Monthly Archives: April 2012

Bahrain GP analysis: No winners in farce of a weekend

Weeks and weeks before the Bahrain Grand Prix, we were already aware that a race should never have taken place in the troubled region. Aside from the blatant political motive, it was clear that the sport had put its personnel in danger. I’d like to say that we’ll never have to deal with such a farce again, but that’s wishful thinking.

Politics and profit win over sport

F1 has disgraced itself by allowing itself to be manipulated - and the FIA's to blame

F1 has disgraced itself by allowing itself to be manipulated - and the FIA's to blame

There are many to blame over what Formula 1 was forced to go through, but one organisation should have put a stop to it: the FIA.

Bernie Ecclestone is well known for putting profit first – I’m surprised that people expected him to act differently this weekend. Perhaps he was misinformed over the Bahrain situation, or maybe he took a calculated risk. Either way, he should not have been the one to make the final call over the event.

The FIA’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of all participants, and it was clear that they failed to do that. To add insult to injury, they allowed the race organisers to use the sport as a political tool – running the UniF1ed slogan throughout the weekend.

FIA Statue Article 1 states that “The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activites and from taking any action in this respect”. One of the sport’s most primary objectives has been made a mockery of, all in the name of profit.

The profiteers from this race, of course, are the Al Khalifa royal family. Having invested in and organised the race, they also stand to gain the most from the race, and they made absolutely sure they got their money’s worth this time. By doing so, though, they have disgraced what should be a pure sporting event.

This kind of farce has happened before – see F1 racing in South Africa in the 80s for more details – but it doesn’t hide the fact that last weekend was never about the racing.

Lotus finally deliver on promises

After three disappointing races, Lotus have finally shown their hand – and may well be the fifth team to win a race this year.

Kimi Raikkonen was able to challenge for the win on Sunday, but slipped away after the final stop. Regardless, it shows excellent progress from Melbourne, and Grosjean’s first ever podium proves that he’s up to the task as well.

Team principal Eric Boullier stated that Romain could even become world champion if he continues to improve, and I don’t doubt him. From qualifying in Australia, Grosjean was already proving that he could take on Raikkonen.

It’s not outrageous to suggest that Lotus could still be in contention in Spain in a few weeks time. If they do take the chequered flag first, then 5 different teams will have won one of the first 5 races, and that could set us up for a magnificent title battle.

Points standings after Bahrain Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 53
2 Lewis Hamilton 49
3 Mark Webber  48
4 Jenson Button  43
5 Fernando Alonso 43
6 Nico Rosberg 35
7 Kimi Raikkonen  34
8 Romain Grosjean  23
9 Sergio Perez 22
10 Paul di Resta  15
11 Bruno Senna  14
12 Kamui Kobayashi 9
13 Jean-Eric Vergne  4
14 Pastor Maldonado  4
15 Daniel Ricciardo  2
16 Nico Hulkenberg  2
17 Felipe Massa  2
18 Michael Schumacher  2
19 Timo Glock  0
20 Charles Pic  0
21 Vitaly Petrov  0
22 Heikki Kovalainen 0
23 Pedro de la Rosa 0
24 Narain Karthikeyan 0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull-Renault 101
2 McLaren-Mercedes 92
3 Lotus-Renault 57
4 Ferrari 45
5 Mercedes AMG 37
6 Sauber-Ferrari 31
7 Williams-Renault 18
8 Force India-Mercedes 17
9 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0
12 HRT-Cosworth 0


Vettel fends off Raikkonen for Bahrain GP win

Vettel creates a lead at the start

Vettel creates a lead at the start

Sebastian Vettel has taken his first win of the year at the Bahrain Grand Prix. He held off the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen during the middle stint, and then created a gap to cruise to victory. Romain Grosjean drove an excellent race to take his first podium of his F1 career. The McLarens had a horrific race, with Lewis Hamilton suffering multiple pit problems, and Jenson Button multiple car problems. Here is what happened:

At the start, Vettel held his lead, while Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso leaped up the grid. Daniel Ricciardo swiftly slipped down the field to 17th, after starting from 6th.

Jenson Button lost out, falling to 6th, while Felipe Massa pulled himself up to 9th. Heikki Kovalainen suffered a puncture on the first lap, falling to the back of the field.

Massa continued his good start, shoving his way past Kimi Raikkonen at turns 1 and 2. However, the Lotus driver was having none of it, retrieving his position on lap 5.

Grosjean impressively moved up to 3rd, and in the early stages closed the gap to Hamilton in 2nd. A DRS-assisted move put him past the McLaren. Meanwhile the other Lotus sailed past Jenson Button for 6th.

Button, Massa and Rosberg all stopped suddenly on lap 9, all taking on the medium tyre. It soon turned out to be the correct move, as their teammates all stopped the next lap. However, Hamilton’s pit stop turned out to be a disaster, losing him over 5 seconds.

Rosberg pushes Hamilton off the limits of the track

Rosberg pushes Hamilton off the limits of the track

Lewis emerged alongside Nico Rosberg, and pushed the track well beyond its extremes, running onto the concrete to keep the position. However, the stewards took a dim view of the clever move, and put the two drivers under investigation.

Button soon forced his way past Alonso for 7th. Paul di Resta inherited the lead while Vettel pitted, but was soon passed by the Red Bull. Kimi Raikkonen continued his ascent, scything past Webber for 5th.

Approaching the next pit stop phase, Raikkonen also moved past teammate Grosjean for 2nd. Another disastrous pitstop awaited Hamilton on lap 24 however, a faulty wheel nut delaying him by another 10 seconds.

Another pit stop problem for Hamilton

Another pit stop problem for Hamilton

After the pit stops, Fernando Alonso began to fight Nico Rosberg for 8th. The Mercedes driver attempted a similar move he put on Hamilton, pushing the Ferrari clean onto the conrecte, forcing Fernando to surrender the position. However, the stewards also disapproved of this move, and similarly put them under investigation after the race.

A spin by Pastor Maldonado at turn 2 dealt fatal damage to the Williams, forcing him to retire.

Paul di Resta, who took a different strategy to the rest of the field, was running 4th on lap 29, after only stopping once. However, he was soon caught and passed by Mark Webber, who had stopped twice.

On lap 35, the battle for the lead became clear. Raikkonen had cleared all the cars in his way, and was all over the back of Vettel’s Red Bull. They tussled for several laps, allowing teammate Grosjean to move closer to the duo. As the race entered the final 20 laps, strategy became crucial as to who would win the race.

Both Vettel and Raikkonen pitted on lap 40, with Sebastian gaining a slight advantage over the stop. Over the next 15 laps, it became a battle of tyre conservation as Vettel did his best to hold off the Lotus, while keeping his tyres under control.

Vettel returns to the top step of the podium

Vettel returns to the top step of the podium

Nico Rosberg found himself stuck behind Paul di Resta, finding that DRS was insufficient to pass the Force India. With 4 laps to go, he finally made the move, and leaped into 5th place.

Jenson Button closed in on Di Resta, but a surprise puncture threw the McLaren out of the top 10 with only 3 laps to go. His bad luck didn’t end there though, as a cracked exhaust and several other problems forced Jenson to retire.

Raikkonen’s charge was quelled, as he lacked the pace to catch the Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel crossed the line first, to take his first win of 2012, and the lead of the drivers championship. Oddly, he was instructed to pull over after the chequered flag, and the same instruction was given to Nico Rosberg.

Paul di Resta held off Fernando Alonso crossing the line to equal his best Grand Prix result of 6th place.

Force India shut out of qualifying TV coverage

Force India have experienced the nasty side of what is supposed to be a fair sporting event

Force India have experienced the nasty side of what is supposed to be a fair sporting event

As many viewers of the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying session had noticed, the Force India team were completely isolated in terms of television coverage.

While Paul di Resta made it through to Q3, absolutely no shots of either Force India car were shown at all during the three qualifying sessions. During a certain point when only Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were out on track, the cameras focused on a Mercedes in the pits instead.

The team had pulled out of second practice yesterday, to alleviate employees’ fears of a repeat of the violence they were caught up in on Wednesday night.

Because of this, many have speculated that Bernie Ecclestone had ordered his FOM company – who organise and run the camerawork for all F1 events – to completely block the team out of today’s coverage.

A quote from Ecclestone only served to increase these calls:

"Nobody cares if someone is ninth or 11th. Only the people that are watching a 
particular team. I spoke to our people and they were more or less concentrating 
on who was going to be on pole, rather than somebody going to be 10th."
[Seems as if Bernie forgot that the cars in 9th and 11th were Fernando Alonso 
and Kimi Raikkonen"]

As well as this, MetroF1 correspondent Adam-Hay Nicholls had some worrying things to say on the incident over Twitter:

"Not the 1st time they've been instructed not to film a certain team"

[When asked what team was subject to a similar blackout] "All I'll reveal is 
that the name of the team no longer exists"

This was backed up by former FOM employee Nick Daman:

"When I worked for FOM it was well known that the punishment for stepping out 
of line was a TV Blackout ......"

What makes this incident so sickening is that Force India pulled out for the safety of their employees, not to take a stand against FOM or the Bahrain regime. It is understood that Ecclestone offered the team an armed escort back to the team hotel [provided they took part in FP2] but the team declined, opting to head home early.

Personally, I don’t know which is more worrying – that a team would be shut out for protecting its employees, or that this has been done before, and we haven’t noticed.

Vettel takes first pole of 2012 in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix. The 2-times world champion pipped Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second, with teammate Mark Webber in 3rd. Nico Rosberg was 5th, while neither Michael Schumacher or Kimi Raikkonen were in the top 10. Here is the full report:

Q1

Paul di Resta was the first out on track, as a headwind at turn 4 hindered some teams’ setups. Nico Hulkenberg set the first fast lap of 1:35.970.

Fernando Alonso surprised many by taking on the softer tyres, indicating that Ferrari wish to conserve the medium tyres for the race tomorrow.  While teammate Massa went slower than the Force Indias and Daniel Ricciardo, Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest time by half a second.

The bar was soon lowered by Mark Webber, and then Jenson Button. Unsurprisingly, Alonso’s softer tyres soon put him on top.

Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean beat the fastest time by another 0.5 seconds. The track went quiet until the final few minutes, when Jean-Eric Vergne and Felipe Massa pulled themselves out of the drop zone.

Because track evolution is such a factor in Bahrain, Kamui Kobauashi went 2nd, then Daniel Ricciardo went on top using the soft tyres. Sergio Perez then pipped the Toro Rosso by 0.1 seconds to end the session on top.

Michael Schumacher was pushed down to 17th by Pastor Maldonado, then a last-gasp flyer by Heikki Kovalainen put him into Q2, and knocked the Mercedes out of Q1. Amazingly, the track evolution was so severe that the McLarens were left 15th and 16th.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

18) Michael Schumacher

19) Jean-Eric Vergne

20) Vitaly Petrov

21) Charles Pic

22) Timo Glock

23) Narain Karthikeyan

24) Pedro de la Rosa

Q2

There was a slow response to the start of Q2, with Felipe Massa finally exiting the pits after a few minutes.

He set the intial pace, but was quickly beaten by Perez by 0.6 seconds. Hamilton and Rosberg both set 1:33.2s to take the top 2 spots.

Massa’s later attempt put him 9th. However, he was soon pushed out by Daniel Ricciardo. Paul di Resta went 5th, with the fastest final sector of any driver.

Fernando Alonso was pushed down to 13th, but his final lap put him back up to 4th. Romain Grosjean moved up to 3rd, but at the expense of teammate Raikkonen, who was knocked out of Q2.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Kimi Raikkonen

12) Kamui Kobayashi

13) Nico Hulkenberg

14) Felipe Massa

15) Bruno Senna

16) Heikki Kovalainen

17) Pastor Maldonado

Q3

With track evolution still a massive factor, the end of the session proved to be the climactic finish everyone was expecting.

A nasty lock-up slowed Webber’s first lap, but he still set a 1:32.785. Button was several hundreths off, while Hamilton went a tenth faster than the Red Bull.

Only 4 drivers set times in the first half of Q3, as everyone waited until the final 3 minutes to set their fast laps.

Nico Rosberg was first up, losing out by one tenth of a second. Mark Webber went fastest, before having his lap time shattered by teammate Vettel. Hamilton was 0.1 seconds off Sebastian, while Jenson Button aborted his final lap to finish 4th.

This left Vettel on pole position for the first time in 2012, with Hamilton close behind. Webber and Button will fill row 2, with Rosberg and Ricciardo behind. Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez were 7th and 8th, with Fernando Alonso and Paul di Resta not setting a time.

Bahrain crown prince and Ecclestone: Race will go ahead as planned

Ecclestone has insisted there is no danger of F1 returning to Bahrain

Ecclestone has insisted there is no danger of F1 returning to Bahrain

Both Bahrain’s Crown prince and Formula 1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone have reiterated that the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend will go ahead as planned, despite several incidents involving protestors and the teams.

Force India pulled out of second practice to avoid a repeat of Wednesday evening, when their team bus was caught up in a petrol bomb attack. Sauber team personnel reported seeing protests and fires on their way back to the hotel.

Despite this, crown prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has said that cancelling the race would simply “empower extremists”:

"I think cancelling the race just empowers extremists. For those of us trying to 
navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build 
bridges across communities, to get people working together. It allows us to 
celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive."

Meanwhile, Ecclestone claimed that responsibility of the race had nothing to do with him:

"I can’t call this race off. Nothing to do with us. We’ve an agreement to be here, 
and we’re here. The national sporting authority in this country can call the race 
off. You can ask the FIA if they can."

Hacking group Anonymous threatened to take down the official F1 website in retaliation for the race going ahead. The site was down for several hours in the afternoon, but as of now it is back up and running. Other F1 websites have also been defaced in protest.

Rosberg heads Bahrain practice 2 while Force India pack up early

Rosberg was comfortably ahead of the Red Bulls

Rosberg was comfortably ahead of the Red Bulls

Nico Rosberg led second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the main story of the day was Force India packing up early for safety reasons.

After a team bus was caught up in a petrol bomb attack on Wednesday evening, the team has decided to leave the paddock early, in order to avoid the planned protests later on in the evening. It is expected that they will return for qualifying tomorrow, however.

Rosberg’s time of 1:32.816 was 4 tenths faster than Mark Webber, with Sebastian Vettel another 3 tenths back. Michael Schumacher had a near miss with Vettel near the end of the session at turn 10, but both cars emerged unscathed, with the Mercedes going 5th.

Despite leading proceedings, Rosberg warned that Mercedes’ tyre overheating issues were worse than ever:

"We have to analyse things. In general, conditions are probably the worst they
have been here with the tyres overheating.

We learned a lot and we are looking much better than maybe we would have thought. 
But we need to see where we are. We are having to make changes because out there 
it's very unusual - conditions are very tough."

Times from FP2:

 1. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:32.816            35 
 2. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:33.262  +0.446   26 
 3. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:33.525  +0.709   28 
 4. Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:33.747  +0.931   26 
 5. Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:33.862  +1.046   31 
 6. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:34.246  +1.430   28 
 7. Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:34.411  +1.595   34 
 8. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:34.449  +1.633   31 
 9. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:34.615  +1.799   32 
10. Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:34.893  +2.077   34 
11. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:34.895  +2.079   29 
12. Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:34.941  +2.125   29 
13. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:35.183  +2.367   33 
14. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:35.229  +2.413   26 
15. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:35.459  +2.643   38 
16. Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:35.913  +3.097   32 
17. Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault      1:35.968  +3.152   35 
18. Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault      1:36.169  +3.353   30 
19. Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:36.587  +3.771   32 
20. Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:37.803  +4.987   33 
21. Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:37.812  +4.996   28 
22. Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth          1:39.649  +6.833   27
23. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  N/A                 0
24. Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes  N/A                 0

Hamilton leads Bahrain first practice

Hamilton only set 11 laps

Hamilton only set 11 laps

After all of the debate during the last few days, the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend had a quiet start, with Lewis Hamilton leading an uneventful first practice.

Lewis only set 11 laps in the 90-minute session, setting a 1:33.572 regardless. Sebastian Vettel had reverted to the newer-spec Red Bull car, and was 0.3 seconds off the McLaren.

Paul di Resta was 3rd, on the softer tyre. Chinese GP race winner Nico Rosberg was 4th, with Jenson Button 5th, who said he was not expecting to be fast this weekend:

"At the moment I'm not a guy to watch out for but at the moment the Red Bulls and 
the Mercedes look very quick. The Red Bull is surprisingly [quick] but hopefully 
we will know a bit more tomorrow.

There is a lot of work needed in our garage to improve what we have. I'm not happy 
today, we have tried lots of different things and none of them really worked so we 
will work late tonight and hopefully find something that will work tomorrow.

At the moment I can't make either [tyre] work."

Fernando Alonso was almost two seconds off the pace in 13th place, with teammate Massa a further two places back.

Timo Glock’s spin at turn 1 near the end of the session was the only noteworthy event.

Times from FP1:

 1. Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1:33.572          11
 2. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1:33.877  +0.305  21
 3. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1:34.150  +0.578  26
 4. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1:34.249  +0.677  23
 5. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:34.277  +0.705  14
 6. Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1:34.344  +0.772  26
 7. Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1:34.483  +0.911  17
 8. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1:34.552  +0.980  22
 9. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1:34.609  +1.037  17
10. Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1:34.847  +1.275  20
11. Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1:35.024  +1.452  22
12. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1:35.268  +1.696  24
13. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1:35.436  +1.864  21
14. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault       1:35.497  +1.925  24
15. Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1:35.719  +2.147  19
16. Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1:35.929  +2.357  24
17. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:36.195  +2.623  20
18. Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1:36.330  +2.758  11
19. Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault       1:36.484  +2.912  18
20. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:36.591  +3.019  20
21. Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth      1:37.467  +3.895  17
22. Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth      1:38.006  +4.434  18
23. Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth           1:38.877  +5.305  19
24. Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           1:39.996  +6.424  23

Chinese Grand Prix analysis: 2012 set to be a classic season?

After three different race winners in as many races, it is clear that the order has never been tighter at the top. With Mercedes seemingly getting over their tyre degradation issues, and Sauber and Lotus chasing the hells of the frontrunners, I feel there are as many as 8 potential race winners this year – 5 of them yet to show their full potential.

But back to the present situation. Nico Rosberg’s first win shows that he is finally ready to challenge the big boys, and with Mercedes looking more of a dominant force, we could be in for a classic season.

Nico joins Keke in F1’s most exclusive club

A long-overdue win for Rosberg means that he is the third son of an F1 driver to win a race himself. However, in the other two cases (Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill), their fathers’ lives had already been cut short, both in car-related accidents.

With Nico having become the 103rd Grand Prix winner in F1 history, the focus will now move to see can he challenge for the world championship.

It’s certainly not out of the question. Red Bull’s RB8 is a troubled car, and McLaren have fumbled their advantages far too many times already. With an innovative DRS system, as well as the most powerful engine on the grid, they must capitalise on their pace in the following few races.

Tyre degradation is less of an issue – after each pit stop, the mechanics checked Nico’s tyres for excess wear, but Rosberg had it perfectly under control. It was a well deserved win, and he can certainly go further.

Massa bashing: Round 3

Respected journalists are now calling him a “waste of petrol”. I can’t disagree with them – a 13th place is nothing short of dismal.

The most stark fact is that, aside from the three slowest teams – every single driver on the grid has scored points except for Massa. He brushed off his first two awful races, and called the Chinese GP the start of his season, but has instead proven himself to be even more of a joke.

Fernando Alonso slipped down the order after running wide near the end of the race, but still managed to score points in a difficult situation. Massa’s only notable feat was holding up half the field for several laps.

The hype over Sergio Perez’s prowess in Malaysia has died down, and many are looking to the end of the season for him to replace Massa. For many, that can not come soon enough.

Sauber becoming a credible threat?

One of the biggest surprises so far this year is the Sauber’s excellent pace – going completely against my predictions before Melbourne.

Perez’s race pace in Malaysia, combined with Kobayashi’s 3rd place in qualifying, shows that the team are going places. They have scored their best qualifying and race results ever (as an independent team), and it is apparent that they may take on the big guns.

Each of the Sauber drivers is ahead of one of the Lotus drivers, to give you an idea of their form. Kobayashi scored their first ever fastest lap, to wrap up their excellent few races.

It will be extremely difficult for the Hinwil squad to keep up with the frontrunners, but we will see how they fare in the next few races.

Points standings after Chinese Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Lewis Hamilton 45
2 Jenson Button 43
3 Fernando Alonso  37
4 Mark Webber  36
5 Sebastian Vettel 28
6 Nico Rosberg 25
7 Sergio Perez  22
8 Kimi Raikkonen  16
9 Bruno Senna 14
10 Kamui Kobayashi  9
11 Romain Grosjean  8
12 Paul di Resta 7
13 Jean-Eric Vergne  4
14 Pastor Maldonado  4
15 Daniel Ricciardo  2
16 Nico Hulkenberg  2
17 Michael Schumacher  1
18 Charles Pic  0
19 Felipe Massa  0
20 Vitaly Petrov  0
21 Heikki Kovalainen  0
22 Narain Karthikeyan 0
23 Pedro de la Rosa 0
24 Romain Grosjean 0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 McLaren-Mercedes 88
2 Red Bull-Renault 64
3 Ferrari 37
4 Sauber 31
5 Mercedes AMG 26
6 Lotus-Renault 24
7 Williams-Renault 18
8 Force India-Mercedes 9
9 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0
12 HRT-Cosworth 0


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