First off, nice to be green by taking the risk and backing Webber at 3.7. I was quite pleased Vettel very narrowly beat him in P3, as I’d decided against backing the Aussie earlier and his odds were a bit shorter before that.
A bit of a weird, and very complicated, qualifying session. In Q1, Heidfeld failed to set a time as his car wasn’t repaired after it burst into flames during P3, so he starts last. Barrichello’s Williams suffered some sort of failure and he also exited at this stage, in 18th.
The Force Indias are 16th and 17th, but did not waste a set of softs in Q2, putting them in a stronger position for the race. This is unlike Ferrari, both of whom got to Q3 but lack any fresh softs for the race.
At the sharp end, Webber beat Vettel by two-tenths, although the Wunderkind lacked KERS. Both were miles ahead of third-placed Hamilton, who leads a very closely matched trio of himself, Alonso (El Cheerio, judging by his reaction to 4th) and Button.
This was a fantastic race. Not only did it have everything in a racing sense, it also saw both my tips end up green. My 4.2 podium tip on Button was based on an assumption he would pass Alonso off the line (be fair, nobody in the entire world saw his start coming) and then manage his tyres better than Hamilton. Both turned out to be wrong, but he got a podium anyway. The No Safety Car Tip at 1.68 or so was just based on checking recent races, combined with the sunny weather forecast and high level of reliability in F1 this year. [NB for both qualifying and the race the return was better if you didn’t hedge].
Spain has a very long starting straight, and the clean side (odd, as usual) is a healthy advantage. I assumed both McLarens would make one pass or more each and perhaps challenge the Red Bulls based on tyre degradation.
Instead, Fernando Alonso did his best Speedy Gonzales impersonation and, from 4th and the dirty side of the track, passed everyone. Unlike at some other circuits, most notably Turkey, the DRS did not make overtaking a piece of cake. This held up Vettel, Webber (who had slipped back) and Hamilton, which later proved handy for Button.
Button had the worst start possible (well, apart from crashing, obviously), falling from 5th to 10th. At this point, I strongly suspected my tip was bloody stupid. However, in stark contrast to Turkey, the three stop strategy was better than the four stop. This matters because, firstly, it meant the tip came off, but also because it proved that strategy is not just a case of cramming in as many stops as possible. Webber is harsher on tyres than most drivers, so circuits that have short pit stops are better for him, because there’s less punishment for more stops. Likewise, Button, a smooth driver, can manage them a little better. However, no driver can work magic and there’s a pretty narrow window to work in, drivers can’t just keep going for ages because the tyres will simply fall to pieces.
At the sharp end, we had a fantastic duel for the last part of the race between Vettel and Hamilton. Vettel sometimes had KERS, sometimes didn’t, and just about managed to keep Hamilton behind him. I think that the McLaren had better pace, but Spain’s a hard place to overtake and the DRS didn’t give a big help.
Vettel did fantastically well, and very much deserves his win. Interestingly, Heidfeld progressed from 24th to 8th and his team mate Petrov went from 6th to 11th.
A thrilling race weekend, which reaffirmed what became clear quite early on this season: tyres and strategy are the dominant factor. Grid slots are nice, but it’s better to be 10th with fresh tyres than 6th without, especially at a track where the hard tyre is simply too slow to be worth using. If a team wastes a set of softs in qualifying, as Ferrari did, it doesn’t matter even if you get right to the front: you’re toast.
Red Bull maintain supreme dominance of qualifying. However, this is not really reflective of true race pace, where McLaren seem to have substantially closed the gap.
The next race is Monaco, which will have (I imagine) softs and super softs. Here, overtaking on track is ultra-hard, and tyre management will be even more important than usual. Last year Webber led Kubica in qualifying (I backed Kubica at about 7/1 for pole and he just missed out), so it’ll be interesting to see what Webber’s odds are. I also think Button could have another nice result.
Just one week to go until Monaco, and a fortnight later we have the fantastic race in Montreal.