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 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.
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.
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.
There was a time in Grand Prix racing where turning into your rival early or deliberate attempts to take a competitor out of the race seemed to be okay. Ask Michael Schumacher, who did it at Jerez in the 1997 title decider and received a very leninent penalty for the crime. Then we had the debate about weaving excessively to keep track position in defence. Damon Hill did this in Canada 1998, which upset Schumacher greatly afterwards. The boundaries continue to be pushed in the element to be totally successful.
Driving etiquette in Formula One needs to be looked at because the standards in defending a position seem to be getting worse. Any driver doesn’t want to get into a position like Jarno Trulli used to; ‘There’s a green arrow, pass me on the inside.’ However, today’s drivers need to respect their competitors more and know when track position is gone.
Rosberg’s moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in Sakhir were dangerous and he didn’t get penalised. Luckily no contact was made in either incident but they were lucky escapes. In the first incident with Hamilton on lap 10, Rosberg dived inside the McLaren as Hamilton was exiting the pits from his first pitstop. As Hamilton got into the slipstream, the Mercedes driver went to defend the inside and started to move across the road. As the Brit dived out from underneath the rear wing, Rosberg squeezed him completely off the track. Lewis had to take to the concrete asphalt to avoid Rosberg’s late direction movement and actually got infront. He might have exceeded track limits but it was either that or have an accident. I would have given Rosberg the benefit of the doubt, maybe give him a reprimand for this as he isn’t a regular offender in Formula One.
The second moment with Alonso was even more dangerous, as the Spaniard had to get out of the throttle to avoid being launched over the Mercedes car. The extra speed used thanks probably to some KERS use from the Spaniard looked frightening. Rosberg continued to move from the traditional racing line and although his direction change wasn’t quite as brutal as it was with Hamilton, he didn’t give Alonso an option and sensibly, the double champion took a safe choice and backed out of the attempted overtake on lap 25. On this occasion, I would have added some time onto Rosberg’s finishing position, maybe 5-10 seconds as there seemed to be more of a thoughtful decision in what he was doing rather than a sudden movement or rush of blood. It was risky and very severe, uncalled for actually.
No-one wants a repeat of Mark Webber’s terriyfing accident in Valencia 2010. The race stewards in Bahrain had their chance to send out a message of no nonsense and this they failed to do. Rosberg’s manoevures were not the worst ever seen in Grand Prix racing but it deserved a time penalty even if that just dropped him behind the two drivers affected in the final classifcation. He could count himself lucky to have not been sanctioned for the incidents.
On his team radio during the race, Alonso said; “He pushed me off the track. You have to leave a space, all the time you have to leave a space.” Later that evening, he posted on his Twitter page when finding out Rosberg would not be punished,“I think you are going to have fun in future races! You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track! Enjoy! ;)))” It is very true but I find his reaction to this hilarious. Pot, kettle, black spring to mind Fernando. Weren’t you the driver who squeezed Sebastian Vettel onto the grass during the Italian Grand Prix last season? Vettel criticised the move and rightly so, he was brave to make it stick too.
The FIA Sporting Regulations say this under Article 20.4;
“Manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are not permitted.”
Sounds like Rosberg was guilty then but no action was taken. The defending ruling changed at the start of the season where a competitor will be penalised if they moved across the road more than once in an overtaking scenario. This ruling was brought in after the feisty scrap between Schumacher and Hamilton at Monza last year. Is it a ruling or just a guiding? After last Sunday’s incidents, you can’t help but agree to some form with Fernando Alonso.
The decision was made and at the end of the day, all the drivers have pushed the regulations of driving etiquette to the brink on occasion. Schumacher has done it all throughout his career, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have both made questionable track movements in the past in an attempt to defend their position and even the world champion isn’t perfect. Vettel has shown his ruthlessness at times. Remember giving Jenson Button minimal space at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix last season. These examples show I’m not singling out Nico Rosberg but I reckon that a precedent has to be set, starting from the annual drivers meeting before practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 11. I worry that in the top line of motorsport, we have got to a point where the standard of defensive driving is getting to a very dangerous stage. Make it hard and competitive of course but fair and responsible too.
NICO Rosberg is on cloud nine following his maiden success in Shanghai last weekend and momentum is a key word in Formula One. So the German picked up where he left off in Sakhir to end up quickest driver today in the opening two practice sessions for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
As the sport is forced to deal with a very unstable environment, Rosberg and Mercedes GP did their talking on the track. His fastest time of 1.32.816 was nearly half a second quicker than Mark Webber in the afternoon session. Consistent pace on a long race simulation towards the end of FP2 suggests that the team’s tyre wear issues don’t seem to be such a nightmare issue as it was in the first two races.
Red Bull have gone for a standard exahust configuration setup after different variations for both Webber and Sebastian Vettel. The Australian was marginally faster today, although the 0.3secs difference at the end of the session flattered the closeness between the pair. Vettel was second quickest this morning and third fastest in the afternoon. Championship leaders McLaren have never won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but will still probably be marginal favourites going into tomorrow’s important qualifying session. Lewis Hamilton was the pacesetter this morning and content to work on race setup this afternoon, ending fourth fastest. Team-mate Jenson Button didn’t seem as settled with the balance of his car today, but was still amongst the top six in both sessions.
Once again, Ferrari lacked the ultimate pace as Fernando Alonso managed eighth and Felipe Massa twelfth in the afternoon session. Sauber ran excellent race simulations and both Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi ended up in the top ten.
However off-track politics continued to be the dominant landscape today. In midweek, clashes between Bahrani police and protesters over the running of the country almost led to a tragic incident involving the Force India team. Four of their team mechanics had petrol bombs thrown at them and two of them have flown back to the UK. With other team members expressing concern over their safety of leaving the circuit at dusk, the team elected to pull out of the second practice session on safety grounds. Personnel from the Sauber team also were caught up in flare ups in the Manama region last night and it is reported that Mercedes GP have requested moving to a hotel closer to the circuit to be further away from the protest.
With Amnesty International and Labour leader Ed Miliband among those today who added their voices to the demand in calling the Grand Prix off, the king of F1 Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain had to face some akward questions from a hungry worldwide media circus. Both have said that the race will go ahead as scheduled on Sunday, although you get the sense that the racing will disappear into obsecurity all weekend.
Mercedes GP and McLaren look set to lead the way in qualifying tomorrow again, but the region’s issues might have more severe implications as the weekend progresses.
2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1
|1||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||11||1.33.572|
|2||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||21||1.33.877|
|3||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||26||1.34.150|
|4||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||23||1.34.249|
|5||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||14||1.34.277|
|6||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||26||1.34.344|
|7||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||17||1.34.483|
|8||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||22||1.34.552|
|9||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||18||1.34.609|
|10||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||20||1.34.817|
|11||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||22||1.35.024|
|12||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||25||1.35.268|
|14||VALTERI BOTTAS||WILLIAMS RENAULT||24||1.35.497|
|16||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||24||1.35.929|
|17||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||20||1.36.195|
|18||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||11||1.36.330|
|19||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||18||1.36.484|
|20||DANIEL RICCIARDO||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||20||1.36.591|
|21||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||18||1.37.467|
|22||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||18||1.38.006|
|23||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||19||1.38.877|
|24||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||23||1.39.996|
2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2
|1||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||35||1.32.816|
|2||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||26||1.33.262|
|3||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||28||1.33.525|
|4||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||26||1.33.747|
|5||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||32||1.33.862|
|6||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||28||1.34.246|
|7||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||34||1.34.411|
|9||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||32||1.34.615|
|10||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||34||1.34.893|
|11||DANIEL RICCIARDO||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||29||1.34.895|
|13||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||33||1.35.183|
|14||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||26||1.35.229|
|15||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||38||1.35.459|
|16||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||33||1.35.913|
|17||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||35||1.35.968|
|18||BRUNO SENNA||WILLIAMS RENAULT||30||1.36.169|
|19||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||33||1.36.587|
|20||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||33||1.37.803|
|21||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||28||1.37.812|
|22||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||27||1.39.649|
|23||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||0||NO TIME|
|24||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||0||NO TIME|
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.
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
|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|
|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
|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|
|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|
|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 DARK HORSES IN THE PACK
THIS season, German car manufacturer Mercedes GP begin their third season in Formula One, since they bought the Brawn GP team at the end of 2009. Currently, no pole positions, no wins and only three podiums to show for their efforts, with the last rostrum coming from Nico Rosberg at the 2010 British Grand Prix. It is time for the team to start threatening the frontrunners, or there could be severe drawbacks from the board in Stuttgart. In this generation of economic uncertainty, performance in Formula One is crucial or a manufacturer will walkaway. Just ask Honda, BMW and Toyota.
This year, Ross Brawn’s team look to be in a far better position than they ever have been. They delayed the launch of the 2012 car, which seemed a surprising move. However when the car turned up in Barcelona, they collected some excellent data with a model that looks consistent and reliable at worst. It looks like the issues that made heavy rear tyre wear a chronic issue last season have been dealt with. It is some team that Brawn now has, full of experience in technical and winning teams from the past. Nick Fry and Andrew Shovlin remain members of the team when Brawn GP was in existance, whilst Mark Slade was part of the Ferrari team behind Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 championship success. Former Williams and Red Bull technical director Geoff Willis returns to the team he worked for in a former guise as BAR. Willis comes from two wasted years at Hispania. Bob Bell and Aldo Costa, formerly of Renault and Ferrari respectively complete a technical dream team.
The drivers remain unchanged, with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher remaining together for the third sucessive season. Rosberg has performed exceptionally well, considering the equipment he has had at his disposal in the past two seasons. Often best of the rest in 2011, Nico is about to enter his seventh season in F1, hoping to break his elusive duck and win a Grand Prix. Since his sensational comeback, Schumacher has largely failed to deliver, especially in qualifying. However, he began to become a stronger match for Rosberg in the closing stages of last season, still with the racecraft, starts and strategy that made him such a legend. Form is temporary but class is permanent and Canada last year was an example that Schumacher still has that in abundance. After all, you don’t win seven world championships by accident.
Mercedes GP look like the dark horses in 2012. Few know their true pace heading to Melbourne, but they must be in a position to challenge for podiums on a regular basis and if possible, return to the winners circle after a lengthy drought. The glory days of Brawn in 2009 seem like a century ago.