It feels like a long time since we've seen such tight wheel-to-wheel racing by top drivers in F1. Here's an overanalysis of the conclusion of the laps-long Alonso vs Vettel battle at yesterday's British Grand Prix.
It's an interesting bit of driving because Sebastian Vettel is just coming off a streak of four world driver's titles at Red Bull. All through that time, his car was considered the very best in the field. And all through that time, Alonso was considered the very best driver in the field, perpetually stuck in a bad car. This season, Vettel's Red Bull is down on power, putting him and Alonso if not quite even in terms of their machinery, but much closer than ever before.
It's about as near as we're going to get to seeing who is the more skilled F1 driver.
The two drivers went after each other for a number of laps towards the end of the race. Alonso passed Vettel, and a few laps later (on newer tires), Vettel chased down Alsono. Vettel made many close runs on Alonso, nearly making it past on the outside of a couple of turns.
We pick up the action with the two drivers (with six world championships between them) coming out of the opening Aintree corner and barreling down the Wellington Straight at Silverstone. Vettel sits in sixth, Alonso in fifth, and there are five laps left to go in the race. You can follow along in the corners with this interactive track map right here.
The two seem very evenly matched, but Vettel gets DRS down the straight, pulling him ahead of Alonso. It looks like Vettel outbrakes Alonso.
As Vettel turns into the sharp left of Brooklands corner, however, Alonso cuts him off. The world champions very nearly collide, which would likely cut Alonso's tire, shatter Vettel's front wing, and end both of their weekends.
The two drivers ride through the left/right of Brooklands and Leffield. Alonso leaves just enough room for Vettel to sneak alongside the Ferrari as they head through Woodcote and onto the National Pits Straight.
How close are they? This close.
And that's how they stay, absolutely wheel to wheel. They run from over 160 to over 180 miles an hour inches from one another. Were one tire to hit another, the two cars would likely go flying. Literally. Earlier in that very race, two drivers bumped wheels and one car launched into the air.
The cars turn in to Copse. There's a bump leading into the corner, which makes it even more startling that the corner can be taken flat-out, with a five-G load.
Alonso brakes. Vettel spears ahead, fully committed, and screams past Alonso.
People talk about how modern F1 cars, pressed to the ground by huge downforce, corner with almost no visible drama.
Just look at Vettel's wheelwork through Copse. The car looks like it's squirming. He's countersteering and sliding almost all the way through the turn. This is with walls waiting eagerly on either side of the track at something above 175 miles an hour.
The Red Bull mechanics applaud, and the battle is over.
What's also interesting is that for all their steely commitment on track, the two drivers whined incessantly over the radio. Vettel bitched about Alonso cutting him off and not leaving room . Alonso screamed, screamed about Vettel putting all four wheels off the track limits. Vettel returned the favor and both drivers repeatedly instructed their teams to report each other to the race officials.
The whining on the radio, though, couldn't dim what the world saw on the track. The excellent Tifosi at Axis of Oversteer suppose that Vettel passing Alonso was inevitable, but the whole spectacle remains. It was, and this is something that's been hard to find in F1 over the past few years, pure driving.