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Schumacher’s moment of glory in qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED TEN PLACES FOLLOWING DANGEROUS DRIVING IN FREE PRACTICE

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History of the Monaco Grand Prix

FORMULA ONE’s jewel in the crown is the Monaco Grand Prix and it has staged an event in every single year of the Formula One World Championship.  I won’t be covering the whole history, just within the last 20 years but I have to start with one exception.

The closing laps of the 1982 event have gone down in living memory.  Longtime race leader Alain Prost crashed his Renault on a slippery circuit with only a few laps remaining.  This handed the lead to Riccardo Patrese, who promptly spun his Brabham at Loews and allowed Didier Pironi into the lead.  The Frenchman only led for a few hundred metres until his Ferrari spluttered to a halt, out of petrol.  Andrea de Cesaris briefly inherited the no.1 position before he did what he did best, crashed!  Derek Daly became a challenger before coasting to a halt after terminal damage was caused to his Williams.  James Hunt famously said in the BBC commentary box; “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we are waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one.”  Finally, Patrese regained his composure to win his first ever Grand Prix.

Hunt, who never won Monaco gave us another classic moment in 1989 when Murray Walker told the viewers about moody Frenchman Rene Arnoux and the lack of pace he had in the closing days of his career with Ligier.  Hunt’s live  response on the BBC was; “All I can say to that is b#####it!”

In 1992, Nigel Mansell was aiming to become the first driver to win the first six races of the season since Alberto Ascari in the 1950s.  It looked on course in Monaco until a late pitstop to replace a slow puncture.  The Brit, another never to win in the Principality came out behind the master of Monaco, Ayrton Senna.  What followed was one of the most doggest pursuits in the archives as Mansell tried everything to get past Senna’s slower McLaren Honda.  The Brazilian’s remarkable defensive driving earnt him a fifth Monaco victory and in 1993, he made it six.  Little did we know that he wouldn’t be back in 1994 to make it seven.

The 1994 event was always going to live in the shadow, especially as it was just two weeks after the painful and tragic weekend at Imola, which accounted for Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.  In Thursday free practice, Karl Wendlinger lost control of his Sauber Mercedes and crashed on the approach to the chicane.  Wendlinger suffered serious head injuries and fell into a deep coma.  Although he made a full recovery, his F1 career was effectively over.  A first lap collision between Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen helped Michael Schumacher cruise to his first Monaco GP success, 40 seconds clear of Martin Brundle in a McLaren Peugeot.

Hill was another Brit to be out of luck in Monte Carlo and was denied a clear victory in a crazy 1996 race which saw just four of the 21 starters make the finish.  Schumacher had moved to Ferrari and started on pole position, before making an uncharacteristic mistake and crashing out at the Portier on the first lap.  It was the same place where Senna had famously gone off in 1988 and became so distressed, he went home for hours after the race.  Hill built up a 30 second lead before a rare Williams Renault V10 engine failure exiting the tunnel on lap 40 forced him into a gut-wrenching retirement.  Jean Alesi was the next leader but a wheel bearing problem forced him onto the growing list of retirements.  After all that, a masterful decision on tyre choice saw Olivier Panis come through from 14th on the grid to record his first and only victory and the last for the Ligier Formula One team.  For the record, only David Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen also made the finish.

Schumacher showed his skill around Monaco in 1997 on another wet day.  He charged into the lead from second on the grid and built up a colossal 22 second lead within five laps, winning in the end by nearly a minute.  The Williams team made a bizarre decision to start Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve on slick tyres and both would crash out.  Rubens Barrichello held his nerve to finish an extraordinary second for the brand new Stewart team in just their fifth race, bringing Sir Jackie Stewart, a three-time Monaco winner himself to tears.

One Brit who had success in Monaco was David Coulthard.  The Scot won this famous race twice.  In 2000, he inherited victory after Schumacher’s Ferrari suffered a suspension failure, having led by 50 seconds at one point.  In 2002 DC battled an engine problem and stiff challenges from the Williams and Ferrari teams to record a popular victory for McLaren.  It was the only time the Ferrari F2002 was beaten in the 2002 dominant campaign.

Juan Pablo Montoya recorded a super win for Williams in 2003, their first success in Monaco in 20 years and a year later, it was Jarno Trulli’s turn to taste victory.  Trulli’s only Grand Prix victory came on a weekend where the Renault team had the fastest car throughout.  Schumacher lost his chance of winning the first six races in a season, following a controversial clash with a lapped Montoya in the tunnel behind the Safety Car.

No man has dominated Monaco since Schumacher’s first retirement, with Fernando Alonso coming the closest, recording back-to-back successes in 2006 & 2007 for Renault and McLaren respectively.  The 2006 event’s main headline was Schumacher’s parking attempt at Rascasse in qualifying which was a deliberate attempt to stop Alonso, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella beating his fastest time.  The stewards sent him to the back of the grid and he was vilified in the entire paddock.  Some say it was his antics in Monaco that played a part in him announcing his retirement later in the season.

The honours in the last four seasons have been split between Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.  To win Monaco, you need speed, skill, a bit of luck and total commitment as one mistake and it is an expensive accident against the magnetic attraction of the barriers.  Considering the unpredictable start to 2012 so far, a sixth different winner is highly possible, especially on this circuit where form can fluctuate.

MY TOP TEN MONACO MEMORIES

1. The epic battle between Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell for the victory in 1992.

2. Olivier Panis achieving victory against the odds in the crazy 1996 event.

3. Michael Schumacher’s masterclass in the wet in 1997.

4. Red Bull’s amazing celebrations after Mark Webber led Sebastian Vettel home to a 1-2 in 2010.

5. That unforgettable finish in 1982; the race that no-one seemed to want to win!

6. Alexander Wurz taking on Michael Schumacher in a fantastic battle in 1998, the highlight of Wurz’s F1 career.

7. Jenson Button parking in the wrong place and having to rundown the start-finish straight to the crowd’s acclaim, following his dominant performance for Brawn GP in 2009.

8. James Hunt calling Rene Arnoux “b######t” in 1989 live on the BBC.  Well you might as well be honest about someone at the end of the day!

9. David Coulthard achieving Red Bull’s first podium in 2006, then going onto the podium dressed in a Superman cape!

10. The first signs Ayrton Senna would become a superstar, in the shortened 1984 race for the underfunded Toleman team.

Talking Point: Is Monaco safe to race on?

THIS weekend sees the hosting of the ultimate jewel in the crown of Formula One, the Monaco Grand Prix.  The late team boss Enzo Ferrari once said that ‘winning Monaco is worth half a championship.’  It isn’t quite like that but after the unpredictable start to 2012, with five different winners in the first five races, Monaco could turn out to be a pivotal event when it comes to momentum for the rest of the championship.

Many of the greats have won around here.  The late Ayrton Senna won six times between 1987-1993 and was almost unbeatable at his peak.  2001 might have been his last success in the principality but Michael Schumacher didn’t win Monaco by accident on five separate occasions.  Graham Hill is another five time winner and the ‘Professor,’ Alain Prost triumphed four times.  Out of the current crop, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won around the principality.

However with the radical advances in modern day technology, especially in the car industry – have the streets of Monaco outgrown Formula One and is it time to stop racing there for good?

Last season’s race weekend had some lucky and frightening shunts that brought the safety around Monaco argument up into the mould again.  Nico Rosberg was incredibly fortunate to escape a nasty connection with the barriers on Saturday morning last year when he crashed his Mercedes on the approach to the Nouvelle chicane.  In qualifying, Sergio Perez wasn’t so lucky and missed the race following an even worse shunt at the same corner.  Perez was concussed, bruised and admitted later on that it took him at least three races to get over the accident psychologically.  In the race, a multiple accident triggered by Adrian Sutil clattering the wall at Tabac saw Vitaly Petrov hospitalised with bruising on his ankles and caused the race to be suspended.  It was the busiest weekend for the F1 medical team since the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

The officials have listened and made some safety changes for the 2012 event.  The barriers where Perez crashed last season have been moved back in the hope of restricting a sudden impact should a car lose control at the fastest part of the track.  Like in 2011, the use of DRS has been banned from use in the tunnel and more of the corners will have the impact-absorbing barriers that no doubt saved Perez from even more serious injury.  The tunnel area has come in for criticism as a hotspot for potential serious shunts.  Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and fell into a deep coma from his injuries.  Jenson Button was concussed and missed the 2003 event following a similar shunt in practice and Alexander Wurz escaped without injury after a huge smash in the 1998 race.  However the only fatality at the Monaco Grand Prix has been Ferrari’s Lorenzo Bandini, way back in 1967.

Michael Schumacher told BBC Sport last week that the risk of racing in Monaco is justifable as it is just once a year; “For so many years we have successfully campaigned for more track safety and then we race in Monaco but in my view this is justifiable once a year – especially as the circuit is so much fun to drive.  Every time you go there, you just look forward to finally getting out and driving the track.”

I asked the opinion of some F1 fans through the Planet F1 forum about this subject;

Laura23: “Schumacher says it’s worth the risk because it’s once a year.  I’m sure all the other drivers, Petrov excluded perhaps, share the same views.  If they don’t go to Monaco because of the risk then I’m afraid F1 won’t be F1 anymore, it’ll be a nanny stated sport.  The real reason they should stop going to Monaco, if they ever do, is because it doesn’t exactly provide good racing unless it rains.”

JohnnyGuitar: “Monaco is probably safer now than it’s ever been.  The top speeds the cars hit around the circuit has been pretty similar for two or three decades probably but trackside barriers have improved and the safety of the cars themselves has increased immeasurably.  If it was safe to race there throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s – I see no reason why there should be any talk of stopping the event on the grounds of safety now.”

Lt. Drebin: “Not safe but safer than before.  Still, the possibility of a disastrous crash is enormously high in comparison with any other race track.”

j man: “Personally I love Monaco, precisely because it is a laughably unsuitable setting for an F1 race.  It presents a totally unique challenge for the drivers, provides a totally unique setting for the fans and the race’s rich history means that it should never be removed from the calendar.”

slide: “No , it seems dangerous to race there but thats the draw.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is the most prestigious event on the calendar and still king of the street circuits, despite the glamour of night racing in Singapore.  If you’d say Monaco is dangerous, what about faster tracks with average speed like Spa, Suzuka and Monza?  Fingers crossed that the weekend goes through peacefully without any serious accidents but the risk has always been there.  It isn’t a deathtrap and as far as I’m concerned, if the race in Monte Carlo disappeared ever – there wouldn’t be much point of holding a Formula One World Championship.

The Driver Files: JJ Lehto

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

The next driver on the list is JJ Lehto, who had some natural speed but lacked luck, consistency and has fallen on hard times especially since his F1 career ended.

JJ Lehto’s best season came with Sauber in 1993 (ESPN)

NAME: JJ Lehto

TEAMS: Onyx (1989-1990), Dallara (1991-1992), Sauber (1993-1994), Benetton (1994)

POINTS: 10

GP STARTS: 62

BEST FINISH: 3rd (1991 San Marino GP)

THE Finns have produced three Formula One world champions in Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen.  JJ Lehto was another Scandinavian who seemed to have been born with natural speed but luck and injury seemed to be against him.

Lehto won junior formula titles in Britain and Scandinavia but struggled in the international Formula 3000 series in 1989 racing for Pacific.  Fourth place at the event in Pau was the only highlight.  However Lehto was in Formula One by the end of the season, competing for the Onyx team.  He took over from Bertrand Gachot but failed to pre-qualify for his first event in Portugal and didn’t make much of an impression in the other events.  He stayed on for 1990 but by now, the team were in dire financial difficulties.  He recorded only one finish, 12th at the San Marino Grand Prix as both he and Gregor Foitek always struggled to get out of pre-qualifying.  The team folded shortly after the Hungarian race and it left JJ out of a drive and at this time, a danger he might be quickly forgotten about.

A test for Ferrari though before his Onyx days came back to him when he signed up to drive for the Scuderia Italia or Dallara team as they better known.  The close links between the two at the time helping with Lehto being signed up alongside Emanuele Pirro.  Once again, finishes were at a premium thanks to poor reliability but out of the five times he got to the chequered flag, there was a memorable result at Imola.  In mixed conditions, he kept his cool to record a shock podium finish where others fell off the road.

He stayed on with Dallara for 1992, with Pirro replaced by Pierluigi Martini.  Sadly, there were no points but more a more reliable car and some creditable qualifying performances.  Seventh at Spa was his best result.  Dallara went bust and Lehto was a free agent again.  The new Sauber team snapped him up for 1993 and this was his most consistent and best season.  He qualified sixth on the team’s debut in Kyalami and finished fifth in wet conditions.  Another fourth place followed at Imola although he didn’t get along well with Karl Wendlinger, his team-mate.  Crashing into him on the first lap in Monte Carlo didn’t help relations.  As the season drifted towards its end, he got involved in more incidents with other drivers and Sauber decided not to renew his contract.

Flavio Briatore noticed something and put him into the Benetton team alongside Michael Schumacher for 1994.  Luck deserted him when he sustained a serious neck injury thanks to a testing crash at Silverstone.  He was forced to sit out for the first two races and returned at Imola.  Still struggling with his neck injury, JJ’s qualifying effort of fifth was excellent.  However he was seriously affected by the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger and he had his own lucky escape on raceday when he stalled his car and was ploughed into by Pedro Lamy in the Lotus.

He lost a certain third place in Barcelona thanks to a late engine failure and raced well to a point in Canada but injury and a loss of confidence saw him rested by Briatore in favour of test driver Jos Verstappen.  He returned to Benetton for two races when Schumacher was banned by the FIA for the black flag infringement but struggled still and a final shot at Sauber in the final two races didn’t work out.  Looking tired and confused after a traumatic campaign, Lehto was finished in F1.

He moved into sportscars afterwards and actually won the Le Mans 24 Hours twice, for McLaren in 1995 and Audi in 2005.  He was an expert commentator on Formula One for Finnish Television and there was an unsuccessful season in CART in 1998 and he has fallen on tough times in recent years.

In June 2010, Lehto was involved in a boating accident in Finland, killing a passenger and leaving the Finn with injuries.  He faced charges of reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.  Last December, JJ Lehto was sentenced to two years in jail, found guilty on two charges of homicide and drunk driving of a boat.  He denied all the charges and has served intention to appeal.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: One of the most experienced drivers on the Grand Prix grid, Riccardo Patrese.

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.

Pastor powers to maiden success in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen lift the new winner, Pastor Maldonado aloft

A NEW star has been well and truly born in the world of Grand Prix racing tonight after Pastor Maldonado powered to a wonderful victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.  It is the first time a Venezuelan driver has won a Grand Prix and sees the iconic Williams team return to the winners circle for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.  Second place for the home favourite Fernando Alonso sees him join world champion Sebastian Vettel level on 61 points at the top of the drivers championship.

Great management of the delicate Pirelli tyres and some tactical strategy were the keys to Maldonado’s maiden success in just his 24th Grand Prix.  He also had to stay calm under pressure from a charged up Alonso and constant backmarker incidents on his way to the top step of the podium.  In the process, 2012 has become a record season.  We now have had five different winners from five races, in five separate teams and the last time this happened was back in 1983.  Also the top seven in the points standings are now covered by a meagre 20 points.

Maldonado inherited pole position last night when Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid following McLaren’s costly error in not being able to give the FIA a litre of fuel for a sample after qualifying.  However his lead disappeared when Alonso made the better start.  The pair went wheel-to-wheel on the rundown to turn one but just like in 2011, Alonso led into the first bend of his home Grand Prix.  A clash between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez punctured a rear tyre on the Sauber and trashed the Mexican’s afternoon.  Kimi Raikkonen moved into a third position he would not relinquish, whilst Grosjean’s delay enabled Nico Rosberg to sweep into fourth place.

Alonso kept a solid lead to make sure he wouldn’t be affected by DRS, although he never was able to leave Maldonado standing.  Further back, there was trouble for Red Bull with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel stuck in heavy traffic and both pitted inside seven laps to get some clear air.  Later, the nosecones on the two cars were changed after some issues with tyre rubber and debris ending up in the front assembly of each chassis.  A late fightback from Vettel, despite a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags saw him back to sixth.  Webber missed out on points for the first time in 2012, finishing half a second outside the scorers in 11th place.

Senna and Schumacher came together and not for the first time in Formula One either (Planet F1)

Sharp pitwork from Ferrari kept Alonso ahead in the first round of pitstops and with Raikkonen and Lotus not able to show their prestigious long run pace from Friday’s simulations, the fight for the win turned into a two way scrap.  Out of contention though would be Maldonado’s team-mate, Bruno Senna.  Senna was struggling behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham in the early laps and was gambling on a two stop strategy, meaning he was mixing it with some of the frontrunners but on older rubber.  On lap 12, Grosjean made a late dive up the inside into turn one and contact was made, removing a corner of the Lotus driver’s front endplate.  One lap later, Michael Schumacher closed up quickly through the DRS zone but made a complete mess of his braking point.  He misjudged Senna’s wherabouts and crashed into the rear of the Williams.  Debris and tyre smoke flew into the sky as the two cars headed for the turn one gravel.  Schumacher retired on the spot, his third DNF from five races and Senna had to park his car before getting back to the pits due to heavy rear wing damage.  On the radio, Schumacher branded his rival an ‘idiot.’  The race stewards disagreed and handed a five place grid penalty to the German for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.

After his qualifying exclusion, Hamilton had to start from the back and did well to miss a wayward Perez in turn three on the first lap.  He battled well with tyre management and had an entertaining dice with his old rival Felipe Massa.  Hamilton eventually finished eighth whilst Jenson Button’s struggles continued and he could do no better than ninth.  Tyre issues, understeer and a new brake supplier might well have accounted for his lack of speed throughout the last two days.

In the second round of pitstops, Williams pitted Maldonado earlier and got him out infront of Alonso, inheriting control of the race in the process.  There was no change after the third round of pitstops either but Alonso cutdown the seven second lead to basically nothing and got close to overhauling Pastor twice without succeeding.  A severe vibration with the rear of the Ferrari denied us a grandstand finish for the win, although Raikkonen suddenly closed up in the closing laps, having pitted for his third and final stop later than his rivals.  The way was clear for Maldonado to take an emotional win, with all of Sir Frank Williams family here in attendance this weekend; the team principal having celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday.  Sir Frank Williams told the BBC afterwards; “All the boys are delighted, and I’m quietly delighted, boy did we need that win as you can well imagine.  Most of the season has been thanks to a fresh group of people but it’s been very well balanced.  The aero guys have done their stuff, more than their stuff. The Renault engine is very competitive.”

Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium placings.  Raikkonen couldn’t hide his disappointed in the press conference, saying; “I’m a bit disappointed.  I expect to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning.  At end of the race, we were good but it was too late.  We were too slow at the start which is why we couldn’t fight for the win.  We showed we still have the speed. Maybe we took the wrong choice in the first stop.”

Grosjean came through to finish an excellent fourth and Kamui Kobayashi matched his best ever result with fifth for Sauber.  Nico Rosberg fell away to seventh place at the chequered flag as his tyres hit ‘the cliff,’ in the last two laps.  Nico Hulkenberg took the final point after a solid drive in the Force India.  Scotland’s Paul di Resta missed out this time in 14th and a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags added insult to another disappointing performance from Massa, well back in 15th.

After the race, celebrations were muted by a serious fire in the Williams garage.  Luckily, there are no serious injuries although four mechanics had to be treated with smoke inhalation afterwards.  (see separate story).

A sour and fiery note to end on but take nothing away from Pastor Maldonado, who fully deserves his time in the limelight.  It is always nice to see a new winner and who knows, we might get another one when the sport visits the jewel in the crown that is Monte Carlo in two weeks time.  Anything is possible in 2012 if this season’s first five races are anything to go by.

2012 FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER RACE RESULT

 

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 66 1hr 39min 09secs
2 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 66 +3.1secs
3 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +3.8secs
4 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +14.7secs
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 66 +1min 04.6secs
6 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 66 +1min 07.5secs
7 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 66 +1min 17.9secs
8 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 18.1secs
9 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 25.2secs
10 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
11 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 65 1 LAP
12 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
13 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
14 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
15 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 65 1 LAP
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
17 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 64 2 LAPS
19 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 63 3 LAPS
Retired SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 37 TRANSMISSION
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 35 DRIVESHAFT
Retired NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 22 TECHINCAL
Retired BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 DAMAGE FOLLOWING COLLISION WITH SCHUMACHER
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 12 COLLISION WITH SENNA

 

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 61
2 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 61
3 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 53
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 49
5 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 48
6 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 45
7 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 41
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 35
9 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 29
10 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
11 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 19
12 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 15
13 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
15 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 3
16 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
17 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 109
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 98
3 LOTUS RENAULT 84
4 FERRARI 63
5 MERCEDES GP 43
6 WILLIAMS RENAULT 43
7 SAUBER FERRARI 41
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 18
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


Mugello Test Day One: Rain disrupts opening day

It was a day where most teams had to sit in the pits due to the weather (F1network.net)

FORMULA ONE’s first in-season test since 2008 turned into a damp squib, as rain ruined the first day in Italy.  There was something for the patrotric tifosi to cheer however as some consistent times from Fernando Alonso this morning saw the Spaniard end up fastest today.  Alonso was a full 1.2secs quicker than the Red Bull of Mark Webber, although that isn’t a fair representation of times due to the weather.  In fact the afternoon session was a washout and the track had to be closed for a while as the medical helicopter couldn’t take off.  The Mugello circuit, where this test is based turned into the lake, akin to the weather most of the UK has seen in April.

Alonso’s quickest time today was a 1.22.444 on slick tyres as drivers did at least have the morning to set competitive times and gain useful data for the European leg of the 2012 championship, starting in Barcelona on May 11-13.  Ferrari will be hoping that the new aerodynamic package it has brought to this test can revive the flaling fortunes of the F2012.  Despite Alonso’s shock win in Malaysia, the team has struggled to set the standard and were often in the midfield in the flyaway events.

Webber was second fastest and will hand over the duties at Red Bull to Bahrain race winner and world champion Sebastian Vettel tomorrow.  The Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne finished third fastest just infront of Lotus Renault tester Jerome D’Ambrosio and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.  It was a tough day for the drivers and the afternoon deluge prevented Michael Schumacher from doing any serious running.  Nevertheless, he told Planet F1 of his joy of being back at a circuit where he spent thousands of kilometres pounding around in his Ferrari days.  “This afternoon, I was literally able just go out to check if it made sense to run – which it did not – and at least I could show the spectators who were waiting in the rain a running car for some short moments.  Still, it was nice being back in Mugello after so many years, and I must say it was also nice being welcomed back by the tifosi so warmly.”

11 of the 12 teams are testing here, including Marussia.  HRT will be absent this week as they concentrate on moving factory location to Madrid.  Also away are McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.  Button was doing a demo run on the streets of Budapest today with young British duo Olivier Turvey and winner of the DTM opener at the weekend, Gary Paffett in action this week.

Better weather is forecast in the region for the next two days which will be hoped for by all the teams.  On the 18th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola, May 1 saw the return to testing and not enough of the anticipated track action forecasted.

DAY 1 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN

1. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.22.444

2. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.648

3. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.891

4. Jerome D’Ambrosio (Lotus Renault) 1.24.048

5. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.100

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.736

7. Olivier Turvey (McLaren Mercedes) 1.25.303

8. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) 1.25.475

9. Rodolfo Gonzalez (Caterham Renault) 1.27.197

10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.359

 

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

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

1994 Gran Premio di San Marino Grand Prix – The drivers

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

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

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

NICOLA LARINI

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

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

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

MIKA HAKKINEN

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

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

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

KARL WENDLINGER

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

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

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

UKYO KATAYAMA

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

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

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

DAMON HILL

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

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

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

HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN

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

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

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

MARTIN BRUNDLE

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

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

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

MARK BLUNDELL

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

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

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

JOHNNY HERBERT

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

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

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

OLIVIER PANIS

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

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

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

ERIC BERNARD

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

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

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

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI

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

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

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

ANDREA DE CESARIS

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

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

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

MICHELE ALBORETO

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

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

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

GIANNI MORBIDELLI

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

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

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

PIERLUIGI MARTINI

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

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

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

DAVID BRABHAM

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

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

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

BERTRAND GACHOT

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

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

Today: Unknown

OLIVER BERETTA

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

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

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

GERHARD BERGER

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

ERIK COMAS

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

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

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

JJ LEHTO

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

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

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

PEDRO LAMY

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

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

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

PAUL BELMONDO

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, DID NOT QUALIFY

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

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

RUBENS BARRICHELLO

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

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

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

Talking Point: Driving Etiquette in Formula One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;

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

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

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

Vettel back on pole in the desert

Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position and the German's finger salute returns too! (Scotcars)

THE familiar German middle finger was shown in the Sakhir paddock yesterday as Sebastian Vettel returned to his customary spot of starting on pole position.  It is the world champion’s first pole since the season finale in Brazil last November.  Team-mate Mark Webber will start today’s race from third, confirming that Red Bull Racing’s qualifying pace is back.  It was a tense scrap for pole position in what has to be said is a tense backdrop to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Whilst the TV stations worldwide and UK newspapers lead with the trouble in the country and led to the death of another protester during demonstrations on Friday night, this is a qualifying report and shall remain that.  The action on the track did cause a few unexpected surprises.

The difference in time between the prime and option tyres in Bahrain led to the demise of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes in Q1.  Schumacher had been amongst the top five in every practice session leading into qualifying, but by not chancing it on the option tyre, the German was knocked out by Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault.  Later, it was revealed that an issue with the DRS meant the seven times world champion couldn’t get the lap time he wanted.  To compound Schumacher’s nightmare, a gearbox change overnight means he will start 22nd.  It will be interesting to see his progress today.  Jean-Eric Vergne also missed the cut and then ignored a pitlane red light which ordered the rookie to stop at the weighbridge.  This was an excludable offense 20 years ago but amazingly, no action was taken against the Frenchman!

In Q2, a KERS problem left Pastor Maldonado high and dry in the pits and like Schumacher, the Veneuzelan has been hit with a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.  Felipe Massa made his expected exit and the former double winner in Sakhir will start from a distant 14th.  Kimi Raikkonen was squeezed out as the track temperature dropped and the track continued to evolve.  The Lotus driver will start 11th and revealed afterwards that he only had himself to blame for his shock exit.

Paul di Resta made the final part of qualifying for the first time this season and will start tenth.  Considering that Force India missed FP2 due to safety concerns following the events of this weekend, this is a notable achievement.  With no option tyres left, Fernando Alonso decided to save his remaining sets for raceday and seemed content with ninth, setting no time like di Resta in Q3.  The star of qualifying was the young Australian for Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo.  The Italian team has never scored a championship point around this circuit but they have a great chance today after Ricciardo charged to sixth place on the grid.  It is his best ever qualifying performance and he showed his delight to Sky Sports F1 afterwards.  “We had a pretty good morning and we thought all going well, we might have a crack at Q3 today.  Each little step seemed to be very beneficial and I’m really happy, I’ll enjoy this today.”

Nico Rosberg couldn’t repeat his Shanghai heroics and he had to settle for fifth place, making a tiny error in the final corner on his best lap.  This meant that the Red Bull and McLaren teams disputed the pole battle.  After the first runs, Lewis Hamilton looked to have his third pole position of the season.  However, Vettel and Red Bull had saved a set of option tyres from Q2 and he used them to perfection.  His time was left than a 0.1secs quicker than Hamilton, but enough for his second Bahrain Grand Prix pole position.  Webber has his best ever grid position here, which was previously fifth for Williams back in 2005 whilst Jenson Button aborted his final attempt and seemed satisfied with P4 on the grid.  Relief more than delight was echoed on Vettel’s face after his return to the front of the field.  Speaking to BBC Sport, he said: “We didn’t have the best Q1 or Q2 and I made a couple of mistakes.  I knew though in Q3 we could make another step and the first run I was happy with, although it wasn’t perfect.  I knew I had more to give on the new set and I was pleased.  I owe this one to the boys in the garage for their hard work.”

With Red Bull back at the front after qualifying, this season continues to have many twists and turns.  The race begins in just under an hour’s time and it is highly conceivable that we could have four different winners in the first four events for the first time since 2003.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 18 1.32.422
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.32.520
3 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 17 1.32.637
4 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.32.711
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 10 1.32.821
6 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 17 1.32.912
7 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 13 1.33.008
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.33.394
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 11 NO TIME in Q3
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 15 NO TIME in Q3
11 (Q2) KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 6 1.33.789
12 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.33.806
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 12 1.33.807
14 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.33.912
15 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.34.017
16 (Q2) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 10 1.36.312
17 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 8 1.35.014
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 7 1.35.823
19 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.37.683
20 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 6 1.37.883
21 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 NO TIME IN Q2
22 (Q1) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 5 1.34.865
23 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 7 1.37.905
24 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 7 1.38.314

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE    

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

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

The Driver Files: Bertrand Gachot

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

The fourth driver featured in The Driver Files will be best remembered for a high-profile incident off-track which led to the big break for a certain seven time world champion.  Profiled is the Belgian, Bertrand Gachot.

Bertrand Gachot had a great time with Jordan...until his conviction in 1991 (Richards F1)

NAME: Bertrand Gachot

TEAMS: Onyx (1989), Rial (1989), Coloni (1990), Jordan (1991), Larrousse (1991-1992), Pacific (1994-1995)

POINTS: 5

GP STARTS: 47

BEST FINISH: 5th (1991 Canadian Grand Prix)

BERTRAND Gachot had a mixed career in motorsport, often driving for perennial backmarkers at its highest level, Formula One.  His peak came in 1991 and who knows what would have happened to a certain Michael Schumacher if Gachot hadn’t had an altercation with a London taxi driver.

Gachot’s main success in junior formulae was winning the British Formula Ford Championship in 1986.  He came runner-up in the British F3 series in 1987 to Johnny Herbert and there were strong second place finishes at Silverstone and Vallelunga in a single F3000 season, driving for Spirit Racing in 1988.  However in an era where there may have been more chance of getting into Grand Prix racing, Gachot certainly was not one of the leading stars in feeder categories.

Born in Luxembourg in 1962 Gachot is firmly known for his Belgian roots but did change his nationality to French in 1992.  In an interview a year earlier, he said; “I am not really one nationality. I feel very much a European, but today I have to accept that a united Europe is not yet a reality.”  This quote alone probably sums up Gachot’s Formula One career – acceptance that he would never quite reach the top.

He made his Grand Prix debut for the Onyx team in 1989, but his debut season was a real struggle as he was often a regular faller in the pre-qualifying stage on a Friday morning.  His first start and finish came in the 1989 French Grand Prix, with a 13th placed result.  12th at Silverstone a week later followed, but Gachot lost his drive to J.J Lehto before the season was out and he switched to fellow stragglers Rial for the final two races, failing to qualify on both occasions.

1990 was a total disaster with the switch to Coloni almost finishing off Gachot in Formula One.  The car was pathetic, starting with a Subaru engine that had no hope of ever making it past pre-qualifying.  A switch to Ford power from Hockenheim onwards didn’t help and Gachot only started getting past pre-qualifying when his former team, Onyx and the EuroBrun team folded before the season’s conclusion.  He failed to start a single event in 1990.

Despite his shortcomings so far Bertrand was signed up by Eddie Jordan for his debut season in F1.  1991 was looking hugely promising for all parties and Gachot matched his vastly experienced team-mate Andrea de Cesaris for much of the first half of the season.  He started Jordan’s first race in Phoenix when de Cesaris failed to pre-qualify and finished their first event too; a creditable eighth place result around the streets of Monaco.  He was a superb fifth in Canada, backing up de Cesaris fourth place result and scored points at both Silverstone and Hockenheim too.  The Hungarian Grand Prix might have brought an unspectacular ninth place race finish, but Bertrand did set the fastest lap ever at the time around the Hungaroring during the race.  During this period Bertrand was a shock winner of the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours, alongside Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler for the unfancied Mazda team.  His career though was about to tumble to its lowest point.

The previous December Gachot had been involved in an altercation with a London taxi driver at Hyde Park.  In the fracas that followed, Bertrand sprayed CS gas into the face of the driver who pressed charges.  Although CS gas in the UK is illegal to use, many in Formula One at the time believed that Gachot’s had only used the action in self-defence, so a fine or suspended sentence was more likely.  It was a surprise then when he was sentenced to six months in jail for possession of the gas and 18 months for causing grevious bodily harm.  The sentence was handed out immediately before the Belgian Grand Prix.

He served two months in prison before an appeal was held and although his conviction wasn’t completely quashed, he was released on October 15 and flew to Suzuka in the hope that his contract with Jordan Grand Prix was still valid.  In his absence, Eddie Jordan had hired Michael Schumacher and given the legendary German his big break before his controversial switch to Benetton.  Roberto Moreno was parachuted into the car on a stopgap basis and the young Italian, Alessandro Zanardi had raced in Barcelona.  As Gachot admitted in an interview to Joe Saward in October 1991, he was disappointed with Eddie Jordan’s lack of support; “That disappointed me a lot, it was a drive which I thought was mine, but he didn’t want to do it because he had commitments with other people. He decided to interrupt the contract. I don’t know what the grounds were but I have had enough of lawyers and things like that. I’m not going to look into that. It’s going to be my advisors who will do that. I don’t want to get involved.”

When Eric Bernard unfortunately broke his leg during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix in 1991, a vacancy opened up at Larrousse.  Gachot snapped it up, but failed to qualify for the final race in Adelaide.  He stayed with Larrousse for 1992 and scored a sole championship point in Monaco, but had some run-ins with team-mate Ukyo Katayama during the season too.  Fourth at Le Mans in 1992 and an unsuccessful season in IndyCars followed before his involvement with the new Pacific team in 1994.  He only finished two races in two seasons for the fledgling team in which Bertrand was involved behind-the-scenes with its existance too.  When he stepped aside for no-hopers such as Giovanni Lavaggi, it was clear that Pacific were struggling for cash and they folded at the end of 1995.

Apart from a couple of sportscar outings, his career in motorsport was over as a driver, but Gachot still has contacts within Formula One and is concentrating on his business interests nowadays, which include energy drinks beverages.  Bertrand Gachot made some bad decisions in his time within Formula One, but many believe he got a rough break from justice in 1991 too and it stalled a promising and successful year upto that point.  He always kept fighting though and that is always a solid quality to have.

NEXT IN THE DRIVER FILES: The dynamic, fiery Colombian who gave Michael Schumacher more of a fight than most in the dominant Ferrari days, Juan Pablo Montoya.

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