Maldonado cruises to first ever win

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Pastor Maldonado sealed his first ever F1 win with a brilliant drive in Spain, home favourite Fernando Alonso had to make do with 2nd place as Maldonado earned Williams’ first victory since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004 and the first for a Venezuelan in F1’s entire history.

Maldonado has been regularly described as a ‘pay driver’ since his arrival into F1 but around the Circuit da Catalunya it was a show of dominance as he kept Alonso behind to become the fifth winner in as many races. 2012 is the year that just keeps on shocking us.

The rarity of his position was never obvious as Maldonado, who looked like a man used to being up at the sharp end, showed a mature head to bring the car home under huge pressure from Fernando Alonso.

It is fitting that as the 70th birthday celebrations of Sir Frank Williams were in full swing this weekend, they chalked up their first win since 2004, especially after it only being one year on from the worst season in their history, it wasn’t just a lucky win as Maldonado lapped a Red Bull and he also left McLaren trailing by over a minute.

Although pre-race expectations that both Maldonado and Alonso not being able to keep their surprisingly high positions, it was almost suddenly obvious that the Williams and Ferrari, well at least in the hands of their lead drivers, were the quickest cars on show as the pair battled for the lead from first corner to last.

Kimi Raikkonen’s late attack saw him close to under three seconds of Alonso at the chequered flag, But on a track that was described as giving the ultimate test to show the season’s pecking order, it would be Williams and Ferrari in a return to the old days who held the clear advantage.

It may have been different had the Lotus chose the hard tyres instead of the softs at the first pitstops or if Hamilton who drove brilliantly in his defeat of Jenson Button for eighth place having started from the back of the grid, fourteen places behind the grid position of his McLaren team-mate had not been slowed by his team’s latest error, but it would be harsh to suggest that Maldonado’s win was anything other than deserved.

Only once did his team buckle, when a sticky left-wheel nut at Maldonado’s third and final stop saw his advantage halved, but otherwise it was a brilliant race for him, And against Alonso, whose excellence has been shown many times before, makes it all the more incredible.

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McLaren Mistakes

Usually a team with high quality standards Mclaren have found themselves making major errors on a number of occasions this season, let’s take a look at what has been happening.

Malaysia 2012 – Hamilton suffers 2 pit stop errors that cost him valuable time while team-mate Button crashes into a backmarker and that ruled him out of possible points.

China 2012 – Button is catching Rosberg and would more than likely have passed him when he has to pit and the stop was a mess and very slow, this eased the pressure on Rosberg who coasted home to an easy win.

Bahrain 2012 – Hamilton has three shocking pit stops that cost him huge points as he finishes 8th and if the stops hadve been better he could’ve been challenging for a possible podium.

Spain 2012 – Hamilton gets pole position but his car is under-fuelled and he is disqualified from the session and starts last.

Hamilton penalised. Maldonado takes pole.

At the end of Q3 today, Lewis Hamilton was told to stop the car out on the track after earning pole position in Spain, the reason for this was that Hamilton hadnt enough fuel to finish his in-lap and have the required amount of fuel left for a sample. Then the announcement came stating that the stewards were looking into whether Hamilton’s pole lap was set with an underweight car. The McLaren team argued that they had a fuel rig problem but the FIA weren’t agreeing as the rules on fuel are clear in Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations: “Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the event, Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.” therefore Hamilton has been excluded from today’s Qualifying session and will start at the back of the grid in 24th. This moves everyone else up a position meaning that Pastor Maldonado will take his first ever pole position in Formula 1 and will be joined on the front row by Fernando Alonso.

Spanish GP Qualifying Report

With a breezy wind and high temperatures, Qualifying for the Spanish GP was heating up nicely.

Q1 saw the usual suspects knocked out at Caterham, Marussia and HRT but the man to join them was Williams driver Bruno Senna, he couldn’t get near the cut off time set by Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso, Senna also spun off on the same corner that he spun in practice. Lewis Hamilton topped that session with Grosjean and Alonso behind him.

Q2 was the session that gave us a few shocks with both Jenson Button and Mark Webber missing out on a place in Q3, Pastor Maldonado went quickest in this session with both Saubers making it through aswell however one of them, Kamui Kobayashi couldn’t participate in Q3 after having to stop the car at the end of the session.

Q3 was a dull start followed by an explosion of activity with hardly any laps being set for the first half of the session, Lewis Hamilton did set a lap and was on provisional pole, then came the flurry of activity, most of the cars went out, Vettel and Schumacher didn’t set lap times but will start ahead of Kobayashi, the 2 Germans will start 8th and 9th respectively. Nico Rosberg wasn’t as quick as he would’ve liked with only 7th on the grid, Rosberg is just behind Sergio Perez who will have high hopes for the race tomorrow starting 6th, The Lotus team done very well with Grosjean in 4th ahead of teammate Raikkonen in 5th, They have shown great race pace and should be a threat to the podium positions, Home favourite Fernando Alonso exceeded the Ferrari’s expectations to claim an excellent 3rd on the grid. A shock second place comes in the form of Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, he held provisional pole but had to settle for 2nd, still that is his highest grid slot and the best for Williams since Nico Hulkenberg took pole at the 2010 Brazilian GP. But the man on pole is McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton who set a fantastic lap well ahead of the rest to claim his first pole at the Circuit de Catalunya and leave the chances of 5 different winners in the first 5 races still very much alive.

The grid looks like this unless any drivers are penalised by the stewards.

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Sebastian Vettel Q&A

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Despite teams’ varying programmes, just a second covered the top ten cars in Friday practice in Barcelona, proof indeed of just how tight things will be this weekend. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel is riding high on the back of his Bahrain win and a positive Mugello test which has almost certainly boosted the RB8’s performance. Now he wants to plant it on pole on Saturday…

Q: Sebastian, after four flyaway races, Formula One is starting its European leg this weekend. What do you make up of the season so far?
Sebastian Vettel: Well, we had four races and four different winners – that in itself is already an unusual situation, as no team has come out a clear favourite – and we had the first in-season test in years. I expect all the teams to have significant updates on their cars here, including us, but how good these updates are is something that we will see on Saturday afternoon.

Q: What is your gut feeling?
SV: I think we should be okay. We have quite a number of new parts on the car this weekend and the question will be if they all deliver what they are supposed to – how much of a step forward we were able to take compared to the others.

Q: Do you think that this test in Mugello has any positive impact?
SV: Well, as a driver you are probably always happy to get more mileage. Every additional day in the car – away from the stress of a race weekend – is very welcome as it gives you the chance to try things that you probably would not do when completely focusing on setting up the car for a race. And my guess is that the test helped us. We have not been entirely satisfied, so we concentrated on the areas that needed improvement – and hopefully it will deliver. True, Mugello is a completely different track – nothing that we find on the race calendar – so it is difficult to compare. I would say the real benefit was to try things without stress. For me personally I have to say that I loved the Mugello track – it was fun to drive there as this track definitely has no low-speed corners.

Q: Tyres were a big topic at each of the four races. You are considered a ‘tyre whisperer’. What is that? What qualifications come with this attribute?
SV: It is really true – tyres get more headlines this year than in any other season I can remember. What we obviously all have realized so far is that tyres do degrade more than in other years – and that this degradation is dependent on, among other things, driving style. Overall it can be said that the longer you can stay out the better, but that is a bit tricky as you must not miss out on the right moment to pit, as from one lap to the other they can go belly up! (laughs) Maybe one of the secrets is it to avoid such a situation.

Q: Last year you won three of the first four races – this year it is only one. Are you satisfied with it has gone so far?
SV: Overall, yes. A lot was written after the first three races, so the Bahrain win was indeed becoming of us as it was proof that we are not too far off the top. I think it was the start of a season that fans dream about. Maybe we would have dreamt about another situation – to be a bit stronger – but in the end we can be satisfied as we were systematically able to bag the points that we were there for us.

Q: When you say that it is a ‘fan’ season, what do you see as the prime reason for that?
SV: I think it has a number of causes. Maybe also there have been some changes in the regulations that clipped wings here and there to let the grid come closer together – to a degree we haven’t seen in years. Big revolutionary ideas are a thing from the past – the new regulations simply would not permit it. The big differences are a thing of the past – now the small differences are what matter and small differences translate into smaller gaps. That is what we have right now. One tenth nowadays can mean P10 and not P3. It’s the ‘small cause-big effect’ season.

Q: Coming back to the race on Sunday, this track is known to be hard on the tyres, but on the other hand overtaking is not that easy. So what will be more important for a good result: to save the tyres or get the maximum grip?
SV: Both – even if that sounds impossible. That is our job, to balance that the best way we can. I think that probably pole position here is more important than at the previous races – so a good qualifying lap and you are half way there. It will be a gamble how many stops you need – last year we did four – so I think we are in a similar situation to last year. We will see a lot of stops and some variations in strategy. That will keep us busy and hopefully entertain the fans. (laughs)

Q: So how likely is pole position tomorrow?
SV: The funny thing is we all did a lot of mileage today, but still it is impossible to say who’s got the edge. It will be key to analyze the date very carefully ahead of tomorrow. I would say it looks quite promising for us, but as I said before this track is pretty tough on the tyres so everything will depend on the ability to manage them well.

Q: Pirelli are running a wider gap between compounds here. How big is the gap that you have between the softs and the hards?
SV: It’s quite significant, so if you want to grab pole position you definitely will choose the softs. So my guess is that for qualifying you will see everybody on soft tyres.

(Courtesy of http://www.formula1.com)

Spanish GP News – Friday

The drivers are split over whether stewards should take a zero-tolerance approach to gaining an advantage when going off the track, they argued about it in their briefing on Friday afternoon at the Spanish GP.

Jenson Button admits McLaren need to find a way to get the most out of the hard Pirelli tyres if they want a shot at winning Sunday’s Spanish GP.

Fernando Alonso is encouraged after Ferrari’s wind tunnel findings translated into on-track performance in Friday’s Barcelona practices, They arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend with at least six major changes compared to the F2012 that was raced at the last race in Bahrain, the new upgrades include a new nose and front wing details, turning vanes, sidepods, exhausts, rear wing and floor.

Mark Webber doesn’t believe Red Bull will have it all their own way in Spain despite a confident start to the weekend’s proceedings.

Nico Rosberg has revealed the tyre degradation suffered in Barcelona during Friday’s practice is a lot worse than what was experienced in winter testing.

Friday Practice in Barcelona

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First practice saw the introduction of many new upgrades on the cars and it looked as if Ferrari had improved when Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap of the session with a 1.24.430 ahead of the Red Bull of World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Kamui Kobayashi impressed for Sauber with 3rd in FP1 and behind him was Jenson Button and Williams test driver Valtteri Bottas who showed some promise in 5th.

The second session saw the McLaren drivers complaining over the radio about balance problems and having to deal with understeer, However Jenson Button was still able to manage the fastest lap time of anyone in the session with a 1.23.399 ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The Lotus team showed some good pace with Raikkonen 5th and Grosjean just behind him in 6th.

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Circuit de Catalunya Track Guide

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The Barcelona track has been home to F1 since 1991 and this year is surely going to be another cracker, let’s take a look at the track.

The lap begins with a long straight leading to the first corner where the driver has to brake from 7th gear down to 3rd and then quickly get the turn in point correct for turn 2 which is a fast left hand corner leading into the long turn 3, the driver then has to hug the apex of turn 4 to get a good exit into the braking zone for turn 5 which is a tight bend that the driver comes in from the outside of the track and will aim to clip the apex and on the exit of turn 5 and as they go through the almost straight turn 6 they will then have to straighten the car for the entrance to turn 7, get the exit wrong though and you’ll be in the gravel trap, for the best time, the drivers will run slightly wide and use all the track they can as they exit turn 7, it is an uphill rise through turn 8 and going into turn 9, carrying speed through here is the crucial difference between Pole Position and a midfield grid slot, then there is the straight that leads into the tight turn 10, the driver needs to slow the car right down here or else risk running wide and losing time, uphill to a flowing turn 11 and 12 where the driver needs to have 100% concentration and then they get to turn 13, they then have to negotiate the turn 14-15 chicane which requires the driver to slow the car down and get through that tight sequence of corners, the exit of turn 15 is crucial because carrying speed through turn 16 will set up the best run to the line and the best possible lap time.

10 – F1 Legends – Nigel Mansell

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There is a saying in the F1 paddock that those who liked Nigel Mansell were those who had never met the man. That harsh exaggeration highlighted the feelings of some insiders towards a man bullish with self-confidence yet at the same time racked with wearying self-doubt.

Mansell would never take his foot of the gas and use every bit of speed from a car, racing wheel-to-wheel with the golden era of F1, equally he would complain about perceived slights and see plots against him at every turn

Mansell came up the hard way in racing, investing all his own money as he attempted to reach Formula 1 through the lower ranks. It was not until Colin Chapman was persuaded by his F3 team manager to give Mansell a chance as test driver for Lotus that things took off, and he took that opportunity and was a regular race driver by 1981. Few rated him initially despite the clear potential, and it was not until 1985, on the 72nd start, that he won his first race at Brands Hatch. From that moment onwards he became arguably the most competitive Englishman ever to sit in a F1 car, certainly the most aggressive. His 31 race wins placed him behind only the great names like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the all-time rankings when he finally quit F1 and even today only Michael Schumacher has overtaken him.

It was as easy to see why the fans loved him, with his never-say-die approach. He stopped his career in F1 at the very hour of his World title triumph in 1992, falling out with Williams in a row about money amongst other things, but had his revenge when he won the 1993 Indycar Championship at the first try. He did come back to F1 in 1995 with McLaren but retired during that season.

A curious Brit of contradictive emotions, Nigel Mansell was a determined driver whose character sometimes obscured his achievements. It says everything about him as a driver that he was the one man Senna knew he could not intimidate.

NIGEL MANSELL

Born 8 Aug 1953
Age 58
Active years 1980 – 1995
Starts 187
Wins 31
Podiums 59
Poles 32
Front row 56
Fastest laps 30
Teams – (Lotus 1980-84) (Williams 85-88 & 91-92) (Ferrari 89-90) (McLaren 1995)

1992 FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPION
1993 INDYCAR CHAMPION

A few new ideas

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LEGENDS
Every Thursday for the next ten weeks, I will be going through my top ten ever Formula One drivers and delivering an in depth analysis and opinion on them, I will analyse everything from points scored to championships won.

CLASSIC F1
Once every two weeks, I will be casting my mind back to a memorable Grand Prix from over the years. I will have a full race summary and photos of the selected race.

TRACK GUIDES
It is exactly what it says, Every Friday night on race weekends, I will be giving the track guide and explaining what is the quickest way around the racetrack

SUPPORT SERIES
There is more to F1 weekends than just the race, there are support series that follow F1 all around the world, I will be looking at the rising stars of GP2 and GP3 and the championship battle, Giving team and driver profiles and race reports from these fantastic racing series a few hours after the F1 races finish on Sundays.

SEASON REVIEW
There has been many vintage F1 years and I will be doing monthly four-part specials about those special seasons, Once a week I will tell the story of a championship and how it unfolds week to week and by the fourth week of every Season Review, The selected championship will be concluded and you will know every detail.

THOUGHTS AHEAD OF THE WEEKEND
My thoughts, analysis and predictions for what to look out for and expect over the Grand Prix weekend.

There will be many more ideas over the next few weeks so watch this space 🙂