x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Five lessons learnt from British Grand Prix

Ferrari enjoy their anniversary, but Button and Di Resta cannot be blamed for pit-lane errors, writes Gary Meenaghan.

McLaren-Mercedes' Jenson Button is pushed off the track after a mistake in the pit lane meant his front right tyre nearly came off.
McLaren-Mercedes' Jenson Button is pushed off the track after a mistake in the pit lane meant his front right tyre nearly came off.

Ferrari are back up to speed

An anniversary can always be relied upon to stir up extra motivation and Sunday's British Grand Prix was no different.

On the weekend to mark 60 years since his team first won at Silverstone, Fernando Alonso was given the chance to go out pre-race and drive the track in the same 1951 Ferrari 375 that Jose Froilan Gonzalez won with.

A few hours later he had replicated Froilan's feat and was standing atop the podium, much to the joy of not only the Tifosi, but to the majority of F1 fans. "Anybody but Vettel" was the common answer when spectators were asked who they wanted to win and in Alonso, the world championship now has a determined driver in a clearly competitive car.

Yet Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal who brought several upgrades to Silverstone, is remaining grounded.

"We were expecting an improvement for sure," Domenicali said. "But, it was so big to be honest, we need to be cautious, we need to understand the data, and we need to understand what the others are doing."

Horner did nothing wrong

Christian Horner, in advising Mark Webber to "maintain the gap" on the final lap as he attempted to pass Red Bull Racing teammate Sebastian Vettel, has been accused of giving team orders.

Apart from the fact team orders are no longer illegal — the FIA firmed up their ambiguous rules in the off-season — it was hardly the instruction of a man looking to swing a race in his team's favour.

There is a clear difference between telling a third-placed driver to go easy, accept three points less and not risk ruining his team's two cars and telling a leading driver to move over and let his teammate pass to claim the win and seven additional points.

Webber, while not happy, understood that. When asked if Horner had reignited feelings of being a No 2 driver, the Australian simply said: "Not really. I just want to race." Vettel for his part said he found the uproar "quite amusing".

Not always a driver's fault

British drivers Paul di Resta and Jenson Button, competing at their home grand prix, both saw their races effectively ended by mistakes in their team garages.

Force India's rookie was called into the pits for a tyre change, but when he arrived the mechanics appeared to be expecting his teammate Adrian Sutil. Di Resta said the "confusion" cost him 25 seconds, "which pretty much ended my chances".

Button's McLaren-Mercedes team did slightly better - they at least got the correct tyres on the car. Yet following a mistake by their beleaguered lollipop man, the Englishman left the pits before his front right wheel was properly fitted.

Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren principal, had complained the new pits at Silverstone meant fans could not see the team garage, but they got a perfect view of Button's car as it ground to a halt before he even managed to exit the pit lane. The team were later fined €5,000 (Dh25,814).

Ricciardo's good start

Daniel Ricciardo, Hispania's rookie, may have finished last, but he should be more than happy with his debut drive in Formula One after getting the maximum experience possible behind the wheel and achieving a feat several world champions never managed.

Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell and Ricciardo's Australian compatriot Jack Brabham were all forced to retire in their maiden outings. The HRT driver, who turned 22 at the start of this month, competently brought his car home and now knows where he stands in terms of physical fitness, which had been a concern going into Sunday's race.

He said understanding and reacting to the different flags is something he will need to work on before Germany, but he showed more than enough promise.

Fernandes speaks for public

Tony Fernandes, the Team Lotus principal, is a highly likeable man at the best of times, but in the post-practice press conference on Friday, the Malaysian entrepreneur proved once again he can be the paddock's voice of the people.

As a public debate between Whitmarsh and Horner grew increasingly heated and increasingly technical, Fernandes spoke out. He described the situation regarding the ongoing controversy involving irregular rule changes to the arcane off-throttle exhaust-blown diffusers as "a shambles" and added "I don't understand anything these two just said".

Fernandes knows his place and what he can bring to his team; technical expertise is not his forte. But running businesses is and Formula One could do a lot worse than listening to one of its newest team owners as it looks to recover from what was a highly embarrassing weekend for the self-proclaimed pinnacle of motorsport.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae