Tag Archives: Sebastian Vettel

Vettel survives tyre scare to win in Korea

Sebastian Vettel has taken his third victory in a row at the Korean Grand Prix. It wasn’t easy sailing all the way though, as both Red Bulls incurred serious tyre degradation near the end of the race. After crawling the last few laps, Vettel eventually led home teammate Mark Webber, with Fernando Alonso taking 3rd place, losing control of the world championship in the process.

Lewis Hamilton had a complete disaster of a race, while the Toro Rossos took an impressive double points finish. Here is what happened:

At the start, Vettel slided past Webber into the first corner, while Fernando Alonso put huge pressure on the Red Bulls. Jenson Button’s race only lasted two corners, being taken out by Kamui Kobayashi in the braking zone at the end of the straight, ending the McLaren’s race.

Sergio Perez made good progress, benefiting from the Kobayashi carnage to move up to 9th. However, up front, Sebastian began to sail away at the front, having dispatched of his rivals with ease.

The two Toro Rossos began to tussle amongst themselves, being held up by Pastor Maldonado. After asking for team orders, Daniel Ricciardo still benefited when Maldonado ran wide, allowing both himself and Jean-Eric Vergne through.

Unsurprisingly, a drive-through penalty was the order of the day for Kobayashi, after causing two retirements on the first lap.

The stranded Mercedes of Roseberg caused some pain for the stewards, causing double-waved yellows to be out for 10 laps while the car was cleared. Afterwards, DRS was finally enabled, allowing several drivers to make passing moves the following lap.

Nico Hulkenberg was clearly unhappy with the balance of his Force India, struggling to keep 7th from Romain Grosjean and Perez.

Lewis Hamilton was the first of the frontrunners to pit, taking on the soft tyre. On the same lap, both Hulkenberg and Grosjean also pitted, the Force India just about keeping its position.

After the first set of stops, there was no change up front, but Fernando Alonso was hard-pushed to hold off Sergio Perez, who hadn’t pitted. Hamilton swiftly got involved in the battle, and regained 4th from the Sauber. Perez began to slide down the order, and by lap 18 was down to 6th place.

Lewis’ pace was quickly shattered, as he reported a huge loss of downforce from his car. Going several seconds a lap slower, he was easy pickings for Felipe Massa, dropping down to 5th position. Kimi Raikkonen tried a move, but the McLaren held firm. Several entertaining laps ensued, with the Lotus trying every type of overtake, but Lewis impressively held his position.

However, he opted to bring his second stop forward, releasing Raikkonen into 5th.

The second round of stops was similarly fruitless for Alonso, failing to make any progress to Webber in front. Despite a mistake from Vettel on his in lap, he emerged comfortably in front of his teammate.

Just out of the points, Paul di Resta made a move on Michael Schumacher for 11th. Sergio Perez, whose disastrous first stint put him out of contention for big points, began to challenge the Mercedes.

Further ahead, Nico Hulkenberg put an excellent move on Lewis Hamilton, who then was forced to hold off Romain Grosjean. A bad day got much worse for McLaren, after they informed Lewis that he would have to stop for a third time.

After his third stop, Hamilton emerged in 10th place. He put a move on Jean-Eric Vergne for 9th, but the Toro Rosso impressively held the former world champion off.

8th-placed Daniel Ricciardo had an off at the braking zone at turn 3, and within several laps had been reeled in by Vergne and Hamilton. He relectantly allowed teammate Jean-Eric through, but was able to hold off Hamilton until the end. He was assisted, though, by a bizarre incident, where a large piece of astroturf lodged itself in Lewis’ sidepod, and forced him to slow down.

The Red Bull drivers were warned to conserve their front right tyres, but were reassured that they could make it to the end of the race. In the closing laps, there were some worried faces on the Red Bull pit wall, but Vettel managed to crawl around the track to take his third victory in a row.

Alonso was unable to catch Webber in the end, while Massa did well to take 4th ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton finished 10th, with his championship ambitions well and truly over.

Vettel unfazed by first lap incidents to dominate Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel has become the first back-to-back winner of the 2012 season, taking an easy victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Championship leader Fernando Alonso was elminated on the first lap after a clash with Kimi Raikkonen, while several other drivers’ races were ruined. Lewis Hamilton struggled to a 5th placed finish, while Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi both impressed. Here is what happened:

By the first lap, the championship battle had taken a massive twist, with Fernando Alonso pointing backwards and out of the race. Replays showed that the Ferrari made contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and spun in front of the entire field, luckily avoiding another accident.

Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna and Mark Webber all crawled back to the pits after a chaotic first lap, and the safety car was deployed.

At the restart, Vettel continued to lead the race, while he was now challenged by Kamui Kobayashi and Jenson Button. Sergio Perez tried a move on Kimi Raikkonen at the first corner, but was squeezed out and dropped to 7th place.

After making a mistake with his setup in qualifying, Lewis Hamilton was 6th, and struggling to hold off the charging Sauber. By lap 6, Perez put a brave move at the hairpin to get past the driver he will replace next season.

While the Alonso/Raikkonen crash was clear for all to see, the Grosjean/Webber incident was more controversial. Within a few laps, the stewards had decided that Romain was at fault, handing him a 10 second stop/go penalty, dropping him to the bottom of the field.

After an action-packed opening stint, Button, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg all pitted for the harder tyre on lap 14. Kamui Kobayashi pitted a lap later, keeping a slim margin over Button behind. Kimi, meanwhile, exited the pits just behind Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen, and was forced to pick them off to gain clean air.

By the end of the first round of stops, Button began to report a gearbox issue, but his team encouraged him to keep pushing. Felipe Massa, almost invisible to the rest of the field, emerged from his stop in 2nd place.

Sergio Perez tried a second move on Lewis Hamilton around the outside of the hairpin, but misjudged braking left him beached in the gravel trap and out of the race.

Lewis was free of the chasing Sauber, but within several laps he was then holding off the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. While Hamilton bemoaned his setup, Nico was concerned about tyre wear, as the two ran closely lap after lap.

Both Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen pitted within a lap of each other, and the two tussled for position at the first corner, with the McLaren just moving into 5th position.

Not much changed at the second stop, with the majority of drivers taking on the hard tyres until the end of the race. Further back, Senna and Grosjean, who had both been penalised for first lap incidents, began to battle away, with Bruno eventually taking the Lotus at 130R.

Entering the closing laps, Kamui Kobayashi’s podium finish was under threat, as Button began to pressurise the Sauber. With a few laps to go, the McLaren closed the gap to a single second, but Kamui bravely held on to take his first ever podium finish.

Up front, Vettel was completely unchallenged to take his third win of 2012, and closes within 4 points of Fernando Alonso. Massa took an impressive 2nd place, which will help massively for his 2013 hopes, but the biggest cheer was saved for local hero Kobayashi.

Button and Hamilton took 4th and 5th, while Raikkonen was 6th, and still quietly in contention for the world championship. Mark Webber recovered to take 9th, while Daniel Ricciardo held off Michael Schumacher for the final point.

Red Bull crush opposition in Japanese Grand Prix qualifying lockout

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will share the front row for the Japanese Grand Prix for the first time in the 2012 season.

A spin by Kimi Raikkonen in the closing minutes ruined many drivers’ fastest laps, most notably Lewis Hamilton. Sauber had a fantastic showing, with Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez 3rd and 5th.

Q1

Vettel was one of the few drivers who was able to get through Q1 without going on to the softer tyres.

After a crash in Saturday morning practice, Nico Hulkenberg sat out much of qualifying, but was able to get out in time to set a 1:32.828.

Jean-Eric Vergne has received a 3-place grid penalty, after holding up Bruno Senna on his final qualifying lap. The Toro Rosso slowed down the Williams in the braking zone at the final chicane, and will drop to 19th position.

Michael Schumacher suffered a scare, nearly getting knocked out of Q1 after setting his only flying lap at the end of the session. Nevertheless, he just scraped through on the hard tyres.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

18) Bruno Senna – 1:33.405

19) Heikki Kovalainen – 1;34.657

20) Timo Glock – 1:35.213

21) Pedro de la Rosa – 1:35.385

22) Charles Pic – 1:35.429

23) Vitaly Petrov – 1:35.432

24) Narain Karthikeyan – 1:36.734

Q2

The top 3 drivers in Q2 – Vettel, Button and Webber – were the only ones confident enough to not go out at the end of the session, opting to set their fastest laps earlier than their rivals.

Paul di Resta was left furious, after being held up heavily by Romain Grosjean at the final chicane, though no penalty was given.

Alonso, Hamilton, Perez, Kobayashi and Raikkonen all secured their places in Q3 comfortably, while the focus shifted onto Felipe Massa. The struggling Ferrari driver appeared to be safe with a 1:32.293, but dropped swiftly from 5th to 12th, only managing to split the Force Indias.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Felipe Massa – 1:32.293

12) Paul di Resta – 1:32.327

13) Michael Schumacher – 1:32.469

14) Pastor Maldonado – 1:32.512

15) Nico Rosberg – 1:32.625

16) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:32.954

17) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:33.368

Q3

The Red Bulls quickly showed their hand – Vettel setting a 1:30.839, with Webber 2 tenths off. Although Button managed to get into 3rd on his first lap, nobody could get close enough to challenge for pole yet.

Hamilton bemoaned a setup change in third practice, and could only manage 9th.

On the final set of runs, Sebastian was set to go even faster, but his momentum was ruined after Kimi Raikkonen spun at Spoon curve and brought out the double-waved yellows.

Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton all failed to improve on their times, while Kamui Kobayashi leaped up to 4th place. Sauber’s pace was confirmed with a P6 from Sergio Perez.

A grid penalty for a gearbox change for Button promotes the Saubers to 3rd and 5th respectively. With the grid sealed, Vettel was able to cruise back to the pits for his 31st pole position, and his 4th consecutive pole in Suzuka.

Hamilton disaster hands Vettel Singapore win

Sebastian Vettel has claimed a comfortable Singapore Grand Prix win, ahead of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

Lewis Hamilton was set to take the win, but a gearbox failure left him out of the running. Two safety cars in close succession bunched up the field halfway through the race, which led to some excellent racing after a dull first half. Here is what happened:

At the start, Hamilton retained his lead, while Vettel and Button demoted Maldonado to 4th. Further back, there was embarassment for Caterham, as Heikki Kovalainen clashed with teammate Vitaly Petrov, forcing Petrov to pit for a new front wing. Felipe Massa suffered a puncture before the end of the lap.

A huge amount of drivers cut the first two corners, causing a mass investigation by the stewards. Replays showed that Webber, Rosberg, Senna and Ricciardo all may have gained an advantage.

The Mercedes drivers, starting 9th and 10th, were instructed to cool their tyres, causing a train of cars to form behind them. Despite the advantage of DRS, Kimi Raikkonen in 11th was unable to pass them before the pit stops.

Mark Webber surprised many, by pitting prematurely on lap 9, despite having no drop-off in lap times. The rest of the field ignored this move, and the Red Bull was relegated to 19th place.

By lap 10, tyre degradation became the main issue, as Sebastian Vettel began losing a second to Hamilton in front, and 2 seconds to Button behind. Unsurprisingly, he swiftly pitted, taking on the prime tyres like his teammate. He emerged in 12th, and wasted no time in getting past Sergio Perez.

Up front, Hamilton reported something felt wrong with his right-rear tyre, and pitted on lap 12. Now only two places behind, Vettel made another pass, this time on Kimi Raikkonen. After staying out a few laps more, Button eventually pitted, and came out well behind the battling duo.

Nico Hulkenberg was one of the few who decided to start on the prime tyre. He had made his way up to 6th, but was ordered to allow teammate Paul di Resta past, who was on a fresher set of tyres. Nico, along with Sergio Perez, both pitted on lap 19.

The race was soon turned on its head, after Lewis Hamilton suddenly suffered a gearbox failure on lap 24. Vettel eased into the lead, noticing a plume of smoke coming out of the McLaren. Lewis was forced to retire, delivering a crushing blow to his championship hopes.

With Vettel now leading, teammate Webber was struggling in 6th, failing to make an impression on the race. Again, he was the first to take on a new set of tyres.

Both Maldonado and Alonso pitted on lap 30, with Pastor just keeping a slender lead over the Ferrari. Interestingly, the Williams took on the super-soft tyres, while Alonso was on the softs.

The two began to battle it out, running side-by-side through some corners, but their fun was cut short after a crash by Narain Karthikeyan. The safety car was deployed, causing all the frontrunners to pit, and cutting the gap between Vettel and Button. The Force Indias ended up 4th and 5th, with Hulkenberg having only stopped once.

While still under safety car conditions, a disaster loomed for Williams, as Maldonado suffered a hydraulics problem, and was forced to retire.

On the restart, the frontrunners all held their positions, while Sergio Perez lost two positions. Mark Webber pulled an impressive move on Nico Hulkenberg, but his fun was cut short, as the safety car was called out again. Similarly to last year, Michael Schumacher had a complete brain fade, slamming into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, taking both cars out on the spot.

Webber, Perez and Hulkenberg all took the opportunity to stop again. Vitaly Petrov’s race was completely ruined at his pit stop, stopping at the end of the pit lane and being pushed back to his pit box.

At the second restart, Grosjean shut the door on his own teammate at turn 1, nearly causing an embarassing crash. Felipe Massa put an incredibly brave move on Bruno Senna, nearly spinning, but just about taking the position. Only a few laps later, he was easily past Daniel Ricciardo for 8th place.

After their close call, the Lotus team intervened in the Grosjean-Raikkonen battle, instructing Romain not to hold his teammate up. Sergio Perez attempted a move on Hulkenberg for 13th, but clipped his front wing off the Force India. Mark Webber put a move on Kamui Kobayashi, who then immediately clashed with Hulkenberg like his teammate, giving Nico a puncture and taking off a second Sauber front wing.

As the race hit the two-hour limit, Mark Webber made a late dash to take 10th from Bruno Senna, but was unable to take 9th from Daniel Ricciardo.

Up front, Button was unable to match Vettel’s pace, so the Red Bull cruised to only his second win of the season. Fernando Alonso took a comfortable 3rd, while Paul di Resta took an excellent 4th place. Nico Rosberg was quiet in 5th, while Felipe Massa climbed all the way up the grid to take 8th.

Vettel now leaps up to second in the championship, but Alonso’s lead continues to grow over his rivals.

Singapore GP practice: Vettel leads in varying conditions

Sebastian Vettel has emerged as the early favourite for this weekends’ Singapore Grand Prix, topping both practice sessions.

The first session began on a damp track, but quickly dried out, and the drivers soon took on slick tyres. Here is today’s report:

First practice

Water off the racing line, as well as leaves scattered across the track, signalled a difficult start to FP1 for the drivers. Intermediate tyres were the way to go in the opening few minutes.

However, once Kamui Kobayashi blitzed the timesheets on slicks, others scrambled to put on the dry compound.

The times tumbled throughout the session, with Vettel eventually winning out, by 0.049 seconds to Lewis Hamilton. Jenson Button was over 8 tenths off his teammate.

Pastor Maldonado took to the run-off area several times, but still impressed with 5th. Ma Qing Hua made another appearance in the HRT, finishing 1.4 seconds off Pedro de la Rosa.

Times from FP1:

Pos  Driver                Team                  Time              Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:50.566          24
 2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:50.615  +0.049  15
 3.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:51.459  +0.893  17
 4.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:51.525  +0.959  20
 5.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:51.576  +1.010  20
 6.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:51.655  +1.089  19
 7.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes  1:51.658  +1.092  24
 8.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:51.943  +1.377  21
 9.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:52.275  +1.709  24
10.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:52.296  +1.730  19
11.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault      1:52.629  +2.063  25
12.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:52.716  +2.150  16
13.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:52.839  +2.273  23
14.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:53.028  +2.462  20
16.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:53.080  +2.514  17
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:53.189  +2.623  25
18.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:53.227  +2.661  25
19.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:54.908  +4.342  20
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault      1:55.091  +4.525  16
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:55.335  +4.769  22
22.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:55.760  +5.194  22
23.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:56.656  +6.090  21
24.  Ma Qing  Hua          HRT-Cosworth          1:58.053  +7.487  20

Second practice

Bruno Senna disrupted many teams’ plans, after crashing out at turn 19. He clipped the barrier exiting the corner, skidded and damaged his suspension, and stalled on the racing line at turn 20. The red flag was deployed for several minutes, and Senna took no further part in proceedings.

Kimi Raikkonen – who was unhappy with his car’s pace all day – was forced to abandon his high-fuel run, after a hydraulic issue. Like in FP1, he finished 12th.

Further down the grid, Timo Glock produced a stellar lap to finish only 2 tenths off Jean-Eric Vergne.

Again, Vettel was fastest on the super-soft tyres, this time by 0.3 seconds to Button.

Times from FP2:

Pos  Driver                Team                  Time               Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:48.340           27
 2.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:48.651  +0.311   24
 3.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:48.896  +0.556   26
 4.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:48.964  +0.624   26
 5.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes      1:49.086  +0.746   28
 6.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:49.300  +0.960   30
 7.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes  1:49.339  +0.999   31
 8.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:49.790  +1.450   32
 9.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:50.039  +1.699   28
10.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault         1:50.161  +1.821   23
11.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes              1:50.263  +1.923   23
12.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:50.345  +2.005   24
13.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:50.636  +2.296   32
14.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:50.791  +2.451   26
15.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari        1:51.122  +2.782   28
16.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari        1:51.450  +3.110   21
17.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault      1:51.452  +3.112   11
18.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:52.004  +3.669   31
19.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth     1:52.218  +3.878   29
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault      1:52.576  +4.236   27
21.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth     1:52.863  +4.523   27
22.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault      1:52.936  +4.596   25
23.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth          1:54.448  +6.108   25
24.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth          1:54.514  +6.174   30

2012 half-way driver rankings: 7th – 3rd

This is the third of 4 posts, ranking each driver so far in 2012.

After eliminating Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button in the previous post, we are now down to the top 7 drivers in the field (in my opinion). Without any more delay, here is the 7th placed driver:

7th: Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 4th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Nico has cleanly and consistently been taking points finishes by the truckload.”

After his impressive performances in 2011, Rosberg has again delivered this year, with a first win. However, a faltering Mercedes may crush his charge for more success this year.

However, the gap between him and Michael Schumacher is reducing, with the 43-year-old regaining traction with every race. While he has more points, this is mostly down to Schumacher’s horriffic reliability. Oddly enough, Rosberg has only beaten him in a race once this year, largely due to the same reason.

In qualifying, the two are very close in terms of Q2 and Q3 appearances, but Nico has often pipped him in terms of actual qualifying position. However, it is clear in most races that Rosberg cannot hold onto his position, losing out to most of his rivals by the first stops, and never being able to fight back.

Much of this is down to the Mercedes car, whose strengths have been surpassed by other teams, and whose weaknesses are truly crippling Rosberg’s talents. In short, while he may have won a race this time, it’s the same old story for Rosberg – a great driver held back by an unpredictable car.

6th: Romain Grosjean

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

After being dropped at the end of 2009, Romain Grosjean is back, and has hugely impressed me with his remarkable pace and raw talent.

The start of the season saw many unforced errors – he collided with Pastor Maldonado in Australia, then took out Michael Schumacher in Malaysia. However, he has been on fire since then, taking his first fastest lap only two races later, and two excellent podiums.

His fight back to the front in Britain was similarly impressive, and he qualified second on the grid for Hungary. There is no doubt that this young driver is a future Grand Prix winner – it would be a travesty if he didn’t.

Unlike Rosberg, his Lotus car isn’t half as tempermental as the Mercedes, which means that he has no excuses to up at the front every race. However, like his teammate Raikkonen, he has let a possible win slip through his hands, failing to capitalise in Hungary when he had the fastest car on track.

Is this excusable? Yes, but not for much longer. Grosjean is already consistently out-qualifying his teammate, and only needs to improve his very poor starts (-26 total so far) to lead races. After that, we will see if he is world champion material.

5th: Kimi Raikkonen

Previous ranking: N/A

Review from previous ranking: N/A

The Iceman is back, and is as fearsome as ever. Without even as much as a sound, Raikkonen has sneaked his way into the battle for the world championship, and is at the forefront of Lotus’ charge for its first win.

So far, I would liken his performances so that in 2003 – very calm and collected, and nothing dramatic. That time, he came within a few points of the title, and in 2007 won that championship in the same manner. He has accumulated 5 podium finishes out of 11 races so far, and even without a win is within 50 points of the lead in the championship.

He has committed a few faults along the way – a mistake in Australian qualifying leaving him 17th, and miscalculcating his tyre’s lifespan in China, meaning he lost 10 positions in a single lap. However, overall he has been hugely impressive, and I am tipping him as the dark horse for the 2012 title.

4th: Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 2nd out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “The absolute perfect team/car set-up cannot last forever, and when it slips away, Vettel’s talent will be severely tested.”

The start of 2012 saw this test, and it certainly has brought interesting results. Vettel may have performed very well, but his attitude has been revealed as tempermental to say the least.

Given the circumstances, a win in Bahrain was impressive, and Vettel has been at the front of the field since. He has been willing to run risky strategies in China and Canada, and has done well compared to teammate Mark Webber. He has out-qualified the Aussie 6 times, and spends the vast majority of the races ahead of the other Red Bull.

An alternator failure in Valencia has been the only fault outside of his control, where a certain win was ripped out of his hands. Still, his race finishes have been very consistent, with 3 podiums and only 2 finishes outside the top 5.

However, what is most interesting about his season so far is his unnecessary attraction to incident and controversy. In Malaysia, Sebastian caused a needless clash with Narain Karthikeyan, then called the HRT driver a “cucumber” afterwards, which is as ridiculous as it is funny. After his retirement in Valencia, both he and the team slammed the decision to call out the safety car (which may have caused the car failure), rather than simply admit defeat. After being penalised in Germany, he branded the penalty as “stupid” and claimed his move was “fine”.

It is this  arrogance that bothers me – Vettel is still completely sheltered by his team, who feel the need to protect and defend him at every possible opportunity. He still has to develop as a driver, and I feel he can’t do that while he’s in the same team as Helmut Marko. Having said that, Germany aside, his racecraft has been championship material, and he is well in contention for a third title.

3rd: Mark Webber

Previous ranking: 8th out of 28

Review from previous ranking: “Webber has been completely annihilated by Sebastian Vettel in every single sector this year [...] he struggled massively at starts [...]  his racecraft was hit-and-miss as well.”

Mark Webber has overcome his massive problems from 2011, but has more obstacles to overcome before he will ever win a title.

On the face of it, Webber’s having his best season yet. After a consistent string of 4th places, while his enemies faltered, followed up by two excellent victories, has slammed him into the championship battle. He has cured his terrible starts (average 0 places lost/gained on lap 1), and has overcome his struggles on the Pirelli tyres.

He is finally holding up against his teammate – out-qualifying him 5 times, and being able to race side-by-side on track for a change. His pass on Vettel in Malaysia proved that he has not fallen behind like in 2011.

However, his problem this year is his starting positions on the grid. Webber has already been knocked out of Q1 once, and Q2 twice. Even when he gets through to Q3, he very rarely goes any higher than 4th. It is this poor qualifying form that holds him back in the races.

Once he starts up far enough, he can thrash his opponents – holding back 5 drivers in Monaco until the chequered flag proved that. But it still doesn’t occur enough, and this may well be Mark’s achilles heel if the running gets tough later in 2012.

Vettel penalised, drops to 5th place

Sebastian Vettel has been handed a 20-second penalty for his illegal overtake on Jenson Button.

With two laps to go, Sebastian took to the run-off area to pass Jenson, not having a single wheel on the track in the process. He emerged on the track ahead of the McLaren driver. The stewards decided that this constituted an illegal overtake, and served the Red Bull driver the penalty.

This drops Vettel to 5th place in the German Grand Prix standings, while Kimi Raikkonen now inherits third position. Kamui Kobayashi’s day has been improved, the Japanese driver moving up to fourth.

The points standings will be up soon to reflect this change.

Stewards to investigate Vettel pass

Sebastian Vettel’s second position is under threat, as the stewards have announced an investigation into an illegal overtake in the German Grand Prix.

Two laps from the end, Vettel approached the hairpin of the track, on the outside of Jenson Button. While the McLaren gave him room at the exit, Vettel went straight to the run-off area, floored the throttle, and re-entered the track ahead of the McLaren.

On the team radio, Button stated:

"I’m not sure that was correct the way Sebastian got past.

The most important thing is he wouldn’t have overtaken me if he was on the circuit."

Both drivers dodged questions on the matter afterwards, so it will be left to the stewards to see if Vettel keeps his 2nd place. Personally, I feel that Vettel made no attempt to legally pass Button, and wouldn’t have been able to overtake him without putting all 4 wheels off the track.

Update: Here’s a video I found of Michael Schumacher doing the exact same thing 9 years ago. No penalty (or investigation) was given. (Overtake at 2:45)

Vettel on top in Valencia second practice

Sebastian Vettel reitered Red Bull’s fast pace this weekend, by topping second practice for the European Grand Prix.

Vettel, who has taken pole and the win in the last two races here, was lightly faster than the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna completed the top 5.

The usual suspects were unusually far down the grid, with Button and Hamilton 12th and 14th, Alonso and Massa 7th and 15th. The Lotuses didn’t show much raw pace in 8th and 11th.

Local driver Pedro de la Rosa was the only man to crash during the session. His HRT understeered at turn 14, and couldn’t stop hitting the barriers.

Times from FP2:

 1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1:39.334           33
 2.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1:39.465  +0.131   32
 3.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1:39.595  +0.261   20
 4.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1:39.601  +0.267   27
 5.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault       1:39.644  +0.310   34
 6.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1:39.700  +0.366   32
 7.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1:39.733  +0.399   34
 8.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1:39.868  +0.534   33
 9.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1:39.901  +0.567   30
10.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1:39.926  +0.592   32
11.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1:39.945  +0.611   34
12.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:39.990  +0.656   33
13.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1:40.075  +0.741   29
14.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1:40.147  +0.813   25
15.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1:40.244  +0.910   35
16.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1:40.511  +1.177   29
17.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault       1:40.963  +1.629   20
18.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:41.121  +1.787   32
19.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1:41.197  +1.863   38
20.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1:41.263  +1.929   29
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth      1:42.424  +3.090   21
22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth      1:42.958  +3.624   30
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           1:44.201  +4.867   33
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth           1:44.260  +4.926   12

Vettel romps away with Canada pole

Sebastian Vettel has taken pole position for tomorrow’s Canadian Grand Prix.

The German was 0.3 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber were several tenths further behind, while Jenson Button had another disappointing qualifying session. Here is what happened:

Q1

Despite his fuel coupling issues in practice, Nico Rosberg was the first out of the pits for Q1.

Lewis Hamilton set the first fast time – a 1:16.232. Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi out-braked themselves at turn 1, running over the grass and dumping debris on the tarmac.

The Saubers briefly took first and second, before Fernando Alonso set a 1:15.1 to take top spot. His teammate Massa recovered from his excursion to move up to 3rd.

Michael Schumacher improved on the Ferrari’s time, with a 1:14.8. Sebastian Vettel was the last to set his first time, going 4th. His next time was one tenth faster than the Mercedes.

Kimi Raikkonen had struggled all through Friday, and was first on the super-softs. Despite this, he was unable to beat the frontrunners. Jenson Button, in a similar state, was only 2nd on the softer compound.

Despite clipping the Wall of Champions, Heikki Kovalainen out-qualified his teammate, as well as the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

18) Heikki Kovalainen – 1:16.263

19) Vitaly Petrov 1:16.482

20) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:16.602

21) Pedro de la Rosa – 1:17.492

22) Timo Glock – 1:17.901

23) Charles Pic – 1:18.255

24) Narain Karthikeyan – 1:18.330

Q2

Again, Nico Rosberg was first up, setting a 1:14.568.

Lewis Hamilton then pipped that time by 0.05 seconds. Meanwhile, teammate Button suffered a massive lock-up on his super-softs. Sebastian Vettel improved on the McLaren’s time by another 3 tenths.

After a mistake on his first lap, Fernando Alonso moved to within one tenth of Vettel.

Paul di Resta, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg all moved into the top 10. Felipe Massa just scraped into 10th place, then improved to 8th.

The two Lotuses struggled massively, with Romain Grosjean only just making it through to the top 10. A crash by Pastor Maldonado meant that Kimi Raikkonen was stuck in 12th.

The yellow flag saved Jenson Button from yet another embarrassing exit from Q2.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Kamui Kobayashi – 1:14.688

12) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:14.734

13) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:14.748

14) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:15.078

15) Sergio Perez – 1:15.156

16) Bruno Senna – 1:15.170

17) Pastor Maldonado – 1:15.231

Q3

The McLarens were first out of the pits for Q3. Lewis Hamilton made a mistake on his first attempt, while Jenson Button opted for the prime tyre.

A 1:14.664 put Rosberg briefly on top, before being toppled by Felipe Massa. Hamilton’s next lap put him ahead by 0.02 seconds, before the time was smashed by Vettel by another half a second.

In the final two minutes, all drivers bar Button went out on track. Vettel improved on his time by another tenth of a second, and Hamilton was unable to match it.

Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber tried to beat the Red Bull, but only got 3rd and 4th. This left Vettel to take his 32nd career pole position, 3 tenths ahead of his nearest competitor.

Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean were 6th and 7th. Paul di Resta and Michael Schumacher were behind, the latter of which felt he was held up by Massa. Button was the only driver not to break into the 1:15 zone.

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