As Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull rolled to a halt in Valencia you could have been forgiven for thinking his was a team in crisis.
A near-certain win was gone, and team technical genius Adrian Newey threw his head into his hands as Vettel trudged back to the pits with a face looking a decade older than his 25 years.
But it is Red Bull’s rivals who should be lying awake at night.
At the European Grand Prix Red Bull introduced a technical update to the rear of its cars so small most fans would fail to notice. It helps direct the exhaust gases from the engine under the car’s floor behind the rear wheels, creating extra downforce and helping the car stick to the road in fast corners.
Formula 1’s rule makers thought they had outlawed such trickery when a device called the ‘exhaust blown diffuser’ was banned for this season.
Autosport magazine’s technical analyst Gary Anderson reckons Red Bull’s new update has clawed a small part of the downforce back. Given that this year’s field is tighter than ever, he argues, that’s critical.
Vettel qualified on pole in Valencia by a comfortable margin of 0.3 seconds, a speed advantage which jumps into perspective when you think the top 14 runners were separated by just one second.
After a flawless title-winning campaign in 2011 Vettel has suffered a scrappy start to this year and goes to Silverstone fourth in the championship.
If he can translate that speed advantage to pole who would count against him driving into the sunset on Sunday, just like he did 11 times last season?
In 2011 it appeared as if McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton could not complete a race without crashing into someone, usually Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
This year he has been calmness personified.
Hamilton openly talks about his target of finishing every race high up to mount a credible championship assault rather than the victory-or-nothing approach we have seen in the past.
Or at least that was the plan until Valencia.
On tyres which had given up their grip Hamilton was punted into the barrier by Venezuelan hardman Pastor Maldonado, who rightfully picked up a penalty.
But it was a fight he was always going to lose, and the new improved Hamilton should have known better.
McLaren team mate Jenson Button still seems sorely lacking answers about why he cannot get the latest generation of Pirelli tyres to survive through a race while running quickly.
At a recent sponsor event to launch a notional “London Grand Prix”, Button shrugged his shoulders went asked about his recent struggles but said he remained positive about his prospects for Silverstone.
The idea of a London Grand Prix sound great on paper, but it is hard to see a 5km race around some of the UK capital’s most famous landmarks happening. There is the massive disruption to overcome, not to mention the resealing many of London’s roads would need.
Still, Bernie Ecclestone helpfully chipped in, suggesting he would pay part of the costs of hosting the race.
The Spanish bank which sponsors McLaren and floated the London race idea will have welcomed a handy boost in publicity.
|De Villota is the daughter of former F1 driver Emilio De Villota and was appointed test driver of Marussia in March [EPA]|
Formula 1 has not had a female driver since Giovanna Amati unsuccessfully tried to qualify for a handful of races in 1992.
This season the Marussia and Williams teams have hired female test and development drivers as the sport takes small steps toward addressing the gender imbalance.
On Tuesday Spain’s Maria de Villota was badly hurt testing for Marussia at a disused airfield in the UK.
She had been performing a shakedown test, driving the team’s MR01 back and forth in a straight line.
The 32-year-old is reported to have crashed into the vehicle lifting tray at the back of a truck used to transport her race car.
The tray appeared to be at crash helmet height, leaving de Villota with head and facial injuries.
Formula 1 safety has improved massively since the sport’s last fatality, the death of Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna in 1994, but the driver’s head remains a vulnerable areas.
Protecting it completely in an open cockpit race car is extremely difficult without enclosing the driver in a bubble of safety glass, an idea the sport’s governing body the FIA has recently tested.
In any case de Villota is desperately unlucky to have been hurt in a low speed crash at a low-key test session miles from a race track.