Sometimes, a strong result comes about through fortunate circumstance. On other occasions, it can be the product of heart-in-the-mouth bravado out on track. But arguably the most satisfying moments of all are when Formula One comes together and shows what it really is – the most competitive and inclusive team sport in the world.
Last Sunday, the boys in silver in the pit-lane delivered a rather special performance. In a race that featured a total of 65 pit stops, there were just nine under 21 seconds – that’s a rate of 14 per cent. If these nine, five came from the MGP crew – in other words, the majority.
Indeed, the team produced the three fastest pit stops of the race: 20.575 (Nico, lap 12); 20.665 (Nico, lap 24) and 20.667 (Michael, lap 9). What’s more, that 20.665 was even more significant, because it enabled Nico to jump both Kobayashi and Barrichello in the pits: both rivals had a pit-lane time of over 22 seconds, and it saw Nico emerging ahead (albeit wheel to wheel with Kobayashi) as they left the pits and raced to the Safety Car line.
Indeed, even taking into account a slower second stop for Michael – when he had the luxury of pitting under the Safety Car delta, with his nearest challenger a good way behind – the team delivered the fastest average pit-stop time of the whole weekend (21.03 seconds) for the fourth time this season, and the second race in a row. Great pit-stops symbolise everything that’s great about how an F1 team comes together – nice job, guys!
After a typical day of fine-tuning on the setup on Friday, Michael once again took a strategic approach to his qualifying session on Saturday, being one of the four cars not to set a lap time in Q3. This put Michael in 7th place on the timing screens, before Kobayashi ended-up being promoted to 7th as the Japanese driver actually started a flying lap, which Michael didn’t after getting caught in traffic and drivers jostling for position at the end of his out-lap. Michael crossed the line less than a second after the end of the session… so it was close!
After a clean start to the race, which almost saw him overtake Webber around the outside of the first two corners, Michael ran in seventh place for most of his first stint, his pace around half a second off that of Massa and Webber among the top six (mid-1.41s’). After his first stop on lap 9, Michael made his way back up through the field, stopped again on lap 24, stayed put while most of the cars around were stopping for the second time.
Michael even led the race for three laps before his third stop for the first time since… Suzuka 2006! The Safety Car period fell nicely for Michael – the cars ahead of him had all begun their third stints on the option tyres, while he had stayed out to gain an advantage towards the end of the race. He pitted under the Safety Car, fitting his set of brand new options, and then closed up to the back of the pack.
In that stint, Michael ran 17 laps on his option tyres, and set the platform for beating Massa. Indeed, he emerged after his third stop less than a second behind Hamilton – a few tenths away from a potential fifth place. But he had the pace to hold off the Ferrari, even though Massa remained within DRS range for much of the fourth and final stint.
All in all, a great race from Michael, maximizing the potential of the car once again, scoring his third top six finish in four races and scoring 8 valuable points for him and the team.
Sadly for him and the team, Nico’s qualifying session went wrong quite early in Q1, when the team detected a hydraulic problem on his car. Even though the mechanics did their best to fix it in time, Nico couldn’t complete a lap and therefore “qualified” 23rd on the grid. Always trying to find positive in every situation, Nico knew he had a least one advantage over his competitors – A LOT of brand new tyres!
Nico had a great start on Sunday and was already running 15th by lap 10, on a track notoriously challenging when it comes to overtaking. Starting on the harder compound, Nico stopped on lap 12 and put his head down for most of the race.
The Safety Car clearly didn’t come at the right time for him, but Nico made the most of his opportunities, gained 13 positions during the course of the race and finished in a solid 10th place, bringing a point home.
Even though his personal hope was to finish in 8th place, Nico delivered a solid race, and took the 3rd fastest lap of the race (1.36.614). He also somewhat downplayed what he called “some nice overtaking moves” after the race – his move on Di Resta, through the high-speed and high-G Dunlop corner, was certainly… manly!