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Pastor powers to maiden success in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen lift the new winner, Pastor Maldonado aloft

A NEW star has been well and truly born in the world of Grand Prix racing tonight after Pastor Maldonado powered to a wonderful victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.  It is the first time a Venezuelan driver has won a Grand Prix and sees the iconic Williams team return to the winners circle for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.  Second place for the home favourite Fernando Alonso sees him join world champion Sebastian Vettel level on 61 points at the top of the drivers championship.

Great management of the delicate Pirelli tyres and some tactical strategy were the keys to Maldonado’s maiden success in just his 24th Grand Prix.  He also had to stay calm under pressure from a charged up Alonso and constant backmarker incidents on his way to the top step of the podium.  In the process, 2012 has become a record season.  We now have had five different winners from five races, in five separate teams and the last time this happened was back in 1983.  Also the top seven in the points standings are now covered by a meagre 20 points.

Maldonado inherited pole position last night when Lewis Hamilton was sent to the back of the grid following McLaren’s costly error in not being able to give the FIA a litre of fuel for a sample after qualifying.  However his lead disappeared when Alonso made the better start.  The pair went wheel-to-wheel on the rundown to turn one but just like in 2011, Alonso led into the first bend of his home Grand Prix.  A clash between Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez punctured a rear tyre on the Sauber and trashed the Mexican’s afternoon.  Kimi Raikkonen moved into a third position he would not relinquish, whilst Grosjean’s delay enabled Nico Rosberg to sweep into fourth place.

Alonso kept a solid lead to make sure he wouldn’t be affected by DRS, although he never was able to leave Maldonado standing.  Further back, there was trouble for Red Bull with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel stuck in heavy traffic and both pitted inside seven laps to get some clear air.  Later, the nosecones on the two cars were changed after some issues with tyre rubber and debris ending up in the front assembly of each chassis.  A late fightback from Vettel, despite a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags saw him back to sixth.  Webber missed out on points for the first time in 2012, finishing half a second outside the scorers in 11th place.

Senna and Schumacher came together and not for the first time in Formula One either (Planet F1)

Sharp pitwork from Ferrari kept Alonso ahead in the first round of pitstops and with Raikkonen and Lotus not able to show their prestigious long run pace from Friday’s simulations, the fight for the win turned into a two way scrap.  Out of contention though would be Maldonado’s team-mate, Bruno Senna.  Senna was struggling behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham in the early laps and was gambling on a two stop strategy, meaning he was mixing it with some of the frontrunners but on older rubber.  On lap 12, Grosjean made a late dive up the inside into turn one and contact was made, removing a corner of the Lotus driver’s front endplate.  One lap later, Michael Schumacher closed up quickly through the DRS zone but made a complete mess of his braking point.  He misjudged Senna’s wherabouts and crashed into the rear of the Williams.  Debris and tyre smoke flew into the sky as the two cars headed for the turn one gravel.  Schumacher retired on the spot, his third DNF from five races and Senna had to park his car before getting back to the pits due to heavy rear wing damage.  On the radio, Schumacher branded his rival an ‘idiot.’  The race stewards disagreed and handed a five place grid penalty to the German for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.

After his qualifying exclusion, Hamilton had to start from the back and did well to miss a wayward Perez in turn three on the first lap.  He battled well with tyre management and had an entertaining dice with his old rival Felipe Massa.  Hamilton eventually finished eighth whilst Jenson Button’s struggles continued and he could do no better than ninth.  Tyre issues, understeer and a new brake supplier might well have accounted for his lack of speed throughout the last two days.

In the second round of pitstops, Williams pitted Maldonado earlier and got him out infront of Alonso, inheriting control of the race in the process.  There was no change after the third round of pitstops either but Alonso cutdown the seven second lead to basically nothing and got close to overhauling Pastor twice without succeeding.  A severe vibration with the rear of the Ferrari denied us a grandstand finish for the win, although Raikkonen suddenly closed up in the closing laps, having pitted for his third and final stop later than his rivals.  The way was clear for Maldonado to take an emotional win, with all of Sir Frank Williams family here in attendance this weekend; the team principal having celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday.  Sir Frank Williams told the BBC afterwards; “All the boys are delighted, and I’m quietly delighted, boy did we need that win as you can well imagine.  Most of the season has been thanks to a fresh group of people but it’s been very well balanced.  The aero guys have done their stuff, more than their stuff. The Renault engine is very competitive.”

Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium placings.  Raikkonen couldn’t hide his disappointed in the press conference, saying; “I’m a bit disappointed.  I expect to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning.  At end of the race, we were good but it was too late.  We were too slow at the start which is why we couldn’t fight for the win.  We showed we still have the speed. Maybe we took the wrong choice in the first stop.”

Grosjean came through to finish an excellent fourth and Kamui Kobayashi matched his best ever result with fifth for Sauber.  Nico Rosberg fell away to seventh place at the chequered flag as his tyres hit ‘the cliff,’ in the last two laps.  Nico Hulkenberg took the final point after a solid drive in the Force India.  Scotland’s Paul di Resta missed out this time in 14th and a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags added insult to another disappointing performance from Massa, well back in 15th.

After the race, celebrations were muted by a serious fire in the Williams garage.  Luckily, there are no serious injuries although four mechanics had to be treated with smoke inhalation afterwards.  (see separate story).

A sour and fiery note to end on but take nothing away from Pastor Maldonado, who fully deserves his time in the limelight.  It is always nice to see a new winner and who knows, we might get another one when the sport visits the jewel in the crown that is Monte Carlo in two weeks time.  Anything is possible in 2012 if this season’s first five races are anything to go by.

2012 FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER RACE RESULT

 

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME/DNF REASON
1 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 66 1hr 39min 09secs
2 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 66 +3.1secs
3 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +3.8secs
4 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 66 +14.7secs
5 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 66 +1min 04.6secs
6 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 66 +1min 07.5secs
7 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 66 +1min 17.9secs
8 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 18.1secs
9 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 66 +1min 25.2secs
10 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
11 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 65 1 LAP
12 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
13 DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 65 1 LAP
14 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 1 LAP
15 FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 65 1 LAP
16 HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
17 VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 65 1 LAP
18 TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 64 2 LAPS
19 PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 63 3 LAPS
Retired SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 37 TRANSMISSION
Retired CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 35 DRIVESHAFT
Retired NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 22 TECHINCAL
Retired BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 12 DAMAGE FOLLOWING COLLISION WITH SCHUMACHER
Retired MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 12 COLLISION WITH SENNA

 

  DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL (RED BULL) 61
2 FERNANDO ALONSO (FERRARI) 61
3 LEWIS HAMILTON (MCLAREN) 53
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN (LOTUS) 49
5 MARK WEBBER (RED BULL) 48
6 JENSON BUTTON (MCLAREN) 45
7 NICO ROSBERG (MERCEDES GP) 41
8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN (LOTUS) 35
9 PASTOR MALDONADO (WILLIAMS) 29
10 SERGIO PEREZ (SAUBER) 22
11 KAMUI KOBAYASHI (SAUBER) 19
12 PAUL DI RESTA (FORCE INDIA) 15
13 BRUNO SENNA (WILLIAMS) 14
14 JEAN-ERIC VERGNE (TORO ROSSO) 4
15 NICO HULKENBERG (FORCE INDIA) 3
16 DANIEL RICCIARDO (TORO ROSSO) 2
17 FELIPE MASSA (FERRARI) 2
18 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER (MERCEDES GP) 2

 

  CONSTRUCTORS CHAMPIONSHIP  
1 RED BULL RACING RENAULT 109
2 MCLAREN MERCEDES 98
3 LOTUS RENAULT 84
4 FERRARI 63
5 MERCEDES GP 43
6 WILLIAMS RENAULT 43
7 SAUBER FERRARI 41
8 FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 18
9 SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI 6


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McLaren error gifts Marvellous Maldonado a shock pole

MCLAREN’s glaring error in not having a fuel sample to show to the FIA has seen Lewis Hamilton be stripped of his hard-fought pole position during an intriguing qualifying session for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix.  This means that Pastor Maldonado will start the race from an unlikely and sensational pole.  Maldonado becomes the first Veneuzeulan driver to start a Grand Prix from the front and is the perfect present for Sir Frank Williams, celebrating his 70th birthday.  It is the team’s first dry pole position since Nick Heidfeld at the European Grand Prix on Germany’s Nurburgring in 2005.  Fernando Alonso produced another special performance to put his Ferrari on the front row for his home race.

Throughout qualifying, Hamilton seemed to be the only driver who was consistently at the front as many of his closest and more predominant challengers fell by the wayside.  Team-mate Jenson Button complained all day about hapless amounts of oversteer and when the team made changes to the front end of the car for his final Q2 run, understeer crippled his chances.  Button vented his frustration on the team radio afterwards; “The car has too much understeer now, work that one out guys!”  With a face like thunder, he has to accept tenth on the grid following Hamilton’s demotion.

Another big casualty in Q2 was Mark Webber.  The Australian is battling the effects of a heavy cold this weekend and Red Bull were caught out by a solid first run which saw Webber initially in second place on a 1.22.977.  He sat in the garage as the track made significant gains and dropped out of the top ten for the first time since China last year.  Felipe Massa also made his now customary exit from Q2 and was the slowest driver in the session, fighting his Ferrari furiously, it looked like a car that was akin to a golfer having little control on his swing and ending up in a predictable bunker!

Pastor Maldonado is the surprising and delighted pole sitter for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix (formula1onlive.com)

Maldonado had looked quick in the final practice session before qualifying and was consistently fast throughout the session, looking to improve on a career best of 8th place from previous attempts.  His team-mate Bruno Senna looked all at sea and chucked his Williams into the gravel after looking down at his lap delta, misjudging turn 11 and spinning off backwards at the end of Q1.  To see Senna down in 17th with his team-mate on pole will make him feel as sick as a parrot.  Narain Karthikeyan failed to make the 107 per cent cut-off time but has been given special dispensation to race due to a number of technical issues that have hindered his weekend.  There were also solid efforts from Charles Pic and Vitaly Petrov to outqualify their team-mates at Marussia and Caterham, Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen respectively.

The final part of qualifying was a slow burner, with several runners including world champion Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher running system checks rather than go for pole position.  Neither set a competitive lap time and consequently start 8th and 9th.  A technical problem at the end of Q2 left Kamui Kobayashi stuck out on track and the Japanese driver couldn’t run in Q3.  Sergio Perez underlined Sauber’s strong pace to set the sixth fastest time, quicker than Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg.  Romain Grosjean bounced back from a fuel pressure problem this morning which limited his running to continue his impressive return to the sport.  Grosjean will begin third, one place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Lotus lockout the second row and with formidable race pace from Friday’s simulations, could be in the driving seat for tomorrow.

As ever, Alonso got the absolute maximum out of his car and a front row start is a miraculous effort.  Maldonado’s lap was marvellous and considering his strong pace all weekend, maybe not so much of a surprise after all.  Hamilton was in a class of one, so its a shame that his team decided to let him down again.

Fireworks, drama and tactics are sure to be part of the elements tomorrow at the Spanish Grand Prix, don’t miss it!

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 14  1.22.285
2 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 15  1.22.302 
3 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 14  1.22.424 
4 KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 13  1.22.487 
5 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 14  1.22.533 
6 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 17  1.23.005 
7 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 14  NO TIME IN Q3 
8 MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 15  NO TIME IN Q3 
9 KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 14  NO TIME IN Q3 
10 (Q2) JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13  1.22.944 
11 (Q2) MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 1.22.977 
12 (Q2) PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 14  1.23.125 
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 13  1.23.177 
14 (Q2) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE STR FERRARI 11  1.23.265 
15 (Q2) DANIEL RICCIARDO STR FERRARI 11  1.23.442 
16 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 12  1.23.444 
17 (Q1) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 1.24.981 
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 1.25.277 
19 (Q1) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 1.25.507 
20 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 1.26.582 
21 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 1.27.032 
22 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 1.27.555 
23 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 1.31.122 
24  LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 17  EXCLUDED 

LEWIS HAMILTON EXCLUDED FROM QUALIFYING AND SENT TO THE BACK OF THE GRID

The Driver Files: Marc Gene

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.

Next to be profiled is one of the first Spaniards to reach the Grand Prix grid before the Fernando Alonso era, Marc Gene.

Marc Gene using all the kerbs at Spa during his solid debut season for Minardi in 1999 (RichardsF1)

NAME: Marc Gene

TEAMS: Minardi (1999-2000), Williams (2003-2004)

POINTS: 5

GP STARTS: 36

BEST FINISH: 5th (2003 Italian GP)

IT SEEMS odd to think of a time when Spain really had no interest in Formula One.  Before Fernando Alonso burst onto the scene, motorbikes dominanted the landscape of the country.  The race in Barcelona was sparesly populated and that didn’t really change when Marc Gene entered the sport.  Gene was a fighter and has proven to be successful in other formulas, notably in sportscars.  Like so many others before and after him though, Formula One wasn’t a great success.

Gene came into F1 with the underfunded Minardi team in 1999, replacing hopeless Argentine Esteban Tuero.  Before his Grand Prix break, Gene’s highlight of his junior career was winning the Open Fortuna of Nissan championship in 1998.  Marc was paired in Formula One alongside Luca Badoer and actually needed special dispensation to start his first event in Australia.  The season was a real struggle but Marc kept his nose clean and was a regular finisher to the chequered flag.  He qualified 15th in Germany, ahead of both Saubers and Johnny Herbert’s Stewart and beat Alessandro Zanardi’s Williams fair and square to ninth place in Malaysia.

Minardi’s moment of fortune came at the unpredictable 1999 European Grand Prix.  Badoer looked set for fourth place before mechanical gremlins struck.  Gene made some smart strategy calls and held off Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari to finish sixth and take the team’s first championship point since 1995.  More importantly for Minardi, it meant they beat BAR in the constructors championship and earned extra bonuses in travel money and prize rewards which were badly needed.

Gene continued with Minardi into 2000 with another Argentine no-hoper Gaston Mazzacane alongside.  Again he got the most out of a difficult car and embarrassed some big names in qualifying during the season.  This time there were no points but solid eighth placed results in Australia and Austria; the latter saw him beat Pedro Diniz’s Sauber and the Benetton of Alexander Wurz.

With Paul Stoddart buying the team in 2001, Gene moved onto a testing role with the BMW Williams team.  He drove in place of a concussed Ralf Schumacher at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix, qualifying a phenonemal fifth at short notice.  He even led the race for a lap and finished a solid fifth to keep the team ahead at the time in the cosntructors championship.  In 2004 Schumacher Jnr was sidelined for several races by a back injury sustained in a heavy crash at Indianapolis.  Once again Gene deputised but this time, with less success.  He qualified eighth and finished a distant tenth in France, despite setting a quicker lap than Juan Pablo Montoya in the race.  Silverstone was more of a struggle, starting 11th and finishing 12th.  Gene was replaced by Antonio Pizzonia for the German Grand Prix and has not raced in Formula One since.

At the beginning of 2005, Gene signed a testing contract with Ferrari but his racing career in F1 was over.  Today he is a pundit on the Spanish broadcaster LaSexta for Grand Prix.  His Ferrari testing contract expired at the end of 2010, but Marc has had a successful time at the Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot.  He finished second in 2008 alongside Jacques Villeneuve and Nicolas Minassian.  A year later he drove the final stint and together with Wurz and David Brabham, won the classic event to end Audi’s domination at Le Sarthe.

Marc Gene is another example of getting the best out of some poor car equipment and little out of a better car in Formula One.  Nevertheless his technical feedback and honest approach to racing made him a worthy addition to any backmarker team or leading constructor in a testing capacity in F1.

NEXT TIME ON THE DRIVER FILES: The mercurial and grumpy Frenchman who offered glimpses of form but infuriated many, Jean Alesi

One race for Spain from 2013 onwards

F1 SUPREMO Bernie Ecclestone has hinted that from the 2013 championship, there will only be one race in Spain per season.  Currently, the country holds two races per campaign, with the Spanish event in Barcelona and the Valencia Street Circuit staging the European Grand Prix.

In an interview with a Spanish radio station on Friday; Ecclestone said; “Barcelona and Valencia have agreed that the best thing is to alternate and now, we are trying to decide on the dates.”  

The dire Valencia Street Circuit looks set to alternate the Spanish event in future (F1racingfan)

Although the president of the Circuit de Catalunya, Vicente Aguilera has come out and denied a certain agreement, it is believed that negotiations are ongoing.  It would be seen as a radical solution, considering Valencia’s general unpopularity with F1 drivers, fans and journalists alike, along with the growing economic crisis that is engulfing Europe.

If the agreement goes ahead, it could see Barcelona not hosting an event on a yearly basis for the first time since 1990.  It has often been recognised as the European season opener, since Imola was dropped from the calendar six years ago. They wouldn’t be the first country to alternate in track venues.  Germany has the same policy with the Nurburgring and Hockenheim, visiting the latter in 2012.

Currently, the F1 schedule stands at 20 races, with a brand new race in the United States in November and the return of the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Ecclestone is keen to extend the season to 25 races, although this is likely to face stiff competition from the remaining members of FOTA.