FORMULA One takes a brief break from Europe for its first visit to North America this weekend and the Canadian Grand Prix doesn’t do dull! 33 years of glorious action at Montreal, with its first event being an emotional success for Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve in 1978 on home soil.
The circuit has changed on occasion, the weather can be unpredictable and strange things seem to happen here more often than not, such as regular scrapes with the infamous Wall of Champions at the last chicane and the pitlane red light. The sport didn’t visit Canada in 1987 or 2009 but its popularity with the teams and drivers mean a great atmosphere is always created between the fans and everyone associated in the paddock.
In 1991, Nigel Mansell looked set to secure a dominant victory, having led throughout until he suddenly slowed entering the hairpin on the final lap. The Brit’s engine died and he beat the steering wheel in frustration as his Williams crawled to a halt. Mansell had prematurely started waving to the crowd as he began the last lap and had accidentally dropped his engine revs which ultimately caused the problem. Nelson Piquet came through to take a fortunate win for Benetton. It was the great Brazilian’s last ever triumph in F1 and Pirelli’s last as a tyre supplier until their re-entry into the sport at the start of 2011.
Four years later, Michael Schumacher had a similar advantage in his Benetton Renault when a gearbox gremlin left him coasting back to the pits for a new steering wheel with 12 laps to go. The change cost him a certain victory but what it did do was open the path up for Jean Alesi to take his first and only win at his 91st attempt. It was the Frenchman’s birthday and what made it even more special, he was driving Ferrari n0.27, the exact number Villeneuve had when he won in 1978.
Gilles’s son Jacques came into the sport the following year but success went onto elude him at the circuit named after his late and daring dad. A close second place finish to Damon Hill at his first attempt in 1996 was to be his best result at Montreal. He had a string of accidents and mechanical gremlins that always got in the way of a special success.
Schumacher won his second Canadian Grand Prix out of seven in 1997, although it was lucky as a precautionary tyre stop for David Coulthard went wrong. The McLaren’s clutch overheated and he stalled twice in the pits, losing an eternity of time. The race was cut short as Olivier Panis suffered a front suspension failure on his Prost through the turn five/six complex. Panis hit the concrete wall on the outside, before hurtling into the tyre barriers on the inside, with his car failing to deceleration in speed. The Frenchman broke both of his legs and his Formula One career that was full of promise, never really recovered.
F1 history was created at the Ille Notre Dame in 1999 as it was the first event to end behind the Safety Car. This was after Heinz-Harald Frentzen needed medical attention following a big crash when his front brake disc exploded on his Jordan with just four laps to go. Mika Hakkinen won the race, which was full of drama and earnt the ‘Wall of Champions’ tag in the process. Reigning FIA Sportscar champion Ricardo Zonta and three former F1 champions, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all crashed out at exactly the same point. Giancarlo Fisichella finished second that day, during an excellent run of four successive podiums in Canada.
More history was made in 2001 with the first 1-2 for brothers in Formula One. Ralf Schumacher and BMW Williams were more superior against Michael and Ferrari that day, with Ralf taking the victory by 17 seconds having waited until the pitstops to jump his bigger brother. Hakkinen finished a distant third and said in the press conference afterwards that ‘he was glad there wasn’t a third Schumacher around!’
In 2005, the Renault team pressed the self-destruct button. Looking set for a 1-2, they kept the slower Fisichella ahead of an animated and frustrated Fernando Alonso. Alonso eventually was told ‘you’re faster than him, overtake him.’ Seconds later, a loss of hydraulic fluid ended Fisichella’s afternoon. Alonso joined him on the sidelines when he hit the wall only a few laps later. A Safety Car to clear up Jenson Button’s crashed BAR caused a miscommunication at McLaren between the pitwall and race leader Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya missed his chance to pit and when he did come in after a slow lap behind the pace car, he exited the pits with the red light still on. That’s a no-no and the Colombian was promptly disqualified, enabling Kimi Raikkonen to win.
Montoya hasn’t been the only driver to be caught out by a red light on the exit of the pitlane. Two years later, Felipe Massa and Fisichella committed the same offence and got the same penalty of exclusion from the event. In 2008, Lewis Hamilton misjudged the red light still being on and crashed into the back of Kimi Raikkonen at the pitlane exit, taking both drivers out. This came a year after Hamilton’s sensational first victory in F1, on a day when so much happened. Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri even passed Alonso’s McLaren!
In 07, the Polish driver Robert Kubica came so close to losing his life at the track after an aeroplane shunt with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli. His car was destroyed but he walked away relatively unscathed. In 2008 – Kubica benefited from the Hamilton/Raikkonen crash to record his sole Formula One victory for BMW Sauber.
Last year’s race was the longest ever in the sport and was simply extraordinary. Jenson Button survived scrapes with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, made six pitstops and was 21st and last on lap 41. Incredibly he won, pressuring Sebastian Vettel into a rare mistake on the last lap to clinch a stunning victory. After last year’s drama, anything is possible especially given the unpredictability we’ve seen so far in 2012.
WILLIAMS first Grand Prix victory since 2004 was overshadowed yesterday by a terrifying fire that destroyed their pit garage after the Spanish Grand Prix. Luckily, there were no serious injuries although 31 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation. Seven mechanics remained in hospital overnight, bringing down a dark spell on the first European race of the season.
The fire began in the back of the garage and spread feriously, with black smoke billowing out of the front, sending panic across the faces of team personnel and the worldwide media. It happened around 90 minutes after the race yesterday, with the team basking in the glory of Pastor Maldonado’s amazing win in Barcelona.
A Williams spokesperson said afterwards; “Four team personnel were injured in the incident and subsequently taken to the medical centre. Three are now receiving treatment at local hospitals for their injuries, while the fourth has been released. The team will monitor their condition and ensure they receive the best possible care. The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire.”
The team have confirmed that the blaze started in the fuel area. Spanish police and the fire service are still trying to establish the cause today. This is possibly through an explosion from a KERS unit as fuel leaked out of Bruno Senna’s car that was being dismantled following his early exit from the race on lap 14. The fuel ignited and within seconds, the whole garage was alight. Maldonado’s car was still in parc ferme at the time, having its scruitneering check but Senna’s car was gutted.
At the time, the Williams team had just been having a group photo to celebrate Maldonado’s victory with Sir Frank Williams giving a speech to the team’s joyous mechanics. That joy turned to shock and although the fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, it is very fortunate that there wasn’t anything more serious that occured. Sir Frank was taken to safety quickly, as confirmed by Williams third driver, Valteri Bottas who told BBC Sport; “I was there when Frank Williams was giving his speech to everyone, I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly.”
Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz was at the scene when the fire started. Reporting live on the channel, he said “I saw the fire take hold and it just absolutely erupted. We were talking to Alex Wurz at the time and we were just having a look [into the garage] and suddenly I saw this wall of flame erupt from behind the Williams garage divider. It looked to be in the area where they store things like fuel and oil and gearboxes and computers and there will be an immense amount of damage to a lot of equipment.”
The Formula One fraternity came together with rapid help from the nearby Caterham, Toro Rosso, Force India and HRT teams to bring the blaze under control. Some Caterham and Force India members had to have treatment also for smoke inhalation afterwards. The Caterham garage also took damage in the inferno. Teams have already announced that they will give Williams some spare parts should it be required for the Monaco Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.
In a statement on the team’s website, Caterham said; “Caterham F1 Team was involved in a fire that started in the Williams F1 Team’s garage after the end of the Spanish Grand Prix. All the team’s employees have been accounted for and four people have been taken to the circuit medical centre for examination; one with a minor hand injury and three with respiratory issues.”
This is the second time there has been a fire in the paddock this season, as Lotus hospitality suite was destroyed in Malaysia following a refrigrator fire, which lost a significant amount of Kimi Raikkonen’s race equipment for the weekend. There is likely to be a health and safety investigation into garage procedures and also, there will be question marks about the future of KERS in the sport, especially after an incident like this.
It is a sad and sorry end but fortunately not a tragic one to what had been an amazing result for the Williams Formula One team. F1 today can breath a sigh of relief at one of the biggest escapes of recent times.
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|
THE penultimate blog from remembering Imola focuses on the career and the life of Ayrton Senna, eighteen years after he tragically perished at the wheel of the Williams FW16 in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Forget Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. In my opinion, Senna was the greatest ever human being to drive in Formula One.
Senna was very successful in the junior formulae in Brazil and in England. He begun karting at the tender age of four. For him, racing was in his blood and so to was his will and desire to win. To him, second place wasn’t acceptable; he felt it was first of the losers. He underlined that ruthless streak early on in his career, in the tense and exciting duel with Britain’s Martin Brundle for the 1983 British Formula 3 Championship. Senna dominated the first half of the season, Brundle the second half and it left Ayrton to pull off some crazy overtaking attempts that often ended in accidents. Eventually he overcame Brundle in the season finale at Thruxton and Formula One beckoned.
Despite testing for McLaren and Williams in the winter of 1983, Senna opted to sign for the Toleman team, later to become Benetton. Immediately Senna made an impression, despite his inferior equipment. He came so close to winning his maiden race in 1984. In Monaco Senna made full advantage of the awful weather conditions, to charge through from 12th on the grid. He pulled off some stupendous overtaking moves, with the confidence that suggested he would be a champion in future waiting. Only a red flag that brought the race to an early conclusion denied him. Senna insisted that he would have won if the race had it run just one more lap. The determination to succeed was firmly there. Podiums at Brands Hatch and Estoril followed but Senna knew that Toleman was not a long-term stay. He went to Lotus for the next three seasons, convinced that this might be the team that could deliver him the world championship.
In only his second race for the famous British marquee, Senna won in Portugal – in very similar conditions to those of Monaco 1984. Second placed Michele Alboreto was the only driver not to be lapped, in a clinical and masterful performance in the wet. Not only did Senna become a great wet weather runner, he developed a close association with the Japanese manufacturer Honda in his time at Lotus and also the amazing skill he had to produce a flying lap. Eight pole positions in 1985 and this skill remained with Senna all the way till his untimely death. Although Schumacher has beaten this statistic, it took him twelve years to do it after Ayrton’s death. 65 pole positions in 161 races, over 33 per cent is one of the most impressive ratios I’ve ever seen. In his three years with Lotus, Senna achieved third place in the 1987 championship and six wins in total, including a maiden triumph on the streets of Monte Carlo. However the British team was on a steady rate of decline and Ayrton elected to jump ship, taking Honda with him to McLaren.
Frustrated by seeing the more superior Williams of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell often get the better of him despite his undoubted talent, Senna was convinced the switch to McLaren would finally give him the success it craved. There he was partnered with the Frenchman Alain Prost, the golden boy of McLaren at the time. Fireworks would explode between the pair, though not initially. The 1988 McLaren Honda was the most dominant car in Grand Prix history, winning 15 of the season’s 16 races. If Jean-Louis Schelesser hadn’t taken Senna out in the closing stages at Monza, it could well have been a clean sweep. Senna won eight races to Prost’s seven – though the ‘Professor’s’ consistency meant he went on to score more championship points. However on a countback system, which the sport used at the time, Senna knew that victory in the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix would be enough for his first championship.
The start was a disaster as Senna squandered pole position and dropped to 14th by turn one, giving Prost a colossal advantage. Very quickly Senna showed the superiority of his McLaren and charged through the pack. By lap 16, he was fourth and eleven laps later, was challenging for the lead. When Prost was trapped in backmarkers, Senna seized his opportunity and squeezed past his team-mate on the start-finish straight. It was a clinical piece of overtaking and a drive that thoroughly deserved to win the championship. Prost was very gracious in defeat, admitting that Senna had been the better driver during 1988. Apart from a moment in Portugal, when Ayrton had nearly put Alain into the pitwall, their battle had been a joy to watch in 1988. Sadly the next two years bought politics and accusations to the heartfelt of the sport.
Race two of 1989 was the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Prost and Senna entered a gentlemanly agreement, that the man who approached the braking point for the Tosa hairpin first, would go onto win the race. Senna took pole position and led on the first lap. However when his good friend Gerhard Berger crashed at Tamburello and his Ferrari burst into flames, the race required a restart. Second time round, Prost made the better start and led approaching Tosa. Senna, presuming that the agreement was only meant on one attempt, stole the lead into the hairpin and drove into the distance. It was perhaps a gentle misunderstanding but Prost, who finished over a minute adrift refused to talk to Senna again.
1989 was not a lucky year for the Brazilian, losing certain victories in USA, Canada and Italy due to mechanical problems, whilst he was taken out in Portugal by the already disqualified Mansell. Once again Suzuka would be the deciding factor in the championship battle, this time with Prost the favourite. Senna had to win to stand any chance of taking the fight to Adelaide. He lost the lead with a poor start and harassed Prost all afternoon, with little chance of getting ahead. On lap 47, he closed up and made his move into the final chicane. Prost, knowing that Senna had to win turned into the corner and the accident was inevitable. The two McLaren cars interlocked wheels and slid to a halt. Prost unbuckled his belts and walked away but Senna kept his engine running and restarted. However he needed outside assistance from the marshals to get going again. Despite needing to pit for a new nosecone, catching and overtaking the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini, Senna won and was promptly disqualified for the outside assistance offence. Prost was champion. Ayrton was furious, threatening to walkaway from the sport he loved, believing that a conspiracy had been set-up against him by Prost and the unpopular FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre. More allegations and accusations followed and Senna’s super license was revoked.
The following March he was back, having apologised and won the season opener in Phoenix. Once more the fight for supremacy was between Senna’s McLaren Honda and Prost, who had swapped seats with Berger and moved to McLaren’s closest rivals Ferrari. For the third successive year, Japan was the deciding point for the championship saga. This time it was Prost who needed to win to keep his title dream alive. Senna took his customary pole position but bitterly complained all weekend that pole position was on the dirtier side of the grid. He campaigned for it to be changed and Prost actually agreed. The officials granted Senna’s request, but Balestre refused to back down. Consequently Senna vowed that if Prost turned into turn one first, he would regret it.
Twenty-four hours later and Senna accelerated away but Prost got the better start and took the lead. Senna looked for a gap on the inside of the first corner that disappeared quickly. Contact was inevitable and the McLaren and Ferrari disappeared into a cloud of dust. The outcome of the 1990 FIA Formula One World Championship had been decided in a matter of seconds in such sad and distasteful circumstances. It was a second title for Senna but bittersweet. Only at the same event a year later, with Balestre gone and replaced by Max Mosley did Senna admit that he deliberately ran Prost off the road in 1990. His will and desire to win couldn’t be faulted but in attempting to knock another car out on purpose was a hideous crime, which on a normal UK road would land you with at least a driving ban and possibly a jail sentence.
In 1991, Senna won his third and last drivers title for the umpteenth time at Suzuka, the deciding point of most title battles. Prost fell away and was fired by Ferrari before the season’s end, so it left for a renewed rivalry to remerge between Senna and Nigel Mansell. Senna won the first four races in 1991 but as the Williams Renault became the stronger package during the campaign, Senna grew frustrated realising that McLaren were being out developed by a rival for the first time in his stint with the Woking team. Eventually reliability and a terrible pitstop in Portugal shot down Mansell’s 1991 title dream but not for the worth of trying. He went wheel-to-wheel with Senna, sparks flying at some 200mph down the backstraight of Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, one of the sport’s most iconic images.
As the Williams team mastered the active suspension system, McLaren drifted further behind and Senna had to work especially hard for any of his later victories in his career. 1992 was a major disappointment, as Ayrton finished 4th in the final standings with just three wins, compared to the nine of the dominant Mansell. One of his greatest victories came in Monaco 1992 when he managed to hold off a hard-charging Mansell, who clambered all over the back of his McLaren in the last five laps. Honda pulled out of F1 at the end of the season and Senna questioned whether he should remain in the sport, especially when Prost ‘vetoed’ him not to drive alongside him at Williams in 1993.
Senna decided to stay with McLaren on a race-by-race basis in 1993 and was excellent throughout the season. There were memorable victories in Brazil for the second time at home, Japan, Australia and for a record sixth time in Monaco. However he saved the best for a damp Easter weekend in 1993. The venue was Donington Park for the European Grand Prix. Senna qualified 4th and was squeezed out by the uncompromising Michael Schumacher on the rundown to Redgate. Undeterred he sprinted past the young German on the exit and then swept past the fast-starting Karl Wendlinger in his Sauber around the outside of the Craner Curves. Next target were the dominant Williams and just three corners later, he went inside Damon Hill to move into second. He tore into Prost’s early advantage and outbraked his chief rival into the Melbourne Loop. He had gone from fifth to first by the end of the first lap, definitely the greatest lap in Grand Prix history. Senna won the race from Hill by nearly a full lap.
For 1994 Senna got his dream move to the Williams Renault squad. With Prost having retired and Mansell competing in IndyCars, this was Senna’s chance to add to his forty-one victories. Sadly the partnership that promised so much never came to fruition. Senna didn’t like the handling of the FW16 and had a miserable first two races. He spun off and stalled his engine in Brazil, chasing down Schumacher’s Benetton. Then he was tipped off the road by Mika Hakkinen into the first corner of the Pacific Grand Prix. Arriving at Imola, Senna had no points, Schumacher twenty.
Autosport magazine claimed he was a man under pressure. He didn’t show it though, focused on his goal to bring Williams back to the top after an unconvincing start. He blitzed the entire field in San Marino, setting the quickest time in every single session. However accidents to his countryman Rubens Barrichello and the death of Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying deeply affected Senna.
Deep down he didn’t have the passion to race. Some say he was not on the best of terms with his family, due to his burdening relationship with Adriane Galisteu. Others suggest he believed that Schumacher and Benetton were cheating their way to success, by using the now banned electronic aids. Either way he put those issues aside and went out to race. A startline accident put the race behind the Safety Car and it was going too slow for Ayrton’s liking. On the restart Senna charged away, determined to pull away from Schumacher. On lap seven, he entered the flat-out Tamburello bend when his Williams refused to turn into the corner. The rest they say is history…
Ayrton Senna may have not endeared himself to everyone. However his skill behind the wheel of a racing car cannot be questioned, nor could his charitable work he put in for many local Brazilian and worldwide charities. His speed, desire and commitment to win were immense, even if some of his tactics had to be questioned. A devote Christian, Senna believed that God would save him on the racetrack. His death brought shock to the whole world – and the funeral that followed brought Brazil to a complete standstill. Chillingly he had predicted that the new regulations for the 1994 season would bring serious accidents, possibly even bring the horrible fatality that he feared could happen. On 1 May 1994, the world lost a famous icon, and although Williams found replacement drivers easy to come by, Formula One will never see the likes of him again. In 2010 a movie was made about his career, simply titled ‘Senna.’
Ayrton Senna is a legend who leaves an endearing legacy to many and is a sporting legend forever.
AYRTON SENNA (March 21 1960 – May 1 1994)
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
LESS than 24 hours after Bruno Senna’s stirring drive to sixth place in the Malaysian Grand Prix, the restructuring of the Williams Formula One team continues. The chairman of Williams, Adam Parr has resigned. Reaction to this news has been seen as a surprise, many believing that Parr was the figurehead of the team to ultimately replace Sir Frank Williams.
Parr will leave his position on Friday, having been at the helm since 2010. He has been with the team in some form of capacity since 2006. This follows Sir Frank Williams decision to resign from the board last month and Sam Michael’s defection to McLaren at the back end of last season. In a statement on the team’s website, Sir Frank had nothing but thanks for Parr; “Over five years, Adam’s achievements have surpassed my expectations and I must thank him for his service. Not least for the decisive role he played in the technical changes made last year which are beginning to show through in the team’s improved competitiveness this season, and for leading this company to a successful IPO. Adam leaves us on good terms to pursue a better balance in his life for which I wish him and his family well. He has left us in good shape and I have every confidence that the Board and senior management team at Williams will continue to drive the business forward into a promising future.”
Senna’s sixth place result yesterday means that the team has already collected more points than it did in the the whole of 2011. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado crashed out from the same position in Australia last weekend. Following the promising signs of competitiveness Williams has shown in the first two races of 2012, this news shows no-one can rest on their laurels in F1. Nick Rose will take over next week, appointed as non-executive chairman. No reason has been given for Parr’s sudden departure.
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.
CHANGING OF THE TIMES
WILLIAMS head to the Australian Grand Prix having not given anyone a lot of indication of where they stand in the 2012 field. In testing, they have set some cracking lap times and solid race simulation runs and other times, the car has barely featured. However, it won’t be hard to improve on last year’s disaster of a campaign.
It was Williams worst season since they became Williams Engineering in 1978. They only got into Q3 on three occasions, finished in the points just three times with ninth for Rubens Barrichello in Monaco being the best result and scored a meek total of five points. Their decline was a sad and sorry tale in 2011 for a team that has won nine constructors titles, 113 races and seven drivers championships. Despite this, there has been no success of any kind since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix and consequently, has led to loads of changes over the winter.
Technical director of almost a decade with the Grove team Sam Michael, has move onto a sporting role at McLaren. Although he will remain team principal, Sir Frank Williams has resigned from the board to spend more time with his family and promote commercial opportunities for the future and Patrick Head has left his role in the day-to-day involvement too. CEO Adam Parr and new technical director Mike Coughlan have a lot of responsibility and work to do to get them back to the glory days.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado keeps his seat for 2012 and although there are arguments about his high finance he brings, Maldonado did show some qualities last season, notably in Monaco. However, I don’t earmark him out as team leader and with just one point to his name in his debut campaign, must find more consistently and cut out some of the childish errors of judgement he made in 2011 such as driving into Lewis Hamilton in Q2 at Spa. Maldonado will be joined by Bruno Senna, who replaces the stalwart of Grand Prix racing, Rubens Barrichello. Not only that, but it brings the Senna name back to Williams, almost 18 years since his uncle Ayrton was killed driving for the team on that fateful weekend at Imola. Senna’s quality is unknown despite stints with Hispania and Renault in the last two years and maybe 2012 will show whether he is a future star or another Brazilian who is competing to bring up the numbers.
It is a new chapter for Williams and it has a fiery South American driver line-up. It is a long way back from the trials and tribulations of 2011 but we hope that they can rejoin the midfield party this season and on occasion, potentially cause upsets for the main powers of Formula One.
THE Williams Formula One team announced today that team founder and owner, Sir Frank Williams will step down from the board at the end of the month. Frank’s daughter Claire will join the board on April 1, as director of marketing and communications. However, Sir Frank will remain as team principal of Williams for the time being.
In a statement on the Williams website, Sir Frank said; “This is an opportune moment, also, for me to consider my own role in the team. I turn 70 in April and I have decided to signal the next stage in the gradual but inevitable process of handing over the reins to the next generation by stepping down from the board at the end of this month. This is not as dramatic a move as it may appear: I shall continue to work full-time as team principal and I shall continue to attend all board meetings as observer. I also remain the majority shareholder of Williams Grand Prix Holdings PLC.”
Williams are going through a changing period, which is seeing many of the established guard stepping down or moving on. Sam Michael left last September to become sporting director at McLaren, Rubens Barrichello has moved on to the US racing scene, having accepted a drive in IndyCars next season and Patrick Head stepped down just before Christmas from his position as Director of Engineering. Recently, Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado were confirmed as drivers, Adam Parr was appointed chairman and Mike Coughlan, formerly of Arrows and McLaren has taken Michael’s job as technical director.
Although Sir Frank Williams will remain a senior figure within the Williams Formula One team, his role has been reduced in recent years and this is another step towards the exit door. Ultimately, off the back of their worst season since 1977, evolution is what Williams have needed for some time.
See below for an interview Sir Frank did last year with the BBC’s Jake Humphrey about his life in Formula One.
AFTER months of speculation, Bruno Senna has been given the nod to drive for the Williams Formula One team in 2012. The 28-year old Brazilian will replace his compatriot Rubens Barrichello and partner fellow South American Pastor Maldonado in the team, that only mustered five points in a dismal 2011 season.
It means that Senna will be driving a Williams Renault car again, the exact combination that his legendary Uncle, Ayrton drove in their fatal partnership at the beginning of the 1994 season. In an interview with BBC Sport, Bruno’s delight was clear to see and the reaction seemed to be positive; “I feel very privileged Williams has selected me as one of their race drivers. The team has a great heritage and I hope I can help write a good chapter in their history.”
Senna made his Grand Prix debut for the underfunded Hispania team at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix. Despite struggling in his debut season, Renault saw enough potential to hire him as a third driver last season. Nick Heidfeld’s failure to produce consistent results eventually saw him dumped for Senna, who assumed the Renault drive at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. He qualified a sensational seventh at Spa, scored two points at Monza and gave Vitaly Petrov something to think about in a car that seemed to be going backwards with alarming rate by the season’s end. This news means that Barrichello’s extraordinary 19-year Formula One career appears to be over. Ever the gentleman, Barrichello congratulated his countryman on replacing him via Twitter.
Sir Frank Williams insisted that Senna will get time to establish himself at his new team, as the team hope to improve signficiantly on a diabolical 2011 campaign which ultimately led to the departures of Barrichello, technical director Sam Michael and director of engineering Patrick Head. Williams told the team’s website; “The circumstances of Bruno’s two seasons in Formula 1 have not given him an ideal opportunity to deliver consistently so it was essential that we spent as much time with him as possible to understand and evaluate him as a driver. We have done this both on track and in our simulator and he has proven quick, technically insightful and above all capable of learning and applying his learning quickly and consistently. Now we are looking forward to seeing that talent in our race car.”
There is now only one drive left on the 2012 grid, with a driver bringing lots of cash expected to join Pedro de la Rosa at Hispania. Narain Karthikeyan, who drove nine races last season is a strong candidate. This is despite Vitantonio Liuzzi having a contract for 2012. So does fellow Italian Jarno Trulli, although Petrov is believed to have a serious chance of replacing the veteran at the newly named Caterham team.
Bruno Senna now has to prove that Williams big gamble pays off. However, if he does, it will add another glorious chapter to the Senna name in Formula One.