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2011 F1 China GP – Qualifying

Well, this was a strange one! But at least the TV commentary by Martin Brundle and David Coulthard was faultless today. More than can be said for quite a few of the Teams’ qualifying strategies. Quali 2 was appallingly badly managed by quite a few teams.

There was a time when drivers in F1 Qualifying sessions made one run as a “Banker” lap, and one lap as a “Banzai” lap. The idea was that you got a time without doing too much damage or having an accident by being careful. With this fast but safe-ish lap in the bag, you’d then go on to try and blitz the circuit and put a great single lap together in the relaxed knowledge that if anything happened in the session (stoppage, mechanical failure etc) you would have at least a half decent place on the grid. Damon Hill was really good at these hot laps, and just before a quick lap he went into the ‘zone’ where focus and concentration are elevated to a different level of consciousness, and his stare through the slit in his crash helmet became so famous it was made into a T shirt!

This year with soft tyres designed to degrade quickly, getting in two hot laps in requires two sets of tyres, so many teams opted for just one run. Renault were one of these, and left it very late before sending Heidfeld out to do his only full lap of Q3. By the way, David Coulthard, it’s pronounced FELD, not FIELD (in fact, it’s almost FELT if you’re a German speaker). Only problem was for Heidfeld was his team mate, Vitaly Petrov, strangely came to a halt out on the track at a time when six or seven drivers were completing their last hot laps too. Petrov was OK – he was through to the Q3 shoot out. Heidfeld and the others, however, were not and Heidfeld then didn’t take part in Q3 at all. A shame because the Renault’s had been showing great pace all weekend.

Heidfeld did get a lot further than Mark Weber though, poor guy. Marks’ car is such a pile of junk: broken shock absorber in first race of the year, broken KERS at second, and someone not warming the tyres correctly today is too many coincidences for me. Someone at Red Bull wants to give Vettel a big lead this year, with no threat from his team mate. I’m not saying the Red Bull management feel this way, but it is very strange that all these mechanical issues have consistently affected Mark’s car alone, while Vettel has got three poles in a row. Conspiracy theorists start here.

Someone else on a hattrick today was the impressive Paul di Resta. Last year’s DTM champion, I have the feeling he was written off by some pundits as ‘just coming from touring cars’ but DTM isn’t some weak namby pamby series like the BTCC; it’s full on, high tech, high performance cars. It’s very technical and you have to be really good to succeed at it, as DC found out to his cost when he had a go at it not so long ago. He was gracious enough to admit today that he “couldn’t get near them!” when talking about his established DTM rivals.

Paul di Resta is an interesting fellow to watch though: mark my words, he’ll be in a top team before long, and has the potential to be a Champion. Having said that, he hasn’t really come up against significant intra team competition yet. I don’t rate his team mate, Adrian Sutil that much. Sure, he’s faster than me, but he was regularly outclassed by his ageing teammate Fisichella, often by as much as a second or more per lap in qualifying the Force India. After Fisichella left he looked good because he was against Liuzi. ‘Nuff said.

So far di Resta has beaten Sutil in every department though, comprehensively. His test will come when he has a teammate more on his level I believe. In some ways di Resta reminds me of the late, great Jim Clark. Quietly spoken, shy, very well mannered, and amazingly fast. He has outclassed Sutil at every race so far, and despite this being his first visit to this track and his car only working for two out of three practice sessions, he drove so well he qualified for his first ever Q3. You certainly wouldn’t think he was a rookie, he has the air of a great team leader. Unlike the drivers that entered ‘The Zone’ just for those very fast laps, di Resta appears to live his entire life in it!

If di Resta moved teams, who would be a natural choice? Well, obviously I’m speculating here, but Renault might be interested, as could McLaren (when Button retires mind you) and there’s always Mark Webber’s place at Red Bull to consider if they don’t pay more attention to sorting out Webber’s car’s mechanical issues. He could easily end up at Ferrari too, if Massa doesn’t perform.

On TV I thought Martin Brundle and DC did a really good show today. Their warm friendship is beginning to shine through the airwaves, and Brundle’s talk of missing the action because he was reading the stats and race notes was a nice touch I thought. Shows a human touch. At this rate they’ll soon be up to the standards of Anthony Davidson and his Radio Five Live colleague. Just joking boys – TV’s different to Radio… Anyway, it looks very much like the works Mercedes Team has a chance to avoid more embarrassment with slow Schumacher because Rosberg got 4th. I like him. Just get’s on and does it, beats the opposition.

So, not long to go now, time for a bit of shut eye I think. But for heaven’s sake, Jake, if you mention Paul di Resta’s birthday more than once during the race commentary I’m going to scream! lol! I think he mentioned it at least three if not four times during the transmission. Oh well, perfection isn’t perfection because it’s easy.

Worst thing? The new Guantanamo styled orange driving suit for McLaren (or is it just for DC?). Awful colour.


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