet.

Q1 started and immediately the cars flooded out.  Rain was expected to increase in intensity so, for the first time all weekend, the fans were treated to the sight of 24 grand prix cars pounding round Silverstone.  Despite the rain the usual suspects plus one were dropped at the end of the session.  The plus one was Jenson Button.  Jenson had endured a torrid time but finally, with new tyres, was sprinting round the circuit on a crest of talent and cheers.  But it was all to come to nought when Timo Glock spin his Marussia on the final corner and parked sideways on to the track.  Jenson, decent chap that he is, slowed right down to avoid the stricken car.  Which, despite setting the fastest first two sector times, dumped him unceremoniously out of Q1.

Q2 started and the rain began properly hammering down.  The on-board shots from Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus were spectacular.  What looked like a long sequence of slides and saves was actually one of the fastest laps of the session.   But the laps times never came close to those set in Q1 because the track was starting to flood.  With 6 minutes and 19 seconds left the session was red flagged.  Drivers had been losing control even down the straights and it was obvious the wet Pirellis could not cope with the volume of water they were faced with and were starting to aquaplane.

And there began a long wait.  The sodden British fans, having struggled to get into the circuit, were now left to do nothing but stare at an empty track.  Damon Hill was nearly moved to tears at the image of a little girl dressed up in McLaren team clothing just standing in the rain, in a large puddle.

Nico Rosberg did what he could to amuse the crowd by starting mass Mexican waves - and his effort was much appreciated.  The medical car circulated regularly and received huge cheers.  Eddie Jordan, egged on by Jake Humphrey, tried to emulate Nico but he was 150 yards from the grandstands so was largely ignored.  It did make for amusing television though.

Eventually the skies cleared a little and, after the Marshall's had brushed as much water from the track as they could, the session resumed.

The final 6m19s was a flurry of activity.  The times tumbled and most cars had to stay on track as long as they could in order to try and be the last over the line as the session ended.  DiResta, Kobayashi, Rosberg, Senna, Rocardo, Vergne and Perez were all dropped.  Nico was dropped because he dropped his car into the gravel.

Without ceremony Q3 started.  As the session started the pit lane traffic jam took off.  The skies were clearer but the weather reports were of more rain coming over the circuit.  The Ferraris ran on wets but soon realised their mistake and came in for inters.  The crowd was cheering for Lewis but the fastest time was initially set by Maldonado, then Massa, then Schumacher, then Alonso.  The times tumbled as a dry-ish line appeared and what had been a long, boring qualifying turned into a thrilling dash for pole in the final minutes of the session.  Alonso's time looked in threat as driver after driver reduced their personal best times.  Webber nearly nicked it but ultimately Alonso finished on top with Webber in second and, sensationally, Schumacher in third.

Alonso dedicated his pole position to Maria de Villota.  This was no publicity seeking stunt.  You know he genuinely meant it.

All of which leads us on to Sunday and the race.  The first race will be to get all the fans into the car parks and ultimately the circuit.  The BRDC have confirmed that none of the 125,000 ticket holders will be turned away.  Rain is forecast for the race.  Alonso is on pole.  Button is 18th but normally fast in the wet.  Several drivers qualified below their expected level.

The 2012 British Grand Prix at Silverstone has all the ingredients required to make for an epic race.  Let's hope it is.