Right at the end there, as Kimi, ‘Nando and Seb were having their candid camera moment above, the BBC’s Ben Edwards asked “what is Fernando Alonso thinking right now I wonder…?”. We’re pretty certain, as the Spaniard looked over his shoulder at the young German, he was thinking “how the hell did he ever get in here?” (Seb, meanwhile, was actually plotting a swearing contest on the podium).
In an afternoon with more stories than the last four races put together, it was almost possible to forget what Sebastian Vettel went through to finish third and pretty much make certain of a third world title. Starting in the pit lane, he picked up damage to his front wing in a squeeze with Romain Grosjean. But it didn’t seem to slow him down. Then during a safety car period, he knackered the other side of the wing in a bizarre encounter with the trackside DRS marker and that did, so in to the pits for an early tyre stop and new front wing and for a while after that, it looked like there was even a chance he might win the race, if he and the team wanted to gamble on taking the options further than they had ever been. But only just. Having gambled once this weekend and lost, Red Bull weren’t in the mood to gamble again and brought him in, only for a less than perfect pitstop. After that, and with another safety car, Vettel was on the freshest tyres in a car that was set up to pass people and that’s what he did. There was luck, a lot of cars were eliminated, and those two safety car periods, but wow, what a drive. Worthy of a champ.
Then again, you could say the same about Fernando Alsonso, second for Ferrari for a result that narrows Vettel’s lead to ten points, but still leaves it possible for Vettel to wrap it up next time out. Unless of course there is another twist in this extraordinary season. Don’t ignore the fact that today showed that on Scoring Sunday the F20121 is slower than the Red Bull, the McLaren and of course the Lotus.
Oh yes, out of the blue and just when it has seemed Lotus were not going to find that bit of edge, this happened. We were starting to wonder whether Kimi Raikkonen has lost it somewhere on the WRC (and that’s not just us, David Coulthard even suggested as much earlier on this afternoon…), yet he nailed it from a brilliant start that put him second to Lewis Hamilton. From then on in, he did it his way and God help any engineer that dared to phone in any advice. Of course he would not have won had McLaren not thrown away another win. It didn’t seem to bother Lewis much, but there’s someone in McLaren it will bother on top of all the other errors this season. Sooner or later heads will roll in Woking, mark our words. They should have had this year in the bag a long time ago. The worry is, with a B-Team next year of not-quite-fast-enough Jenson Button and not-quite-calm-enough Sergio Perez this could be the beginning of the dip.
Perez, like Maldonado and like Grosjean, was involved once again in accidents that may or may not have been his fault, but the kind of accidents the more experienced drivers don’t have (though an unusually uncool Mark Webber tried very hard today). Exciting stuff yes, but it doesn’t feel right to us. Something’s going to need to be done. We say ‘accidents’ but they were small prangs compared to the Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan smash, which once again had us all holding our breath as the bottom of and F1 car came very close to top of another drivers head.
Phew. It was that kind of afternoon, and a perfect antidote to the snoozy Indian outing and indeed previous iterations of this race. Lots in other words for TopGear to get its teeth into with our new Sunday Driver Rankings which we’ll publish after (a good) lunch tomorrow. On our radar for merits are Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta, for demerits Mark Webber and Felipe Massa. But don’t forget it’s about all the drivers except ‘Nando and Seb. So please give us your drivers for The Committee’s consideration. Remember, it’s all about who entertained us. And yes we know, just about everyone did this afternoon. Like we said, phew.