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Lewis Hamilton stripped of pole position in Spain

Hamilton’s pole joy was to be shortlived (Planet F1)

MCLAREN’s Lewis Hamilton has been stripped of his pole position and will start tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix from the back of the grid.  After setting his pole time on the Circuit de Catalunya, Hamilton failed to complete his in-lap back to parc ferme and was told to stop his car on the circuit by the team.

Although the initial reason wasn’t given, with Martin Whitmarsh being very coy in interviews afterwards, it was later revealed by race stewards that Hamilton didn’t have enough fuel left in his car for a standard FIA sample.  This effectively declared the car as underweight and therefore, illegal.

Hamilton was thrown out of qualifying once McLaren’s argument of a fuel rig issue had been dismissed by the FIA stewards.  Johnny Herbert, a driver representative on the FIA stewards panel from previous races told Sky Sports F1 his lack of symphony with McLaren; “The penalty is not harsh.  The rules state that you have to have enough fuel in the car.  It’s a horrible thing as they’ve done it before.  It is unfortunate but it’s in the rules, its black and white and is yet another bad mistake by McLaren.”

In the very complex FIA technical regulations, this is what is stated under Article 6.6.2 

“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the event.  Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

This ruling was brought into force following a similar incident happened after Hamilton had taken pole position for the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix.  That time around, McLaren got away with a reprimand but they weren’t so lucky today.

McLaren have reluctantly accepted the decision with technical director Paddy Lowe tweeting tonight; “To all our fans: so sorry about this error.  We are more gutted than anybody.  An amazing performance by Lewis throughout Q, ruined.”

The stewards decision means Pastor Maldonado will start from his maiden pole position for Williams Renault tomorrow with Fernando Alonso alongside on the front row for his home grand prix.

 

 

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Remembering Imola: The aftermath and the improvements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

FIA confirm Bahrain race goes ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schumacher ends fastest in quiet Shanghai opening

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

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

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

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

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

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

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

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

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

Talking Point: Should F1 go to Bahrain?

IT HAS been a frantic start to the Formula One season of 2012 and whilst the teams, mechanics and the fans have a brief break from racing, a real concern is threatening to bubble over the surface and explode over the Grand Prix scene.

After the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 15, the sport is due to make a scheduled return to Bahrain.  The race was cancelled last year as the season opener due to the Arab Uprisings.  It was rescheduled two months later, then cancelled for good last year, as the teams couldn’t be certain about the safety within the country.  This time around, it seems like there is support for the race to go ahead, but pressure is building on whether the sport should stay away.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, a prime mover in F1 not going last season sees no reason why the event shouldn’t run on the Sakhir track in 2012.  He told JAonF1 last week; “F1 is a sport at the end of the day and we’ve always enjoyed racing in Bahrain, its on the calendar and the FIA and promoters deem it right to hold a race in Bahrain so we will be happy to be there and race.”

Despite Horner’s belief that there will be race held on April 22, protests in the region continue even a year on after the first signs of political unrest.  Yesterday, Al-Jazeera reported of more protests in two towns near the circuit, which involved demonstrators being arrested and the police spraying tear gas.  The protestors are also believed to be using Twitter as a useful source to get their message across.  The hashtag #bloodyf1 is being used to show their displeasure.  Although the trouble is nowhere near as bad as it has been in Tunisia, Egypt and most especially of late, Syria – the concern of many has to be highlighted.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is adamant that the race will go ahead, no matter what.  He recently told the Press Association; “Of course the race is going to happen.  No worries at all.  These people were brave enough to start an event in that part of the world (2004) and that’s it.  We’ll be there as long as they want us.”

Ecclestone might want the race to go ahead and the Bahrain Royal Family, prime movers in getting the region onto the calendar in 2004 might want the spectacle to run too.  However, the Bahrain people still seem restless and the risks are inevitably going to be very high for spectators, the worldwide media, volunteering marshals and of course, the drivers.  Is this a risk too far?

The fans seem split on opinion.  Amy Jones posted on her Twitter last night; “We should axe Bahrain.  While you’re at it Bernie, axe Valencia please.  Thanks. #F1.  On the Planet F1 forum, sandman1347 said; Bernie needs to realize that this partnership isn’t worth the hassle or risk.  Who cares that they are willing to pay the fee to have a race there?  There are at least 5 other countries who would love to have a race.  Ultimately, Bernie would be wise not to enter into business arrangements with despots who torture and execute their own populace.  Make a deal with someone else Bernie.  Bahrain is a bad partner.”  Valen on a separate forum topic disagrees; Don’t get me wrong, I think the situation in Bahrain is terrible, but most countries in the world are having upheavel, genocide and civil war issues.  Part of world politics I am afraid.”

Ultimately, the drivers and the teams should be allowed to make the final decision.  It surprises me that none of the drivers, especially those who you would traditionally look to in a situation like this in Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber haven’t given their opinion yet.

Has Bahrain seen its last Formula One race? (nextconceptcars)

For now, the Bahrain Grand Prix is expected to take place as scheduled on April 22.  For me, all Bernie Ecclestone has cared about for so long is money and that has made him so successful.  Formula One needs to avoid an shameful set of headlines and the worst case scenarios cannot be imagined.  If the race goes ahead, I so hope there won’t be any trouble, but I can’t say that response is full of confidence.  The Asian market might have the money as Europe drowns in a tidalwave of economic debt, but there are plenty of other countries who don’t have such unrest and want to stage an event.  At the end of the day, commonsense needs to prevail and a decision has to be taken very quickly – safety and security is more important than an extra event.

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)