There are no two ways about it, the
European Grand Prix at Valencia
on Sunday was relatively lacklustre and there will be a lot of comments this week about how boring Formula 1 has become.
But the facts are that there has not been a dud F1 season since 2004 and this certainly isn't one of them.
We have been spoiled by the championship shoot-out of last season and even more so by the sensational first seven races of 2011, which, with the exception of Valencia, have all been thrilling regardless of Sebastian Vettel's domination.
Valencia was the least exciting race of the season so far. But I can remember several seasons of F1 when we would have been celebrating a race in which the top three were covered by a handful of seconds for most of the race, where the second and third-placed drivers kept swapping positions, and the midfield action was frantic until the final corner.
ANDREW BENSON'S BLOG
“It looked relatively close for a while in Valencia, but the suspicion remains that Vettel is going only as fast as he needs to a lot of the time”
The Valencia Street Circuit, as it is officially called, has never really been a big hit with drivers and fans. It nominally has 25 corners but many of those are simply curves. There's not a truly fast, high-lateral-force corner, the track is more point and squirt on the throttle, with eight traction zones which punish the rear tyres.
I have commentated on each of the five races there and I still struggle to immediately identify the corners on much of the track. It is all swoopy curves and identical walls.
The supporting GP2 and GP3 races tend to be wild and exciting there, largely because there are so many incidents and wild overtakes.
These are young bucks driving for their career in identical cars in the remote hope that they will make the final leap into F1, just as the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov have done.
In the more structured 24-car world of F1, with the best drivers and engineers, it is often calmer, as we saw on Sunday.
The DRS drag reduction rear wing overtaking aid had two activation zones on the two long back straights of the 3.3-mile layout, and like many I was concerned that overtaking would be too easy. It wasn't.
There was a cracking move by Fernando Alonso on Mark Webber using DRS, along with several others. Considering there have been a total of 13 race passes in the previous two years that must be considered a success in some ways.
The track temperature was up at 47C and before the race I heard the words "it's all about the rear tyres" several times, and so it proved to be.
Up front, Vettel was playing his usual smart hand of going just fast enough, and no more.
Best race so far - Webber
He has found a style and rhythm with the Pirelli tyres that team-mate Webber is just latching on to. Meanwhile, Alonso is beginning to evolve the Ferrari and his driving style to take the challenge to Vettel.
Webber has definitely found some form again and he held second initially. But, with easily the best start/launch combination, Ferrari were running a comfortable third and fourth, and as expected were also being pretty kind to their rear tyres.
Alonso threatened to challenge for the lead when he passed Webber but never quite had the pace and had to settle for a solid second. Like several other drivers he is confirming the apparently inevitable and
conceding the championship
. And that's from Mr Eternally Optimistic himself.
It was a relatively miserable day for McLaren and Mercedes.
Hamilton would pit, then fly around the track at great speed until his rear tyres quickly cried enough. He managed a solid fourth but there would be no heroics or controversy from him. The race missed his attacking style as the traction zones and long straights seemed to hurt his car.
Jenson Button in the sister McLaren had a poor start and lost out to Nico Rosberg's Mercedes.
By the time Button was past he was 12 seconds off the lead and proceeded to have a very lonely afternoon. Sixth place was his reward and he was pretty downbeat after the race.
McLaren drivers demand upgrades
Rosberg came home seventh, which is all that car was going to achieve. After his impressive race in Canada, Michael Schumacher in the other Mercedes had a clumsy front wing busting contact with Petrov - again - and would finish 17th.
Probably the drive of the race was by Jaime Alguersuari, who delivered eighth place in his two-stopping Toro Rosso. Sauber's Sergio Perez stopped only once on his way to 11th place, which looked crazy but was ultimately successful. Although he didn't score any points, which a two-stop strategy may well have remedied.
For only the fourth time in F1 history all the starters finished the race, and it was the highest ever number of finishers at 24.
Reliability is certainly spectacular now but this of course stops any race surprises. What it does do is create loads of traffic for the leaders to negotiate and we saw many waved hands in anger through the race.
Surprisingly, it is only the second time that Vettel has completed the pole, fastest lap, and victory hat-trick in his F1 career.
He now leads the championship by more than three victories, with a 77-point advantage. He could join David Coulthard and me in the commentary box for the next three races and still be leading the championship at the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August.
"That's what we're talking about," as the 23-year-old German often says over the radio. With all due respect, I would prefer to be talking about something else at Silverstone for a change.
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