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.
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
|1||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||66||1hr 39min 09secs|
|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|
|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|
|1||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||109|
|8||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||18|
|9||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6|
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.
NAME: Marc Gene
TEAMS: Minardi (1999-2000), Williams (2003-2004)
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
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.”
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.