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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

Talking Point: Is Monaco safe to race on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hulk is back in Barcelona

FORCE India’s fantastic winter continued today on the second day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya.  Nico Hulkenberg, who is returning to the sport after being a frustrated spectactor in 2011, set the pace in Spain.  Hulkenberg gave his team some crucial data, pounding around Barcelona for 112 laps, setting a quickest time of 1.22.608.  Although his time was on super-soft tyres, the new Force India looks consistent and fast, which bodes well for the early season events.

Hulkenberg continued Force India's impressive start to winter testing (Yahoo.com)

Hulkenberg edged out Sergio Perez today, who showed some pace from Sauber that has been seriously missing in early tests.  Like Hulkenberg, Perez recorded his best time on super-softs, but still was an impressive second quickest, just 0.040secs shy of the German’s quickest time.  Having set a benchmark yesterday, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull looked at race simulation today, but the champion was the man to beat again until the late efforts from the top two.  Vettel was third fastest, his best today was a 1.23.056.  Fernando Alonso was next up, but a super-soft tyre run slower than Vettel’s on the prime tyre suggests Ferrari have a mountain of work to do before the first race in Australia on March 18.

Like Vettel, Lewis Hamilton focused on race simulation work today, doing 120 laps and coming sixth on the timesheets.  However, the Brit later told BBC Sport that he is encouraged by the hidden pace McLaren have at the moment.  Jenson Button, flying in from presenting an award at the BRITS last night, will take over driving duties tomorrow.  Likewise, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa will be putting in the miles over the next two days, after Vettel and Alonso’s efforts at the start of this test.

However, Lotus have had to withdraw from the rest of this week’s testing.  They went home yesterday, after Romain Grosjean felt uncomfortable with an unspecificed chassis problem.  However, team principal Eric Bouiller is convinced they’ve fixed the problem.  He said to BBC Sport; “On the positive side, we have quickly identified the issue with the chassis and our design office has already devised a solution.  We will be present at next week’s test in Barcelona.”  However, it leaves Lotus just four more days of running before Melbourne, so they are now seriously on the backfoot.

TESTING TIMES IN BARCELONA – DAY 2

1. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.608 – 112 laps

2. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.648 – 85 laps

3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.22.891 – 104 laps

4. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.23.180 – 87 laps

5. Daniel Riccardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.659 – 50 laps

6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.806 – 120 laps

7. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.24.555 – 82 laps

8. Juan Bottas (Williams Renault) 1.25.738 – 117 laps

9. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.26.605 – 69 laps

10. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.27.343 – 108 laps

2012 Team Preview: Sauber

MAKING THE NEXT STEP

THIS will be the third year without works support for Sauber, since BMW withdrew from the sport at the end of 2009.  Resources have always been limited for the Swiss team as an independant, but Peter Sauber will never give up.  The question is, can they make a significant jump up the grid in 2012.

Sauber will hope the C31 can move them up the grid (F1 Update)

The recent departure of technical director, James Key has to been seen as a blow to the team’s hopes.  Although he would have had significant input on the new car, there is a worry that a lack of progress could see the team stagnate or even slip towards the back of the midfield.  Despite finishing fourth in the 2001 championship on a shoestring budget, Sauber have a habit of starting a season strongly, then falling backwards as the year progresses – even during the BMW years.  Development is something they keep getting outraced by and therefore, it must be frustrating for the drivers, knowing that despite their hard efforts, it might lead to very little.

At least the drivers remain for 2012 and it is a talented line-up.  Kamui Kobayashi is spectacular to watch and defintely, Japan’s greatest racing driver in Formula One.  Kobayashi went off the radar in the middle part of 2011 and probably didn’t establish himself as a natural team leader.  However, his tenth place in Abu Dhabi and ninth place in Brazil was crucial to Sauber staying ahead of Toro Rosso in last year’s constructors championship.  Kobayashi has a tendency to either be breathtaking or lacklustre.  He needs to make a breakthrough this season and become a more consistent driver for the whole season.

Once again, he will be partnered by the Mexican, Sergio Perez.  Perez’s form was one of the highlights of 2011.  In his rookie season, he often put Kobayashi in the shade and many fans, including myself had him down as rookie of the year, despite Paul di Resta’s natural consistency at Force India.  He was tough to pass, solid in qualifying and despite making some basic errors in judgement regarding the rules, showed a lot of potential which has him earmarked as a future Ferrari driver.  Sadly, Sergio’s 2011 season will probably be remembered more for the horrifying accident he had in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.  However, he has his place on the grid on merit, not just through being wealthily backed by Telemex, one of Sauber’s key sponsors.

For me, Sauber need some form of investment, even if it isn’t from a manufacturing background.  The team is good and will probably challenge for lower points finishes on a regular basis, but they only seem to do that and not threaten for serious points results.  It will be upto Kobayashi and Perez to deliver and if they really do have lengthy careers in the sport, outdrive the car’s capabilities on a regular basis.  We’ve seen what’s happened to the likes of Jaime Alguersuari, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil – if you don’t look like a future winner, you are more likely to miss out on a drive.  I’m afraid Key’s abrupt departure will probably mean another season of mediocrity for a popular outfit.

Technical shake-up at Sauber

James Key has left as technical director of Sauber (Source: SauberF1Team)

JAMES Key has left the Sauber Formula One team on the eve of the launch of their 2012 car next week.  Key, who joined Sauber midway through the 2010 season from Force India has moved onto pastures new as the Swiss team restructure their technical department.

On his departure, Key told Planet F1; “”I’ve enjoyed the past two years working at the Sauber F1 Team. It has been a very intense and interesting time, in which we had to manage the transition from a much larger team to a smaller one, and everybody handled that very well.”

In his time with the team, Key has managed to downsize the team and keep it as a competitive midfield contender since BMW withdrew works support at the end of the 2009 season.  The team finished seventh in the constructors championship last season, although they struggled in the second half of the season through a lack of development.  Key has taken on a new role in the UK, although this has not been specified.  Rather than bring in a specialised replacement, Peter Sauber has revealed that it will be shared responsibility now between Sauber’s leading engineers.

The Sauber challenger will be launched in Jerez on Monday, with Kamur Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remaining as drivers for the second successive season.