Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Sebastian Vettel is back as the number one

Sebastian Vettel

If all Formula One races were run on tracks as infernally dull and uninvolving as Valencia, the FIA might as well hand another world champion's trophy to Sebastian Vettel right now and forget the rest of the season.

For the second year in succession, the German ran away and hid from his rivals in the multi-cornered kart track that meanders around the old port area and goes nowhere near some of the more spectacular architecture in an otherwise exciting town.

Fortunately we go to Silverstone in a fortnight, to a proper race track that thankfully owes nothing to the so-called art of F1 circuit design go-to guy Hermann Tilke. But yesterday the world had to endure Valencia and the effort taxed even the hardiest observer of a sport that has produced electrifying races thus far this season in Malaysia, China, Turkey and Canada.

At all of them, the drag-reducing rear wings played their key role in spicing up the action, but even they are only at their most effective at venues that enable the 200+ mph cars to breathe.

This asthmatic point-and-squirt track merely left them struggling in line astern of each other for most of a deadly dull afternoon.

Schoolkids with their Scalextric come up with better layouts.

Having taken his seventh pole position of the year, Vettel lit off into the lead at the start.

Team-mate Mark Webber just hung on to second place as third fastest Lewis Hamilton got bogged down and swallowed not just by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, but Felipe Massa's too.

Further back, Jenson Button also fell prey to Nico Rosberg.

That left two fancied challengers with their own little battles to fight before they could even think of Webber or Alonso, and getting anywhere near Vettel was the stuff of dreams. No, scrub that, the stuff of fantasies.

Hamilton did not dispose of Massa until the first round of what turned out to be three pit stops apiece for the front runners. His came on the 12th lap, the Brazilian's on the 15th.

Button, however, had used his DRS wing to find a way past Rosberg on the sixth.

Thereafter, however, it was clear that the McLarens did not have the pace to stay with the fight for second place, and though both pushed hard, they could only for hope a decent helping of points.

It was the battle between Webber and Alonso that saved the race from complete disaster.

Thankfully this year the Australian did not inadvertently indulge in the sort of spectacular, stalled backflip that marred his 2010 race, but he clearly had his hands full with the darling of the Spanish crowd.

Webber held the position with seeming ease to begin with, but soon Alonso began to home in and after five laps they were separated by no more than a second.

Webber held on through their first pit stops, on lap 13 and 14 respectively. But thereafter Alonso's attentions became more and more urgent until he slipstreamed by on the 21st lap.

"In the beginning of race when I was behind him I was trying not to be too far back," Alonso said, "and then I overtook him under braking for Turn 12."

He stayed there until his second pit stop on lap 29, whereupon Webber went back in front having stopped a lap sooner. The third and final stops proved crucial.

When Webber made his on the 42nd lap he slid wide going into the pit lane and lost a little time, and later admitted that switching so early to the harder compound Pirelli tyres, which was his choice, had cost him.

Alonso stayed out for three more crucial laps on the softer tyres, and got back out of the pits ahead of the second Red Bull.

Webber was so far ahead of Hamilton, however, who came in 46.1sec behind Vettel, that his podium place was never in doubt.

Massa brought his Ferrari home fifth ahead of Button.

Behind them, Nico Rosberg finished a lonely seventh for Mercedes, ahead of a spirited chase between Jaime Alguersuari and Adrian Sutil, who was only 0.4 seconds behind him as they finished eighth and ninth.

Vettel's victory brought his points tally to 186, with Button and Webber sharing 109 and Hamilton and Alonso following on 97 and 87 respectively.

"It's better than anything I could imagine," the world champion said. "Even though I had a gap before the first pit stop it was quite close again, pushing hard, judging the tyres' wear, trying to foresee the strategy.

"For some reason I enjoy this track and last year I had a smooth run too from beginning to end. Every year we come here and say 'Ooh, this might be tricky, it may not go so well for us and may not suit our car."

"It probably looked like a boring race," he added, "but I enjoy it so much when it's between you and the car."

Just as there can only ever be one winner, Sebastian Vettel was probably the only person in Valencia who could truly have said that after the dullest race of the season.

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