Some of TTAC’s readers have made it absolutely clear that they cannot abide it when I pick on Red Bull’s Mark Webber. So let’s say something nice about the man: he made up for
his usual an unexpectedly poor start to finish in fifth place, just behind his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. If you’re a Mark Webber fan, now would be a good time to feel good about the whole thing and look forward to the next race.
Everybody else should click the jump.
In a pre-race interview with NBC Sports’ Will Buxton, the Wobbler summed up the conventional thinking in quite woeful fashion, complaining that in 2013 it was all about the tires and that nobody could race hard any more, and so on, and what are you going to go, and isn’t it a shame. This line was duly parroted by the commentary crew: this race will be won by conserving tires. It was suggested that Kimi Raikkonen might be a good bet to win this one, since the Lotus is uniquely (some say suspiciously) easy on tires. The Mercedes Silver Arrows were expected to fade early in the race due to camber control issues in the rear.
Another expectation: that Fernando Alonso would make another one of his excellent starts to improve his position from fifth. When the lights went out, he met expectations and then some by driving around the outside of Hamilton in Turn Three and challenging Vettel before settling for third. It was then time to conserve tires. Vettel’s crew reminded him that “only the last five laps matter.” Hamilton tumbled down through the order, unable to keep rubber under the car at any pace. At one point, the Hundred Million Dollar man responded to corrections from the pit wall by moaning, “I can’t drive any slower.” He would finish the day out of the points in twelfth, while his dour teammate Nico Rosberg, who is perfectly used to driving slowly, managed to conserve a sixth out of it.
Alonso, meanwhile, had surged to an early lead and continued to increase it. The math was plain to see: it takes twenty-five seconds or so for a pit stop at Barcelona. Therefore, if you can get a second and a half extra out of the car per lap for sixteen or seventeen laps, it’s worth taking an extra stop. Kimi, meanwhile, was on the other side of that math, trying to run a three-stop strategy and keep the time loss from a more conservative pace below what he’d lose by pitting a fourth time.
In hindsight, it’s plain that Alonso was never really in danger of doing anything other than winning. His start was about perfect, his pace was blinding, and he was completely mistake-free. It was one of those rare occasions where the truth unfolds along the lines of fiction: the man actually ran along the fence before the race, touching hands with the thousands of fans who had come to see him and him alone. He delivered touching comments beforehand about wanting to make sure the fans got their money’s worth in what is currently a difficult economic time for Spaniards. It was almost too good to be true. Given the way the FIA operates, maybe it was too good to be true. Unless Nelson Piquet Jr. has some information he’d like to share after the fact, we’ll probably never know.
What else is there to cover? Oh yes, McLaren is in a very deep hole right now and it came as no surprise that they were beaten by Paul DiResta in his Force India. With the imminent retirement of the Wobbler to DTM, NASCAR, prototype-into-treeline gymastics, or whatevs, the battle between the teammates at Scuderia Toro Rosso all of a sudden starts to look fairly relevant to the future. There are rumors of financial problems at Lotus (are there ever not?) which means that Kimi’s astounding consistency, pace, and development work could be undone by lack of cash to improve the car. There are Kimi-to-Red-Bull rumors but it seems unlikely that Mr. Vettel would permit that to happen. He’s probably the only person in the world who is genuinely satisfied with Webber’s performance these past three and a half years.
All of that belongs to the future. The present, this day, belonged completely and rightfully to Fernando Alonso. Even if you hate Ferrari or don’t care for the wide-jawed Spanish driver himself, this was a wonderful and perfect day, from start to finish.