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10 Jul 2011

F1: Brit GP raises more questions

The British Grand Prix was supposed to answer our questions. Were Red Bull unbeatable? Would the ban on off-throttle technology alter the playing field? What sort of performance would Lewis Hamilton turn in?

We got answers to some, but ultimately left with question marks surrounding relationships within Red Bull, Ferrari's sudden discovery of pace, McLaren's tactics and yet more controversy around the off-throttle technologies employed by many teams.

The race itself was another fantastic story, Sebastian Vettel looked to have his 7th victory of the year in his pocket until a shabby pitstop dropped cost him dearly. Lewis Hamilton, starting in tenth, made up 5 places in the opening 2 laps and was up to 3rd and just 7 seconds off the lead after 14 laps. He passed Webber through cunning pitstop strategy, before his tires failed him and he fell backwards, with Alonso taking a lead he would never lose.

Vettel's poor stop put him behind Hamilton who seemed to have lost the pace he had early on. The German spent 5 laps stuck behind the Brit, who defended beautifully to frustrate his rival. One sequence will linger. Vettel got the better run onto the old pit straight, sitting mere inches behind Hamilton yet struggling to decide whether to go left or right, in the end, he came mere millimetres away from a costly accident and lost his chance to overtake.
Alonso streaked to his first win of 2011 (pic: Autosport)

Jenson Button had a relatively quiet afternoon until an error in his second stop resulted in him driving off with nothing holding his left-front tire on. Retirement was not on the menu for Button, but one simple mistake was all it took.

The first of these new stories came about on Friday morning during a public press conference. McLaren's boss Martin Whitmarsh and Red Bull leader Christian Horner were asked about the reduction on off-throttle engine technology. The FIA had limited the usage of hot-blown diffusers so that only 10% of throttle gas was allowed to pass over the rear of the car. This was supposed to cover all teams, until it was discovered that the Renault engine was allowed to have 50% of throttle gas flow through the rear of the setup. This is allegedly due to the reliability needs of the Renault engine, and Red Bull, the biggest beneficiaries of the technology, claim they use cold-blown diffusers rated than the hot-blown variation used by the teams powered by Mercedes (McLaren being the biggest). McLaren contended that the Renault powered teams were getting an advantage due to the less restrictive measures on their technology. Red Bull's Christian Horner contended that their limit would result in the same performance loss as the limit on the McLaren cars.

Make up your own mind, this row is set to rumble on and on.

Next up on the controversy desk today is the atmosphere inside the Red Bull camp. Sebastian Vettel led Mark Webber from the first corner onwards, and was never troubled by the Aussie. In the final 2 laps however, Vettel slowed and Webber closed right up to put pressure on his team-mate. At one stage the pair were side-by-side approaching Copse corner.

Now, it is Inside Sports' view that Vettel should have let his faster team-mate through given his 77-point lead in the championship standings. The team sent out a radio message ordering Mark to stand down and not overtake, a request that did not sit well with the Australian: "I'm not okay with it, no. I ignored and battled to the end."

A division opened between the two Red Bull drivers after last year's Turkish and British Grand Prix, and boss Christian Horner did little more than stoke the fire when he said that he couldn't let his drivers fight because "we all know how that would end."

A glowing reinforcement of Mark's overtaking abilities there then.

If anything, today proved that with the right strategy and environment, Sebastian Vettel can be beaten, and he may well need to count on his team-mate to act as a rear gunner in later races. He can little afford to alienate his colleague if he has designs on back-to-back championships.Webber is the only other man with a car that is a match for Vettel.

The title race may be being dominated by one driver, the on- and off-track action has been more enthralling than ever.


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