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.
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.”
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
|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|
|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
|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
|1||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||101|
|8||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||17|
|9||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6|
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.
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.
ROMAIN Grosjean continued where he left off yesterday, by setting the quickest time today in the final pre-season test. Grosjean’s Lotus set a time of 1.22.614 in the dying stages, to pip Jean-Eric Vergne to top spot. Sebastian Vettel was third fastest as Red Bull continue to keep a quiet profile, but still seem to be the bookmakers favourites for the season opener in Australia. What’s more, the team will be flying more parts out from their factory in Milton Keynes to the test at the Circuit de Catalunya tomorrow.
Although Grosjean did the fastest time on the soft tyre like yesterday, his consistency on both short and long runs suggests that Lotus have fully overcome the chassis problems that led to their testing programme being drastically cut last week. Vergne, a fellow Frenchman and 2012 F1 rookie, had to sit out the majority of the afternoon session after a Ferrari engine failure on his Toro Rosso late this morning.
The pace of the French stars left Vettel back in third, whilst Fernando Alonso had a better day for Ferrari today, ending up fourth and completing a trouble free race simulation run of over 60 laps. A late burst on the super soft tyres pushed Heikki Kovalainen into a surprising fifth place. The Finn seemed to have recovered after the stomach upset that meant he had to sit out yesterday. Lewis Hamilton spent a lot of the day in the garage, as McLaren worked on his car. Like Red Bull, they continue to fly out new development parts as testing nears its conclusion. Nevertheless, he still managed over 60 laps and was ninth fastest.
There were six stoppages in an interrupted day, which saw fog delay the start of testing in Barcelona by half an hour. Nico Hulkenberg lost the entire afternoon after stopping on track with a suspected gearbox problem on his Force India Mercedes, whilst Michael Schumacher brought the red flag out twice, with driver error and technical faults to blame.
DAY 2 BARCELONA TESTING RESULTS
1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.22.614 – 124 laps
2. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.126 – 46 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.361 – 85 laps
4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.447 – 125 laps
5. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham Renault) 1.23.828 – 104 laps
6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.23.836 – 76 laps
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.893 – 33 laps
8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.978 – 79 laps
9. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.24.111 – 65 laps
10. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.24.925 – 48 laps
11. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.25.801 – 20 laps
THE second Formula One pre-season test started today in Barcelona and Sebastian Vettel means business. The double world champion, aiming to become only the third driver to win three titles in a row dominated the opening day in Spain, outperforming his other main rivals.
Vettel took the fastest time this afternoon, after countryman Nico Hulkenberg made the early running this morning. Hulkenberg, who lost time in the Jerez test through no fault of his own, looked comfortably at ease in a Force India that continues to set some consistent lap times. His quickest today was a 1.23.440, only 0.2secs behind the formidable Red Bull/Vettel combination. His total of 97 laps was useful mileage too.
Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, continuing McLaren’s quiet start to the winter programme, although their new car looks far better than the predecessor did at this stage last year. We also got a view of the new Mercedes GP W03 today and it is likely that the team will use this test to establish reliability and durability on long runs, rather than outright pace. This makes Michael Schumacher’s effort, sixth fastest and less than a second shy of Vettel’s benchmark of 1.23.265 all the more encouraging.
However, it was a difficult day for both Caterham F1 and Lotus Renault. Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen stopped out on track with a suspected track rod failure. Kovalainen was only in his ninth lap of the day, but further checks seemed to hint that it wasn’t a day-ending problem and the Finn managed another half an hour of running at the end of the day. Vitaly Petrov will make his debut in the car tomorrow. Meanwhile, Lotus packed up at lunchtime after Romain Grosjean did just seven laps, and complained of chassis problems. The team are flying back the car to factory headquarters as a precuationary measure tonight and also aim to run with Grosjean again tomorrow. However, this major headache could have a knockback on their entire week programme at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Traditionally, the first F1 pre-season test is used for basic running, with the second one showing some form tips for the early season flyaways. Although there is still three days of running left in Barcelona, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have sent out a decisive warning to the rest; “Catch us if you can!”
BARCELONA DAY 1 TESTING TIMES – THE TOP EIGHT
1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.265 – 79 laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.440 – 97 laps
3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.590 – 114 laps
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.618 – 76 laps
5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.24.100 – 75 laps
6. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.24.150 – 51 laps
7. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.216 – 66 laps
8. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.25.711 – 97 laps
THE dynamic of the 2012 Mercedes GP and how quick it goes will be interesting when it is launched next week. That is because for the second day running, the 2011 machine ended up top of the timesheets, this time in the hands of Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg completed 118 laps, setting the fastest time of the week so far in Jerez, with a time of 1.17.613. It dislodged GP2 champion Romain Grosjean from the top. Grosjean, taking over from Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus Renault team was quickest this morning and certainly looked comfortable all day, as Lotus solid start to winter testing continued.
This was the day when some of the major players took to the track for the first time. Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso all returned to action following the winter break and both Vettel and Hamilton stayed out of trouble, setting consistent times and getting good mileage under their belts. The world champion was third fastest, only 0.2secs quicker than the Brit in his McLaren. Alonso was down in seventh on another very quiet day for Ferrari. His cause wasn’t helped by a hydraulic problem, which left the Spaniard in the garage for the first two hours this morning. With vibes coming from within the media of Felipe Massa saying that a lot of work is required, the Scuderia already look on the backfoot.
It wasn’t quite as bad as Jules Bianchi, who spun his Force India into the barriers early this morning, seriously disrupting what had been an excellent week for the team so far. Bianchi, who is reserve driver for the Silverstone based team told Sky Sports; “I made a small mistake on my second run. The tyres were a bit cold and I spun into the gravel and touched the wall with the right rear wheel. It was not a very big impact, but it caused some damage. I’m very sorry because my mistake has cost the team a lot of time and effort.” He would have to apologise to Nico Hulkenberg, who had been due to make his 2012 bow this afternoon, but was left to twiddle his thumbs, whilst the team flew out replacement parts from their UK base. Hulkenberg has to wait until tomorrow now to make his first impact of the season.
One more day of this test remains and if the 2011 Mercedes, which let’s be honest, was a poor car has ended on a high, expectations will rise of a potential assault on the championship if these times are anything to go by.
TESTING TIMES – DAY 3 FROM JEREZ
1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.17.613 – 118 laps
2. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.18.419 – 117 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.19.297 – 96 laps
4. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.19.464 – 80 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.19.734 – 79 laps
6. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.19.770 – 48 laps
7. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.20.412 – 67 laps
8. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.21.293 – 125 laps
9. Gio Van der Garde (Caterham Renault) 1.23.324 – 74 laps
10. Jules Bianchi (Force India Mercedes) – NO TIME