Tag Archives: Red Bull

Red Bull RB8 floor deemed illegal

The FIA has instructed Red Bull to modify its floor system before the Canadian Grand Prix, as it has now been deemed illegal.

The team came under pressure from Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes in Monaco, after they protested that the holes in the RB8’s floor were against the rules. While they refrained from a post-race protest, which may have got Mark Webber’s race win thrown out, the FIA sought to clear matters with the teams.

The holes were located just ahead of the rear wheels, and were believed to have provided a moderate performance advantage.

The design took advantage of a “grey area” in the technical regulations, but the FIA have now clamped down on this exploitation.

Webber makes history with Monaco win

Mark Webber has created history at the Monaco Grand Prix, with 6 different race winners in 6 races, a feat never seen before in Formula 1.

Webber fends off Rosberg at the start

Webber fends off Rosberg at the start

The Australian was chased to the flag by Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. The race was a procedure for the first 60 laps, until light rain bunched up the pack and caused a fair few spills in the dying few laps. Here is what happened…

At the start, Webber and Rosberg held the front row, while Romain Grosjean was tipped into a spin by Michael Schumacher. Pastor Maldonado was rear-ended by Pedro de la Rosa, ending both drivers’ races.

The safety car was called for Grosjean’s stray car, allowing the field to cool off after a fiery start.

Grosjean spins while Kobayashi goes airborne

Grosjean spins while Kobayashi goes airborne

The race restarted on lap 4, with Vettel up to 6th on the prime tyre. Fernando Alonso hounded Lewis Hamilton for 3rd, but was unable to pass the McLaren.

Sergio Perez pulled a move on Jean-Eric Vergne, but the Toro Rosso driver cut the chicane in order to keep his position. After a few laps, race control ordered Vergne to hand the position back.

The super-soft tyres lasted longer than most people had expected, with most drivers staying out for up to 30 laps. Kimi Raikkonen was the first of the frontrunners to fall off the cliff, creating a “Raikkonen railway” of cars being held up behind.

After Nico Rosberg pitted from 2nd, followed closely by Webber and Hamilton, Raikkonen stopped and released the train of cars, falling to 11th. At his only pit stop, Fernando Alonso did the undercut on Lewis Hamilton.

The stops left Sebastian Vettel in the lead, yet to stop on the prime tyre. He showed impressive pace, opening up a 17 second gap to his teammate Webber. The other driver on a risky strategy – Button – was having a disastrous race. He stopped on lap 39, and emerged behind Heikki Kovalainen. Unable to make a move, he was stuck there for the rest of the race.

Vettel, meanwhile, came out in 4th after his stop, slicing across Hamilton at pit exit. Sergio Perez was handed a drive-through penalty for a dangerous move on Kimi Raikkonen. As the Sauber entered the pits, he swerved across the Lotus, forcing Kimi to take evasive action.

Michael Schumacher had worked his way up to 7th once the order had died down. However, he was soon on the team radio complaining of an unspecified problem. The team reassured him that it wasn’t critical, but he was still forced to hand 7th to Jean-Eric Vergne. Once the Force Indias carved him up, the Mercedes car was forced to retire.

With only 10 laps to go, light rain began to fall. This bunched the top 6 up, with as little as 3.6 seconds separating them. Jean-Eric Vergne pitted for intermediates with 8 laps to go, causing a shake-up in strategies.

Jenson Button, in a state of desperation, tried a move on Kovalainen after the Swimming Pool, but spun, and gave up on the race.

The light rain bunched up the frontrunners, but nobody was foolish enough to make a move. With the track drying out in the final laps, Mark Webber crossed the line to take his first victory of the season, with 5 cars chasing him to the flag.

Felipe Massa quadrupled his 2012 points tally with 6th, and the two Force Indias, Raikkonen and Bruno Senna filled out the top 10.

Fernando Alonso now leads the world championship, 3 points ahead of Webber and Vettel. After such an unpredictable few races, we may still see out 7th winner in Canada – can anyone rule out Lewis Hamilton?

Schumacher fastest, Webber to start from pole in Monaco

Mark Webber will start from pole position for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix.

However, he didn’t set the fastest time. For the second time in two races, the fastest driver has incurred a grid penalty, but it wasn’t Pastor Maldonado as many had expected. Amazingly, it was Michael Schumacher who took provisional pole from the Red Bull.

After his collision with Bruno Senna in Spain, Michael will start 6th in Monaco. The Red Bulls were 1st and 10th, in contrasting fortunes, while Sergio Perez had another shunt with the barriers. This is what happened:

Q1

Sergio Perez limps back to the pits

Sergio Perez limps back to the pits

Charles Pic was the first to exit the pits, but was blocked by Pedro de la Rosa on his first attempt.

Fernando Alonso was the first to set a fast lap, setting a 1:17.128. However, the red flag was quickly out, as Sergio Perez hit the barrier for the second year in a row. He understeered horribly out of the Swimming Pool, and made heavy contact with the barriers.

The green flag saw a flurry of activity, as drivers scrambled to set a fast lap. Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton swiftly went 1st and 2nd, with Nico Rosberg going 4th. On his next lap, the Mercedes driver improved his lap by more than half a second.

The Lotuses were very late setting their times. Romain Grosjean leaped up to 2nd with 3 minutes to go, while Kimi Raikkonen was held up by Vitaly Petrov, and pitted for super-softs with just a few minutes to go. Vettel and Kobayashi followed the Finn’s tactics.

Kamui Kobayashi went up to 2nd, with Vettel and Raikkonen 4th and 5th. Nico Hulkenberg took top spot, after setting his best lap with over 5 minutes to go.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

18) Heikki Kovalainen – 1:16.538

19) Vitaly Petrov – 1:17.404

20) Timo Glock – 1:17.947

21) Pedro de la Rosa – 1:18.096

22) Charles Pic – 1:18.476

23) Narain Karthikeyan – 1:19.310

24) Sergio Perez – N/A

Q2

Button caused a shock by exiting in Q2

Button caused a shock by exiting in Q2

Super-softs were the way to go in Q2 as the session got underway.

Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher quickly went 1st and 2nd, before they were split by Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Jean-Eric Vergne was the next driver to make contact with the barriers, breaking off his front wing and damaging his suspension. It did little to disrupt the session, apart from holding up Felipe Massa.

Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean moved into the top 10, displacing Vettel and Kobayashi. Felipe Massa took the top spot, while Vettel went back into 8th.

It soon turned into a mad charge to survive Q2. Bruno Senna was first up, failing to move further than 14th. Kimi Raikkonen slipped into 10th, while Jenson Button was only 13th. Nico Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi were briefly in the top 10, but were pushed out in the final few laps.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:15.421

12) Kamui Kobayashi – 1:15.508

13) Jenson Button – 1:15.536

14) Bruno Senna – 1:15.709

15) Paul di Resta – 1:15.718

16) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:15.878

17) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:16.885

Q3

Schumacher was fastest, but will not start on pole position

Schumacher was fastest, but will not start on pole position

Nico Rosberg was first up, but backed off on his first attempt. Romain Grosjean set a 1:14.639 to take top spot, with Nico Rosberg pipping him by 0.05 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton was 0.3 seconds off the pace, with Mark Webber moving into 3rd position. While the track was quiet with 3 minutes to go, Felipe Massa exited the pits. He went 8th, while Kimi Raikkonen took 6th.

Pastor Maldonado was next up, but was slightly held up by Massa. Fortunately, he didn’t vent his anger on the Ferrari like he did in third practice.

Fernando Alonso zipped up to 5th, but Mark Webber shocked many by flying onto provisional pole. Massa took 6th, while neither of the Lotuses improved on their times.

However, it wasn’t over yet. Qualifying was completely turned on its head, as Michael Schumacher blasted his way to the top of the timesheets. His 1:14.301 was marginally faster than anyone else, but his 5 place grid penalty from Spain drops him to 6th. This means that Mark Webber will start from pole position tomorrow.

Nico Rosberg will join him on the front row, with Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean just behind. The Ferraris were split by Schumacher, with Raikkonen, Maldonado and Vettel filling the top 10.

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.

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.

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.

Barcelona testing day 1: Vettel leads, while Lotus drop out after chassis issues

Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull sported an aero measuring device on the rear wing

Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull sported an aero measuring device on the rear wing

Sebastian Vettel led the first day of 8 testing days at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

However, the main news story of the day was Lotus dropping out of testing after discovering serious issues with their chassis. More details will be posted on the site later.

Vettel’s time of 1:23.265 was slightly faster than Nico Hulkenberg for Force India. Lewis Hamilton was 3rd for McLaren.

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Sergio Perez were within a tenth of a second of each other. Romain Grosjean managed only 7 laps in the Lotus before reporting “strange” handling from the car.

Heikki Kovalainen suffered a rear suspension failure and a spin, leaving him 9th with only 31 laps set. Sauber were forced to retire their C31 after gearbox problems, while Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso came to a halt on track with an hour to go.

Charles Pic had his first run in the Marussia car, finishing last but setting 121 laps across the day.

Times from Barcelona day 1:

1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull RB8         1:23.265   79 Laps
2.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India VJM05    1:23.440   97 Laps    +0.175
3.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren MP4-27       1:23.590   114 Laps   +0.325
4.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso STR7      1:23.618   76 Laps    +0.353
5.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari F2012        1:24.100   75 Laps    +0.835
6.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes W03         1:24.150   51 Laps    +0.885
7.  Sergio Perez          Sauber C31           1:24.219   66 Laps    +0.954
8.  Bruno Senna           Williams FW34        1:25.711   97 Laps    +2.446
9.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham CT01        1:26.035   31 Laps    +2.770
10. Romain Grosjean       Lotus E20            1:26.809   7 Laps     +3.544
11. Charles Pic           Virgin MVR-02        1:28.026   121 Laps   +4.761

Red Bull post first images of RB8

Red Bull's first images of the RB8

Red Bull's first images of the RB8

Red Bull are the second of today’s launches, posting pictures of their RB8 challenger.

After back-to-back drivers and constructors championships, the team have retained their winning formula, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at the helm. Adrian Newey continues to head the design team. Ex-Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi is the team’s reserve driver.

The most interesting innovation so far appears to be in the now infamous nose section, where the team have placed an air intake right in the middle of the raised section. It is currently unclear what section this intake serves, but it would most likely be for the driver.

More pictures and quotes from the team will be added as they arrive.

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.

2011 final driver rankings: 10th – 4th

This is the third article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers of the season. This section of the ranking covers drivers such as Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

10th – Paul di Resta

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Previous ranking: 13th

Review from previous ranking: “Ragged drives have lost him points, but nevertheless a decent start to his F1 career for the Scot.”

It still amazes me that Paul di Resta is in only his first year in F1 – his form makes him look like an experienced veteran.

Aside from a few scrappy rookie errors, Di Resta has been incredibly reliable and solid for a rookie, amassing the most racing laps by any driver this year. He out-qualified teammate Adrian Sutil 9 times, and held this advantage 6 times in the races.

Force India later began to split their strategies between their two drivers, which resulted in a hit-and-miss second half for Di Resta. Despite this, many have been seriously impressed with the Scot’s mature attitude and confident driving this year.

The fact that he scored points in his first 2 races, as well as 6 of the last 9, spoke volumes.

9th – Adrian Sutil

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Previous ranking: 15th

Review from previous ranking: “If he is beaten by Di Resta in his first year, then Adrian will find himself shunted out of the way by the hotshot rookie.”

It’s both a blessing and a curse for teams to see their driver perform brilliantly while their contract is up for review. A blessing because it brings the results the team craves, a curse because the form rarely continues into the next season (see Toro Rosso).

Sutil found himself under huge pressure from rookie Di Resta, and delivered the goods fantastically in the second half of 2011. Taking season-best 6th places in home race Germany and Brazil were the highlights. It has been a complete turnaround from Germany only 2 years ago, when he bottled his first-ever points-scoring finish by clashing with Kimi Raikkonen.

He enjoyed a decent overall margin over Paul in both qualifying and the races, and rarely lost an opportunity when it was presented.

Adrian has proven himself to be much more reliable and mature than his previous driving indicated, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to retain his contract for 2012.

8th – Mark Webber

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Previous ranking: 7th

Review from previous ranking: “Webber seems to be lacking in pace, and is at risk of being beaten (points-wise) by Alonso.”

After the end of one of his most disastrous seasons in Formula 1, it is a mystery as to how Mark Webber can pull his career around.

Webber has been completely annihilated by Sebastian Vettel in every single sector this year. While his German teammate finished in the top two 16 times, Mark could do the same only 3 times across the entire season.

He struggled massively at starts, couldn’t extract any performance from the Pirelli tyres in qualifying, and wore them out too quickly in the races. A solitary win in Brazil was barely deserved either – it was only because Vettel suffered gearbox issues.

His racecraft was hit-and-miss as well. His pass on Fernando Alonso in Spa was breathtaking, but he showed inability to adapt to the 2011 racing style in Korea, passing Lewis Hamilton just before a DRS zone, allowing the McLaren to sail past.

A charge through the field in China was fantastic to watch, but overall it was incredibly disappointing to see Webber toil with the Ferraris and McLarens rather than with his teammate.

7th – Sergio Perez

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Previous ranking: 8th

Review from previous ranking: “Impressive pace has led many to praise Perez as rookie of the year.”

A crash in Monaco ruled out Perez when the Sauber car was at its best, but he has still done an immense job in his rookie year.

“Checo” made an immediate impact in F1 by scoring points on his debut, only to have them cruelly taken away after a minor technical infringement. A scrappy few races followed, particularly in China, where Sergio picked up two penalties after some questionable driving.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about Perez is his mature no-nonsense attitude. After his Monaco crash, he sensibly sat out the Canadian GP as well, after not feeling well in Friday practice. There are many drivers on the grid who would go into the Grand Prix regardless, putting themselves and their fellow drivers at risk. The fact that Perez reported side-effects from the crash up to 4 races later shows that his decision was the sensible one.

He was soon back to his best, taking a career-best 7th in Silverstone. He was vastly superior over Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying, and was very competent at adapting to the Pirelli tyres. The fact that he is already being lined up for a Ferrari drive is a signal of his prowess.

6th – Lewis Hamilton

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Previous ranking: 4th

Review from previous review: “Hamilton needs to ease off at times, and learn which battles to fight and which to avoid.”

My prediction for Lewis Hamilton could not have been more wrong – it’s been an incredibly difficult year for the former world champion.

Needless clashes, spats with the stewards, tussling with a superior teammate, and apparent overwhelming personal issues all dogged Lewis in 2011. He hasn’t lost his racing ability, as shown by excellent driving in China, Spain and Germany. However, it was clear that Hamilton was surrounded by the wrong people.

The decision to hire a celebrity manager rather than a sporting one took its toll – Lewis was making 3 media/sponsor appearances every single day for a 3 week period at one point. His frustration took to the track, and several shunts with Felipe Massa in Monaco was just the beginning of a fracas that would last the entire season.

As well as the collisions with Massa, Monaco proved to be the worst race of the year. Hitting Pastor Maldonado near the end provoked another penalty from the stewards, and Lewis didn’t hold back in his criticism afterwards.

To make matters worse, the fact that Jenson Button had improved to become an increasingly competitive teammate proved calamitous. In Canada, relations were tense after the two collided in the treacherous conditions.

However, we must not forget that Lewis was still able to show his talents this year. He was completely deserving in every race he won, and pushed Vettel to the flag in Spain, where Red Bull have dominated so much in the past. Wonderful passes in China and Germany were a demonstration of how good a driver he is.

It’s absolutely certain that Hamilton has the pace to win championships, all he has to do is calm down. But that’s easier said than done.

5th – Michael Schumacher

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

Previous ranking: 10th

Review from previous ranking: “Further improvement this year would be the main aim for Schumacher.”

It’s been more than improvement for Schumacher – he has seriously upped his game, and pushed Nico Rosberg in nearly every way to the final race in Brazil.

Ending the season only 13 points behind Rosberg, it’s been an impressive year for Schumacher. He deserved a well-earned podium in Canada, only for an oversized DRS zone to rip it out of his hands.

Poor qualifying was his hindrance, but he frequently made it up in the races. Michael has set 116 overtakes this season, more than any other driver. Of course, this stat is skewed in the fact that Rosberg was unable to make up much places, while Schumacher would ascend from the depths of Q2, but it is still an impressive statistic.

It’s no secret that Schumacher’s side of the garage is 100% geared towards defeating Rosberg. There is apparently a growing tension in the team as both sides do their best to out-perform the other. It will be very interesting to see how the German duo battle it out in 2012, but much of it will hinge on the car.

4th – Nico Rosberg

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Previous ranking: 5th

Review from previous ranking: “Consistently beating Schumacher will do his reputation a world of good.”

Another year, another lacklustre car at Rosberg’s disposal. It’s a wonder why he puts up with it.

While he was unable to completely dominate Schumacher in the points total, Rosberg completely out-classed his fellow German in qualifying pace. While Michael’s races were spattered with retirements, Nico has cleanly and consistently been taking points finishes by the truckload.

His points margin over Schumacher was reduced this year compared to 2010, but that was to be expected after a torrid campaign last time around from the 7-times champion.

Rosberg is completely capable of mixing it with the frontrunners whenever the opportunity arises, such as Spa or China. He has led quite a few Grands Prix, but the lack of pace from the W02 has constantly held him back from crossing the chequered flag first.

The start of next season will be similar to the start of 2011 – many will be looking to see does Mercedes deliver on its long-awaited frontrunning car. I’m also looking forward to that day – but mostly to see can Rosberg show what he’s really made of.

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