Monthly Archives: April 2012

Remembering Imola: Roland Ratzenberger: The forgotten soul

MY SPECIAL weekly series of Remembering Imola starts with a tribute to the career of Roland Ratzenberger: The forgotten soul of that ghastly weekend.  Whilst everyone understandably remembers the accident of Ayrton Senna and his legacy on the sport, it is difficult not to forget the impact Ratzenberger’s death had a day earlier – the first death in a Formula One racing car since Elio de Angelis perished in a testing accident at Paul Ricard, France in 1986.

Roland Ratzenberger was born in Salzburg, Austria on July 4, 1960.  Although the official records show this was his date of birth, Roland claimed that he was born in 1962 – in an attempt to help further his opportunities into motorsport.  From an early age his dream was to be successful in Formula One.  He began racing in 1983 in the German Formula Ford series and finished second in the 1985 Formula Ford festival at Brands Hatch.  A year later, his presence on the car racing scene first came to serious attention as he returned to Brands Hatch to win the prestigious festival.  It was clear that although he never looked like one of those racing drivers who would take your breath away, Ratzenberger had some quality and it is no accident for anyone to win these kinds of junior events.

Two campaigns in the British Formula 3 Championship followed but they bought little reward.  The Austrian’s career had suddenly got bogged down.  He spent time racing for BMW in the World Touring Car Championship and the British Touring Car Championship – but as the 90s dawned, Roland Ratzenberger’s dream of reaching his ultimate goal – Formula One, were all but over.

Ratzenberger was a very popular guy in any championship he contested and was friendly with most drivers, developing close friendships with JJ Lehto and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his junior days.  Ratzenberger seemed to have settled on a successful career in sportscar racing.  He had five cracks at the famous Le Mans 24 Hours race, finishing fifth for Toyota in 1993 alongside Naoki Nagasaka and Mauro Martini.  Toyota had signed him for the 1994 assault on the event too.  Sadly he would never make that destination and the car he was meant to take part in finished second in the hands of Martini, the late Jeff Krosnoff and Eddie Irvine.  Ratzenberger’s name was left on the car as a tribute.  He also worked out a successful career on the Japanese scene.  He competed in touring car events and in F3000, racing against the likes of Irvine and former Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve.  Again Roland’s results were mixed, but that also was down to some of the equipment he had rather than lack of driver skill.  A victory in the Suzuka round of the F3000 series in 1992 certainly caught the eye of some on the European circuit, especially as he still insisted that Austrian journalists should cover events that didn’t appeal to them.

In 1994, Ratzenberger signed up with Nick Wirth’s fledgling new Simtek team.  The inital deal was to run for five races, with a potential extension depending on performance and sponsorship.  This was despite the team’s link-up with music channel MTV.  He would join the Australian David Brabham, who had one season of F1 experience and was son of three-time world champion in the 50s and 60s, Sir Jack Brabham.  Things didn’t get off to a great start for Roland, as perhaps struggling through nerves and an old-spec Ford engine; he failed to qualify for the season opener in Brazil.  Three weeks later, he went to the TI Aida circuit in Japan which would stage the Pacific Grand Prix.  Ratzenberger was the only driver to have raced on the circuit before, a real help with his Formula Nippon experience.  Although he qualified slowest, he made it onto the grid and also finished the race, albeit in 11th place and five laps adrift of the race winner Michael Schumacher.

At Imola he looked set to qualify again, especially as Rubens Barrichello was out of the event after his shocking crash on Friday and Paul Belmondo’s lack of capability in performance for fellow newcomers Pacific Ilmor.  It even actually looked like he might be edging closer to his team-mate Brabham on genuine pace.  On Saturday 30 April 1994, Roland Ratzenberger went off the road at the Acque Minerali chicane.  Rather than choose the safer option of pitting to get the front wing checked, Ratzenberger went immediately for another qualifying attempt.  As he flew through the flat-out Tamburello kink, the aerodynamic forces weakened the front wing and it broke on the approach to the flat-out Villeneuve curve.  With no brakes and no front downforce, he had no chance.  Ratzenberger ploughed into the concrete wall flat-out at nearly 200mph.  The wreck of his Simtek Ford came to a halt in the middle of the Tosa hairpin and from the lack of flailing movement in the cockpit; Ratzenberger was clearly in big trouble.  The Italian marshals crowded around his car instantly, which highlighted the general concern, especially when the wreckage was surveyed.  Roland was taken to the Maggiore Hospital in Bologna, but was pronounced deal on arrival at the hospital.  His death was the first demise at a Grand Prix meeting for twelve years; Riccardo Paletti the last man to die in Canada in 1982.

Formula One was sent into shock.  Ratzenberger’s death bought about the reformation of the GDPA (Grand Prix Drivers Association).  Brabham and the Simtek team bravely decided to continue with the remainder of the weekend and the season, running a ‘For Roland’ tribute on their airbox for the remaining races.  For many it will be the death of Ayrton Senna that is remembered and rightly so, for his impact and genius on the sport.  However Roland Ratzenberger is the forgotten man on F1’s nightmare weekend of all-time.  He was full of determination, humour and desire to achieve his dream.  At least he got the chance to make the grid and race before his tragic accident.  His death was a grave loss to Formula One, Austria and of course, his loving family.

Eighteen years on, he will never be forgotten.

ROLAND RATZENBERGER (July 4 1960 – April 30 1994)

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Driver Performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix

WELCOME to my fourth driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir:

NICO ROSBERG

Buoyant by his Shanghai weekend, Nico Rosberg had a feisty weekend in Bahrain.  He looked very strong in Friday practice before a tiny error on his Q3 lap left him back in fifth.  A poor start left him fighting it out for ninth on the first circuit and what followed was some robust and dangerous defensive driving against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.  Got the most out of the Mercedes and fifth at the end might have been an even better result but fortunate to escape penalty for these manoeuvres.  6/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Complacency from both Raikkonen and Lotus in qualifying left him high and dry and out in Q2.  Starting from 11th, the Finn had more choice in tyres for raceday and his pace left him a contender to win.  Only a missed gear that cost him an early position to Felipe Massa and some reluctance in attacking Sebastian Vettel when he had his chance meant he lost out to the world champion.  He looked rueful on the podium but he shouldn’t be like that, second shows he means business for the remainder of the season.  9/10

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Some were beginning to doubt the world champion?  Those who did, flush your heads down a toilet seat!  Red Bull seemed to understand their new chassis in Bahrain and Sebastian was back to his flawless best.  Strong on Friday, he produced a metronomic pole position lap to deny Lewis Hamilton and then produced a great first lap to put himself out of danger from the DRS zone early on.  When Raikkonen reeled him in, brilliant defensive work kept Sebastian infront and then controlled the final stint to take a deserving and brilliant win, his first success since India last October.  10/10

JENSON BUTTON

McLaren had a very difficult weekend in Bahrain and Button looked off-colour throughout.  Fourth on the grid, he bogged down at the start and lost places to both Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean.  Had to battle with oversteer throughout but drove consistently and fifth place was a possibility.  Unfortunately a puncture blew the chance of a run at Paul di Resta and then an exhaust problem forced him to park the car in the garage shortly before the end.  6/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

Hamilton had a luckless afternoon and wound up back in eighth position through little, if any fault of his own.  He produced the maximum in qualifying to line up on the front row on a weekend where McLaren were not the fastest car for the first time this season.  Had no chance against Grosjean and two blunders at stops involving the right rear wheel cost him time.  Lucky to stay in the race following Rosberg’s dangerous chop and did well to keep his head, where last year’s version probably won’t have.  Fifth was likely had it not been for the pitstop problems.  7/10 

FERNANDO ALONSO

Another typical Alonso charging start had him upto fifth from ninth on the grid.  It would be the highlight of his afternoon.  The F2012 is lacking straightline speed and grip into the corners, leaving him a sitting target against the likes of Raikkonen and Button.  Had a close call with Nico Rosberg and his anger at this exchange was evident from both reaction on the team radio and through Twitter.  Another solid weekend and he can’t complain being just ten points behind the championship leader after four events, considering the car he has underneath him.  8/10

MARK WEBBER

Four races in and four fourth places in a row, Mark Webber is turning into Mr. Consistency in 2012.  He was a couple of tenths shy of Vettel’s pace in qualifying and some issues with aerodynamic floor meant his pace in the race was limited. Did well to finish as high as he did, considering the damage he had.  7/10

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Michael Schumacher had a lot of work to do from the back of the grid after a qualifying nightmare.  The conserative approach from Mercedes saw him knocked out in Q1.  His race was bogged down in traffic and tenth place wasn’t a bad result in the circumstances.  No contact too will have helped his reputation in battle, although his post-race comments about Pirelli were uncalled for.  A frustrating weekend.  6/10

BRUNO SENNA

The potential of the Williams was restricted in Bahrain, as they fell away from Lotus and Sauber and into the clutches of Force India, who they had comprehensively outpaced in the first three events of the season.  Senna’s qualifying left him in 15th but unlike Malaysia and China, his race performance wasn’t spectacular.  Running near the back of the midfield when an issue with his brake forced a late DNF.  5/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Romain Grosjean finally put it altogether in Bahrain and charged his way to a stunning podium finish, the first for a French driver since Jean Alesi back in 1998.  Qualified seventh and had a cracking start to move upto fourth.  Passed Webber and Hamilton easily using DRS and ran a comfortable second to a distancing Vettel.  Asked by the team to let Raikkonen through, perhaps a lap later than what is should have been but then ran untroubled to record his maiden podium effort.  It won’t be the last either in 2012 if this race is anything to go by.  9/10

SERGIO PEREZ

The Sauber’s handling looked dodgy all weekend but Perez achieved more than expected to make Q3 again and lined up in eigth.  Fought well against a losing cause but just lost out to Schumacher towards the end in the fight for the final point.  Since his Malaysia heroics, it has a been a tough baptism of returning to reality of midfield scraps for Perez.  6/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

Reliability problems destroyed Pastor Maldonado’s weekend in Bahrain and he chalked up his third retirement from four races.  Luck doesn’t seem to be shining on the Veneuzuelan so far in 2012.  A five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox left him languishing in 21st on the grid.  This followed a KERS problem that forced him not to run in Q2.  Ran with the likes of Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez until a puncture forced a spectacular spin out of turn three, wrecked his suspension and ended his hopes of minor points.  6/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Narrowly missed out on Q3 and spent his race as part of a bunched up midfield involving his team-mate, Maldonado and Hulkenberg amongst others.  Tried an ambitious two stopper but the Sauber was heavier on its tyres than Force India were and this is largely why Kobayashi ended 13th, seven places shy of di Resta’s similar strategy attempt.  6/10

FELIPE MASSA

A much better and consistent job from Felipe Massa all weekend and his first points of 2012 will be a massive boost to his shattered confidence.  Qualifying didn’t go his way, with traffic on his best lap restricting him to 14th but matched Alonso’s race pace and set a quicker race lap overall.  A magnificent start to reach as high as seventh set the tone for a strong afternoon, despite having to drop back towards the end due to fuel consumption issues.  A long way to go but a step in the right direction.  7/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Absolutely stunning effort from the Scot who produced a remarkable effort to make Q3.  He ran out of soft tyres and settled for tenth on the grid.  Tried a risky two stop strategy which at times didn’t look like it was going to work.  His smooth driving style helped him nurse the tyres when at their most critical and did well to keep Alonso and Hamilton back towards the finish to record a fine sixth place, equalling his best ever career result.  9/10

NICO HULKENBERG

Matched Paul di Resta throughout practice and qualifying but couldn’t quite hook it together when it mattered in the battle to make Q3.  13th place became 20th when a dragging clutch cost him time at the start.  Force India’s strong Sunday race pace helped him back to 12th but its the third time in four races where he has lost a bundle of time and positions.  Another case of losing the race on the first lap in an attempt to make positions up.  7/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

Vergne’s lack of qualifying pace must surely be a worry to the Toro Rosso team as he was eliminated again in Q1 and finished behind Kovalainen too.  Missing the weighbridge just added to the gloom but incredibly, the Frenchman avoided penalty for this misdemeanour.  Settled down in the race to finish ahead of Ricciardo in 14th place, racing Kobayashi in the closing stages.  Yet to string together a polished weekend so far in his short career.  6/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

If Vettel wasn’t the star of qualifying on Saturday afternoon, Daniel Ricciardo certainly was.  The second Australian in the field ended up a magnificient sixth on the grid, easily his best ever and a country mile ahead of team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.  His start was pathetic and left him consigned into the midfield.  A touch with Heikki Kovalainen left him with front wing damage for the first stint and was beaten by Vergne in the race.  A dismal Sunday took the gloss off a special Saturday.  7/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Heikki Kovalainen achieved the maximum and even more in qualifying and to knock Michael Schumacher out was one of the best achievement the Caterham team have achieved since making their debut here in 2010.  Sadly a first lap collision with Daniel Ricciardo left him with a puncture, a lengthy stop to replace it and a lost cause in the race.  Finished ten seconds behind his team-mate but qualifying effort was one of the best of the season so far.  8/10

VITALY PETROV

Still struggling to match Heikki Kovalainen in qualifying and the Russian couldn’t seem to decide what tyre was his preferred option until raceday.  Raced well again and kept the Toro Rosso cars honest.  It won’t be long before he beats them on merit soon if he keeps up his satisfying Sunday form up.  6/10

TIMO GLOCK

Timo had one of those weekends where he simply didn’t look very interested.  Trounced by rookie team-mate Pic all weekend, something both Lucas di Grassi and Jerome d’Ambrosio did in the past on an occasional basis.  Brake problems ruined his race but at least did beat both the Hispania cars to the finish.  4/10

CHARLES PIC

For the first time in his career, Charles Pic outqualified Timo Glock, although de la Rosa qualifying just 0.2secs behind suggested either a mega effort from the Spaniard or an unseen error on the Frenchman’s best lap.  Ran infront of Glock in the race until engine failure on lap 24 ended his afternoon prematurely.  7/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

To start 20th in an HRT chassis for a race is some achievement.  Penalties to Michael Schumacher and Pastor Maldonado did help with this but Pedro de la Rosa beat Timo Glock in qualifying on merit and ran solidly in the race, lapping just slightly slower than the Marussia team.  De La Rosa is getting the most out of his time with the Spanish team so far this season.  8/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN 

Half a second behind Pedro de la Rosa in qualifying, Karthikeyan’s aim is just to beat the 107 per cent cut-off on a Saturday afternoon.  Made the decision to go with a radical strategy and a four stopper left him just shy of his team-mate at the chequered flag.  More mileage for the HRT team and his strongest race since the early Jordan days in 2005. 7/10

Total scores after 4 events: Fernando Alonso 33, Lewis Hamilton 32, Sebastian Vettel 32, Jenson Button 31, Romain Grosjean 31, Mark Webber 30, Kimi Raikkonen 30, Sergio Perez 28, Pastor Maldonado 28, Nico Rosberg 28, Paul di Resta 28, Michael Schumacher 27, Bruno Senna 26, Vitaly Petrov 25, Daniel Ricciardo 25, Kamui Kobayashi 24, Charles Pic 24, Heikki Kovalainen 24, Timo Glock 23, Nico Hulkenberg 23, Jean-Eric Vergne 22, Felipe Massa 19, Pedro de la Rosa 18, Narain Karthikeyan 16

The Driver Files: Marc Gene

IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport.  All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.

Next to be profiled is one of the first Spaniards to reach the Grand Prix grid before the Fernando Alonso era, Marc Gene.

Marc Gene using all the kerbs at Spa during his solid debut season for Minardi in 1999 (RichardsF1)

NAME: Marc Gene

TEAMS: Minardi (1999-2000), Williams (2003-2004)

POINTS: 5

GP STARTS: 36

BEST FINISH: 5th (2003 Italian GP)

IT SEEMS odd to think of a time when Spain really had no interest in Formula One.  Before Fernando Alonso burst onto the scene, motorbikes dominanted the landscape of the country.  The race in Barcelona was sparesly populated and that didn’t really change when Marc Gene entered the sport.  Gene was a fighter and has proven to be successful in other formulas, notably in sportscars.  Like so many others before and after him though, Formula One wasn’t a great success.

Gene came into F1 with the underfunded Minardi team in 1999, replacing hopeless Argentine Esteban Tuero.  Before his Grand Prix break, Gene’s highlight of his junior career was winning the Open Fortuna of Nissan championship in 1998.  Marc was paired in Formula One alongside Luca Badoer and actually needed special dispensation to start his first event in Australia.  The season was a real struggle but Marc kept his nose clean and was a regular finisher to the chequered flag.  He qualified 15th in Germany, ahead of both Saubers and Johnny Herbert’s Stewart and beat Alessandro Zanardi’s Williams fair and square to ninth place in Malaysia.

Minardi’s moment of fortune came at the unpredictable 1999 European Grand Prix.  Badoer looked set for fourth place before mechanical gremlins struck.  Gene made some smart strategy calls and held off Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari to finish sixth and take the team’s first championship point since 1995.  More importantly for Minardi, it meant they beat BAR in the constructors championship and earned extra bonuses in travel money and prize rewards which were badly needed.

Gene continued with Minardi into 2000 with another Argentine no-hoper Gaston Mazzacane alongside.  Again he got the most out of a difficult car and embarrassed some big names in qualifying during the season.  This time there were no points but solid eighth placed results in Australia and Austria; the latter saw him beat Pedro Diniz’s Sauber and the Benetton of Alexander Wurz.

With Paul Stoddart buying the team in 2001, Gene moved onto a testing role with the BMW Williams team.  He drove in place of a concussed Ralf Schumacher at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix, qualifying a phenonemal fifth at short notice.  He even led the race for a lap and finished a solid fifth to keep the team ahead at the time in the cosntructors championship.  In 2004 Schumacher Jnr was sidelined for several races by a back injury sustained in a heavy crash at Indianapolis.  Once again Gene deputised but this time, with less success.  He qualified eighth and finished a distant tenth in France, despite setting a quicker lap than Juan Pablo Montoya in the race.  Silverstone was more of a struggle, starting 11th and finishing 12th.  Gene was replaced by Antonio Pizzonia for the German Grand Prix and has not raced in Formula One since.

At the beginning of 2005, Gene signed a testing contract with Ferrari but his racing career in F1 was over.  Today he is a pundit on the Spanish broadcaster LaSexta for Grand Prix.  His Ferrari testing contract expired at the end of 2010, but Marc has had a successful time at the Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot.  He finished second in 2008 alongside Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Minassian.  A year later he drove the final stint and together with Wurz and David Brabham, won the classic event to end Audi’s domination at Le Sarthe.

Marc Gene is another example of getting the best out of some poor car equipment and little out of a better car in Formula One.  Nevertheless his technical feedback and honest approach to racing made him a worthy addition to any backmarker team or leading constructor in a testing capacity in F1.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: The mercurial and grumpy Frenchman who offered glimpses of form but infuriated many, Jean Alesi

Super Seb storms to Bahrain glory

SEBASTIAN Vettel send out a reminder to everyone today; ‘try and stop me if you can!’  The world champion dominanted the Bahrain Grand Prix to claim his first win of the 2012 season after a trying start.  Having started from pole position, Vettel battled high fuel consumption and constant tyre management throughout to lead almost from the start.  Cooler track temperatures helped in Red Bull’s return to the front of the field and Vettel is now reunited with the top of the drivers championship leaderboard.

Sebastian Vettel kisses his trophy after beating the competition in Bahrain (jconline)

The Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean completed the rostrum.  It was the first time a Lotus driver has stood on the podium since Nelson Piquet finished third in the 1988 Australian Grand Prix.  It was a nightmare day for the British duo at McLaren as pitstop blunders, poor pace and reliability issues left the team leaving tonight with just four points to show for their hard efforts this weekend.

As in many situations last year, Vettel led into the first corner and pulled out a massive early advantage to clear him of any attack from the DRS zone.  He stormed into a seven second lead as from early on, the McLaren attack, led by Lewis Hamilton was already looking blunt.  Grosjean had made an unbelievable start to move upto fourth from seventh on the grid.  The Frenchman quickly found a way past Mark Webber and then easily used the DRS to drive clean past Hamilton on the seventh lap and into second place.  Button was complaining of poor traction and he was overwhelmed by a feisty Raikkonen, before pitting to ditch the option tyres after only eight laps.

Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa were in similar trouble as the race quickly turned into a battle managing the Pirelli tyres.  After the race Michael Schumacher, who came tenth after starting on the penultimate row of the grid launched a scatching attack at the Italian manufacturer.  He said to BBC Sport; “The main thing I feel unhappy about is everyone has to drive well below a driver’s, and in particular, the car’s limits to maintain the tyres.  I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car.”  Pirelli boss Paul Hembrey defended his company, telling Autosport magazine tonight; “I’m disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael’s experience.  Others were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work.  His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tyres, and now he seems to have changed his tune.”

Alonso was less than impressed with Rosberg's driving today, taking to Twitter to voice his anger (Sky Sports)

On lap nine, Hamilton had fallen into the clutches of Webber and both pitted for fresh rubber.  For the second successive race, a troublesome wheel rim affected the race of a McLaren driver and a frustrated Lewis was left shaking his head as he was held for 12 seconds.  He slipped behind Webber, Button and Fernando Alonso and when he returned to the track, he had a near-miss with Rosberg following a vicious defensive move by the Mercedes driver.  Hamilton had to use extra concrete to miss his rival and actually got past.  The race stewards with driver reprsentative Emanuele Pirro, investigated the incident after the race but took no further action.  Rosberg was later involved in a similar and more dangerous incident with Alonso, which left the Spaniard driver furious, using the team radio to channel his frustrations.  Again, Rosberg was cleared of any wrongdoing.  Tonight, Alonso sarcastically put this on his Twitter webpage; “I think you are going to have fun in future races!  You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track!  Enjoy!”

Vettel briefly handed the lead to two stopping Paul di Resta when he pitted, but quickly overtook the Scot on lap 13 to reassume control.  On the same lap, Raikkonen powered past Webber into turn 11 and started closing in on Grosjean, who was falling back into his team-mate’s grasp.  Raikkonen got past on lap 22 with consummate ease and through the second stops, was on a mission.  Vettel’s six second gap evaporated and by lap 35, the pair were together with the Lotus looking fundamentally faster.  Meanwhile, another horrific pitstop for Hamilton pushed him behind Massa and out of the points positions by half-distance.  Pastor Maldonado retired when the Williams suffered a tyre failure and spun exiting turn three.  He crawled back to the pits and retirement with shattered rear suspension.

Raikkonen had one brief opportunity to pass Vettel, but was blocked resolutely by the champion.  Both came in together on lap 40 and a quicker Red Bull pitstop enabled the German to build up a three second lead.  Aware of the tyre issues that saw his alarming fallback through the field in China last Sunday, Raikkonen and Lotus applied a more cautious approach to the chequered flag and bag the useful points on offer.

Whilst Hamilton spent a frustrating afternoon chasing the Ferrari’s, Button had a lonely race circulating between fifth and seventh places.  He was catching di Resta when he made a sudden pitstop with four laps to go.  The 2009 winner in Bahrain had detected a left-rear puncture.  He slid out of contention into 13th and a broken exhuast a lap later saw him retire in the garage.  Bruno Senna retired late on too with mechanical gremlins to compound a miserable day for Williams with a double retirement.

Vettel was able to cruise across the line to take the victory, although he was instructed by his race engineer Rocky to stop on the pitlane exit, presuminably with minimal fuel levels.  It meant we were denied the ‘that’s what’s I’m talking about,’ message on the team radio.  Raikkonen was a fantastic and committed second and considering he started 11th, this underlined severe underperformance in qualifying.  Grosjean’s third place is the first podium for a French driver in F1 since Jean Alesi at Spa in 1998.  The way he is driving at the moment, it won’t be the last in 2012.  Webber cemented his consistent approach to record fourth for the fourth successive start.  After a terrible first lap that saw him slip to ninth, Rosberg battled back aggressively to fifth.  Paul di Resta held off Alonso and Hamilton in the closing laps to match his best ever result in F1 with sixth.  Massa achieved his first points of the season, despite breaking down on the slowing down lap back to the pits and Button’s late demise enabled Schumacher into the points.  Sergio Perez missed out in 11th, whilst Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of a great result were ruined by a shambolic start, then contact with Heikki Kovalainen on the first lap that left the Australian with a damaged front wing.

The four flyaway races are complete and only ten points cover the top five in the drivers championship.  Six different teams have already stood on the podium and we have four different winners in the first four races for the first time since 2003.  Formula One 2012 is proving to be a very unpredictable and challenging season to even guess, let alone predict.  Luckily the racing did the talking today and Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt can breath a huge sigh of relief tonight that there was no significant trouble in the unstable area today.

There is a test at the Italian circuit Mugello next week, before the start of the European season at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on May 13.  It is advantage Red Bull and Vettel after Bahrain, but 2012 has plenty more twists and turns in store to come.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 57 1hr 35min 10secs
2 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 57 +3.3secs
3 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 57 +10.1secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 57 +38.7secs
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 57 +55.4secs
6 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +57.5secs
7 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 57 +57.8secs
8 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 57 +58.9secs
9 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 57 +1min 04.9secs
10 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 57 +1min 11.4secs
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 57 +1min 12.7secs
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +1min 16.5secs
13 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 57 +1min 30.3secs
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 57 +1min 33.7secs
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 56 1 LAP
16 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 56 1 LAP
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 56 1 LAP
18 (Ret) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 55 BROKEN EXHAUST
19 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
20 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
21 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
22 (Ret) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 54 TECHNICAL
Retired PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 25 PUNCTURE
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 24 ENGINE

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 53
2 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 49
3 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 48
4 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 43
5 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 43
6 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 35
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 34
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 23
9 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
10 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 15
11 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
12 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 9
13 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
14 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 4
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
16 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 2
17 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 101
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 92
3 LOTUS RENAULT 57
4 FERRARI 45
5 MERCEDES GP 35
6 SAUBER FERRARI 31
7 WILLIAMS RENAULT 18
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 17
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


Vettel back on pole in the desert

Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position and the German's finger salute returns too! (Scotcars)

THE familiar German middle finger was shown in the Sakhir paddock yesterday as Sebastian Vettel returned to his customary spot of starting on pole position.  It is the world champion’s first pole since the season finale in Brazil last November.  Team-mate Mark Webber will start today’s race from third, confirming that Red Bull Racing’s qualifying pace is back.  It was a tense scrap for pole position in what has to be said is a tense backdrop to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Whilst the TV stations worldwide and UK newspapers lead with the trouble in the country and led to the death of another protester during demonstrations on Friday night, this is a qualifying report and shall remain that.  The action on the track did cause a few unexpected surprises.

The difference in time between the prime and option tyres in Bahrain led to the demise of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes in Q1.  Schumacher had been amongst the top five in every practice session leading into qualifying, but by not chancing it on the option tyre, the German was knocked out by Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault.  Later, it was revealed that an issue with the DRS meant the seven times world champion couldn’t get the lap time he wanted.  To compound Schumacher’s nightmare, a gearbox change overnight means he will start 22nd.  It will be interesting to see his progress today.  Jean-Eric Vergne also missed the cut and then ignored a pitlane red light which ordered the rookie to stop at the weighbridge.  This was an excludable offense 20 years ago but amazingly, no action was taken against the Frenchman!

In Q2, a KERS problem left Pastor Maldonado high and dry in the pits and like Schumacher, the Veneuzelan has been hit with a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.  Felipe Massa made his expected exit and the former double winner in Sakhir will start from a distant 14th.  Kimi Raikkonen was squeezed out as the track temperature dropped and the track continued to evolve.  The Lotus driver will start 11th and revealed afterwards that he only had himself to blame for his shock exit.

Paul di Resta made the final part of qualifying for the first time this season and will start tenth.  Considering that Force India missed FP2 due to safety concerns following the events of this weekend, this is a notable achievement.  With no option tyres left, Fernando Alonso decided to save his remaining sets for raceday and seemed content with ninth, setting no time like di Resta in Q3.  The star of qualifying was the young Australian for Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo.  The Italian team has never scored a championship point around this circuit but they have a great chance today after Ricciardo charged to sixth place on the grid.  It is his best ever qualifying performance and he showed his delight to Sky Sports F1 afterwards.  “We had a pretty good morning and we thought all going well, we might have a crack at Q3 today.  Each little step seemed to be very beneficial and I’m really happy, I’ll enjoy this today.”

Nico Rosberg couldn’t repeat his Shanghai heroics and he had to settle for fifth place, making a tiny error in the final corner on his best lap.  This meant that the Red Bull and McLaren teams disputed the pole battle.  After the first runs, Lewis Hamilton looked to have his third pole position of the season.  However, Vettel and Red Bull had saved a set of option tyres from Q2 and he used them to perfection.  His time was left than a 0.1secs quicker than Hamilton, but enough for his second Bahrain Grand Prix pole position.  Webber has his best ever grid position here, which was previously fifth for Williams back in 2005 whilst Jenson Button aborted his final attempt and seemed satisfied with P4 on the grid.  Relief more than delight was echoed on Vettel’s face after his return to the front of the field.  Speaking to BBC Sport, he said: “We didn’t have the best Q1 or Q2 and I made a couple of mistakes.  I knew though in Q3 we could make another step and the first run I was happy with, although it wasn’t perfect.  I knew I had more to give on the new set and I was pleased.  I owe this one to the boys in the garage for their hard work.”

With Red Bull back at the front after qualifying, this season continues to have many twists and turns.  The race begins in just under an hour’s time and it is highly conceivable that we could have four different winners in the first four events for the first time since 2003.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 18 1.32.422
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.32.520
3 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 17 1.32.637
4 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.32.711
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 10 1.32.821
6 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 17 1.32.912
7 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 13 1.33.008
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.33.394
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 11 NO TIME in Q3
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 15 NO TIME in Q3
11 (Q2) KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 6 1.33.789
12 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.33.806
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 12 1.33.807
14 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.33.912
15 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.34.017
16 (Q2) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 10 1.36.312
17 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 8 1.35.014
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 7 1.35.823
19 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.37.683
20 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 6 1.37.883
21 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 NO TIME IN Q2
22 (Q1) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 5 1.34.865
23 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 7 1.37.905
24 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 7 1.38.314

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE    

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One.  So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track.  His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session.  Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.

Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair.  Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon.  Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session.  Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest.  Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.

Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session.  Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.

However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today.  In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team.  Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK.  With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds.  Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.

With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus.  Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.

Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES  11 1.33.572 
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  21  1.33.877 
3 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.150 
4 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  23  1.34.249 
5 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  14  1.34.277 
6 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.344 
7 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  17  1.34.483 
8 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  22  1.34.552 
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  18  1.34.609 
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  20  1.34.817 
11 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  22  1.35.024 
12 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  25  1.35.268 
13 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  21  1.35.436 
14 VALTERI BOTTAS  WILLIAMS RENAULT  24  1.35.497 
15 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  19  1.35.719 
16 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  24  1.35.929 
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.195 
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 11  1.36.330 
19 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  18  1.36.484 
20 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.591 
21 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.37.467 
22 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.38.006 
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  19  1.38.877 
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  23  1.39.996 

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  35  1.32.816 
2 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  26  1.33.262 
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  28  1.33.525 
4 LEWIS HAMILTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  26  1.33.747 
5 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  32  1.33.862 
6 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  28  1.34.246 
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.411 
8 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  31  1.34.449 
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  32  1.34.615 
10 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.893 
11 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  29  1.34.895 
12 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  30  1.34.941 
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  33  1.35.183 
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  26  1.35.229 
15 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  38  1.35.459 
16 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  33  1.35.913 
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN  CATERHAM RENAULT  35  1.35.968 
18 BRUNO SENNA  WILLIAMS RENAULT  30  1.36.169 
19 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.36.587 
20 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.37.803 
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  28  1.37.812 
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  27  1.39.649 
23 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
24 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 

Driver Performance at the Chinese Grand Prix

WELCOME to my third driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 UBS Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai:

FERNANDO ALONSO

The surprise winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix performed admirably again in Shanghai but for little reward.  He produced the maximum to scrape into Q3 by just one hundreth of a second.  In the race, he raced well and was matching the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber throughout but a poor final stop and a moment running wide whilst fighting Sergio Perez meant he finished only ninth behind the Williams drivers.  Nevertheless, still in the thick of the championship battle.  8/10

SERGIO PEREZ

It was always going to be difficult for Perez to match his Malaysian performance and he seemed to struggle against the higher expectations in China.  Made the third part of qualifying again but was left back in eighth, some way behind team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.  He raced better, though his pace disappeared when Sauber moved onto the medium tyres.  Out of luck this time in points, losing out to Kobayashi despite a vicious attempt by the Japanese in having him off the road.  Sauber’s race pace meant the Mexican always was fighting a losing battle.  6/10

JENSON BUTTON

If a sticky wheelnut hadn’t held him up in the third and final round of pitstops, Jenson Button might well have won in China.  Until that point, it was always going to be a tight one to call between him and Nico Rosberg.  Struggled with the balance on Friday, Jenson elected to look more at race setup, meaning he wasn’t a factor in the pole battle.  A great start upto third from fifth on the grid was the setting stone and an aggressive pass on Sebastian Vettel towards the end set him up for a deserved second place.  8/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

Hamilton’s victory ambitions took a nosedive from the beginning of the weekend, as he carried a grid penalty from damaging his gearbox in Malaysia.  Qualified an excellent second before the drop to seventh and made it upto fifth from the start.  Only a stint behind Felipe Massa cost him a potential shot at the victory but stayed cool in the heat of battle and a rostrum place was a great effort.  Only a bit more luck required before he starts winning again.  9/10

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Vettel’s exit from the second part of qualifying was a huge surprise, his first departure from before Q3 since Brazil 2009.  Not happy with the car, he took an older exhaust set-up to team-mate Mark Webber and looked lost in the midfield after a horrific start relegated him to 15th.  Stuck behind the Williams cars, he elected to pit earlier and almost made the tyres last on a two stop.  Ran out of grip in the closing stages to fall to fifth but good effort considering his troubles all weekend.  7/10

MARK WEBBER

Mark Webber has managed to adapt to the RB8 this year and is performing consistently well, although his ultimate pace might still be missing.  Was strong in defence against Kimi Raikkonen and was in the mix for a podium.  Pleased to have outpsyched Vettel on the penultimate lap to record his third successive fourth place finish.  Only a poor start cost him a chance at beating the McLarens.  8/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Scored points in the first two events but strong reliability from the top teams meant di Resta’s opportunities to score in China were limited.  Beat Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying by nearly half a second and raced solidly but this time, had to settle for 12th – probably the maximum the chassis had this week.  6/10

NICO ROSBERG

The first two races of Rosberg’s season were disappointing to say the least but Nico was absolutely faultless in China.  At a track when he has always gone well at in the past, his performance makes you think why has it taken him 111 attempts to register his first Grand Prix win.  His flying lap to secure pole position was flawless and one of the best you will see this season.  A perfect start and a race performance that was full of dominance, control and assurance.  Even without his poor pitstop, Button would have struggled to beat Rosberg.  World class.  10/10

BRUNO SENNA

Senna still needs to get things upto speed in qualifying but he is producing some strong race efforts.  Backed up his sixth place finish in Sepang with seventh place in Shanghai.  He was 14th on the grid, although closer to Pastor Maldonado on pace.  A bruising first lap saw him have contact with both Felipe Massa and Maldonado, leaving him slightly less efficient on aerodynamic parts.  Worked hard to stay in contention and got as high as sixth before overwhelmed by Romain Grosjean in the closing stages.  8/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Kimi Raikkonen looked all at sea in China at times and other occasions, looked very aggressive and up for the fight.  Qualified a surprising fourth considering his lack of pace on Friday.  Ran second until the closing stages but was on a strategy that never even looked likely to come off.  His alarming drop through the field wasn’t his fault due to the state of his tyres but losing out so quickly would have disappointed the Finn.  Lessons should be learned by Lotus for this experience.  6/10

FELIPE MASSA

There were no points for Felipe Massa in China but it was a much better performance after a miserable first two events.  12th was probably the best he could achieve in qualifying and was only 0.2secs slower than team-mate Alonso in qualifying.  A two-stop strategy was the wrong one for a points scoring performance but consistent race pace and even led the race for a lap.  A step in the right direction.  6/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

The Frenchman is on a real learning curve and Grand Prix racing is a tough business.  His second successive exit in the first part of qualifying will have concerned the Toro Rosso bosses.  He decided to start from the pitlane and in a car that is at the moment, back of a congested midfield, performed ok to beat his team-mate in the race and finished 16th.  A car improvement required before regular points happen.  3/10  

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

The only retirement in the race and he was blameless here in that regard thanks to a loose wheel at his first stop.  However, he was put in the shade by his team-mate all weekend and will be disappointed with natural speed.  A front row start thanks to Hamilton’s penalty but half a second off Rosberg in qualifying and was nowhere near him in the race.  Want an improvement in Bahrain on his speed across a race stint.  7/10

NICO HULKENBERG

A weekend to forget for Hulkenberg as he was completely put in the shade by team-mate di Resta in a car that is struggling against the likes of the improving Sauber and Williams teams.  Made a poor start from 16th and contact on the first lap with Heikki Kovalainen didn’t help matters.  Did well to fightback and beat the Toro Rosso’s but lack of impact on the weekend’s activities.  4/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Excellent qualifying pace in the first two races but poor errors had hindered Grosjean’s progress so far.  Got it right in China to finish a competitive sixth and another lap longer, might have got the better of Sebastian Vettel too.  Made Q3 but ran out of option tyres and elected not to run in Q3.  Dropped behind fast starting Massa at the start and was part of the congested midfield group throughout.  Feisty in combat against both Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado paved the way for him to score his first ever championship points.  9/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

13th on the grid was disappointing for Maldonado, having made a couple of mistakes on his best lap.  Hit team-mate Senna in the first corner and dropped behind him and Paul di Resta.  Came out second best to his team-mate and Grosjean in a robust tussle for position later on but held off Fernando Alonso to record an impressive eighth, his best ever result.  7/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

The best ever performance from a Japanese driver in qualifying since the days of Takuma Sato at BAR, Kobayashi had a tough Sunday with a struggle to show his Saturday speed.  Struggled to make decisive moves in the traffic after a poor start saw him lose four spots, including one to his team-mate.  Only the tyre troubles of Raikkonen got Kamui into the points.  7/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Looked competitive in his backyard and strong race pace in Malaysia but looked very fallible in China.  Outpaced team-mate Vergne in qualifying but beaten by the rookie in the race.  Not a weekend he will remember fondly when looking back at his season so far.  4/10

VITALY PETROV

Petrov is in a position where he can’t quite get onto the midfield but is installing some form of consistency that was always missing in the Renault days.  Still slightly off Heikki Kovalainen’s qualifying pace but matching the Finn’s race pace and when he ran into mechanical problems and raced creditably to finish, although still shy of the struggling Toro Rosso’s.  7/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Another tough weekend for Kovalainen, hampered by reliability concerns throughout.  Got the maximum out of the Caterham in qualifying and ran ahead of Petrov in the race before issues with a wheel nut forced him into the pits for two successive laps.  Kept going which in the tough circumstances wasn’t bad.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

Started 22nd and finished 21st, produced his usual efficient performance and keeping Marussia within sight is creditable considering HRT’s financial struggles at the back of the grid.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Pushed Petrov hard in qualifying but an unbalanced race setup left him trailing around with finishing the only target, which was achieved with the minimum of fuss.  6/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

Often seen as a roadblock and when the HRT looks a handful in the corners, there’s little he could do but get some more race mileage under his belt.  Target achieved but very mediocre and unobtrusive as ever.  3/10

CHARLES PIC

Charles Pic is doing a similar job to Jerome D’Ambrosio was last season.  Not far off Glock’s pace on a Saturday and set a faster race lap on Sunday – plus another race distance under his belt.  6/10

Total scores after 3 events: Fernando Alonso 25, Jenson Button 25, Lewis Hamilton 25, Mark Webber 23, Romain Grosjean 23, Sergio Perez 22, Pastor Maldonado 22, Sebastian Vettel 22, Nico Rosberg 22, Kimi Raikkonen 21, Michael Schumacher 21, Bruno Senna 21, Timo Glock 19, Paul di Resta 19, Vitaly Petrov 19, Daniel Ricciardo 18, Kamui Kobayashi 18, Charles Pic 17, Jean-Eric Vergne 16, Nico Hulkenberg 16, Heikki Kovalainen 16, Felipe Massa 12, Pedro de la Rosa 10, Narain Karthikeyan 9

The Driver Files: Satoru Nakajima

IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport.  All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.

The next entry was a breakthrough driver and gave Japan its first sight of the sport, which has continued to grow ever since.  A pioneer for Japanese motorsport; Satoru Nakajima.

Limited success, but Satoru Nakajima's time in F1 was big for Japan (datsun)

NAME: Satoru Nakajima

TEAMS: Lotus (1987-1989), Tyrrell (1990-1991)

POINTS: 16

GP STARTS: 74

BEST FINISH: 4th (1987 British GP)

BORN from a farming family, Satoru Nakajima had a passion for motorsport from an early age.  His success in Formula One was largely modest but he set the path for a flux of Japanese drivers like Ukyo Katayama, Takuma Sato and his son Kazuki to have all appeared in the sport.

Nakajima dominanted the Japanese Formula Two series but was a very late entrant into F1 at the age of 34.  He debuted for the famous Lotus team in 1987, part of a new package which included Honda engines and Camel tobacco sponsorship.  Nakajima drove alongside Ayrton Senna in his first season and was determined to be known for his own qualities rather than just a pay driver.  Of course, he couldn’t compete with Senna but he showed flashes of natural speed.  Scoring a point in only his second event at the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix was a good start and Satoru was part of a Honda grand slam at Silverstone, finishing fourth behind Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Senna.  A further point in the inaugural Japanese event at Suzuka sent his home supporters mad and he finished a creditable 12th in the championship, having scored seven points in total.

As Senna moved onto McLaren and the bitter rivalry with Alain Prost began, Nakajima stayed with Lotus for 1988 and was partnered by the defending champion Piquet.  The season started prominsingly with a point in Brazil but Nakajima’s shock failure to qualify for Monaco was the beginning of the end for the Lotus Honda partnership, compounded when Piquet crashed in the race on the first lap.  Satoru was never a fan of street circuits and he repeated his Monaco abscence on raceday by failing to make the cut on the temporary and dreadful Detroit circuit for the United States round.  A spate of retirements and mistakes followed in the remainder of the season and it was a case of second season syndrome.  Nakajima scored just one point all season and that was in the first race.

As Honda focused on their dominance with McLaren, Lotus decline had begun.  The team had to take the heavyweight Judd engine for 1989 and the failure of Nakajima and Piquet to qualify for the 1989 Belgian Grand Prix was the first time that the British make had no car on the grid in 30 years.  He failed to qualify in Monaco again and Canada but it came good at the season finale in Australia.  Watched by a massive Japanese audience, Satoru benefited from the filthy conditions in Adelaide to finish fourth from 23rd on the grid.  In a race where staying on the circuit was a notable achievement, he set the fastest lap on lap 64 too.

Two lacklustre years at Tyrrell followed for Nakajima.  He paired up with Jean Alesi for 1990 and scored three sixth place finishes in the USA, Italy and once more on his Japanese homeland at Suzuka.  There was a brief link-up with Honda again in 1991 as Stefano Modena joined Satoru.  Fifth in Phoenix was his only highlight of 1991 although a mechanical problem robbed him of fourth in another wet race at Imola.  He announced his retirement from Formula One at Hockenheim and bowed out with the minimum of fuss.

His F1 career ended but involvement with motorsport didn’t end there.  Satoru worked closely with Honda and helped develop their engines for use in the CART and IRL series over in America.  He managed the brief career in F1 of Tora Takagi in 1998/1999 and he owns the Nakajima Racing entry in Japanese Formula Nippon.  He helped Tom Coronel and Ralph Firman to titles in this competition.  His son Kazuki raced for two seasons with Williams in 2008 and 2009 and today, Satoru still owns his own team in Formula Nippon with both of his two sons competing in the series.

Success in Formula One was limited for Satoru Nakajima but his impact put Japan firmly on the Grand Prix map for good.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: Moments of glory at the Nurburgring and Monza in a largely unspectacular career and a Spaniard on the grid before the Alonso days, Marc Gene.

The Driver Files: Juan Pablo Montoya

IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport.  All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.

Next to receive treatment in the Driver Files was a dynamic Colombian who always spoke his mind and gave Michael Schumacher more than a headache on one occasion.  This is the career in Formula One of Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya competing in Monaco 2006, one of his final races in the sport (zimbio)

NAME: Juan Pablo Montoya

TEAMS: Williams (2001-2004), McLaren (2005-2006)

POINTS: 307

GP STARTS: 94

BEST FINISH: WINNER (7) (2001 Italian Grand Prix, 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, 2003 German Grand Prix, 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, 2005 British Grand Prix, 2005 Italian Grand Prix, 2005 Brazilian Grand Prix)

THE motorsport career of Juan Pablo Montoya has been an unrivalled success.  He has adapted to many forms of racing and is one of the leading stars competing in America today.  His experiences in Formula One were frustrating at times to witness.  On his day, Montoya would be almost untouchable and he certainly rattled Michael Schumacher more than once in the dominant Ferrari days.  There were other days where a daft error saw him get deservedly punished or he just didn’t seem to bother.  There was a lot that happened during JPM’s six years in Formula One.

Before the F1 chance came Montoya proved himself through karting and junior series competitions in Britain, finishing fifth in the 1996 British Formula 3 championship.  In 1997, Juan Pablo made the step upto international competition by contesting the F3000 championship for the RSM Marko team.  He won his second event on the Pau circuit and finished second in the championship at his first attempt, missing out on the title to Ricardo Zonta.  He came back the following year and despite some silly basic errors, won the title for Super Nova against Nick Heidfeld.  Montoya also enjoyed some testing for the Williams Formula One team in the same campaign.

With Williams desperate to attract more sponsors, Sir Frank Williams placed Montoya in the competitive CART series for 1999.  He would race for Chip Ganassi whilst Alex Zanardi made the nightmare move in the opposite direction.  Seven wins in his debut season, but some criticised his aggressive approach and he never got the hang of street circuits.  Going into the finale on the Fontana Speedway in California, Montoya trailed Dario Franchitti but got the result he needed to win the title on countback of wins and become the youngest driver at 24 to win the championship.  The celebrations were marred by the tragic death in the race of one of Montoya’s close friends on the CART scene, Greg Moore.  JPM stayed in CART for 2000 but with a switch of chassis and engine combination, he wasn’t a factor for the championship due to unreliability.  He did win in Milwaukee though and dominanted the Indianapolis 500 to win the prestigious race at his first attempt.  With all the boxes ticked in America, Formula One beckoned.

Jenson Button was loaned out to Benetton to make space for Montoya in the BMW Williams team.  2001 was similar to 2000 as his car was unreliable and a few rookie errors such as crashes in Monaco and Canada meant the Colombian only saw the chequered flag on six occasions.  There were plenty of highlights in his debut season though.

He passed Schumacher for the lead in stunning fashion in just his third event in Brazil and made his mark from an early stage.  Had it not been for a piece of idiotic driving from Jos Verstappen in taking him out of the race, Montoya would have won.  His first finish was second place in Barcelona having started a distant 12th.  As the season progressed, Juan Pablo began to get a measure on Ralf Schumacher and should have won at Hockenheim where he took his maiden pole position.  A refuelling rig problem and subsequent engine failure denied him glory in Germany.  There were no mistakes at Monza though, as he held off a stiff challenge from fellow South American Rubens Barrichello to win his first race. Again, celebrations were at a premium as the Monza race was held only days after the 9/11 atoricities.  Another technical problem robbed him of victory in Indianapolis where Schumacher was stylishly passed again.  He finished sixth in the drivers championship with 31 points.

That tally improved to 50 points and third place in the 2002 drivers championship but it was a distant position as Ferrari romped to the title.  The BMW Williams combination was a match for the F2002 on Saturdays and gave Montoya seven pole positions.  In fact, he set the fastest ever average speed for a lap at Monza.  However the Ferrari tended to have the edge on raceday and Montoya couldn’t compete with Schumacher and Barrichello.  There were run-ins with the German in Malaysia, becoming the first ever recipient of a drive-through penalty in the process and in Brazil.  There were no wins, second in Australia, Spain and Germany were his best finishes.

Williams came out with a worse package at the beginning of 2003 and Montoya struggled with chronic oversteer and early reliability issues.  He threw away victory in the season opener in Melbourne with a clumsy spin and crashed out in Brazil.  A rotten engine failure in Austria lost him another victory chance and left JPM a distant seventh in the championship.  His season turned around with a decisive win around the streets of Monte Carlo.  After this, Montoya strung together a run of seven successive podiums which included thrashing the opposition at Hockenheim to win by nearly a minute.

By now the Williams was the fastest package and the championship was potentially his.  Unfortunately he blew his chances at Indianapolis.  A poor start was followed by an amibtious attempt at passing Barrichello on the third lap.  The contact left Rubens in the gravel and the race stewards gave Montoya a drive through penalty for the incident.  He couldn’t recover and sixth place that day ended his hopes.  Schumacher took his sixth title and with the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso on the scene, Montoya’s place as Michael’s successor began to look under threat.  A radical design of a ‘walrus’ nose backfired in 2004.  Montoya’s relationship with the team was strained and he had already agreed to move to McLaren before the championship even begun.  Juan Pablo could only manage fifth in the championship but signed off his career with Williams in style by winning the team’s last race upto now; the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.

The partnership with McLaren in 2005 got off to a nightmare start.  He fractured his shoulder during an incident whilst playing ‘tennis’ in Spain and it forced him out for two races.  Other misdemeanours followed on his return.  He brake tested Ralf Schumacher and caused a four car practice shunt in Monaco, sending him to the back of the grid.  The chance of winning in Canada disappeared when he stupidly missed the pitlane red light and was promptly disqualified.  Montoya’s form improved in the second half of the season as he won brilliantly at Silverstone, Monza and in Brazil.  He finished fourth in the championship with 60 points.

The end of Montoya's career in Formula One at Indianapolis 2006 (crash.net)

By the start of 2006, it soon became clear that Montoya was growing tired of Formula One.  Fernando Alonso had already been signed by McLaren for 2007 and his performances started to decline.  He spun out in Spain, made several errors in Australia and was hopelessly uncompetitive at the Nurburgring.  Third at Imola and second place at Monte Carlo were plus points but his relationship with Ron Dennis was now beyond repair.  At Indianapolis, he triggered a pile-up at the second corner by hitting his team-mate Raikkonen and spinning the pair out.  The incident also ended the races of Jenson Button, Nick Heidfeld and Scott Speed.  A week later, Montoya announced his was moving to the NASCAR series for 2007 and on July 11 2006, McLaren Mercedes confirmed his shock departure from the sport with immediate effect.

The NASCAR journey began with third on his debut at the Talladega Superspeedway.  He has won two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and finished eighth in the series overall in 2009 and he won the 24 Hours of Daytona in both 2007 and 2008.  He is happily married to Connie and has three kids.  Today he still competes in NASCAR for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team.

Juan Pablo Montoya had a lot of talent in Formula One but he wasted his best opportunity to win the title and he didn’t have the required qualities to win the ultimate prize in motorsport.  However, by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona, Montoya is a born winner and he did provide plenty of excitement in his time in Formula One.

NEXT IN THE DRIVER FILES: The first Japanese driver to ever compete in Formula One, Satoru Nakajima. 

Nico joins the elite in Chinese Classic

FORMULA ONE crowned a new winner today as Nico Rosberg joined the elite of winning a Grand Prix.  He won the Chinese Grand Prix from Jenson Button by over 20 seconds to become the first new winner since Mark Webber triumphed at the Nurburgring in 2009.  Not only that, the result sees the first triumph for Mercedes GP since their return as a full manufacturer two years ago.  The last time a Silver Arrow was first past the chequered flag came at Monza in 1955, when Juan Manuel Fangio took the honours.  Rosberg’s drive was through a combination of managing his tyres in another classic on the Shanghai International Circuit and steady pace throughout the 56 laps.  Another third place for Lewis Hamilton saw the Brit claim leadership in the drivers championship for the first time in nearly two years.

The Mercedes cars lead the pack through the first few bends (formula1onlive.com)

Although there was no sign of rain spicing up the action, cooler track temperatures played right into the hands of the Mercedes team who have struggled with significant amounts of rear tyre wear on raceday in the past.  Rosberg made no mistakes from his maiden pole position yesterday and made the perfect start.  He left the rest trailing into the first corner, with team-mate Michael Schumacher keeping the chasing pack behind.  This enabled Rosberg to build an early three second cushion and let the German, starting his 110th race this weekend into an early rhythm.  Further back, Button gained two positions and Kamui Kobayashi dropped from his fantastic third on the grid into seventh by the end of the first lap.  There was minor contact between Bruno Senna and Felipe Massa whilst world champion Sebastian Vettel had a nightmare first lap and looked completely out of contention in 15th place during the early laps.

Mark Webber’s decision to pit as early as lap seven to get rid of the graining soft tyres inspired his race and gave the event added dynamic.  Drivers like Button and Hamilton pitted soon afterwards, indicating that McLaren were planning on making three tyre stops.  Other teams such as Mercedes GP and Sauber went on a two stop strategy.  There would be no benefit for Schumacher though, as he made his second early departure from three races in 2012.  The seven-times world champion made a scheduled pitstop on lap 12, but a problem on the right front wheel meant a brief delay.  The nut wasn’t tightened before the green light was given for Michael to leave the pits.  He felt the problem into turn three on his return to the track and wisely pulled off the road.  Mercedes would be fined for the unsafe release after the race.  Schumacher told Lee McKenzie from BBC Sport; “I noticed it in Turn 3 once I started to load the front right tyre.  Already by Turn 6 there was quite a bit of smoke and damage and I thought it was better to stop.”  He would be the only retirement from a dramatic afternoon.

It started as a slow burner, but the Chinese Grand Prix was about to come alive from half-distance as cars on different strategies scrambled for track position.  Those planning to make the extra pitstops were rejoining in traffic all the time. Both Hamilton and Button lost crucial time in the traffic; Hamilton enjoying a brief scrap with his old adversary Massa before making a clean pass.  Button’s strategy meant he had a brief stint in the lead.  However he never got the gap higher than the nine second mark and any lingering hope of catching Rosberg disappeared when an issue with the wheel gun on the right rear tyre led to a lengthy nine second stop during his final pit visit.  It dropped Button into the traffic and left him fighting for second.

Kimi Raikkonen was part of the scrap, as the Finn planned on only making two pitstop visits.  It didn’t work out as his tyres simply ‘fell off the cliff’ with nine laps remaining.  In one lap he was swamped by the pack and was relegated from second to tenth.  Eventually Raikkonen finished a distant 14th.  The two stop strategy plan didn’t work for the Sauber drivers or Massa but it did for the two Williams cars.  Bruno Senna finished an excellent seventh and Pastor Maldonado achieved his best ever result in Formula One with eighth.  This included the best dice of the race with Romain Grosjean.  Both survived the wheel-to-wheel entertainment and it was the Frenchman who prevailed, taking sixth place at the chequered flag for his first ever points in F1.  Following Raikkonen’s drop down the field, Vettel held a surprising second place.  World champions aren’t immune to tyre trouble though and just like last year, Sebastian couldn’t hold on against the more tyre friendly McLaren drivers.  On the penultimate lap, Webber got past around the outside to take a satisifying fourth place.

Nico Rosberg finally becomes a Grand Prix winner (Telegraph)

The day belonged to Rosberg though as he cruised across the line to take a fantastic first victory in the sport.  Button and Hamilton completed the podium positions with Webber finishing fourth for the third successive race.  After the race, Hamilton said to Planet F1; “We knew Nico would be really quick, and we knew if he got away it would be hard to catch him as it proved.  First pole and first win is always special so congratulations.”

Behind Vettel, Grosjean, Senna and Maldonado was Fernando Alonso.  Despite racing Hamilton closely during the event, the double world champion struggled passing the two stoppers with his equipment and had to settle for ninth place.  After their Malaysian success, Ferrari have been brought back to reality.  Kobayashi set the fastest lap and took the final point ahead of Malaysian hero Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta and Massa.

At long last Nico Rosberg has managed to fulfil his longstanding promise.  Sometimes in sport, good things do come to those who wait.  Next up is the Bahrain Grand Prix in seven short days time where hopefully the action on track in Sakhir will take the headlines rather than the off-track events in the country.

2012 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

 

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 56 1hr 36min 26secs
2 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 56 +20.6secs
3 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 56 +26.0secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 56 +27.9secs
5 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 56 +30.4secs
6 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 56 +31.4secs
7 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 56 +34.5secs
8 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 56 +35.6secs
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 56 +37.2secs
10 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 56 +38.7secs
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 56 +41.0secs
12 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +42.2secs
13 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 56 +42.7secs
14 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 56 +50.0secs
15 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +51.2secs
16 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 56 +51.6secs
17 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 56 +1min 03.1secs
18 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 55 1 LAP
19 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 55 1 LAP
20 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 55 1 LAP
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 55 1 LAP
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 54 2 LAPS
23 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 53 3 LAPS
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 12 LOOSE WHEEL

 

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 45
2 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 43
3 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 37
4 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 36
5 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 28
6 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 25
7 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
8 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 16
9 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
10 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 9
11 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 8
12 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 7
13 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO) 4
14 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 4
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO (SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO) 2
16 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 2
17 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 1

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 MCLAREN MERCEDES 88
2 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 64
3 FERRARI 37
4 SAUBER FERRARI 31
5 MERCEDES GP 26
6 LOTUS RENAULT 24
7 WILLIAMS RENAULT 18
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 9
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6

 

 


Maiden pole for Rosberg in Shanghai surprise

FOR the first time since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes GP have locked out the front row of the grid.  That day at Monza, it was the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio and Sir Stirling Moss who led the field.  Tomorrow the Silver Arrows will be driven by Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.  In a breathtaking hour of action, Kamui Kobayashi completes a very surprising top three on the grid as some of the favourites struggled in cool track temperatures.

The top three in qualifying before Hamilton's gearbox change

Rosberg had struggled to get the job done in qualifying so far in 2012, but was meteoric today.  An early lap in Q3 of 1.35.121 looked like it was not going to be beaten by anyone else.  No-one came close.  Lewis Hamilton was closest challenger but a five place grid penalty for a planned gearbox change today has damaged his chances of winning tomorrow.  Michael Schumacher inherits second place to complete the Mercedes GP front row.  It is the first time that a Red Bull or McLaren driver hasn’t taken pole position since Fernando Alonso for Ferrari in the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix.

Speaking of Alonso, it was another tough day for Ferrari and five main updates on their car don’t seem to have moved the Scuderia forward.  Alonso edged into Q3 and achieved the maximum possible which was ninth place.  The current championship leader will be praying for rain tomorrow to stand any chance of staying with the frontrunners.  Felipe Massa scrambled to 12th spot, but the issues with the car are clear to see for anyone.  Kobayashi had looked strong in free practice and kept his form into qualifying, always looking on the limit.  Third is the best for a Japanese driver since the days of Takuma Sato at BAR Honda.  Kimi Raikkonen came from nowhere to record the fourth fastest time for Lotus and team-mate Romain Grosjean made Q3 again but didn’t set a time and starts tenth.

It was a lacklustre day for Jenson Button.  The 2010 winner at the Shanghai International Circuit looks to be struggling all weekend with a lack of grip from the front tyres.  Nevertheless he seemed satisfied with fifth place, directly ahead of Hamilton on the grid.  Red Bull Racing had another difficult day and there were no smiles from world champion Sebastian Vettel.  Vettel missed out on a pole position shootout in dry weather conditions for the first time since the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso!  He starts 11th as a radical set-up backfired against his team-mate Mark Webber.  Webber managed to take sixth place on the grid.  The top ten was completed by Sergio Perez in the second Sauber.  The Mexican seemed to be on a similar strategy to his rival from Malaysia, Alonso.

On a big sporting weekend, the Chinese Grand Prix has all the making to be another nail-biter.  Today though, Nico Rosberg was the fastest across the line and it will be interesting to see whether Mercedes GP have the endurance missing from the first two events.

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 11 1.35.121
2 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 13 1.35.691
3 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.35.784
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 15 1.35.898
5 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 16 1.36.191
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.36.290
7 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 14 1.35.626
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.36.524
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 17 1.36.622
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 15 NO TIME
11 (Q2) SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 11 1.36.031
12 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.36.255
13 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.36.283
14 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.36.289
15 (Q2) PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 14 1.36.317
16 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 14 1.36.745
17 (Q2) DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 14 1.36.956
18 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 8 1.37.714
19 (Q1) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN LOTUS RENAULT 9 1.38.463
20 (Q1) VITALY PETROV LOTUS RENAULT 7 1.38.677
21 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 10 1.39.282
22 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 10 1.39.717
23 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 7 1.40.411
24 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 10 1.41.000

LEWIS HAMILTON RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

FIA confirm Bahrain race goes ahead

THE sport’s governing body the FIA confirmed in the early hours of the morning that next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix on the Sakhir circuit will take place as scheduled.  FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone met the team principals from all 12 Formula One teams in Shanghai this morning where the Chinese Grand Prix takes place this weekend.  No concerns were raised from the meeting and all agreed that the race should take place.  The FIA insisted that assurances had been made about general security following regular disputes in the country over the past year during the Arab Uprisings.  It is these protests that led to the cancellation of the 2011 race.

These are the key points in the statement released to the world by the sport’s governing body from the FIA website;

“The FIA is the governing body of motor sport and therefore of Formula One.  As such, it sets the season’s calendars following the proposal of the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) in accordance with the local national authorities in all matters relating to safety.  Within that context, the FIA ensures that any event forming part of an FIA World Championship is organised in compliance with the FIA Statutes and the relevant Sporting and Technical Regulations and that the safety of the public, officials, drivers and teams is secured at all times during an event.  The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and by the Commercial Rights Holder. In addition we have endeavoured to assess the ongoing situation in Bahrain.  Based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula One World Championship event in Bahrain.  Therefore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Gulf Air F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain will go ahead as scheduled.”

The drivers haven’t said much in recent weeks, but some have expressed their views over the weekend in China.  In his official column he does with BBC Formula One, Red Bull’s Mark Webber said; “If we have a choice…I want to race, and I would like to go there and do that. But you cannot ignore the fact there are a lot of good people in our sport and all of them have in the back of their minds that we want it to go down smoothly and we don’t want to be involved with the situation that’s out there.”

Earlier in the week, Sir Jackie Stewart had insisted the sport should visit the Gulf State, which before last year had held an annual event since 2004.  1996 world champion and Sky Sports F1 pundit Damon Hill disagreed, raising severe safety concerns over the region.  Since the protests began on the government last year, upto 50 protestors have died and although not on the scale of the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and more recently Syria, the trouble has not left the Manama region.

Bernie Ecclestone has been under severe pressure all week from media outlets and this afternoon, he sat down for an exclusive interview with BBC F1 anchor Jake Humphrey.  Ecclestone insisted that he was confident there would be no trouble at the event next week.  The interview can be seen below;

The decision has been made and it will have driven various opinion from many sources.  However the race does go ahead now and let’s hope it proceeds without any serious implications for the sport, the drivers, spectators going to Sakhir and of course the Bahrani people.

Schumacher ends fastest in quiet Shanghai opening

MICHAEL Schumacher went quickest in the second practice session on a quiet opening day for track action in China.  The German followed up a second fastest slot in the first session which was led by Lewis Hamilton.  It was a day where racing on the Shanghai International Circuit was at a premium, as matters off the track dominated the headlines.  This was because the FIA released a statement in the early hours of the morning to confirm the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled next week (see later story tonight for further details).

The first session was punctuated by mixed conditions, with smog and drizzle meaning there was a lack of clear indication in who looks the fastest pacesetters in China.  Only in the last ten minutes did meaningful times get set; Hamilton leading the way ahead of Nico Rosberg, Schumacher and the star of Malaysia, Sergio Perez.  Hamilton’s fastest lap was a full second quicker than anyone else but he does carry a grid penalty for changing a gearbox between Malaysia and this weekend.  McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh confirmed to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning that Lewis was using the cracked gearbox today and the change will happen overnight.  Test drivers Jules Bianchi, Valeri Bottas and Giedo Van der Garde got minor running in for their teams as Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen sat out FP1 respectively.

Schumacher set the pace after a tepid start to the action this weekend (Eurosport)

A dry second session promoted more decisive running.  The cooler track conditions mean that it will be a gamble to guess how the Pirelli tyres will handle in what is likely to be a warmer race circuit come Sunday afternoon.  There was more action in FP2, as drivers attempted to make up for the lack of running in FP1.  di Resta spun on the pit straight and Timo Glock had a late off into the barriers at the first corner, minus his Marussia Cosworth’s nosecone.  A late effort from Schumacher was enough to deny Hamilton a clean sweep of the fastest times.  World champion Sebastian Vettel was an encouraging third and Mark Webber backed up a radical Red Bull improvement with fourth.  Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a quiet day and was a meagre tenth fastest in FP2, as Ferrari were brought back to reality after their shock Sepang success.  Lotus also had a bad day, Kimi Raikkonen propped up the timesheets in FP1 after technical problems intervened.

On a day when politics ruled the sport again, Mercedes and McLaren again looked fast out of the blocks but little has been given away ahead of qualifying tomorrow morning at 7am UK time.

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 7 1.37.106
2 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.116
3 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.316
4 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.38.584
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 12 1.38.911
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 15 1.38.977
7 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 12 1.39.198
8 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 6 1.39.199
9 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 16 1.39.748
10 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 14 1.39.768
11 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 14 1.40.056
12 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.40.153
13 VALTERI BOTTAS WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 1.40.298
14 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13 1.40.328
15 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 1.40.540
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 14 1.41.071
17 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14 1.41.204
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 14 1.42.330
19 GIEDO VAN DER GARDE CATERHAM RENAULT 11 1.42.521
20 JULES BIANCHI FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 8 1.44.118
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 10 1.44.227
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.44.500
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 12 1.47.264
24 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 11 1.50.465

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 32 1.35.973
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 29 1.36.145
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 27 1.36.160
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 24 1.36.433
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 31 1.36.617
6 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 28 1.36.711
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 28 1.36.956
8 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.36.966
9 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.37.191
10 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 32 1.37.316
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 22 1.37.417
12 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 33 1.37.616
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 30 1.37.836
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 32 1.37.930
15 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 26 1.37.972
16 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 35 1.38.176
17 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 31 1.38.293
18 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 37 1.38.783
19 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 36 1.38.990
20 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 20 1.39.346
21 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.39.651
22 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 25 1.40.343
23 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 30 1.40.753
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 26 1.41.125

History of the Chinese Grand Prix

SHANGHAI hosts the third round of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.  The Chinese event has now been a fixture on the Grand Prix calendar since 2004.  Although it has struggled to maintain a decent attendance from the Chinese locals, the circuit is enjoyed by the drivers and with the various mix in weather conditions, the event has thrown up many special races.

The inagural event in September 2004 was won by the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.  It was a popular win for Rubens, on a weekend where Michael Schumacher had one of his worst weekends ever at Ferrari.  Schumacher had a technical problem on Friday, spun off into the gravel in single lap qualifying and in the race, had a clash with Christian Klien, another spin and a puncture.  Schumacher finished a lap down and back in 12th place.  Jenson Button made a two stop strategy work to finish a close second for BAR Honda whilst Kimi Raikkonen completed the first ever podium at the Chinese Grand Prix.

2005 was the season finale and there was a close battle for supremacy between Renault and McLaren Mercedes for the constructors championship.  Renault carried a two point advantage and thanks to more powerful engines, dominanted the weekend.  Fernando Alonso coasted to his seventh win of the season in which he became the man to knock Schumacher off his perch.  McLaren’s cause to win the teams battle wasn’t helped, when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a loose drain gully, which wrecked his front suspension.  Raikkonen’s second place wasn’t enough for the Woking team whilst a pitlane infringement by Giancarlo Fisichella in the sister Renault handed Ralf Schumacher a surprising podium for Toyota.  Narain Karthikeyan spectacularly crashed out in the last event to witness a Jordan Grand Prix entry and Schumacher Snr had another mere in China.  He unbelievably crashed into Christjian Albers on the way to the grid and then spun off behind the Safety Car.  A year later, he conquered those demons.

On a wet and windy weekend in 2006, the teams running Michelin tyres had a significant advantage.  All of the Bridgestone shod users like Williams and Toyota struggled with the conditions.  Schumacher wrestled his Ferrari around to sixth on the grid, then put an immense drive on Sunday.  He was helped by a technical retirement for Raikkonen and some poor tyre strategy from Renault which meant early leader Alonso lost a comfortable 15 second lead.  The team decided to use Fisichella in an attempt to win the race, but he couldn’t hold back Schumacher’s relentless charge.  The German won his 91st race in Formula One and it was one of his most unlikest successes.  The delight he showed in parc ferme afterwards summed up his delight.  As we stand now, this is his last win and last podium in the sport.

Tyres played a crucial role in 2007 too.  Lewis Hamilton arrived with the possibility of winning the title in his stunning maiden season.  He was 12 points clear of team-mate Alonso and 17 ahead of Raikkonen, now driving for Ferrari.  He took a brilliant pole position and drove away effortlessly from the field in the opening laps.  When the first pitstops arrived, McLaren elected to keep him on worn rubber.  Raikkonen closed him down and passed him comfortably.  Rather than back off and save his worn rubber, Hamilton attempted to keep pushing and the team were very reluctant to bring him in, hoping for another rain shower.  It didn’t come and when he did pit, the tyres gave up their final bit of grip.  Lewis agonisingly slid into the gravel trap and got beached.  His race ended and with Raikkonen winning from Alonso, the championship shootout went all the way to Brazil.  There was also a noticeable drive to fourth place in the unfancied Toro Rosso from a certain S. Vettel!

After the nightmare of 2007, Hamilton arrived for the penultimate event of 2008 under pressure.  This followed a diabolical drive at Fuji seven days earlier.  He was receiving stinging criticism from his rivals, with Alonso and Robert Kubica very outspoken about his aggressive approach.  Hamilton did his talking on the track and produced a disiplined drive to an easy victory.  In a race that lacked excitement, Ferrari had to play the team orders game with Raikkonen to allow Felipe Massa two extra points for second place.  Kubica’s outside championship hopes ended when he was knocked out in Q2 and struggled to sixth place for BMW Sauber.

From 2009 onwards, the Chinese Grand Prix has moved from a season ending race to one of the early flyaways.  Torrential rain in 2009 halted the Brawn GP march towards both championships.  Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello finished third and fourth, but couldn’t match the ultimate speed from Red Bull Racing.  Despite a driveshaft issue in qualifying, Sebastian Vettel took pole position and controlled the race with supreme composure, on a day when many of his rivals were sliding off the road for fun.  He took Red Bull’s first ever Grand Prix victory and Mark Webber followed him home in second place.  It was the start of things to come for the Milton Keynes empire.

Red Bull had a bad day in China 2010 though, trailing in a distant sixth and eigth thanks to some awful pitstops.  Button got it right on the day in changeable conditions, to lead new team-mate Hamilton home for a McLaren 1-2.  It was Button’s second win in four events for his new team and cemented his move from Brawn GP over the winter.  Nico Rosberg produced a strong race to finish third and Alonso recovered from a blatant jump-start to record fourth for Ferrari.  His fightback included a bold overtake in the pitlane entry on his team-mate Massa.

Seven different winners in seven years, but the run ended last year.  Hamilton produced a metoric display to pass Vettel with four laps to go and record a brilliant victory.  This was despite an engine issue nearly prevented him the chance to start the race.  The 2011 race has gone down as one of the all-time classics ever in history.  A fuel consumption issue blew Rosberg’s chances of a shock victory and he wound up a frustrated fifth.  Poor strategy decisions from Ferrari cost Massa a deserved podium and left him trailing in sixth, but nearly half a minute clear of Alonso.  Button made a meal of his first pitstop, by stopping in the wrong pitbox!  He finished fourth, overwhelmed in the dying stages by the incredible Mark Webber.  The Aussie finished third having started a miserable 18th on the grid.

2011 provided passing galore thanks to DRS and the Pirelli tyres.  Throw in the unpredictable weather elements and I’m sure we will be in for another Shanghai stunner at the weekend.

Lotus protest Mercedes rear wing: Rejected by stewards

THE Lotus Formula One team has had a protest about Mercedes GP’s innovative rear wing thrown out by stewards at the Chinese Grand Prix.  Murmurings from rival teams including world champions Red Bull Racing relate to a system which combines the front wing with the rear wing DRS overtaking device.

Mercedes complex rear wing has been given approval to race in Shanghai (Planet F1)

Before the protest was made by Lotus today, the boss of Mercedes GP spoke out and protested the legality of the system.  Ross Brawn told BBC Sport; “It’s a very simple, cheap system, but not so easy to implement if you haven’t integrated it into your car.  This is at the heart of some of the frustration of some of our opponents.  If someone could put it on their car easily, I promise you we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But they can’t do it very easily which is why they’re getting so vexed about it.”

Some teams claim the system gives Mercedes GP half a second advantage and it might play a role in the team’s improved qualifying performances.  However the DRS system is only allowed to be used in one zone during a race and with just one point from two events so far, there don’t seem to be a great deal of benefits to the system.  It certainly doesn’t carry the similar benefits the double diffuser did in 2009, which Brawn innovated and gave his team a massive early and legal advantage over the chasing pack.

With this latest protest having been rejected, Lotus need to focus on their own efforts of moving their cars up the grid rather than complain bitterly about a system that barring a sudden u-turn from technical delegates at the FIA, is legal.

For those who want to understand more about the complex Mercedes GP rear wing, watch this video from Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz during The F1 Show last week;