Red Bull’s Mark Webber used a perfectly timed super soft-medium tyre strategy to win the Hungarian Grand Prix and take the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in Sunday’s Grand Prix. He was able to extend a lead over Fernando Alonso thanks to a 43 lap first stint on the same set of Bridgestone super soft tyres on which he qualified, continuing to set fastest laps right up until changing to the medium compound, despite searing temperatures at the Hungaroring. He led Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver Fernando Alonso across the line by over 17 seconds with teammate Sebastian Vettel in third.
Sebastian Vettel produced a disciplined display to win the European Grand Prix at Valencia’s street circuit, using a super soft-medium tyre strategy. Bridgestone Motorsport declared the performance of both compounds “strong”, with track conditions improving over the course of the race as the streets took on more rubber. Vettel crossed the line ahead of the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, following a lengthy safety car period early in the race after a dramatic exit for Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing). Nine cars, including third place finishing Jenson Button, were being investigated after the race for their pace under the safety car, while Hamilton incurred a drive through penalty after an ambiguous move as the safety car arrived. The British driver hesitated when he saw the vehicle pulling out of the pit lane, only to overtake it when it joined the track. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso – a veteran of a tumultuous season as Hamilton’s team-mate – was angered by the Briton’s actions, suggesting the penalty was not great enough.
That was more like it. While the season opening Grand Prix at Bahrain was widely judged a damp squib, the Australian Grand Prix saw drivers taking greater risks with tyre wear as they fought to find the sweet spot between speed and longevity. Once again, Sebastian Vettel can count himself unfortunate, as technical problems once again cost him a probable victory, so serenely did he command the opening stages from a pole position start. Lewis Hamilton, hardly a neophyte to moaning, compounded a miserable weekend by taking a second pit-stop at the behest of the McLaren team; one which Hamilton claimed after the race was unnecessary and cost him a podium place. The decision was made based on tyre wear information, showing once again the potential for rubber-based intrigue in this year’s Championship.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa made the Bahrain Grand Prix the first in what looks likely to be a series of Ferrari one-two finishes on Sunday, while former champions Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton bemoaned the difficulties imposed by new tyre and fuel regulations. Schumacher said he “struggled with the new tyre rules,” and that, combined with the refuelling ban, “overtaking is basically impossible with the new regulations.” Hamilton stated: “It’s very difficult to follow [in Bahrain], while looking after the tyres.” Tyre supplier Bridgestone’s director of Motorsport Tyre Development, Hirohide Hamashima made the point that “tyre management, as expected, was very important in this first race with no refuelling. The cars and drivers which were more forgiving to their tyres were rewarded with more durable performance.” Hamilton conceded that the most interesting aspect of the 2010 season looks likely to be in “understanding the tyres and conserving fuel load; knowing when to attack and when not to attack.”
Jenson Button overcame his worst qualifying performance of the 2009 Formula One season to collect a vital fifth-place finish; a placing that turned out to be decisive in this season’s Drivers Championship, as Sebastian Vettel and Button’s Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello – who started on pole in his home Grand Prix – failed to pick up enough points to take the fight to the last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi. Button started from 14th on the grid, but composure under pressure during an exciting race – coupled with Barrichello’s unfortunate puncture when he was in third place – allowed him to go into the final race of the season assured of his championship title. Barrichello had reason to smile too, though; their combined points also secured the Constructor’s Championship for Brawn GP in its debut season.
Brawn’s Jenson Button was once again successful in the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, having pursued a super soft – super soft – medium tyre strategy. The heat on the circuit had made Brawn’s continued dominance seem unlikely, as the team was forced to modify the car’s underside for necessary engine cooling. However, Button’s ability to use the consistently faster super soft tyres, thanks in part to the Brawn car’s comparative gentle treatment of its rubber, allowed the Briton to claim maximum points again, finishing 7.1 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who used the same tyre strategy in his Red Bull. The Toyotas meanwhile, fresh from their first ever all-front row qualification, faded in the heat, as pole-sitter Jarno Trulli used a super soft – medium – super soft strategy to finish third.
Lewis Hamilton benefitted from some good fortune to become the youngest ever Formula One World Champion after running an uncharacteristically conservative Brazilian Grand Prix. With Felipe Massa already over the line in first place and sitting at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, Hamilton scraped past Timo Glock – who was slowing due to difficult wet weather conditions – on the penultimate bend to retake fifth position at Interlagos and first place for the season. The last British Champion Damon Hill, commentating on the BBC, described the race as “the most exciting Formula One race I have ever seen”.
Much of the drama was prompted by difficult weather conditions. When drops of rain began to fall ten laps from the race’s conclusion, the pits saw a flurry of action as Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa all changed to intermediate tyres. On Lap 69, just two from the end, Sebastian Vettel – punching above his car’s weight in the rain once again – took his Toro Rosso past Hamilton into fifth place, meaning that the Briton would have lost out on the Championship in Brazil for the second time in two seasons. However, Glock’s slower pace allowed Vettel and Hamilton to gain one more place each before the finish line, concluding the season dramatically, and leaving Massa to spray his winner’s champagne with less vigour than he might have expected moments earlier.
The BBC – which will take the reins of Britain’s live coverage from ITV next season – left it to Hamilton’s girlfriend and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger to sum up the emotional rollercoaster of the final minutes: “it was so tough late on. I almost did collapse in the garage. I couldn’t calm down, nor could Nicholas [Hamilton’s brother]. We just both kept screaming at each other.” Scherzinger attributed Hamilton’s victory to a source of power higher than even the weather: “I can only thank God for that moment when Lewis crossed the line as champion.” Hamilton’s father Anthony experienced similar emotions: “I believed in God. I believed that right would come through – now, where’s Timo? I want to give him a kiss.” It was unknown, however, what Massa had done to upset the Big Man, with championship victory mere seconds from his grasp.