Memorable moments of the 2010 F1 season – Part 4


WORST MOMENTS

On to the worst moments of the season – that includes wretched luck for individual drivers, silly mistakes from drivers and teams, and incidents that Formula 1 cannot be proud of. Fortunately, the 2010 season didn’t have the off-track drama that marred several seasons over the decade, and for once, they were all on-track moments.

Vettel’s reliability issues in Bahrain, Australia and Korea

There has been a lot of talk about how Webber nearly clinched the championship ahead of the boy wonder who is his team mate, and the fact that to be leading the championship charge for Red Bull till the last race was a major improvement from the Aussie. I would agree as far as the improvement is concerned. But the simple fact of the matter is, Vettel was convincingly the quicker driver all through the season.

Ten pole positions in a season with five different race winners and five contenders until the penultimate round, was an exceptional performance. Forget the mistakes and the misfortunes on Sunday, when it comes to banging in a blistering Q3 lap under pressure, there’s no one better at it than Sebastian Vettel. Yet his pole to win conversion rate is quite poor – the reasons being a combination of driver error and reliability issues. Dr.Helmut Marko reckons Vettel lost 66 points as a result of the reliability problems he had in Bahrain, Australia and Korea.

Although Vettel has not demonstrated an ability to overtake equal cars cleanly, like Hamilton (or even Kobayashi for that matter), his raw pace is unarguable. One could argue that he had the fastest car, but so did Kimi in ’05, and where did that get him? The fact that he won the title with a superb race in Abu Dhabi only serves to cement the idea that he’s the fastest driver out there by miles, and it’ll take more than unreliability and driver error to deny him the championship. But still, the sight of a driver doing everything right, and going home with nothing thanks to some loose screw in the gearbox is a wretched one. Thankfully, it didn’t hand over the championship to another driver on a platter.

Red Bulls collide in Turkey

This one is for the history books. Except for the fact that it wasn’t deliberate, it reminded me of the Prost-Senna annual-take-each-other-out competition at Suzuka. Two very quick drivers, and both can’t stand losing to each other. One a solid reliable driver, the other an intense, lightning fast, and impetuous racer. Honestly though, I’m surprised that the Red Bull pitwall didn’t see that one coming. Or did they want Vettel to win the race? We may never know, but it was the most embarrassing moment ever for Red Bull, the team losing a perfectly good 1-2 to arch rivals Mclaren.

One of the things that lends credence to the theory that RBR wanted Vettel to take the lead, is that Webber was told to wind down his engine a little bit to conserve fuel at the same time as Seb increased his pace on new tyres. Although both drivers were deemed to be at fault, I’m inclined to apportion more of the blame on Vettel. Webber gave him some space, and all he had to do was outbrake his team mate on the inside line. Moving across and expecting Webber to yield tamely was kind of stupid. Luckily for the team, Webber was able to continue on and get third place, but that’s hardly any consolation. And then the Mclaren men rubbed it in moments later by showing Red Bull how it’s done.

Webber’s mega-shunt in Valencia

The European Grand Prix, until very recently was a much-awaited race that had lots of action and proper racing. Since 2008, the race has been hosted by Valencia, and is one of the dullest races of the season. There wasn’t a single overtaking move in the entire 2009 race and safety cars were never even thought of. Mark Webber put all that aside and gave us the biggest shunt of the season on lap 9.

Webber had pitted early to put himself out of sync with the leaders, when he came across Kovalainen moving much slower compared to him. There was a slight misunderstanding as to which way to go, and wham! The Red Bull was launched off the back of the Lotus, smashing a sign board to pieces in mid air, flipped over and came to rest near the barriers in a scary moment for the Aussie, who was able to walk away unscathed.

Hamilton overtakes the safety car and gets away with it

Mark Webber inadvertently ruined Ferrari’s race when he crashed into Kovalainen’s Lotus and brought out the safety car. The top four, Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Massa were past the pit lane by that time and hence had to pit the next lap. But talk about wretched luck. Vettel made it past before the safety car was deployed, Hamilton cruised around and then was suddenly side by side with the safety car. He chose to overtake the safety car, whereas Alonso and Massa were distinctly behind the safety car and could not do anything. Hamilton pitted along with Vettel and the pair stayed in their previous positions. Ferrari were the biggest loser, with Alonso and Massa rejoining in 10th and 15th respectively.

Hamilton was given a drive through penalty, but after an excruciatingly long delay. This meant that he was able to build enough of a gap to third place man Kobayashi and took the penalty without losing a place. Alonso and Ferrari were understandably furious that the rule breaker got away without any loss in points, whereas the ones who stayed within the rule had their race ruined. It was one of the more frustrating moments of the year, when the sport wasn’t able to provide justice to the drivers.

The Ferrari team orders debacle in Germany

The big one. Undoubtedly the worst moment of the season. There are convincing arguments on both sides of the coin, but it was a public embarrassment of epic proportions. The incident in question was simple enough. After a long time, both Ferraris were competitive, and were heading for a 1-2 finish. With 20 laps to go, Massa had a very slow exit out of the Tunr 6 hairpin, allowing his team mate to grab the lead easily.

The radio messages revealed the charade that Ferrari were playing out, pretending that Massa gave up the place of his own volition. Rob Smedley is heard saying on the radio: “Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you’ve understood this message”. That was a farce. Rob isn’t so dumb as to forget the fact that radio communication is being monitored. He probably did it on purpose to show the world that Alonso didn’t earn that place. If not it was the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen any person do in F1. So Ferrari were caught red-handed easily, thanks to Rob Smedley’s gaffe.

I’m not against team orders, and I can understand that Ferrari were desperate for points after horrendous luck with safety cars in the last two races costing them a ton of points. With a massive 47 point deficit to the leader, Alonso needed every point he could get his hands on. And its not as if Ferrari are the only team using team orders – just that they’ve been silly enough to get caught so easily. Mclaren used the same tactic in 2008 to help Hamilton past Kovalainen, for example. Who knows how many races have been decided using these coded messages without any of us realizing it?

For all that, Ferrari’s attitude was amazing. All they had to do was tell Massa that Fernando was faster, and not to fight him too hard if he tried a pass. That I think is hardly illegal – a team has every right to ask its drivers to avoid taking each other out especially after Turkey ’10. Even then it would be unfair to Massa, for the Brazilian driver was marking the anniversary of his accident with a splendid drive, and the team should’ve told Alonso to go get the win if he wanted it. It wasn’t the team orders that rankled, so much as the disdain with which Ferrari acted.

Ferrari’s strategy call in Abu Dhabi

This one should read Renault’s strategy call in Abu Dhabi in point of fact. Ferrari allowed themselves to be suckered into covering Webber, forgetting the fact that a difference of one or two places at the front of the field puts many more points at stake compared to a seventh or eighth place. And Alonso did lose a vital place to Jenson at the start. And Webber did lap faster on his first lap on the hard tyres.

But beyond all that, it was the Schumacher-Liuzzi pile-up which really caused the trouble. We had the main championship contenders running in the first five places, with the mouth-watering prospect of a head-to-head battle between the title rivals. Thanks to the safety car, the pitstop sequences were thrown out of sync and we had the possibility of the greatest on-road title decided turning into a farce thanks to the yellow moving chicanes called the Renaults. Added to the fact that the Abu Dhabi circuit does not allow much overtaking, and the race turned out to be a damp squib.

Hamilton was decidedly faster than Vettel, but was blocked by Kubica, who was on a completely different strategy. Behind the Mclarens, we had Rosberg and Petrov who blocked Alonso. It was immensely frustrating that the race, and indeed the championship, was decided by the Renault strategy rather than a one-on-one battle between the contending rivals.

In some ways, the finale to the 2010 F1 season was disappointing. But when I look back upon the entire season, there is no doubt in my mind that this has been the best ever season of Formula 1. Ever. There were so many things that made this season special. Obviously the main reason was how closely this championship was fought – and fought fairly by the contenders – giving us a nail-biting finish to the season. It was also a season sans dominance of off-track politics and mud-slinging. We had people rising to the occasion like Rosberg and Kubica, putting in inspired performances in mediocre cars, we had a rookie on a shock pole in Brazil, we found a bright new star in Kobayashi, we had more wheel to wheel action this season than several of the past seasons put together. We had a glorious Ferrari fightback,  we had Mclaren getting a blinding start to the season, but best of all, we had the ex-Jaguar team winning the constructor’s title in style, and a lanky 23 year old winning the drivers’ championship against the odds. What an epic season it has been, and I just can’t wait to see if 2011 can do better. Au revoir until then.

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