When the teams began testing without traction control, at the end of last year, most drivers were enthusiastic about the change, Lewis Hamilton and others commenting that being in sole control of the throttle, without the help of software, was extremely satisfying. Another who raved about the change was Rubens Barrichello, who had been in F1 for 15 years, and thus been through periods when traction control was and was not permitted, and knew very well which he preferred.
One or two drivers, though, were quickly on to the safety beat, suggesting that wet races would be considerably more dangerous without traction control, and among them was Felipe Massa, who clearly regretted its banning.
On race day at Silverstone Massa’s remarks came back to me, as he put in perhaps the most awful drive ever seen by a World Championship leader, spinning five times, and running dead last for most of the afternoon. In Ferrari’s post-race press release, Massa said, “This Silverstone weekend was one to be wiped out – I could hardly keep the car in a straight line, and it was very difficult to drive.”
It could be that, when they got it back to Maranello, Ferrari found something fundamentally awry with Felipe’s car, but if such were the case he made no mention of it after the race. In the course of the afternoon, his team-mate Räikkönen also had a couple of spins – but at least Kimi, the only man who ever looked like challenging Hamilton, was moving at a fair clip at the time.
One problem common to both Ferrari drivers was that, at their first stops (21 laps in), they took on fuel – but did not change tyres, instead staying on the same intermediates with which they started the race. At the same moment Hamilton, just leading from Räikkönen, took a new set of intermediates, and that would be crucial to the outcome of the race.
Within a few seconds it began to rain again, and whereas Kimi’s well-worn, increasingly slick tyres would have been ideal on a drying track, they were hopeless on an ever-more slippery one. Lewis, only narrowly ahead at the time of the stops, began to pull away at the rate of five seconds and more a lap, and the mystery was that Ferrari did not immediately call Räikkönen in again. By the time they did, on lap 30, Kimi was back in sixth place, and his afternoon was gone.
The following day Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo made his feelings very clear: “I hope we’ll manage to win our eighth title in 10 years, but we’ll only do it if we stop doing stupid things.”
How different might they have been, one inevitably wondered, if Ross Brawn had still been at the helm of Ferrari, rather than Honda? When Barrichello came in, on lap 35, it was raining again, and Ross had no hesitation in putting him on Bridgestone’s ‘extreme’ wets, reasoning that even if the rain didn’t last long, and Rubens had quickly to come in again, the amount of time he would make up in the monsoon conditions would more than compensate. Brawn was on the mark: Barrichello was soon lapping streets faster even than Hamilton, by lap 43 the only man ahead of him, and he would have finished second, too, had it not been for a fuel rig problem at his second stop.
As it was, Rubens still finished third, after a drive Ross rightly described as ‘magnificent’. Before the race, not too many would have bet on a Honda finishing ahead of one Ferrari, let alone both. One hopes that this will not prove to have been Barrichello’s last race at the circuit he has always adored.