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Nico joins the elite in Chinese Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nico Rosberg finally becomes a Grand Prix winner (Telegraph)

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

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

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

2012 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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Two in a row for Lewis in sweltering Sepang

BRITAIN’s fantastic start to this season’s Formula One world championship continued in Malaysia today, as for the second successive Saturday, two British drivers take the front row of the grid.  As in Melbourne last week, Lewis Hamilton took his second pole position in a row by a small margin from Jenson Button.  Michael Schumacher achieved his best ever position of his second comeback, lining up third for Mercedes GP.  The race tomorrow is set for an interesting battle involving looking after tyres in sweltering track and air temperatures.

The first qualifying session saw Jean-Eric Vergne ending up as the surprise casualty from the midfield, despite some threatening pace from Toro Rosso on Friday.  Heikki Kovalainen will start last on the grid, following his penalty that he picked up in the race in Albert Park for overtaking cars behind the Safety Car.  The Finn revealed to Sky Sports F1; “To be honest, the balance of the car wasn’t as good on the soft tyres as it was on the harder tyres.  I don’t know why and whether it is the same for everybody.  Even with my penalty, I reckon I will be up to my normal position quite quickly.”  Kovalainen will begin behind both HRT’s, who both escaped the 107 per cent ruling and will start the event tomorrow.

In Q2, Felipe Massa failed to make the top ten, although he was a more slender 0.3secs behind Fernando Alonso.  Although Alonso made it into the pole position shootout, eigth and 12th on the grid highlights Ferrari’s fundamental issues.  Urgent development is required on the car before the next event in China which is on the 15 April.  Also dropping out was Pastor Maldonado who created some headaches in the Williams garage by an early excursion into the gravel at turn 11, damaging barge board components.

The remains of Lotus hospitality unit after a fridge fire last night (Crash.net)

In the final session, Lotus backed up their solid pace shown throughout the weekend so far.  Despite a major fire in the hospitality suite they were staying in last night, which lost them millions of pounds in equipment, the team bounced back with Romain Grosjean impressing to sixth.  Kimi Raikkonen actually set the fastest time in Q2 and ended up in fifth on the timecharts.  However, he will start tenth following an overnight gearbox change.  Red Bull opted for split strategies on their two cars.  Unhappy with the balance on the option tyre, Sebastian Vettel elected to stick on the prime tyre.  Fifth place was a good save although the world champion did look deflated in the media pen afterwards.  Mark Webber stuck with the traditional route and came fourth quickest, lapping fastest in Q1 and proving that the team does have some one lap pace.

As expected, McLaren and Mercedes GP set the majority of the running.  A couple of basic errors on his one lap in Q3 left Nico Rosberg languishing back in seventh place.  Schumacher was an amazing third fastest, lapping consistently throughout qualifying.  The previous Achilles heel of his comeback seems to be put to bed.  Hamilton’s great lap in the opening stages of the session was good enough, despite two attempts from Button that ultimately left him just 0.149secs behind his team-mate.

Tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix promises to be a real stormer of a race.

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING SESSION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 14 1.36.219
2 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 14 1.36.368
3 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.36.391
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 19 1.36.461
5 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.36.634
6 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14 1.36.658
7 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 14 1.36.664
8 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 16 1.37.566
9 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.37.698
10 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 13 1.36.461
11 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.37.589
12 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 15 1.37.731
13 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 13 1.37.841
14 (Q2) PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 15 1.37.877
15 (Q2) DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 14 1.37.883
16 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13 1.37.890
17 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 12 1.38.069
18 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 7 1.39.077
19 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 6 1.39.567
20 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.40.903
21 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.41.250
22 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 4 1.42.914
23 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 6 1.43.655
24 (Q1) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 9 1.39.306

KIMI RAIKKONEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR SAFETY CAR INFRINGEMENT IN AUSTRALIA

Talking Point: Will a new chassis save Massa from the sack?

IT MIGHT only be the second round of the championship this weekend in Malaysia but already, Felipe Massa is under a pile of huge pressure to deliver.  The Brazilian’s shambolic performance in last week’s season opener in Melbourne has left his future prospects of staying with Ferrari hanging even more by a thread.  On Tuesday, the Italian team announced that a new chassis will be flown to Kuala Lumpur, but is that enough to save the charming Ferrari no.2 from the sack.

From the moment Felipe spun off in the opening practice session, his fate in Albert Park of a mediocre performance was sealed.  He never looked comfortable with the F2012, which it has to be said, is proving to be a real handful anyways.  Qualifying saw him a distant 16th, four places behind Fernando Alonso.  That was despite Alonso spinning out early on in Q2.  Although he made an excellent start which saw him upto tenth, Massa quickly fell away from the leading group and spent the majority of the afternoon battling a poor chassis, high tyre wear and probably, his demons on a mental basis.

Massa struggled to hold off the Sauber cars in Melbourne on Sunday (Autoweek)

He was overwhelmed by the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi and the race ended with an unsavoury tangle involving the Williams of Bruno Senna.  When you consider Alonso saved fifth place for the team and was lapping 2-3 seconds a lap quicker on a regular basis, it highlights Massa’s nightmare Down Under.  I described his driving performance as akin to a pig on rollerskates!  It is a sad and sorry decline for one of F1’s nice guys.  Team principal Stefano Domenicalli is still backing his driver though, telling JAonF1; “We need to stay close to Felipe because it’s clear that he’s under pressure.  I’ve asked his engineers to analyse the data on the car, also to reassure him.”  It means that there can be no excuses this weekend.

Mentally, Massa is driving like Damon Hill did in his final, troubled season in the sport in 1999.  The former golden boy of Ferrari has been cast adrift by Alonso’s arrival and moulding the team around the Spaniard’s comforts.  The days of Felipe outpacing Raikkonen in their three years together are a distant memory.  Has he ever recovered from the radio message below (using clever F1 2010 graphics) whilst leading the German Grand Prix by merit in 2010;

I don’t think he has and Shanghai aside last season, I don’t think he has driven as well as he did that day at Hockenheim.  Immediately afterwards, he said he would walkaway from F1 if he was a no.2, having experienced a similar order at Sauber in his debut season, ironically at the same circuit.

Now I don’t know what Felipe Massa thinks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mental note saying ‘it is wrong to beat Alonso.’  It is frustrating, as he can match the best on his day.  Since Hockenheim 2010, it has led to those basic errors that littered his first season in 2002 reappearing far too regularly.  Don’t forget his attempt to pass cars on the grass on the approach to turn one of the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix?  Of course, his high profile incidents with Lewis Hamilton last year have been well documented.

Then, there’s the factor of the crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when Massa was knocked out by a loose spring that had bounced down the road off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car.  He might have scars for the incident, but big knocks can affect a driver.  Ralf Schumacher had a similar experience after a testing shunt in 2003 and he never recovered from this shunt, while it took Mika Hakkinen the best part of 18 months to fully recover from his near fatal accident at Adelaide in 1995.  Only Massa will know how much the Budapest shunt has affected him.

I do hope that the driver who came within seconds of the 2008 world championship does find some of his old form again.  The bare facts are he hasn’t scored a podium since Korea 2010, the longest run a Maranello driver has gone without a podium since Eddie Irvine, 17 races between (1996-1997).  We will see whether a new chassis is the solution to Massa’s problems.  However, more races like Melbourne and Felipe will be lucky to see the season out, let alone hope for a contract extension.

Button and Schumacher lead the way on frustrating opening day

AT 1.30am this morning UK time, Formula One roared back into life with the first practice session for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.  However, not much was given away thanks to the force of Mother Nature.  Intermittent showers made the day difficult to judge, but both McLaren Mercedes and Mercedes GP will have plenty of reasons to be encouraged.

Schumacher kicks up the spray on his way to the fastest time in FP2

Jenson Button led Lewis Hamilton to a McLaren 1-2 in the first practice session.  A late lap from Michael Schumacher was enough to end quickest in the second session.  Button drew first blood in session one with a fastest time of 1.27.560, which pipped Schumacher to top spot.  Moments later, Hamilton who has Lenny Kravitz and Nicole Scherzinger in Melbourne for support, went 0.2secs slower than his team-mate.  However, McLaren set the standard and left an early mark on the field.  An interesting Mercedes GP concept with their rear wing has raised some protest in the paddock, although the FIA scrutineers have declared it legal.  Schumacher played down his pace today, but they certainly look far more competitive than they did at the start of 2011.

The chasing pack in the first session was led by Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, followed by Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.  Alonso was maximising everything out of his car, as he nearly smashed his machinery into the wall at the last corner right at the end of the session.  There were problems for returning champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was restricted to just eight laps in the first session, thanks to a power steering problem.  Raikkonen still wound up ninth fastest though.

Felipe Massa’s season began badly when the Brazilian decided to experiment with putting his rear wheels on the grass at turn nine.  The result was a beached Ferrari and precious track time lost for the under pressure driver.  The only other driver to notably visit a gravel trap was Sergio Perez, caught out by a damp track early on in FP2.  A downpour before the second session meant there was little chance of running until the last 15 minutes for any useful data.  It looked like Nico Hulkenberg would end up fastest in the afternoon session for Force India, until a last lap from Schumacher left him as top dog, although with a slower time than the morning session.  It was a messy day by Sebastian Vettel’s high standards with the world champion failing to trouble the leading times but Red Bull seemed to be taking the cautious approach and will surely have something in reserve for the remainder of the weekend.  This was later confirmed by team boss Christian Horner, who revealed to Sky Sports that the team had not yet ran on light fuel.

It was a nightmare day for Hispania on their first day of any running in 2012.  Narain Karthikeyan grounded to a halt after only three laps in the morning with a mechanical problem.  Pedro de la Rosa could only do one lap, due to a lack of spare parts.  With their fastest time being a full 13 seconds off the pace, don’t be surprised to see the 107 per cent ruling claim the Spanish team as a casualty in Albert ParK for the second year running.

In summary, it was difficult to read a lot into today’s running due to the inclement weather.  The forecast for the remainder of the weekend seems to be indicating at a dry qualifying session and sunny raceday.  McLaren and Mercedes will be the happiest, whilst Ferrari looked a bit better than testing form suggested and Force India confirmed their place as the leaders in the midfield pack.  Only after qualifying tomorrow will F1 2012 begin to have a tentative pecking order.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES                                                                                                                                                                  

1. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.27.560 – 11 laps

2. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.27.805 – 14 laps

3. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.28.235 – 17 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.28.360 – 21 laps

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.28.467 – 21 laps

6. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.28.683 – 22 laps

7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.28.908 – 23 laps

8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.29.415 – 16 laps

9. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.29.565 – 8 laps

10. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.29.722 – 26 laps

11. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.29.790 – 21 laps

12. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.865 – 17 laps

13. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.881 – 18 laps

14. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.29.953 – 21 laps

15. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.124 – 22 laps

16. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.30.515 – 16 laps

17. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.30.586 – 16 laps

18. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.30.743 – 11 laps

19. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.31.178 – 17 laps

20. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.31.983 – 8 laps

21. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth) 1.34.730 – 8 laps

22. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.40.256 – 11 laps

BOTH NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN AND PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HISPANIA COSWORTH) SET NO TIME IN FP1 

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES 

1. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.29.183 – 16 laps

2. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.29.292 – 19 laps

3. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.199 – 22 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.30.341 – 13 laps

5. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.30.709 – 14 laps

6. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.31.466 – 13 laps

7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.31.505 – 14 laps

8. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.31.932 – 16 laps

9. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.32.184 – 17 laps

10. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.32.194 – 19 laps

11. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.32.296 – 20 laps

12. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth) 1.32.632 – 17 laps

13. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.32.767 – 15 laps

14. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.32.832 – 11 laps

15. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.33.039 – 18 laps

16. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.33.259 – 11 laps

17. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.34.108 – 21 laps

18. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.34.275 – 7 laps

19. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.34.312 – 17 laps

20. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.34.485 – 29 laps

21. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.34.604 – 31 laps

22. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.34.770 – 13 laps

23. Narain Karthikeyan (HRT Cosworth) 1.42.627 – 16 laps

NO TIME FROM PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HRT Cosworth)

2012 Team Preview: Ferrari

A STRUGGLE AWAITS

FERRARI struggled to meet expectations in 2011, only managing one victory.  For a team with its heritage, history and success – it was simply not good enough.  Sadly the Italian team seem to be in the doldrums and testing form indicates that 2012 could be even worse.  Not since 1993 has Ferrari not won a Grand Prix in a season.  This year, this stat could well be thrown up regularly if their struggle continues.

The sacking of technical director Aldo Costa after Fernando Alonso’s alarming lack of pace in last year’s Spanish Grand Prix highlighted the desperation in the Ferrari hierarchy.  Generally they have struggled to recover from the strategical blunder that cost Alonso the championship in Abu Dhabi 2010.  In testing, media conferences have been cancelled, Pat Fry and the drivers have admitted that the team is not in the best shape heading into the season and the car has looked slow, unreliable and at times, almost undriveable.  Alonso and his team-mate Felipe Massa face a long season ahead on this evidence.

Alonso will be expecting a marked improvement from testing (sports360.com)

There is bound to be a lot of pressure on team principal Stefano Domenicalli, especially if they are found wanting in the early stages of the season.  Domenicalli won the constructors championship in his first season as the main man at Maranello in 2008, but precious success has followed since.  No one can doubt Alonso’s quality and by being a double world champion, he is certainly capable of anything.  It has been six years now since his last title and the Spaniard will be desperate for Ferrari to give him a championship challenging car.  It could be a frustrating season for a driver who deserves more success and drives his heart out every time he gets in the car.

Felipe Massa is also under pressure and he even has said so.  His series of run-ins with Lewis Hamilton last season was petty to say the least and covered neither driver in any glory.  Psychologically and mentally, the Brazilian looks damaged goods.  On his day, he can still outperform Alonso as shown by outqualifying him four times in the last nine races and outracing him comprehensively in Malaysia and China last season.  However he lacks the consistency required and with no podium since Korea 2010, the stats don’t lie.  If he wants to prolong his career with Ferrari, he needs a massive improvement in 2012.

It is always very dangerous to write Ferrari off, but they simply don’t seem to have the car to deliver the results.  I hope I’m wrong but heads will roll if it turns into a nightmare.  Australia will answer a lot of potential questions about their true place in the current pecking order.

Kobayashi upsets the formbook

Kobayashi ended the Barcelona test in style (Autoweek.com)

SAUBER continued the trend of confusing the formbook, as Kamui Kobayashi ended up fastest on the final day of testing this week in Barcelona.  Although the Swiss team admitted afterwards that his fastest run was as a qualifying demo, it leaves many fans and experts still confused about a potential running order going into the Australia season opener.

Gary Anderson, the new Technical Analyst for BBC F1 said on their website; “This was one of the most confusing pre-season tests I can remember in terms of trying to work out what was going on.  The big teams have been keeping their powder dry.  They look like they’re confident enough to not need to go out there and see what the car can do on a big one-off lap.”

Anderson went on to predict that he still thinks the Red Bull is going to be the car to beat.  Kobayashi set a 1.22.312 today, not only ending quickest, but setting the fastest lap time of the week.  It was slightly better than Pastor Maldonado’s metoric effort yesterday, but the Venezuelan continued his purple patch by going second fastest.  Paul di Resta completed a very surprising top three in the consistent Force India, as Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa spent another day gaining more mileage and not end up being too concerned about setting a fast time.

Six drivers did over 100 laps today, but Marussia never left the garage.  Charles Pic was sidelined for the day after an early discovery of a damaged suspension component.  The team will launch their 2012 model next week.  Meantime, it seems to have emerged that HRT have some issues with their 2012 car.  Their non-appearance this week indicates that the new car has failed the mandatory FIA crash test.

The final pre-season test will be held again at the Circuit de Catalunya, beginning next Thursday.

BARCELONA DAY 4 TESTING TIMES

1. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.312 – 144 laps

2. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.22.561 – 134 laps

3. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.119 – 101 laps

4. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.200 – 115 laps

5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.23.563 – 103 laps

6. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.774 – 85 laps

7. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.792 – 92 laps

8. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.23.843 – 139 laps

9. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.26.968 – 70 laps

Michael is quickest, as Red Bull look ominous

Schumacher and Mercedes set the pace on day two (Sky Sports)

MICHAEL Schumacher rolled back the years as he was the man to beat in the second day of F1’s first winter test in Jerez.  The German, running a revised 2011-spec Mercedes GP was quickest, setting a time of 1.18.651 this morning, which no-one could match in the afternoon segment of running.

However, Red Bull’s new challenger looks ominous as Mark Webber bounced back from limited running yesterday to set a competitive 1.19.184.  Webber was the fastest driving a 2012 car and over 0.4 secs quicker than the next 2012 runner, Daniel Ricciardo, in a Toro Rosso.  Testing times are always difficult to judge, due to various set-ups, fuel loads and the need to attract sponsors in a gloomy economic era.  However, the new Red Bull is looking like an early pacesetter, as we await Sebastian Vettel’s first run in the car.

Lewis Hamilton has not been seen in his new McLaren yet and once again, his name is being mentioned in other areas of the press.  American journalists are speculating that the 2008 world champion has got back together with pop singer Nicole Scherzinger.  This is after a video was uploaded of the pair holding hands and walking down the street, both looking reluctant to talk to the paparazzi.  On a legal side, Hamilton might be asked to testify in Germany, as Adrian Sutil has launched an appeal against his 18-month suspended sentence he received last week for GBH.

Whilst Hamilton makes headlines off-track, the new McLaren continues to make little impact on the testing timesheets in the hands of Jenson Button.  Ferrari have also made a quiet start, working more on set-up components with Felipe Massa rather than set blistering lap times.  Despite an off-track excursion this morning, Kimi Raikkonen did another 117 laps today and ended up in the top five on his comeback to the sport.  Lastly, Heikki Kovalainen produced a consistent day for Team Caterham, as technical director Mike Gascoyne said on Twitter; “Really good day of testing today, 139 laps and lots of long runs on the tyres. Also very succesful first day with KERS on the car.”  11th fastest might not suggest much, but the Caterham sounds like it has a good baseline for the upcoming campaign.  Testing continues tomorrow.

TESTING TIMES FROM DAY 2 IN JEREZ

1. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.18.561 – 132 laps

2. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.19.184 – 97 laps

3. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.19.587 – 100 laps

4. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) 1.20.221 – 46 laps

5. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.20.239 – 117 laps

6. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.20.272 – 69 laps

7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.20.454 – 95 laps

8. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.20.688 – 85 laps

9. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.20.711 – 68 laps

10. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.21.197 – 97 laps

11. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.21.518 – 139 laps

12. Pedro de la Rosa (HRT Cosworth) 1.22.128 – 64 laps