Tag Archives: McLaren

Button storms to Australian Grand Prix win

The drivers pose before the start of the race

The drivers pose before the start of the race

Jenson Button has won the first race of 2012, leading the Australian Grand Prix to the final lap. He inherited the lead on the first lap, getting by teammate Lewis Hamilton, who eventually finished 3rd. The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were 2nd and 4th. Here is what happened:

At the start, Button squeezed past Hamilton to  take the lead, while Fernando Alonso tore up to 8th. Romain Grosjean slipped to 6th, and Bruno Senna spun to the back.

Button slices past Hamilton at the start

Button slices past Hamilton at the start

Sebastian Vettel made an incredible move around the outside of Nico Rosberg, while Pastor Maldonado clashed with Romain Grosjean, leaving the Frenchman on the sidelines.

Vettel began to close on Schumacher in 3rd, but a slip at Turn 1 lost him time, and put him under pressure from Rosberg behind. However, a failure on the Mercedes car allowed Sebastian to slip into 3rd place.

Felipe Massa suffered serious tyre degradation, and stopped at Lap 12. Rosberg, who began to hold up Fernando Alonso, stopped a lap later – whose on-track rival took on mediums.

Webber had had enough of his tyres by Lap 15, and switched to the primes. Button and Vettel pitted on Lap 16, with Hamilton stopping a lap later. Good pace from Fernando Alonso on the primes prompted the leaders to follow his strategy, with only Vettel using the option compound.

Hamilton’s race was quickly being torn apart, as he was held up by a 1-stopping Sergio Perez. He eventually got past, but the gap to Button was now 11 seconds.

Schumacher suffers a car failure under braking

Schumacher suffers a car failure under braking

Perez finally pitted on Lap 25, as Lewis began to repair the gap to his teammate. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa was trounced by Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi in quick succession.

A struggling Rosberg allowed Mark Webber and Pastor Maldonado to move up behind. After holding up the Aussie for several laps, Nico stopped on Lap 31 for primes.

With the McLarens backing off to conserve tyres, Sebastian Vettel was ordered to push, in order to catch Hamilton. The team opted to stop both cars on the same lap, which just about paid off. They stopped just at the right time, as the safety car was deployed for a stranded Caterham on the start/finish straight.

A quick stop by Vettel allowed him to slice past Hamilton, and get up behind Button. Webber got past Alonso in a similar situation, while the lapped cars in the pack were allowed to overtake the safety car – a new addition to the 2012 F1 rules.

Pastor Maldonado crashes his Williams on the final lap

Pastor Maldonado crashes his Williams on the final lap

The safety car pulled away on Lap 42, and Button streaked away from the pack. Kamui Kobayashi put an impressive move on Kimi Raikkonen for 9th, while Webber kept stuck to the back of Hamilton’s gearbox. Back in the battle for 13th, Massa clashed with Bruno Senna, dishing out heavy damage to both cars. Felipe retired, while Senna stopped for repairs.

As the race entered the final 10 laps, Webber got right up behind Hamilton, but failed to faze him. Behind, Pastor Maldonado binned his car on the final lap chasing Alonso, setting off a chain of accidents around the track. Nico Rosberg damaged his steering against Sergio Perez, backing up a large line of cars. Jean-Eric Vergne slipped, and Daniel Ricciardo went around his teammate. Paul di Resta slipped past the Toro Rosso in a drag race to the finish, snatching the final point.

Button takes a deserving lead in the championship

Button takes a deserving lead in the championship

It was a crazy end to an entertaining race, as Jenson Button crossed the line to take a well-deserved victory, with Vettel, Hamilton and Webber all close behind. Alonso was pleased to take 5th, while Kobayashi took a surprise 6th. From there on, the order – Raikkonen, Perez, Ricciardo and Di Resta – was shaken up on the start/finish straight on the final lap.

With this, Vettel’s stranglehold on the driver’s championship has been broken, and the 2012 championship battle is well and truly on.

Hamilton back on top in Australia qualifying

The 2012 F1 season’s first qualifying session kicked off with a bang, as Lewis Hamilton will start on pole position for the Australian Grand Prix. Teammate Jenson Button was a tenth of a second behind, resulting in a McLaren 1-2. Romain Grosjean took a very impressive 3rd, while Nico Rosberg ruined his final lap and will start 7th. Here is the full report:

Q1

Raikkonen's mistake left him 18th

Raikkonen's mistake left him 18th

Timo Glock’s Marussia kicked off the first qualifying session of 2012.

Sebastian Vettel felt the need to go out early, running onto the outside kerbs during his lap, followed by Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso was badly held up by a HRT as he attempted to set a flying lap.

The two McLarens tussled for several laps, before being beaten by Nico Rosberg. Many midfield teams soon felt the need to take on the soft tyres, as the Force Indias escaped the drop zone.

Felipe Massa put on the soft tyres, and yet was only 16th. Kimi Raikkonen made a mistake on his final lap, and incredibly was out of Q1. Both Caterhams were 19th and 20th, while Timo Glock was ahead of Charles Pic. Both HRT cars were miles outside of the 107% rule.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

18) Kimi Raikkonen  – 1:27.758

19) Heikki Kovalainen – 1:28.679

20) Vitaly Petrov – 1:29.018

21) Timo Glock – 1:30.923

22) Charles Pic – 1:30.670

Outside 107% rule:

Pedro de la Rosa – 1:33.495

Narain Karthikeyan – 1:33.643

Q2

Felipe Massa's dismal pace left him 16th

Felipe Massa's dismal pace left him 16th

Paul di Resta’s Force India kicked off Q2. Vettel was the first to break the 1:26 barrier, but was quickly beaten by Lewis Hamilton.

The red flag put an end to this battle, though. Fernando Alonso was the latest driver to make a mistake, spinning into the gravel at Turn 1. The Spaniard was already 6th fastest, but would have no further part in the session.

As the green flag went out, Rosberg went in front of the McLarens, with Schumacher only a tenth behind. Romain Grosjean was an impressive 5th, while Mark Webber only went 7th.

Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo jumped into the top 10, shoving Alonso down to 12th, with Massa a disappointing 16th. Sergio Perez failed to set a lap time.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:26.429

12) Fernando Alonso – 1:26.494

13) Kamui Kobayashi – 1:26.590

14) Bruno Senna – 1:26.663

15) Paul di Resta – 1:27.086

16) Felipe Massa – 1:27.097

17) Sergio Perez – No time

Q3

It's a McLaren 1-2 followed by Grosjean

It's a McLaren 1-2 followed by Grosjean

Nico Rosberg was the first out of the pits on used option tyres. However, due to a mistake in the final sector, he ended up behind Vettel, Schumacher and Button.

Lewis Hamilton’s time of 1:24.922 set the benchmark for the final set of runs. Mark Webber was next up, setting a 1:25.651 to put him second – for the moment.

In the final two minutes, 9 of the frontrunners set one more fast lap, with Ricciardo opting to stay in the pits.

A lock-up at Turn 3 ruined Rosberg’s chance of pole, leaving him 7th. Michael Schumacher took 4th, while Romain Grosjean shocked the entire paddock by snatching 3rd.

The battle for pole position was between the two McLarens. Button’s time of 1:25.074 was just off Lewis’ previous time, leaving the McLarens 1st and 2nd for the race tomorrow. Mark Webber pipped his teammate by 0.017 seconds for 5th.

Pastor Maldonado did well to qualify half a second ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, with Daniel Ricciardo saving a set of options for tomorrow’s race.

Button ends Australian first practice on top

Button started off his season well

Button started off his season well

The 2012 Formula 1 season kicked off this morning in Melbourne, with Jenson Button finishing the first practice session on top of the timesheets.

Massa ended the session in the gravel trap

Massa ended the session in the gravel trap

Lewis Hamilton completed a McLaren 1-2, going 0.2 seconds off his teammate’s pace.

The session began wet, catching out Nico Rosberg on his out lap. However, the track soon dried out, and the last half hour allowed for use of the slick tyres.

After half an hour, HRT’s only car for FP1, being driven my Narain Karthikeyan, stopped out on track with an engine issue. Pedro de la Rosa’s car was still being assembled during the day, and has been granted immunity from scrutineering by the FIA.

Kimi Raikkonen spent most of his day in the pits complaining of steering problems. He eventually made it out to set 8 laps, finishing 9th.

Felipe Massa touched the grass of Turn 9 under braking, and spun into the gravel trap. His teammate, Fernando Alonso, held a slide on his Ferrari on his final lap at the last corner. So far the F2012 appears to be a handful for both drivers.

Times from FP1:


 1.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:27.560           11
 2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1:27.805  +0.245   14
 3.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1:28.235  +0.675   17
 4.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1:28.360  +0.800   21
 5.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1:28.467  +0.907   21
 6.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1:28.683  +1.123   22
 7.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:28.908  +1.348   23
 8.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1:29.415  +1.855   16
 9.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1:29.565  +2.005    8
10.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1:29.722  +2.162   26
11.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1:29.790  +2.230   21
12.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1:29.865  +2.305   17
13.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1:29.881  +2.321   18
14.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault       1:29.953  +2.393   21
15.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1:30.124  +2.564   22
16.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1:30.515  +2.955   16
17.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1:30.586  +3.026   16
18.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1:30.743  +3.183   11
19.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:31.178  +3.618   17
20.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault       1:31.983  +4.423    8
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth      1:34.730  +7.170    8
22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth      1:40.256  +12.696  11
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           N/A                 3
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth           N/A                 0

F1 2012 season opener preview

There’s only a few days to go until the Formula 1 season kicks off again – the off-season really does fly by.

But there’s no time to waste. With everyone gearing up for a much closer title fight this year, it’s time to take one last glance at the pack, and try to predict how the teams will fare in Melbourne:

Red Bull

Red Bull may well battle with McLaren for 2012

Red Bull may well battle with McLaren for 2012

Nobody can deny that Red Bull will be at the front this year – it’s almost a given.

However, that’s not to say that the Adrian Newey-designed RB8 will run away with the title again. The ban on exhaust-blown diffusers has cut their advantage to the other teams, and further restrictions on front wing flexibility put them under greater pressure over the winter.

Sebastian Vettel is still the team #1 after back-to-back world titles. While Mark Webber is gearing up to challenge his teammate, I don’t think the Australian is up to the challenge. The best indicator of Webber’s performance will be in Australia, where Mark has never finished higher than 5th. If he can break his streak of bad luck, then he may be in with a chance.

Still, I predict a Vettel pole position in Australia – after that nobody can be certain.

McLaren

The MP4-27 may well being McLaren back to winning ways

The MP4-27 may well being McLaren back to winning ways

Pre-season testing has indicated that the Woking squad are back in top form in 2012.

However, they have a mighty challenger in the form of Red Bull. Both teams have tested out radical innovations on their cars, and it is still unclear who possesses the faster car. While Red Bull appear to have good qualifying pace, McLaren have performed well in long-fuel runs, similar to the 2011 season.

Lewis Hamilton’s well-publicised problems from 2011 appear to be behind him. The Brit has admitted he spent many nights partying during the 2011 season, which may well explain his loss of focus. There’s no doubt that Lewis is a fantastically talented driver, but there is also no excuse for underperforming in 2012.

His teammate, Jenson Button, will be looking to capitalise on a relatively successful 2011 season, and is hoping to beat Lewis again. However, if Hamilton has tackled his personal issues, then there may well be a brilliantly tight battle between the two this year.

Ferrari

Ferrari are yet to understand their F2012

Ferrari are yet to understand their F2012

While the front two teams have already established themselves as title contenders before the season opener, Ferrari are still unsure as to their pace. How they react to their radical F2012 will be fascinating.

Fernando Alonso will continue to push the team – and the car – to the limits, and there is little doubt that Felipe Massa will be left trailing behind. Ferrari have a perfect team leader in Alonso, and Felipe’s #1 spot at the team (inherited in 2007) has been well and truly taken away from him.

With such a differing driver line-up, the constructor’s title is already out of reach for Ferrari. However, depending on how Ferrari react to developing their F2012, Alonso may challenge for the driver’s title later on.

Mercedes

Mercedes will be looking to challenge the top 3

Mercedes will be looking to challenge the top 3

If Ferrari even stumble, Mercedes appear poised to snatch 3rd place in the constructor’s table from them.

After two disappointing years following the Brawn GP fairytale, things appear to be coming together for Mercedes. Team principal Ross Brawn has assembled some of the sport’s finest engineers to work on the W03, which showed good pace in pre-season testing.

Despite his age, Michael Schumacher may still be a force to be reckoned with. Nico Rosberg meanwhile will be looking to take his first ever race victory – compared to Michael’s colossal 91 wins.

It is unlikely that the team can challenge for the titles this year, but nobody can fully rule them out. Starting the season at the front is absolutely crucial.

Lotus

Lotus will be looking to establish themselves

Lotus will be looking to establish themselves

With a new name and new driver line-up, Lotus are the midfield team to keep an eye out for.

The Enstone squad have one of the most exciting driver combinations on the grid – a former world champion and current GP2 title holder. It is more than likely that Kimi Raikkonen will assert himself as #1 in the team, but Romain Grosjean may well keep him on his toes.

What’s of more importance to the team is moving up the grid. After the frontal-exhaust disaster last year, the E20 appears to be much faster and more reliable, despite the chassis issue that ruled the team out of 4 testing days.

Like Mercedes, they are unlikely to make a massive jump up the grid, but I would be very surprised if Lotus were to finish any lower than 5th.

Force India

Force India are looking to stay on top of the midfield

Force India are looking to stay on top of the midfield

Lotus aren’t the only team looking to make progress in 2011. After several impressive performances last year, Force India will be looking to push their way to the top of the midfield.

Adrian Sutil has been ditched after 5 years of faithful service, and his F1 career appears to be over. He has been replaced by Nico Hulkenberg, who gets another shot in F1 after a good 2010 campaign with Williams.

The team have recently received a $32m cash injection from owner Vijay Mallya, so finances aren’t an issue. What the team want is a progressively faster car than last year – the VJM05 appears to be delivering so far.

Alongside Paul di Resta, this is another exciting driver line-up. This battle is much more difficult to call, but I think Di Resta will stay just on top.

Sauber

Sauber may struggle in 2012

Sauber may struggle in 2012

Another midfield team looking to make progress, Sauber may find themselves squeezed out this year.

While their driver line-up of Kobayashi and Perez is an impressive one, I fear the team has not kept up with the development of the rest of the grid. The team saw a massive slide in pace during the second half of 2011, and the loss of James Key was a massive blow.

With teams like Force India and Lotus looking to move up the grid, there may be no improvement from Sauber in 2012.

Toro Rosso

Ricciardo and Vergne will battle it out at Toro Rosso

Ricciardo and Vergne will battle it out at Toro Rosso

The latest batch of Sebastian Vettel wannabes are in, and look set to provide an exciting battle for 2012.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo are in, ousting Sebastian Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, who had well and truly overstayed their welcome. With little to no F1 experience (several races for HRT doesn’t do much for Ricciardo), we have no idea who will end up on top.

The STR7 looks solid, but doesn’t seem to be pushing the team up the order. Most of the focus this year will be on the driver pairing, to see can either of them join Vettel at Red Bull.

Williams

Williams look set for another dismal season

Williams look set for another dismal season

After a dismal 2011 season, it appears unlikely that Williams will recover this season.

The Fw34 has been disappointing in testing, frequently ending up at the back of the pack. Bruno Senna brings a fresh face to the team, but Pastor Maldonado stays on, and frequent readers of this site know how I feel about him.

They may prove me wrong, but I see little improvement for Williams this year.

Caterham

Caterham must make progress in 2012

Caterham must make progress in 2012

After two years stranded in F1’s no-man’s-land, Caterham will be looking to push forward and join the midfield.

Failure is not an option for this team – they have spent way too much money to continue to fall behind teams like Williams and Sauber. Unlike HRT and Marussia, Caterham invested financially according to where they thought they would finish in several years, not where they would end up in the beginning. Banking their future on FIA payouts is risky, but it’s been done in F1 before.

Vitaly Petrov replaces the direly slow Jarno Trulli, and may give Heikki Kovalainen a run for his money.

HRT

Another season at the back for HRT - but that's all that's needed

Another season at the back for HRT - but that's all that's needed

After finally turning a wheel before the opening race for the first time in their history, HRT have made ever so slight progress towards stability – albeit at the back of the grid.

With the oldest driver line-up on the grid, the team will be sorely lacking in pace. However, the most important thing for the team is that they stay afloat – many new teams collapse within the first two years, particularly back in the 1990s.

A neat livery may gain them some fans, but otherwise it’s business as usual at the back of the pack. They may struggle to reach the 107% rule in the opening rounds.

Marussia

Marussia will be looking to beat HRT

Marussia will be looking to beat HRT

After finishing last yet again, Marussia will be looking to pull themselves ahead of HRT in the standings in 2012.

Rookie Charles Pic will find it most difficult, having little to no experience of the MR01 before Melbourne. I would be surprised if he were to survive the 107% chop in Q1.

Timo Glock, after proving his worth against all his teammates so far, deserves better than to be languishing in 23rd place all year, and the future of the team may well rest in his hands. No pressure, of course.

 

Of course, all of these predictions could fly out the window by the first corner in Melbourne! Either way, it’s looking set to be another fantastic season of Formula 1. I’ll be here to cover it every step of the way.

McLaren launch MP4-27 in Woking

The new McLaren MP4-27

The new McLaren MP4-27

McLaren are the second team to unveil their 2012 challenger, called the MP4-27.

Interestingly, the car does not feature the odd nosecone design that most teams seem to have been developing. Caterham, the only other team to have launched their car so far, incorporated the new innovation into their CT01, with mixed reactions regarding its appearance.

At the launch, Jenson Button noted that the MP4-27 was a “beautiful car”, but “many you see will not be”.

Lewis Hamilton talked about the redesign at the back of the car:

"Particularly the back of the car is a lot neater than it was last year. It’s 
much, much tighter. The focus is making it as snug as possible at the back to 
improve aerodynamics. It’s just refinement.

The rear wing is a bit better in terms of dropping drag. We’re trying our best 
to improve the rear flow especially with no blown diffuser this year it’s going 
to be very tricky for us. You’ll lose a lot of downforce without the blown diffuser.

When we were off-power last year we had a tremendous amount of downforce just 
coming from the back floor with the exhaust-blown diffuser. We don’t have that 
this year which is really the biggest loss for us.

It’s about finding the balance last year we obviously had a lot of weight and a 
lot of downforce on the rear of the car and we had to try to balance it with 
getting enough front end. This year I think it will be the other way around: 
having too much at the front and trying to find more rear."
A frontal view of the McLaren MP4-27

A frontal view of the McLaren MP4-27

Lewis also joked: “We’ve changed the mirrors, we’ll be able to see a lot better. Felipe [Massa] will be very happy with that!”

Instead of incorporating drastic changes in height on the nosecone, McLaren have opted to lower the front of their car, to cope with the lower front wing technical rule change this year.

Compared to the MP4-26, the car is tighter at the back for improved airflow. The U-shaped sidepods have been replaced with a more conventional design (which McLaren claim was a cause of the FIA banning exhaust-blown diffusers), while a revised cooling system now directs air to the gearbox oil cooling system.

Force India and Ferrari are next up to reveal their cars, both launching in two days time.

2011 final driver rankings: 3rd – 1st

This is the final article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers this season. As you would expect, this post tackles Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

3rd – Jenson Button

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Previous ranking: 3rd

Review from previous ranking: “He has shown himself as a more complete driver this year, and unlike his teammate, shows restraint where necessary.”

In the first few races of 2011 it appeared that Jenson was still a step behind Lewis Hamilton in terms of performance. A single podium in the first 4 races was earned because of his trademark tyre conservation, not because of outright pace.

However, from Monaco onwards, the balance of power had shifted at McLaren, and Button is now comfortably ahead of his teammate in all areas.

He has scored double the amount of podiums compared to Hamilton this year (12 against 6). As well as his damp/wet weather skills, he was able to keep his car out of trouble – a complete contrast compared to Lewis. His two retirements were not caused by his hand, compared to two silly crashes by Hamilton.

He seems to have a sixth sense in changeable weather conditions. His drive in Canada was outstanding, overtaking the entire field in a matter of 30 laps. In Hungary, a straight fight between the McLarens, Lewis fell apart while Button cruised to victory.

In Suzuka, he was able to scrape a win deep in Red Bull territory – a remarkable feat considering the pace of the RB7.

Many doubted that Jenson could withstand Lewis when moving to McLaren. However, he has proven us all wrong by becoming the first driver to beat Lewis on points while in the same team, by 43 points – and it should have been a lot more.

Not only this, but he has firmly put himself in the elite group of top racing drivers.

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Previous ranking: 1st

Review from previous ranking: “Nearly utterly faultless all season, Sebastian is more complete a racing driver.”

Sebastian Vettel is vastly changed from 2010. Barely a single foot put wrong all season, the German deservedly took back-to-back world championships – but still pushed himself the entire way.

He could have backed off on the first lap in Monza, but he didn’t. Taking to the grass at Curva Grande, he sliced past Fernando Alonso to take the lead in style.

He could have backed off in Spa, but again he didn’t. Vettel is the first driver in recent history to make a pass around the outside of the fearsome Blanchimont corner. I honestly can’t remember the last time a driver did this.

The dropping of points were almost always out of his control. His retirement in Abu Dhabi was mechanical, while gearbox issues in Brazil cost him the win. There is very little to fault Vettel with this season.

So the question is – why is he second instead of first?

Obviously, we saw the making of a top-class driver this year, but I feel there’s more to it than just raw pace. The Red Bull tactic of sticking the car on pole and tearing away in the first few laps, to remain out of sight for later, isn’t the most desirable tactics we’d like to see – especially if it’s done 90% of all the races.

He has the scope for overtaking moves, but this simply doesn’t define a season. Webber’s pass on Alonso in Spa proves that a ballsy move doesn’t earn you Driver of the Year on merit.

As well as this, whenever the slightest variable moves in the car, Vettel’s driving falters. Germany was the prime example of this, where a suspension change resulted in Sebastian’s pace falling off a cliff. He was lucky to finish 4th considering the pace he had.

There’s no denying that he is a world class driver, and one of the best drivers in F1’s history. But the absolute perfect team/car set-up cannot last forever, and when it slips away, Vettel’s talent will be severely tested. However, we still have one more driver, who has shown that he can still rip up tarmac while well outside of his comfort zone…

1st – Fernando Alonso

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

Previous review: 2nd

Ranking from previous review: “If there’s anyone on the grid who can [challenge Vettel] it will be Fernando Alonso.”

After the last two years I can easily say that Fernando Alonso doesn’t need the best car to inspire terror in his fellow drivers. While his championship challenge failed to materialise, he pushed maximum performance out of a lifeless car, and put that Ferrari where no other driver could.

As Felipe Massa proved, an average driver will produce average results from an average car. But Fernando is not an average driver. When the opportunity arose to take a single win in 2011, Alonso was there, snatching the victory while his teammate was half a minute behind.

Even when the car was nowhere near its best, Fernando was always ready to fight for whatever scraps Red Bull and McLaren had left behind. He made an astonishing start in Spain to grab the lead from 4th on the grid, and only the prime tyres proved to be his downfall.

When Vettel was out of the running in Germany, Alonso was primed to take another victory, but was thwarted by an excellent pass by Hamilton after his pit-stop. Without that move, it could well have been another win.

With such a dog of a car, the only driver we can effectively compare him to is Massa, and that’s a pretty easy comparison. Alonso has destroyed Felipe in every possible sector this year. While Fernando has taken 10 podiums this year, Felipe has none whatsoever. What’s more impressive is the fact that Alonso was out of the top 5 only twice this year (considering that Red Bulls and McLarens would dominate the top 4 according to car pace), while 5th was all that Massa could achieve at all.

This shows the gap between an ordinary driver and an extraordinary one. If I were to criticise him for anything this season, it would be  an ill-judged defense of his position in Canada, resulting in his only retirement of the year.

Despite this, Alonso is capable of pushing his car well beyond what it would achieve with any other driver at the wheel. His long-term contract with Ferrari shows that he has faith in the Scuderia, and the prospect of a competitive car next year will undoubtedly set us up for a brilliant showdown against Red Bull and McLaren.

For achieving what no other driver could in a dismal car, Fernando Alonso is my driver of the year.

Hamilton takes commanding win in Abu Dhabi

Vettel leads at the start, but not for long...

Vettel leads at the start, but not for long...

Lewis Hamilton was back on form for the first time in months, as he drove fantastically to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel didn’t even make it around the first lap, resulting in a surprisingly exciting race on the Yas Marina track.

Fernando Alonso drove the wheels off his Ferrari to take 2nd, with Jenson Button 3rd after a relatively slow race. Here is the full report:

At the start, Vettel retained his lead at Turn 1, but for no longer. A puncture exiting the corner blew a rear tyre, reducing Sebastian to a crawl for the entire lap.

Lewis Hamilton leaped into the lead, while Fernando Alonso shoved his way into 2nd place, ahead of a struggling Jenson Button. Meanwhile, after pitting, it became clear that Vettel’s right rear suspension was ruined, and the world champion retired from the race.

The battle for the lead was between Hamilton and Alonso, as the two traded fastest laps, with Button and Webber squabbling behind. Further back, Paul di Resta and Sebastien Buemi battled for 9th place, with the double DRS resulting in constant passes and re-passes.

Kamui Kobayashi, who pitted on Lap 6, began his ascent through the field, passing both HRT cars in a single corner, as Liuzzi and Ricciardo tussled for position.

Button’s lack of pace was explained by a radio message stating that there was “still a problem” –  which became apparent as a KERS failure. Felipe Massa was the first to pit on Lap 16, taking on more soft tyres.

Hamilton and Alonso stopped a lap later, with Button not far behind in the pits. Webber pitted on Lap 18, but a slow tyre change resulted in the Red Bull dropping down the order, behind Felipe Massa. Replays showed Vitaly Petrov running wide and losing places to Adrian Sutil and Michael Schumacher.

Paul di Resta was instructed to allow Sutil past into 8th place, while Sebastien Buemi retired with an ailing car. It became clear that Di Resta was on a one-stop strategy, losing up to 3 seconds per lap on the medium tyre. He eventually pitted for the option tyre on Lap 28 – a risky call.

Pastor Maldonado was given a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags. Button’s lack of KERS meant he was slowly caught by Massa and Webber. Mark was the first to make a move, slicing past the Ferrari, but Felipe re-took the position at the second DRS zone.

Their battle was interrupted by Pastor Maldonado, who, after not learning anything after his first drive-through, held up both drivers as he swerved around the track.

Webber pitted for soft tyres on Lap 36, indicating he was on a three-stop strategy. Button stopped a lap later, taking on the harder compound. At the front, Alonso began chopping into Hamilton’s lead, bringing the gap down to 3.9 seconds.

Webber gets by Button while on a different strategy

Webber gets by Button while on a different strategy

Sergio Perez got past Vitaly Petrov for 10th place. Mark Webber set fastest lap after fastest lap on the option tyres. Lewis Hamilton pitted with 14 laps to go, to cover Alonso’s excellent pace.

While Fernando stayed out, Webber’s race began to slowly unravel, as he was stuck behind Jenson Button, despite two instances of DRS helping the Red Bull. Eventually Mark pushed his way past the McLaren, but as he needed to stop again, Jenson didn’t bother defending his position.

A poor pit stop for the Ferrari ruined his chances of jumping Hamilton in the stops. Rosberg and Webber in 3rd and 4th both needed to stop again, but battled it out on track regardless. Mark got past the Mercedes, but it became clear he had lost his chance of a podium finish.

Massa spins after yet another poor race

Massa spins after yet another poor race

Kamui Kobayashi eaasily passed teammate Sergio Perez for 10th place with 8 laps to go. Felipe Massa spun at Turn 1, ensuring that Webber would remain ahead of the Ferrari after his final stop.

Daniel Ricciardo became the final retirement of the day, pulling off the track with 3 laps to go. As expected, Webber pitted on the final lap, dropping him to 4th place.

Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to take his first win since the Nurburgring, ensuring a return to form at the end of the 2011 season. Alonso pushed as hard as he could, but a win was too much to ask for. Button took a steady 3rd after his KERS issues.

After a troubled year, Hamilton is back on top

After a troubled year, Hamilton is back on top

Webber led Massa home, while Nico Rosberg beat teammate Michael Schumacher, who pulled over on the cool-down lap to conserve a fuel sample.

The Force Indias performed well, with Sutil and Di Resta 8th and 9th after utilising different strategies. Kobayashi grabbed the final point after a difficult string of races for the Japanese driver.

Hamilton fastest in Abu Dhabi second practice

Hamilton kept McLaren on top

Hamilton kept McLaren on top

McLaren once again dominated practice in Abu Dhabi, but this time it was Lewis Hamilton on top of the timesheets.

Hamilton led teammate Button by nearly two tenths of a second, with the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa behind. Mark Webber was 5th, with Sebastian Vettel 6th.

Both Vettel and Alonso crashed at the same spot in second practice. At the entry to Turn 1, both cars hit the barriers, with Vettel rejoining the session later, and Alonso suffering damage to the back of the car.

Mark Webber also spun out, at Turn 18, but managed to rejoin the track.

Michael Schumacher was 7th, ahead of the two Force India and two Sauber drivers. Nico Rosberg was 20th and 4.5 seconds off the pace, despite setting over 40 laps.

Times from FP2:

 1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1:39.586          31
 2.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:39.785   0.199  30
 3.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1:39.971   0.385  20
 4.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1:39.980   0.394  34
 5.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1:40.104   0.518  35
 6.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1:40.132   0.546  26
 7.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1:40.553   0.967  34
 8.  Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1:40.951   1.365  34
 9.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1:41.021   1.435  37
10.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1:41.490   1.904  34
11.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1:41.565   1.979  34
12.  Sebastien Buemi       Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:41.680   2.094  33
13.  Vitaly Petrov         Renault                1:41.947   2.361  31
14.  Jaime Alguersuari     Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:41.983   2.397  34
15.  Bruno Senna           Renault                1:42.369   2.783  36
16.  Rubens Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth      1:42.798   3.212  35
17.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Cosworth      1:42.910   3.324  34
18.  Heikki Kovalainen     Lotus-Renault          1:43.562   3.976  36
19.  Jarno Trulli          Lotus-Renault          1:44.050   4.464  38
20.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1:44.265   4.679  41
21.  Timo Glock            Virgin-Cosworth        1:45.486   5.900  34
22.  Jerome D'Ambrosio     Virgin-Cosworth        1:46.142   6.556  32
23.  Tonio Liuzzi          HRT-Cosworth           1:46.249   6.663  21
24.  Daniel Ricciardo      HRT-Cosworth           1:46.328   6.742  34

Button heads Abu Dhabi first practice

Button was fastest in a McLaren-dominated session

Button was fastest in a McLaren-dominated session

Jenson Button was fastest in first practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The McLarens dominated the session, before Mark Webber went 2nd near the end. This session also saw the introduction of Pirelli’s new experimental soft tyre.

World champion Sebastian Vettel was 4th, ahead of the Ferrari drivers who had a difficult session. Both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa spun off the track within several minutes of each other. Alonso in particular seemed to struggle with the handling of his car.

Jean-Eric Vergne tested for Toro Rosso, finishing 11th and only 0.2 seconds behind Jaime Alguersuari. Romain Grosjean drove for Renault in place of Bruno Senna, taking 12th.

Robert Wickens also drove in his first ever Formula 1 session, and was slowest of all the drivers. Rubens Barrichello was last, after retiring with engine problems after 3 laps.

Times from FP1:

 1.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes        1:40.263          21
 2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault        1:40.389   0.126  26
 3.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes        1:40.403   0.140  27
 4.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault        1:40.755   0.492  27
 5.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                 1:40.801   0.538  25
 6.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                 1:41.260   0.997  17
 7.  Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes    1:41.340   1.077  23
 8.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes                1:42.130   1.867  26
 9.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes    1:42.151   1.888  28
10.  Jaime Alguersuari     Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:42.377   2.114  26
11.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:42.633   2.370  26
12.  Romain Grosjean       Renault                 1:42.685   2.422  29
13.  Vitaly Petrov         Renault                 1:43.118   2.855  13
14.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Cosworth       1:43.255   2.992  29
15.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes                1:43.389   3.126  24
16.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari          1:44.412   4.149  28
17.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari          1:44.484   4.221  18
18.  Heikki Kovalainen     Lotus-Renault           1:44.565   4.302  27
19.  Jarno Trulli          Lotus-Renault           1:44.898   4.635  25
20.  Tonio Liuzzi          HRT-Cosworth            1:46.385   6.122  28
21.  Daniel Ricciardo      HRT-Cosworth            1:46.532   6.269  27
22.  Timo Glock            Virgin-Cosworth         1:48.024   7.761  20
23.  Robert Wickens        Virgin-Cosworth         1:48.551   8.288  23
24.  Rubens Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth                          3

Hamilton breaks Red Bull’s pole position streak in Korea

For the first time since the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix, a Red Bull will not start from pole position. Today, it was Lewis Hamilton who took top spot for the Korean Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver was on the pace all weekend, but his teammate was unable to challenge for pole, instead being split for 3rd by Sebastian Vettel. Mark Webber was disappointingly slow in Q3, finishing 4th, with the off-pace Ferraris 5th and 6th. Here is what happened:

Q1

The Renaults briefly led Q1, before a flurry of cars exited the pits. Strangely enough, both Red Bull cars decided to make their first runs on the super-soft tyres.

Lewis Hamilton soon went top with a 1:38.278, with Jenson Button half a second off his teammate. Despite being on faster tyres, both Red Bulls were unusually slow, lapping in the 1:39s.

Lewis went another 7 tenths faster the next lap, with Jenson again off the pace. The Williams drivers, as well as Vitantonio Liuzzi, only left the pits with 4 minutes to go. Although he was using the super-soft compound, Pastor Maldonado could only go 16th.

Rubens Barrichello abandoned his final run, allowing Maldonado to take his teammate out of Q1. Daniel Ricciardo failed to set a time in this session, with an apparent technical problem with the HRT.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

18) Rubens Barrichello – 1:39.538

19) Heikki Kovalainen – 1:40.522

20) Jarno Trulli – 1:41.101

21) Timo Glock – 1:42.091

22) Jerome D’Ambrosi – 1:43.483

23) Vitantonio Liuzzi – 1:43.758

24) Daniel Ricciardo – No time

Q2

Again, Hamilton comprehensively led Button in the early stages of the session, with Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso off the pace of McLaren. A little twitch from Vettel’s car on his first run slipped him to 7 tenths off Hamilton.

Michael Schumacher’s first run put him only into 9th place. Felipe Massa was forced to use another set of super-softs to survive the session.

Jaime Alguersuari and Paul di Resta briefly made it into 10th place, with the Scot staying there as the chequered flag fell. This left Michael Schumacher stranded down in 12th position for the race.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Jaime Alguersuari – 1:38.315

12) Michael Schumacher – 1:38.354

13) Sebastien Buemi – 1:38.508

14) Kamui Kobayashi – 1:38.775

15) Bruno Senna – 1:38.791

16) Pastor Maldonado – 1:39.189

17) Sergio Perez – 1:39.443

Q3

Pole favourite Lewis Hamilton was first out, setting a 1:36.130. The Ferraris were well off the pace, with Button still nearly half a second off his teammate. Sebastian Vettel was slower than Hamilton by only 0.03 seconds after his first run.

A 1:35.820 improved Hamilton’s benchmark, with Button 0.3 seconds off. Mark Webber abandoned his final run after a dismal first sector, a move copied by Paul di Resta.

While the Ferraris failed to make any impact on the front runners, Vettel was on a charge to knock Hamilton off top spot. However, for the first time this year, the Red Bull car will not start on pole position, as Sebastian could only get within 2 tenths of the McLaren.

With that, Lewis will start on pole tomorrow, with Vettel preventing a McLaren front row lockout. Webber will be 4th, ahead of the two Ferraris. Nico Rosberg was 7th, with Vitaly Petrov 8th. Neither Force India car set a time in Q3.

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