During the 26-day period between the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix and the opening day of Belgian’s round (26th August), F1 personnel are entitled to at least 14 days’ vacation, with team bases shutting down totally – save for planned/preventative maintenance work, with only employees directly involved with such activities being on duty.
All forms of design, manufacturing and assembly are totally banned during that fortnight, with teams choosing their two-week vacation windows during the recess. Also banned are formal gatherings of personnel, with the system relying upon the goodwill and honesty of all concerned. Obviously there is no way of forcing engineers to switch off totally while sitting on some beach – or outlawing file sharing - but in the ten-odd years the system has been in operation there have been no known breaches.
Teams were hard at work developing parts and upgrades in the run-up to Hungary. With average lead times of around six weeks from drawing board to track testing for most components, and in-season testing totally banned on cost grounds, during the last race weekend teams tested parts destined for Singapore at end-September, and even beyond.
Thus there is little chance of the status quo changing much in Belgium and Italy, which is arguably a good thing for the sport, for Red Bull Racing’s early-season domination has certainly been eroded. The team has not won a race since Valencia at the end of June, with the sequence of wins since then being Ferrari, McLaren, McLaren.
However, Red Bull had pledged to push hard to regain lost ground, while before the break Stefano Domenicali, Sporting Director of PUMA’s partner team Ferrari, suggested there were more improvements to come from the red team after the recent wind tunnel upgrades. McLaren, too, has been hard at work of late.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, world champion in 2005/6, simply refuses to give up – even after all mathematical chances of a championship are gone – and Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari has certainly upped his game of late, as attested to by his fourth-place qualifying in Hungary, followed by fastest lap in the race.
While both titles may now be a long shot for Fernando and Ferrari, there are still eight races (of 19) remaining, and each represents a potential victory. Racing drivers exist to win races first, and championships second, on the basis that if enough races are won titles follow automatically. On that basis, the season is far from over.
Yes, Sebastian Vettel may reward Red Bull with a second title well before the final race in Brazil on 27th November, in the process adding the ‘youngest double world champion’ title to his already impressive list of ‘youngest’ accolades, but Fernando, Felipe, 24-year-old Vettel’s own team-mate Mark Webber and McLaren’s duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are unlikely to make it easy for him.
But, if there is a sobering thought, it is that only two European races remain in 2011, with the other six being in Asia (four), Middle East (one) and South America (one). Not long now and F1 will be leaving Europe for another year...