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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


Mugello Test Day 2 – Grosjean is the testing king again

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

FRENCHMAN Romain Grosjean continued his solid return to Grand Prix racing yesterday, by nicking the quickest time in the second day of the Mugello Test.

In much better and consistent conditions than were seen on Tuesday, the Lotus Renault driver lapped around the Italian circuit in 1.21.603 to join the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi at the top of the timesheets.  The two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were third and fourth fastest as Red Bull look to understand their new car more after Vettel’s recent success in Bahrain.

The test is seen as a major opportunity for many teams to test significant upgrades in packages before next week’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.  BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson explained on their website a little bit more about the advanced changes to Ferrari’s package.  “Ferrari have tried two different positions of exhaust exit here – the one they have been racing with and the one they had to abandon during pre-season testing because it was overheating the rear tyres.  They believe the pre-season testing one is the best, and they have been doing more work on that here.”

Grosjean’s fastest lap came early on in the day and on a harder tyre than the one used by Kobayashi to set his quickest effort.  This, along with previous testing form does suggest that some of Lotus’s race performances so far have flattered to deceive in 2012.  Michael Schumacher did the most duration, completing 144 laps yesterday for Mercedes GP before departing for a break before Barcelona.  Nico Rosberg is expected to be back at the wheel today.

It was a quiet and calmer day after the storms of Tuesday but hydraulic problems for most of the day left Force India in the pits and Paul di Resta largely on the sidelines.  Day three has already begun and it will be interesting to see if Lotus can continue their good form today.

DAY 2 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.21.603 – 97 laps

2. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.21.603 – 87 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.825 – 64 laps

4. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.997 – 54 laps

5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.257 – 106 laps

6. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.424 – 65 laps

7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.759 – 22 laps

8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.404 – 144 laps

9. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.23.982 – 46 laps

10. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.24.312 – 112 laps

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

 

 


Maiden pole for Rosberg in Shanghai surprise

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

The top three in qualifying before Hamilton's gearbox change

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

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

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

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

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

LEWIS HAMILTON RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

Talking Point: Will a new chassis save Massa from the sack?

IT MIGHT only be the second round of the championship this weekend in Malaysia but already, Felipe Massa is under a pile of huge pressure to deliver.  The Brazilian’s shambolic performance in last week’s season opener in Melbourne has left his future prospects of staying with Ferrari hanging even more by a thread.  On Tuesday, the Italian team announced that a new chassis will be flown to Kuala Lumpur, but is that enough to save the charming Ferrari no.2 from the sack.

From the moment Felipe spun off in the opening practice session, his fate in Albert Park of a mediocre performance was sealed.  He never looked comfortable with the F2012, which it has to be said, is proving to be a real handful anyways.  Qualifying saw him a distant 16th, four places behind Fernando Alonso.  That was despite Alonso spinning out early on in Q2.  Although he made an excellent start which saw him upto tenth, Massa quickly fell away from the leading group and spent the majority of the afternoon battling a poor chassis, high tyre wear and probably, his demons on a mental basis.

Massa struggled to hold off the Sauber cars in Melbourne on Sunday (Autoweek)

He was overwhelmed by the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi and the race ended with an unsavoury tangle involving the Williams of Bruno Senna.  When you consider Alonso saved fifth place for the team and was lapping 2-3 seconds a lap quicker on a regular basis, it highlights Massa’s nightmare Down Under.  I described his driving performance as akin to a pig on rollerskates!  It is a sad and sorry decline for one of F1’s nice guys.  Team principal Stefano Domenicalli is still backing his driver though, telling JAonF1; “We need to stay close to Felipe because it’s clear that he’s under pressure.  I’ve asked his engineers to analyse the data on the car, also to reassure him.”  It means that there can be no excuses this weekend.

Mentally, Massa is driving like Damon Hill did in his final, troubled season in the sport in 1999.  The former golden boy of Ferrari has been cast adrift by Alonso’s arrival and moulding the team around the Spaniard’s comforts.  The days of Felipe outpacing Raikkonen in their three years together are a distant memory.  Has he ever recovered from the radio message below (using clever F1 2010 graphics) whilst leading the German Grand Prix by merit in 2010;

I don’t think he has and Shanghai aside last season, I don’t think he has driven as well as he did that day at Hockenheim.  Immediately afterwards, he said he would walkaway from F1 if he was a no.2, having experienced a similar order at Sauber in his debut season, ironically at the same circuit.

Now I don’t know what Felipe Massa thinks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mental note saying ‘it is wrong to beat Alonso.’  It is frustrating, as he can match the best on his day.  Since Hockenheim 2010, it has led to those basic errors that littered his first season in 2002 reappearing far too regularly.  Don’t forget his attempt to pass cars on the grass on the approach to turn one of the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix?  Of course, his high profile incidents with Lewis Hamilton last year have been well documented.

Then, there’s the factor of the crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when Massa was knocked out by a loose spring that had bounced down the road off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car.  He might have scars for the incident, but big knocks can affect a driver.  Ralf Schumacher had a similar experience after a testing shunt in 2003 and he never recovered from this shunt, while it took Mika Hakkinen the best part of 18 months to fully recover from his near fatal accident at Adelaide in 1995.  Only Massa will know how much the Budapest shunt has affected him.

I do hope that the driver who came within seconds of the 2008 world championship does find some of his old form again.  The bare facts are he hasn’t scored a podium since Korea 2010, the longest run a Maranello driver has gone without a podium since Eddie Irvine, 17 races between (1996-1997).  We will see whether a new chassis is the solution to Massa’s problems.  However, more races like Melbourne and Felipe will be lucky to see the season out, let alone hope for a contract extension.