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Driver performance at the Monaco Grand Prix

WELCOME to my sixth driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Grand Prix de Monaco:

PASTOR MALDONADO

I can’t decide whose stock went down more significantly in the last week; Facebook or Pastor Maldonado.  He had a horrible weekend and all of it was self-inflicted.  The hero of Barcelona was docked ten grid places for some foolish driving in Saturday morning, when he drove into Sergio Perez.  Seeing red mist, he went onto crash on his next lap at Casino Square and only decisive work from his mechanics got the Venezuelan out for qualifying.  Ninth place became 19th, then last after a gearbox penalty.  His race didn’t even last a lap after whacking Pedro de la Rosa into Ste. Devote.  The damage meant he didn’t turn into Loews hairpin and that was that.  A dramatic fall from grace.  4/10

FERNANDO ALONSO

Once again, Fernando Alonso showed his skill to maximise his race result.  Strong from the outset in practice on Thursday, a slightly cautious approach from Ferrari in qualifying cost them a shot at the pole.  Alonso was lucky to not suffer any damage off the startline after some wheel-banging with Romain Grosjean.  He survived, managed his super soft tyres brilliantly to close up on Lewis Hamilton, then jump him by staying out a lap longer.  Faultless as ever and now, the sole championship leader.  9/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

Kimi Raikkonen’s return to the Principality was fairly lacklustre.  He was on the backfoot from the outset, when a steering adjustment ruled him out of FP1.  Playing catchup, eighth on the grid wasn’t bad considering he flirted with elimination in the first part of qualifying.  Lost out to Sebastian Vettel on the first lap, then held on under pressure from Michael Schumacher as his super soft tyres wilted.  Lotus decision to keep him out for as long as possible cost him a higher finish but ninth was probably the right result.  No doubt that Kimi still has that sheer pace but Barcelona aside, hasn’t been able to string together a trouble-free weekend so far in 2012.  6/10 

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

A weekend that started out so promisingly but delivered very little.  Romain Grosjean’s consistency and confidence on Thursday made him favourite for pole position in qualifying.  Lotus had problems with tyre temperatures all weekend and this left the Frenchman in fourth on the grid.  His race lasted six seconds, involving three elements of contact with three different drivers and broken rear suspension meant he didn’t even make turn one.  Disappointing outcome and some foolishness with this DNF but the speed is definitely there.  7/10

SERGIO PEREZ

Whenever Monaco arrives on the calendar, Sergio Perez must dread it.  An incident packed weekend but for the wrong reasons.  Totally blameless in the incident with Pastor Maldonado on Saturday morning and had a near altercation with Nico Hulkenberg too.  Perhaps feeling a bit stressed, he crashed heavily at the Swimming Pool in the first few minutes of Q1.  Later, a steering problem was blamed for his early demise.  Struggled to pass Marussia cars, then collected a drive-through for baulking Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane entry.  Narrowly missed out on points and fastest lap shows it was another case of what might have been for Perez.  6/10

NICO ROSBERG

Quiet beginning to the weekend but Nico Rosberg came on form on Saturday and continued his consistent scoring approach as a result.  Fastest in FP3, Nico maximised the car’s potential in qualifying and ended up on the front row.  Kept Mark Webber on his toes all afternoon in the race but Webber didn’t crack under pressure, so he had to settle for second place.  Rosberg has now scored the most points out of anyone since Malaysia and on this evidence, has to be seen as a potential championship contender.  10/10

BRUNO SENNA

Bruno Senna kept his Williams pointing in the right direction to score a point, something his team-mate Pastor Maldonado had major problems doing all weekend.  Senna was rather oblivious all weekend although he looked all at sea on Thursday in the wet.  13th on the grid was better in comparison to recent events and made his way through the turn one carnage to run ninth in the first stint.  Got his point through persistance and Toro Rosso’s failed gamble on intermediates for Jean-Eric Vergne.  Williams will expect more though as the season progresses from Senna and they will be disappointed that he was beaten by both slower Force India cars.  6/10  

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

The years rolled back on Saturday when Michael Schumacher produced a special lap to land a surprising pole position. Back in sixth following his Spanish grid penalty, contact with Romain Grosjean before turn one ended the Lotus driver’s race and delayed Schumacher to run behind Kimi Raikkonen for the first stint.  Got past Raikkonen by staying out longer but had no chance on improving from seventh until a fuel pickup issue limited his top speed and ultimately cut out the engine.  Difficult to pin any blame on Michael this time, just another luckless weekend.  7/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

McLaren look to be losing some of their early season speed and Lewis Hamilton knows it more than anyone.  Wrestled his car to third on the grid, as the team struggled to match the Mercedes and Ferrari teams all weekend.  Bad start was the trigger to what happened behind between Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher although Hamilton kept third. The team kept him out too long on the super soft and he lost track position to Fernando Alonso and later, Sebastian Vettel.  Only highlight of a boring race for Lewis was being hit by objects from his pitwall.  It was a frustrating day but still scored solid points to stay firmly in the championship hunt.  7/10

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Fourth place at the finish was a save for Sebastian Vettel and he can count himself slightly fortunate.  Practice pace was poor and even needed super soft tyres to escape Q1.  Ran out of the option by Q3 so settled for ninth.  Romain Grosjean’s wayward Lotus nearly took him out at the start but Sebastian narrowly missed him to run sixth and wait for the others to pit before exposing his pace on the prime tyre.  Spent 12 laps heading the field and there was a time when the race looked to be heading into his grasp.  Unfortunately, the tyre lost grip and forced a slightly earlier pitstop than planned.  The longer strategy got him ahead of both Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa though so a good job to collect 12 points on a weekend where he was second best throughout to Mark Webber.  7/10

JENSON BUTTON

Two points from three races and a very unconvincing performance from Button, who isn’t out of the championship hunt but needs to stop the alarming slide in fortunes.  Didn’t seem happy again from Thursday, although he set the fastest time in FP2.  Pace flattered to deceive and he exited qualifying before the pole position shootout again, lining up 12th.  Unlucky to be hit by the flying Kamui Kobayashi in the Ste. Devote fracas and this dropped him behind Heikki Kovalainen.  It is tough to pass around Monaco but the speed differential between the McLaren and the Caterham meant that Button’s performance was dismal.  How he spend all afternoon behind the Finn is a mystery.  Spun out at the Swimming Pool attempting an ambitious pass on Kovalainen.  Needs a big score to regain confidence in Canada.  4/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Kamui Kobayashi badly underperformed when the car was capable of so much more.  Like Jenson Button, disappointing to see the Japanese driver be knocked out in Q2 and his race didn’t last long.  If Kobayashi had taken his initial plan of shortcutting the first corner, he would ducked in behind Sebastian Vettel in seventh.  Instead, he decided to take the longer route and the result was, flipped airborne by Romain Grosjean’s spun Lotus.  Damage to front suspension ended his event after five laps and not much symphony from me on this one.  5/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

I think we have to admit that Jean-Eric Vergne is a better Sunday driver than Saturday driver.  Again only escaped Q1 thanks to the misfortune of another driver and his own accident at the start of Q2 meant he couldn’t do any better than 17th.  Smart move to change tyres on lap 17 allowed him to leapfrog the midfield that were trapped behind the tyre hungry Kimi Raikkonen.  Seventh place was his until the team gambled the lot by pitting for intermediates with six laps to go in a rain shower.  It didn’t work and left the rookie in an unlapped 12th.  He wasn’t happy but should be encouraged with his consistent race speed.  Urgently needs to work on qualifying form now.  7/10

MARK WEBBER

Mark Webber’s twin brother must have been present in Spain because the real Webber turned up in Monaco.  In a car that didn’t deserve to win, he showed his might around the streets to record his second Monte Carlo victory in F1.  Struggled on Thursday but strung a mega lap together in qualifying which earnt him pole position, once Michael Schumacher was moved back down the grid.  Perfect start and made no mistakes throughout on raceday to lead home Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso.  His consistent approach makes him another championship contender.  10/10

NICO HULKENBERG

Perhaps not quite as eye-catching as at Williams but Nico Hulkenberg is looking better since the Grand Prix scene returned to Europe.  Missed out on the top ten shootout by just over a tenth of a second and had no problems running in close company with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday.  Jumped by team-mate Paul di Resta in the pits but took full advantage of Raikkonen being unfairly blocked by Sergio Perez to chase di Resta home.  Eighth was an excellent result, considering the car is still not at the team’s best liking yet.  7/10

FELIPE MASSA

Felipe Massa’s job is safe for now at least after a committed and charging Monaco weekend.  Threatened the frontrunners throughout free practice and was fastest in Q2.  A couple of mistakes on his qualifying lap left him seventh on the grid, when third was definitely possible.  Strong start saw him chasing Fernando Alonso hard and only the late rain shower dropped him off the back of the top five.  Still less than seven seconds behind race winner Mark Webber, sixth place is a massive boost for Massa, both in confidence and psychological terms.  8/10

PAUL DI RESTA

Qualifying 14th was a disappointing result for Paul di Resta but his fourth points finish already of the season shows that he is almost the complete racing driver now.  Kept it out the barriers with consummate ease and although I’d say he was lucky to beat his faster team-mate Nico Hulkenberg on raceday, you can see why teams such as Mercedes GP are interested in his future services.  6/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Daniel Ricciardo is turning into another average driver.  So far, he hasn’t delivered in a car that looks difficult to drive but probably would achieve better results if either Sebastian Buemi or Jaime Alguersuari had been driving it this season.  Beating Vergne in qualifying is a regular achievement now but race pace is not good and was running behind Heikki Kovalainen when he retired with a steering problem.  Must do better to prove his worth to the team in the coming races.  5/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

The street fighter that is Heikki Kovalainen threatened to steal a point at the weekend, proving his quality is being masked by the chassis at his disposal.  Thursday was a nightmare as an engine failure and a spin meant he had to climb out of his Caterham in both sessions earlier than anticipated.  Bounced back on Saturday to only wind up a tenth slower than Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.  Then ran brilliantly on Sunday to keep Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo behind him in faster cars and with little trouble too.  A messy battle with Sergio Perez cost him a front wing in the closing stages and meant 13th looks like a mundane finish.  Has plenty to be pleased though with his race performance.  9/10

VITALY PETROV

Looked fast on Thursday and had potential to shock Toro Rosso in qualifying and make Q2.  The Russian underperformed on Saturday and ended nearly a second slower than Heikki Kovalainen.  Delayed by Kamui Kobayashi’s flying antics in the first corner chaos and an intermittent electrical problem meant he was a regular pit caller until withdrawing on lap 15.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Had the measure of Charles Pic throughout the weekend, although on a better day, could have punished Vitaly Petrov for his tame qualifying effort on Saturday.  Had little option to shortcut Ste. Devote at the start to avoid the multiple accident and made his car had to pass against the likes of Sergio Perez and Jean-Eric Vergne.  When they got past, had a lonely run to 14th.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

Claimed his qualifying lap on Saturday to be his best ever around Monaco and by beating Charles Pic, would have pleased the HRT bosses.  Unfortunate to be clouted heavily by Pastor Maldonado while attempting to avoid the St. Devote carnage and the resulting rear wing damage meant it was retirement in the pits without completing a lap.  6/10

CHARLES PIC

Done well for most of the season but Monaco seem to overwhelm Charles Pic.  Struggled in qualifying and ended up on the back row and half a second behind Pedro de la Rosa’s slower HRT.  Promoted up thanks to grid penalties for Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez and evaded the first corner mess well.  Made little impact in the race and retired for third successive race with an electrical problem on lap 64.  4/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

Kept it out of the wall this season in Monaco and credit to Karthikeyan to finish the race, only two laps down and in 15th place.  It is hard to judge the HRT team’s merits in Formula One but if their drivers finish the race, that’s all that can really be asked.  6/10

Total scores after 6 events: Fernando Alonso 51, Lewis Hamilton 48, Sebastian Vettel 46, Romain Grosjean 46, Kimi Raikkonen 45, Mark Webber 45, Nico Rosberg 45, Pastor Maldonado 42, Sergio Perez 42, Jenson Button 41, Paul di Resta 41, Michael Schumacher 39, Nico Hulkenberg 39, Heikki Kovalainen 39, Kamui Kobayashi 38, Bruno Senna 37, Vitaly Petrov 37, Daniel Ricciardo 36, Jean-Eric Vergne 36, Timo Glock 35, Charles Pic 34, Felipe Massa 31, Pedro de la Rosa 30, Narain Karthikeyan 28

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Schumacher’s moment of glory in qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED TEN PLACES FOLLOWING DANGEROUS DRIVING IN FREE PRACTICE

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

Talking Point: Should Schumacher stay on?

THE elder statesman in Formula One, one of the greatest ever is going through another barren period in his failed comeback.  If some say Kenny Dalglish’s second return to the Liverpool FC dugout was unsuccessful, as he was sacked this week, what does this say about Michael Schumacher’s return.

Statistics can sometimes make viewpoints ridiculous but these facts don’t lie.  Two and a half years into his return and it reads; no wins, no pole positions, only twice in the top three in qualifying, no podiums and a series of desperate crashes which indicate that reactions are getting slower and speed is being lost.  True, form is temporary and class is permanent but Schumacher has shown evidently little in his return and after five races in 2012, he sits a dismal 18th in the championship, with three non-finishes and just two points to show for his efforts.  This is Schumacher’s worst start to a Formula One season and there will be those in the paddock will be questioning his motivation to continue.

The second Michael Schumacher certainly is a lot more relaxed than the first version and there can be no doubt that there is some enjoyment in him competing.  However he isn’t delivering the results expected and no excuses about the car in 2012 should be allowed.  The Mercedes was the class of the field in China, as shown by new race winner Nico Rosberg.  The team probably aren’t getting the full potential out of the chassis at the moment but whereas Rosberg has finished fifth and seventh in the last two events, Michael has only managed a fortunate tenth and another DNF in Barcelona last weekend.

In their previous two years at Mercedes together, it was notable that Rosberg had been comprehensively outperformed by Schumacher at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Michael achieving fourth and sixth place finishes in that time.  The tables were turned last week and his performance was simply forgettable.  He only just scraped into Q3, lagged behind Rosberg on raceday and then had a clumsy accident with Bruno Senna which ended his race after just 13 laps.

Another misjudgement from Schumacher in his failed comeback last Sunday (BBC Sport)

The incident occured entering turn one, as the Mercedes had a great run on the Brazilian’s tyre-hungry Williams.  At the braking zone, Senna moved but only slightly to the inside to protect his line.  Despite having not pitted, this was a battle for position.  Schumacher completely misjudged his braking point and smashed into him.  It was an error you’d expect to see a rookie driver make, not a seven-time world champion.  A five place grid penalty for Monaco next weekend is deserved and with Monte Carlo being so difficult to overtake on, his chances can’t be that good to improve on his points score.  What made me laugh even more was the way he called Senna an ‘idiot,’ over the radio.  Those with small memories should remember Adelaide, Jerez, Hungary 2010 when he tried to put ex-team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the pitwall.  You have to admit your mistakes or you don’t improve as a driver and these are testing times for the German, who might have produced some masterstrokes in the Ferrari days but is only tainting his own reputation and status as one of the greats.

While panic stations shouldn’t be alerted now and others like Felipe Massa could be only one race away from the sack, attention must turn to 2013 and what the Mercedes GP board do.  Schumacher’s contract expires at the end of the season and I think he has an intention to carry on.  Ross Brawn wasn’t present in Barcelona but he won’t want more performances like this from an experienced head.  Ross has got a tough decision to make, especially considering the success the pair have had at Benetton and Ferrari together.  Loyalty is a big commodity to have but how far can you go?  Rosberg has a long-term deal, is now a race winner and looks extremely settled and Mercedes will want a second driver who can deliver the goods on a regular basis.  I’m afraid Schumacher isn’t ticking this box at the moment.

Who should Mercedes go for then?  Lewis Hamilton is believed to be stalling on a new deal at McLaren, works closely with Mercedes anyways and has a great relationship with Rosberg.  There’s Paul di Resta who is producing consistent performances again at Force India and is groomed by Mercedes through his successful DTM days.  Although he has struggled initially in 2012, Nico Hulkenberg is German and would fit well into the marketplace, plus he has talent.  Jaime Alguersuari is Pirelli test driver and would bring lots of tyre knowledge to the team for next season and although there are grave uncertainties about his full fitness, a Rosberg/Robert Kubica partnership would be dynamic, considering the Pole is out of contract now following his injuries in the past couple of seasons.  There are options and Schumacher’s future looks like being an integral part of the 2013 drivers market.

I hope we see more of the best from Michael Schumacher and there have been gradual improvements, particularly in qualifying performance but there are too many troughs and issues to iron out.  He might love his racing for sure but I don’t think that is going to be enough to keep him in a drive with Mercedes GP next season, unless he starts scoring points regularly and matches what Rosberg can do.  It is time for Michael to step up and answer those doubters and Monaco is the perfect place to begin a fightback in his fortunes, both in the short and long term.

McLaren error gifts Marvellous Maldonado a shock pole

MCLAREN’s glaring error in not having a fuel sample to show to the FIA has seen Lewis Hamilton be stripped of his hard-fought pole position during an intriguing qualifying session for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix.  This means that Pastor Maldonado will start the race from an unlikely and sensational pole.  Maldonado becomes the first Veneuzeulan driver to start a Grand Prix from the front and is the perfect present for Sir Frank Williams, celebrating his 70th birthday.  It is the team’s first dry pole position since Nick Heidfeld at the European Grand Prix on Germany’s Nurburgring in 2005.  Fernando Alonso produced another special performance to put his Ferrari on the front row for his home race.

Throughout qualifying, Hamilton seemed to be the only driver who was consistently at the front as many of his closest and more predominant challengers fell by the wayside.  Team-mate Jenson Button complained all day about hapless amounts of oversteer and when the team made changes to the front end of the car for his final Q2 run, understeer crippled his chances.  Button vented his frustration on the team radio afterwards; “The car has too much understeer now, work that one out guys!”  With a face like thunder, he has to accept tenth on the grid following Hamilton’s demotion.

Another big casualty in Q2 was Mark Webber.  The Australian is battling the effects of a heavy cold this weekend and Red Bull were caught out by a solid first run which saw Webber initially in second place on a 1.22.977.  He sat in the garage as the track made significant gains and dropped out of the top ten for the first time since China last year.  Felipe Massa also made his now customary exit from Q2 and was the slowest driver in the session, fighting his Ferrari furiously, it looked like a car that was akin to a golfer having little control on his swing and ending up in a predictable bunker!

Pastor Maldonado is the surprising and delighted pole sitter for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix (formula1onlive.com)

Maldonado had looked quick in the final practice session before qualifying and was consistently fast throughout the session, looking to improve on a career best of 8th place from previous attempts.  His team-mate Bruno Senna looked all at sea and chucked his Williams into the gravel after looking down at his lap delta, misjudging turn 11 and spinning off backwards at the end of Q1.  To see Senna down in 17th with his team-mate on pole will make him feel as sick as a parrot.  Narain Karthikeyan failed to make the 107 per cent cut-off time but has been given special dispensation to race due to a number of technical issues that have hindered his weekend.  There were also solid efforts from Charles Pic and Vitaly Petrov to outqualify their team-mates at Marussia and Caterham, Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen respectively.

The final part of qualifying was a slow burner, with several runners including world champion Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher running system checks rather than go for pole position.  Neither set a competitive lap time and consequently start 8th and 9th.  A technical problem at the end of Q2 left Kamui Kobayashi stuck out on track and the Japanese driver couldn’t run in Q3.  Sergio Perez underlined Sauber’s strong pace to set the sixth fastest time, quicker than Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg.  Romain Grosjean bounced back from a fuel pressure problem this morning which limited his running to continue his impressive return to the sport.  Grosjean will begin third, one place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Lotus lockout the second row and with formidable race pace from Friday’s simulations, could be in the driving seat for tomorrow.

As ever, Alonso got the absolute maximum out of his car and a front row start is a miraculous effort.  Maldonado’s lap was marvellous and considering his strong pace all weekend, maybe not so much of a surprise after all.  Hamilton was in a class of one, so its a shame that his team decided to let him down again.

Fireworks, drama and tactics are sure to be part of the elements tomorrow at the Spanish Grand Prix, don’t miss it!

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 14  1.22.285
2 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 15  1.22.302 
3 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14  1.22.424 
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 13  1.22.487 
5 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 14  1.22.533 
6 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 17  1.23.005 
7 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14  NO TIME IN Q3 
8 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 15  NO TIME IN Q3 
9 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 14  NO TIME IN Q3 
10 (Q2) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13  1.22.944 
11 (Q2) MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 1.22.977 
12 (Q2) PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 14  1.23.125 
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13  1.23.177 
14 (Q2) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 11  1.23.265 
15 (Q2) DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 11  1.23.442 
16 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 12  1.23.444 
17 (Q1) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 1.24.981 
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 1.25.277 
19 (Q1) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 1.25.507 
20 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 1.26.582 
21 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 1.27.032 
22 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 1.27.555 
23 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 1.31.122 
24  LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 17  EXCLUDED 

LEWIS HAMILTON EXCLUDED FROM QUALIFYING AND SENT TO THE BACK OF THE GRID

Lewis Hamilton stripped of pole position in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Talking Point: Driving Etiquette in Formula One

REFLECTING on Nico Rosberg’s crazy and unecessary swerves on his rivals in Bahrain, I wanted to share my opinion on the state of defensive driving in Formula One and how lucky there hasn’t been any serious accidents because of this for a while.

Schumacher's attempt failed at Jerez in 1997 (f1wolf)

There was a time in Grand Prix racing where turning into your rival early or deliberate attempts to take a competitor out of the race seemed to be okay.  Ask Michael Schumacher, who did it at Jerez in the 1997 title decider and received a very leninent penalty for the crime.  Then we had the debate about weaving excessively to keep track position in defence.  Damon Hill did this in Canada 1998, which upset Schumacher greatly afterwards.  The boundaries continue to be pushed in the element to be totally successful.

Driving etiquette in Formula One needs to be looked at because the standards in defending a position seem to be getting worse.  Any driver doesn’t want to get into a position like Jarno Trulli used to; ‘There’s a green arrow, pass me on the inside.’  However, today’s drivers need to respect their competitors more and know when track position is gone.

Rosberg’s moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in Sakhir were dangerous and he didn’t get penalised.  Luckily no contact was made in either incident but they were lucky escapes.  In the first incident with Hamilton on lap 10, Rosberg dived inside the McLaren as Hamilton was exiting the pits from his first pitstop.  As Hamilton got into the slipstream, the Mercedes driver went to defend the inside and started to move across the road.  As the Brit dived out from underneath the rear wing, Rosberg squeezed him completely off the track.  Lewis had to take to the concrete asphalt to avoid Rosberg’s late direction movement and actually got infront.  He might have exceeded track limits but it was either that or have an accident.  I would have given Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, maybe give him a reprimand for this as he isn’t a regular offender in Formula One.

The second moment with Alonso was even more dangerous, as the Spaniard had to get out of the throttle to avoid being launched over the Mercedes car.  The extra speed used thanks probably to some KERS use from the Spaniard looked frightening.  Rosberg continued to move from the traditional racing line and although his direction change wasn’t quite as brutal as it was with Hamilton, he didn’t give Alonso an option and sensibly, the double champion took a safe choice and backed out of the attempted overtake on lap 25.  On this occasion, I would have added some time onto Rosberg’s finishing position, maybe 5-10 seconds as there seemed to be more of a thoughtful decision in what he was doing rather than a sudden movement or rush of blood.  It was risky and very severe, uncalled for actually.

No-one wants a repeat of Mark Webber’s terriyfing accident in Valencia 2010.  The race stewards in Bahrain had their chance to send out a message of no nonsense and this they failed to do.  Rosberg’s manoevures were not the worst ever seen in Grand Prix racing but it deserved a time penalty even if that just dropped him behind the two drivers affected in the final classifcation.  He could count himself lucky to have not been sanctioned for the incidents.

On his team radio during the race, Alonso said; “He pushed me off the track.  You have to leave a space, all the time you have to leave a space.”  Later that evening, he posted on his Twitter page when finding out Rosberg would not be punished,“I think you are going to have fun in future races!  You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track!  Enjoy! ;)))”  It is very true but I find his reaction to this hilarious.  Pot, kettle, black spring to mind Fernando.  Weren’t you the driver who squeezed Sebastian Vettel onto the grass during the Italian Grand Prix last season?  Vettel criticised the move and rightly so, he was brave to make it stick too.

The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;

“Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”

Sounds like Rosberg was guilty then but no action was taken.  The defending ruling changed at the start of the season where a competitor will be penalised if they moved across the road more than once in an overtaking scenario.  This ruling was brought in after the feisty scrap between Schumacher and Hamilton at Monza last year.  Is it a ruling or just a guiding?  After last Sunday’s incidents, you can’t help but agree to some form with Fernando Alonso.

The decision was made and at the end of the day, all the drivers have pushed the regulations of driving etiquette to the brink on occasion.  Schumacher has done it all throughout his career, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have both made questionable track movements in the past in an attempt to defend their position and even the world champion isn’t perfect.  Vettel has shown his ruthlessness at times.  Remember giving Jenson Button minimal space at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix last season.  These examples show I’m not singling out Nico Rosberg but I reckon that a precedent has to be set, starting from the annual drivers meeting before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11.   I worry that in the top line of motorsport, we have got to a point where the standard of defensive driving is getting to a very dangerous stage.  Make it hard and competitive of course but fair and responsible too.

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

 

 


Schumacher ends fastest in quiet Shanghai opening

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

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

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

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

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

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

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

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

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

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.

Grid penalty denies a pole hat-trick for Lewis

LEWIS Hamilton will not be starting Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix from pole position.  The 27-year old Brit confirmed to Sky Sports News this morning that his McLaren team have to change his gearbox following an issue was discovered by the team after the race in Malaysia three weeks ago.

Hamilton won't be starting from the front at the weekend (Guardian)

Hamilton revealed to Sky Sports F1 reporter Natalie Pinkham that the team will change the gearbox on Saturday morning.  It means he will have a fresh gearbox for the race on Sunday, but at a cost of starting no higher than sixth for the race.  Current regulations in Formula One mean a driver has to have a gearbox that lasts for four successive races as part of bduget restrictions.  A free gearbox without grid penalty is only allowed if a driver failed to finish the last race, so that could apply to both Kamui Kobayashi and Romain Grosjean here as they recoreded DNF’s in Sepang.

Hamilton had been on pole position for the first two races of 2012 but has only managed to convert them into two podium finishes so far.  With a significant upgrade brought by McLaren to Shanghai this weekend, he will be hoping for one of his famous charges to the top step of the rostrum on Sunday.

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