Category Archives: Features

History of the Canadian Grand Prix

FORMULA One takes a brief break from Europe for its first visit to North America this weekend and the Canadian Grand Prix doesn’t do dull!  33 years of glorious action at Montreal, with its first event being an emotional success for Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve in 1978 on home soil.

The circuit has changed on occasion, the weather can be unpredictable and strange things seem to happen here more often than not, such as regular scrapes with the infamous Wall of Champions at the last chicane and the pitlane red light.  The sport didn’t visit Canada in 1987 or 2009 but its popularity with the teams and drivers mean a great atmosphere is always created between the fans and everyone associated in the paddock.

In 1991, Nigel Mansell looked set to secure a dominant victory, having led throughout until he suddenly slowed entering the hairpin on the final lap.  The Brit’s engine died and he beat the steering wheel in frustration as his Williams crawled to a halt.  Mansell had prematurely started waving to the crowd as he began the last lap and had accidentally dropped his engine revs which ultimately caused the problem.  Nelson Piquet came through to take a fortunate win for Benetton.  It was the great Brazilian’s last ever triumph in F1 and Pirelli’s last as a tyre supplier until their re-entry into the sport at the start of 2011.

Four years later, Michael Schumacher had a similar advantage in his Benetton Renault when a gearbox gremlin left him coasting back to the pits for a new steering wheel with 12 laps to go.  The change cost him a certain victory but what it did do was open the path up for Jean Alesi to take his first and only win at his 91st attempt.  It was the Frenchman’s birthday and what made it even more special, he was driving Ferrari n0.27, the exact number Villeneuve had when he won in 1978.

Gilles’s son Jacques came into the sport the following year but success went onto elude him at the circuit named after his late and daring dad.  A close second place finish to Damon Hill at his first attempt in 1996 was to be his best result at Montreal.  He had a string of accidents and mechanical gremlins that always got in the way of a special success.

Schumacher won his second Canadian Grand Prix out of seven in 1997, although it was lucky as a precautionary tyre stop for David Coulthard went wrong.  The McLaren’s clutch overheated and he stalled twice in the pits, losing an eternity of time.  The race was cut short as Olivier Panis suffered a front suspension failure on his Prost through the turn five/six complex.  Panis hit the concrete wall on the outside, before hurtling into the tyre barriers on the inside, with his car failing to deceleration in speed.  The Frenchman broke both of his legs and his Formula One career that was full of promise, never really recovered.

F1 history was created at the Ille Notre Dame in 1999 as it was the first event to end behind the Safety Car.  This was after Heinz-Harald Frentzen needed medical attention following a big crash when his front brake disc exploded on his Jordan with just four laps to go.  Mika Hakkinen won the race, which was full of drama and earnt the ‘Wall of Champions’ tag in the process.  Reigning FIA Sportscar champion Ricardo Zonta and three former F1 champions, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all crashed out at exactly the same point.  Giancarlo Fisichella finished second that day, during an excellent run of four successive podiums in Canada.

More history was made in 2001 with the first 1-2 for brothers in Formula One.  Ralf Schumacher and BMW Williams were more superior against Michael and Ferrari that day, with Ralf taking the victory by 17 seconds having waited until the pitstops to jump his bigger brother.  Hakkinen finished a distant third and said in the press conference afterwards that ‘he was glad there wasn’t a third Schumacher around!’

In 2005, the Renault team pressed the self-destruct button.  Looking set for a 1-2, they kept the slower Fisichella ahead of an animated and frustrated Fernando Alonso.  Alonso eventually was told ‘you’re faster than him, overtake him.’  Seconds later, a loss of hydraulic fluid ended Fisichella’s afternoon.  Alonso joined him on the sidelines when he hit the wall only a few laps later.  A Safety Car to clear up Jenson Button’s crashed BAR caused a miscommunication at McLaren between the pitwall and race leader Juan Pablo Montoya.  Montoya missed his chance to pit and when he did come in after a slow lap behind the pace car, he exited the pits with the red light still on.  That’s a no-no and the Colombian was promptly disqualified, enabling Kimi Raikkonen to win.

Montoya hasn’t been the only driver to be caught out by a red light on the exit of the pitlane.  Two years later, Felipe Massa and Fisichella committed the same offence and got the same penalty of exclusion from the event.  In 2008, Lewis Hamilton misjudged the red light still being on and crashed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen at the pitlane exit, taking both drivers out.  This came a year after Hamilton’s sensational first victory in F1, on a day when so much happened.  Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri even passed Alonso’s McLaren!

In 07, the Polish driver Robert Kubica came so close to losing his life at the track after an aeroplane shunt with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli.  His car was destroyed but he walked away relatively unscathed.  In 2008 – Kubica benefited from the Hamilton/Raikkonen crash to record his sole Formula One victory for BMW Sauber.

Last year’s race was the longest ever in the sport and was simply extraordinary.  Jenson Button survived scrapes with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, made six pitstops and was 21st and last on lap 41.  Incredibly he won, pressuring Sebastian Vettel into a rare mistake on the last lap to clinch a stunning victory.  After last year’s drama, anything is possible especially given the unpredictability we’ve seen so far in 2012.

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Driver performance at the Monaco Grand Prix

WELCOME to my sixth driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Grand Prix de Monaco:

PASTOR MALDONADO

I can’t decide whose stock went down more significantly in the last week; Facebook or Pastor Maldonado.  He had a horrible weekend and all of it was self-inflicted.  The hero of Barcelona was docked ten grid places for some foolish driving in Saturday morning, when he drove into Sergio Perez.  Seeing red mist, he went onto crash on his next lap at Casino Square and only decisive work from his mechanics got the Venezuelan out for qualifying.  Ninth place became 19th, then last after a gearbox penalty.  His race didn’t even last a lap after whacking Pedro de la Rosa into Ste. Devote.  The damage meant he didn’t turn into Loews hairpin and that was that.  A dramatic fall from grace.  4/10

FERNANDO ALONSO

Once again, Fernando Alonso showed his skill to maximise his race result.  Strong from the outset in practice on Thursday, a slightly cautious approach from Ferrari in qualifying cost them a shot at the pole.  Alonso was lucky to not suffer any damage off the startline after some wheel-banging with Romain Grosjean.  He survived, managed his super soft tyres brilliantly to close up on Lewis Hamilton, then jump him by staying out a lap longer.  Faultless as ever and now, the sole championship leader.  9/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the Principality was fairly lacklustre.  He was on the backfoot from the outset, when a steering adjustment ruled him out of FP1.  Playing catchup, eighth on the grid wasn’t bad considering he flirted with elimination in the first part of qualifying.  Lost out to Sebastian Vettel on the first lap, then held on under pressure from Michael Schumacher as his super soft tyres wilted.  Lotus decision to keep him out for as long as possible cost him a higher finish but ninth was probably the right result.  No doubt that Kimi still has that sheer pace but Barcelona aside, hasn’t been able to string together a trouble-free weekend so far in 2012.  6/10 

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

A weekend that started out so promisingly but delivered very little.  Romain Grosjean’s consistency and confidence on Thursday made him favourite for pole position in qualifying.  Lotus had problems with tyre temperatures all weekend and this left the Frenchman in fourth on the grid.  His race lasted six seconds, involving three elements of contact with three different drivers and broken rear suspension meant he didn’t even make turn one.  Disappointing outcome and some foolishness with this DNF but the speed is definitely there.  7/10

SERGIO PEREZ

Whenever Monaco arrives on the calendar, Sergio Perez must dread it.  An incident packed weekend but for the wrong reasons.  Totally blameless in the incident with Pastor Maldonado on Saturday morning and had a near altercation with Nico Hulkenberg too.  Perhaps feeling a bit stressed, he crashed heavily at the Swimming Pool in the first few minutes of Q1.  Later, a steering problem was blamed for his early demise.  Struggled to pass Marussia cars, then collected a drive-through for baulking Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane entry.  Narrowly missed out on points and fastest lap shows it was another case of what might have been for Perez.  6/10

NICO ROSBERG

Quiet beginning to the weekend but Nico Rosberg came on form on Saturday and continued his consistent scoring approach as a result.  Fastest in FP3, Nico maximised the car’s potential in qualifying and ended up on the front row.  Kept Mark Webber on his toes all afternoon in the race but Webber didn’t crack under pressure, so he had to settle for second place.  Rosberg has now scored the most points out of anyone since Malaysia and on this evidence, has to be seen as a potential championship contender.  10/10

BRUNO SENNA

Bruno Senna kept his Williams pointing in the right direction to score a point, something his team-mate Pastor Maldonado had major problems doing all weekend.  Senna was rather oblivious all weekend although he looked all at sea on Thursday in the wet.  13th on the grid was better in comparison to recent events and made his way through the turn one carnage to run ninth in the first stint.  Got his point through persistance and Toro Rosso’s failed gamble on intermediates for Jean-Eric Vergne.  Williams will expect more though as the season progresses from Senna and they will be disappointed that he was beaten by both slower Force India cars.  6/10  

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

The years rolled back on Saturday when Michael Schumacher produced a special lap to land a surprising pole position. Back in sixth following his Spanish grid penalty, contact with Romain Grosjean before turn one ended the Lotus driver’s race and delayed Schumacher to run behind Kimi Raikkonen for the first stint.  Got past Raikkonen by staying out longer but had no chance on improving from seventh until a fuel pickup issue limited his top speed and ultimately cut out the engine.  Difficult to pin any blame on Michael this time, just another luckless weekend.  7/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

McLaren look to be losing some of their early season speed and Lewis Hamilton knows it more than anyone.  Wrestled his car to third on the grid, as the team struggled to match the Mercedes and Ferrari teams all weekend.  Bad start was the trigger to what happened behind between Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher although Hamilton kept third. The team kept him out too long on the super soft and he lost track position to Fernando Alonso and later, Sebastian Vettel.  Only highlight of a boring race for Lewis was being hit by objects from his pitwall.  It was a frustrating day but still scored solid points to stay firmly in the championship hunt.  7/10

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Fourth place at the finish was a save for Sebastian Vettel and he can count himself slightly fortunate.  Practice pace was poor and even needed super soft tyres to escape Q1.  Ran out of the option by Q3 so settled for ninth.  Romain Grosjean’s wayward Lotus nearly took him out at the start but Sebastian narrowly missed him to run sixth and wait for the others to pit before exposing his pace on the prime tyre.  Spent 12 laps heading the field and there was a time when the race looked to be heading into his grasp.  Unfortunately, the tyre lost grip and forced a slightly earlier pitstop than planned.  The longer strategy got him ahead of both Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa though so a good job to collect 12 points on a weekend where he was second best throughout to Mark Webber.  7/10

JENSON BUTTON

Two points from three races and a very unconvincing performance from Button, who isn’t out of the championship hunt but needs to stop the alarming slide in fortunes.  Didn’t seem happy again from Thursday, although he set the fastest time in FP2.  Pace flattered to deceive and he exited qualifying before the pole position shootout again, lining up 12th.  Unlucky to be hit by the flying Kamui Kobayashi in the Ste. Devote fracas and this dropped him behind Heikki Kovalainen.  It is tough to pass around Monaco but the speed differential between the McLaren and the Caterham meant that Button’s performance was dismal.  How he spend all afternoon behind the Finn is a mystery.  Spun out at the Swimming Pool attempting an ambitious pass on Kovalainen.  Needs a big score to regain confidence in Canada.  4/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Kamui Kobayashi badly underperformed when the car was capable of so much more.  Like Jenson Button, disappointing to see the Japanese driver be knocked out in Q2 and his race didn’t last long.  If Kobayashi had taken his initial plan of shortcutting the first corner, he would ducked in behind Sebastian Vettel in seventh.  Instead, he decided to take the longer route and the result was, flipped airborne by Romain Grosjean’s spun Lotus.  Damage to front suspension ended his event after five laps and not much symphony from me on this one.  5/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

I think we have to admit that Jean-Eric Vergne is a better Sunday driver than Saturday driver.  Again only escaped Q1 thanks to the misfortune of another driver and his own accident at the start of Q2 meant he couldn’t do any better than 17th.  Smart move to change tyres on lap 17 allowed him to leapfrog the midfield that were trapped behind the tyre hungry Kimi Raikkonen.  Seventh place was his until the team gambled the lot by pitting for intermediates with six laps to go in a rain shower.  It didn’t work and left the rookie in an unlapped 12th.  He wasn’t happy but should be encouraged with his consistent race speed.  Urgently needs to work on qualifying form now.  7/10

MARK WEBBER

Mark Webber’s twin brother must have been present in Spain because the real Webber turned up in Monaco.  In a car that didn’t deserve to win, he showed his might around the streets to record his second Monte Carlo victory in F1.  Struggled on Thursday but strung a mega lap together in qualifying which earnt him pole position, once Michael Schumacher was moved back down the grid.  Perfect start and made no mistakes throughout on raceday to lead home Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso.  His consistent approach makes him another championship contender.  10/10

NICO HULKENBERG

Perhaps not quite as eye-catching as at Williams but Nico Hulkenberg is looking better since the Grand Prix scene returned to Europe.  Missed out on the top ten shootout by just over a tenth of a second and had no problems running in close company with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday.  Jumped by team-mate Paul di Resta in the pits but took full advantage of Raikkonen being unfairly blocked by Sergio Perez to chase di Resta home.  Eighth was an excellent result, considering the car is still not at the team’s best liking yet.  7/10

FELIPE MASSA

Felipe Massa’s job is safe for now at least after a committed and charging Monaco weekend.  Threatened the frontrunners throughout free practice and was fastest in Q2.  A couple of mistakes on his qualifying lap left him seventh on the grid, when third was definitely possible.  Strong start saw him chasing Fernando Alonso hard and only the late rain shower dropped him off the back of the top five.  Still less than seven seconds behind race winner Mark Webber, sixth place is a massive boost for Massa, both in confidence and psychological terms.  8/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Qualifying 14th was a disappointing result for Paul di Resta but his fourth points finish already of the season shows that he is almost the complete racing driver now.  Kept it out the barriers with consummate ease and although I’d say he was lucky to beat his faster team-mate Nico Hulkenberg on raceday, you can see why teams such as Mercedes GP are interested in his future services.  6/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Daniel Ricciardo is turning into another average driver.  So far, he hasn’t delivered in a car that looks difficult to drive but probably would achieve better results if either Sebastian Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari had been driving it this season.  Beating Vergne in qualifying is a regular achievement now but race pace is not good and was running behind Heikki Kovalainen when he retired with a steering problem.  Must do better to prove his worth to the team in the coming races.  5/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

The street fighter that is Heikki Kovalainen threatened to steal a point at the weekend, proving his quality is being masked by the chassis at his disposal.  Thursday was a nightmare as an engine failure and a spin meant he had to climb out of his Caterham in both sessions earlier than anticipated.  Bounced back on Saturday to only wind up a tenth slower than Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.  Then ran brilliantly on Sunday to keep Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo behind him in faster cars and with little trouble too.  A messy battle with Sergio Perez cost him a front wing in the closing stages and meant 13th looks like a mundane finish.  Has plenty to be pleased though with his race performance.  9/10

VITALY PETROV

Looked fast on Thursday and had potential to shock Toro Rosso in qualifying and make Q2.  The Russian underperformed on Saturday and ended nearly a second slower than Heikki Kovalainen.  Delayed by Kamui Kobayashi’s flying antics in the first corner chaos and an intermittent electrical problem meant he was a regular pit caller until withdrawing on lap 15.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Had the measure of Charles Pic throughout the weekend, although on a better day, could have punished Vitaly Petrov for his tame qualifying effort on Saturday.  Had little option to shortcut Ste. Devote at the start to avoid the multiple accident and made his car had to pass against the likes of Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne.  When they got past, had a lonely run to 14th.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

Claimed his qualifying lap on Saturday to be his best ever around Monaco and by beating Charles Pic, would have pleased the HRT bosses.  Unfortunate to be clouted heavily by Pastor Maldonado while attempting to avoid the St. Devote carnage and the resulting rear wing damage meant it was retirement in the pits without completing a lap.  6/10

CHARLES PIC

Done well for most of the season but Monaco seem to overwhelm Charles Pic.  Struggled in qualifying and ended up on the back row and half a second behind Pedro de la Rosa’s slower HRT.  Promoted up thanks to grid penalties for Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez and evaded the first corner mess well.  Made little impact in the race and retired for third successive race with an electrical problem on lap 64.  4/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

Kept it out of the wall this season in Monaco and credit to Karthikeyan to finish the race, only two laps down and in 15th place.  It is hard to judge the HRT team’s merits in Formula One but if their drivers finish the race, that’s all that can really be asked.  6/10

Total scores after 6 events: Fernando Alonso 51, Lewis Hamilton 48, Sebastian Vettel 46, Romain Grosjean 46, Kimi Raikkonen 45, Mark Webber 45, Nico Rosberg 45, Pastor Maldonado 42, Sergio Perez 42, Jenson Button 41, Paul di Resta 41, Michael Schumacher 39, Nico Hulkenberg 39, Heikki Kovalainen 39, Kamui Kobayashi 38, Bruno Senna 37, Vitaly Petrov 37, Daniel Ricciardo 36, Jean-Eric Vergne 36, Timo Glock 35, Charles Pic 34, Felipe Massa 31, Pedro de la Rosa 30, Narain Karthikeyan 28

History of the Monaco Grand Prix

FORMULA ONE’s jewel in the crown is the Monaco Grand Prix and it has staged an event in every single year of the Formula One World Championship.  I won’t be covering the whole history, just within the last 20 years but I have to start with one exception.

The closing laps of the 1982 event have gone down in living memory.  Longtime race leader Alain Prost crashed his Renault on a slippery circuit with only a few laps remaining.  This handed the lead to Riccardo Patrese, who promptly spun his Brabham at Loews and allowed Didier Pironi into the lead.  The Frenchman only led for a few hundred metres until his Ferrari spluttered to a halt, out of petrol.  Andrea de Cesaris briefly inherited the no.1 position before he did what he did best, crashed!  Derek Daly became a challenger before coasting to a halt after terminal damage was caused to his Williams.  James Hunt famously said in the BBC commentary box; “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we are waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one.”  Finally, Patrese regained his composure to win his first ever Grand Prix.

Hunt, who never won Monaco gave us another classic moment in 1989 when Murray Walker told the viewers about moody Frenchman Rene Arnoux and the lack of pace he had in the closing days of his career with Ligier.  Hunt’s live  response on the BBC was; “All I can say to that is b#####it!”

In 1992, Nigel Mansell was aiming to become the first driver to win the first six races of the season since Alberto Ascari in the 1950s.  It looked on course in Monaco until a late pitstop to replace a slow puncture.  The Brit, another never to win in the Principality came out behind the master of Monaco, Ayrton Senna.  What followed was one of the most doggest pursuits in the archives as Mansell tried everything to get past Senna’s slower McLaren Honda.  The Brazilian’s remarkable defensive driving earnt him a fifth Monaco victory and in 1993, he made it six.  Little did we know that he wouldn’t be back in 1994 to make it seven.

The 1994 event was always going to live in the shadow, especially as it was just two weeks after the painful and tragic weekend at Imola, which accounted for Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.  In Thursday free practice, Karl Wendlinger lost control of his Sauber Mercedes and crashed on the approach to the chicane.  Wendlinger suffered serious head injuries and fell into a deep coma.  Although he made a full recovery, his F1 career was effectively over.  A first lap collision between Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen helped Michael Schumacher cruise to his first Monaco GP success, 40 seconds clear of Martin Brundle in a McLaren Peugeot.

Hill was another Brit to be out of luck in Monte Carlo and was denied a clear victory in a crazy 1996 race which saw just four of the 21 starters make the finish.  Schumacher had moved to Ferrari and started on pole position, before making an uncharacteristic mistake and crashing out at the Portier on the first lap.  It was the same place where Senna had famously gone off in 1988 and became so distressed, he went home for hours after the race.  Hill built up a 30 second lead before a rare Williams Renault V10 engine failure exiting the tunnel on lap 40 forced him into a gut-wrenching retirement.  Jean Alesi was the next leader but a wheel bearing problem forced him onto the growing list of retirements.  After all that, a masterful decision on tyre choice saw Olivier Panis come through from 14th on the grid to record his first and only victory and the last for the Ligier Formula One team.  For the record, only David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen also made the finish.

Schumacher showed his skill around Monaco in 1997 on another wet day.  He charged into the lead from second on the grid and built up a colossal 22 second lead within five laps, winning in the end by nearly a minute.  The Williams team made a bizarre decision to start Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve on slick tyres and both would crash out.  Rubens Barrichello held his nerve to finish an extraordinary second for the brand new Stewart team in just their fifth race, bringing Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time Monaco winner himself to tears.

One Brit who had success in Monaco was David Coulthard.  The Scot won this famous race twice.  In 2000, he inherited victory after Schumacher’s Ferrari suffered a suspension failure, having led by 50 seconds at one point.  In 2002 DC battled an engine problem and stiff challenges from the Williams and Ferrari teams to record a popular victory for McLaren.  It was the only time the Ferrari F2002 was beaten in the 2002 dominant campaign.

Juan Pablo Montoya recorded a super win for Williams in 2003, their first success in Monaco in 20 years and a year later, it was Jarno Trulli’s turn to taste victory.  Trulli’s only Grand Prix victory came on a weekend where the Renault team had the fastest car throughout.  Schumacher lost his chance of winning the first six races in a season, following a controversial clash with a lapped Montoya in the tunnel behind the Safety Car.

No man has dominated Monaco since Schumacher’s first retirement, with Fernando Alonso coming the closest, recording back-to-back successes in 2006 & 2007 for Renault and McLaren respectively.  The 2006 event’s main headline was Schumacher’s parking attempt at Rascasse in qualifying which was a deliberate attempt to stop Alonso, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella beating his fastest time.  The stewards sent him to the back of the grid and he was vilified in the entire paddock.  Some say it was his antics in Monaco that played a part in him announcing his retirement later in the season.

The honours in the last four seasons have been split between Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  To win Monaco, you need speed, skill, a bit of luck and total commitment as one mistake and it is an expensive accident against the magnetic attraction of the barriers.  Considering the unpredictable start to 2012 so far, a sixth different winner is highly possible, especially on this circuit where form can fluctuate.

MY TOP TEN MONACO MEMORIES

1. The epic battle between Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell for the victory in 1992.

2. Olivier Panis achieving victory against the odds in the crazy 1996 event.

3. Michael Schumacher’s masterclass in the wet in 1997.

4. Red Bull’s amazing celebrations after Mark Webber led Sebastian Vettel home to a 1-2 in 2010.

5. That unforgettable finish in 1982; the race that no-one seemed to want to win!

6. Alexander Wurz taking on Michael Schumacher in a fantastic battle in 1998, the highlight of Wurz’s F1 career.

7. Jenson Button parking in the wrong place and having to rundown the start-finish straight to the crowd’s acclaim, following his dominant performance for Brawn GP in 2009.

8. James Hunt calling Rene Arnoux “b######t” in 1989 live on the BBC.  Well you might as well be honest about someone at the end of the day!

9. David Coulthard achieving Red Bull’s first podium in 2006, then going onto the podium dressed in a Superman cape!

10. The first signs Ayrton Senna would become a superstar, in the shortened 1984 race for the underfunded Toleman team.

Driver Performance at the Spanish Grand Prix

WELCOME to my fifth driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Gran Premio de Espana:

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

After his Bahrain dominance, Sebastian Vettel had a quiet time in Barcelona, as Red Bull continue to try and understand the tyres behind their 2012 package.  Looked ominously fast on Friday and in Saturday practice but the pace disappeared in qualifying and the team elected to do some battery runs rather than competitive laps.  Held off Kamui Kobayashi on the first lap, then had to battle a nose change after debris damaged his old front wing and a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags.  Gained late positions on Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to recover to sixth and maintain a joint championship lead.  7/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Looked dangerous on Friday, given the prestigious pace of the Lotus on long runs.  Qualifying was slightly lacklustre, which now leaves him behind Romain Grosjean 4-1 in those rankings.  Fine start had him challenging for the lead into turn one, then settled into a quiet pattern, keeping a safe distance from the first two, probably too safe.  Attacked brilliantly in the final stint and would have passed Fernando Alonso if the race ended a lap later and his general frustration on the podium suggested another case of what might have been.  9/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Romain Grosjean achieved his third successive points finish, although there still were some nervous moments during the race.  A slow start had him side-by-side with Sergio Perez which led to contact on the exit of turn two.  Grosjean survived this and another collision with Bruno Senna later, that trimmed the Lotus of some front wing parts.  Once past Nico Rosberg, drove into the distance to finish a commanding fourth and this, despite losing the whole of FP3 after being grounded by a fuel pressure problem.  Looking like the complete Grand Prix driver now.  8/10

MARK WEBBER

Battled a heavy cold and an oversteery chassis all weekend and Mark Webber carried a long face around the paddock throughout.  A trip into the gravel in FP2 highlighted his struggles although it was more the team’s fault than his in failing to make the final part of qualifying.  Dismal start left him languishing in 15th and a nose change like his team-mate Sebastian Vettel put him out of the points reckoning.  Will want to improve in Monaco.  5/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

The words luck and Lewis Hamilton don’t fit into the same sentence so far in 2012.  Hamilton was flying around Barcelona and dominated qualifying to take McLaren’s 150th Formula One pole position.  Unfortunately, human error meant the team told Hamilton to stop on the track after his flying lap, as he didn’t enough fuel to both return to the pits and give the FIA a required sample after qualifying.  The stewards took a stringent approach and sent the Brit to the back of the grid.  On an almost impossible two stop strategy, Hamilton did well to battle back and finish eighth and ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, on a circuit where overtaking is difficult at best.  When the luck changes, he will win races in 2012, he just needs to stay cool and positive as he is at the moment.  9/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Force India brought some signficiant upgrades to Spain but struggled to challenge for points, despite the best efforts of both drivers.  Paul di Resta started 12th and operated around the points for the majority of the race.  Race pace was slightly slower than Nico Hulkenberg for the first time this season and a struggle on the prime tyre allowed the Toro Rosso cars to overtake in the closing laps, leaving the Scot in a disappointing 14th place at the finish.  Final result wasn’t justified with his hard working efforts as ever.  7/10

NICO ROSBERG

Nico Rosberg had his usual mundane race, staying out of trouble and picking up points on a circuit that seemed to highlight that despite winning in China, Mercedes GP still have work to do, especially in hot track temperatures.  Started sixth after one qualifying attempt and benefited from a tangle between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez to run fourth for the first stint.  Tyre wear again played a factor and had nothing in reserve to defend fifth from both Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastian Vettel on the final stint.  Seventh was about the maximum possible.  7/10

FERNANDO ALONSO

I’m starting to run out of superlatives to describe Fernando Alonso’s performance in 2012.  Alonso is maximising the potential of the F2012 and doing even more, which leaves him joint leader of the championship on 61 points.  Another stunning effort in qualifying saw him haul the car onto the front row and a perfect start had him leading into the first corner for the second year running.  Ferrari kept him out longer on his second set of tyres, which cost him the lead and a late vibration on his last set cost everyone a grandstand finish.  Apart from this, another exemplary performance from the Spaniard.  9/10

JENSON BUTTON

No balance, a lack of speed and not at the races.  Jenson Button had a poor weekend and left Barcelona with two points but chin down on the ground.  Moaning about the lack of rear end grip from FP1 on Friday, his frustrations were clear on the team radio throughout the event.  Exited qualifying in the second session thanks to radical track improvements, although his Sunday pace would suggest he would have struggled to make the cut anyways.  Spent most of the race fighting Kamui Kobayashi and a poorly balanced car and will be annoyed to be passed by Sebastian Vettel twice and the world champion had a problematical race too.  This is one event Button will want to forget in a hurry.  6/10

FELIPE MASSA

After improvements in China and Bahrain, Felipe Massa returned to his Australia/Malaysia form in Barcelona.  Absolutely hopeless and exposed against team-mate Alonso, suffering the indignity of being lapped by his team-mate in the race too.  Blamed traffic for winding up slowest in Q2; the team increased the pressure with a Twitter status suggesting they were unimpressed with his Saturday efforts.  Super first lap had him upto 11th before a drive-through ruined the hopes of scraping a point.  Claimed his penalty was unfair but the way he responded in the second half of the race was pitiful and dismal.  Similar performance in Monaco might see Massa ending up visiting the job centre next Monday.  Very poor!  4/10

SERGIO PEREZ

Pace in practice suggested a fantastic qualifying session and fifth place on the grid was fully deserved.  The Mexican looked comfortable on both sets of tyres but his race was effectively over three corners in after an unfortunate touch with Romain Grosjean punctured a tyre.  The slow trip back to the pits was damaging and a poor pitstop, contributing to a transmission failure later on ended his day prematurely.  His race pace was quick though, so it was a case of what might have been for Sergio in Spain.  8/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Kamui Kobayashi has been a mixed bag so far in 2012.  We’ve seen aggressive moments in Malaysia and more passive driving in Bahrain as an example.  He was on form in Barcelona and matched his best ever career result.  A hydraulic problem at the end of Q2 left him a frustrated spectactor in Q3 and back in ninth on the grid.  Made up for Perez’s scrappy Sunday with some committed attacking passes on Jenson Button and in the later stages, on Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.  A way behind Romain Grosjean at the chequered flag but decisive on his way to fifth place.  9/10

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Button, Webber, Massa and Schumacher’s performance were all brutally exposed by their team-mates in Spain.  Lucky to make Q3, before team elected not to run him as they felt not much could be achieved apart from the eigth place he would eventually start from following Lewis Hamilton’s penalty.  Got upto sixth in the first stint before getting up close and personal with Bruno Senna.  Misjudged his braking point into turn one, taking both out of the race.  He called Senna an ‘idiot,’ the officials rightfully disagreed and slapped him with a grid penalty for Monaco.  Awful performance.  5/10

NICO HULKENBERG

It wasn’t noticed by many, especially in the light of Pastor Maldonado’s success but Nico Hulkenberg produced a calm and matured performance by himself and it was only to register a solitary point.  Hulkenberg had made a rocky start to 2012 but had the edge on Paul di Resta for most of the weekend, even though the Scot edged him out to 12th on the grid.  Kept Lewis Hamilton behind in the early stages and the way he dealt with the pressure that Mark Webber put on him throughout the last 30 laps was impressive, considering the Force India just wasn’t fast enough for points this weekend.  A great effort and will no doubt help his confidence for future events.  9/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

There was a bit of luck in the way he achieved pole position after Lewis Hamilton’s penalty following qualifying but his performance on Sunday was no fluke.  Maldonado was in superb form all weekend and was a contender for a strong result from the moment he went second fastest in FP3.  His qualifying lap was stunning and deserved his front row start.  A faltering start cost him the lead to Alonso but Pastor didn’t let this fluster him and kept the Ferrari more than honest. Clever strategy placed him ahead of Alonso after the second stops and under pressure, managed his final set of tyres to great precision.  Deserved fully all the plaudits for a remarkable performance.  10/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

The Toro Rosso team are in danger of being cut adrift from the tight midfield pack and it is becoming difficult to read the performances of their young drivers apart from against each other.  First time this season that Jean-Eric Vergne got the better of Daniel Ricciardo in both qualifying and the race, which will leave the Australian less than amused.  Will be pleased to have beaten Paul di Resta and Felipe Massa though and keeps his 100 per cent reliability record up in 2012 too.  6/10  

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Barcelona has never been a happy hunting ground for Heikki Kovalainen, with painful memories of his horrific crash in 2008 perhaps still lingering in his mind whenever he competes here.  Outqualified for the first time in 2012 by Vitaly Petrov.  Better in the race and avoided problems to edge out his Russian team-mate, although the Caterham is still approximately 0.5secs off the midfield pack.  6/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

The Frenchman went better this weekend, on a track that he knows well from his testing and Euro Series days.  Bruno Senna’s error in Q1 meant he got into Q2 for the first time since Melbourne and used this fortune to beat Ricciardo in qualifying for the first time this season.  Perfect start had him upto tenth, ahead of both Force India’s and Mark Webber and only some slower pitstops than Force India and a partial Webber recovery denied Vergne a point.  This weekend though will give him a much-needed boost, especially in his battle for supremacy with Ricciardo.  7/10

BRUNO SENNA

Pastor Maldonado’s stunning weekend highlights that Bruno Senna had a complete mere in Spain.  Traffic ruined his first qualifying effort and then he looked down at his delta on the soft run and spun into the gravel, leaving him high and dry in 17th on the grid following Hamilton’s demotion.  His pace in practice hadn’t been that good before this mistake anyways.  Williams put him on a two stop strategy but afternoon ruined when Schumacher used him as brake and put Bruno in the gravel.  Then his car was wrecked by the garage fire afterwards.  Will need an upturn and improvement in fortunes, particularly in qualifying from now on.  5/10

VITALY PETROV

Vitaly Petrov outqualified Heikki Kovalainen in Spain, the first time he achieved this feat in 2012.  Struggled in the first stint of the race but matched Kovalainen from mid-distance and a faster race lap than Hulkenberg’s points scoring Force India will give the team a lot of confidence.  Reliable and improvements in KERS had aided this upturn and until they can get right in the mix, all Petrov can do is match his team-mate.  7/10

CHARLES PIC

For the second successive race, Pic got the better of Timo Glock in qualifying and by nearly half a second in the process.  A spin on the second lap dropped him to the back of the field and ignored blue flags which earnt him Fernando Alonso’s wrath and a drive-through penalty.  Mechanical failure ended a sorry Sunday but continues to do a good job all round.  6/10

TIMO GLOCK

Timo Glock is a real enigma, as you don’t know which version will show up in the paddock.  Will be disappointed to be so far off his team-mate’s pace in qualifying but a more committed race effort that earnt him another finish.  Tough to judge race performance, considering Caterham seem to have taken a big step forward following the Mugello test.  6/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

A problematical weekend.  Sat out FP1 so test driver Daniel Clos could get some running.  An electrical problem lost him Friday afternoon too and another technical problem ended his qualifying early, meaning he missed 107% cut.  Done a time significant in FP3 to get the special dispensation but it was all for nothing when he toured around at the back before a loose wheel saw him park up on lap 22 following a faulty pitstop.  Luckless all weekend.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

New package for his home race and did his maximum efforts throughout but with the team falling further behind Marussia and Karthikeyan’s reliability dramas all weekend, little de la Rosa could compare himself against.  6/10

Total scores after 5 events: Fernando Alonso 42, Lewis Hamilton 41, Sebastian Vettel 39, Romain Grosjean 39, Kimi Raikkonen 39, Pastor Maldonado 38, Jenson Button 37, Sergio Perez 36, Mark Webber 35, Nico Rosberg 35, Paul di Resta 35, Kamui Kobayashi 33, Michael Schumacher 32, Vitaly Petrov 32, Nico Hulkenberg 32, Bruno Senna 31, Daniel Ricciardo 31, Charles Pic 30, Heikki Kovalainen 30, Timo Glock 29, Jean-Eric Vergne 29, Pedro de la Rosa 24, Felipe Massa 23, Narain Karthikeyan 22

Talking Point: Is Monaco safe to race on?

THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix.  The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’  It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.

Many of the greats have won around here.  The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak.  2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions.  Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times.  Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.

However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?

Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again.  Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane.  In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner.  Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically.  In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended.  It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event.  The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track.  Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury.  The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts.  Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries.  Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race.  However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.

Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive.  Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”

I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;

Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year.  I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views.  If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport.  The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”

JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been.  The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably.  If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”

Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before.  Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”

j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race.  It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”

slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore.  If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza?  Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there.  It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.

Talking Point: Should Schumacher stay on?

THE elder statesman in Formula One, one of the greatest ever is going through another barren period in his failed comeback.  If some say Kenny Dalglish’s second return to the Liverpool FC dugout was unsuccessful, as he was sacked this week, what does this say about Michael Schumacher’s return.

Statistics can sometimes make viewpoints ridiculous but these facts don’t lie.  Two and a half years into his return and it reads; no wins, no pole positions, only twice in the top three in qualifying, no podiums and a series of desperate crashes which indicate that reactions are getting slower and speed is being lost.  True, form is temporary and class is permanent but Schumacher has shown evidently little in his return and after five races in 2012, he sits a dismal 18th in the championship, with three non-finishes and just two points to show for his efforts.  This is Schumacher’s worst start to a Formula One season and there will be those in the paddock will be questioning his motivation to continue.

The second Michael Schumacher certainly is a lot more relaxed than the first version and there can be no doubt that there is some enjoyment in him competing.  However he isn’t delivering the results expected and no excuses about the car in 2012 should be allowed.  The Mercedes was the class of the field in China, as shown by new race winner Nico Rosberg.  The team probably aren’t getting the full potential out of the chassis at the moment but whereas Rosberg has finished fifth and seventh in the last two events, Michael has only managed a fortunate tenth and another DNF in Barcelona last weekend.

In their previous two years at Mercedes together, it was notable that Rosberg had been comprehensively outperformed by Schumacher at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Michael achieving fourth and sixth place finishes in that time.  The tables were turned last week and his performance was simply forgettable.  He only just scraped into Q3, lagged behind Rosberg on raceday and then had a clumsy accident with Bruno Senna which ended his race after just 13 laps.

Another misjudgement from Schumacher in his failed comeback last Sunday (BBC Sport)

The incident occured entering turn one, as the Mercedes had a great run on the Brazilian’s tyre-hungry Williams.  At the braking zone, Senna moved but only slightly to the inside to protect his line.  Despite having not pitted, this was a battle for position.  Schumacher completely misjudged his braking point and smashed into him.  It was an error you’d expect to see a rookie driver make, not a seven-time world champion.  A five place grid penalty for Monaco next weekend is deserved and with Monte Carlo being so difficult to overtake on, his chances can’t be that good to improve on his points score.  What made me laugh even more was the way he called Senna an ‘idiot,’ over the radio.  Those with small memories should remember Adelaide, Jerez, Hungary 2010 when he tried to put ex-team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the pitwall.  You have to admit your mistakes or you don’t improve as a driver and these are testing times for the German, who might have produced some masterstrokes in the Ferrari days but is only tainting his own reputation and status as one of the greats.

While panic stations shouldn’t be alerted now and others like Felipe Massa could be only one race away from the sack, attention must turn to 2013 and what the Mercedes GP board do.  Schumacher’s contract expires at the end of the season and I think he has an intention to carry on.  Ross Brawn wasn’t present in Barcelona but he won’t want more performances like this from an experienced head.  Ross has got a tough decision to make, especially considering the success the pair have had at Benetton and Ferrari together.  Loyalty is a big commodity to have but how far can you go?  Rosberg has a long-term deal, is now a race winner and looks extremely settled and Mercedes will want a second driver who can deliver the goods on a regular basis.  I’m afraid Schumacher isn’t ticking this box at the moment.

Who should Mercedes go for then?  Lewis Hamilton is believed to be stalling on a new deal at McLaren, works closely with Mercedes anyways and has a great relationship with Rosberg.  There’s Paul di Resta who is producing consistent performances again at Force India and is groomed by Mercedes through his successful DTM days.  Although he has struggled initially in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg is German and would fit well into the marketplace, plus he has talent.  Jaime Alguersuari is Pirelli test driver and would bring lots of tyre knowledge to the team for next season and although there are grave uncertainties about his full fitness, a Rosberg/Robert Kubica partnership would be dynamic, considering the Pole is out of contract now following his injuries in the past couple of seasons.  There are options and Schumacher’s future looks like being an integral part of the 2013 drivers market.

I hope we see more of the best from Michael Schumacher and there have been gradual improvements, particularly in qualifying performance but there are too many troughs and issues to iron out.  He might love his racing for sure but I don’t think that is going to be enough to keep him in a drive with Mercedes GP next season, unless he starts scoring points regularly and matches what Rosberg can do.  It is time for Michael to step up and answer those doubters and Monaco is the perfect place to begin a fightback in his fortunes, both in the short and long term.

Remembering Imola: The aftermath and the improvements

IN MY final blog this week remembering the ghastly weekend at Imola in 1994 – it is time to look at the aftermath of the events and how the sport has moved on with radical and rapid improvements in medical facilities, safety and learning lessons from very dark and distressing times.

In the days after Imola, there was a lot of soul searching to be done by everyone who was involved in the weekend’s proceedings.  Gerhard Berger, who was driving for Ferrari had to consider his future in the sport, especially after witnessing the death of his closest friend Ayrton Senna and countryman, Roland Ratzenberger.  Others had sleepless nights but the show carried on and all the drivers who raced at Imola in 94 didn’t retire in its aftermath.

The FIA and especially its president, Max Mosley were inspirational in a time of real crisis.  They made immediate changes to safety regulations in the sport, beginning from the Spanish Grand Prix, just two races after Imola and contiuning with this until well into 1995.  Changes included the introduction of the ‘plank,’ to remove illegal skidblock wear which was the downfall to Michael Schumacher’s disqualification after winning at Spa that August.  Driver cockpit sides were strengthened and made bigger and the FIA crash test came into force as a mandatory procedure, both in frontal and side impacts.  A new pitlane speed limit was brought into force to reduce the chances of significant injury after the Michele Alboreto incident in the pits at Imola.

These changes were too late to save some from other nasty accidents.  Austrian Karl Wendlinger fell into a deep coma after crashing at the Nouvelle Chicane during practice for the next race in Monaco.  Wendlinger’s injuries were caused thanks to driver impact from the barriers.  Pedro Lamy had a monumental shunt during private testing at Silverstone in which he was ejected from his Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy survived but suffered serious leg injuries and multiple fractures.  In Barcelona, the destroyed Simtek team had to deal with another cracked monocque when Andrea Montermini ran wide into the final corner and crashed heavily during practice, fracturing his heel and breaking his foot.

However driver injury has become far less in recent years.  There have been close escapes, with Felipe Massa especially in 2009.  Although there were two marshal fatalities due to flying debris at the beginning of the millennium, the most serious driver injury since 1994 was Olivier Panis breaking both of his legs after a suspension failure pitched him into the barriers during the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix.  The FIA continue to set the standards in safety today.  The deaths of Marco Simoncelli in MotoGP and Dan Wheldon in IndyCars last October highlight that motorsport is dangerous and always will be.  However it is much safer than it ever has been.

In the wake of the Imola tragedies, the GPDA was reformed, having been disbanded in 1982.  Three time world champion Niki Lauda initiated its return with Berger, Michael Schumacher and Christian Fittipaldi as directors.  Membership isn’t compulsory but many of today’s drivers are part of the association.  Temporary changes were made to many circuits including ridiculous but necessary tyre chicanes in Barcelona and the slowing down of cars for one year through the daunting Eau Rouge corner at Spa.  A year later Formula One returned to Imola with permanent chicanes installed at Tamburello and Villeneuve corners to slow the cars down.  Again, these measures were needed to slow the average speeds down but Imola lost its glory as a drivers circuit, often produced processional events and was axed from the F1 calendar at the end of 2006.  Schumacher remained chairman of the GPDA for 11 years until his first retirement in 2006.  Today’s chairman is experienced Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa with Massa and world champion Sebastian Vettel as directors.

Ayrton Senna’s name is spelt wrong in the poorly researched ‘Going Critical’ documentary – shown by Channel 4 in September 2001 (SennaFiles)

The cause of Ayrton Senna’s fatal accident is unlikely to ever be found out.  There have been many points of speculation including a terrible Channel 4 documentary in 2001 as part of the ‘Going Critical’ series where it was wrongly promoted the whole truth would be revealed.  There was a high-profile trial into the case in Italy and Sir Frank Williams, Patrick Head and Adrian Newey were all acquitted of manslaughter in 1997.  It would be wrong for me to speculate on what caused Senna’s accident although driver error was very very unlikely.  For a car to crash at Tamburello, something would have to break or explode on the car, as Berger experienced at the same spot in the 1989 race.  Roland Ratzenberger’s accident was caused by his front wing breaking as a result of it being weakened by impact with either an off-track moment or a high kerb.  Ratzenberger’s car went straight on into the concrete wall with no steering or braking capability due to the loss of the front wing.

The legacy of both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger’s accidents and the entire weekend at Imola is that Formula One has taken onboard what happened and has done all it has to make sure that these kinds of tragedies are prevented in future.  Death in F1 has happened before and it will at some stage, probably happen again.  However so many precautions have now been taken and that is thanks to the hard work of the drivers and the FIA.  Everyone wants to race in a safe environment and to a large extent, this has been achieved since that terrible weekend in April/May 1994.

Neither Senna nor Ratzenberger will be forgotten by the Formula One fraternity.  The experience of these hellish events has made Formula One a safer environment today.

Remembering Imola: Ayrton Senna – A genius behind the wheel

THE penultimate blog from remembering Imola focuses on the career and the life of Ayrton Senna, eighteen years after he tragically perished at the wheel of the Williams FW16 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  Forget Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.  In my opinion, Senna was the greatest ever human being to drive in Formula One.

Senna was very successful in the junior formulae in Brazil and in England.  He begun karting at the tender age of four.  For him, racing was in his blood and so to was his will and desire to win.  To him, second place wasn’t acceptable; he felt it was first of the losers.  He underlined that ruthless streak early on in his career, in the tense and exciting duel with Britain’s Martin Brundle for the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship.  Senna dominated the first half of the season, Brundle the second half and it left Ayrton to pull off some crazy overtaking attempts that often ended in accidents.  Eventually he overcame Brundle in the season finale at Thruxton and Formula One beckoned.

Despite testing for McLaren and Williams in the winter of 1983, Senna opted to sign for the Toleman team, later to become Benetton.  Immediately Senna made an impression, despite his inferior equipment.  He came so close to winning his maiden race in 1984.  In Monaco Senna made full advantage of the awful weather conditions, to charge through from 12th on the grid.  He pulled off some stupendous overtaking moves, with the confidence that suggested he would be a champion in future waiting.  Only a red flag that brought the race to an early conclusion denied him.  Senna insisted that he would have won if the race had it run just one more lap.  The determination to succeed was firmly there.  Podiums at Brands Hatch and Estoril followed but Senna knew that Toleman was not a long-term stay.  He went to Lotus for the next three seasons, convinced that this might be the team that could deliver him the world championship.

In only his second race for the famous British marquee, Senna won in Portugal – in very similar conditions to those of Monaco 1984.  Second placed Michele Alboreto was the only driver not to be lapped, in a clinical and masterful performance in the wet.  Not only did Senna become a great wet weather runner, he developed a close association with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in his time at Lotus and also the amazing skill he had to produce a flying lap.  Eight pole positions in 1985 and this skill remained with Senna all the way till his untimely death.  Although Schumacher has beaten this statistic, it took him twelve years to do it after Ayrton’s death.  65 pole positions in 161 races, over 33 per cent is one of the most impressive ratios I’ve ever seen.  In his three years with Lotus, Senna achieved third place in the 1987 championship and six wins in total, including a maiden triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo.  However the British team was on a steady rate of decline and Ayrton elected to jump ship, taking Honda with him to McLaren.

Frustrated by seeing the more superior Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell often get the better of him despite his undoubted talent, Senna was convinced the switch to McLaren would finally give him the success it craved.  There he was partnered with the Frenchman Alain Prost, the golden boy of McLaren at the time.  Fireworks would explode between the pair, though not initially.  The 1988 McLaren Honda was the most dominant car in Grand Prix history, winning 15 of the season’s 16 races.  If Jean-Louis Schelesser hadn’t taken Senna out in the closing stages at Monza, it could well have been a clean sweep.  Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven – though the ‘Professor’s’ consistency meant he went on to score more championship points.  However on a countback system, which the sport used at the time, Senna knew that victory in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix would be enough for his first championship.

The start was a disaster as Senna squandered pole position and dropped to 14th by turn one, giving Prost a colossal advantage.  Very quickly Senna showed the superiority of his McLaren and charged through the pack.  By lap 16, he was fourth and eleven laps later, was challenging for the lead.  When Prost was trapped in backmarkers, Senna seized his opportunity and squeezed past his team-mate on the start-finish straight.  It was a clinical piece of overtaking and a drive that thoroughly deserved to win the championship.  Prost was very gracious in defeat, admitting that Senna had been the better driver during 1988.  Apart from a moment in Portugal, when Ayrton had nearly put Alain into the pitwall, their battle had been a joy to watch in 1988.  Sadly the next two years bought politics and accusations to the heartfelt of the sport.

Race two of 1989 was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.  Prost and Senna entered a gentlemanly agreement, that the man who approached the braking point for the Tosa hairpin first, would go onto win the race.  Senna took pole position and led on the first lap.  However when his good friend Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames, the race required a restart.  Second time round, Prost made the better start and led approaching Tosa.  Senna, presuming that the agreement was only meant on one attempt, stole the lead into the hairpin and drove into the distance.  It was perhaps a gentle misunderstanding but Prost, who finished over a minute adrift refused to talk to Senna again.

1989 was not a lucky year for the Brazilian, losing certain victories in USA, Canada and Italy due to mechanical problems, whilst he was taken out in Portugal by the already disqualified Mansell.  Once again Suzuka would be the deciding factor in the championship battle, this time with Prost the favourite.  Senna had to win to stand any chance of taking the fight to Adelaide.  He lost the lead with a poor start and harassed Prost all afternoon, with little chance of getting ahead.  On lap 47, he closed up and made his move into the final chicane.  Prost, knowing that Senna had to win turned into the corner and the accident was inevitable.  The two McLaren cars interlocked wheels and slid to a halt.  Prost unbuckled his belts and walked away but Senna kept his engine running and restarted.  However he needed outside assistance from the marshals to get going again.  Despite needing to pit for a new nosecone, catching and overtaking the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini, Senna won and was promptly disqualified for the outside assistance offence.  Prost was champion.  Ayrton was furious, threatening to walkaway from the sport he loved, believing that a conspiracy had been set-up against him by Prost and the unpopular FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre.  More allegations and accusations followed and Senna’s super license was revoked.

The following March he was back, having apologised and won the season opener in Phoenix.  Once more the fight for supremacy was between Senna’s McLaren Honda and Prost, who had swapped seats with Berger and moved to McLaren’s closest rivals Ferrari.  For the third successive year, Japan was the deciding point for the championship saga.  This time it was Prost who needed to win to keep his title dream alive.  Senna took his customary pole position but bitterly complained all weekend that pole position was on the dirtier side of the grid.  He campaigned for it to be changed and Prost actually agreed.  The officials granted Senna’s request, but Balestre refused to back down.  Consequently Senna vowed that if Prost turned into turn one first, he would regret it.

Twenty-four hours later and Senna accelerated away but Prost got the better start and took the lead.  Senna looked for a gap on the inside of the first corner that disappeared quickly.  Contact was inevitable and the McLaren and Ferrari disappeared into a cloud of dust.  The outcome of the 1990 FIA Formula One World Championship had been decided in a matter of seconds in such sad and distasteful circumstances.  It was a second title for Senna but bittersweet.  Only at the same event a year later, with Balestre gone and replaced by Max Mosley did Senna admit that he deliberately ran Prost off the road in 1990.  His will and desire to win couldn’t be faulted but in attempting to knock another car out on purpose was a hideous crime, which on a normal UK road would land you with at least a driving ban and possibly a jail sentence.

In 1991, Senna won his third and last drivers title for the umpteenth time at Suzuka, the deciding point of most title battles.  Prost fell away and was fired by Ferrari before the season’s end, so it left for a renewed rivalry to remerge between Senna and Nigel Mansell.  Senna won the first four races in 1991 but as the Williams Renault became the stronger package during the campaign, Senna grew frustrated realising that McLaren were being out developed by a rival for the first time in his stint with the Woking team.  Eventually reliability and a terrible pitstop in Portugal shot down Mansell’s 1991 title dream but not for the worth of trying.  He went wheel-to-wheel with Senna, sparks flying at some 200mph down the backstraight of Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, one of the sport’s most iconic images.

As the Williams team mastered the active suspension system, McLaren drifted further behind and Senna had to work especially hard for any of his later victories in his career.  1992 was a major disappointment, as Ayrton finished 4th in the final standings with just three wins, compared to the nine of the dominant Mansell.  One of his greatest victories came in Monaco 1992 when he managed to hold off a hard-charging Mansell, who clambered all over the back of his McLaren in the last five laps.  Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of the season and Senna questioned whether he should remain in the sport, especially when Prost ‘vetoed’ him not to drive alongside him at Williams in 1993.

Senna decided to stay with McLaren on a race-by-race basis in 1993 and was excellent throughout the season.  There were memorable victories in Brazil for the second time at home, Japan, Australia and for a record sixth time in Monaco.  However he saved the best for a damp Easter weekend in 1993.  The venue was Donington Park for the European Grand Prix.  Senna qualified 4th and was squeezed out by the uncompromising Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Redgate.  Undeterred he sprinted past the young German on the exit and then swept past the fast-starting Karl Wendlinger in his Sauber around the outside of the Craner Curves.  Next target were the dominant Williams and just three corners later, he went inside Damon Hill to move into second.  He tore into Prost’s early advantage and outbraked his chief rival into the Melbourne Loop.  He had gone from fifth to first by the end of the first lap, definitely the greatest lap in Grand Prix history.  Senna won the race from Hill by nearly a full lap. 

For 1994 Senna got his dream move to the Williams Renault squad.  With Prost having retired and Mansell competing in IndyCars, this was Senna’s chance to add to his forty-one victories.  Sadly the partnership that promised so much never came to fruition.  Senna didn’t like the handling of the FW16 and had a miserable first two races.  He spun off and stalled his engine in Brazil, chasing down Schumacher’s Benetton.  Then he was tipped off the road by Mika Hakkinen into the first corner of the Pacific Grand Prix.  Arriving at Imola, Senna had no points, Schumacher twenty.

Autosport magazine claimed he was a man under pressure.  He didn’t show it though, focused on his goal to bring Williams back to the top after an unconvincing start.  He blitzed the entire field in San Marino, setting the quickest time in every single session.  However accidents to his countryman Rubens Barrichello and the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying deeply affected Senna.

Deep down he didn’t have the passion to race.  Some say he was not on the best of terms with his family, due to his burdening relationship with Adriane Galisteu.  Others suggest he believed that Schumacher and Benetton were cheating their way to success, by using the now banned electronic aids.  Either way he put those issues aside and went out to race.  A startline accident put the race behind the Safety Car and it was going too slow for Ayrton’s liking.  On the restart Senna charged away, determined to pull away from Schumacher.  On lap seven, he entered the flat-out Tamburello bend when his Williams refused to turn into the corner.  The rest they say is history… 

Ayrton Senna may have not endeared himself to everyone.  However his skill behind the wheel of a racing car cannot be questioned, nor could his charitable work he put in for many local Brazilian and worldwide charities.  His speed, desire and commitment to win were immense, even if some of his tactics had to be questioned.  A devote Christian, Senna believed that God would save him on the racetrack.  His death brought shock to the whole world – and the funeral that followed brought Brazil to a complete standstill.  Chillingly he had predicted that the new regulations for the 1994 season would bring serious accidents, possibly even bring the horrible fatality that he feared could happen.  On 1 May 1994, the world lost a famous icon, and although Williams found replacement drivers easy to come by, Formula One will never see the likes of him again.  In 2010 a movie was made about his career, simply titled ‘Senna.’

Ayrton Senna is a legend who leaves an endearing legacy to many and is a sporting legend forever.

AYRTON SENNA (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

The greatest of all time, Ayrton Senna (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

Remembering Imola: A catalogue of shocking events

REMEMBERING Imola continues with a deeper look into the catalogue of horrific events at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  A weekend that changed Formula One racing forever.  18 years on, the safety of today’s modern Grand Prix cars has improved greatly.  Sadly though it happened at the loss of taking away the life of the greatest Grand Prix driver of his generation, Ayrton Senna.

The horror of the weekend began on Friday 29th April 1994, when in the first official qualifying session, the young Brazilian Rubens Barrichello lost control of his Jordan Hart car approaching the quick Variante Bassa chicane.  His car launched off a kerb and smashed into the tyre wall at colossal speed, narrowly avoiding going over some catch fencing.  Only the quick reactions of Professor Sid Watkins prevented the talented Barrichello, second in the drivers championship at the time from swallowing his tongue.  Remarkably he walked away with just a cut lip, minor bruising and a broken nose.  His weekend was over but his life had remained intact.  It reminded Grand Prix fans and drivers of the real dangers that the sport possesses.  Just 24 hours later, the luck ran out.

Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was attempting to qualify for what only would have been his second Grand Prix, having finished his first race in Aida just a fortnight earlier.  Eighteen minutes into Saturday’s second qualifying session, Ratzenberger’s front wing broke off exiting the flat-out Tamburello bend.  His wing had been weakened by leaving the track on his previous flying lap at the Aqua Minerali chicane.  With no steering or braking capability, the Simtek Ford car ploughed straight into the concrete wall at Villeneuve bend on the approach to the Tosa hairpin.  The impact was thought to be close to 200mph.  As soon as his car came to a halt, it became clear from a very early evident stage that Roland wasn’t going to be as lucky as Barrichello was.  The session was stopped and the medics did what they could to save the rookie’s life.  However it was to be a battle in vain, with Ratzenberger being pronounced dead on arrival at Bologna Maggiore Hospital.  He became the first driver to be killed at a race meeting for twelve years, since Ricardo Paletti’s demise at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.  The last driver to suffer a fatal crash in an F1 car was the Italian Elio de Angelis at the wheel of a Brabham, during a test session at Paul Ricard, France in 1986.

On raceday, meetings were held between the drivers with the decision to announce the reformation of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association).  In the wake of Ratzenberger’s accident, no-one could predict the chilling omens for raceday.  The show went on with David Brabham, Ratzenberger’s devastated team-mate electing to continue for the Simtek team.

At the green light, Ayrton Senna stormed into the lead from his 65th pole position leading Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Ford and the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger.  Further back, JJ Lehto had stalled his Benetton from row three on the grid.  The two Ligiers of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard narrowly missed the Finn’s stricken car but Lehto was to be collected by Pedro Lamy’s fast acclerating Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy spun into the barrier and across the road with both cars completely destroyed by the impact.  Lehto suffered a light arm injury and Lamy escaped unhurt but it was a wheel from the departed Lotus that caused the mayhem this time around.  It vaulted into the spectactor fencing leaving nine people, including a policeman with minor injuries.  Despite all the debris on the circuit, the decision was taken to deploy the Safety Car for only the third time in Grand Prix history.

After five laps under the Safety Car, Senna charged away with Schumacher in hot pursuit.  Two laps later, Senna’s car didn’t turn into the flatout Tamburello corner Tamburello corner, pitching straight on into a concrete wall at some 140mph, possibly even greater speed.  The crumbled Williams returned to the edge of the circuit with Senna slumped in the cockpit, debris being thrown in all directions.  The race was red-flagged.

Once again it was clear that Senna was in a grave condition from the outset, with very little sign of movement from the cockpit of his car.  As Professor Sid Watkins and the marshals got to work again, the severity of the crash especially from the pictures being beamed around the world on television made the scene even worse.  Senna was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital from the track.  As soon as the first medical bulletins filtered through from the track, any hope of a recovery was realistically lost.  The race was eventually restarted 45 minutes later with Schumacher claiming his third successive victory in a very sombre atmosphere.

During the race, the final event of a horror weekend occurred when a wheel departed from Michele Alboreto’s Minardi as he exited the pits from his final stop.  The errant wheel bounced down the pitlane and struck one chief mechanic from Lotus and three from Ferrari.  Luckily, none of the injuries were serious.  After the race, Senna was announced as clinically brain dead and his life machine was switched off.  Brazil went into a state of national mourning, the world of sport stunned into silence.

Fortunately the steps taken to improve safety in Formula One have been of massive leaps and boundaries.  Many drivers since 1994, including Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Takuma Sato and more recently in Hungary in 2009 with Felipe Massa have had serious, frightening accidents.  All have been able to live the tail and go racing again.  The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will go down as the darkest weekend in motorsport history and eighteen years on, its pain will never heal.

Remembering Imola: The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix starters – Where are they now

REMEMBERING Imola continues with this special look at all the drivers who took part at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and what has happened to them since.  We sadly know what happened to both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, but what happened in the race weekend to the other 26 competitors and where are they now.

1994 Gran Premio di San Marino Grand Prix – The drivers

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 2nd, Race: 1st

Schumacher was chasing Senna hard before the Brazilian’s inexplicable accident which caused the race to be stopped.  In the second race, he was beaten off the line by Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari but stayed on the Austrian’s tail and passed on lap 10 exiting the Aqua Minerali chicane.  Schumacher cruised to victory afterwards by some 50 seconds.

Today: Michael Schumacher still competes in Formula One, driving for the Petronas Mercedes F1 team.

NICOLA LARINI

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 6th, Race: 2nd

Larini was standing in at Ferrari for Jean Alesi, who had been injured at Mugello in a testing accident a month earlier.  The Italian qualified a solid sixth, but slipped to seventh off the start.  On the second start, he quickly moved into fourth and jumped Mika Hakkinen on the road and aggregate timing after the first round of pitstops.  He then drove calmly to finish an excellent second, easily his best ever finish in Formula One

Today: Larini forged a stronger career in touring cars, often a frontrunner in the European and World series.  He retired from professional racing at the end of 2009.

MIKA HAKKINEN

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 8th, Race: 3rd

The McLaren Peugeot alliance was a disastrous combination but went well at Imola.  Reliability problems and some overdriving in qualifying left Hakkinen back in eighth place on the grid, jumping Nicola Larini at the start.  Following the restart, the Finn ran third for the majority of the distance and held off a late attack from Karl Wendlinger to take McLaren’s first podium of the season.

Today: After two Formula One titles in 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen retired from Formula One in 2001.  He did some driving in DTM before stopping racing completely in 2007.  He now has a career in driving management.

KARL WENDLINGER

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 10th, Race: 4th

The under-rated Austrian took tenth spot on the grid as Sauber didn’t run in qualifying on Saturday following Ratzenberger’s fatal accident.  Wendlinger leapfrogged Ukyo Katayama at the start and was eighth before the red flag was thrown for Senna’s accident.  On the restart, he ran fifth and moved into fourth when Berger retired.  He was catching Hakkinen and just fell short of a maiden visit to the podium.

Today: Wendlinger’s F1 career effectively ended after a serious accident in practice for the next race at Monte Carlo.  He forged a career in sportscars afterwards and was still racing in GT1 with Lamborghini in 2011.   

UKYO KATAYAMA

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 9th, Race: 5th

A radically improved Tyrrell had Katayama flying all weekend.  He started in the top ten and spent most of the race fighting for points with Damon Hill and Christian Fittipaldi.  Fittipaldi’s late retirement helped Katayama into fifth place, equalling his best ever F1 result.

Today: Katayama has focused on his other hobby, which is climbing mountains.  By 2010, he had successfully climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro amongst others.  He also is a commentator for Fuji TV on Formula One.

DAMON HILL

Drove for: Williams Renault, Qualified: 4th, Race: 6th

Damon had a difficult first day of qualifying but improved to fourth on the grid from seventh just moments before Ratzenberger crashed.  Holding position from the start, he clashed with Schumacher at the Tosa hairpin on the restart and limped back to the pits with a damaged front wing.  Hill set fastest lap on his fightback to sixth and the final championship point.

Today: After retiring from Formula One at the end of the 1999, Damon had a successful time as president of the British Racing Drivers Club, securing the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in the process.  He is now a pundit on the new UK F1 channel, Sky Sports F1.

HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 7th, Race: 7th

This was only Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s third race in F1 and it was a dramatic weekend.  He did well to qualify seventh and was devastated by the death of his close friend Ratzenberger on Saturday afternoon.  He missed Lehto’s stalled Benetton by millimetres on the green light and was due to line up in fourth for the restart.  Unfortunately he stalled on the dummy grid and had to start from the pitlane.  A collision with Mark Blundell damaged his front wing and meant despite setting the fourth fastest lap of the day, Frentzen missed out on points in seventh at the chequered flag.

Today: Frentzen has plans to race in the Indian Racing League next season.  For now, he competes in some sportscar and GT events and is often a driver steward at Formula One race meetings for the FIA.

MARTIN BRUNDLE

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 13th, Race: 8th

Brundle went fourth quickest in Saturday’s practice session, but an engine failure on Saturday and crash in qualifying on Friday left him well out of position in 13th on the grid.  Tenth at the red flag, Brundle’s race was compromised by a dreadful second start that him scrapping with Johnny Herbert and Pierluigi Martini for most of the distance.  He finished a frustrated eighth, but it was his first race finish of 1994.

Today: Martin Brundle has crafted out a successful career in the media and his technical analysis has made him a wanted man for all UK TV broadcasters.  He has commentated for ITV, BBC and from the start of 2012, joined the Sky Sports F1 team.

MARK BLUNDELL

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 12th, Race: 9th

Mark Blundell struggled to match the pace of his team-mate Katayama and had a weekend of total obsecurity, qualifying 12th and finishing two laps down in ninth place.

Today: Blundell was a CART driver until 1999 and a pundit on the ITV F1 team until they lost broadcasting rights to the BBC at the end of 2008.  Now, Blundell runs his own management company, 2MB Sports Management, handling the career of McLaren tester Gary Paffett amongst others.

JOHNNY HERBERT

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 20th, Race: 10th

With an old spec Mugen Honda engine and a difficult Lotus chassis to handle, Herbert’s frustration was starting to creep in with the dwindling outfit.  He got the maximum out of the car at Imola to finish tenth, little reward for his determination.

Today: Herbert has done various roles in motorsport, from British Touring Cars with Honda to racing at Le Mans for Audi.  Like Brundle and Hill, he is a regular contributor to the newly formed Sky Sports F1 team as a pundit.

OLIVIER PANIS

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 19th, Race: 11th

As with Lotus, 1994 was a very tough season for Ligier due to ownership issues with both engine and management.  F3000 champion graduate Panis struggled around to 11th in the race, gaining important race mileage for his future career.

Today: Panis has a new love now, competing in Ice Racing.

ERIC BERNARD

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 17th, Race: 12th

Eric Bernard was often outpaced by Olivier Panis in 1994, but got the better of his team-mate in qualifying at Imola, lining up 17th.  He was behind David Brabham at the time of the red flag and trailed home 12th and the last runner, three laps down.

Today: Bernard has gone onto a successful career in GT and sportscar racing

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 16th, Race: Retired on lap 56, brake failure led to him spinning

Fittipaldi drove superbly under adversity after seeing what happened to his compatriot and close friend Senna.  He looked set to finish fifth until a brake failure sent him into the gravel and out of the race with six laps remaining.

Today: Fittipaldi quit F1 at the end of 1994 and has moved to America where he still lives today.  He has raced in CART, NASCAR and American sportscars ever since.

ANDREA DE CESARIS

Drove for: Jordan Hart, Qualified: 21, Race: Retired on lap 49, accident

de Cesaris returned to Jordan where he had raced in 1991, subsituting for the banned Eddie Irvine.  Lacking race fitness and sharpness, he had many predictable spins and accidents all weekend and on lap 49, retired from near the back from you guessed it, another crash!

Today: de Cesaris has carved out a successful career in Monte Carlo as a currency broker and spends a lot of his free time windsurfing around the world.  

MICHELE ALBORETO

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 15th, Race: Retired on lap 44, wheel flew off on pitlane exit

The veteran Italian Michele Alboreto had a tough weekend full of mechanical gremlins.  He was forced to start from the pitlane in the spare car and on lap 44, retired after a loose wheel fell off his car and bounced down the pitlane injuring mechanics from Ferrari and Lotus.

Today: Alboreto won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche in 1997, but tragically was killed in April 2001 when a tyre exploded while doing some testing in Germany for Audi in the build-up to the 2001 sportscar classic.

GIANNI MORBIDELLI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 11th, Race: Retired on lap 40, broken engine

Morbidelli qualified a strong 11th and was running in a closely fought midfield pack along with Martin Brundle and Heinz-Harald Frentzen when the unreliable Ford engine broke down on lap 40.  Points were possible as he was running ahead of eventual sixth placed finisher Damon Hill on aggregate timing at the time.

Today: Morbidelli raced in BTCC for Volvo in 1998 and had time in European Touring Cars too.  He now is racing in the V8 Supercar Series in Australia.

PIERLUIGI MARTINI

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 14th, Race: Retired on lap 37, spun off trying to overtake Brundle

Martini had a quiet weekend and was closely matched with Michele Alboreto.  On lap 37, he spun off at Tosa and ended up in the gravel after a failed overtaking attempt on Martin Brundle whilst running tenth.

Today: Pierluigi won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 and 1999 and he was last seen competing in public during a one-off Grand Prix Masters series event at Kyalami in 2005. 

DAVID BRABHAM

Drove for: Simtek Ford, Qualified: 24th, Race: Retired on lap 27, spun following handling imbalance

David Brabham showed his brave committment to continue in such tragic circumstances after the fatal accident of his team-mate, Roland Ratzenberger.  He raced Eric Bernard and was ahead of him before the red flag came out.  From the second start, he carried on until suspension failure caused by handling imbalance saw the Australian spin out.

Today: David is still competing in GT racing and in V8 Supercars in Australia last year.  He is a keen charity campaigner and won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz.

BERTRAND GACHOT

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, Qualified: 25th, Race: Retired on lap 23, engine failure

Gachot managed to drag his incompetent Pacific Ilmor package onto the grid and did well to miss Pedro Lamy’s out of control Lotus on the first lap.  He toured around at the back before retiring with a blown engine on lap 23.

Today: Unknown

OLIVER BERETTA

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 23rd, Race: Retired on lap 17, engine failure

The unknown Beretta never matched Erik Comas at Larrousse and was the team’s only entry in the second race following Comas’s decision to withdraw in the wake of witnessing the medics attending to Senna.  An engine problem saw him retire on lap 17 with only Brabham and Gachot for company at the back of the field.

Today: Born in Monte Carlo, Beretta is still racing today, competing in a GRE-pro class Ferrari in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

GERHARD BERGER

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 3rd, Race: Retired on lap 16, Suspension issue after running over debris 

ERIK COMAS

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 18th, Race: Withdrew on lap 5, distressed by Senna’s crash

Qualifying in 18th, a miscommunication from his pit sent Comas screaming out of the pitlane exit when the red flag came out and he only narrowly missed the medical helicopter on the circuit attending to Ayrton Senna.  Eurosport commentator John Watson called it the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen in his life.  Distressed by what he witnessed, Erik elected to withdraw from the restart.

Today: Comas spent several years competing in GT racing in Japan, as well as focusing on driver management, promoting further French talent.  He suffered from ill health in 2006 and effectively retired from all forms of racing.  Now he runs Comas Historic Racing, which is a service that provides customers to pay and drive historic rally driving cars.

JJ LEHTO

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 5th, Race: Retired on lap one, stalled and hit by unsighted Lamy

JJ Lehto was making his first appearance of the season after recovering from neck injuries he sustained in a pre-season testing crash at Silverstone.  He flew to fifth on the grid in qualifying but stalled on the grid and was collected by Lamy leaving his car stranded in the middle of the track.  He walked away with a minor arm injury.

Today: Lehto commentated for Finnish TV for nine years at the start of the millennium.  In December 2011, he was sentenced to two years in jail, found guilty of reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol after a boating accident in Finland that killed his passenger.  Lehto has served intention to appeal against his conviction.

PEDRO LAMY

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 22nd, Race: Retired on lap one, careered into back of Lehto

Young Pedro Lamy made a spectacular exit in this race, when unsighted by Andrea de Cesaris, the Portuguese driver smashed into JJ Lehto’s stranded Benetton on the grid.  Lamy walked away from his shattered car unhurt.

Today: A serious crash in private testing at Silverstone in 1994 left Lamy with serious leg injuries.  He left Formula One in 1996 and is a regular Le Mans competitor.  In 2012, he is competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

PAUL BELMONDO

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, DID NOT QUALIFY

Pacific’s woeful chassis/suspension combination meant Belmondo had little chance of ever qualifying for a race other than by default.  He ended up 0.3secs behind Ratzenberger after his crash, meaning he spent Sunday afternoon as a spectactor.

Today: Paul Belmondo became a motorsport team owner in 1998 and dovetailed that with a career in GT racing.  His whereabouts are unknown since the Le Mans Endurance series folded in 2007.

RUBENS BARRICHELLO

Drove for: Jordan Hart, DID NOT QUALIFY FOLLOWING ACCIDENT ON FRIDAY

Barrichello’s weekend ended almost as soon as it started.  Ten minutes into first qualifying, the Brazilian lost control of his Jordan Hart in the tricky Variante Bassa chicane near the pits.  His car hit the top of the tyre barrier and almost somersaulted the catch fencing.  Only quick action from paramedics stopped Rubens from swallowing his tongue.  He was very lucky to suffer only a cut lip, broken nose and light damage to his right arm.  However his participation in the San Marino Grand Prix was over.

Today: After failing to find a drive in Formula One for 2012, Rubens Barrichello has begun a new chapter in his career, competing for KV Racing Technology in the 2012 IndyCar series, finishing in the top ten twice in his first three events.

Talking Point: Driving Etiquette in Formula One

REFLECTING on Nico Rosberg’s crazy and unecessary swerves on his rivals in Bahrain, I wanted to share my opinion on the state of defensive driving in Formula One and how lucky there hasn’t been any serious accidents because of this for a while.

Schumacher's attempt failed at Jerez in 1997 (f1wolf)

There was a time in Grand Prix racing where turning into your rival early or deliberate attempts to take a competitor out of the race seemed to be okay.  Ask Michael Schumacher, who did it at Jerez in the 1997 title decider and received a very leninent penalty for the crime.  Then we had the debate about weaving excessively to keep track position in defence.  Damon Hill did this in Canada 1998, which upset Schumacher greatly afterwards.  The boundaries continue to be pushed in the element to be totally successful.

Driving etiquette in Formula One needs to be looked at because the standards in defending a position seem to be getting worse.  Any driver doesn’t want to get into a position like Jarno Trulli used to; ‘There’s a green arrow, pass me on the inside.’  However, today’s drivers need to respect their competitors more and know when track position is gone.

Rosberg’s moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in Sakhir were dangerous and he didn’t get penalised.  Luckily no contact was made in either incident but they were lucky escapes.  In the first incident with Hamilton on lap 10, Rosberg dived inside the McLaren as Hamilton was exiting the pits from his first pitstop.  As Hamilton got into the slipstream, the Mercedes driver went to defend the inside and started to move across the road.  As the Brit dived out from underneath the rear wing, Rosberg squeezed him completely off the track.  Lewis had to take to the concrete asphalt to avoid Rosberg’s late direction movement and actually got infront.  He might have exceeded track limits but it was either that or have an accident.  I would have given Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, maybe give him a reprimand for this as he isn’t a regular offender in Formula One.

The second moment with Alonso was even more dangerous, as the Spaniard had to get out of the throttle to avoid being launched over the Mercedes car.  The extra speed used thanks probably to some KERS use from the Spaniard looked frightening.  Rosberg continued to move from the traditional racing line and although his direction change wasn’t quite as brutal as it was with Hamilton, he didn’t give Alonso an option and sensibly, the double champion took a safe choice and backed out of the attempted overtake on lap 25.  On this occasion, I would have added some time onto Rosberg’s finishing position, maybe 5-10 seconds as there seemed to be more of a thoughtful decision in what he was doing rather than a sudden movement or rush of blood.  It was risky and very severe, uncalled for actually.

No-one wants a repeat of Mark Webber’s terriyfing accident in Valencia 2010.  The race stewards in Bahrain had their chance to send out a message of no nonsense and this they failed to do.  Rosberg’s manoevures were not the worst ever seen in Grand Prix racing but it deserved a time penalty even if that just dropped him behind the two drivers affected in the final classifcation.  He could count himself lucky to have not been sanctioned for the incidents.

On his team radio during the race, Alonso said; “He pushed me off the track.  You have to leave a space, all the time you have to leave a space.”  Later that evening, he posted on his Twitter page when finding out Rosberg would not be punished,“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! ;)))”  It is very true but I find his reaction to this hilarious.  Pot, kettle, black spring to mind Fernando.  Weren’t you the driver who squeezed Sebastian Vettel onto the grass during the Italian Grand Prix last season?  Vettel criticised the move and rightly so, he was brave to make it stick too.

The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;

“Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”

Sounds like Rosberg was guilty then but no action was taken.  The defending ruling changed at the start of the season where a competitor will be penalised if they moved across the road more than once in an overtaking scenario.  This ruling was brought in after the feisty scrap between Schumacher and Hamilton at Monza last year.  Is it a ruling or just a guiding?  After last Sunday’s incidents, you can’t help but agree to some form with Fernando Alonso.

The decision was made and at the end of the day, all the drivers have pushed the regulations of driving etiquette to the brink on occasion.  Schumacher has done it all throughout his career, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have both made questionable track movements in the past in an attempt to defend their position and even the world champion isn’t perfect.  Vettel has shown his ruthlessness at times.  Remember giving Jenson Button minimal space at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix last season.  These examples show I’m not singling out Nico Rosberg but I reckon that a precedent has to be set, starting from the annual drivers meeting before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11.   I worry that in the top line of motorsport, we have got to a point where the standard of defensive driving is getting to a very dangerous stage.  Make it hard and competitive of course but fair and responsible too.

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)

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

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

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.