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Schumacher’s moment of glory in qualifying

It won’t be pole position, thanks to a grid penalty but Michael Schumacher rolled back the years in Monaco (Yahoo)

THERE is life in the veteran yet as Michael Schumacher rolled back the years in qualifying this afternoon for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix.  In an unpredictable and cracking session, the 42-year old German ended as the fastest driver and in normal circumstances, would be celebrating his first pole position since the 2006 French Grand Prix.  However, a five place penalty for causing a collision with Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix means it is only a moment of glory.  Consequently it will be the 2010 winner in Monaco, Mark Webber who will start from pole position.

The day started quietly but burst into life with a dramatic final 15 minutes in FP3.  Paul di Resta damaged his front wing against the guardrail exiting the tunnel, whilst Sergio Perez was baulked in a dangerous position by Nico Hulkenberg’s dithering Force India.  The Mexican, returning to the venue of his terrifying crash in qualifying last year was in the thick of the action today.  He was involved in another incident with Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado, for which he was totally blameless.  Out of the way in the Portier complex, Maldonado deliberately turned in and connected with the Sauber, leaving Perez furious.  The stewards agreed with the Venezuelan’s ridiculous driving and slapped him with a ten place grid penalty.  Maldonado then went on to dismantle his Williams at Casino Square shortly afterwards, giving his mechanics a real headache ahead of qualifying.

The drama wasn’t all over for Perez when he clouted the barriers in the Swimming Pool chicane five minutes into Q1.  It initially looked like a simple driving mistake but BBC commentator David Coulthard spotted damage to the Sauber’s front steering, with the left-front tyre not responding to Perez’s steering movements from inside the cockpit.  Perez was out in Q1 and required a trip to the medical centre as a precautionary measure.  If the damage was caused by his earlier clash with Maldonado, no doubt the bill will be going to Maldonado’s bank manager!

Q2 saw Jean-Eric Vergne wipe his front wing and damage his rear suspension against the barrier before the Nouvelle Chicane.  It led to a near miss between him, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa as the Frenchman was recovering his battered Toro Rosso machinery to the pits.  Having only been a tenth quicker than Heikki Kovalainen in Q1, then this incident, Vergne’s qualifying struggles continue.  Another driver suffering with qualifying at the moment is Jenson Button.  The Brit never looked on the pace and was eliminated in Q2 for the second successive event, lining up 12th.  World champion Sebastian Vettel battled his car and scraped into Q3.  Having ran out of super soft tyres, he sat the final session out and begins from an uncompetitive ninth.  His issues were highlighted by some team radio in Q2; “We need to add more front wing Rocky, because the car is jumping around like a rabbit!”  

One unhappy world champion at Red Bull and McLaren but Lewis Hamilton’s focus continues to impress everyone.  Watched on by Men in Black film star Will Smith and girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, Hamilton looked at ease with his car on his way to third on the grid.  He said afterwards to Sky Sports F1;  “It’s going to be so tough with the two guys ahead, they are very quick, and very, very fortunate that Michael has his penalty, but he did a great job today and it was great actually to see Michael performing so well.  I have no idea how tomorrow’s going to go.  I hope the weather stays good but if it rains a little I’ll be grateful for it.”

After the first set of runs in Q3, it was the fastest driver this morning, Nico Rosberg top of the timesheets, followed by Romain Grosjean.  Webber managed to string together a lap with all three sectors to record a laptime of 1.14.381, less than a tenth quicker than Rosberg.  Grosjean and Lotus struggled to get tyre temperature into both sets of Pirelli compounds today and leaves him back in fifth, still a good effort.  Kimi Raikkonen only just escaped Q1 and was a distant eighth in the final session.  Ferrari took a cautious approach to qualifying, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa only doing one run in the final session.  The rejuvenated Massa set the benchmark in Q2 and starts seventh, easily his best performance of 2012 so far.  Alonso was just over a tenth faster and two places better off.

This paved the way clear for Schumacher to storm around the principality and set a lap of 1.14.301, fractionally quicker than Webber and Rosberg.  Sadly the Spanish penalty denies him the top spot but it was a metroic lap and reminds everyone, including yours truly that he still has the ultimate speed on a flying lap.  Following his penalty, Schumacher will begin from sixth, so Webber heads Rosberg, Hamilton, Grosjean and Alonso on the startline tomorrow.  Ross Brawn told BBC Sport his surprise at Schumacher’s lap; “I have to confess it took a little tear from my eye.  He’s been in good shape all weekend.  It all came together in qualifying.  The penalty is frustrating but that’s the way it is.”  

Qualifying turned out to be an intense and storming session and the race could turn into another special.  As many as eight drivers could count themselves to be serious contenders for the victory and over 78 laps, with unpredictable weather forecast and a high chance of Safety Cars, who knows what might happen tomorrow.

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING CLASSIFICATION – (AFTER GRID PENALTIES)

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 19 1.14.381
2 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 21 1.14.448
3 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 20 1.14.583
4 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 27 1.14.639
5 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 22 1.14.948
6 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 22 1.14.301
7 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 19 1.15.049
8 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 28 1.15.199
9 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 24 NO TIME IN Q3
10 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 17 1.15.421
11 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 19 1.15.508
12 (Q2) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 18 1.15.536
13 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 20 1.15.709
14 (Q2) PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 14 1.15.718
15 (Q2) DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 19 1.15.878
16 (Q2) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 14 1.16.885
17 (Q1) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 13 1.16.538
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 13 1.17.404
19 (Q3) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 22 1.15.245
20 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 11 1.17.947
21 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 11 1.18.096
22 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 12 1.18.476
23 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 8 1.19.310
24 (Q1) SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 2 NO TIME

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOLLOWING CAUSING AVOIDABLE ACCIDENT AT THE SPANISH GRAND PRIX

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED TEN PLACES FOLLOWING DANGEROUS DRIVING IN FREE PRACTICE

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Mugello Test Day 2 – Grosjean is the testing king again

Once again, Romain Grosjean led the way in a testing session (Ausmotive)

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

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One.  So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track.  His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session.  Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.

Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair.  Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon.  Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session.  Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest.  Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.

Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session.  Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.

However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today.  In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team.  Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK.  With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds.  Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.

With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus.  Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.

Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES  11 1.33.572 
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  21  1.33.877 
3 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.150 
4 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  23  1.34.249 
5 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  14  1.34.277 
6 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.344 
7 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  17  1.34.483 
8 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  22  1.34.552 
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  18  1.34.609 
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  20  1.34.817 
11 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  22  1.35.024 
12 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  25  1.35.268 
13 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  21  1.35.436 
14 VALTERI BOTTAS  WILLIAMS RENAULT  24  1.35.497 
15 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  19  1.35.719 
16 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  24  1.35.929 
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.195 
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 11  1.36.330 
19 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  18  1.36.484 
20 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.591 
21 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.37.467 
22 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.38.006 
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  19  1.38.877 
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  23  1.39.996 

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  35  1.32.816 
2 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  26  1.33.262 
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  28  1.33.525 
4 LEWIS HAMILTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  26  1.33.747 
5 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  32  1.33.862 
6 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  28  1.34.246 
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.411 
8 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  31  1.34.449 
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  32  1.34.615 
10 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.893 
11 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  29  1.34.895 
12 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  30  1.34.941 
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  33  1.35.183 
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  26  1.35.229 
15 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  38  1.35.459 
16 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  33  1.35.913 
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN  CATERHAM RENAULT  35  1.35.968 
18 BRUNO SENNA  WILLIAMS RENAULT  30  1.36.169 
19 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.36.587 
20 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.37.803 
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  28  1.37.812 
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  27  1.39.649 
23 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
24 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 

2012 Team Preview: Force India

A FIERY COMBINATION

SILVERSTONE based team Force India had a brilliant ending to 2011 and will be hoping to take that momentum into the new season.  If testing form is anything to go by, they look to be at the front of a very compact midfield group that includes Toro Rosso, Williams and maybe even Caterham.

Adrian Sutil is missing from the line-up for the first time since the team took over Spyker at the end of 2007.  Sutil’s well-documentented issues off the track have cost the German his career for now, even though his old employers insisted that this didn’t play a part in the decision not to retain him.  As one German goes out, another comes into the driving roster through Nico Hulkenberg.

Nico Hulkenberg is back in the racing cockpit and means business. (Planet F1)

Hulkenberg, who made his mark in junior formulae categories such as GP2 and A1GP for Team Germany had a wasted year last season.  Despite a remarkable pole position in Brazil during his debut season in the sport for Williams, the Grove team replaced him with Pastor Maldonado.  With no other options, Nico was forced into a third driver role with Force India.  He showed strong pace and this has continued in winter testing.  Ultimately, his patience has been rewarded with a return to the racing cockpit this season.  Many feel he was desperately unlucky to not be competing last season, so now the pressure is on for him to prove again what a prominent talent he is.

Paul di Resta had a super rookie season and the Scot keeps his drive for 2012.  He outqualified Sutil nine times last season and by the season’s end, was a regular points scorer.  Sixth on the grid at Silverstone and sixth in the race in Singapore were the highlights.  With Sutil gone, di Resta will be expected to lead the team.  However, with both drivers having just one season each in the sport, this combination promises to be very competitive and fiery.

The aim for the team is to beat Lotus and break into the top five elite.  They’ve done it before under the old Jordan guise in 1998 & 1999.  If they achieve this in 2012, it will be a sensational achievement for a team that in recent seasons, has delivered very impressively against the odds.

Two in a row for Romain

Grosjean steps into his Lotus to begin another productive day (Yalla F1)

ROMAIN Grosjean continued where he left off yesterday, by setting the quickest time today in the final pre-season test.  Grosjean’s Lotus set a time of 1.22.614 in the dying stages, to pip Jean-Eric Vergne to top spot.  Sebastian Vettel was third fastest as Red Bull continue to keep a quiet profile, but still seem to be the bookmakers favourites for the season opener in Australia.  What’s more, the team will be flying more parts out from their factory in Milton Keynes to the test at the Circuit de Catalunya tomorrow.

Although Grosjean did the fastest time on the soft tyre like yesterday, his consistency on both short and long runs suggests that Lotus have fully overcome the chassis problems that led to their testing programme being drastically cut last week.  Vergne, a fellow Frenchman and 2012 F1 rookie, had to sit out the majority of the afternoon session after a Ferrari engine failure on his Toro Rosso late this morning.

The pace of the French stars left Vettel back in third, whilst Fernando Alonso had a better day for Ferrari today, ending up fourth and completing a trouble free race simulation run of over 60 laps.  A late burst on the super soft tyres pushed Heikki Kovalainen into a surprising fifth place.  The Finn seemed to have recovered after the stomach upset that meant he had to sit out yesterday.  Lewis Hamilton spent a lot of the day in the garage, as McLaren worked on his car.  Like Red Bull, they continue to fly out new development parts as testing nears its conclusion.  Nevertheless, he still managed over 60 laps and was ninth fastest.

There were six stoppages in an interrupted day, which saw fog delay the start of testing in Barcelona by half an hour.  Nico Hulkenberg lost the entire afternoon after stopping on track with a suspected gearbox problem on his Force India Mercedes, whilst Michael Schumacher brought the red flag out twice, with driver error and technical faults to blame.

DAY 2 BARCELONA TESTING RESULTS

1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.22.614 – 124 laps

2. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.126 – 46 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.361 – 85 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.447 – 125 laps

5. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.23.828 – 104 laps

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.23.836 – 76 laps

7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.893 – 33 laps

8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.978 – 79 laps

9. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.24.111 – 65 laps

10. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.24.925 – 48 laps

11. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.25.801 – 20 laps

The Hulk is back in Barcelona

FORCE India’s fantastic winter continued today on the second day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya.  Nico Hulkenberg, who is returning to the sport after being a frustrated spectactor in 2011, set the pace in Spain.  Hulkenberg gave his team some crucial data, pounding around Barcelona for 112 laps, setting a quickest time of 1.22.608.  Although his time was on super-soft tyres, the new Force India looks consistent and fast, which bodes well for the early season events.

Hulkenberg continued Force India's impressive start to winter testing (Yahoo.com)

Hulkenberg edged out Sergio Perez today, who showed some pace from Sauber that has been seriously missing in early tests.  Like Hulkenberg, Perez recorded his best time on super-softs, but still was an impressive second quickest, just 0.040secs shy of the German’s quickest time.  Having set a benchmark yesterday, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull looked at race simulation today, but the champion was the man to beat again until the late efforts from the top two.  Vettel was third fastest, his best today was a 1.23.056.  Fernando Alonso was next up, but a super-soft tyre run slower than Vettel’s on the prime tyre suggests Ferrari have a mountain of work to do before the first race in Australia on March 18.

Like Vettel, Lewis Hamilton focused on race simulation work today, doing 120 laps and coming sixth on the timesheets.  However, the Brit later told BBC Sport that he is encouraged by the hidden pace McLaren have at the moment.  Jenson Button, flying in from presenting an award at the BRITS last night, will take over driving duties tomorrow.  Likewise, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa will be putting in the miles over the next two days, after Vettel and Alonso’s efforts at the start of this test.

However, Lotus have had to withdraw from the rest of this week’s testing.  They went home yesterday, after Romain Grosjean felt uncomfortable with an unspecificed chassis problem.  However, team principal Eric Bouiller is convinced they’ve fixed the problem.  He said to BBC Sport; “On the positive side, we have quickly identified the issue with the chassis and our design office has already devised a solution.  We will be present at next week’s test in Barcelona.”  However, it leaves Lotus just four more days of running before Melbourne, so they are now seriously on the backfoot.

TESTING TIMES IN BARCELONA – DAY 2

1. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.608 – 112 laps

2. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.648 – 85 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.891 – 104 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.180 – 87 laps

5. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.659 – 50 laps

6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.806 – 120 laps

7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.555 – 82 laps

8. Juan Bottas (Williams Renault) 1.25.738 – 117 laps

9. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.26.605 – 69 laps

10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.343 – 108 laps

Vettel sends out decisive warning

THE second Formula One pre-season test started today in Barcelona and Sebastian Vettel means business.  The double world champion, aiming to become only the third driver to win three titles in a row dominated the opening day in Spain, outperforming his other main rivals.

Vettel looked sharp in the first day of Barcelona testing (BBC Sport)

Vettel took the fastest time this afternoon, after countryman Nico Hulkenberg made the early running this morning.  Hulkenberg, who lost time in the Jerez test through no fault of his own, looked comfortably at ease in a Force India that continues to set some consistent lap times.  His quickest today was a 1.23.440, only 0.2secs behind the formidable Red Bull/Vettel combination.  His total of 97 laps was useful mileage too.

Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, continuing McLaren’s quiet start to the winter programme, although their new car looks far better than the predecessor did at this stage last year.  We also got a view of the new Mercedes GP W03 today and it is likely that the team will use this test to establish reliability and durability on long runs, rather than outright pace.  This makes Michael Schumacher’s effort, sixth fastest and less than a second shy of Vettel’s benchmark of 1.23.265 all the more encouraging.

However, it was a difficult day for both Caterham F1 and Lotus Renault.  Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen stopped out on track with a suspected track rod failure.  Kovalainen was only in his ninth lap of the day, but further checks seemed to hint that it wasn’t a day-ending problem and the Finn managed another half an hour of running at the end of the day.  Vitaly Petrov will make his debut in the car tomorrow.  Meanwhile, Lotus packed up at lunchtime after Romain Grosjean did just seven laps, and complained of chassis problems.  The team are flying back the car to factory headquarters as a precuationary measure tonight and also aim to run with Grosjean again tomorrow.  However, this major headache could have a knockback on their entire week programme at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Traditionally, the first F1 pre-season test is used for basic running, with the second one showing some form tips for the early season flyaways.  Although there is still three days of running left in Barcelona, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have sent out a decisive warning to the rest; “Catch us if you can!”

BARCELONA DAY 1 TESTING TIMES – THE TOP EIGHT

1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.265 – 79 laps

2. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.440 – 97 laps

3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.590 – 114 laps

4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.618 – 76 laps

5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.24.100 – 75 laps

6. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.24.150 – 51 laps

7. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.216 – 66 laps

8. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.25.711 – 97 laps

2011 Mercedes ends on a high

THE dynamic of the 2012 Mercedes GP and how quick it goes will be interesting when it is launched next week.  That is because for the second day running, the 2011 machine ended up top of the timesheets, this time in the hands of Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg made it two in a row for Mercedes (Motorsport.com)

Rosberg completed 118 laps, setting the fastest time of the week so far in Jerez, with a time of 1.17.613.  It dislodged GP2 champion Romain Grosjean from the top.  Grosjean, taking over from Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus Renault team was quickest this morning and certainly looked comfortable all day, as Lotus solid start to winter testing continued.

This was the day when some of the major players took to the track for the first time.  Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso all returned to action following the winter break and both Vettel and Hamilton stayed out of trouble, setting consistent times and getting good mileage under their belts.  The world champion was third fastest, only 0.2secs quicker than the Brit in his McLaren.  Alonso was down in seventh on another very quiet day for Ferrari.  His cause wasn’t helped by a hydraulic problem, which left the Spaniard in the garage for the first two hours this morning.  With vibes coming from within the media of Felipe Massa saying that a lot of work is required, the Scuderia already look on the backfoot.

It wasn’t quite as bad as Jules Bianchi, who spun his Force India into the barriers early this morning, seriously disrupting what had been an excellent week for the team so far.  Bianchi, who is reserve driver for the Silverstone based team told Sky Sports; “I made a small mistake on my second run.  The tyres were a bit cold and I spun into the gravel and touched the wall with the right rear wheel.  It was not a very big impact, but it caused some damage.  I’m very sorry because my mistake has cost the team a lot of time and effort.”  He would have to apologise to Nico Hulkenberg, who had been due to make his 2012 bow this afternoon, but was left to twiddle his thumbs, whilst the team flew out replacement parts from their UK base.  Hulkenberg has to wait until tomorrow now to make his first impact of the season.

One more day of this test remains and if the 2011 Mercedes, which let’s be honest, was a poor car has ended on a high, expectations will rise of a potential assault on the championship if these times are anything to go by.

TESTING TIMES – DAY 3 FROM JEREZ

1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.17.613 – 118 laps

2. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.18.419 – 117 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.19.297 – 96 laps

4. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.19.464 – 80 laps

5. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.19.734 – 79 laps

6. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.19.770 – 48 laps

7. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.20.412 – 67 laps

8. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.21.293 – 125 laps

9. Gio Van der Garde (Caterham Renault) 1.23.324 – 74 laps

10. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) – NO TIME

Raikkonen the early pacesetter as F1 returns from winter hibernation

IT MIGHT have been a chilly start to proceedings, but Formula One 2012 breathed into life, as the cars took to the Jerez circuit this morning.  This is the first winter test of three before the Australian Grand Prix on March 18 and gives the drivers their first opportunity to drive the new cars, new Pirelli tyres and adapt to new technical regulations, such as the banning of blown diffusers.

Kimi Raikkonen was quickest in the early testing times (Planet F1)

This morning, it was the Lotus Renault of Kimi Raikkonen that set the pace.  The 2007 world champion, returning to the sport after two years away in rallying looked like he had lost none of his speed, with a time of 1 min 19.6 secs around the southern Spain circuit.  Lotus technical director James Allison told Planet F1 that the initial pace should be downplayed.  “The teams are doing a whole mixture of different programmes at the moment and we obviously don’t have any clear idea of what the others might be working on currently.  We will start to know where we stand as things unfold over the coming days and weeks, but it’s still very early doors and the real picture will only come together when we get to Melbourne for the first race.”

There has been some criticism about the new noses, especially the step, ‘boxer nose’ which has been developed by the likes of Ferrari and Force India to meet the regulations criteria.  McLaren are one of the only teams to go down the slope, more prettier route.  Sky Sports pit analyst Ted Kravitz admitted this morning on the channel that the beauty element has gone; “Unfortunately, they won’t look any prettier, apart from the McLaren, who seemed to have gone down a different concept.  The one that will be interesting is Red Bull, which was a strange online launch, so we only got a few pictures.  It will be interesting to see how good that looks on the track.”

Due to new components arriving from the factory in Milton Keynes, Mark Webber could only manage eight laps before lunch, but still set the fifth fastest time.  Paul di Resta was second fastest in the new Force India, 0.1 secs behind Raikkonen.  Nico Rosberg was an impressive third fastest in a modified version of last year’s Mercedes GP.  Mercedes won’t reveal their 2012 challenger until next week.  The German has handed the driving duties over to Michael Schumacher this afternoon.  McLaren and Ferrari had quiet mornings, with Jenson Button and Felipe Massa failing to trouble serious times.

All teams, excluding Mercedes are only running one driver per day.  Marussia Virgin are the only team not present at this test, with Mercedes GP and Hispania running modified models of last year’s cars.

It is very early to predict how the season or even the week will unfold, but there was certainly no sign of rustiness from the Iceman, Raikkonen this morning.

UNOFFICIAL TESTING TIMES FROM JEREZ THIS MORNING – THE TOP 7

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.19.670 (50 LAPS)

2. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.19.772 (52 LAPS)

3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.20.219 (56 LAPS)

4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.20.694 (40 LAPS)

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.472 (8 LAPS)

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.112 (29 LAPS)

7. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.316 (22 LAPS)

Technical shake-up at Sauber

James Key has left as technical director of Sauber (Source: SauberF1Team)

JAMES Key has left the Sauber Formula One team on the eve of the launch of their 2012 car next week.  Key, who joined Sauber midway through the 2010 season from Force India has moved onto pastures new as the Swiss team restructure their technical department.

On his departure, Key told Planet F1; “”I’ve enjoyed the past two years working at the Sauber F1 Team. It has been a very intense and interesting time, in which we had to manage the transition from a much larger team to a smaller one, and everybody handled that very well.”

In his time with the team, Key has managed to downsize the team and keep it as a competitive midfield contender since BMW withdrew works support at the end of the 2009 season.  The team finished seventh in the constructors championship last season, although they struggled in the second half of the season through a lack of development.  Key has taken on a new role in the UK, although this has not been specified.  Rather than bring in a specialised replacement, Peter Sauber has revealed that it will be shared responsibility now between Sauber’s leading engineers.

The Sauber challenger will be launched in Jerez on Monday, with Kamur Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remaining as drivers for the second successive season.

Sutil receives suspended sentence

GERMAN racing driver Adrian Sutil has received an 18-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of causing GBH (Grevilous Bodily Harm).  The ex-Force India racer was convicted in a two-day trial in Munich after an incident occured at a Shanghai nightclub which left the chief executive of Genii Capital, Eric Lux with injuries.  Sutil, 29 has also being given a 200,000 euro fine which according to Planet F1, will be donated to charities.  He becomes the first active F1 racing driver to be found guilty of an off-track skirmish since Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot was controversially jailed in the summer of 1991 for spraying CS gas at a London taxi driver.

Adrian Sutil found guilty and set for a spell on the sidelines

The confrontation between Sutil and Lux happened on the evening of Lewis Hamilton’s stunning victory at last April’s Chinese Grand Prix.  Sutil, a close friend of Hamilton’s was celebrating his success when an incident with a champagne glass occured which left Lux needing stitches after sustaining cuts to his head and neck.  Lux’s company own the Lotus Formula One team, formerly known as Renault.  Despite being asked to testify, Hamilton was unable to attend due to commitments with McLaren.  Sutil apologised to Lux in a statement and via a phone call, although it is believed that no face-to-face apology was given by the driver.  On Monday in court, The German was quoting by the Reuters news agency; “I did everything to try to settle this row, I am really sorry, extremely sorry.  I never wanted for this to happen.”

Despite finishing ninth in the drivers championship, including strong sixth place finishes at the Nurburgring and in Brazil, Sutil’s Formula One career looked bleak before court proceedings were set against him.  He lost his Force India drive to Nico Hulkenberg before Christmas and was beaten to the vacant Williams seat recently to Brazilian Bruno Senna.  There has been talk of a third driver role at Ferrari, considering that they have let their young Italian Jules Bianchi out on loan to Force India to compete in Friday sessions in 2012.  However, this sentence might scupper those chances too.

It looks like Adrian Sutil’s Formula One career, which did show signs of solid promise have now reached an ultimate crossroads.

 

 

Sutil faces trial for nightclub assault

FORCE India reject Adrian Sutil is fighting for his fledgling Formula One career tonight, after it was confirmed that he will face trial at the end of the month for a nightclub assault.

The 28-year old German, who was among the favourites to land the vacant seat at Williams for the 2012 season, could end up with a one-year suspended prison sentence should he be found guilty at the trial in Germany.

Adrian Sutil faces trial for an incident that occured in April 2011

The incident happened in a nightclub after last year’s Chinese Grand Prix, where Sutil and his friends had been celebrating Lewis Hamilton’s stunning victory in Shanghai.  Although there has been differing accounts of what happened, it is alleged that Sutil had a confrontation with the co-owner of the Lotus Renault team, Eric Lux.  The altercation left Lux needing hospital treatment, requiring 24 stitches.  From the outset of this news breaking last season, Lux proceeded to press criminal charges against Sutil.  The driver apologised in the summer of last year, but court proceedings have still be pressed on.

Now, though, he has been charged with causing grevilous bodily harm with a trial date set for 30-31 January.  The verdict will likely be aimed at CCTV footage taken from the nightclub on the night, with famous faces such as Hamilton, a close friend of Sutil’s, possibly being called to give evidence.

Whatever the outcome, Adrian Sutil’s five year Formula One career tonight is hanging on real rocky ground.