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Driver performance at the Monaco Grand Prix

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

PASTOR MALDONADO

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

FERNANDO ALONSO

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN

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

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

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

SERGIO PEREZ

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

NICO ROSBERG

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

BRUNO SENNA

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

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

LEWIS HAMILTON

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

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

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

JENSON BUTTON

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

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

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

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

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

MARK WEBBER

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

NICO HULKENBERG

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

FELIPE MASSA

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

PAUL DI RESTA

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

DANIEL RICCIARDO

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

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

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

VITALY PETROV

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

TIMO GLOCK

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

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

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

CHARLES PIC

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

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

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

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

Wonderful Webber makes it super six in Monaco

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO RACE REPORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO FINAL CLASSIFICATION

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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


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

Super Seb storms to Bahrain glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

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

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

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

2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS AFTER FOUR RACES

 

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


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

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

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

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

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

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

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

History of the Malaysian Grand Prix

HERMANN Tilke’s first Formula One circuit was the challenging and demanding Sepang, home to the Malaysian Grand Prix.  In the 13 runnings of the race so far, there have been plenty of great stories in a place known for its humid heat temperatures and biblical thunderstorms!

The first event was held in 1999 and the inagural race came at a crucial time for the world championship battle that season.  Mika Hakkinen arrived in Kuala Lumpur with a slender two point advantage over Eddie Irvine.  What’s more, Michael Schumacher chose this race to return after his six race absence as he recovered from the broken leg he suffered at the British Grand Prix.  Schumacher returned in style, by qualifying a whole second faster than anyone else, then dictating the race so well, Irvine was almost too slow to beat him.  The Ulsterman got help from the normal Ferrari no.1, twice being allowed into the lead.  He used clever defensive tactics to keep an exhausted Hakkinen back in third place.  Just as Ferrari celebrated a magnificent 1-2, the team were thrown out after measurements from the scrutineers suggested the team were running illegal barge boards.  The fault was even admitted by technical director Ross Brawn and the championship was Hakkinen’s.  Conversly, Ferrari’s lodged an appeal, saying the measurement taken was from an angle, not a flat surface.  A week later, the FIA overturned the decision made by the stewards and Ferrari kept their victory.

The Schumacher family have had plenty of success down the years in Malaysia.  Ralf produced one of his most convincing displays in 2002 to lead home a Williams 1-2.  That day, his older brother clashed with Juan Pablo Montoya in the first corner and the Colombian was given a very harsh drive-through penalty.  At least he made some history in becoming the first ever recipient of one of these penalties!  Schumacher Snr won the final race in 2000, more remembered for the red wigs the team showered themselves on the podium with after wrapping up a second constructors title in a row.  The race also brought a sad end to Johnny Herbert’s career, as he sustained leg injuries in a nasty accident when his Jaguar rear suspension collapsed.  In 2001, the Ferrari team produced a stunning recovery from a synchronised gravel visit from both Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, then a 84-second pitstop in the midst of a traditional Malaysian monsoon.  The team’s decision to fit intermediates saw them ending up annihilathting their rivals once the Safety Car withdrew.

Malaysia was also the setting stone for a changing of the guard in 2003.  Then, a 21-year old fresher looking Fernando Alonso stunned the paddock by becoming the youngest ever poleman for Renault.  He went onto finish third on an aggressive strategy, becoming the first Spaniard on the Grand Prix podium since 1956.  The race was controlled by Kimi Raikkonen, with the 23-year old winning his first race for McLaren, a feat that left Ron Dennis close to tears.  That day gave us a glimpse of the exciting future that lay await for Formula One fans.  A year later, Jenson Button joined the elite when he made up for two agonising near misses in Malaysia previously and earnt his first F1 podium for BAR Honda.  For the record, the 2004 race was Schumacher’s third and final Malaysian success.

There were victories for Alonso in 2005 and 2007 for Renault and McLaren respectively and a Giancarlo Fisichella triumph in 2006, also for Renault.  In 2008, Raikkonen produced a convincing display to take the honours on the tenth anniversary of the event.  A Ferrari 1-2 was thrown away when Felipe Massa made an elementary error and spun into the gravel trap.  Raikkonen has had plenty of drama down the years in Sepang and more came his way in 2009.  Predicting a thunderstorm in this part of the world is always hard to do, but Ferrari attempted to do so and put Raikkonen on full wets on a bone dry track!  The thunderstorm held off for a long while, but when it rained, you know about it.  Fading daylight and the unrelanting rain meant the race was stopped and eventually abandoned, with half points being awarded.  Button won his second race in a row for Brawn GP.  On the same weekend, Lewis Hamilton was forced to face the media after being disqualified from the race in Melbourne for lying to race stewards.

Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel have turned the place into their own over the past two seasons, winning in 2010 and 2011.  Can they make it a hat-trick in 2012?  Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen have all tasted success in Sepang in the past – who knows what will happen in 2012, especially with the forecast for a wet weekend.

2012 Team Preview: Red Bull

THE TEAM TO BEAT

HAVING been seen as a laughing stock in its early days, people forget how far Red Bull Racing really has come.  The dark days of Jaguar seem a long time ago now.  Double champions for the past two seasons, the Milton Keynes based squad are aiming for a hat-trick of drivers and constructors titles.  Once again, they look the team to beat despite some uncharacteristic chinks in the armour in winter testing.

Last season had echoes of dominating seasons put on by McLaren in 1988 and Ferrari in 2002.  12 wins from 19 starts, starting from pole position in all but one race.  With a car that was the class of the field and incredible pitwork from the team, Red Bull Racing showed everyone the way in 2011.  This year, the team has all the main key personnel in place for another tremendous season.  Adrian Newey’s new car, the RB8 has hidden its one lap potential so far, but looks incredibly consistent over a race simulation distance.  However, reliability issues which wrecked the final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona means they head to Melbourne having not severely tested the new car with the additional front wing and rear exhaust they brought to the closing stages of the Spain test.

You will be hard pressed to find big odds on someone other than Sebastian Vettel as championship favourite.  The German looked right in the zone last season and has the opportunity to join a real elite group.  Only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have achieved three successive world championships.  Vettel has a great chance to match the feat in 2012 and has the all-round package.  As long as the car is reliable enough, it is difficult to see anyone past him again as champion.  However, I would be very surprised if he dominantes as much as he did in 2011.

By his standards, Mark Webber’s year was woeful.  He was horribly outpaced by Vettel all season, only beating his team-mate all weekend once.  The irony of that was Vettel’s home race at the Nurburgring.  However, his daring overtake on Fernando Alonso through Eau Rouge at Spa last season and finishing the year with victory in Brazil will have given the Aussie some much needed confidence going into the winter break.  If Webber can get a grip of qualifying and the Pirelli tyres again, he has what it takes to give the rest a fright, as we saw throughout 2010.  If not, he will be under pressure, especially with two hungry, young Toro Rosso drivers after his seat for the future.

Once again, Red Bull Racing look like the team to beat.  Who has the capabilities to beat them over a season?  If someone does, it will be a mighty effort.

Perez powers to the top

A LATE qualifying simulation from Sauber was enough to see their Mexican charger, Sergio Perez power to the top of the timesheets on the penultimate day of testing in Barcelona.  It was another day where the times sometimes misled the story of the day, but does provide more rough guides heading into the first race.

Perez’s time of 1.22.094 just before lunchtime was a mere 0.009 secs quicker than Jenson Button’s McLaren.  Interestingly, the Sauber driver set his time on the soft Pirelli tyre, while most of his competitors did their quickest laps on the super soft rubber. Button made up for lost time after a hydraulics problem grounded his car in the garage for the majority of this morning’s time.  Daniel Riccardo was third fastest for Toro Rosso, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and the Force India of Paul di Resta.  Most of the quick times were set around the lunch period, as rain showers limited running this afternoon.

Red Bull rolled a significant update out of the pits in Barcelona today (F1network.net)

Interestingly, it was Red Bull who raised eyebrows by revealing a new front wing and rear end for their chassis.  Mark Webber drove the car today, whilst for once, Sebastian Vettel took a backseat.  Many photographers were interested by the world champions latest move, although team principal Christian Horner told BBC Sport pitlane reporter Lee McKenzie that the new parts were through a planned evolution process.  “What we are running here will go to Melbourne with and the process is just an evolution, as we will continue to evolve for the rest of the season.”  

Ferrari also continue to raise speculation about their true pace, by surprisingly cancelling all their news conferences with the media for the remainder of the weekend.  Massa was due to speak to the press after running today, as was Fernando Alonso tomorrow.  Meantime, Kimi Raikkonen had a miserable return to the cockpit today after nearly a month away.  The Finn was plagued by power steering problems all day and was consequently, the slowest driver on the charts.  Hispania also confirmed today that they will not be at the test tomorrow, hoping a day of filming on Monday will be enough data to take to the Australian Grand Prix in just a fortnight’s time.

DAY 3 BARCELONA TESTING TIMES

1. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.094 – 113 laps

2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.103 – 44 laps

3. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.155 – 131 laps

4. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.413 – 122 laps

5. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.446 – 108 laps

6. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.22.480 – 111 laps

7. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.22.630 – 64 laps

8. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.662 – 70 laps

9. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.22.932 – 129 laps

10. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.25.379 – 43 laps