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:
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
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’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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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 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
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’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
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’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 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
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
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
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
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
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
THE elder statesman in Formula One, one of the greatest ever is going through another barren period in his failed comeback. If some say Kenny Dalglish’s second return to the Liverpool FC dugout was unsuccessful, as he was sacked this week, what does this say about Michael Schumacher’s return.
Statistics can sometimes make viewpoints ridiculous but these facts don’t lie. Two and a half years into his return and it reads; no wins, no pole positions, only twice in the top three in qualifying, no podiums and a series of desperate crashes which indicate that reactions are getting slower and speed is being lost. True, form is temporary and class is permanent but Schumacher has shown evidently little in his return and after five races in 2012, he sits a dismal 18th in the championship, with three non-finishes and just two points to show for his efforts. This is Schumacher’s worst start to a Formula One season and there will be those in the paddock will be questioning his motivation to continue.
The second Michael Schumacher certainly is a lot more relaxed than the first version and there can be no doubt that there is some enjoyment in him competing. However he isn’t delivering the results expected and no excuses about the car in 2012 should be allowed. The Mercedes was the class of the field in China, as shown by new race winner Nico Rosberg. The team probably aren’t getting the full potential out of the chassis at the moment but whereas Rosberg has finished fifth and seventh in the last two events, Michael has only managed a fortunate tenth and another DNF in Barcelona last weekend.
In their previous two years at Mercedes together, it was notable that Rosberg had been comprehensively outperformed by Schumacher at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Michael achieving fourth and sixth place finishes in that time. The tables were turned last week and his performance was simply forgettable. He only just scraped into Q3, lagged behind Rosberg on raceday and then had a clumsy accident with Bruno Senna which ended his race after just 13 laps.
The incident occured entering turn one, as the Mercedes had a great run on the Brazilian’s tyre-hungry Williams. At the braking zone, Senna moved but only slightly to the inside to protect his line. Despite having not pitted, this was a battle for position. Schumacher completely misjudged his braking point and smashed into him. It was an error you’d expect to see a rookie driver make, not a seven-time world champion. A five place grid penalty for Monaco next weekend is deserved and with Monte Carlo being so difficult to overtake on, his chances can’t be that good to improve on his points score. What made me laugh even more was the way he called Senna an ‘idiot,’ over the radio. Those with small memories should remember Adelaide, Jerez, Hungary 2010 when he tried to put ex-team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the pitwall. You have to admit your mistakes or you don’t improve as a driver and these are testing times for the German, who might have produced some masterstrokes in the Ferrari days but is only tainting his own reputation and status as one of the greats.
While panic stations shouldn’t be alerted now and others like Felipe Massa could be only one race away from the sack, attention must turn to 2013 and what the Mercedes GP board do. Schumacher’s contract expires at the end of the season and I think he has an intention to carry on. Ross Brawn wasn’t present in Barcelona but he won’t want more performances like this from an experienced head. Ross has got a tough decision to make, especially considering the success the pair have had at Benetton and Ferrari together. Loyalty is a big commodity to have but how far can you go? Rosberg has a long-term deal, is now a race winner and looks extremely settled and Mercedes will want a second driver who can deliver the goods on a regular basis. I’m afraid Schumacher isn’t ticking this box at the moment.
Who should Mercedes go for then? Lewis Hamilton is believed to be stalling on a new deal at McLaren, works closely with Mercedes anyways and has a great relationship with Rosberg. There’s Paul di Resta who is producing consistent performances again at Force India and is groomed by Mercedes through his successful DTM days. Although he has struggled initially in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg is German and would fit well into the marketplace, plus he has talent. Jaime Alguersuari is Pirelli test driver and would bring lots of tyre knowledge to the team for next season and although there are grave uncertainties about his full fitness, a Rosberg/Robert Kubica partnership would be dynamic, considering the Pole is out of contract now following his injuries in the past couple of seasons. There are options and Schumacher’s future looks like being an integral part of the 2013 drivers market.
I hope we see more of the best from Michael Schumacher and there have been gradual improvements, particularly in qualifying performance but there are too many troughs and issues to iron out. He might love his racing for sure but I don’t think that is going to be enough to keep him in a drive with Mercedes GP next season, unless he starts scoring points regularly and matches what Rosberg can do. It is time for Michael to step up and answer those doubters and Monaco is the perfect place to begin a fightback in his fortunes, both in the short and long term.
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.
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
|1||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||66||1hr 39min 09secs|
|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|
|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|
|1||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||109|
|8||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||18|
|9||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6|
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
Next to be profiled was an enigmatic and often moody, yet spectacular Frenchman who had only one moment of glory to show for his 200+ events in the sport, Jean Alesi.
NAME: Jean Alesi
TEAMS: Tyrrell (1989-1990), Ferrari (1991-1995), Benetton (1996-1997), Sauber (1998-1999), Prost (2000-2001), Jordan (2001)
GP STARTS: 201
BEST FINISH: WINNER (1) – (1995 Canadian GP)
JEAN Alesi was one of Grand Prix racing’s leading stars in the 1990s. He was awesome in the rain, often searing fast on a flying lap and put in some spectacular performances against the odds. Therefore, for someone who drove for Ferrari and Benetton between 1991 and 1997, it seems staggering to think that the Frenchman only ever won one Grand Prix in his entire career. Alesi had some rotten luck and also had his off days. Plus he was never shy to criticise anyone if he was unhappy with the setup of his car. An emotional character who was always committed and in many’s eyes, deserved more but for some dodgy career moves.
Alesi was a rising star from an early age and was actually into rallying rather than motor racing in his early days. He graduated through the French motorsport system which was thriving at the time and won the F3000 championship in 1989. Tied on points with compatriot Erik Comas, Alesi’s three wins including at Pau and Birmingham were enough to give him the title as Comas could only win twice. This followed a French Formula 3 title in 1987.
By now, Jean’s big break in Formula One had already arrived. Ken Tyrrell gave him his debut at the 1989 French Grand Prix, replacing the experienced Italian Michele Alboreto. He finished a stunning fourth on his debut and further points finishes at Monza and at Jerez meant despite only contesting eight races, Alesi finished in the top ten in the drivers championship.
1990 was his first full year in F1 and Alesi stayed at Tyrrell, now partnered by Satoru Nakajima. At the season opener in Phoenix, he wrestled his car to fourth on the grid and then took the lead at the first corner. He easily resisted the challenge of Gerhard Berger’s McLaren and then went on to have an entertaining dice with Ayrton Senna for the lead. Senna overtook him but the Frenchman was not daunted and cheekily repassed the great Brazilian on the very next corner. Senna eventually overwhelmed him but Alesi’s star was born with a brilliant second place. A fine second placed finish in Monaco backed up his talent and although there were some iffy performances in the second half of the season, 13 points was enough for ninth in the championship.
Tyrrell were keen to hold onto him, especially with Honda engines coming onboard. However Williams signed a contract with him although Alesi’s preferred destination was with Ferrari. Nigel Mansell’s decision to leave Ferrari opened the door for Alesi to get his dream move. He would be partnered alongside three-time world champion Alain Prost. Surely it was a match in heaven. However 1991 was a disaster as Ferrari entered a period of being in the doldrums. Alesi retired nine times, often because the car let him down. Third placed finishes in Monaco, Germany and Portugal reminded everyone of his skill but with little reward. Prost was fired before the season’s end after describing the 1991 Ferrari as a ‘truck.’ Williams went onto dominate the 90s so had Alesi gone with his head over his heart, he could well have been a multiple champion.
Ferrari continued to struggle in 1992 and 1993 and Jean’s frustration began to show with regular mistakes creeping into the car’s abysmal reliability issues. A fine second placed finish at Monza in 1993 was the only highlight of a dreadful two seasons. The Ferrari 412T1 in 1994 was a marked improvement, taking Alesi to podium finishes in Brazil, Silverstone and in Japan after a thrilling dice in the rain with Mansell. 1994 also saw his maiden pole position at Monza of all places but gearbox failure in the pits whilst 12 seconds ahead of eventual race winner Damon Hill robbed him of certain victory. The final year with the Scuderia brought more consistent results although he still could not better fifth in the drivers championship.
There were second place finishes in Argentina, San Marino and Britain and fine performances led to nothing from Japan in a trademark Alesi surge through the field, Spain with a blown V12 engine and again at Monza, as wheel bearing failure denied him another potential success on tifosi homeland. Alesi broke down in tears after this event. However there were no such issues at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Having qualified fifth, Alesi snatched third from his team-mate Gerhard Berger when the Williams of David Coulthard spun off on lap three. He eased past Damon Hill and on his 31st birthday, looked set for an excellent second place finish. For once, lady luck was shining on Alesi and dominant race leader, Michael Schumacher suffered a gear selection glitch that lost him a full minute. Driving the famous No.27 in Montreal, the number Canadian hero Gilles Villeneuve had in his Ferrari days, Alesi took the chequered flag at his 91st attempt. His Ferrari ran out of fuel on the slowing down lap to complete his lucky day. However after all the bad luck in his career, no-one could deny Jean his deserving moment on the top step of the podium.
With Schumacher moving to Ferrari for 1996, Alesi and Berger moved from Ferrari to double champions Benetton. Fourth in the championship with 46 points, Alesi’s best total for any season. There were eight visits to the podium but no wins, although the crazy Monaco Grand Prix was his until wheel bearing problems intervened, AGAIN! Alesi’s relationship with Flavio Briatore was always a strained one and a kamikaze attempt to take the lead from row five at the start of the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix saw him destroy his Benetton B196 on the exit of turn two. Briatore was furious, as it allowed Ferrari in to finish second in the constructors championship and claimed that Alesi had crashed on purpose to help his former team. From that moment on, he was damaged goods at Benetton and 1997 was not much better. At the season opener, Alesi blatantly ignored constant pit calls to come in for fuel and ultimately grounded to a halt, out of petrol. ITV commentator Murray Walker summed up the mood in the Benetton pit during the race, as they looked absolutely furious at Alesi’s refusal to come into the pits. He said; “Oh Jean, you’ve got a major problem when you get back to the pits sunshine.” There were second placed finishes at Montreal, Silverstone and the Nurburgring and another pole position at Monza but Jean’s time was up with Benetton and he jumped ship to Sauber.
Partnered with Johnny Herbert, Alesi cleverely moulded the team around him and drove out of his skin in 1998 to often qualify the car in the top ten and run strongly in the race. He survived the Spa carnage to finish third, pushing the two Jordan’s all the way to the finish. Fifth in Argentina and Monza plus sixth at Imola enabled Jean to outscore Herbert by 9-1. 1999 was more disappointing, with some shambolic performances such as qualifying 21st for the German Grand Prix! When another mechanical problem cost him a potential fourth place in Budapest, the emotional Alesi announced he was leaving Sauber at the end of the year, frustrated with lack of progress and more preferential treatment that paydriver Pedro Diniz seemed to be getting. Mind you Diniz outscored Alesi in 1999, so the team had a point.
A link-up with former Ferrari team-mate Alain Prost at his team for 2000 was a disaster. There were no points, with ninth and last at the Nurburgring being his best result. There were 12 retirements, the Peugeot engine kept blowing up and the car was a slow as a Morris Minor. In Austria, Alesi committed the ultimate crime by driving into his rookie team-mate Nick Heidfeld, two weeks after Heidfeld had hit him at his home race in Magny-Cours. He was happier in 2001 with a customer Ferrari engine and there were superb drives in Monaco and Montreal to gain much-needed points for the ailing Prost outfit.
When Jordan mysteriously sacked Heinz-Harald Frentzen on the eve of the 2001 German Grand Prix, Alesi decided to leave Prost, much to Alain’s annoyance and join Jordan. It led to a brief reunion with Eddie Jordan who had Alesi in his F3000 team during 1989 when he won the title. Sixth place at Spa and seventh on his 200th GP start at Indianapolis were the best results as Alesi fought to retain his drive for 2002, alongside one of his best friends in the paddock, Giancarlo Fisichella. However Honda’s insistence on placing Japanese backed Takuma Sato in the car meant Alesi made a sudden decision to retire from racing on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix. Sadly he was involved in a scary accident on lap six with Kimi Raikkonen, when the Finn’s rear suspension broke on his Sauber and Alesi t-boned him. Amazingly both drivers walked away. The DNF denied Alesi a record of finishing in every single Grand Prix in 2001.
Jean has continued to race since his F1 retirement, spending four solid seasons competing for Mercedes in the DTM series, winning four races including two at Donington Park. He competed at Le Mans in Fisichella’s Ferrari team in 2010, finishing fourth in class and is an ambassador for the Lotus Formula One team. Later this month, Alesi will attempt to qualify and compete for Newman Haas at the legendary Indianapolis 500.
Jean Alesi was one of the greatest mysteries in the 1990s. He only won one race but won many fans around the world for his aggressive and charging driving style. With a bit more luck and better career judgement, who knows what career he could have carved out for himself in Formula One.
NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: The most dominant British Formula 3 career led to a loss of confidence and the sack from a three-time world champion. The struggles of Dane, Jan Magnussen
FRENCHMAN Romain Grosjean continued his solid return to Grand Prix racing yesterday, by nicking the quickest time in the second day of the Mugello Test.
In much better and consistent conditions than were seen on Tuesday, the Lotus Renault driver lapped around the Italian circuit in 1.21.603 to join the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi at the top of the timesheets. The two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were third and fourth fastest as Red Bull look to understand their new car more after Vettel’s recent success in Bahrain.
The test is seen as a major opportunity for many teams to test significant upgrades in packages before next week’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson explained on their website a little bit more about the advanced changes to Ferrari’s package. “Ferrari have tried two different positions of exhaust exit here – the one they have been racing with and the one they had to abandon during pre-season testing because it was overheating the rear tyres. They believe the pre-season testing one is the best, and they have been doing more work on that here.”
Grosjean’s fastest lap came early on in the day and on a harder tyre than the one used by Kobayashi to set his quickest effort. This, along with previous testing form does suggest that some of Lotus’s race performances so far have flattered to deceive in 2012. Michael Schumacher did the most duration, completing 144 laps yesterday for Mercedes GP before departing for a break before Barcelona. Nico Rosberg is expected to be back at the wheel today.
It was a quiet and calmer day after the storms of Tuesday but hydraulic problems for most of the day left Force India in the pits and Paul di Resta largely on the sidelines. Day three has already begun and it will be interesting to see if Lotus can continue their good form today.
DAY 2 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN
1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.21.603 – 97 laps
2. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.21.603 – 87 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.825 – 64 laps
4. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.997 – 54 laps
5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.257 – 106 laps
6. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.424 – 65 laps
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.759 – 22 laps
8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.404 – 144 laps
9. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.23.982 – 46 laps
10. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.24.312 – 112 laps
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
IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport. All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.
Next to be profiled is one of the first Spaniards to reach the Grand Prix grid before the Fernando Alonso era, Marc Gene.
NAME: Marc Gene
TEAMS: Minardi (1999-2000), Williams (2003-2004)
GP STARTS: 36
BEST FINISH: 5th (2003 Italian GP)
IT SEEMS odd to think of a time when Spain really had no interest in Formula One. Before Fernando Alonso burst onto the scene, motorbikes dominanted the landscape of the country. The race in Barcelona was sparesly populated and that didn’t really change when Marc Gene entered the sport. Gene was a fighter and has proven to be successful in other formulas, notably in sportscars. Like so many others before and after him though, Formula One wasn’t a great success.
Gene came into F1 with the underfunded Minardi team in 1999, replacing hopeless Argentine Esteban Tuero. Before his Grand Prix break, Gene’s highlight of his junior career was winning the Open Fortuna of Nissan championship in 1998. Marc was paired in Formula One alongside Luca Badoer and actually needed special dispensation to start his first event in Australia. The season was a real struggle but Marc kept his nose clean and was a regular finisher to the chequered flag. He qualified 15th in Germany, ahead of both Saubers and Johnny Herbert’s Stewart and beat Alessandro Zanardi’s Williams fair and square to ninth place in Malaysia.
Minardi’s moment of fortune came at the unpredictable 1999 European Grand Prix. Badoer looked set for fourth place before mechanical gremlins struck. Gene made some smart strategy calls and held off Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari to finish sixth and take the team’s first championship point since 1995. More importantly for Minardi, it meant they beat BAR in the constructors championship and earned extra bonuses in travel money and prize rewards which were badly needed.
Gene continued with Minardi into 2000 with another Argentine no-hoper Gaston Mazzacane alongside. Again he got the most out of a difficult car and embarrassed some big names in qualifying during the season. This time there were no points but solid eighth placed results in Australia and Austria; the latter saw him beat Pedro Diniz’s Sauber and the Benetton of Alexander Wurz.
With Paul Stoddart buying the team in 2001, Gene moved onto a testing role with the BMW Williams team. He drove in place of a concussed Ralf Schumacher at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix, qualifying a phenonemal fifth at short notice. He even led the race for a lap and finished a solid fifth to keep the team ahead at the time in the cosntructors championship. In 2004 Schumacher Jnr was sidelined for several races by a back injury sustained in a heavy crash at Indianapolis. Once again Gene deputised but this time, with less success. He qualified eighth and finished a distant tenth in France, despite setting a quicker lap than Juan Pablo Montoya in the race. Silverstone was more of a struggle, starting 11th and finishing 12th. Gene was replaced by Antonio Pizzonia for the German Grand Prix and has not raced in Formula One since.
At the beginning of 2005, Gene signed a testing contract with Ferrari but his racing career in F1 was over. Today he is a pundit on the Spanish broadcaster LaSexta for Grand Prix. His Ferrari testing contract expired at the end of 2010, but Marc has had a successful time at the Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot. He finished second in 2008 alongside Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Minassian. A year later he drove the final stint and together with Wurz and David Brabham, won the classic event to end Audi’s domination at Le Sarthe.
Marc Gene is another example of getting the best out of some poor car equipment and little out of a better car in Formula One. Nevertheless his technical feedback and honest approach to racing made him a worthy addition to any backmarker team or leading constructor in a testing capacity in F1.
NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: The mercurial and grumpy Frenchman who offered glimpses of form but infuriated many, Jean Alesi