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Wonderful Webber makes it super six in Monaco

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO RACE REPORT

THE 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship continues to break records and now, we have had a situation of six different winners in the first six races for the first time ever.  Mark Webber stayed cool under intense pressure from Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso to register his eighth career victory today and his second around the streets of Monte Carlo.  Webber also had to deal with a late rain shower in the principality, plus the tyre management concensus in a race that promised much but largely, failed to deliver on 2012’s high expectations.  Alonso’s third place means he heads to Canada as the narrow championship leader, three points clear of Red Bull pair, Sebastian Vettel and Webber.

It was a messy start in Monaco with Kobayashi launched into the air over Grosjean’s spun Lotus (Planet F1)

There was drama just seconds after the lights went out, with three drivers eliminated before the first lap was completed.  Romain Grosjean’s Lotus was clipped by Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Ste. Devote and the Frenchman spun his car backwards before the first apex, sending cars in all directions to try and avoid his stricken chassis.  The trigger for the messy shunt was a bad start from both Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton on the second row of the grid and excellent starts from the two Ferrari drivers, Alonso and Felipe Massa.  As Alonso moved across to give his team-mate some space, he and Grosjean banged wheels and with Schumacher pinned up against the guardrail, contact was inevitable.  In the melee, Kamui Kobayashi was launched into the air and down the escape road, taking Jenson Button with him.  Kobayashi’s suspension was wrecked and he retired five laps later.  Joining him and Grosjean on the sidelines were Pedro de la Rosa’s Hispania and Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonado.  Maldonado completed his nightmare weekend by whalloping de la Rosa’s rear wing off.  It was lucky the Spaniard didn’t lose anything else.

The Safety Car was deployed with the order settling down as Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa and Vettel.  When racing resumed, Kimi Raikkonen started to form a train of cars behind him as he struggled with a severe lack of rear tyre grip.  The Lotus team tried to keep him out, in the hope of a looming rain shower which never arrived.  On lap 30, Rosberg was the first of the frontrunners to pit for the soft tyre.  The rest had to respond and Alonso went a lap longer than most, enough to jump him past a frustrated Hamilton.

Having begun on the soft tyre, Vettel inherited the lead and as the others struggled to get heat into their new rubber on an overcast day, the champion built up a healthy advantage, threatening to jump from sixth to a merited lead in the process.  His tyres managed 45 laps before starting to lose grip and the quickest pitstop of the day from Red Bull got him out just ahead of Hamilton.  With DRS utterly useless around here, overtaking was a premium and despite stages in the race when only five seconds covered the top six, it was a case of follow the leader and hope for a mistake.  All the top drivers drove pheonemally and nerves were only increased when a shower in the last six laps made Tabac and Casino Square corners more tricky.  Toro Rosso took a gamble and pulled Jean-Eric Vergne in for intermediate tyres but the rain stopped and he lost a certain seventh place.

Further back, Schumacher’s miserable day came to an early end thanks to a fuel pressure problem, which restricted his top speed on the Mercedes.  After being in the wrong place at the wrong time on lap one, Button spent the entire distance trapped behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham.  The Finn drove superbly throughout and was ahead of some midfield drivers for the majority of the race but you have to question Button’s performance today, one that reminded me of the bad Honda days in 2008.  His poor day came to an end when he spun at the Swimming Pool trying to pass Kovalainen and he stalled the engine.  His win in Australia seems a long time ago now.  He spoke to Formula1.com afterwards; “To be honest I couldn’t wait for the race to be over!  I knew that there were no points for me today and Kovalainen was allowed to drive around as slowly as he wanted to, which was just painful.  That all comes from a bad qualifying session and being at the wrong place at the wrong time in Turn One by being on the outside and getting passed by a lot of cars, that probably hurt more than anything else.”

Webber rejoices becoming the sixth different winner this season (Telegraph)

Webber held on to record a stunning victory, becoming the first ever Australian driver to win this prestigious Grand Prix twice.  He said afterwards in the press conference; “It was a very interesting race, reasonably straightforward at the start, just managing the gap to Nico.  Then the weather was threatening at the first pit-stop window but Nico went for it and people had to react.  The second half of the race was very strange because it was very hard to get the soft tyre warmed up.  I had very low front grip, I had to manage things around that, and I had to make sure Seb didn’t get a gap of 21 seconds.  That was not part of the plan.  So I’m really glad to have won here again, a great victory for me.”

Rosberg earnt his best finish in Monaco and Alonso seemed happy to record another podium, closely chased home by Vettel.  This was also the closest top four finish ever in Monaco.  Hamilton kept his consistency up with fifth, on a day when McLaren looked seriously uncompetitive.  Felipe Massa’s sixth place was a fair reward for a storming weekend where he matched Alonso throughout.  The Force India team benefited from midfield problems to finish seventh and eighth with Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.  Raikkonen fought back to ninth, after a lacklustre weekend and the final point went to Bruno Senna for Williams.

Ultimately the Monaco Grand Prix turned into a disappointing spectacle and wasn’t the classic we all hoped it would be.  However, Mark Webber has thrown another name into the mix for the world championship after a convincing display of quality and class.  F1 now heads to Canada in a fortnight’s time and after last year’s thriller, who knows what will happen in North America.

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO FINAL CLASSIFICATION

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 78 1hr 46min 06secs
2 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 78 +0.6secs
3 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 78 +0.9secs
4 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 78 +1.3secs
5 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 78 +4.1secs
6 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 78 +6.1secs
7 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 78 +41.5secs
8 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 78 +42.5secs
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 78 +44.0secs
10 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 78 +44.5secs
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 77 1 LAP
12 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 77 1 LAP
13 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 77 1 LAP
14 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 77 1 LAP
15 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 76 2 LAPS
16 (Ret) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 70 SPIN
Retired DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 65 STEERING
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 64 ELECTRICS
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 63 FUEL FEED
Retired VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 15 ELECTRICS
Retired KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 5 ACCIDENT DAMAGE
Retired PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 0 COLLISION WITH MALDONADO
Retired PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 0 COLLISION WITH DE LA ROSA
Retired ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 0 COLLISION WITH SCHUMACHER

 

 

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 76
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 73
3 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 73
4 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 63
5 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 59
6 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 51
7 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 45
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 35
9 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 29
10 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
11 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 21
12 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 19
13 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 15
14 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 10
15 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 7
16 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
17 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

 

 

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 146
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 108
3 LOTUS RENAULT 86
4 FERRARI 86
5 MERCEDES GP 61
6 WILLIAMS RENAULT 44
7 SAUBER FERRARI 41
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 28
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


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Fernando & Jenson share spoils on disjointed day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE ONE CLASSIFICATION

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

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE TWO CLASSIFICATION

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

Nico joins the elite in Chinese Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nico Rosberg finally becomes a Grand Prix winner (Telegraph)

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

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

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

2012 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


History of the Chinese Grand Prix

SHANGHAI hosts the third round of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.  The Chinese event has now been a fixture on the Grand Prix calendar since 2004.  Although it has struggled to maintain a decent attendance from the Chinese locals, the circuit is enjoyed by the drivers and with the various mix in weather conditions, the event has thrown up many special races.

The inagural event in September 2004 was won by the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello.  It was a popular win for Rubens, on a weekend where Michael Schumacher had one of his worst weekends ever at Ferrari.  Schumacher had a technical problem on Friday, spun off into the gravel in single lap qualifying and in the race, had a clash with Christian Klien, another spin and a puncture.  Schumacher finished a lap down and back in 12th place.  Jenson Button made a two stop strategy work to finish a close second for BAR Honda whilst Kimi Raikkonen completed the first ever podium at the Chinese Grand Prix.

2005 was the season finale and there was a close battle for supremacy between Renault and McLaren Mercedes for the constructors championship.  Renault carried a two point advantage and thanks to more powerful engines, dominanted the weekend.  Fernando Alonso coasted to his seventh win of the season in which he became the man to knock Schumacher off his perch.  McLaren’s cause to win the teams battle wasn’t helped, when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a loose drain gully, which wrecked his front suspension.  Raikkonen’s second place wasn’t enough for the Woking team whilst a pitlane infringement by Giancarlo Fisichella in the sister Renault handed Ralf Schumacher a surprising podium for Toyota.  Narain Karthikeyan spectacularly crashed out in the last event to witness a Jordan Grand Prix entry and Schumacher Snr had another mere in China.  He unbelievably crashed into Christjian Albers on the way to the grid and then spun off behind the Safety Car.  A year later, he conquered those demons.

On a wet and windy weekend in 2006, the teams running Michelin tyres had a significant advantage.  All of the Bridgestone shod users like Williams and Toyota struggled with the conditions.  Schumacher wrestled his Ferrari around to sixth on the grid, then put an immense drive on Sunday.  He was helped by a technical retirement for Raikkonen and some poor tyre strategy from Renault which meant early leader Alonso lost a comfortable 15 second lead.  The team decided to use Fisichella in an attempt to win the race, but he couldn’t hold back Schumacher’s relentless charge.  The German won his 91st race in Formula One and it was one of his most unlikest successes.  The delight he showed in parc ferme afterwards summed up his delight.  As we stand now, this is his last win and last podium in the sport.

Tyres played a crucial role in 2007 too.  Lewis Hamilton arrived with the possibility of winning the title in his stunning maiden season.  He was 12 points clear of team-mate Alonso and 17 ahead of Raikkonen, now driving for Ferrari.  He took a brilliant pole position and drove away effortlessly from the field in the opening laps.  When the first pitstops arrived, McLaren elected to keep him on worn rubber.  Raikkonen closed him down and passed him comfortably.  Rather than back off and save his worn rubber, Hamilton attempted to keep pushing and the team were very reluctant to bring him in, hoping for another rain shower.  It didn’t come and when he did pit, the tyres gave up their final bit of grip.  Lewis agonisingly slid into the gravel trap and got beached.  His race ended and with Raikkonen winning from Alonso, the championship shootout went all the way to Brazil.  There was also a noticeable drive to fourth place in the unfancied Toro Rosso from a certain S. Vettel!

After the nightmare of 2007, Hamilton arrived for the penultimate event of 2008 under pressure.  This followed a diabolical drive at Fuji seven days earlier.  He was receiving stinging criticism from his rivals, with Alonso and Robert Kubica very outspoken about his aggressive approach.  Hamilton did his talking on the track and produced a disiplined drive to an easy victory.  In a race that lacked excitement, Ferrari had to play the team orders game with Raikkonen to allow Felipe Massa two extra points for second place.  Kubica’s outside championship hopes ended when he was knocked out in Q2 and struggled to sixth place for BMW Sauber.

From 2009 onwards, the Chinese Grand Prix has moved from a season ending race to one of the early flyaways.  Torrential rain in 2009 halted the Brawn GP march towards both championships.  Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello finished third and fourth, but couldn’t match the ultimate speed from Red Bull Racing.  Despite a driveshaft issue in qualifying, Sebastian Vettel took pole position and controlled the race with supreme composure, on a day when many of his rivals were sliding off the road for fun.  He took Red Bull’s first ever Grand Prix victory and Mark Webber followed him home in second place.  It was the start of things to come for the Milton Keynes empire.

Red Bull had a bad day in China 2010 though, trailing in a distant sixth and eigth thanks to some awful pitstops.  Button got it right on the day in changeable conditions, to lead new team-mate Hamilton home for a McLaren 1-2.  It was Button’s second win in four events for his new team and cemented his move from Brawn GP over the winter.  Nico Rosberg produced a strong race to finish third and Alonso recovered from a blatant jump-start to record fourth for Ferrari.  His fightback included a bold overtake in the pitlane entry on his team-mate Massa.

Seven different winners in seven years, but the run ended last year.  Hamilton produced a metoric display to pass Vettel with four laps to go and record a brilliant victory.  This was despite an engine issue nearly prevented him the chance to start the race.  The 2011 race has gone down as one of the all-time classics ever in history.  A fuel consumption issue blew Rosberg’s chances of a shock victory and he wound up a frustrated fifth.  Poor strategy decisions from Ferrari cost Massa a deserved podium and left him trailing in sixth, but nearly half a minute clear of Alonso.  Button made a meal of his first pitstop, by stopping in the wrong pitbox!  He finished fourth, overwhelmed in the dying stages by the incredible Mark Webber.  The Aussie finished third having started a miserable 18th on the grid.

2011 provided passing galore thanks to DRS and the Pirelli tyres.  Throw in the unpredictable weather elements and I’m sure we will be in for another Shanghai stunner at the weekend.

Driver performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix

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

JENSON BUTTON

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

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

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

LEWIS HAMILTON

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

MARK WEBBER

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

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

Alonso showed his class on Sunday (Motorsportretro)

FERNANDO ALONSO

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

NICO ROSBERG

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

PASTOR MALDONADO

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

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

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

SERGIO PEREZ

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN

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

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

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

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

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

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

NICO HULKENBERG

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

FELIPE MASSA

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

BRUNO SENNA

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

DANIEL RICCIARDO

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

PAUL DI RESTA

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

VITALY PETROV

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

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

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

TIMO GLOCK

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

CHARLES PIC

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

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

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

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

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

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

Awesome Alonso causes real shock in Malaysia thriller

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Sergio Perez celebrates his superb result in Malaysia (Yahoo)

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

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

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

Button's misjudgement cost him dear (Autosport)

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

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

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

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

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

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FINAL RACE RESULT

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

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

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

 

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

Two in a row for Lewis in sweltering Sepang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING SESSION

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR SAFETY CAR INFRINGEMENT IN AUSTRALIA

Lewis sets the standard in Sepang Practice

Hamilton looks the man to beat on practice form in Sepang (FoxSports)

LEWIS Hamilton set the standard in practice for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.  The McLaren driver looked comfortable on the Sepang layout throughout the day and ending up topping the timesheets today in both sessions.  In the morning session, he lapped a full half a second faster than world champion Sebastian Vettel in very humid conditions.  A few hours later, Michael Schumacher was the Brit’s closest challenger, but still 0.4secs slower.  Although thunderstorms are forecasted for the rest of the weekend, Hamilton will start tomorrow’s qualifying session as an overwhelming favourite for pole position.

Having looked decidedly unhappy with his podium in Albert Park last Sunday, there were questions being raised about Hamilton’s attitude.  However, he came across as a happier individual in the paddock today and looks in formidable form.  Team-mate Jenson Button was playing down the pace of the car today, admitting to BBC Sport that this year’s regulations are making the circuit configuration harder for everyone. “It is always tricky around here.  Compared to last race, there is far less grip around here.  It’s working ok, but compared to last year, the new regulations make it far more difficult around here.”

Mercedes GP were McLaren’s closest rivals today, with Schumacher and Nico Rosberg featuring prominently in the top four in both sessions.  Vettel, who expressed that the balance was not perfect over the team radio in the second session wound up a slightly frustrated tenth.  He is normally cool, but even the young German seemed to be feeling the heat of Kuala Lumpur after his struggles this afternoon.

There was plenty of drivers who made use of the wide asphalt areas, although only Narain Karthikeyan stopped out on track today and that was after only eight laps in the first session thanks to a hydraulic glitch on the struggling HRT.  The one driver who suffered the most was Paul di Resta, who went off the road twice.  His first execursion was caused by a brake duct issue, which punctured one of his front tyres.  The second mistake was down to driver error, although the Scot did keep the car out of the barriers.

Ferrari have brought a new chassis to this event for Felipe Massa, although the Brazilian made no impact on the times.  Team-mate Fernando Alonso experimented with a new front wing in second practice and finished a solid sixth, after finishing up behind Massa in session one.  There was a new driver in the car today, as GP3 champion Valterri Bottas took over from Bruno Senna this morning for Williams.  The youngster accredited himself well, outpacing Pastor Maldonado before handing back driving duties to Senna this afternoon.

There was a blow for Kimi Raikkonen, when his gearbox which had been damaged by some off-roading in Australia overheated in the sweltering conditions.  He will lose five grid positions for the race by getting a new gearbox.  Raikkonen told Sky Sports F1; “It was a frustrating day.  We struggled to get a good set-up and it felt quite slippery.  Hopefully it will be better tomorrow.”  Fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen will get a five place drop too following a Safety Car infringement in Melbourne.

Raikkonen also mentioned about high levels of tyre degradation and the boss of Pirelli, Paul Hembrey has admitted that three stops are likely for most drivers on raceday.  So, Mercedes GP look like a contender for top grid positions, Red Bull have work to do and McLaren certainly seem to be the leading force again.  Weather permitting, Hamilton has to be confident for his chances tomorrow.

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 19 1.38.021
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 21 1.38.535
3 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 21 1.38.813
4 MICHAEL SCUMACHER MERCEDES GP 19 1.38.826
5 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 17 1.38.919
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 20 1.39.092
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 22 1.39.128
8 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 23 1.39.298
9 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 15 1.39.323
10 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 19 1.39.440
11 VALTERRI BOTTAS WILLIAMS RENAULT 23 1.39.724
12 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 23 1.39.783
13 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 16 1.39.896
14 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 21 1.39.910
15 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 23 1.39.980
16 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 23 1.40.099
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 19 1.40.247
18 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 23 1.40.469
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.40.857
20 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 23 1.41.085
21 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 18 1.43.170
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 14 1.44.580
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 8 1.45.360
24 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 18 1.45.528

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 28 1.38.172
2 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 34 1.38.533
3 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 30 1.38.535
4 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 34 1.38.696
5 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 33 1.38.853
6 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 27 1.38.891
7 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 29 1.39.133
8 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 33 1.39.297
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 22 1.39.311
10 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 25 1.39.402
11 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 35 1.39.444
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 26 1.39.464
13 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 20 1.39.625
14 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 16 1.39.687
15 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 29 1.39.696
16 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 28 1.40.271
17 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 34 1.40.678
18 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 33 1.40.947
19 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 25 1.41.464
20 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 20 1.41.681
21 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 18 1.42.594
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 24 1.42.874
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 18 1.43.658
24 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 22 1.43.823

Driver performance at the Australian Grand Prix

WELCOME to my first driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Qantas Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park in Melbourne;

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

A quiet start to Sebastian’s season, but he showed his championship class on Sunday afternoon.  By his standards, he had a messy build-up to the weekend and a costly off in the last 15 minutes of FP3 left him short of track time for qualifying.  A mistake on his second lap left him down in sixth position on the grid, but he proved he could race with an aggressive start and superb early pass on Nico Rosberg.  He hunted down the McLaren’s in a car that doesn’t look perfect yet and granted, there was luck in the Safety Car getting him ahead of Lewis Hamilton.  Nevertheless, an excellent start to his season with second place and useful points to take to Malaysia.  8/10

MARK WEBBER

Fourth place is Mark Webber’s best ever result in Melbourne which shows his struggles in his home event before.  He was the stronger of the Red Bull drivers on Friday and Saturday, even battling a KERS failure in qualifying to admirably outqualify his team-mate.  A dreadful start took him out of the running for victory, recovering well to finish less than a second behind Lewis Hamilton.  7/10

JENSON BUTTON

Champagne spraying for Jenson, while Lewis preferred to taste his bubbly (McLaren.com)

Jenson Button is in such a fantastic place at the moment.  He has made McLaren his own team and a controlled performance saw him ease to victory at Albert Park for the third time in four years.  Fastest in the very first session of the season, the standard was set.  An excellent qualifying lap saw him get within 0.1secs of Hamilton’s incredible time on Saturday.  From the moment he guided his car into the lead at the first bend, there was little doubt who was going to win.  A superb and faultless beginning.  10/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

At least Hamilton looked happier after grabbing a pole position (remember his Korea reaction last October.)  However, his rueful look on the podium suggested he was unhappy about how his race went.  He called his start ‘shocking’ which was a bit harsh, considering he only had to give way to his team-mate.  McLaren stayed out fractionally longer in their first stints and Button was always going to be serviced first, thanks to track position.  The Safety Car played into Sebastian Vettel’s hands, but Hamilton couldn’t get on terms with the German in the last 15 laps.  He must take the positives from a solid 15 point opener, despite things not going his way on raceday.  8/10

FERNANDO ALONSO

Ferrari feared the worst when they arrived in Australia and qualifying really showed their weaknesses.  However, had he not spun into the gravel in Q2, Fernando Alonso would have probably still made the top ten.  His usual metoric start had him upto eighth and until half-distance, was a factor for a potential podium.  Pace on low fuel and worn tyres suggest the team is still a long way off, but in Alonso’s hands, he once again got the absolute maximum out of a car that looks well off-form.  8/10

FELIPE MASSA

How can you lap three seconds off your own team-mate in the same car?  Felipe Massa had a shocker in Australia.  Making a basic error and spinning off at turn nine in the first practice session set the tone for his horrendous showing.  Had it not been for a timing error by Lotus, he would have made an embarassing exit from Q1 with the F1 backmarkers. Although he made up six places on the first lap, he went backwards rather than forwards and looks like a driver who has admitted defeat before the season has even begun.  His exit came after a silly collision with Bruno Senna when he had lost the corner to the Williams driver.  Carry on like this and he won’t even see out the season with Ferrari, let alone getting a new contract for 2013.  2/10

NICO ROSBERG

Rosberg had a frustrating weekend in Australia (eMercedesBenz.com)

Australia 2012 was a frustrating weekend for Nico Rosberg, not captialising on Mercedes progress made in the winter.  He trailed Michael Schumacher all weekend and a scrappy qualifying session left him seventh on the grid, when third was possible.  Despite a brilliant start which saw him leap upto fourth, Rosberg struggled with chronic tyre wear.  He gamely held on against Mark Webber and Pastor Maldonado, but the Safety Car cost him positions and a clash with Sergio Perez on the last lap left him out of the points.  6/10

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Schumacher looks hungry and might have a car that will see him as a threat in 2012.  He was fastest in Friday’s second practice session and looked comfortable all weekend with his new chassis.  Fourth in qualifying was the best performance of his comeback on a Saturday and he held off Vettel easily until an unfortunate gearbox problem saw him make an early departure.  He was struggling with rear tyre wear too, but the pace of Alonso’s final stint indicated that fifth place was a likely finish.  Despite no points, plenty of encouragement for the seven-time world champion.  7/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

The ‘iceman’ returned to F1 and his humorous team radio comment about blue flags suggested the hunger is back.  Raikkonen’s weekend started badly with a power steering problem compromising his practice sessions on Friday.  A mistake on his best lap and timing errors from Lotus meant Kimi was a surprising casualty in Q1 but he raced well.  He will have taken great satisfaction in passing his former team-mate Felipe Massa and his overtake on Kamui Kobayashi in turn four was quality.  Frustrated with seventh but it was a strong comeback.  7/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Having looked all at sea on Friday, Romain Grosjean stunned the paddock with a magnificent performance in Saturday qualifying to line-up a magnificent third on the grid.  His race was very brief and with a bit more experience, probably should have backed out when he lost position to Pastor Maldonado on the second lap.  However, the contact was slight, so the Frenchman was unlucky to have suffered broken front suspension.  He will learn from this and come back better for the experience.  7/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Second season syndrome for the Scot perhaps as di Resta was outshone by Nico Hulkenberg all weekend.  Nevertheless, he kept battling away in a car that didn’t have the pace that testing had predicted and he showed his guile from year one to pull off a pass on Jean-Eric Vergne in the last corner and steal the final championship point of the afternoon.  6/10

NICO HULKENBERG

Hulkenberg looked composed on Friday to come second fastest in changeable conditions during afternoon practice.  He qualified a solid ninth and made a great start too.  Unfortunately, a knock from Mark Webber in the first corner melee damaged his steering and meant its two visits to Melbourne and no laps completed in either race.  6/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Having gone fastest in Q1, Kamui Kobayashi underperformed in the second qualifying session and lined up an unlucky 13th.  He had a great dice with Kimi Raikkonen in the race and despite being passed brilliantly by the Finn on lap 24, overtook him again after the Safety Car period.  Benefited from Maldonado’s late crash to finish an unexpected sixth. 7/10

SERGIO PEREZ

A gearbox failure detected after his first run in qualifying left Sergio Perez at the back of the grid.  He tried a risky one-stop strategy, which unlike 2011, won’t have worked had the Safety Car not intervened.  He was seventh on the last lap, but a touch with Rosberg left his car wounded in the final few corners, leaving him powerless to defend against Kobayashi and Raikkonen.  Considering all that, eighth place completed a strong start to the campaign for the Sauber team.  6/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Home nerves didn’t get to Daniel Ricciardo, who fought back well after a tricky beginning.  Having qualified in the top ten, an iffy start left him part of a midfield melee and contact with Bruno Senna in the first corner left him needing to stop for repairs.  Like Perez, the Safety Car brought back onto the tail of the midfield group, but he pulled off an aggressive pass on his team-mate to finish a creditable ninth and take round one in the Toro Rosso battle.  7/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

There were rookie mistakes, but the Frenchman equipped himself pretty well on his debut.  He only narrowly missed out on Q3 and despite two trips into the gravel during the race, might have taken a point.  Only denied by a more experienced Ricciardo and di Resta pipping him in the last lap midfield frenzy.  Still, plenty of potential here.  6/10

BRUNO SENNA

The Senna name is back at Williams, but Bruno had a tough time in Australia.  He was a distant 14th in qualifying and got clobbered by Ricciardo on the first corner, leaving him with a puncture.  Didn’t see a lot of him after that before another racing incident, this time with countryman Massa, left him with another puncture.  Ultimately, suspension damage put paid to his chances of registering a finish.  5/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

If only for another half a lap!  Pastor Maldonado was my surprise package of the weekend.  The Venezuelan seems to excel on street circuits and he looked set for sixth place when he clobbered the wall hard on the last lap.  Eighth place in qualifying, a lovely pass on Romain Grosjean early on and he kept up with the likes of Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso with consummate ease.  If he cuts out the basic errors, Maldonado could well cash in on a far better Williams later in the season.  8/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Less than 0.7secs behind Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying proves that Caterham have made progress over the winter.  The trouble is, everyone else has too.  Heikki Kovalainen was delayed in the first corner and ran behind his team-mate Vitaly Petrov until an unspecified technical problem forced his retirement.  An unseen infringement behind the Safety Car costs him a five place grid penalty for this weekend’s race in Kuala Lumpur.  5/10

VITALY PETROV

The star of last year’s race – Vitaly Petrov’s debut for Caterham will be one he will want to forget.  Although he ran ahead of Kovalainen in the race, it was a steering problem that ended his day early and caused the deployment of the Safety Car.  At least it added to the mixture in the closing stages.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Timo Glock battled well against the odds all weekend.  He kept his head down and finished the race in 14th, only a lap adrift on his birthday.  He got good mileage for Marussia and leaves the team with a shade of encouragement after a miserable pre-season.  6/10

CHARLES PIC  

Charles Pic didn’t quite get to the end of the race, as high oil pressure saw him park up in the pits with five laps to go.  Like Glock, the race was only going to be an extended test session, so 53 laps extra under his belt will no doubt help for future challenges.  5/10

As they didn’t qualify, I will not be rating the Hispania drivers this weekend.

On the first weekend back, plenty of excellent performances, some will be frustrated will how it went and others will seriously need to raise their game very quickly, starting in Malaysia this weekend.

Brilliant Button takes the honours in Oz

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Button made a winning start to 2012 (BBC Sport)

JENSON Button made the dream start to the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship this morning.  The Brit took his third Australian Grand Prix victory in Melbourne, leading from the start in a dramatic season opener.  The 32-year old Brit started on the front row of the grid, but took full advantage of a wheelspinning start from team-mate Lewis Hamilton to lead into turn one and control proceedings in Albert Park from there.  World champion Sebastian Vettel used a Safety Car period to leap into a fortunate second place, ahead of a rueful Hamilton, who looked disappointed with his final result of third.

Hamilton may have started on pole position, but conceded his Saturday advantage in an instant when he made a poor start.  Button drew alongside his team-mate and even shifted into second gear earlier than he should have, which nearly threw away his early advantage.  Michael Schumacher made an excellent start to move into third place, whilst Nico Rosberg charged into fourth from seventh on the grid as Romain Grosjean lost early positions in his Lotus.  Further back, another slow start from Mark Webber triggered the traditional chaos into Albert Park’s tight first corner.  Both Toro Rosso’s were involved in the meleee, with Daniel Ricciardo launching Bruno Senna’s Williams into the air.  Both pitted for damage repairs at the end of the first lap.  Meanwhile, a knock from Webber ended Nico Hulkenberg’s return to F1 before the lap was out.  The order was Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Rosberg, Vettel and Grosjean.

Grosjean’s race didn’t last much longer as contact with Pastor Maldonado on the second lap put the Frenchman into early retirement.  Grosjean blamed his rival for the incident, telling Sky Sports F1; “I think Maldonado wanted to overtake me and braked miles too late and I couldn’t give more room.  He hit my front wheel so it’s very disappointing.”  Actually, the Williams driver was passed and it was only glancing contact that terminally broke the Lotus front suspension.  Ultimately, a racing incident but nothing else that Maldonado could have done.  Moments before, Vettel pulled off an outstanding pass on Rosberg to inherit fourth and chase after the sister Mercedes of Schumacher.

On lap six, an uncharacteristic error from Vettel saw him slide off in the first corner, luckily not losing a position.  Five laps later, Schumacher copied the move, but a gearbox problem put paid to the Mercedes GP driver’s strong weekend.  After the first round of pitstops, Button maintained his position at the front and by half distance, he had stretched his advantage over Hamilton to ten seconds.  The McLaren team did leave their cars out when the softer Pirelli tyres ‘hit the cliff.’  Hamilton did an extra lap longer and this allowed Vettel to seriously reduce the seven second deficit between the pair.  Fernando Alonso was showing that Ferrari did have some strong pace on heavier tanks of fuel, with the Spaniard in fourth ahead of Rosberg’s tyre hungry Mercedes GP and the recovering Webber.  Further back, Kimi Raikkonen was entertaining the crowd as the returning Finn got into a feisty dice with Kamui Kobayashi.  He also produced one of the early soundbites of the season on his team radio, when he said; “Why am I getting all the blue flags?”  Race engineer Simon Rennie’s cool response was; “The blue flags are for other drivers, they are not for you Kimi!”

A double pitstop from McLaren on lap 36 looked set to have cemented the team’s 1-2 position, but Vitaly Petrov stopped his Caterham on the start-finish straight seconds later.  With the Russian’s car in an tricky position, the Safety Car made its first apperance this season.  Crucially, Vettel headed for the pits and didn’t have to slow down under the SC delta time given to all the drivers.  Hamilton did and this enabled the champion to move into a dangerous second place, much to Hamilton’s frustration.  At the restart, Button caught the rest napping and opened up a three second lead which never looked troubled as the race entered its closing stages.  Attention soon focused on the battles behind and a dramatic final lap.

Chasing down a struggling Alonso, Pastor Maldonado had driven a sensational race and was on course for sixth place, which would have been his best ever result.  On the final lap, the Venezuelan exited turn six and dropped a wheel on the astroturf.  The lack of grip from his worn tyres meant he had no time to react and the result was a smashed Williams into the barriers.  It was a sorry end to a stunning performance.  Yards later, Sergio Perez and Rosberg touched in the fast turn 11 chicane.  Both cars were hobbled and it allowed for some furious scrapping and a frantic finish for the final points positions.  Ultimately, it was Daniel Ricciardo who benefited the most – vaulting up from 12th to 9th on the final tour.

Amidst all that last lap drama, Button crossed the line to secure a brilliant victory from Vettel, Hamilton and a fired up Webber, who recorded his best ever result in the Australian Grand Prix.  Alonso did drop half a minute in the closing stages but salvaged fifth on a very difficult weekend for Ferrari.  His team-mate Felipe Massa frankly drove like a pig on rollerskates all afternoon!  He never got higher than ninth and his shocking performance ended following a messy tangle with Senna entering turn four.  Although a stewards investigation was launched, neither driver was penalised.  In the final lap melee, Kobayashi wound up an excellent sixth, followed by Raikkonen, a damaged Perez, Ricciardo and Force India’s Paul di Resta, who sneaked past Vergne to take the last point on the final corner of the race.  A crestfallen Rosberg limped home 12th, leaving team principal Ross Brawn frustrated.  He told BBC Sport; “Both drivers reported trouble with the tyres very quickly and we had to manage them all race.  Michael’s gearbox problem was an added disappointment and Nico reported Perez hadn’t been fair, which added salt into the wounds.”

On the team radio, Button said; “Fantastic, what a brilliant way to start the season.  You know, it shows what the winter does.  The car is beautiful and the car is the quickest.”  He is confident and on top of the world, both in morale and the early points leaderboard.  It was a superb opener and we only have to wait seven days for hopefully more of the same in Malaysia.

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 58 1hr 34min 09secs
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 58 +2.1secs
3 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 58 +4.0secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 58 +4.5secs
5 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 58 +21.5secs
6 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 58 +36.7secs
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 58 +38.0secs
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 58 +39.4secs
9 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 58 +39.5secs
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +39.7secs
11 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 58 +39.8secs
12 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 58 +57.6secs
13 (Ret) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 57 Accident
14 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 57 +1 lap
15 (Ret) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 53 Oil Pressure
16 (Ret) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 52 Suspension damage
Retired FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 46 Collision with Bruno Senna
Retired HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 38 Technical
Retired VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 34 Steering
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 10 Gearbox
Retired ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 1 Collision with Pastor Maldonado
Retired NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 0 Steering damage after collision with Mark Webber
DNQ PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH    
DNQ NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH    

Hamilton and McLaren lead the way in Melbourne Qualifying

IT IS A British lockout of the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s opening race of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship.  Lewis Hamilton took his 20th career pole position for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, just edging out double Albert Park winner Jenson Button in Melbourne.  On a day full of shocks, the British team took the first two positions on the grid for the first time since the 2009 European Grand Prix.

Having set the fastest time in FP3, Hamilton and McLaren came into the acid test of the one hour qualifying session looking like the driver/team combination to beat.  However there were plenty of surprises along the way.  Kamui Kobayashi was the fastest driver in Q1 and Red Bull looked very beatable on a Saturday.  World champion Sebastian Vettel spun off this morning and was working the steering wheel of his RB8 far more than he ever did with its predecssor.  The big casualty of Q1 was Kimi Raikkonen.  The returning champion made a mistake on his best lap, then an error with timing saw his Lotus drop out of the running, continuing the Finn’s messy return.  As anticipated, both Caterham drivers and the untested Marussia cars failed to make the cut too.  Neither HRT of Narain Karthikeyan or Pedro de la Rosa made the 107% rule and for the second year running, the team has been refused permission to start the season in Australia.  Again, Hispania are a case of lost time, lack of ability and a total waste of garage space!

The plight of Ferrari had been very evident in winter testing, but even the Scuderia can’t have predicted the nightmare they were to have in qualifying.  Felipe Massa only just made it out of Q1, but barely featured in the second session and when he did, he looked more like trying to keep the car pointing in the right direction rather than going quickly.  As ever, Fernando Alonso looked to be getting more out of his car.  His chances of making the top ten ended with a rare mistake from the double world champion, as he copied Massa’s error in Friday free practice by dropping two wheels onto the grass.  Same result was produced as even the Spaniard’s class couldn’t save him from being beached in the gravel, although it was at turn one, not turn nine where Massa spun off yesterday.  He starts 12th and Massa 16th; Ferrari’s worst combined qualifying since Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella lined up 11th and 19th for the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.  The car looks slow, unreliable, monstrously ugly and is struggling to stay in a straight line!  They aren’t far away from crisis point.

Hamilton looks the man to beat in Melbourne (Planet F1)

Into the final qualifying session and Hamilton set a blistering lap of 1.24.922.  No-one initially came close, although Button went only a tenth slower on his second run.  Critically, Hamilton abandoned his second run when notified that the pole was his.  Strangely, Red Bull didn’t get their act together.  An off-colour Vettel begins sixth, behind Mark Webber.  The Australian told Planet F1 afterwards; “I don’t know what happened to Seb on his last lap, it looks like he made a mistake. I didn’t have KERS either but I’m satisfied with the job I did.”  Michael Schumacher was an excellent fourth for Mercedes GP, three places better than a scrappy Nico Rosberg.  This allowed the Frenchman Romain Grosjean to end up a sensational third on his return to the sport for Lotus.  Solid efforts from Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo saw them complete the top ten in eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.

The last time Lewis Hamilton started from pole at the Australian Grand Prix was in 2008.  He won the race and ended up taking the title too.  A good omen perhaps?  In the press conference, he said; “I think it is going to be incredibly tough and intense through the race.  Obviously looking after the tyres is going to be key.  The team need to be prepared tomorrow, as do me and Jenson and I’ll make sure we are.”  Well, McLaren not only have the prettiest car in 2012, but for now at least – look to have the fastest too.  Tomorrow’s race looks set to be a real cracker.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING – THE GRID (All times are fastest in Q3)

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.24.922

2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.074

3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.25.302

4. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.25.336

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.651

6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.668

7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.25.686

8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.25.908

9. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.26.451

10. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) NO TIME

11. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari)

12. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari)

14. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault)

15. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes)

16. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)

17. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault)

18. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault)

19. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault)

20. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth)

21. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth)

22. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) – PEREZ RELEGATED FIVE PLACES DUE TO A GEARBOX CHANGE

DNQ: Pedro de la Rosa (HRT Cosworth)

DNQ: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT Cosworth)

Button and Schumacher lead the way on frustrating opening day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES                                                                                                                                                                  

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

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

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

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.28.360 – 21 laps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.30.743 – 11 laps

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

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

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

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

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

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES 

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

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

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

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.30.341 – 13 laps

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

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

7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.31.505 – 14 laps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO TIME FROM PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HRT Cosworth)

2012 Team Preview: McLaren

THE NEAREST CHALLENGERS

MCLAREN have made a slow start to every championship season since Lewis Hamilton won the opener in 2008.  It is important for the team to make a quick start out of the blocks, or it will be another brave and forlorn challenge to play catch-up.  What they would like is a constructors championship; having not recorded one of these titles since the days of Mika Hakkinen in 1998.

Button and Hamilton have all the tools ready to take on Red Bull (Wired)

Once again, the all British line-up remains in place with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton driving together for the third successive season.  When Button made the brave gamble to leave Brawn GP after his title success in 2009 and join McLaren, many experts declared him barking mad.  I thought he had made a big mistake, but not only has he taken away the image of McLaren being Lewis’s team, he has moulded it into his own evironment.  So much so, those rumours of Lewis wanting away continue to emerge.  Last year, Button drove better than he did when he won the championship and no-one will ever forget his stunning recovery in Canada last season.  Ultimately, second is good but first is even better and following a relaxing winter, Button has the ability to take it up a notch and give Sebastian Vettel more of a problem.

We saw flashes of Lewis Hamilton at his best last season and his drives in Germany and Abu Dhabi last season were a joy to watch.  In fact, I think he is unbeatable on his day but 2011 was generally a year to forget.  His high-profile split from singer Nicole Scherzinger dominanted his private life, even though the two seem to be reunited now.  By going on his own from his father, Hamilton lacked the support he often needed from his new management company, particularly when the skirmishes with Felipe Massa throughout the season occured.  Hamilton has been quick to acknowledge his disappointments last season and it will have hurt to have been beaten by Button in the championship.  Some might question his mental state, but he still is world class and is a fighter.  He has a point to prove to many this season and by being in a happier place, he should achieve far more in 2012.

With all the resources in place, a pretty looking chassis and a car that looks capable of sustaining a serious all-season threat, McLaren must win something in 2012 and that has to be rewarded at the end of the season, not through the odd Grand Prix victory.

 

The F1 Show makes a promising beginning

ON FRIDAY, the hugely anticipated launch of Sky Sports F1 happened at 8pm, with a two hour preview to the 2012 season.  The F1 Show gave an indication of Sky’s determination to move coverage presentation to the next level.  There is still work to do, but the signs were promising.

For those like myself, there was the chance to catch-up with the show again through Freeview channel Pick TV last night at 10pm.  The show began with a promo of what to expect, followed by the brilliant new titles and music sang by Alistair Griffin.  Alistair’s ‘Just Drive,’ is a new version of his epic 2010 song which the BBC ironically used for their end of season montage that season.

Simon Lazenby presented this show, although he came across as lacking the confidence I feel that is required for an anchor presenter.  Considering it was opening night, nerves were to be expected especially when you have never presented Formula One before.  As the season will progress, I’m sure Lazenby will become far more confident like Jim Rosenthal did when he started out with ITV F1 in 1997.

I liked the use of the Sky Pad, which is the clever new touchscreen element.  Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, both having left the BBC to be part of the new adventure highlighted some examples of the new regulations such as defensive driving changes.  There were also some very intriguing shots of Red Bull’s new rear end that they brought to the Barcelona test recently.  Sky’s exclusive means I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the leading teams weren’t watching and attempt to copy this design, particularly if Red Bull start off in formidable form.  Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson also analysed Mark Webber’s stunning pass on Fernando Alonso in Eau Rouge during last season’s Belgian Grand Prix.  Watching how the move developed in slow motion was just wonderful and it actually made you appreciate the pass even more.  Kravitz also showed off some of the new technical changes to the car, including how the nose levels have increased in height leading to the 2012 models certainly looking more like a dog’s dinner than a masterpiece of beauty.  He did this using a virtual 3D car, another clever concept.

As ever, Martin Brundle came across as a top pundit and he was joined in the flashy new studio by 1996 world champion Damon Hill.  Both knew what they were talking about and the combination will know their stuff.  The only area I would want with Sky is chemistry and camaraderie between the pundits, commentators and reporters.  There will be elements there already – with five ex-BBC members on the new Sky team but it will take time to have the relationship that messers Humphrey, Jordan and Coulthard have developed on the other channel.

The features were excellent.  Natalie Pinkham’s interview with Mark Webber at Stamford Bridge was a great and unusual location even if by being a Liverpool fan, I have to question Webber’s taste in supporting Manchester United!  I loved the radio communication between Brundle and Paul di Resta when the Scot took his new Force India out for a spin on launch day at Silverstone.  Finally, there was a behind the scenes look at Mercedes GP and Georgie Thompson spoke to Jenson Button.  The depth of his interview was slightly disappointing though.  Surely last year’s runner-up deserved more than four minutes on the air.

Overall, it was a promising start and with other features lined up for next week, including Brundle driving a Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton giving Lazenby a thrill around the Top Gear track, Sky Sports F1 and the F1 Show are definitely here to stay.

Perez powers to the top

A LATE qualifying simulation from Sauber was enough to see their Mexican charger, Sergio Perez power to the top of the timesheets on the penultimate day of testing in Barcelona.  It was another day where the times sometimes misled the story of the day, but does provide more rough guides heading into the first race.

Perez’s time of 1.22.094 just before lunchtime was a mere 0.009 secs quicker than Jenson Button’s McLaren.  Interestingly, the Sauber driver set his time on the soft Pirelli tyre, while most of his competitors did their quickest laps on the super soft rubber. Button made up for lost time after a hydraulics problem grounded his car in the garage for the majority of this morning’s time.  Daniel Riccardo was third fastest for Toro Rosso, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and the Force India of Paul di Resta.  Most of the quick times were set around the lunch period, as rain showers limited running this afternoon.

Red Bull rolled a significant update out of the pits in Barcelona today (F1network.net)

Interestingly, it was Red Bull who raised eyebrows by revealing a new front wing and rear end for their chassis.  Mark Webber drove the car today, whilst for once, Sebastian Vettel took a backseat.  Many photographers were interested by the world champions latest move, although team principal Christian Horner told BBC Sport pitlane reporter Lee McKenzie that the new parts were through a planned evolution process.  “What we are running here will go to Melbourne with and the process is just an evolution, as we will continue to evolve for the rest of the season.”  

Ferrari also continue to raise speculation about their true pace, by surprisingly cancelling all their news conferences with the media for the remainder of the weekend.  Massa was due to speak to the press after running today, as was Fernando Alonso tomorrow.  Meantime, Kimi Raikkonen had a miserable return to the cockpit today after nearly a month away.  The Finn was plagued by power steering problems all day and was consequently, the slowest driver on the charts.  Hispania also confirmed today that they will not be at the test tomorrow, hoping a day of filming on Monday will be enough data to take to the Australian Grand Prix in just a fortnight’s time.

DAY 3 BARCELONA TESTING TIMES

1. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.094 – 113 laps

2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.103 – 44 laps

3. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.155 – 131 laps

4. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.413 – 122 laps

5. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.446 – 108 laps

6. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.22.480 – 111 laps

7. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.22.630 – 64 laps

8. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.662 – 70 laps

9. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.22.932 – 129 laps

10. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.25.379 – 43 laps