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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

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Fernando & Jenson share spoils on disjointed day

AS IN Barcelona two weeks ago, it was Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button who shared the spoils of ending up fastest in the first two practice sessions for a Grand Prix.  Alonso set the pace for Ferrari by nearly half a second in FP1 and Button managed to squeeze in a run on the super soft tyre in the afternoon session on a disjointed opening day of the Monaco Grand Prix meeting.  Sunday’s race is likely to be decided by qualifying positions and once again, durability of the Pirelli tyre compound and little was given away today.

This is because all the teams were affected by the lack of dry running.  Persistent rain showers in the second practice session meant Monaco looked more like Britain did in April.  The weather gods seem to have given us in the UK the traditional weather at the moment reserved for Monte Carlo in late May!  Despite the lack of dry running, Lewis Hamilton has an inklin of who will be setting the frontrunning pace at the weekend.  He told formula1.com; “I think today we got a bit of an understanding of how quick people are.  The Lotus looks pretty quick and I am not quite sure what Red Bull is up to.  Ferrari looks fast and so do we.  So first you have the usual suspects, but we have seen before that it would be dead wrong to underestimate all others.”

Hamilton was impressed by Lotus and it looked like the Enstone team have the most consistent and best handling car so far around the Princiapality.  Romain Grosjean put in a string of fastest laps together in the first practice session and ended an impressive second in both sessions.  Grosjean has a good record from his GP2 days and has to be considered as a contender, providing he keeps it clean for the rest of the weekend.  He said afterwards to BBC Sport; “I like Monaco.  I like the track; it’s good fun.  The car is going well at the moment and let’s see what we can do later on.  It is important to have a car you are confident with.”  Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had a very frustrating day, failing to set a time in the first session after the team made a steering rack adjustment in the pits that didn’t go to plan.  With just an installation lap under his belt, the rain wrecked Raikkonen’s hopes in FP2 and he is now playing catch-up going into Saturday’s sessions.

The Ferrari looks mighty and had much better aerodynamic and mechanical grip, which was a clear weakness in the early season races.  Alonso is a double winner around here and can’t be counted out at whatever cost.  He set the pace in the first session, which was held under bright blue skies.  Under fire Felipe Massa had a much better day today, finishing sixth and third in the two sessions.  His car seemed to still be a handful and a little kiss with the wall in FP1 at Tabac allowed race engineer Rob Smedley to produce another of his great soundbites on the team radio; “A kiss is needed in Monaco, you need to do a nice kiss!”  

There was only 20 minutes of dry running in FP2 and Button had the time to see how the super soft tyre would work.  Trailing by 16 points in the championship, Jenson will be keen to make up for a difficult time in both Bahrain and Spain and his afternoon time of 1.15.746 was the fastest of the day.  Only the Sauber drivers and Pastor Maldonado managed time on the super soft tyre before the heavens opened in the afternoon and none of those three looked to have the pace Button did on a single lap.

World champions Red Bull continue to be a mystery as neither Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber looked like challenging the top times.  Seventh for Webber in FP2 was their best effort today and if the Milton Keynes team isn’t lucky, they could be looking at another mediocre weekend.

Kovalainen gets out of his blown up Caterham engine in FP1 (Planet F1)

As ever, Monaco caught many drivers out with Mirabeau being a real handful in the damp conditions.  Massa, Sergio Perez and both Williams drivers were caught out, although none hit the barriers.  The Nouvelle chicane saw many cars cut part of it off as they tested the braking limits of their cars; Narain Karthikeyan being a notable offender for HRT.  The first session was also brought to an unscheduled early end when Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault engine blew up spectacularly in the tunnel, dumping contents of oil and coming to a halt on the tunnel exit.

It was a day where little could be judged on prestigious pace and only in FP3 should it remain dry can we begin to see who are the genuine contenders for pole position in qualifying.

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE ONE CLASSIFICATION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 22 1.16.265
2 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 17 1.16.630
3 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 19 1.16.711
4 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.16.747
5 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.16.760
6 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 19 1.16.843
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 21 1.17.038
8 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.17.190
9 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.17.222
10 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 18 1.17.261
11 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.17.413
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 18 1.17.631
13 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14 1.18.106
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 25 1.18.209
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 28 1.18.252
16 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 16 1.18.302
17 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.18.617
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 20 1.19.039
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 16 1.19.341
20 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 26 1.20.838
21 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 18 1.20.895
22 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 9 1.21.638
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 15 1.22.423
24 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 1 NO TIME

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE TWO CLASSIFICATION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 17 1.15.746
2 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 19 1.16.138
3 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 21 1.16.602
4 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 23 1.16.661
5 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.16.820
6 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 15 1.17.021
7 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 23 1.17.148
8 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 22 1.17.153
9 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 11 1.17.293
10 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 21 1.17.303
11 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 19 1.17.375
12 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 21 1.17.395
13 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 18 1.17.655
14 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 25 1.17.800
15 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 24 1.18.251
16 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.18.440
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 22 1.18.522
18 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 26 1.18.808
19 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 25 1.19.267
20 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 29 1.19.309
21 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 13 1.20.029
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 21 1.20.240
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 12 1.20.631
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 10 1.20.866

Pastor powers to maiden success in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen lift the new winner, Pastor Maldonado aloft

A NEW star has been well and truly born in the world of Grand Prix racing tonight after Pastor Maldonado powered to a wonderful victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.  It is the first time a Venezuelan driver has won a Grand Prix and sees the iconic Williams team return to the winners circle for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.  Second place for the home favourite Fernando Alonso sees him join world champion Sebastian Vettel level on 61 points at the top of the drivers championship.

Great management of the delicate Pirelli tyres and some tactical strategy were the keys to Maldonado’s maiden success in just his 24th Grand Prix.  He also had to stay calm under pressure from a charged up Alonso and constant backmarker incidents on his way to the top step of the podium.  In the process, 2012 has become a record season.  We now have had five different winners from five races, in five separate teams and the last time this happened was back in 1983.  Also the top seven in the points standings are now covered by a meagre 20 points.

Maldonado inherited pole position last night when Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid following McLaren’s costly error in not being able to give the FIA a litre of fuel for a sample after qualifying.  However his lead disappeared when Alonso made the better start.  The pair went wheel-to-wheel on the rundown to turn one but just like in 2011, Alonso led into the first bend of his home Grand Prix.  A clash between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez punctured a rear tyre on the Sauber and trashed the Mexican’s afternoon.  Kimi Raikkonen moved into a third position he would not relinquish, whilst Grosjean’s delay enabled Nico Rosberg to sweep into fourth place.

Alonso kept a solid lead to make sure he wouldn’t be affected by DRS, although he never was able to leave Maldonado standing.  Further back, there was trouble for Red Bull with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel stuck in heavy traffic and both pitted inside seven laps to get some clear air.  Later, the nosecones on the two cars were changed after some issues with tyre rubber and debris ending up in the front assembly of each chassis.  A late fightback from Vettel, despite a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags saw him back to sixth.  Webber missed out on points for the first time in 2012, finishing half a second outside the scorers in 11th place.

Senna and Schumacher came together and not for the first time in Formula One either (Planet F1)

Sharp pitwork from Ferrari kept Alonso ahead in the first round of pitstops and with Raikkonen and Lotus not able to show their prestigious long run pace from Friday’s simulations, the fight for the win turned into a two way scrap.  Out of contention though would be Maldonado’s team-mate, Bruno Senna.  Senna was struggling behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham in the early laps and was gambling on a two stop strategy, meaning he was mixing it with some of the frontrunners but on older rubber.  On lap 12, Grosjean made a late dive up the inside into turn one and contact was made, removing a corner of the Lotus driver’s front endplate.  One lap later, Michael Schumacher closed up quickly through the DRS zone but made a complete mess of his braking point.  He misjudged Senna’s wherabouts and crashed into the rear of the Williams.  Debris and tyre smoke flew into the sky as the two cars headed for the turn one gravel.  Schumacher retired on the spot, his third DNF from five races and Senna had to park his car before getting back to the pits due to heavy rear wing damage.  On the radio, Schumacher branded his rival an ‘idiot.’  The race stewards disagreed and handed a five place grid penalty to the German for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.

After his qualifying exclusion, Hamilton had to start from the back and did well to miss a wayward Perez in turn three on the first lap.  He battled well with tyre management and had an entertaining dice with his old rival Felipe Massa.  Hamilton eventually finished eighth whilst Jenson Button’s struggles continued and he could do no better than ninth.  Tyre issues, understeer and a new brake supplier might well have accounted for his lack of speed throughout the last two days.

In the second round of pitstops, Williams pitted Maldonado earlier and got him out infront of Alonso, inheriting control of the race in the process.  There was no change after the third round of pitstops either but Alonso cutdown the seven second lead to basically nothing and got close to overhauling Pastor twice without succeeding.  A severe vibration with the rear of the Ferrari denied us a grandstand finish for the win, although Raikkonen suddenly closed up in the closing laps, having pitted for his third and final stop later than his rivals.  The way was clear for Maldonado to take an emotional win, with all of Sir Frank Williams family here in attendance this weekend; the team principal having celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday.  Sir Frank Williams told the BBC afterwards; “All the boys are delighted, and I’m quietly delighted, boy did we need that win as you can well imagine.  Most of the season has been thanks to a fresh group of people but it’s been very well balanced.  The aero guys have done their stuff, more than their stuff. The Renault engine is very competitive.”

Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium placings.  Raikkonen couldn’t hide his disappointed in the press conference, saying; “I’m a bit disappointed.  I expect to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning.  At end of the race, we were good but it was too late.  We were too slow at the start which is why we couldn’t fight for the win.  We showed we still have the speed. Maybe we took the wrong choice in the first stop.”

Grosjean came through to finish an excellent fourth and Kamui Kobayashi matched his best ever result with fifth for Sauber.  Nico Rosberg fell away to seventh place at the chequered flag as his tyres hit ‘the cliff,’ in the last two laps.  Nico Hulkenberg took the final point after a solid drive in the Force India.  Scotland’s Paul di Resta missed out this time in 14th and a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags added insult to another disappointing performance from Massa, well back in 15th.

After the race, celebrations were muted by a serious fire in the Williams garage.  Luckily, there are no serious injuries although four mechanics had to be treated with smoke inhalation afterwards.  (see separate story).

A sour and fiery note to end on but take nothing away from Pastor Maldonado, who fully deserves his time in the limelight.  It is always nice to see a new winner and who knows, we might get another one when the sport visits the jewel in the crown that is Monte Carlo in two weeks time.  Anything is possible in 2012 if this season’s first five races are anything to go by.

2012 FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER RACE RESULT

 

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 66 1hr 39min 09secs
2 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 66 +3.1secs
3 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +3.8secs
4 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +14.7secs
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 66 +1min 04.6secs
6 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 66 +1min 07.5secs
7 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 66 +1min 17.9secs
8 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 18.1secs
9 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 25.2secs
10 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
11 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 65 1 LAP
12 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
13 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
14 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
15 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 65 1 LAP
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
17 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 64 2 LAPS
19 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 63 3 LAPS
Retired SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 37 TRANSMISSION
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 35 DRIVESHAFT
Retired NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 22 TECHINCAL
Retired BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 DAMAGE FOLLOWING COLLISION WITH SCHUMACHER
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 12 COLLISION WITH SENNA

 

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 61
2 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 61
3 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 53
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 49
5 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 48
6 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 45
7 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 41
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 35
9 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 29
10 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
11 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 19
12 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 15
13 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
15 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 3
16 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
17 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 109
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 98
3 LOTUS RENAULT 84
4 FERRARI 63
5 MERCEDES GP 43
6 WILLIAMS RENAULT 43
7 SAUBER FERRARI 41
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 18
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


Mugello Test Day One: Rain disrupts opening day

It was a day where most teams had to sit in the pits due to the weather (F1network.net)

FORMULA ONE’s first in-season test since 2008 turned into a damp squib, as rain ruined the first day in Italy.  There was something for the patrotric tifosi to cheer however as some consistent times from Fernando Alonso this morning saw the Spaniard end up fastest today.  Alonso was a full 1.2secs quicker than the Red Bull of Mark Webber, although that isn’t a fair representation of times due to the weather.  In fact the afternoon session was a washout and the track had to be closed for a while as the medical helicopter couldn’t take off.  The Mugello circuit, where this test is based turned into the lake, akin to the weather most of the UK has seen in April.

Alonso’s quickest time today was a 1.22.444 on slick tyres as drivers did at least have the morning to set competitive times and gain useful data for the European leg of the 2012 championship, starting in Barcelona on May 11-13.  Ferrari will be hoping that the new aerodynamic package it has brought to this test can revive the flaling fortunes of the F2012.  Despite Alonso’s shock win in Malaysia, the team has struggled to set the standard and were often in the midfield in the flyaway events.

Webber was second fastest and will hand over the duties at Red Bull to Bahrain race winner and world champion Sebastian Vettel tomorrow.  The Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne finished third fastest just infront of Lotus Renault tester Jerome D’Ambrosio and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.  It was a tough day for the drivers and the afternoon deluge prevented Michael Schumacher from doing any serious running.  Nevertheless, he told Planet F1 of his joy of being back at a circuit where he spent thousands of kilometres pounding around in his Ferrari days.  “This afternoon, I was literally able just go out to check if it made sense to run – which it did not – and at least I could show the spectators who were waiting in the rain a running car for some short moments.  Still, it was nice being back in Mugello after so many years, and I must say it was also nice being welcomed back by the tifosi so warmly.”

11 of the 12 teams are testing here, including Marussia.  HRT will be absent this week as they concentrate on moving factory location to Madrid.  Also away are McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.  Button was doing a demo run on the streets of Budapest today with young British duo Olivier Turvey and winner of the DTM opener at the weekend, Gary Paffett in action this week.

Better weather is forecast in the region for the next two days which will be hoped for by all the teams.  On the 18th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola, May 1 saw the return to testing and not enough of the anticipated track action forecasted.

DAY 1 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.22.444

2. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.648

3. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.891

4. Jerome D’Ambrosio (Lotus Renault) 1.24.048

5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.100

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.736

7. Olivier Turvey (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.303

8. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) 1.25.475

9. Rodolfo Gonzalez (Caterham Renault) 1.27.197

10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.359

 

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.

Maiden pole for Rosberg in Shanghai surprise

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

The top three in qualifying before Hamilton's gearbox change

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

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

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

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

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

LEWIS HAMILTON RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

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.

Driver performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix

WELCOME to my second driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix from Sepang;

JENSON BUTTON

By Jenson’s high standards, Malaysia 2012 will be a weekend he will want to forget pretty quickly.  His practice running on Friday was compromised by a hydraulics problem.  Although his race simulation pace was impressive, it was difficult to gauge how close he would be to Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.  Another majestic Hamilton lap in qualifying kept Jenson off the pole and the pair were running nose to tail in the race.  That was until Button ran into Narain Karthikeyan and broke his front wing.  For once, he couldn’t capitalise on the mixed weather conditions and his struggles in the midfield afterwards highlight just how close the midfield pack is in 2012.  At least he had the honesty to admit his mistakes afterwards.  7/10 

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Like Button, Sebastian Vettel had a mere in Malaysia and scored no points for his valiant efforts.  He looked dejected and frustrated all weekend, clearly looking concerned about Red Bull’s outright pace.  A potential masterstroke to qualify on the prime tyres rather than the options that he never got working all weekend was ruined by Sunday’s changeable conditions.  His race was fairly quiet, but Hamilton was in his sights for a potential podium until his clash with Narain Karthikeyan.  Who’s fault it was is irrelevant and the war of words afterwards suggests that Sebastian is struggling under pressure.  It is totally unnecessary too.  He will be hoping for much better in China.  7/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

Lewis Hamilton was the dominant pacesetter throughout the first two days in Malaysia.  He was fastest by some distance on Friday and scored his second consecutive pole position with something to spare in qualifying.  Hamilton was hindered by a couple of dreadful pitstops in the race, one when the team struggled to remove gaffer tape from the front brake ducts.  Nevertheless, McLaren’s lack of pace in the wet/dry format will give the team a few concerns, especially considering their dominance in recent years through this weather.  It was a mature and controlled drive from Hamilton to finish on the podium, who looks to be at least more of a consistent force than he was last year.  8/10

MARK WEBBER

The Mark Webber from 2010 is back and looking very hungry this season.  He defintely seems far happier than Sebastian Vettel in the 2012 Red Bull and his general speed is encouraging.  A solid couple of days in practice lined him up for an excellent fourth in qualifying, less than 0.3secs away from the pole.  Incredibly, he made a great start too and once Romain Grosjean had destroyed Michael Schumacher’s race, was third in the early stages.  Cautious after the restart cost him positions to both Fernando Alonso and Vettel, but his team-mate’s run-in with Karthikeyan gifted him his second successive fourth place.  If the team can improve all round, I reckon Webber can be a multiple winner at the minimum in 2012.  8/10

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Michael Schumacher is achieving little reward for a very promising return to his old self.  His Achilles heel of the failed comeback previously had been qualifying.  However, he backed up second in Friday practice with third on the grid on Saturday, only fractionally off the pace of the McLaren’s.  He got a tardy start, but was spun around in turn three by an ambitious Romain Grosjean on the first lap.  Afterwards, the lack of pace from the Mercedes was badly highlighted, but Schumacher kept fighting on and he got a late point for his efforts when Pastor Maldonado retired with a technical problem.  I don’t he will have enjoyed being passed around the outside by both Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi though!  7/10

Alonso showed his class on Sunday (Motorsportretro)

FERNANDO ALONSO

Hamilton might be unbeatable on his day and Vettel has set the benchmark in recent years.  However, no-one can match Fernando Alonso when it comes to getting the most out of a car.  Tactically, he is world class and it was shown in abundance on raceday.  Not many would have won in this Ferrari that has handled like a dog, but Alonso has and it proves his standing as one of the greatest ever behind the wheel.  With a minor front wing upgrade, he dragged the machinery into Q3 and eighth was solid considering the team’s low expectations.  He made the most of others mistakes, kept cool under severe pressure from Sergio Perez and produced an ultimate masterclass in how to handle a wet/dry event.  Incredibly, he now leads the championship.  Deserved for his sheer skill.  9/10

NICO ROSBERG

2012 is a frustrating start for the whole Mercedes team and Nico Rosberg will be lamenting it more than anyone.  A former specialist of Sepang, Rosberg has been outdriven comprehensively in the first two races by Michael Schumacher and it is mistakes of his that aren’t helping his cause.  Fastest in FP3, another scrappy qualifying performance left him out of position in seventh on the grid.  Sixth on the first lap, he made an early move for intermediates on the restart which had him upto fourth.  However, the chronic tyre wear issues that Mercedes have, left him vulnerable to the likes of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.  A suicidal decision by the team to keep him out on intermediates when dries were the better option towards the end finished his unimpressive weekend.  6/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

The chequered flag still awaits a Pastor Maldonado finish after two events, but it isn’t for the worth of trying.  A mistake in Q2 saw the Venezuelan take a trip into the gravel, removing aerodynamic components from his Williams in the process.  Nevertheless, he only narrowly missed out on the pole shootout.  On raceday, his team-mate Bruno Senna had his number and an unseen collision before the race stoppage between the pair nearly ruined Williams weekend.  Both recovered and a point was Maldonado’s when his Renault engine expired with only two laps remaining.  Points for him are going to happen, it is a matter of when, not if.  7/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Sensational on Saturdays and sorrow on Sundays is the story of 2012 so far for Romain Grosjean.  This time, it was all his own making.  From an impressive sixth on the grid, he made a magnificent start to be third into the first corner.  Under pressure from Mark Webber though, the Frenchman made a clumsy mistake and slammed into Michael Schumacher at turn three, spinning both drivers around.  Three laps later, he got caught out by the wet conditions and beached his Lotus into the gravel trap.  Lotus will need him to cut out these errors, especially as they have a strong car to begin with this season.  7/10

SERGIO PEREZ

Sergio Perez was always seen as a solid racing driver, but his performance in Malaysia has seen his stock rise incredibly high.  Arguably, it is an event he could have ended up winning.  Having struggled on Friday, the Mexican did really well to reach Q3 on Saturday and Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty left him starting ninth.  He pitted for extreme wets at the end of the first circuit, launching him upto third by the time of the red flag.  Afterwards, he only got stronger and stronger and but for a late error which saw him run wide in turn 13, he might well have caught and passed Alonso.  With Felipe Massa totally out of form, Perez surely has a great chance now of landing the second Ferrari seat very soon.  10/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

It was another case of what might have been for Kimi in Malaysia.  He lost one of his crash helmets in a Lotus hospitality fire on Friday night, only hours after requiring a gearbox change, consequently landing a five place grid demotion.  Fastest in Q2, Raikkonen was fifth fastest in Q3, setting the same exact time as Mark Webber.  Starting from tenth, his pace in the wet wasn’t good, but got stronger as the track dried out.  He finished fifth and set fastest lap but his frustration afterwards suggests that with more luck, a podium position was more than possible.  8/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Performed well in Australia, but got a tonking from an inspired Sergio Perez on this occasion.  Kobayashi’s Friday running was restricted by a gearbox issue, which the team managed to fix without receiving a penalty.  He drove poorly in Q2 to end up slowest qualifier, but did have moments in the race, including a brave pass around the outside of a tyre-hungry Michael Schumacher in turn five.  Ultimately, Kamui couldn’t keep up with the pace and a brake problem forced him to retire in the pits after 46 laps.  A tricky weekend.  4/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

Having reached the top ten in FP2 on Friday, Jean-Eric Vergne had a frustrating day on Saturday and the young Frenchman was the midfield runner who dropped out in Q1.  He stayed out in the first phase of the race to rise upto ninth and ran all afternoon with the Force India drivers.  Vergne lost out to di Resta, but beat Hulkenberg to finish a delighted eighth; the rookie’s first points finish.  It certainly won’t be his last.  7/10

One of the rare occasions Hulkenberg was ahead of his team-mate this weekend (beyondtheracingline)

NICO HULKENBERG

On a circuit where he starred in the wet in A1GP for Team Germany back in 2007, Nico Hulkenberg couldn’t repeat the magic this season.  This was mainly down to the car’s lack of pace, but he brought it home in a solid, if unspectacular ninth place.  Unlike Australia however, Hulkenberg was soundly beaten in both qualifying and the race by Paul di Resta.  The battle between the two Force India drivers is certainly living upto expectations.  6/10

FELIPE MASSA

A new chassis didn’t work and now, Felipe Massa’s time at Ferrari is surely up.  It was another below-par weekend, where he failed to trouble the top ten in the timesheets at any point.  18th in FP3, a better qualifying effort pushed Massa into 12th, a closer 0.3secs shy of Alonso’s Q2 time and Fernando only just scraped into the shootout.  After holding down ninth place from the restart, he cracked under pressure from Paul di Resta and took a detour into the gravel.  A move onto dries saw him fall further backwards and lacking the confidence seen in Melbourne.  With no specific problems, 15th place and nearly a lap down behind his race winning team-mate, alarm bells must be ringing now.  4/10

BRUNO SENNA

Having been outperformed by his team-mate in Australia, Bruno Senna had a point to prove in Sepang.  This he did, with a superb run to sixth place, easily his best ever career result.  Qualifying was a struggle, which saw the Brazilian back in 13th.  He then had off-camera incidents with Maldonado and Paul di Resta, which left him second last when the red flag came out.  Afterwards, he drove really well and will have enjoyed his pass right around the outside of Michael Schumacher.  He made light work of di Resta in the closing stages to secure Williams best finish in a long time.  Rubens who?  8/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Ricciardo reached the top five in FP2 on Friday but that was to be the highlight of a tough second outing for him at Toro Rosso.  Having wound up 15th in qualifying, he had a quiet afternoon which only livened up by becoming the first driver to pit for dries.  The move was brave and inspired and for that, Ricciardo deserved more than the 12th place he ended up with at the chequered flag.  7/10

PAUL DI RESTA

di Resta’s Friday was a nightmare so to finish seventh at the end of the race was a very creditable effort.  He lined up 14th following brake and handling issues throughout free practice, but he did have the measure of Nico Hulkenberg this weekend.  A clash with Bruno Senna before the red flag came out hindered his early progress but he recovered well and impressive tyre management had him in the points by the chequered flag for the second successive weekend.  7/10

VITALY PETROV

Last season, Vitaly Petrov attempted flying lessons in Sepang but he had an untroubled and excellent weekend.  Outqualified narrowly by Kovalainen, Petrov moved up following the Finn’s grid demotion.  In the race, he kept up with Kamui Kobayashi and held off Felipe Massa easily until the conditions dried up, which made him easy meat for the midfield.  16th at the end, but like Ricciardo, probably deserved a slightly better finish.  7/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Following a five place grid demotion, Kovalainen never featured and finished behind Timo Glock’s Marussia on merit.  A dismal weekend and one the Finn will be erasing from his memory very quickly.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Timo Glock is currently driving out of his skin and performing miracles in a car that at times, has the handling ability of a Morris Minor!  He qualified 21st, less than a second behind the Caterham team and split their cars in the race, only finishing a lap down.  At the moment, he is doing all that can be asked from him in difficult circumstances.  7/10

CHARLES PIC

Frenchman Charles Pic continues to stay out of the limelight, but is getting the mileage he needed so badly in winter testing.  Less than 0.5secs behind Glock in qualifying was a mighty effort and he survived the difficult conditions to take his first F1 finish, 20th and two laps down.  6/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

It was Karthikeyan’s first race since India last year and it certainly was dramatic.  He survived on intermediates in the worst conditions to rise as high as tenth, the highest a HRT driver has ever been.  He was the innocent party in the knock he received from Jenson Button and although lapping slowly, didn’t do much wrong when Sebastian Vettel moved across on him towards the end.  The stewards disagreed and handed him a time penalty afterwards.  However, it was a capable return to the cockpit.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

de la Rosa was almost non-existent throughout the weekend, although he did start the race from the pitlane after a technical issue on the dummy grid.  Afterwards, he stayed out of trouble and made plenty of room for the frontrunners to lap him.  He finished last, promoted when Karthikeyan got a penalty for the Vettel incident in the stewards office.  5/10

Total scores after 2 events: Fernando Alonso 17, Jenson Button 17, Lewis Hamilton 16, Sergio Perez 16, Pastor Maldonado 15, Sebastian Vettel 15, Kimi Raikkonen 15, Mark Webber 15, Michael Schumacher 14, Romain Grosjean 14, Daniel Ricciardo 14, Jean-Eric Vergne 13, Bruno Senna 13, Timo Glock 13, Paul di Resta 13, Nico Hulkenberg 12, Nico Rosberg 12, Vitaly Petrov 12, Kamui Kobayashi 11, Charles Pic 11, Heikki Kovalainen 10, Felipe Massa 6, Narain Karthikeyan 6, Pedro de la Rosa 5

Awesome Alonso causes real shock in Malaysia thriller

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Sergio Perez celebrates his superb result in Malaysia (Yahoo)

FERRARI returned to the top of the podium against the odds in the Malaysian Grand Prix today.  Fernando Alonso drove an awesome race in very changeable conditions to take an unlikely victory, taking advantage of superb pitwork and awful pitstops from McLaren that put them in the driving seat.  The drive of the day though came from Sergio Perez.  The Mexican drove a blinding race to finish second, achieving Sauber’s best ever result as an independent constructor.  Alonso is now the surprising leader in the drivers standings, as Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes GP had a day to forget.

Cooler conditions and grey skies overhead threw all planned strategies out of the window as the build-up to the lights going out came closer.  With rain in the air, all drivers started on intermediate tyres, apart from Pedro de la Rosa.  The Spaniard would begin from the pitlane after an issue firing up his car on the dummy grid.  When the lights went out, the two McLaren’s charged away from the rest of the field, with Lewis Hamilton protecting the inside line from Button to maintain track position, unlike last Sunday in Melbourne.  Into turn three, Michael Schumacher was tagged by the fast-starting Romain Grosjean in the Lotus which saw both cars spin around.  The unrepentant Frenchman blamed his rival, telling Reuters: “I was there, I was careful and unfortunately Schumacher hit me in turn four and I spun.”  At the end of a very tricky first lap, Hamilton led Button, Mark Webber, Vettel, Alonso and Nico Rosberg.  Meantime, Perez’s stunning day started with an inspired decision to pit for extreme wets at the end of the first lap.  This moved him upto into third place by the time everyone else made the same switch.

Grosjean became an early casualty again, when he spun off on the fourth lap entering turn six.  Soon afterwards, a bolt of lightning hit the circuit and the Safety Car was dispatched as conditions worsened.  Button saying over the team radio; “The last sector is like a lake.”  On lap nine, Charlie Whiting sensibly got the track officials to throw the red flag, suspending the race pending a Safety Car restart.  Following a 50 minute delay, the cars left the grid with Hamilton leading Button, Perez, Webber, Alonso and Vettel.  Following four slow laps, conditions eased up on lap 13 for the green light to resume racing.  Some drivers, including Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen came straight in for intermediate tyres.  On the restart, Alonso caught Webber napping into the first corner and vaulted into third position, as Button had also pitted after the restart for fresh rubber.

Button's misjudgement cost him dear (Autosport)

Two laps later, Perez inherited the lead as Hamilton came in.  However, a delay on the rear jack, combined with having to wait whilst Felipe Massa came into his box saw the McLaren costly lose track position to both Alonso and Button.  Perez’s gamble of staying out an extra lap saw him have the lead on merit, but only briefly as better traction off turn two on lap 16 gave Alonso first position.  Traditionally, Jenson Button thrives in these conditions but a lap earlier, he made a clumsy error of judgement and tagged the Hispania of Narain Karthikeyan in turn nine.  No blame could be attached to the Indian driver, as they were battling for position at the time.  Another horrible McLaren pitstop whilst his front wing was changed effectively took the Melbourne winner out of serious contention for points.

For a while, Alonso threatened to runaway completely from the rest of the field, but as his intermediate tyres started to lose grip, Perez continued to hassle him with the gap dropping to less than a second.  The Sauber was the fastest car on the circuit, proven by his string of fastest laps.  Further back, a dry line began to appear and Daniel Ricciardo’s smart move onto slick tyres saw another mad dash for the right rubber, with little change to the significant positions.  Once again Mercedes showed no race pace whatsoever, evidently showed when Rosberg lost three positions to Vettel, Raikkonen and Webber in two laps.  He finished out of the points, whilst Schumacher benefited from a late engine failure on Pastor Maldonado’s luckless Williams to score a fortunate point.

For once, Vettel was out of luck too, as he collected an instant left-rear puncture whilst lapping Karthikeyan with eight laps remaining.  The German’s choice of sign language wasn’t appropriate, but understandable as he lost a certain fourth place.  The damage to his tyre destroyed the rear brake duct on his Red Bull, which led to the team almost retiring him on the final lap.  In the media pen afterwards, Vettel didn’t hold back on his words to BBC’s Lee McKenzie; “To lose the points like that is extremely frustrating.  It’s like on the normal roads, you have some idiots driving around and it seems like we have one driving here.”

Just as Perez prepared himself for a possible attack on Alonso, he made his only error of the afternoon by running wide in turn 14 and onto the damp run-off area.  The mistake cost him five seconds, but didn’t affect his confidence as he continued to hunt down Alonso in the final few metres.  Remarkably, the Spaniard held on for his third success in Malaysia, his 28th career victory but Perez’s second place brought team principal Peter Sauber to tears.  Without the BMW involvement, it beats Sauber’s best ever result, achieved by Jean Alesi at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix.  Hamilton had a lonely run to third infront of Webber, Raikkonen and Bruno Senna’s Williams.  Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, Nico Hulkenberg and Schumacher completed the points scoring.  Massa had another day to forget, finishing 15th after spending half his race battling Vitaly Petrov’s inferior Caterham.  Alonso was honest enough in his assessment of things in the post-race press conference; “The win is an unexpected surprise, we were not competitive in Australia or here and the goal for the first few races was to score as many points as possible.  It’s an unbelievable result and a great job from the team.”

Today, Fernando Alonso reminded us just why he is a former double world champion whilst Sergio Perez deserves to share the headlines for his incredible drive.  He gave us a glimpse of a promising future, possibly very soon as Alonso’s team-mate.  The teams head home for a three week break, before resuming in China on April 13-15.

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FINAL RACE RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 56 2hr 44min 51secs
2 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 56 +2.2secs
3 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 56 +14.5secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 56 +17.6secs
5 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 56 +29.4secs
6 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 56 +37.6secs
7 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +44.4secs
8 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 56 +46.9secs
9 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +47.8secs
10 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 56 +49.9secs
11 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 56 +1min 15.5secs
12 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 56 +1min 16.8secs
13 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 56 +1min 18.5secs
14 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 56 +1min 19.7secs
15 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 56 +1min 27.3secs
16 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 55 1 LAP
17 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 55 1 LAP
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 55 1 LAP
19 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 54 ENGINE
20 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 54 2 LAPS
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 54 2 LAPS
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 54 2 LAPS
Retired KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 46 BRAKES
Retired ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 3 SPUN OFF

Narain Karthikeyan was given a 20 second time penalty for causing an avoidable accident

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 35
2 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 30
3 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 25
4 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 24
5 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
6 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 18
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 16
8 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 8
9 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 8
10 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 7
11 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
12 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
13 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 2
14 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 1

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 MCLAREN MERCEDES 55
2 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 42
3 FERRARI 35
4 SAUBER FERRARI 30
5 LOTUS RENAULT 16
6 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 9
7 WILLIAMS RENAULT 8
8 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6
9 MERCEDES GP 1

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.