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10 Dec 2010

F1 Season Review 2010: Title fight comes to the boil! (PART 4)

Ferrari and McLaren had very different weekends at this year's Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari had very strong practice sessions throughout Friday and McLaren were up there with them, Red Bull were outclassed in a rare weak race for the team.

Alonso savours his first victory since Germany,
in front of Ferrari's adoring home support
Into qualifying, and there were no real surprises anywhere in the field, until Ferrari's Fernando Alonso stole pole position from Button, with Massa starting 3rd, Webber 4th, Hamilton 5th and Vettel a disappointing sixth thanks to a mistake on his final lap. The race began with Button having a dream start and leading into the first corner. Hamilton managed to get the jump on Mark Webber down to the first turn too and get into 4th, behind the two Ferraris. 
        His race would last just two more corners. Hamilton tried to drive into a space that was always closing on the inside of Felipe Massa, and there was contact. The first was minor contact however the Ferrari hit Hamilton's right-front wheel a second time, severing the steering arm and resulting in the McLaren limping off at turn 6 and into retirement. Button extended his lead until the round of pitstops approached, he pitted first and Alonso lasted 1 extra lap on the better 'Soft' tyres. This proved to be the key as Alonso held off the Brit down into turn 1 as he exited from his own stop and that meant he retook the lead he had at the start of the race. He would hold on to give Ferrari their first home win since Schumacher in 2006.

Alonso's revival continued with a second-straight
win under the lights of Singapore
Singapore, Qualifying session 1 saw Massa's last engine go up in smoke and see him start 24th, Ferrari opted to use a ninth engine as the 10 place drop could drop him no further. This paved the way for normal order through to Session 3. Fernando Alonso dominated for the second race in succession and he grabbed a back-to-back pole with Vettel second. Hamilton and Button started 3rd and 4th with Mark Webber 5th. Sebastian Vettel got the best start off the line before Alonso bullied him back into second place. Alonso promptly pulled out a 3-second lead on the field until a collision between Heidfeld's Sauber and Liuzzi's Force India required a Safety Car. This resulted in a large part of the field pit for their mandatory stop and allowed Alonso to maintain that lead. After the pitstops were completed, there were several of the slower cars jumbled through the field, 2 of them in between Mark Webber and the front runners, with Hamilton behind him. 
           Once the Safety Car pulled in and the race got back underway, Webber got held up momentarily behind those slower cars, long enough to allow Hamilton to have a run down the outside of Mark Webber. Hamilton gained the place. Now, depending on who you ask, 2 different things happened. According to Red Bull, Hamilton cut across Webber's car and did not allow him room to move. According to Hamilton's team however, he had the racing line and Mark should have backed off. This did not happen and ultimately resulted in a second straight DNF for Lewis Hamilton thanks to the resulting contact breaking the left-rear axle on the McLaren. Alonso would hold off Vettel and win the race by just under a second.

Incredible rain meant qualifying would take place
on Saturday for the 1st time since 2005
The weather forecast for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka was very intriguing. The experts predicted rain, but could not guarantee when or how much rain would fall. Well, the rain fell, and it fell hard. Friday was unaffected, the biggest incident was Hamilton writing off his McLaren at Degner 2, a huge mistake that cost him the remaining hour of the session. Practice 3 on Saturday morning was a washout, just 2 'competitive' lap-times set, albeit nearly 1 minute off normal times. The session was red-flagged and never restarted. Qualifying rolled round and their was widespread pessimism around the Paddock as the rain got heavier and the track appeared more like a pond than a road. The postponement of the sessions allowed some light entertainment courtesy of drivers. Heikki Kovaleinen interrupted a BBC interview with his own boss to present his toy boat, constructed of two drinks cans and a Bay Leaf. He and his team managers proceeded to set the boat sailing down the pitlane, a good 10 yards before the torrent of water capsized it. Sauber and Red Bull also entered the first-ever Formula One Sailing Race. Sebastian Vettel 'borrowed' a press-official's camera and took a number of fun shots of his team, the fans and the camera's bemused owner. 
             The FIA finally announced that for the first time in 5 years, qualifying would take place on Sunday morning. Sebastian Vettel got himself into the zone and pulled yet another pole position, with Hamilton's lost time resulting in just a 8th place start. Alonso managed 4nd and Webber 2nd. The race began with Hulkenburg and Petrov crashing immediately as the lights went out, Massa and Liuzzi destroying each other's cars and by the end of lap 3 a wheel-nut failure meant Robert Kubica's Renault's rear-right wheel fell off. Around 3/4's of the way through the race, Hamilton's car lost 3rd gear. This really hurt the car coming out of Suzuka's long slow corners. Button closed in and took 4th place in another disappointing weekend for the British team. Vettel would hold on for a crucial victory with Mark Webber picking up 2nd and Alonso 3rd.

The rain fell again in spectacular style
on Sunday in Korea
The sport moved on to yet another new Frontier in South Korea at the barely-completed Yeongam Circuit. The track lacked all grip whatsoever, and had several changes made overnight between Friday and Saturday. McLaren hoped for a strong showing thanks to the circuit's 2 long straights.Vettel took pole from Webber, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton lined up on the row behind. The race was delayed from the start as a downpour washed away the tiny amount of grip the track had. The race spent a good 19 laps behind the Safety Car, too long in the eyes of Lewis Hamilton who claimed the track was almost dry enough for Intermediate tyres rather than the Extreme Wets.
         When the restart came however, it was he that was caught out as Rosberg cruised through at turn 2.      
 This would prove to be a blessing in disguise for Lewis as Webber ran wide and spun on a wet patch of astro- turf, spinning backwards across the track and completely wiping out Nico Rosberg's Mercedes in the process, allowing Lewis Hamilton and Alonso to move up to 2nd and 3rd respectively. Another Safety Car, triggered by another of many crashes down the field. Hamilton managed to run wide on the restart resulting in Alonso stealing 2nd place. This error would prove to be the race-winner as Vettel's Red Bull showed it's unreliability again as it dumped it's Engine components on the track in a spectacular implosion. Thanks to Hamilton's mistake, Alonso inherited a race that finished in near-darkness after the delayed start. Incredible racing from the track making it's much-criticised debut.

With Just 2 races to go, Alonso completed an incredible turnaround in his odds after being 47 points behind at Silverstone, he now lead the title chase by 11 points from Webber. Jenson Button finally fell out of realistic contention as he fell 42 points down with just 50 available.

1Spain Fernando Alonso231
2Australia Mark Webber220
3United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton210
4Germany Sebastian Vettel206
5United Kingdom Jenson Button189


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