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Schumacher’s moment of glory in qualifying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED TEN PLACES FOLLOWING DANGEROUS DRIVING IN FREE PRACTICE

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The Driver Files: JJ Lehto

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

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

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

NAME: JJ Lehto

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

POINTS: 10

GP STARTS: 62

BEST FINISH: 3rd (1991 San Marino GP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprising link-up between Sauber and Chelsea FC

FA CUP finalists Chelsea and the Sauber Formula One team have announced a surprising link-up between the two parties.  The result of Monday’s news will see both organisations carry each other’s logos around their places of sporting events.  Chelsea showed off the partnership with advertising hoardings backing the Sauber team during their 2-0 Premiership loss to Newcastle United last night.

Sauber will show off the new link-up at next week’s race in Barcelona (Sky Sports F1)

Sauber have carried some messages on their car at the Bahrain Grand Prix saying “True Blue” which might have given away an indication of the potential deal.  It will be big for the Swiss team, that is now in its 20th season of competing in Grand Prix racing as their car has been missing sponsors on a regular basis since BMW’s withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2009.  Sergio Perez’s stunning second place finish in Malaysia will surely have played a part in the West London club agreeing this deal with Sauber.

Sauber’s CEO Monisha Kaltenborn said on the Sauber website; “A partnership like this between Formula One and Football has never existed before in this form, yet there are numerous commonalities and possible synergies.  The Sauber F1 Team and Chelsea FC are dealing with many of the same sporting and commercial topics and we want to strengthen each other in these areas.  We are looking forward to exploiting these opportunities, and we congratulate Chelsea on making it to the final of the Champions League.”

The relationship is believed to promote sporting and business ventures together and the two will work on merchandising, sports science and sponsorship opportunities.  Either way, the deal works very well for Sauber and continues their impressive start to 2012, especially if as it turns out, to have a link-up with the potential new Champions of Europe.

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

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

1994 Gran Premio di San Marino Grand Prix – The drivers

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

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

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

NICOLA LARINI

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

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

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

MIKA HAKKINEN

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

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

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

KARL WENDLINGER

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

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

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

UKYO KATAYAMA

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

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

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

DAMON HILL

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

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

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

HEINZ-HARALD FRENTZEN

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

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

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

MARTIN BRUNDLE

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

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

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

MARK BLUNDELL

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

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

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

JOHNNY HERBERT

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

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

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

OLIVIER PANIS

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

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

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

ERIC BERNARD

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

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

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

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI

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

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

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

ANDREA DE CESARIS

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

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

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

MICHELE ALBORETO

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

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

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

GIANNI MORBIDELLI

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

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

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

PIERLUIGI MARTINI

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

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

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

DAVID BRABHAM

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

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

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

BERTRAND GACHOT

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

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

Today: Unknown

OLIVER BERETTA

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

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

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

GERHARD BERGER

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

ERIK COMAS

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

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

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

JJ LEHTO

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

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

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

PEDRO LAMY

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

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

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

PAUL BELMONDO

Drove for: Pacific Ilmor, DID NOT QUALIFY

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

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

RUBENS BARRICHELLO

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

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

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

Rosberg’s revival continues in shaky start to Sakhir weekend

Rosberg did his talking on the track today (Telegraph)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1

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

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2

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

Nico joins the elite in Chinese Classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nico Rosberg finally becomes a Grand Prix winner (Telegraph)

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

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

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

2012 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX RACE RESULT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


Schumacher ends fastest in quiet Shanghai opening

MICHAEL Schumacher went quickest in the second practice session on a quiet opening day for track action in China.  The German followed up a second fastest slot in the first session which was led by Lewis Hamilton.  It was a day where racing on the Shanghai International Circuit was at a premium, as matters off the track dominated the headlines.  This was because the FIA released a statement in the early hours of the morning to confirm the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as scheduled next week (see later story tonight for further details).

The first session was punctuated by mixed conditions, with smog and drizzle meaning there was a lack of clear indication in who looks the fastest pacesetters in China.  Only in the last ten minutes did meaningful times get set; Hamilton leading the way ahead of Nico Rosberg, Schumacher and the star of Malaysia, Sergio Perez.  Hamilton’s fastest lap was a full second quicker than anyone else but he does carry a grid penalty for changing a gearbox between Malaysia and this weekend.  McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh confirmed to BBC Radio 5 Live this morning that Lewis was using the cracked gearbox today and the change will happen overnight.  Test drivers Jules Bianchi, Valeri Bottas and Giedo Van der Garde got minor running in for their teams as Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna and Heikki Kovalainen sat out FP1 respectively.

Schumacher set the pace after a tepid start to the action this weekend (Eurosport)

A dry second session promoted more decisive running.  The cooler track conditions mean that it will be a gamble to guess how the Pirelli tyres will handle in what is likely to be a warmer race circuit come Sunday afternoon.  There was more action in FP2, as drivers attempted to make up for the lack of running in FP1.  di Resta spun on the pit straight and Timo Glock had a late off into the barriers at the first corner, minus his Marussia Cosworth’s nosecone.  A late effort from Schumacher was enough to deny Hamilton a clean sweep of the fastest times.  World champion Sebastian Vettel was an encouraging third and Mark Webber backed up a radical Red Bull improvement with fourth.  Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a quiet day and was a meagre tenth fastest in FP2, as Ferrari were brought back to reality after their shock Sepang success.  Lotus also had a bad day, Kimi Raikkonen propped up the timesheets in FP1 after technical problems intervened.

On a day when politics ruled the sport again, Mercedes and McLaren again looked fast out of the blocks but little has been given away ahead of qualifying tomorrow morning at 7am UK time.

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 1 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 7 1.37.106
2 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.116
3 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 14 1.38.316
4 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.38.584
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 12 1.38.911
6 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 15 1.38.977
7 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 12 1.39.198
8 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 6 1.39.199
9 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 16 1.39.748
10 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 14 1.39.768
11 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 14 1.40.056
12 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.40.153
13 VALTERI BOTTAS WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 1.40.298
14 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13 1.40.328
15 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 1.40.540
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 14 1.41.071
17 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14 1.41.204
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 14 1.42.330
19 GIEDO VAN DER GARDE CATERHAM RENAULT 11 1.42.521
20 JULES BIANCHI FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 8 1.44.118
21 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 10 1.44.227
22 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.44.500
23 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 12 1.47.264
24 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 11 1.50.465

CHINESE GRAND PRIX FREE PRACTICE 2 TIMES

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 32 1.35.973
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 29 1.36.145
3 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 27 1.36.160
4 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 24 1.36.433
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 31 1.36.617
6 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 28 1.36.711
7 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 28 1.36.956
8 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.36.966
9 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 31 1.37.191
10 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 32 1.37.316
11 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 22 1.37.417
12 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 33 1.37.616
13 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 30 1.37.836
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 32 1.37.930
15 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 26 1.37.972
16 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 35 1.38.176
17 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 31 1.38.293
18 BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 37 1.38.783
19 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 36 1.38.990
20 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 20 1.39.346
21 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 15 1.39.651
22 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 25 1.40.343
23 CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 30 1.40.753
24 NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 26 1.41.125

Driver performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix

WELCOME to my second driver performance scoring chart of the 2012 Formula One season which covers how I thought every driver did in the 2012 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix from Sepang;

JENSON BUTTON

By Jenson’s high standards, Malaysia 2012 will be a weekend he will want to forget pretty quickly.  His practice running on Friday was compromised by a hydraulics problem.  Although his race simulation pace was impressive, it was difficult to gauge how close he would be to Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.  Another majestic Hamilton lap in qualifying kept Jenson off the pole and the pair were running nose to tail in the race.  That was until Button ran into Narain Karthikeyan and broke his front wing.  For once, he couldn’t capitalise on the mixed weather conditions and his struggles in the midfield afterwards highlight just how close the midfield pack is in 2012.  At least he had the honesty to admit his mistakes afterwards.  7/10 

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Like Button, Sebastian Vettel had a mere in Malaysia and scored no points for his valiant efforts.  He looked dejected and frustrated all weekend, clearly looking concerned about Red Bull’s outright pace.  A potential masterstroke to qualify on the prime tyres rather than the options that he never got working all weekend was ruined by Sunday’s changeable conditions.  His race was fairly quiet, but Hamilton was in his sights for a potential podium until his clash with Narain Karthikeyan.  Who’s fault it was is irrelevant and the war of words afterwards suggests that Sebastian is struggling under pressure.  It is totally unnecessary too.  He will be hoping for much better in China.  7/10

LEWIS HAMILTON

Lewis Hamilton was the dominant pacesetter throughout the first two days in Malaysia.  He was fastest by some distance on Friday and scored his second consecutive pole position with something to spare in qualifying.  Hamilton was hindered by a couple of dreadful pitstops in the race, one when the team struggled to remove gaffer tape from the front brake ducts.  Nevertheless, McLaren’s lack of pace in the wet/dry format will give the team a few concerns, especially considering their dominance in recent years through this weather.  It was a mature and controlled drive from Hamilton to finish on the podium, who looks to be at least more of a consistent force than he was last year.  8/10

MARK WEBBER

The Mark Webber from 2010 is back and looking very hungry this season.  He defintely seems far happier than Sebastian Vettel in the 2012 Red Bull and his general speed is encouraging.  A solid couple of days in practice lined him up for an excellent fourth in qualifying, less than 0.3secs away from the pole.  Incredibly, he made a great start too and once Romain Grosjean had destroyed Michael Schumacher’s race, was third in the early stages.  Cautious after the restart cost him positions to both Fernando Alonso and Vettel, but his team-mate’s run-in with Karthikeyan gifted him his second successive fourth place.  If the team can improve all round, I reckon Webber can be a multiple winner at the minimum in 2012.  8/10

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Michael Schumacher is achieving little reward for a very promising return to his old self.  His Achilles heel of the failed comeback previously had been qualifying.  However, he backed up second in Friday practice with third on the grid on Saturday, only fractionally off the pace of the McLaren’s.  He got a tardy start, but was spun around in turn three by an ambitious Romain Grosjean on the first lap.  Afterwards, the lack of pace from the Mercedes was badly highlighted, but Schumacher kept fighting on and he got a late point for his efforts when Pastor Maldonado retired with a technical problem.  I don’t he will have enjoyed being passed around the outside by both Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi though!  7/10

Alonso showed his class on Sunday (Motorsportretro)

FERNANDO ALONSO

Hamilton might be unbeatable on his day and Vettel has set the benchmark in recent years.  However, no-one can match Fernando Alonso when it comes to getting the most out of a car.  Tactically, he is world class and it was shown in abundance on raceday.  Not many would have won in this Ferrari that has handled like a dog, but Alonso has and it proves his standing as one of the greatest ever behind the wheel.  With a minor front wing upgrade, he dragged the machinery into Q3 and eighth was solid considering the team’s low expectations.  He made the most of others mistakes, kept cool under severe pressure from Sergio Perez and produced an ultimate masterclass in how to handle a wet/dry event.  Incredibly, he now leads the championship.  Deserved for his sheer skill.  9/10

NICO ROSBERG

2012 is a frustrating start for the whole Mercedes team and Nico Rosberg will be lamenting it more than anyone.  A former specialist of Sepang, Rosberg has been outdriven comprehensively in the first two races by Michael Schumacher and it is mistakes of his that aren’t helping his cause.  Fastest in FP3, another scrappy qualifying performance left him out of position in seventh on the grid.  Sixth on the first lap, he made an early move for intermediates on the restart which had him upto fourth.  However, the chronic tyre wear issues that Mercedes have, left him vulnerable to the likes of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.  A suicidal decision by the team to keep him out on intermediates when dries were the better option towards the end finished his unimpressive weekend.  6/10

PASTOR MALDONADO

The chequered flag still awaits a Pastor Maldonado finish after two events, but it isn’t for the worth of trying.  A mistake in Q2 saw the Venezuelan take a trip into the gravel, removing aerodynamic components from his Williams in the process.  Nevertheless, he only narrowly missed out on the pole shootout.  On raceday, his team-mate Bruno Senna had his number and an unseen collision before the race stoppage between the pair nearly ruined Williams weekend.  Both recovered and a point was Maldonado’s when his Renault engine expired with only two laps remaining.  Points for him are going to happen, it is a matter of when, not if.  7/10

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Sensational on Saturdays and sorrow on Sundays is the story of 2012 so far for Romain Grosjean.  This time, it was all his own making.  From an impressive sixth on the grid, he made a magnificent start to be third into the first corner.  Under pressure from Mark Webber though, the Frenchman made a clumsy mistake and slammed into Michael Schumacher at turn three, spinning both drivers around.  Three laps later, he got caught out by the wet conditions and beached his Lotus into the gravel trap.  Lotus will need him to cut out these errors, especially as they have a strong car to begin with this season.  7/10

SERGIO PEREZ

Sergio Perez was always seen as a solid racing driver, but his performance in Malaysia has seen his stock rise incredibly high.  Arguably, it is an event he could have ended up winning.  Having struggled on Friday, the Mexican did really well to reach Q3 on Saturday and Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty left him starting ninth.  He pitted for extreme wets at the end of the first circuit, launching him upto third by the time of the red flag.  Afterwards, he only got stronger and stronger and but for a late error which saw him run wide in turn 13, he might well have caught and passed Alonso.  With Felipe Massa totally out of form, Perez surely has a great chance now of landing the second Ferrari seat very soon.  10/10

KIMI RAIKKONEN

It was another case of what might have been for Kimi in Malaysia.  He lost one of his crash helmets in a Lotus hospitality fire on Friday night, only hours after requiring a gearbox change, consequently landing a five place grid demotion.  Fastest in Q2, Raikkonen was fifth fastest in Q3, setting the same exact time as Mark Webber.  Starting from tenth, his pace in the wet wasn’t good, but got stronger as the track dried out.  He finished fifth and set fastest lap but his frustration afterwards suggests that with more luck, a podium position was more than possible.  8/10

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

Performed well in Australia, but got a tonking from an inspired Sergio Perez on this occasion.  Kobayashi’s Friday running was restricted by a gearbox issue, which the team managed to fix without receiving a penalty.  He drove poorly in Q2 to end up slowest qualifier, but did have moments in the race, including a brave pass around the outside of a tyre-hungry Michael Schumacher in turn five.  Ultimately, Kamui couldn’t keep up with the pace and a brake problem forced him to retire in the pits after 46 laps.  A tricky weekend.  4/10

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

Having reached the top ten in FP2 on Friday, Jean-Eric Vergne had a frustrating day on Saturday and the young Frenchman was the midfield runner who dropped out in Q1.  He stayed out in the first phase of the race to rise upto ninth and ran all afternoon with the Force India drivers.  Vergne lost out to di Resta, but beat Hulkenberg to finish a delighted eighth; the rookie’s first points finish.  It certainly won’t be his last.  7/10

One of the rare occasions Hulkenberg was ahead of his team-mate this weekend (beyondtheracingline)

NICO HULKENBERG

On a circuit where he starred in the wet in A1GP for Team Germany back in 2007, Nico Hulkenberg couldn’t repeat the magic this season.  This was mainly down to the car’s lack of pace, but he brought it home in a solid, if unspectacular ninth place.  Unlike Australia however, Hulkenberg was soundly beaten in both qualifying and the race by Paul di Resta.  The battle between the two Force India drivers is certainly living upto expectations.  6/10

FELIPE MASSA

A new chassis didn’t work and now, Felipe Massa’s time at Ferrari is surely up.  It was another below-par weekend, where he failed to trouble the top ten in the timesheets at any point.  18th in FP3, a better qualifying effort pushed Massa into 12th, a closer 0.3secs shy of Alonso’s Q2 time and Fernando only just scraped into the shootout.  After holding down ninth place from the restart, he cracked under pressure from Paul di Resta and took a detour into the gravel.  A move onto dries saw him fall further backwards and lacking the confidence seen in Melbourne.  With no specific problems, 15th place and nearly a lap down behind his race winning team-mate, alarm bells must be ringing now.  4/10

BRUNO SENNA

Having been outperformed by his team-mate in Australia, Bruno Senna had a point to prove in Sepang.  This he did, with a superb run to sixth place, easily his best ever career result.  Qualifying was a struggle, which saw the Brazilian back in 13th.  He then had off-camera incidents with Maldonado and Paul di Resta, which left him second last when the red flag came out.  Afterwards, he drove really well and will have enjoyed his pass right around the outside of Michael Schumacher.  He made light work of di Resta in the closing stages to secure Williams best finish in a long time.  Rubens who?  8/10

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Ricciardo reached the top five in FP2 on Friday but that was to be the highlight of a tough second outing for him at Toro Rosso.  Having wound up 15th in qualifying, he had a quiet afternoon which only livened up by becoming the first driver to pit for dries.  The move was brave and inspired and for that, Ricciardo deserved more than the 12th place he ended up with at the chequered flag.  7/10

PAUL DI RESTA

di Resta’s Friday was a nightmare so to finish seventh at the end of the race was a very creditable effort.  He lined up 14th following brake and handling issues throughout free practice, but he did have the measure of Nico Hulkenberg this weekend.  A clash with Bruno Senna before the red flag came out hindered his early progress but he recovered well and impressive tyre management had him in the points by the chequered flag for the second successive weekend.  7/10

VITALY PETROV

Last season, Vitaly Petrov attempted flying lessons in Sepang but he had an untroubled and excellent weekend.  Outqualified narrowly by Kovalainen, Petrov moved up following the Finn’s grid demotion.  In the race, he kept up with Kamui Kobayashi and held off Felipe Massa easily until the conditions dried up, which made him easy meat for the midfield.  16th at the end, but like Ricciardo, probably deserved a slightly better finish.  7/10

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

Following a five place grid demotion, Kovalainen never featured and finished behind Timo Glock’s Marussia on merit.  A dismal weekend and one the Finn will be erasing from his memory very quickly.  5/10

TIMO GLOCK

Timo Glock is currently driving out of his skin and performing miracles in a car that at times, has the handling ability of a Morris Minor!  He qualified 21st, less than a second behind the Caterham team and split their cars in the race, only finishing a lap down.  At the moment, he is doing all that can be asked from him in difficult circumstances.  7/10

CHARLES PIC

Frenchman Charles Pic continues to stay out of the limelight, but is getting the mileage he needed so badly in winter testing.  Less than 0.5secs behind Glock in qualifying was a mighty effort and he survived the difficult conditions to take his first F1 finish, 20th and two laps down.  6/10

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN

It was Karthikeyan’s first race since India last year and it certainly was dramatic.  He survived on intermediates in the worst conditions to rise as high as tenth, the highest a HRT driver has ever been.  He was the innocent party in the knock he received from Jenson Button and although lapping slowly, didn’t do much wrong when Sebastian Vettel moved across on him towards the end.  The stewards disagreed and handed him a time penalty afterwards.  However, it was a capable return to the cockpit.  6/10

PEDRO DE LA ROSA

de la Rosa was almost non-existent throughout the weekend, although he did start the race from the pitlane after a technical issue on the dummy grid.  Afterwards, he stayed out of trouble and made plenty of room for the frontrunners to lap him.  He finished last, promoted when Karthikeyan got a penalty for the Vettel incident in the stewards office.  5/10

Total scores after 2 events: Fernando Alonso 17, Jenson Button 17, Lewis Hamilton 16, Sergio Perez 16, Pastor Maldonado 15, Sebastian Vettel 15, Kimi Raikkonen 15, Mark Webber 15, Michael Schumacher 14, Romain Grosjean 14, Daniel Ricciardo 14, Jean-Eric Vergne 13, Bruno Senna 13, Timo Glock 13, Paul di Resta 13, Nico Hulkenberg 12, Nico Rosberg 12, Vitaly Petrov 12, Kamui Kobayashi 11, Charles Pic 11, Heikki Kovalainen 10, Felipe Massa 6, Narain Karthikeyan 6, Pedro de la Rosa 5

Awesome Alonso causes real shock in Malaysia thriller

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX RACE REPORT

Sergio Perez celebrates his superb result in Malaysia (Yahoo)

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

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

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

Button's misjudgement cost him dear (Autosport)

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

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

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

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

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

2012 PETRONAS MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX FINAL RACE RESULT

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

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

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

 

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

Driver performance at the Australian Grand Prix

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

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

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

MARK WEBBER

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

JENSON BUTTON

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

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

LEWIS HAMILTON

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

FERNANDO ALONSO

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

FELIPE MASSA

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

NICO ROSBERG

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

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

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

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

KIMI RAIKKONEN

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

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

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

PAUL DI RESTA

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

NICO HULKENBERG

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

KAMUI KOBAYASHI

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

SERGIO PEREZ

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

DANIEL RICCIARDO

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

JEAN-ERIC VERGNE

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

BRUNO SENNA

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

PASTOR MALDONADO

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

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN

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

VITALY PETROV

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

TIMO GLOCK

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

CHARLES PIC  

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

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

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

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