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Ted Kravitz - the European GP from the pit lane

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F1 Mole | 08:35 UK time, Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Mole welcomes BBC pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz to the blog to give his inside line on the European Grand Prix at Valencia

McLaren's pit stop

I hate to spoil a good story, but McLaren were correct when they said they would have lost the European Grand Prix even without the blunder at Lewis Hamilton's pit stop.

The key piece of information gleaned from the Brawn team at Valencia on Sunday night was that Rubens Barrichello pitted three laps early.

The McLaren pit crew change Lewis Hamilton's tyres at the 2009 European Grand Prix

The Brazilian's planned second stop was on lap 43, but as soon as his engineer Jock Clear was sure his driver would make it out of the pits in front of Hamilton, he called him in and got the job done.

As Clear put it: "We elected to bank it". He'd do well on The Weakest Link.

Had Hamilton's stop on lap 37 gone perfectly, Barrichello would still have had six laps to pull out a gap on Lewis. He was a second per lap quicker than the McLaren at this point, on low fuel and with the harder tyres still working well. It would have been easy - Barrichello would have beaten Hamilton out by more than two seconds.

Having said all that, it was a bit barmy of McLaren not to have Hamilton's tyres out in the pit lane as a precaution while they were working out whether they could run him a lap longer before his stop. Heikki Kovalainen - whose tyres were being readied, unlike Lewis's - wasn't challenging for the win and so wasn't really the main priority. I'll let you know after Spa if McLaren change their procedures to stop this happening again.


Brawn

I'm sure they'll get over it, but Brawn team members were a little disappointed that the perception of the European GP result was that of Hamilton losing the race rather than them winning it.

In any case, it was a very confident performance by Barrichello, if a little too laid back for some, in terms of how he managed the gap to the McLaren.

As Jock Clear explained after the race, even though Barrichello was in complete control of the situation, it looked like he was doing worse than he was, circulating a consistent four seconds behind Hamilton.

The Brawn GP team celebrate Rubens Barrichello's win in Valencia and race engineer Jock Clear clutches his trophy

Barrichello was doing this so he could run in some clean air, and not have his aerodynamics ruined by the turbulence of the McLaren (this is a really big problem, now, and is the subject of much discussion by the FIA technical and overtaking working groups).

But it made for some frayed nerves on the pit wall. If something went wrong, or if McLaren suddenly went quicker, Barrichello was giving himself a four-second mountain to climb.

That's why we heard the slightly concerned radio message from Clear: "I don't mind how you do this, Rubens, but this is how much time you have to make up." Just to make sure the driver knew what the score was.

It was an emotional day for Clear. Incredibly for one of F1's most experienced engineers, it was his first win since Jacques Villeneuve won the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix at the Nurburgring for Williams, almost 12 years ago.

Clear followed his Canadian charge to BAR in 1999, without much success. When Villeneuve left and the team became Honda, Clear switched to Takuma Sato. He has worked with Barrichello since he joined the team in 2006.

I guess that's just the way grand prix racing goes, but it was no surprise to see Clear clutching his constructors' trophy tightly in the paddock with some considerable pride.


Ferrari

The feeling at Ferrari on the Luca Badoer issue was very much one of: "Yes, it was as bad as it looked, but it was a big ask and he's going to be better in Belgium."

The full post-race interview with Rob Smedley, who is engineering Luca while Felipe Massa is injured, gave some more insight into how big a task Badoer had in front of him.

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Evidently the Ferrari F60 is a very complicated car to operate. There are many buttons and dials to turn and twist: Kers harvest and usage settings, brake balance and bias levers, fuel and oil pumps, front flap adjusts and the usual revs, throttle and mixture settings.

These demand a lot of spare capacity to think about all these control systems while driving the car on the limit at the same time, and there is also a complicated procedure to follow when a Ferrari driver comes into the pits.

There was a lot of sympathy within Ferrari for Badoer, but one gets the feeling they accept he's not world-class. And the feeling in the paddock was that unless he scores points in Spa, he won't be driving car number three much longer.

I went down to position 20 to sample the atmosphere around the car on the grid. Badoer must have found it quite familiar, given he was used to qualifying down there when he was at Scuderia Italia, Forti Corse and Minardi.

But the rest of the team could barely disguise their distaste for the back row. Michael Schumacher was there, too, ostensibly lending support and showing solidarity with Badoer, but with a look on his face that said: "I want to be somewhere else."

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel revealed the interesting cause of his refuelling problem: The rig suffered pressure failure within the fuel cell.

Since the fuel is delivered into the car at 12 litres per second, it needs to be pumped first into a big cylinder right in the middle of the rig. This cylinder is then pressurised with inert gas, and is 'primed', ready to pump fuel in.

But this last stage failed on the first rig, so only a small amount of fuel that was in the hose went into the car.

Formula 1 TV did a video about how the whole process works, coincidentally with Red Bull Racing, if you'd like to know more.


Williams

With the likelihood of Williams splitting with engine supplier Toyota next season, Kazuki Nakajima's time at the team may be drawing to a close.

Williams is effectively a one-car operation at the moment, with Nico Rosberg scoring all 29 and a half points as the English team try to overtake Toyota for fifth place in the constructors' championship.

I asked Kazuki on Thursday what his main problem was in the races, and he said that he was losing too much time in traffic. I couldn't pin down whether he meant he lost time letting other people through or lapping slower cars.

He seemed confident of scoring points soon. Williams desperately need him to.

As far as Williams's drivers for next year, Robert Kubica's name seems to be in the frame, alongside their German test driver, Nico Hulkenberg.

One might think Kubica would fit better as a star name to lead the Renault team, and he admitted to me on Thursday that they are on the list for consideration, but Williams may be a straightforward, no-nonsense option for the like-minded Pole.

And as every other team trims its budget to the levels Williams have been operating on for some years, Williams's ability to produce more bang for their buck should see them move steadily up the grid.

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