After all of the confusion, doubt and controversy surrounding the British Grand Prix and its move to Donington Park, it seemed crazy that one year on from what was to be the final event held at Silverstone, the Formula 1 circus headed to a revised former airfield for the first showing on the new Arena Grand Prix layout. Whilst the brand new pit building – dubbed the Wing, was yet to be completed, teams, drivers and fans alike were all very much happy with the changes to the famous circuit, which included some tricky new corners, more overtaking opportunities and one of the fastest sequence of corners in F1, to compliment the incredible Maggotts and Becketts sequence which already existed before.
The 2010 season had been somewhat controversial up until this point, and the British Grand Prix signalled the halfway point. Moveable aerodynamic devices (an innovation as opposed to the modern gimmick), team orders, intra-team battles and the severity of penalties were the main talking points. Nonetheless, the season was shaping up quite nicely to be an epic six-way bout between the two Red Bull Racing drivers, the two McLaren drivers and the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers.
Prior to the race, Lewis Hamilton (then McLaren) led team mate Jenson Button 127 points to 121. The two Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber followed just behind on 115 and 103 respectively, whilst Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa still lurked in their Ferraris. The 2010 British Grand Prix was already shaping up to be a key point in the season before any cars had turned a wheel.
There was one change in the 24-car field from the previous round at Valencia as controversially Bruno Senna was replaced by the somewhat hopeless Sakon Yamamoto. Red Bull, running a new front wing on both cars, absolutely annihilated the field in free practice, with Ferrari looking much stronger than at recent events.
The first key moment of the weekend occurred in Free Practice 3, as the new front wing on Vettel’s car failed. The team eventually decided to give the one other new front wing – which was on Webber’s car – to Vettel’s side of the garage. Unsurprisingly, this did not go down well with the Australian.
There were no shocks in Q1 as the six new cars and Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso were eliminated. Q2 did however see a big name eliminated as reigning champion and home favourite Jenson Button could only manage a lowly 14th in his McLaren. Oddly, six different teams had a driver eliminated in that session: Adrian Sutil (Force India), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Nico Hülkenberg (Williams), Button (McLaren), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Force India), Vitaly Petrov (Renault) and Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso).
Therefore in controversial circumstances, Vettel took pole position by just over a tenth from Webber. Alonso lined up third ahead of Hamilton. Nico Rosberg was a fine fifth for Mercedes ahead of Robert Kubica’s Renault, Massa, Rubens Barrichello’s Williams, Pedro de la Rosa’s Sauber and Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes. “I think the team is happy with the result today” was all that Webber could say in response to achieving his second place on the grid.
Vettel didn’t start brilliantly, and immediately defended from Webber. However, Hamilton made contact with the German and was given a puncture almost instantly. Vettel was not the only casualty early on, as Massa also suffered the same fate, albeit later around the lap. From then on, three cars from three top teams – Vettel, Button and Massa began to work their way through the field.
Alonso came under fire after passing Kubica whilst cutting Club corner, earning the Spaniard a drive-through penalty, which went undisputed. Alonso could not serve this penalty immediately, as a safety car was brought out after de la Rosa’s rear wing disintegrated on the Hangar Straight, bringing out the safety car. With the field bunched up, this sent Alonso tumbling down the order significantly. This cost Alonso a lot of points in a championship which went right down to the wire.
Luckily for Vettel, the safety car helped him quite a bit, putting him much closer on the circuit to the cars he had to pass. Eventually, Vettel managed to put right the critics who claimed he ‘cannot overtake’ and found himself scything his way into a strong seventh place. Alguersuari retired late on which did not help Vettel either, as his car was parked heading into one of the key overtaking spots on the circuit.
Meanwhile, at the front, Webber maintained the gap back to Hamilton all race long, and secured his first victory on soil which he is so fond of. “Not bad for a Number Two driver” became one of the most famous team radio messages in Formula 1 history at this moment.
Rosberg rounded off the podium for Mercedes on a weekend where others tripped up, ahead of Button salvaging fourth place. Barrichello took a fine fifth for Williams, ahead of Kobayashi, Vettel, Sutil, Schumacher and Hülkenberg rounding out the top 10. The Ferraris of Alonso and Massa could only manage 14th and 15th, although things looked better from a results perspective at the next event in Germany, but not from a sportsmanship one.
The notable change in the championship was that it looked as if it was Webber, as opposed to Vettel, who looked most likely to challenge the McLaren drivers leading the way, with Ferrari some way behind.