Sunday, 17 November 2013

1975 Dutch Grand Prix - Zandvoort

June 22, 1975

Lord Alexander Hesketh was a larger-than-life extrovert who enjoyed a considerable inheritance and had a good time spending it. Always a racing enthusiast, he was a friend of Anthony "Bubbles" Horsley, who was having little success in Formula 3 in the 1970s.

At the same time, James Hunt's career as an F3 driver was heading rapidly downwards on the day in 1971 when Bubbles Horsley sought him out. Both men were taking part in an F3 race at Chimay in Belgium, and the encounter took place in the tent that passed for the gents' toilet in the middle of a muddy field. Hunt rapidly agreed to drive one of the horrid Dastle F3 cars which Horsley was running for his friend Hesketh. After both Hunt and Horsley wrote off their F3 cars in the middle of the 1972 season Bubbles gave up driving and concentrated on team management. For 1973 Hesketh bought a Formula 2 Surtees, but James shunted it in testing and the good Lord decided he might as well go the whole hog and rented a Formula 1 Surtees. Hunt was third in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and Hesketh decided it was time to forget about the junior ranks. He ordered a new March and managed to persuade one of March's young brains, Harvey Postlethwaite, to design a new car, working from Hesketh's Easton Neston estate.

James & Suzy: fit Hesketh to a tee.
In that first year Hesketh Racing was looked on with something approaching scorn by the Establishment. They partied everywhere, taking butlers, champagne and Rolls Royces wherever they went. Memories burn bright of the pranks and excesses in which Hesketh's band of Hooray Harrys indulged. They invited rock stars and celebrity chefs to the races (just as today's far more staid F1 teams do). Bubbles, well ahead of his time, drummed up financial support by offering a range of knick-knacks and clothing emblazoned with a jolly Hesketh teddy bear.

For all of the team's frivolity, Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite proved to be an ambitious and ingenious chief engineer. In 1974 Hesketh's money enabled him to design his very first Grand Prix car, the Hesketh 308. And it proved to be a winner.

As it happened that crowning achievement came at the most unlikely of places. 

Anyone who was paying attention at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix, could be forgiven for wondering why anybody but Ferrari bothered coming to Holland. The previous year's race had been a complete walkover for the Scuderia and pre-race testing in 1975 had suggested that whatever were the magic combination of ingredients inside the Maranello cars that made them particularly well suited for the Zandvoort circuit, had not been lost. Any lingering stubborn optimist must have lost all hope well before the end of official practice, when the time sheets showed the Ferraris still supreme by an almost ridiculous margin. Niki Lauda was firmly on pole position with his team-mate Clay Regazzoni second, Hunt third and Jody Scheckter (Tyrrell) in third.

1975 Dutch GP: Lauda and Ferrari seemed unbeatable.
On race day the skies were dark and cloudy, and there was a heavy downpour prior to the start. As race time approached, the rain had let up and actually stopped. The sky was still dull, the visibility was still low, the wind was still blowing, but nobody knew what would it bring. However, with the light resumption of rain, everyone firmly decided on wet tyres. Then they went to the line.

Lauda got off well, Regazzoni lagged, Scheckter started perfectly. The Tyrrell had to jink left by the Ferrari which put it onto the wet grass at the roadside for a few metres and Jody had to lift off. As the thundering, splashing horde arrived at the first corner it was still Niki in front. Scheckter did get into second, Hunt was on the inside and probably third from Regazzoni, and then it was impossible to sort them out.

It was in fact very wet around the circuit, and faced with dense spray of churning water everyone very quickly settled into a single file formation with breathing space up to the next man. They completed their first lap, Lauda and Scheckter, and then Regazzoni who had stayed third from Hunt after all; Jochen Mass (McLaren) was next, then Tom Pryce (Shadow), and Emerson Fittipaldi (McLaren) with Carlos Reutemann (Brabham) alongside, overtaking the Brazilian into Tarzan at the start of the second lap.

The rain was over almost immediately. More quickly than seemed possible the surface of the road lost its sheen, the comets of mist dwindled, and within only a half a dozen laps a dry line started to form.

Hunt was the first to make up his mind to stop. It was a bold decision to make, because although the racing line may have been dry enough for slicks you had only two very narrow dry strips in which to run and if you went only a few inches off line you were on the wet. But there is an obvious advantage in getting power down through smooth tyres on a dry surface as soon as possible, and at the end of the seventh lap James boldly broke away from his forth place and veered into the pits. He rejoined in 19th place. After that it was wholesale, with runners diving for the pits in large groups. Lauda held on to his lead until the end of the 13th lap, before relinquishing it to Regazzoni; the pitwork at Ferrari was good and he rejoined the string of mixed up cars just as Hunt was coming by, but the difference in speed sent the Hesketh ahead through Tarzan.

When Regazzoni pitted and all else was sorted it was James who was leading the race. That vitally prompt decision to change tyres had paid off. The seconds he'd gained running in those two narrow dry strips, had made all the difference. He was ahead of the fearsome Ferrari by about 10 seconds. Now the thing to watch was whether he could hold it at that. 

1975 Dutch GP: Hunt's inspired pitstop gave him the edge.
What nobody knew, what everyone had to wait and see about, was how well everyone was suited to the rapidly drying conditions. Hesketh had chosen to set the car up for dry conditions. So now, as it went their way, their driver found his car responding properly and he was fast. Ferrari however had chosen more of a compromise, and their overwhelming speed advantage had gone. Lauda was still quick, but not really quicker than anyone else now. Besides, there was Jean-Pierre Jarier (Shadow) who was right on the Ferrari's tail, and was running very strongly. After a couple of laps weighing things up, Jean-Pierre pulled by. Niki did not give up, he gave chase instead. As hard as he knew how he pressed Jarier, and the two of them became a familiar sight as lap after lap they appeared at the head of the pit straight still locked in tight one-two formation. All the while Hunt was holding his place out in front.

Lauda, after 43 laps of the race, managed finally to scratch by Jarier at the end of the straight and quickly broke free of the Shadow. With that it became only a two car race,  Hunt against Lauda, nobody else looking like challenging them. It ws only a matter of seeing if the Ferrari could come good and catch the Hesketh. And it didn't look like it for a while. For lap after lap the interval stayed steady enough to hearten the English squad. Eventually the gap did begin to decrease, though it seemed to be shrinking not on speed at all, but on speed through traffic. 

Immense Pressure: Hunt maintains his composure and wins.
Hunt was losing ground to Lauda, little by little. He was having troubles with backmarkers, and knots of them were occasionally costing him the odd second or two. Lauda did close up, and for many long laps at the closing stage of the race was nose to tail and looking for the slightest error. The confidence of many Grand Prix victories under his belt, the ease of a comfortable championship points lead sweetening it, he could afford to wait for "Hunt the Shunt" to goof.

But James didn't goof. He never put a wheel wrong, he never missed a step in his pattern. As the last five laps began he even began to press harder, and the Hesketh actually drew out a little from the Ferrari. Quicker round the fast bends at the back, quicker along the straight, losing ground only in the slow corners now, Hunt came out on to the straight for the 75th time still having made no error. The final corner accomplished, he ran down the straight and took the chequered flag not quite a second to the good. The Hesketh pit exploded.

It was a popular victory. It was a hard fought, clean, worthwhile victory too, one that will always stick in the mind - and that "Hunt the Shunt" and the merry men of Hesketh had stopped the Ferraris was not the least of it!

British motor racing owes a debt to James Hunt for putting the sport on the front page as well as the back. He was helped there by the antics of Lord Hesketh's band of party animals, and by other acts of personal mischief. But the playboy was also an inspired driver who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and how hard he would have to work. 

As for Lord Hesketh, Zandvoort was to be the only Grand Prix win for Hesketh Racing. He had always run his cars without commercial backing but even he did not have bottomless pockets and 1976 was looking a bit dubious. Hunt was now in demand and, when Fittipaldi unexpectedly left McLaren, to set up his own operation, James was given his seat and went on to win the 1976 Championship after an epic battle with Lauda. Without a driver of Hunt's calibre on the books, the motivation of the early days were gone and Hesketh Racing wound down, concentrating on servicing customer Cosworth engines for a time. One of the great chapters of classic British racing romanticism was at an end. 

Not all Fun and Games: Hunt give Hesketh it's only victory. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

1992 Monaco Grand Prix - Monte Carlo

    May 31, 1992

For the first time in a long time a Honda engine wasn't enough. Not even a Honda engine with Ayrton Senna sitting in front of it. After only 10 of the season's 16 races, Nigel Mansell would equal Senna's record of eight victories in a season. The Williams-Renault FW14B, "active" suspension and all, exerted a greater superiority over the rest than anyone could remember. McLaren, and all the others were not beaten in 1992. They were routed. 

Nigel Mansell: Williams-Renault
Coming into the race at Monte Carlo, Mansell had dominated the season to date, winning the first five races, a feat unequalled in Grand Prix history. He carried this form into qualifying, taking a comfortable pole position with team-mate Riccardo Patrese second and Senna third. At the start Mansell fairly leapt off the grid, moving smartly left to discourage any thoughts Patrese might have entertained about going for the lead. Riccardo, indeed, was not even second by the apex of the first turn at Ste Devote. "Monte Carlo is the hardest place in the world for overtaking," Senna commented later. "Even at the start you can't do it, unless you're really squeezing it. I went for it at the last moment, so as not to give Riccardo any indication, because otherwise he would have closed the door. I got into second place that way, but the problem was to stop the car before Mansell turned in, because I was coming so quickly I thought he might not have seen me. But it was a good manoeuvre, and the only way I had to make a place. if Patrese had been ahead of me out of the corner, I doubt I would ever have got past him."
Ayrton Senna: Mclaren-Honda
Michael Schumacher (Benetton) also got ahead of Jean Alesi (Ferrari) in the opening seconds, but on the run down to Mirabeau the Ferrari moved by the Benetton once more. After one lap, it was Mansell, Senna, Patrese, Alesi, Schumacher, Gerhard Berger (McLaren), Martin Brundle (Benetton), and Ivan Capelli (Ferrari).

Already it was clear that only some misfortune separated Mansell from his first victory in Monte Carlo. At around a second a lap, the Williams pulled away from Senna, who was now coming under pressure from Patrese. "I knew," Senna related, "there was no way to catch Mansell. Impossible, with the superiority of his car. At present we are not in a condition to win, and neither is anyone else. So what I tried to do was go hard enough to be in position to benefit if anything happened to Mansell, but still try to conserve my tyres - particularly in the early laps, on full tanks." After a while Senna began to lean on his tyres a little more, pulling a little way clear of Patrese. If he couldn't remotely keep Mansell in sight, at least he wanted the gap to be of manageable proportions. "I couldn't think of beating him, of course, but you never know what will happen at Monaco. Already in the early race I was planning for the late race ..."

Seemingly lost cause: Senna maintains pursuit of Mansell 
As Mansell continued to go away at a second a lap, it looked a forlorn hope, but Ayrton was right in his thinking. And at least, for the first time that year, he was betwen the Williamses, rather than behind them. Further back, Alesi and Schumacher were involved in what may be termed as a torrid duel for fourth and splendid it inevitably was, given the mentality of the two youthful chargers. You had the impression the Benetton was quicker, but Alesi wasn't for losing his position.

For Mansell, all was silky smooth. At this point he was almost 10 seconds ahead of Senna, and Patrese was dropping back from the McLaren. Such excitement as there was continued to come from Alesi and Schumacher; on lap 12 they made contact at the Loews Hairpin, when Michael tried to force through a gap not quite as wide as a Benetton. Jean all but spun at the exit, but gathered it up, and duly maintained his fourth place. Schumacher seemed to have gotten through the tussled unscathed. For Alesi though, the consequences were more serious. There was damage to the Ferrari's gearbox, which ultimately caused its retirement, on lap 29.

Now began a long period during which there was little on which to concentrate apart from the redoubtable Schumacher. Once Alesi's Ferrari was out of the way, and he had a clear road before him, he quickly began to think about Patrese's third place. Down and down the gap came, until by lap 40 the Williams and Benetton were running together. Patrese was an old campaigner, though. This was his 16th Monaco GP, and over time he had learned a lesson or two about the place. "I must say my car wasn't fantastic. There was a lot of oversteer, and it got worse through the race. So I was very busy when Schumacher caught up to me, and you could say I used my ..... experience to keep ahead of him."

Now we had status quo for a long time. Mansell serenely led, once in a while setting a new fastest lap, as if to keep his concentration alive. Generally the lead over Senna was around 20 seconds, Ayrton continuing to drive hard, but only in the hope that something untoward would befall the Williams in the late stages. On lap 60 the pendulum looked to swing even more definitively Mansell's way, for on that lap his lead was suddenly out to 30 seconds. At Mirabeau Michele Alboreto (Footwork), recently overtaken by Brundle, had spun, momentarily blocking the track. Next man through was the World Champion. "I just managed to stop," Senna said. "Maybe half a metre from him. I didn't dare to move, to go around him, because he was moving himself. So I waited there a few seconds until I could get by. I lost maybe nine seconds, which was a little bit disappointing. Still, all I could do afterwards was push, push, push ...."

Status quo again .... until lap 71, when the pattern of the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix shifted fundamentally. Down to the chicane, and on toward Tabac, Mansell's Williams was off its familiar pace. It was slow progress for him to return to the pitlane and there he was fitted with a new set of tyres. A pitstop at Monte Carlo is a lengthy affair, necessarily so, given the tight entry lane. Even so, Mansell thought the tyre change tardy, and said so afterwards. As he reached the pit exit, Senna hurtled by. For the first time that year something other than a Williams-Renault was in the lead of a Grand Prix. What had happened to precipitate this late stop? In the tunnel, Mansell had a sideways moment, and concluded that probably he had a puncture, that he needed new tyres. But afterwards Goodyear said this was not the case. A wheel bearing then? "No" said Williams' Chief Designer Adrian Newey, "because if it had been, the replacement wheel would have been marked at the end of the race, and it wasn't." What, then? "Difficult to say," Newey commented. "It might have been a loose wheel nut, perhaps." Whatever, it brought Mansell in, and it lost him the lead. Now we had the prospect of a race at last, of the fastest car, on new tyres, chasing the man who had won Monaco for the last three years.

Change of fortune: Mansell hounds Senna through the chicane
Even given the problems of overtaking at this place, Senna looked vulnerable. On lap 72 he led the Williams by 5.1s; next time around it was 4.3s, but a shattering lap by Mansell, almost two seconds faster than any other driver's best, brought that down to 1.9s. With three laps to go, the two cars were together and it seemed inconceivable that Senna could hold on. All around the circuit Mansell jinked and bobbed behind the McLaren, darting this way and that, looking for a gap that Senna never left. "I didn't really know what to do," Ayrton said, "because he was coming so much faster than I could go. My tyres were finished. They'd been good all the way, but this was the end of the race, and the grip was gone. And I was tired, too, obviously. It was hell to push at that point. I knew he would try everything. I knew we would be in for a major war in the last three laps. It was exciting but very difficult because he was several seconds faster than me and I had no grip to put the power down. It was like on ice. Fortunately I only had three or four laps that way. On the straights, it was like a drag race, you know, wheelspin in third and fourth gear....."

Last lap: Senna resolute on the racing line, follow-the-leader through up the hill, Senna inside for the curve into Casino, Mansell slightly wider; tight together through potential passing places but Mansell fractionally too far away. Tight around the Loews Hairpin, Mansell braking so hard he drew smoke from the left front tyre; accelerating from the crown of Mirabeau so ferociously the Williams bucked.

The race now turned on the chicane after the tunnel. If Mansell could find enough momentum onto, through and out of the tunnel he might thrust past at the chicane. They entered the tunnel nose-to-tail and Senna maintained that on the flight to the chicane. Senna wrestled the McLaren through it. Along the harbour front Mansell swarmed, making a last inside-outside lunge into the twist of Rascasse, the left-right right before the finishing straight. Senna nursed the racing line and Mansell went wide, wide, wide to go around him. Not possible within the confines of Monaco. Senna won by 0.215 seconds.

Unrelenting pressure: Mansell glued to Senna's rear-wing
Admirably, Mansell didn't complain about the fight that Senna put in. "I must compliment Ayrton, because he pretty well second guessed every move I tried to do and he was very fair, he was perfectly entitled to do what he did, to defend his position," he said. "It was regrettable that the tyre change took a few seconds longer than usual, because otherwise I could perhaps have rejoined the race without losing the lead. Also, the new tyres were very cold, and it took a lap or two to come to pressure and temperature. I can't remember driving harder than in those last few laps."

It is always a special thing when the two best drivers of the day go hammer and tongs right down to the finish line. Of course the circumstances at Monaco were the only thing that allowed this duel to be what it was. Senna could not have put up such a defence on any other circuit. Nelson Piquet once said that racing around the streets of the tiny principality was like "riding a bicycle around your living room." However, Senna's absolute refusal to give up on the chance to win, no matter how remote that chance might have seemed early in the race. His stubborn determination to not allow himself to be demoralized into accepting second are what put him in a position to capitalize on Mansell's misfortune. There have not been many drivers in F1 who would have done the same and on that day Senna was rewarded, though he had to earn every inch of that victory. One which tied Graham Hill's record of five wins at Monaco. 

Mansell summed it up best afterwards, "We gave it everything we had and more ... you have the race under control for seven-eighths of a distance, then you pick up a puncture. That's Monte Carlo for you. Then you have to drive ten to eleven tenths, and I think we were both driving way over the limit on the last six laps." All of this was said as Senna sat looking at his hand with a knowing, satisfied smile on his face.

This was the day when the unstoppable force battled the immovable object and it surely was a clash of titans which will always be remembered as one of the classic Monaco Grands Prix.

Sheer determination: Senna proves that luck is what you make it

Saturday, 9 November 2013

2011 Canadian Grand Prix - Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

June 12, 2011

The Ferrari's undertray pivoted on the Turn 4 exit kerb - and so did the whole outcome of the race. Fernando Alonso had just left the pits in this crazy delayed event and it was crucial that he keep the advancing Jensen Button (McLaren), whose intermediate tyres were now up to temperature having stopped the lap before, behind. So they accelerated up to up to Turn 3 together, the red car and the silver one, neither man prepared to give way. As they touched inthe no-man's land where Alonso's outside line for Turn 3 would have become the inside of Turn 4, Ferrari right-rear against McLaren left-front, their destinies diverged.

Defining moment - Alonso's misfortune was Button's salvation.
Had the Ferrari merely spun rather than getting itself beached, there would have been no safety car and Button's long, slow crawl back to the pits on his punctures tyre and damaged nose while everyone else remained flat-out would have left this a lap down and that would have been that; a plucky drive back into the points if he was lucky, an awkward explanation of his earlier coming together with team-mate Lewis Hamilton. But out came safety car number three and so the pieces of Button's miraculous drive began to lock into place: two collisions, a puncture, five pitstops, a drive through penalty and rejoining dead last with half of the race gone. Unlikely circumstances for a victory, you'd have to say. But that one piece of luck combined with Button's magical touch in such changeable conditions, his calm head, that he was the only man able to get the slicks up to temperature on the menacingly narrow dry line, the McLaren's excellent mechanical grip, DRS (drag reduction system); all these things conspired and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) became, for once, a victim.

We had to wait for this gem of a Grand Prix. Wait a very long time, a two hour gap after 45 minutes of interrupted running. Standing water, heavy spray and concrete walls meant the first start came under the safety car. racing underway at the end of the fourth lap, Vettel sprinting off as was so familiar during the 2011 campaign, the two Ferraris in his wake. Immediately behind, on the run down to Turn 1 and the Virage Senna, Hamilton's impatience drew him into an implausible attempt inside of Mark Webber (Red Bull) who tried to give him room, but that space funnelled them rapidly down to contact, spinning both, as Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Button and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) passed by. Lewis was at least facing the right way and able to get going again in sixth. But Webber needed to spin turn and completed the lap in 13th.

Button got wide into Turn 3 and was immediately passed on either side by Schumacher and Hamilton. Next lap Hamilton tried for the outside of Schumacher into the hairpin, Michael seemed surprised to see him there, Lewis taking to the grass to avoid contact, getting onto the run-off, allowing Button to re-pass. Hamilton remained in touch with his team-mate and at the end of the seventh lap Jensen got a bit crossed up into the final chicane, making him very slow onto the start/finish straight and Lewis was upon him, catching, catching, trying to second-guess as he was neatly tucked up beneath the other McLaren's rear wing. He opted for the surprise move to the left - which certainly seemed to surprise Jensen as he eased the same way to take up the normal line for the approaching right-hand kink. Hamilton was pincered between the pitwall and Button's left-rear. Lewis' left-rear hit the wall hard and ricocheted him into Button who corrected a violent twitch. "What was he doing?" shouted Button over the radio. Lewis limped on until being told by the team to retire it as they could see suspension damage.

Jensen Button - doggedly fought on after a series of setbacks.
Hamilton's abandoned car triggered a safety car and Button used that as an opportunity to pit immediately for a go on the intermediate tyres. Further rain was holding off and a thin ribbon of a line beginning to form. This was the first time that the contemporary Pirelli wets had been raced, yet they seemed quite durable in such conditions but the track did now appear to be moving towards the intermediates, which would potentially be significantly faster.  Besides stopping at that point enabled a damage check to be made tot he car. Behind the safety car for four laps, Button circulated in 12th place and as racing got underway again, with Vettel sprinting away from the Ferraris everyone was watching Button's times very closely. But that information was delayed as Jensen had been called into the pits for a drive-through for exceeding the target speed during the safety car period. With the field still so bunched and the pit entry road before the speed limit line so fast, the penalty only cost him two places. Once past a couple of slower cars, Button began to fly on those inters.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes responded, bringing Alonso and Rosberg in from second and fourth respectively at the end of the 16th lap. Next time through Button was over a second faster than the leader, Vettel, who had the gap to Felipe Massa (Ferrari) out to over six seconds already. But there was a twist. The rain began to fall again. Red Bull and Ferrari realized it was better to keep Vettel and Massa out, still on their wets, but Mercedes stuck to their plan brought Schumacher in for intermediates.

On the 19th lap the heavens opened and the race once again went under the safety car, during which time the inters-shod Alonso, Rosberg, Schumacher and Button made corrective stops for wets, dropping them yet further down the order. Vettel, Massa and Webber stopped at this time too, changing their existing wets for new ones. After six laps under the safety car the deluge became yet heavier and the race was red-flagged. They lined up on the grid: Vettel, Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Massa, Nick Heidfeld (Renault), Vitaly Petrov (Renault), Paul di Resta (Force India), Webber, Alonso, Pedro de la Rosa (Sauber), Button, Rosberg, Schumacher. A two hour wait ensued as the storm passed.   

FIA safety car - a record six appearances.
Nine laps behind the safety car - and with everyone therefore on full wets - laid the introduction for the spectacular second instalment of this race. As Bernd Maylander set the pack free at the end of the 34th lap, Vettel was again master of the restart and his advantage quickly ballooned as Kobayashi tenaciously fended off Massa and Heidfeld. Schumacher had peeled off into the pitlane as soon as the safety car came in, changing immediately onto intermediates. It was an inspired call, made by Michael himself. Button and Heidfeld followed suit on the following lap but everyone else was rather more cautious with Kobayashi, Massa, Petrov, Webber, Alonso and Rosberg staying out until the end of lap 36. Vettel's leading margin and strong pace encouraged Red Bull to keep him out for yet another lap.

Alonso was dropped behind Rosberg at the stops and now, as he accelerated back into the fray, he was being caught by Button on intermediates that were fully up to temperature and set on scything past. That's when they touched, leaving Alonso fatefully beached upon the kerb. Yet another safety car, it fifth appearance, allowed Button with his punctured tyre to get back without being lapped. Vettel took the opportunity to pit for inters and got underway again without losing the lead. Three laps later and the race was back on and Vettel was comfortably away from the squabbling Kobayashi and Massa. Button at this point was a solid last, having not even quite caught the tail of the pack as the safety car came in. 

So with 57 percent of the race done, Vettel led and Button was last. The various safety cars had repeatedly trimmed back Vettel's lead, which he would confidently pull out, only to have his efforts wiped away. This had kept him within Button's reach, unlikely though that it looked at this stage. Button was on inspired form too and soon scything through backmarkers still closely-packed from the safety car. Meanwhile Vettel was doing the perfect job too, pulling away from Kobayashi at around 0.5s per lap, ensuring that he was looking after his tyres.

On the 46th lap race control allowed DRS to be enabled, judging that visibility was no longer an issue. Button was by now up to 12th and only 20s off of the lead because of the safety car and the relatively gentle pace that Kobayashi's Sauber was effectively imposing on everyone else, as Vettel simply gauged the gap back to him. However, Kobayashi oversteered wide out of Turn 8, and Massa went to his right but was baulked and Schumacher went to the left, passing them both in one move, promoting him up to second in the process. 

Just as this was happening Webber, unable to find a way by Heidfeld pitted for the super-soft dry tyres. On his second flying lap he was in the 124s, 3s faster than the leader, by which time Button had stopped and made the change too. Schumacher, Massa and Heidfeld followed him in a lap later. Vettel, Kobayashi and the rest pitted for their super-softs on the 53rd lap. Vettel still led courtesy of his earlier margin, from Schumacher and Webber, with a sensationally fast Button, who's leapfrogged Kobayashi and Heidfeld by his earlier stop, catching the top three as a huge rate. With 15 laps to go he was just 9s off the lead. And fate would smile on the Briton again. On lap 55 Heidfeld slammed into the rear of Kobayashi and with carbon debris from the Renault all over the track, the sixth safety car was deployed, probably just the last little bit of fortune for Button, wiping out much of his deficit.

It took five laps for the mess to be cleared and upon the restart Vettel was again up and away as Schumacher and Webber squabbled. Five laps into this restart Webber attempted to go down the inside of the German at the chicane, locked up and had to go straight-on. This compromised his speed on the following pit straight allowing Schumacher to stay ahead and Button to pass him. Now Button was all over the Mercedes and on the following lap used his DRS, KERS and long seventh gear to simply drive by Schumacher long before they reached the braking zone.

Relentless - Button closes on Vettel in the final stages. 
There were five laps left and Vettel was just 3.1s ahead of the flying McLaren. "I was probably too conservative after that last safety car," said Vettel, "and didn't open the gap enough when I could. I was just trying to hold the gap tot he cars behind, but then I saw Jensen come through." Too late, as it were. Seb realised he could not afford to let the McLaren get within the 1s DRS trigger zone and so began to turn on the pace. He was suddenly lapping 2s faster than before, and yet still Jensen was closing him down as the race built to a stunning crescendo.

Still Button came. On the penultimate lap he was close enough for the DRS to trigger, allowing him to have a look into the chicane but Vettel held his line. That's how they headed into the final lap, prey and hunter. Into Turn 6, the pressure finally told as Seb's left rear slipped onto the damp line and in an instant was oversteering. He gathered it up with an angel's hands, but Jensen was through and gone.

"This was 90 percent Jensen and 10 percent car," said McLaren's team principal, Martin Whitmarsh. "He had the confidence in these conditions to push and that got heat into the tyres that was elusive to others and it was just a of virtuous circle. His skill, calm, confidence and smartness today was just fantastic. That will go down as one of the all-time great grand prix win," and it was impossible to disagree. 

Only one can win - superb performances from two great champions.