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Fernando & Jenson share spoils on disjointed day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE ONE CLASSIFICATION

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

2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE TWO CLASSIFICATION

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

Remembering Imola: Ayrton Senna – A genius behind the wheel

THE penultimate blog from remembering Imola focuses on the career and the life of Ayrton Senna, eighteen years after he tragically perished at the wheel of the Williams FW16 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  Forget Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.  In my opinion, Senna was the greatest ever human being to drive in Formula One.

Senna was very successful in the junior formulae in Brazil and in England.  He begun karting at the tender age of four.  For him, racing was in his blood and so to was his will and desire to win.  To him, second place wasn’t acceptable; he felt it was first of the losers.  He underlined that ruthless streak early on in his career, in the tense and exciting duel with Britain’s Martin Brundle for the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship.  Senna dominated the first half of the season, Brundle the second half and it left Ayrton to pull off some crazy overtaking attempts that often ended in accidents.  Eventually he overcame Brundle in the season finale at Thruxton and Formula One beckoned.

Despite testing for McLaren and Williams in the winter of 1983, Senna opted to sign for the Toleman team, later to become Benetton.  Immediately Senna made an impression, despite his inferior equipment.  He came so close to winning his maiden race in 1984.  In Monaco Senna made full advantage of the awful weather conditions, to charge through from 12th on the grid.  He pulled off some stupendous overtaking moves, with the confidence that suggested he would be a champion in future waiting.  Only a red flag that brought the race to an early conclusion denied him.  Senna insisted that he would have won if the race had it run just one more lap.  The determination to succeed was firmly there.  Podiums at Brands Hatch and Estoril followed but Senna knew that Toleman was not a long-term stay.  He went to Lotus for the next three seasons, convinced that this might be the team that could deliver him the world championship.

In only his second race for the famous British marquee, Senna won in Portugal – in very similar conditions to those of Monaco 1984.  Second placed Michele Alboreto was the only driver not to be lapped, in a clinical and masterful performance in the wet.  Not only did Senna become a great wet weather runner, he developed a close association with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in his time at Lotus and also the amazing skill he had to produce a flying lap.  Eight pole positions in 1985 and this skill remained with Senna all the way till his untimely death.  Although Schumacher has beaten this statistic, it took him twelve years to do it after Ayrton’s death.  65 pole positions in 161 races, over 33 per cent is one of the most impressive ratios I’ve ever seen.  In his three years with Lotus, Senna achieved third place in the 1987 championship and six wins in total, including a maiden triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo.  However the British team was on a steady rate of decline and Ayrton elected to jump ship, taking Honda with him to McLaren.

Frustrated by seeing the more superior Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell often get the better of him despite his undoubted talent, Senna was convinced the switch to McLaren would finally give him the success it craved.  There he was partnered with the Frenchman Alain Prost, the golden boy of McLaren at the time.  Fireworks would explode between the pair, though not initially.  The 1988 McLaren Honda was the most dominant car in Grand Prix history, winning 15 of the season’s 16 races.  If Jean-Louis Schelesser hadn’t taken Senna out in the closing stages at Monza, it could well have been a clean sweep.  Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven – though the ‘Professor’s’ consistency meant he went on to score more championship points.  However on a countback system, which the sport used at the time, Senna knew that victory in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix would be enough for his first championship.

The start was a disaster as Senna squandered pole position and dropped to 14th by turn one, giving Prost a colossal advantage.  Very quickly Senna showed the superiority of his McLaren and charged through the pack.  By lap 16, he was fourth and eleven laps later, was challenging for the lead.  When Prost was trapped in backmarkers, Senna seized his opportunity and squeezed past his team-mate on the start-finish straight.  It was a clinical piece of overtaking and a drive that thoroughly deserved to win the championship.  Prost was very gracious in defeat, admitting that Senna had been the better driver during 1988.  Apart from a moment in Portugal, when Ayrton had nearly put Alain into the pitwall, their battle had been a joy to watch in 1988.  Sadly the next two years bought politics and accusations to the heartfelt of the sport.

Race two of 1989 was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.  Prost and Senna entered a gentlemanly agreement, that the man who approached the braking point for the Tosa hairpin first, would go onto win the race.  Senna took pole position and led on the first lap.  However when his good friend Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames, the race required a restart.  Second time round, Prost made the better start and led approaching Tosa.  Senna, presuming that the agreement was only meant on one attempt, stole the lead into the hairpin and drove into the distance.  It was perhaps a gentle misunderstanding but Prost, who finished over a minute adrift refused to talk to Senna again.

1989 was not a lucky year for the Brazilian, losing certain victories in USA, Canada and Italy due to mechanical problems, whilst he was taken out in Portugal by the already disqualified Mansell.  Once again Suzuka would be the deciding factor in the championship battle, this time with Prost the favourite.  Senna had to win to stand any chance of taking the fight to Adelaide.  He lost the lead with a poor start and harassed Prost all afternoon, with little chance of getting ahead.  On lap 47, he closed up and made his move into the final chicane.  Prost, knowing that Senna had to win turned into the corner and the accident was inevitable.  The two McLaren cars interlocked wheels and slid to a halt.  Prost unbuckled his belts and walked away but Senna kept his engine running and restarted.  However he needed outside assistance from the marshals to get going again.  Despite needing to pit for a new nosecone, catching and overtaking the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini, Senna won and was promptly disqualified for the outside assistance offence.  Prost was champion.  Ayrton was furious, threatening to walkaway from the sport he loved, believing that a conspiracy had been set-up against him by Prost and the unpopular FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre.  More allegations and accusations followed and Senna’s super license was revoked.

The following March he was back, having apologised and won the season opener in Phoenix.  Once more the fight for supremacy was between Senna’s McLaren Honda and Prost, who had swapped seats with Berger and moved to McLaren’s closest rivals Ferrari.  For the third successive year, Japan was the deciding point for the championship saga.  This time it was Prost who needed to win to keep his title dream alive.  Senna took his customary pole position but bitterly complained all weekend that pole position was on the dirtier side of the grid.  He campaigned for it to be changed and Prost actually agreed.  The officials granted Senna’s request, but Balestre refused to back down.  Consequently Senna vowed that if Prost turned into turn one first, he would regret it.

Twenty-four hours later and Senna accelerated away but Prost got the better start and took the lead.  Senna looked for a gap on the inside of the first corner that disappeared quickly.  Contact was inevitable and the McLaren and Ferrari disappeared into a cloud of dust.  The outcome of the 1990 FIA Formula One World Championship had been decided in a matter of seconds in such sad and distasteful circumstances.  It was a second title for Senna but bittersweet.  Only at the same event a year later, with Balestre gone and replaced by Max Mosley did Senna admit that he deliberately ran Prost off the road in 1990.  His will and desire to win couldn’t be faulted but in attempting to knock another car out on purpose was a hideous crime, which on a normal UK road would land you with at least a driving ban and possibly a jail sentence.

In 1991, Senna won his third and last drivers title for the umpteenth time at Suzuka, the deciding point of most title battles.  Prost fell away and was fired by Ferrari before the season’s end, so it left for a renewed rivalry to remerge between Senna and Nigel Mansell.  Senna won the first four races in 1991 but as the Williams Renault became the stronger package during the campaign, Senna grew frustrated realising that McLaren were being out developed by a rival for the first time in his stint with the Woking team.  Eventually reliability and a terrible pitstop in Portugal shot down Mansell’s 1991 title dream but not for the worth of trying.  He went wheel-to-wheel with Senna, sparks flying at some 200mph down the backstraight of Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, one of the sport’s most iconic images.

As the Williams team mastered the active suspension system, McLaren drifted further behind and Senna had to work especially hard for any of his later victories in his career.  1992 was a major disappointment, as Ayrton finished 4th in the final standings with just three wins, compared to the nine of the dominant Mansell.  One of his greatest victories came in Monaco 1992 when he managed to hold off a hard-charging Mansell, who clambered all over the back of his McLaren in the last five laps.  Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of the season and Senna questioned whether he should remain in the sport, especially when Prost ‘vetoed’ him not to drive alongside him at Williams in 1993.

Senna decided to stay with McLaren on a race-by-race basis in 1993 and was excellent throughout the season.  There were memorable victories in Brazil for the second time at home, Japan, Australia and for a record sixth time in Monaco.  However he saved the best for a damp Easter weekend in 1993.  The venue was Donington Park for the European Grand Prix.  Senna qualified 4th and was squeezed out by the uncompromising Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Redgate.  Undeterred he sprinted past the young German on the exit and then swept past the fast-starting Karl Wendlinger in his Sauber around the outside of the Craner Curves.  Next target were the dominant Williams and just three corners later, he went inside Damon Hill to move into second.  He tore into Prost’s early advantage and outbraked his chief rival into the Melbourne Loop.  He had gone from fifth to first by the end of the first lap, definitely the greatest lap in Grand Prix history.  Senna won the race from Hill by nearly a full lap. 

For 1994 Senna got his dream move to the Williams Renault squad.  With Prost having retired and Mansell competing in IndyCars, this was Senna’s chance to add to his forty-one victories.  Sadly the partnership that promised so much never came to fruition.  Senna didn’t like the handling of the FW16 and had a miserable first two races.  He spun off and stalled his engine in Brazil, chasing down Schumacher’s Benetton.  Then he was tipped off the road by Mika Hakkinen into the first corner of the Pacific Grand Prix.  Arriving at Imola, Senna had no points, Schumacher twenty.

Autosport magazine claimed he was a man under pressure.  He didn’t show it though, focused on his goal to bring Williams back to the top after an unconvincing start.  He blitzed the entire field in San Marino, setting the quickest time in every single session.  However accidents to his countryman Rubens Barrichello and the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying deeply affected Senna.

Deep down he didn’t have the passion to race.  Some say he was not on the best of terms with his family, due to his burdening relationship with Adriane Galisteu.  Others suggest he believed that Schumacher and Benetton were cheating their way to success, by using the now banned electronic aids.  Either way he put those issues aside and went out to race.  A startline accident put the race behind the Safety Car and it was going too slow for Ayrton’s liking.  On the restart Senna charged away, determined to pull away from Schumacher.  On lap seven, he entered the flat-out Tamburello bend when his Williams refused to turn into the corner.  The rest they say is history… 

Ayrton Senna may have not endeared himself to everyone.  However his skill behind the wheel of a racing car cannot be questioned, nor could his charitable work he put in for many local Brazilian and worldwide charities.  His speed, desire and commitment to win were immense, even if some of his tactics had to be questioned.  A devote Christian, Senna believed that God would save him on the racetrack.  His death brought shock to the whole world – and the funeral that followed brought Brazil to a complete standstill.  Chillingly he had predicted that the new regulations for the 1994 season would bring serious accidents, possibly even bring the horrible fatality that he feared could happen.  On 1 May 1994, the world lost a famous icon, and although Williams found replacement drivers easy to come by, Formula One will never see the likes of him again.  In 2010 a movie was made about his career, simply titled ‘Senna.’

Ayrton Senna is a legend who leaves an endearing legacy to many and is a sporting legend forever.

AYRTON SENNA (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

The greatest of all time, Ayrton Senna (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)

Mugello Test Day 2 – Grosjean is the testing king again

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY 2 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

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

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

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

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

5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.257 – 106 laps

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Imola: A catalogue of shocking events

REMEMBERING Imola continues with a deeper look into the catalogue of horrific events at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  A weekend that changed Formula One racing forever.  18 years on, the safety of today’s modern Grand Prix cars has improved greatly.  Sadly though it happened at the loss of taking away the life of the greatest Grand Prix driver of his generation, Ayrton Senna.

The horror of the weekend began on Friday 29th April 1994, when in the first official qualifying session, the young Brazilian Rubens Barrichello lost control of his Jordan Hart car approaching the quick Variante Bassa chicane.  His car launched off a kerb and smashed into the tyre wall at colossal speed, narrowly avoiding going over some catch fencing.  Only the quick reactions of Professor Sid Watkins prevented the talented Barrichello, second in the drivers championship at the time from swallowing his tongue.  Remarkably he walked away with just a cut lip, minor bruising and a broken nose.  His weekend was over but his life had remained intact.  It reminded Grand Prix fans and drivers of the real dangers that the sport possesses.  Just 24 hours later, the luck ran out.

Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was attempting to qualify for what only would have been his second Grand Prix, having finished his first race in Aida just a fortnight earlier.  Eighteen minutes into Saturday’s second qualifying session, Ratzenberger’s front wing broke off exiting the flat-out Tamburello bend.  His wing had been weakened by leaving the track on his previous flying lap at the Aqua Minerali chicane.  With no steering or braking capability, the Simtek Ford car ploughed straight into the concrete wall at Villeneuve bend on the approach to the Tosa hairpin.  The impact was thought to be close to 200mph.  As soon as his car came to a halt, it became clear from a very early evident stage that Roland wasn’t going to be as lucky as Barrichello was.  The session was stopped and the medics did what they could to save the rookie’s life.  However it was to be a battle in vain, with Ratzenberger being pronounced dead on arrival at Bologna Maggiore Hospital.  He became the first driver to be killed at a race meeting for twelve years, since Ricardo Paletti’s demise at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix.  The last driver to suffer a fatal crash in an F1 car was the Italian Elio de Angelis at the wheel of a Brabham, during a test session at Paul Ricard, France in 1986.

On raceday, meetings were held between the drivers with the decision to announce the reformation of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association).  In the wake of Ratzenberger’s accident, no-one could predict the chilling omens for raceday.  The show went on with David Brabham, Ratzenberger’s devastated team-mate electing to continue for the Simtek team.

At the green light, Ayrton Senna stormed into the lead from his 65th pole position leading Michael Schumacher’s Benetton Ford and the Ferrari of Gerhard Berger.  Further back, JJ Lehto had stalled his Benetton from row three on the grid.  The two Ligiers of Olivier Panis and Eric Bernard narrowly missed the Finn’s stricken car but Lehto was to be collected by Pedro Lamy’s fast acclerating Lotus Mugen Honda.  Lamy spun into the barrier and across the road with both cars completely destroyed by the impact.  Lehto suffered a light arm injury and Lamy escaped unhurt but it was a wheel from the departed Lotus that caused the mayhem this time around.  It vaulted into the spectactor fencing leaving nine people, including a policeman with minor injuries.  Despite all the debris on the circuit, the decision was taken to deploy the Safety Car for only the third time in Grand Prix history.

After five laps under the Safety Car, Senna charged away with Schumacher in hot pursuit.  Two laps later, Senna’s car didn’t turn into the flatout Tamburello corner Tamburello corner, pitching straight on into a concrete wall at some 140mph, possibly even greater speed.  The crumbled Williams returned to the edge of the circuit with Senna slumped in the cockpit, debris being thrown in all directions.  The race was red-flagged.

Once again it was clear that Senna was in a grave condition from the outset, with very little sign of movement from the cockpit of his car.  As Professor Sid Watkins and the marshals got to work again, the severity of the crash especially from the pictures being beamed around the world on television made the scene even worse.  Senna was airlifted to Maggiore Hospital from the track.  As soon as the first medical bulletins filtered through from the track, any hope of a recovery was realistically lost.  The race was eventually restarted 45 minutes later with Schumacher claiming his third successive victory in a very sombre atmosphere.

During the race, the final event of a horror weekend occurred when a wheel departed from Michele Alboreto’s Minardi as he exited the pits from his final stop.  The errant wheel bounced down the pitlane and struck one chief mechanic from Lotus and three from Ferrari.  Luckily, none of the injuries were serious.  After the race, Senna was announced as clinically brain dead and his life machine was switched off.  Brazil went into a state of national mourning, the world of sport stunned into silence.

Fortunately the steps taken to improve safety in Formula One have been of massive leaps and boundaries.  Many drivers since 1994, including Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Takuma Sato and more recently in Hungary in 2009 with Felipe Massa have had serious, frightening accidents.  All have been able to live the tail and go racing again.  The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix will go down as the darkest weekend in motorsport history and eighteen years on, its pain will never heal.

Remembering Imola: The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix starters – Where are they now

REMEMBERING Imola continues with this special look at all the drivers who took part at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and what has happened to them since.  We sadly know what happened to both Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, but what happened in the race weekend to the other 26 competitors and where are they now.

1994 Gran Premio di San Marino Grand Prix – The drivers

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 2nd, Race: 1st

Schumacher was chasing Senna hard before the Brazilian’s inexplicable accident which caused the race to be stopped.  In the second race, he was beaten off the line by Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari but stayed on the Austrian’s tail and passed on lap 10 exiting the Aqua Minerali chicane.  Schumacher cruised to victory afterwards by some 50 seconds.

Today: Michael Schumacher still competes in Formula One, driving for the Petronas Mercedes F1 team.

NICOLA LARINI

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 6th, Race: 2nd

Larini was standing in at Ferrari for Jean Alesi, who had been injured at Mugello in a testing accident a month earlier.  The Italian qualified a solid sixth, but slipped to seventh off the start.  On the second start, he quickly moved into fourth and jumped Mika Hakkinen on the road and aggregate timing after the first round of pitstops.  He then drove calmly to finish an excellent second, easily his best ever finish in Formula One

Today: Larini forged a stronger career in touring cars, often a frontrunner in the European and World series.  He retired from professional racing at the end of 2009.

MIKA HAKKINEN

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 8th, Race: 3rd

The McLaren Peugeot alliance was a disastrous combination but went well at Imola.  Reliability problems and some overdriving in qualifying left Hakkinen back in eighth place on the grid, jumping Nicola Larini at the start.  Following the restart, the Finn ran third for the majority of the distance and held off a late attack from Karl Wendlinger to take McLaren’s first podium of the season.

Today: After two Formula One titles in 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen retired from Formula One in 2001.  He did some driving in DTM before stopping racing completely in 2007.  He now has a career in driving management.

KARL WENDLINGER

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 10th, Race: 4th

The under-rated Austrian took tenth spot on the grid as Sauber didn’t run in qualifying on Saturday following Ratzenberger’s fatal accident.  Wendlinger leapfrogged Ukyo Katayama at the start and was eighth before the red flag was thrown for Senna’s accident.  On the restart, he ran fifth and moved into fourth when Berger retired.  He was catching Hakkinen and just fell short of a maiden visit to the podium.

Today: Wendlinger’s F1 career effectively ended after a serious accident in practice for the next race at Monte Carlo.  He forged a career in sportscars afterwards and was still racing in GT1 with Lamborghini in 2011.   

UKYO KATAYAMA

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 9th, Race: 5th

A radically improved Tyrrell had Katayama flying all weekend.  He started in the top ten and spent most of the race fighting for points with Damon Hill and Christian Fittipaldi.  Fittipaldi’s late retirement helped Katayama into fifth place, equalling his best ever F1 result.

Today: Katayama has focused on his other hobby, which is climbing mountains.  By 2010, he had successfully climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro amongst others.  He also is a commentator for Fuji TV on Formula One.

DAMON HILL

Drove for: Williams Renault, Qualified: 4th, Race: 6th

Damon had a difficult first day of qualifying but improved to fourth on the grid from seventh just moments before Ratzenberger crashed.  Holding position from the start, he clashed with Schumacher at the Tosa hairpin on the restart and limped back to the pits with a damaged front wing.  Hill set fastest lap on his fightback to sixth and the final championship point.

Today: After retiring from Formula One at the end of the 1999, Damon had a successful time as president of the British Racing Drivers Club, securing the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in the process.  He is now a pundit on the new UK F1 channel, Sky Sports F1.

HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN

Drove for: Sauber Mercedes, Qualified: 7th, Race: 7th

This was only Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s third race in F1 and it was a dramatic weekend.  He did well to qualify seventh and was devastated by the death of his close friend Ratzenberger on Saturday afternoon.  He missed Lehto’s stalled Benetton by millimetres on the green light and was due to line up in fourth for the restart.  Unfortunately he stalled on the dummy grid and had to start from the pitlane.  A collision with Mark Blundell damaged his front wing and meant despite setting the fourth fastest lap of the day, Frentzen missed out on points in seventh at the chequered flag.

Today: Frentzen has plans to race in the Indian Racing League next season.  For now, he competes in some sportscar and GT events and is often a driver steward at Formula One race meetings for the FIA.

MARTIN BRUNDLE

Drove for: McLaren Peugeot, Qualified: 13th, Race: 8th

Brundle went fourth quickest in Saturday’s practice session, but an engine failure on Saturday and crash in qualifying on Friday left him well out of position in 13th on the grid.  Tenth at the red flag, Brundle’s race was compromised by a dreadful second start that him scrapping with Johnny Herbert and Pierluigi Martini for most of the distance.  He finished a frustrated eighth, but it was his first race finish of 1994.

Today: Martin Brundle has crafted out a successful career in the media and his technical analysis has made him a wanted man for all UK TV broadcasters.  He has commentated for ITV, BBC and from the start of 2012, joined the Sky Sports F1 team.

MARK BLUNDELL

Drove for: Tyrrell Yamaha, Qualified: 12th, Race: 9th

Mark Blundell struggled to match the pace of his team-mate Katayama and had a weekend of total obsecurity, qualifying 12th and finishing two laps down in ninth place.

Today: Blundell was a CART driver until 1999 and a pundit on the ITV F1 team until they lost broadcasting rights to the BBC at the end of 2008.  Now, Blundell runs his own management company, 2MB Sports Management, handling the career of McLaren tester Gary Paffett amongst others.

JOHNNY HERBERT

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 20th, Race: 10th

With an old spec Mugen Honda engine and a difficult Lotus chassis to handle, Herbert’s frustration was starting to creep in with the dwindling outfit.  He got the maximum out of the car at Imola to finish tenth, little reward for his determination.

Today: Herbert has done various roles in motorsport, from British Touring Cars with Honda to racing at Le Mans for Audi.  Like Brundle and Hill, he is a regular contributor to the newly formed Sky Sports F1 team as a pundit.

OLIVIER PANIS

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 19th, Race: 11th

As with Lotus, 1994 was a very tough season for Ligier due to ownership issues with both engine and management.  F3000 champion graduate Panis struggled around to 11th in the race, gaining important race mileage for his future career.

Today: Panis has a new love now, competing in Ice Racing.

ERIC BERNARD

Drove for: Ligier Renault, Qualified: 17th, Race: 12th

Eric Bernard was often outpaced by Olivier Panis in 1994, but got the better of his team-mate in qualifying at Imola, lining up 17th.  He was behind David Brabham at the time of the red flag and trailed home 12th and the last runner, three laps down.

Today: Bernard has gone onto a successful career in GT and sportscar racing

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 16th, Race: Retired on lap 56, brake failure led to him spinning

Fittipaldi drove superbly under adversity after seeing what happened to his compatriot and close friend Senna.  He looked set to finish fifth until a brake failure sent him into the gravel and out of the race with six laps remaining.

Today: Fittipaldi quit F1 at the end of 1994 and has moved to America where he still lives today.  He has raced in CART, NASCAR and American sportscars ever since.

ANDREA DE CESARIS

Drove for: Jordan Hart, Qualified: 21, Race: Retired on lap 49, accident

de Cesaris returned to Jordan where he had raced in 1991, subsituting for the banned Eddie Irvine.  Lacking race fitness and sharpness, he had many predictable spins and accidents all weekend and on lap 49, retired from near the back from you guessed it, another crash!

Today: de Cesaris has carved out a successful career in Monte Carlo as a currency broker and spends a lot of his free time windsurfing around the world.  

MICHELE ALBORETO

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 15th, Race: Retired on lap 44, wheel flew off on pitlane exit

The veteran Italian Michele Alboreto had a tough weekend full of mechanical gremlins.  He was forced to start from the pitlane in the spare car and on lap 44, retired after a loose wheel fell off his car and bounced down the pitlane injuring mechanics from Ferrari and Lotus.

Today: Alboreto won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Porsche in 1997, but tragically was killed in April 2001 when a tyre exploded while doing some testing in Germany for Audi in the build-up to the 2001 sportscar classic.

GIANNI MORBIDELLI

Drove for: Footwork Ford, Qualified: 11th, Race: Retired on lap 40, broken engine

Morbidelli qualified a strong 11th and was running in a closely fought midfield pack along with Martin Brundle and Heinz-Harald Frentzen when the unreliable Ford engine broke down on lap 40.  Points were possible as he was running ahead of eventual sixth placed finisher Damon Hill on aggregate timing at the time.

Today: Morbidelli raced in BTCC for Volvo in 1998 and had time in European Touring Cars too.  He now is racing in the V8 Supercar Series in Australia.

PIERLUIGI MARTINI

Drove for: Minardi Ford, Qualified: 14th, Race: Retired on lap 37, spun off trying to overtake Brundle

Martini had a quiet weekend and was closely matched with Michele Alboreto.  On lap 37, he spun off at Tosa and ended up in the gravel after a failed overtaking attempt on Martin Brundle whilst running tenth.

Today: Pierluigi won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1997 and 1999 and he was last seen competing in public during a one-off Grand Prix Masters series event at Kyalami in 2005. 

DAVID BRABHAM

Drove for: Simtek Ford, Qualified: 24th, Race: Retired on lap 27, spun following handling imbalance

David Brabham showed his brave committment to continue in such tragic circumstances after the fatal accident of his team-mate, Roland Ratzenberger.  He raced Eric Bernard and was ahead of him before the red flag came out.  From the second start, he carried on until suspension failure caused by handling imbalance saw the Australian spin out.

Today: David is still competing in GT racing and in V8 Supercars in Australia last year.  He is a keen charity campaigner and won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz.

BERTRAND GACHOT

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, Qualified: 25th, Race: Retired on lap 23, engine failure

Gachot managed to drag his incompetent Pacific Ilmor package onto the grid and did well to miss Pedro Lamy’s out of control Lotus on the first lap.  He toured around at the back before retiring with a blown engine on lap 23.

Today: Unknown

OLIVER BERETTA

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 23rd, Race: Retired on lap 17, engine failure

The unknown Beretta never matched Erik Comas at Larrousse and was the team’s only entry in the second race following Comas’s decision to withdraw in the wake of witnessing the medics attending to Senna.  An engine problem saw him retire on lap 17 with only Brabham and Gachot for company at the back of the field.

Today: Born in Monte Carlo, Beretta is still racing today, competing in a GRE-pro class Ferrari in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

GERHARD BERGER

Drove for: Ferrari, Qualified: 3rd, Race: Retired on lap 16, Suspension issue after running over debris 

ERIK COMAS

Drove for: Larrousse Ford, Qualified: 18th, Race: Withdrew on lap 5, distressed by Senna’s crash

Qualifying in 18th, a miscommunication from his pit sent Comas screaming out of the pitlane exit when the red flag came out and he only narrowly missed the medical helicopter on the circuit attending to Ayrton Senna.  Eurosport commentator John Watson called it the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen in his life.  Distressed by what he witnessed, Erik elected to withdraw from the restart.

Today: Comas spent several years competing in GT racing in Japan, as well as focusing on driver management, promoting further French talent.  He suffered from ill health in 2006 and effectively retired from all forms of racing.  Now he runs Comas Historic Racing, which is a service that provides customers to pay and drive historic rally driving cars.

JJ LEHTO

Drove for: Benetton Ford, Qualified: 5th, Race: Retired on lap one, stalled and hit by unsighted Lamy

JJ Lehto was making his first appearance of the season after recovering from neck injuries he sustained in a pre-season testing crash at Silverstone.  He flew to fifth on the grid in qualifying but stalled on the grid and was collected by Lamy leaving his car stranded in the middle of the track.  He walked away with a minor arm injury.

Today: Lehto commentated for Finnish TV for nine years at the start of the millennium.  In December 2011, he was sentenced to two years in jail, found guilty of reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol after a boating accident in Finland that killed his passenger.  Lehto has served intention to appeal against his conviction.

PEDRO LAMY

Drove for: Lotus Mugen Honda, Qualified: 22nd, Race: Retired on lap one, careered into back of Lehto

Young Pedro Lamy made a spectacular exit in this race, when unsighted by Andrea de Cesaris, the Portuguese driver smashed into JJ Lehto’s stranded Benetton on the grid.  Lamy walked away from his shattered car unhurt.

Today: A serious crash in private testing at Silverstone in 1994 left Lamy with serious leg injuries.  He left Formula One in 1996 and is a regular Le Mans competitor.  In 2012, he is competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

PAUL BELMONDO

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, DID NOT QUALIFY

Pacific’s woeful chassis/suspension combination meant Belmondo had little chance of ever qualifying for a race other than by default.  He ended up 0.3secs behind Ratzenberger after his crash, meaning he spent Sunday afternoon as a spectactor.

Today: Paul Belmondo became a motorsport team owner in 1998 and dovetailed that with a career in GT racing.  His whereabouts are unknown since the Le Mans Endurance series folded in 2007.

RUBENS BARRICHELLO

Drove for: Jordan Hart, DID NOT QUALIFY FOLLOWING ACCIDENT ON FRIDAY

Barrichello’s weekend ended almost as soon as it started.  Ten minutes into first qualifying, the Brazilian lost control of his Jordan Hart in the tricky Variante Bassa chicane near the pits.  His car hit the top of the tyre barrier and almost somersaulted the catch fencing.  Only quick action from paramedics stopped Rubens from swallowing his tongue.  He was very lucky to suffer only a cut lip, broken nose and light damage to his right arm.  However his participation in the San Marino Grand Prix was over.

Today: After failing to find a drive in Formula One for 2012, Rubens Barrichello has begun a new chapter in his career, competing for KV Racing Technology in the 2012 IndyCar series, finishing in the top ten twice in his first three events.

Super Seb storms to Bahrain glory

SEBASTIAN Vettel send out a reminder to everyone today; ‘try and stop me if you can!’  The world champion dominanted the Bahrain Grand Prix to claim his first win of the 2012 season after a trying start.  Having started from pole position, Vettel battled high fuel consumption and constant tyre management throughout to lead almost from the start.  Cooler track temperatures helped in Red Bull’s return to the front of the field and Vettel is now reunited with the top of the drivers championship leaderboard.

Sebastian Vettel kisses his trophy after beating the competition in Bahrain (jconline)

The Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean completed the rostrum.  It was the first time a Lotus driver has stood on the podium since Nelson Piquet finished third in the 1988 Australian Grand Prix.  It was a nightmare day for the British duo at McLaren as pitstop blunders, poor pace and reliability issues left the team leaving tonight with just four points to show for their hard efforts this weekend.

As in many situations last year, Vettel led into the first corner and pulled out a massive early advantage to clear him of any attack from the DRS zone.  He stormed into a seven second lead as from early on, the McLaren attack, led by Lewis Hamilton was already looking blunt.  Grosjean had made an unbelievable start to move upto fourth from seventh on the grid.  The Frenchman quickly found a way past Mark Webber and then easily used the DRS to drive clean past Hamilton on the seventh lap and into second place.  Button was complaining of poor traction and he was overwhelmed by a feisty Raikkonen, before pitting to ditch the option tyres after only eight laps.

Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa were in similar trouble as the race quickly turned into a battle managing the Pirelli tyres.  After the race Michael Schumacher, who came tenth after starting on the penultimate row of the grid launched a scatching attack at the Italian manufacturer.  He said to BBC Sport; “The main thing I feel unhappy about is everyone has to drive well below a driver’s, and in particular, the car’s limits to maintain the tyres.  I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car.”  Pirelli boss Paul Hembrey defended his company, telling Autosport magazine tonight; “I’m disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael’s experience.  Others were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work.  His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tyres, and now he seems to have changed his tune.”

Alonso was less than impressed with Rosberg's driving today, taking to Twitter to voice his anger (Sky Sports)

On lap nine, Hamilton had fallen into the clutches of Webber and both pitted for fresh rubber.  For the second successive race, a troublesome wheel rim affected the race of a McLaren driver and a frustrated Lewis was left shaking his head as he was held for 12 seconds.  He slipped behind Webber, Button and Fernando Alonso and when he returned to the track, he had a near-miss with Rosberg following a vicious defensive move by the Mercedes driver.  Hamilton had to use extra concrete to miss his rival and actually got past.  The race stewards with driver reprsentative Emanuele Pirro, investigated the incident after the race but took no further action.  Rosberg was later involved in a similar and more dangerous incident with Alonso, which left the Spaniard driver furious, using the team radio to channel his frustrations.  Again, Rosberg was cleared of any wrongdoing.  Tonight, Alonso sarcastically put this on his Twitter webpage; “I think you are going to have fun in future races!  You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track!  Enjoy!”

Vettel briefly handed the lead to two stopping Paul di Resta when he pitted, but quickly overtook the Scot on lap 13 to reassume control.  On the same lap, Raikkonen powered past Webber into turn 11 and started closing in on Grosjean, who was falling back into his team-mate’s grasp.  Raikkonen got past on lap 22 with consummate ease and through the second stops, was on a mission.  Vettel’s six second gap evaporated and by lap 35, the pair were together with the Lotus looking fundamentally faster.  Meanwhile, another horrific pitstop for Hamilton pushed him behind Massa and out of the points positions by half-distance.  Pastor Maldonado retired when the Williams suffered a tyre failure and spun exiting turn three.  He crawled back to the pits and retirement with shattered rear suspension.

Raikkonen had one brief opportunity to pass Vettel, but was blocked resolutely by the champion.  Both came in together on lap 40 and a quicker Red Bull pitstop enabled the German to build up a three second lead.  Aware of the tyre issues that saw his alarming fallback through the field in China last Sunday, Raikkonen and Lotus applied a more cautious approach to the chequered flag and bag the useful points on offer.

Whilst Hamilton spent a frustrating afternoon chasing the Ferrari’s, Button had a lonely race circulating between fifth and seventh places.  He was catching di Resta when he made a sudden pitstop with four laps to go.  The 2009 winner in Bahrain had detected a left-rear puncture.  He slid out of contention into 13th and a broken exhuast a lap later saw him retire in the garage.  Bruno Senna retired late on too with mechanical gremlins to compound a miserable day for Williams with a double retirement.

Vettel was able to cruise across the line to take the victory, although he was instructed by his race engineer Rocky to stop on the pitlane exit, presuminably with minimal fuel levels.  It meant we were denied the ‘that’s what’s I’m talking about,’ message on the team radio.  Raikkonen was a fantastic and committed second and considering he started 11th, this underlined severe underperformance in qualifying.  Grosjean’s third place is the first podium for a French driver in F1 since Jean Alesi at Spa in 1998.  The way he is driving at the moment, it won’t be the last in 2012.  Webber cemented his consistent approach to record fourth for the fourth successive start.  After a terrible first lap that saw him slip to ninth, Rosberg battled back aggressively to fifth.  Paul di Resta held off Alonso and Hamilton in the closing laps to match his best ever result in F1 with sixth.  Massa achieved his first points of the season, despite breaking down on the slowing down lap back to the pits and Button’s late demise enabled Schumacher into the points.  Sergio Perez missed out in 11th, whilst Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of a great result were ruined by a shambolic start, then contact with Heikki Kovalainen on the first lap that left the Australian with a damaged front wing.

The four flyaway races are complete and only ten points cover the top five in the drivers championship.  Six different teams have already stood on the podium and we have four different winners in the first four races for the first time since 2003.  Formula One 2012 is proving to be a very unpredictable and challenging season to even guess, let alone predict.  Luckily the racing did the talking today and Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt can breath a huge sigh of relief tonight that there was no significant trouble in the unstable area today.

There is a test at the Italian circuit Mugello next week, before the start of the European season at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on May 13.  It is advantage Red Bull and Vettel after Bahrain, but 2012 has plenty more twists and turns in store to come.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 57 1hr 35min 10secs
2 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 57 +3.3secs
3 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 57 +10.1secs
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 57 +38.7secs
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 57 +55.4secs
6 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +57.5secs
7 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 57 +57.8secs
8 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 57 +58.9secs
9 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 57 +1min 04.9secs
10 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 57 +1min 11.4secs
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 57 +1min 12.7secs
12 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +1min 16.5secs
13 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 57 +1min 30.3secs
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 57 +1min 33.7secs
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 56 1 LAP
16 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 56 1 LAP
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 56 1 LAP
18 (Ret) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 55 BROKEN EXHAUST
19 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
20 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
21 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 55 2 LAPS
22 (Ret) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 54 TECHNICAL
Retired PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 25 PUNCTURE
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 24 ENGINE

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 53
2 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 49
3 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 48
4 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 43
5 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 43
6 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 35
7 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 34
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 23
9 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
10 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 15
11 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
12 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 9
13 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
14 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 4
15 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
16 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 2
17 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 101
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 92
3 LOTUS RENAULT 57
4 FERRARI 45
5 MERCEDES GP 35
6 SAUBER FERRARI 31
7 WILLIAMS RENAULT 18
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 17
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


The Driver Files: Satoru Nakajima

IN A NEW regular series, I will be profiling the careers of those drivers who won races and championships and those who either didn’t get the luck, or just failed at the top level of motorsport.  All drivers featured will have competed between the years 1991-2011.

The next entry was a breakthrough driver and gave Japan its first sight of the sport, which has continued to grow ever since.  A pioneer for Japanese motorsport; Satoru Nakajima.

Limited success, but Satoru Nakajima's time in F1 was big for Japan (datsun)

NAME: Satoru Nakajima

TEAMS: Lotus (1987-1989), Tyrrell (1990-1991)

POINTS: 16

GP STARTS: 74

BEST FINISH: 4th (1987 British GP)

BORN from a farming family, Satoru Nakajima had a passion for motorsport from an early age.  His success in Formula One was largely modest but he set the path for a flux of Japanese drivers like Ukyo Katayama, Takuma Sato and his son Kazuki to have all appeared in the sport.

Nakajima dominanted the Japanese Formula Two series but was a very late entrant into F1 at the age of 34.  He debuted for the famous Lotus team in 1987, part of a new package which included Honda engines and Camel tobacco sponsorship.  Nakajima drove alongside Ayrton Senna in his first season and was determined to be known for his own qualities rather than just a pay driver.  Of course, he couldn’t compete with Senna but he showed flashes of natural speed.  Scoring a point in only his second event at the 1987 San Marino Grand Prix was a good start and Satoru was part of a Honda grand slam at Silverstone, finishing fourth behind Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Senna.  A further point in the inaugural Japanese event at Suzuka sent his home supporters mad and he finished a creditable 12th in the championship, having scored seven points in total.

As Senna moved onto McLaren and the bitter rivalry with Alain Prost began, Nakajima stayed with Lotus for 1988 and was partnered by the defending champion Piquet.  The season started prominsingly with a point in Brazil but Nakajima’s shock failure to qualify for Monaco was the beginning of the end for the Lotus Honda partnership, compounded when Piquet crashed in the race on the first lap.  Satoru was never a fan of street circuits and he repeated his Monaco abscence on raceday by failing to make the cut on the temporary and dreadful Detroit circuit for the United States round.  A spate of retirements and mistakes followed in the remainder of the season and it was a case of second season syndrome.  Nakajima scored just one point all season and that was in the first race.

As Honda focused on their dominance with McLaren, Lotus decline had begun.  The team had to take the heavyweight Judd engine for 1989 and the failure of Nakajima and Piquet to qualify for the 1989 Belgian Grand Prix was the first time that the British make had no car on the grid in 30 years.  He failed to qualify in Monaco again and Canada but it came good at the season finale in Australia.  Watched by a massive Japanese audience, Satoru benefited from the filthy conditions in Adelaide to finish fourth from 23rd on the grid.  In a race where staying on the circuit was a notable achievement, he set the fastest lap on lap 64 too.

Two lacklustre years at Tyrrell followed for Nakajima.  He paired up with Jean Alesi for 1990 and scored three sixth place finishes in the USA, Italy and once more on his Japanese homeland at Suzuka.  There was a brief link-up with Honda again in 1991 as Stefano Modena joined Satoru.  Fifth in Phoenix was his only highlight of 1991 although a mechanical problem robbed him of fourth in another wet race at Imola.  He announced his retirement from Formula One at Hockenheim and bowed out with the minimum of fuss.

His F1 career ended but involvement with motorsport didn’t end there.  Satoru worked closely with Honda and helped develop their engines for use in the CART and IRL series over in America.  He managed the brief career in F1 of Tora Takagi in 1998/1999 and he owns the Nakajima Racing entry in Japanese Formula Nippon.  He helped Tom Coronel and Ralph Firman to titles in this competition.  His son Kazuki raced for two seasons with Williams in 2008 and 2009 and today, Satoru still owns his own team in Formula Nippon with both of his two sons competing in the series.

Success in Formula One was limited for Satoru Nakajima but his impact put Japan firmly on the Grand Prix map for good.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: Moments of glory at the Nurburgring and Monza in a largely unspectacular career and a Spaniard on the grid before the Alonso days, Marc Gene.

Lotus protest Mercedes rear wing: Rejected by stewards

THE Lotus Formula One team has had a protest about Mercedes GP’s innovative rear wing thrown out by stewards at the Chinese Grand Prix.  Murmurings from rival teams including world champions Red Bull Racing relate to a system which combines the front wing with the rear wing DRS overtaking device.

Mercedes complex rear wing has been given approval to race in Shanghai (Planet F1)

Before the protest was made by Lotus today, the boss of Mercedes GP spoke out and protested the legality of the system.  Ross Brawn told BBC Sport; “It’s a very simple, cheap system, but not so easy to implement if you haven’t integrated it into your car.  This is at the heart of some of the frustration of some of our opponents.  If someone could put it on their car easily, I promise you we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But they can’t do it very easily which is why they’re getting so vexed about it.”

Some teams claim the system gives Mercedes GP half a second advantage and it might play a role in the team’s improved qualifying performances.  However the DRS system is only allowed to be used in one zone during a race and with just one point from two events so far, there don’t seem to be a great deal of benefits to the system.  It certainly doesn’t carry the similar benefits the double diffuser did in 2009, which Brawn innovated and gave his team a massive early and legal advantage over the chasing pack.

With this latest protest having been rejected, Lotus need to focus on their own efforts of moving their cars up the grid rather than complain bitterly about a system that barring a sudden u-turn from technical delegates at the FIA, is legal.

For those who want to understand more about the complex Mercedes GP rear wing, watch this video from Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz during The F1 Show last week;

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

Brilliant Button takes the honours in Oz

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Button made a winning start to 2012 (BBC Sport)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX RESULT

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

Hamilton and McLaren lead the way in Melbourne Qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.24.922

2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.074

3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.25.302

4. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.25.336

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.651

6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.25.668

7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.25.686

8. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.25.908

9. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.26.451

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

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

12. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari)

14. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault)

15. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes)

16. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)

17. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault)

18. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault)

19. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault)

20. Timo Glock (Marussia Cosworth)

21. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth)

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

DNQ: Pedro de la Rosa (HRT Cosworth)

DNQ: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT Cosworth)

2012 Team Preview: Caterham

MOVING INTO THE MIDFIELD

WHILST fellow former deubtants, HRT and Marussia have had a very difficult pre-season, Caterham looked well-equipped to break into the midfield in their third season in the sport.  Team principal and Malaysian owner of Queens Park Rangers, Tony Fernandes has complete belief in making this operation work and despite more reliability glitches than most in winter testing, there were signs of good pace, especially on a single lap.

The team, put together under the Lotus name made its debut in Bahrain 2010.  Currently, Heikki Kovalainen has made it into Q2 on six separate occasions, which considering the might they were up against is a notable achievement.  The best finish for the team is 12th at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, again achieved by Kovalainen.  Having been the best of the new teams in the last two seasons, Lotus finished tenth in the constructors championship so consequently qualify for bigger prize money for their achievements so far.  This season, the team has been renamed Caterham, after a very messy legal battle over naming rights which has dragged on for 18 months.

Heikki Kovalainen will be hoping for more reward for his hard efforts in 2012 (GPNow)

Currently based in Norfolk, the team has plans to move into the ex-Arrows and Super Aguri factory in Leafield during the season and has also made a change in its driver line-up.  Despite competing in the first pre-season test, Jarno Trulli was dropped and replaced by Russian Vitaly Petrov.  Petrov has two seasons at Renault, where he has achieved flashes of speed, but general inconsistency has cost him in the past.  However, he sounds refreshed and hopes that this team can bring the best out of him.  Team leader Kovalainen remains for a third year, hoping to end a barren pointless run that stretches back to Singapore 2009.  Heikki has produced miracles in the last two seasons, so hopefully he will get more reward in the form of points this season.  Expect heavily financially backed Petrov though to give Kovalainen more problems in setting the standard than Trulli ever did.

With former Jordan & Force India technical director Mark Smith and Mike Gascoyne in their design background, the team is well placed to give the established like Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso some major headaches in 2012.  The structure is in place, so no more excuses can be thought of.  It is time for Caterham to step into the midfield and remain a permanent fixture.