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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

Wonderful Webber makes it super six in Monaco

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO RACE REPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO FINAL CLASSIFICATION

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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


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.

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

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One.  So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track.  His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session.  Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.

Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair.  Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon.  Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session.  Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest.  Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.

Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session.  Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.

However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today.  In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team.  Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK.  With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds.  Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.

With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus.  Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.

Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES  11 1.33.572 
2 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  21  1.33.877 
3 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.150 
4 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  23  1.34.249 
5 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  14  1.34.277 
6 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  26  1.34.344 
7 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  17  1.34.483 
8 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  22  1.34.552 
9 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  18  1.34.609 
10 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  20  1.34.817 
11 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  22  1.35.024 
12 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  25  1.35.268 
13 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  21  1.35.436 
14 VALTERI BOTTAS  WILLIAMS RENAULT  24  1.35.497 
15 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  19  1.35.719 
16 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  24  1.35.929 
17 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.195 
18 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 11  1.36.330 
19 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  18  1.36.484 
20 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  20  1.36.591 
21 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.37.467 
22 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  18  1.38.006 
23 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  19  1.38.877 
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  23  1.39.996 

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 NICO ROSBERG  MERCEDES GP  35  1.32.816 
2 MARK WEBBER  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  26  1.33.262 
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL  RED BULL RACING RENAULT  28  1.33.525 
4 LEWIS HAMILTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  26  1.33.747 
5 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER  MERCEDES GP  32  1.33.862 
6 JENSON BUTTON  MCLAREN MERCEDES  28  1.34.246 
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.411 
8 FERNANDO ALONSO  FERRARI  31  1.34.449 
9 ROMAIN GROSJEAN  LOTUS RENAULT  32  1.34.615 
10 SERGIO PEREZ  SAUBER FERRARI  34  1.34.893 
11 DANIEL RICCIARDO  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  29  1.34.895 
12 FELIPE MASSA  FERRARI  30  1.34.941 
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN  LOTUS RENAULT  33  1.35.183 
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE  TORO ROSSO FERRARI  26  1.35.229 
15 PASTOR MALDONADO  WILLIAMS RENAULT  38  1.35.459 
16 VITALY PETROV  CATERHAM RENAULT  33  1.35.913 
17 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN  CATERHAM RENAULT  35  1.35.968 
18 BRUNO SENNA  WILLIAMS RENAULT  30  1.36.169 
19 TIMO GLOCK  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.36.587 
20 CHARLES PIC  MARUSSIA COSWORTH  33  1.37.803 
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA  HRT COSWORTH  28  1.37.812 
22 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN  HRT COSWORTH  27  1.39.649 
23 PAUL DI RESTA  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 
24 NICO HULKENBERG  FORCE INDIA MERCEDES  NO TIME 

Nico joins the elite in Chinese Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nico Rosberg finally becomes a Grand Prix winner (Telegraph)

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

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

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

2012 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


Maiden pole for Rosberg in Shanghai surprise

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

The top three in qualifying before Hamilton's gearbox change

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

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

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

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

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

LEWIS HAMILTON RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

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

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;

Awesome Alonso causes real shock in Malaysia thriller

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Sergio Perez celebrates his superb result in Malaysia (Yahoo)

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

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

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

Button's misjudgement cost him dear (Autosport)

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

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

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

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

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

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FINAL RACE RESULT

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

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

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

 

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

Two in a row for Lewis in sweltering Sepang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING SESSION

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR SAFETY CAR INFRINGEMENT IN AUSTRALIA

Lewis sets the standard in Sepang Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

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

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

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

Driver performance at the Australian Grand Prix

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

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

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

MARK WEBBER

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

JENSON BUTTON

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

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

LEWIS HAMILTON

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

FERNANDO ALONSO

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

FELIPE MASSA

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

NICO ROSBERG

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

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

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN

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

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

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

PAUL DI RESTA

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

NICO HULKENBERG

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

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

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

SERGIO PEREZ

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

DANIEL RICCIARDO

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

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

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

BRUNO SENNA

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

PASTOR MALDONADO

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

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

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

VITALY PETROV

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

TIMO GLOCK

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

CHARLES PIC  

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

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

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

Button and Schumacher lead the way on frustrating opening day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES                                                                                                                                                                  

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

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

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

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.28.360 – 21 laps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.30.743 – 11 laps

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

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

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

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

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

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES 

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

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

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

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.30.341 – 13 laps

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

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

7. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.31.505 – 14 laps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO TIME FROM PEDRO DE LA ROSA (HRT Cosworth)

2012 Team Preview: Mercedes GP

THE DARK HORSES IN THE PACK

THIS season, German car manufacturer Mercedes GP begin their third season in Formula One, since they bought the Brawn GP team at the end of 2009.  Currently, no pole positions, no wins and only three podiums to show for their efforts, with the last rostrum coming from Nico Rosberg at the 2010 British Grand Prix.  It is time for the team to start threatening the frontrunners, or there could be severe drawbacks from the board in Stuttgart.  In this generation of economic uncertainty, performance in Formula One is crucial or a manufacturer will walkaway.  Just ask Honda, BMW and Toyota.

This year, Ross Brawn’s team look to be in a far better position than they ever have been.  They delayed the launch of the 2012 car, which seemed a surprising move.  However when the car turned up in Barcelona, they collected some excellent data with a model that looks consistent and reliable at worst.  It looks like the issues that made heavy rear tyre wear a chronic issue last season have been dealt with.  It is some team that Brawn now has, full of experience in technical and winning teams from the past.  Nick Fry and Andrew Shovlin remain members of the team when Brawn GP was in existance, whilst Mark Slade was part of the Ferrari team behind Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 championship success.  Former Williams and Red Bull technical director Geoff Willis returns to the team he worked for in a former guise as BAR.  Willis comes from two wasted years at Hispania.  Bob Bell and Aldo Costa, formerly of Renault and Ferrari respectively complete a technical dream team.

Schumacher pushing hard to get back to the front in testing (Daily Mirror)

The drivers remain unchanged, with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher remaining together for the third sucessive season.  Rosberg has performed exceptionally well, considering the equipment he has had at his disposal in the past two seasons.  Often best of the rest in 2011, Nico is about to enter his seventh season in F1, hoping to break his elusive duck and win a Grand Prix.  Since his sensational comeback, Schumacher has largely failed to deliver, especially in qualifying.  However, he began to become a stronger match for Rosberg in the closing stages of last season, still with the racecraft, starts and strategy that made him such a legend.  Form is temporary but class is permanent and Canada last year was an example that Schumacher still has that in abundance.  After all, you don’t win seven world championships by accident.

Mercedes GP look like the dark horses in 2012.  Few know their true pace heading to Melbourne, but they must be in a position to challenge for podiums on a regular basis and if possible, return to the winners circle after a lengthy drought.  The glory days of Brawn in 2009 seem like a century ago.