A NEW star has been well and truly born in the world of Grand Prix racing tonight after Pastor Maldonado powered to a wonderful victory at the Spanish Grand Prix. It is the first time a Venezuelan driver has won a Grand Prix and sees the iconic Williams team return to the winners circle for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix. Second place for the home favourite Fernando Alonso sees him join world champion Sebastian Vettel level on 61 points at the top of the drivers championship.
Great management of the delicate Pirelli tyres and some tactical strategy were the keys to Maldonado’s maiden success in just his 24th Grand Prix. He also had to stay calm under pressure from a charged up Alonso and constant backmarker incidents on his way to the top step of the podium. In the process, 2012 has become a record season. We now have had five different winners from five races, in five separate teams and the last time this happened was back in 1983. Also the top seven in the points standings are now covered by a meagre 20 points.
Maldonado inherited pole position last night when Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid following McLaren’s costly error in not being able to give the FIA a litre of fuel for a sample after qualifying. However his lead disappeared when Alonso made the better start. The pair went wheel-to-wheel on the rundown to turn one but just like in 2011, Alonso led into the first bend of his home Grand Prix. A clash between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez punctured a rear tyre on the Sauber and trashed the Mexican’s afternoon. Kimi Raikkonen moved into a third position he would not relinquish, whilst Grosjean’s delay enabled Nico Rosberg to sweep into fourth place.
Alonso kept a solid lead to make sure he wouldn’t be affected by DRS, although he never was able to leave Maldonado standing. Further back, there was trouble for Red Bull with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel stuck in heavy traffic and both pitted inside seven laps to get some clear air. Later, the nosecones on the two cars were changed after some issues with tyre rubber and debris ending up in the front assembly of each chassis. A late fightback from Vettel, despite a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags saw him back to sixth. Webber missed out on points for the first time in 2012, finishing half a second outside the scorers in 11th place.
Sharp pitwork from Ferrari kept Alonso ahead in the first round of pitstops and with Raikkonen and Lotus not able to show their prestigious long run pace from Friday’s simulations, the fight for the win turned into a two way scrap. Out of contention though would be Maldonado’s team-mate, Bruno Senna. Senna was struggling behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham in the early laps and was gambling on a two stop strategy, meaning he was mixing it with some of the frontrunners but on older rubber. On lap 12, Grosjean made a late dive up the inside into turn one and contact was made, removing a corner of the Lotus driver’s front endplate. One lap later, Michael Schumacher closed up quickly through the DRS zone but made a complete mess of his braking point. He misjudged Senna’s wherabouts and crashed into the rear of the Williams. Debris and tyre smoke flew into the sky as the two cars headed for the turn one gravel. Schumacher retired on the spot, his third DNF from five races and Senna had to park his car before getting back to the pits due to heavy rear wing damage. On the radio, Schumacher branded his rival an ‘idiot.’ The race stewards disagreed and handed a five place grid penalty to the German for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.
After his qualifying exclusion, Hamilton had to start from the back and did well to miss a wayward Perez in turn three on the first lap. He battled well with tyre management and had an entertaining dice with his old rival Felipe Massa. Hamilton eventually finished eighth whilst Jenson Button’s struggles continued and he could do no better than ninth. Tyre issues, understeer and a new brake supplier might well have accounted for his lack of speed throughout the last two days.
In the second round of pitstops, Williams pitted Maldonado earlier and got him out infront of Alonso, inheriting control of the race in the process. There was no change after the third round of pitstops either but Alonso cutdown the seven second lead to basically nothing and got close to overhauling Pastor twice without succeeding. A severe vibration with the rear of the Ferrari denied us a grandstand finish for the win, although Raikkonen suddenly closed up in the closing laps, having pitted for his third and final stop later than his rivals. The way was clear for Maldonado to take an emotional win, with all of Sir Frank Williams family here in attendance this weekend; the team principal having celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday. Sir Frank Williams told the BBC afterwards; “All the boys are delighted, and I’m quietly delighted, boy did we need that win as you can well imagine. Most of the season has been thanks to a fresh group of people but it’s been very well balanced. The aero guys have done their stuff, more than their stuff. The Renault engine is very competitive.”
Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium placings. Raikkonen couldn’t hide his disappointed in the press conference, saying; “I’m a bit disappointed. I expect to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning. At end of the race, we were good but it was too late. We were too slow at the start which is why we couldn’t fight for the win. We showed we still have the speed. Maybe we took the wrong choice in the first stop.”
Grosjean came through to finish an excellent fourth and Kamui Kobayashi matched his best ever result with fifth for Sauber. Nico Rosberg fell away to seventh place at the chequered flag as his tyres hit ‘the cliff,’ in the last two laps. Nico Hulkenberg took the final point after a solid drive in the Force India. Scotland’s Paul di Resta missed out this time in 14th and a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags added insult to another disappointing performance from Massa, well back in 15th.
After the race, celebrations were muted by a serious fire in the Williams garage. Luckily, there are no serious injuries although four mechanics had to be treated with smoke inhalation afterwards. (see separate story).
A sour and fiery note to end on but take nothing away from Pastor Maldonado, who fully deserves his time in the limelight. It is always nice to see a new winner and who knows, we might get another one when the sport visits the jewel in the crown that is Monte Carlo in two weeks time. Anything is possible in 2012 if this season’s first five races are anything to go by.
2012 FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER RACE RESULT
|1||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||66||1hr 39min 09secs|
|3||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||66||+3.8secs|
|4||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||66||+14.7secs|
|5||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||66||+1min 04.6secs|
|6||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||66||+1min 07.5secs|
|7||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||66||+1min 17.9secs|
|8||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||66||+1min 18.1secs|
|9||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||66||+1min 25.2secs|
|10||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||65||1 LAP|
|11||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||65||1 LAP|
|12||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||STR FERRARI||65||1 LAP|
|13||DANIEL RICCIARDO||STR FERRARI||65||1 LAP|
|14||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||65||1 LAP|
|15||FELIPE MASSA||FERRARI||65||1 LAP|
|16||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||65||1 LAP|
|17||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||65||1 LAP|
|18||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||64||2 LAPS|
|19||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||63||3 LAPS|
|Retired||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||37||TRANSMISSION|
|Retired||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||35||DRIVESHAFT|
|Retired||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||22||TECHINCAL|
|Retired||BRUNO SENNA||WILLIAMS RENAULT||12||DAMAGE FOLLOWING COLLISION WITH SCHUMACHER|
|Retired||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||12||COLLISION WITH SENNA|
|1||SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL)||61|
|2||FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI)||61|
|3||LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN)||53|
|4||KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS)||49|
|5||MARK WEBBER (RED BULL)||48|
|6||JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN)||45|
|7||NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP)||41|
|8||ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS)||35|
|9||PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS)||29|
|10||SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER)||22|
|11||KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER)||19|
|12||PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA)||15|
|13||BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS)||14|
|14||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO)||4|
|15||NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA)||3|
|16||DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO)||2|
|17||FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI)||2|
|18||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP)||2|
|1||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||109|
|8||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||18|
|9||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6|
SEBASTIAN Vettel send out a reminder to everyone today; ‘try and stop me if you can!’ The world champion dominanted the Bahrain Grand Prix to claim his first win of the 2012 season after a trying start. Having started from pole position, Vettel battled high fuel consumption and constant tyre management throughout to lead almost from the start. Cooler track temperatures helped in Red Bull’s return to the front of the field and Vettel is now reunited with the top of the drivers championship leaderboard.
The Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean completed the rostrum. It was the first time a Lotus driver has stood on the podium since Nelson Piquet finished third in the 1988 Australian Grand Prix. It was a nightmare day for the British duo at McLaren as pitstop blunders, poor pace and reliability issues left the team leaving tonight with just four points to show for their hard efforts this weekend.
As in many situations last year, Vettel led into the first corner and pulled out a massive early advantage to clear him of any attack from the DRS zone. He stormed into a seven second lead as from early on, the McLaren attack, led by Lewis Hamilton was already looking blunt. Grosjean had made an unbelievable start to move upto fourth from seventh on the grid. The Frenchman quickly found a way past Mark Webber and then easily used the DRS to drive clean past Hamilton on the seventh lap and into second place. Button was complaining of poor traction and he was overwhelmed by a feisty Raikkonen, before pitting to ditch the option tyres after only eight laps.
Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa were in similar trouble as the race quickly turned into a battle managing the Pirelli tyres. After the race Michael Schumacher, who came tenth after starting on the penultimate row of the grid launched a scatching attack at the Italian manufacturer. He said to BBC Sport; “The main thing I feel unhappy about is everyone has to drive well below a driver’s, and in particular, the car’s limits to maintain the tyres. I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car.” Pirelli boss Paul Hembrey defended his company, telling Autosport magazine tonight; “I’m disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael’s experience. Others were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work. His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tyres, and now he seems to have changed his tune.”
On lap nine, Hamilton had fallen into the clutches of Webber and both pitted for fresh rubber. For the second successive race, a troublesome wheel rim affected the race of a McLaren driver and a frustrated Lewis was left shaking his head as he was held for 12 seconds. He slipped behind Webber, Button and Fernando Alonso and when he returned to the track, he had a near-miss with Rosberg following a vicious defensive move by the Mercedes driver. Hamilton had to use extra concrete to miss his rival and actually got past. The race stewards with driver reprsentative Emanuele Pirro, investigated the incident after the race but took no further action. Rosberg was later involved in a similar and more dangerous incident with Alonso, which left the Spaniard driver furious, using the team radio to channel his frustrations. Again, Rosberg was cleared of any wrongdoing. Tonight, Alonso sarcastically put this on his Twitter webpage; “I think you are going to have fun in future races! You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track! Enjoy!”
Vettel briefly handed the lead to two stopping Paul di Resta when he pitted, but quickly overtook the Scot on lap 13 to reassume control. On the same lap, Raikkonen powered past Webber into turn 11 and started closing in on Grosjean, who was falling back into his team-mate’s grasp. Raikkonen got past on lap 22 with consummate ease and through the second stops, was on a mission. Vettel’s six second gap evaporated and by lap 35, the pair were together with the Lotus looking fundamentally faster. Meanwhile, another horrific pitstop for Hamilton pushed him behind Massa and out of the points positions by half-distance. Pastor Maldonado retired when the Williams suffered a tyre failure and spun exiting turn three. He crawled back to the pits and retirement with shattered rear suspension.
Raikkonen had one brief opportunity to pass Vettel, but was blocked resolutely by the champion. Both came in together on lap 40 and a quicker Red Bull pitstop enabled the German to build up a three second lead. Aware of the tyre issues that saw his alarming fallback through the field in China last Sunday, Raikkonen and Lotus applied a more cautious approach to the chequered flag and bag the useful points on offer.
Whilst Hamilton spent a frustrating afternoon chasing the Ferrari’s, Button had a lonely race circulating between fifth and seventh places. He was catching di Resta when he made a sudden pitstop with four laps to go. The 2009 winner in Bahrain had detected a left-rear puncture. He slid out of contention into 13th and a broken exhuast a lap later saw him retire in the garage. Bruno Senna retired late on too with mechanical gremlins to compound a miserable day for Williams with a double retirement.
Vettel was able to cruise across the line to take the victory, although he was instructed by his race engineer Rocky to stop on the pitlane exit, presuminably with minimal fuel levels. It meant we were denied the ‘that’s what’s I’m talking about,’ message on the team radio. Raikkonen was a fantastic and committed second and considering he started 11th, this underlined severe underperformance in qualifying. Grosjean’s third place is the first podium for a French driver in F1 since Jean Alesi at Spa in 1998. The way he is driving at the moment, it won’t be the last in 2012. Webber cemented his consistent approach to record fourth for the fourth successive start. After a terrible first lap that saw him slip to ninth, Rosberg battled back aggressively to fifth. Paul di Resta held off Alonso and Hamilton in the closing laps to match his best ever result in F1 with sixth. Massa achieved his first points of the season, despite breaking down on the slowing down lap back to the pits and Button’s late demise enabled Schumacher into the points. Sergio Perez missed out in 11th, whilst Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of a great result were ruined by a shambolic start, then contact with Heikki Kovalainen on the first lap that left the Australian with a damaged front wing.
The four flyaway races are complete and only ten points cover the top five in the drivers championship. Six different teams have already stood on the podium and we have four different winners in the first four races for the first time since 2003. Formula One 2012 is proving to be a very unpredictable and challenging season to even guess, let alone predict. Luckily the racing did the talking today and Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt can breath a huge sigh of relief tonight that there was no significant trouble in the unstable area today.
There is a test at the Italian circuit Mugello next week, before the start of the European season at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on May 13. It is advantage Red Bull and Vettel after Bahrain, but 2012 has plenty more twists and turns in store to come.
2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT
|1||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||57||1hr 35min 10secs|
|2||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||57||+3.3secs|
|3||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||57||+10.1secs|
|4||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||57||+38.7secs|
|5||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||57||+55.4secs|
|6||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||57||+57.5secs|
|8||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||57||+58.9secs|
|9||FELIPE MASSA||FERRARI||57||+1min 04.9secs|
|10||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||57||+1min 11.4secs|
|11||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||57||+1min 12.7secs|
|12||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||57||+1min 16.5secs|
|13||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||57||+1min 30.3secs|
|14||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||57||+1min 33.7secs|
|15||DANIEL RICCIARDO||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||56||1 LAP|
|16||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||56||1 LAP|
|17||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||56||1 LAP|
|18 (Ret)||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||55||BROKEN EXHAUST|
|19||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||55||2 LAPS|
|20||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||55||2 LAPS|
|21||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||55||2 LAPS|
|22 (Ret)||BRUNO SENNA||WILLIAMS RENAULT||54||TECHNICAL|
|Retired||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||25||PUNCTURE|
|Retired||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||24||ENGINE|
2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES
|1||SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL)||53|
|2||LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN)||49|
|3||MARK WEBBER (RED BULL)||48|
|4||JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN)||43|
|5||FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI)||43|
|6||NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP)||35|
|7||KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS)||34|
|8||ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS)||23|
|9||SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER)||22|
|10||PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA)||15|
|11||BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS)||14|
|12||KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER)||9|
|13||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO)||4|
|14||PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS)||4|
|15||DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO)||2|
|16||NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA)||2|
|17||FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI)||2|
|18||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP)||2|
2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES
|1||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||101|
|8||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||17|
|9||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6|
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.
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.
THE countdown to the Australian Grand Prix is now well and truly on as pre-season testing concluded this afternoon in Barcelona. Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus ended on a high, finishing fastest and confirming the Enstone team’s threatening pace. In this test, the team have ended up top of the timesheets at the end of three of the four days of running at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Whilst Raikkonen was overcoming his problems that affected his running yesterday, it was the turn of world champion Sebastian Vettel to have a nightmare. Vettel could only do 23 laps and made little running on the final leaderboard, actually ending slowest. This morning, a trip into the gravel broke the new front wing that Red Bull brought to Spain yesterday. This afternoon, gearbox malfunctions left the German cutting a forlorn figure in the garage. Maybe the double world champions have a bit of fallibility? However, anyone who thinks Vettel will be slowest driver in Albert Park will need their brain to be severely tested!
RBR will be hoping it was just one bad day, but Ferrari have had frankly, a disastrous winter testing season. Fernando Alonso may have ended up second fastest today, but technical director Pat Fry has admitted the team have “little chance of finishing on the podium in Melbourne.” Bad vibes have been coming out of Maranello throughout the winter. Others were in trouble today too, with Sauber packing up early due to an engine failure for Kamui Kobayashi, whilst Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov brought out the red flags after more reliability problems in the final hour of the day.
Testing always is a difficult guide to read, with different set-ups, simulations and tyre compounds to contend with. However, it looks like McLaren and Mercedes GP have excellent race simulation and good reliability, Force India look consistent, Lotus have superb one-lap speed and durable simulation and Red Bull look as formidable as ever, but might have some questions over reliability. Ferrari definitely have work to do, as do Caterham and certainly Marussia and HRT, the latter two not showing up to any test with their 2012 cars.
The countdown is on….
DAY 4 MELBOURNE TESTING TIMES
1. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.22.030 – 121 laps
2. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.22.250 – 115 laps
3. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.22.296 – 53 laps
4. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.312 – 101 laps
5. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.386 – 72 laps
6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.430 – 115 laps
7. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.22.795 – 101 laps
8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.22.939 – 100 laps
9. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.393 – 100 laps
10. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.23.430 – 48 laps
11. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.608 – 23 laps
IT MIGHT have been a chilly start to proceedings, but Formula One 2012 breathed into life, as the cars took to the Jerez circuit this morning. This is the first winter test of three before the Australian Grand Prix on March 18 and gives the drivers their first opportunity to drive the new cars, new Pirelli tyres and adapt to new technical regulations, such as the banning of blown diffusers.
This morning, it was the Lotus Renault of Kimi Raikkonen that set the pace. The 2007 world champion, returning to the sport after two years away in rallying looked like he had lost none of his speed, with a time of 1 min 19.6 secs around the southern Spain circuit. Lotus technical director James Allison told Planet F1 that the initial pace should be downplayed. “The teams are doing a whole mixture of different programmes at the moment and we obviously don’t have any clear idea of what the others might be working on currently. We will start to know where we stand as things unfold over the coming days and weeks, but it’s still very early doors and the real picture will only come together when we get to Melbourne for the first race.”
There has been some criticism about the new noses, especially the step, ‘boxer nose’ which has been developed by the likes of Ferrari and Force India to meet the regulations criteria. McLaren are one of the only teams to go down the slope, more prettier route. Sky Sports pit analyst Ted Kravitz admitted this morning on the channel that the beauty element has gone; “Unfortunately, they won’t look any prettier, apart from the McLaren, who seemed to have gone down a different concept. The one that will be interesting is Red Bull, which was a strange online launch, so we only got a few pictures. It will be interesting to see how good that looks on the track.”
Due to new components arriving from the factory in Milton Keynes, Mark Webber could only manage eight laps before lunch, but still set the fifth fastest time. Paul di Resta was second fastest in the new Force India, 0.1 secs behind Raikkonen. Nico Rosberg was an impressive third fastest in a modified version of last year’s Mercedes GP. Mercedes won’t reveal their 2012 challenger until next week. The German has handed the driving duties over to Michael Schumacher this afternoon. McLaren and Ferrari had quiet mornings, with Jenson Button and Felipe Massa failing to trouble serious times.
All teams, excluding Mercedes are only running one driver per day. Marussia Virgin are the only team not present at this test, with Mercedes GP and Hispania running modified models of last year’s cars.
It is very early to predict how the season or even the week will unfold, but there was certainly no sign of rustiness from the Iceman, Raikkonen this morning.
UNOFFICIAL TESTING TIMES FROM JEREZ THIS MORNING – THE TOP 7
1. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.19.670 (50 LAPS)
2. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.19.772 (52 LAPS)
3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.20.219 (56 LAPS)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.20.694 (40 LAPS)
5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.472 (8 LAPS)
6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.112 (29 LAPS)
7. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.316 (22 LAPS)
ON THE twisty, tight Valencia road circuit in Spain on Monday, the sound of a Formula One car roared out of the pits, as one of its most charismatic figures made his official return to the sport. Known to enjoy a party or two and not the media intrusion from his past, Kimi Raikkonen is back!
Testing a 2010 Renault, Kimi’s two day shakedown had been agreed by the teams, so the 2007 world champion could familiarise himself with the racing cockpit again. During the test, he sat down with BBC Sport and indicated his desire to race again, saying “I want to enjoy racing against people again.”
Following his acriminous departure from Ferrari at the end of 2009, Raikkonen disappeared from the Grand Prix scene, spending two years competing for Citroen in the World Rally Championship. His results were disappointing and although showing flashes of speed, seemed to end rallies more often in ditches and trees. A brief stint in NASCAR last summer rekindled Raikkonen’s desire to compete at the highest level and the 32-year old hopes to be “fast straightaway.”
Michael Schumacher’s comeback in 2010 hasn’t proved to be a success and it will depend on how competitive Lotus are to see if Raikkonen’s newly-found motivation continues. No-one can question his natural speed, nor the excitement he has shown down the years (remember going through Eau Rouge flat through engine smoke in Spa qualifying 2002), the question will remain; will he be able to commit to a project that is more likely to achieve in the longer than shorter term.
However, it is great to see Kimi Raikkonen back in the sport and I’m sure he will remind us of his talent that did take him to a world championship five years ago. Six world champions on the grid is unique and the Raikkonen return will be one of the most compelling features within the 2012 dynamic.