Whilst I certainly wouldn’t call the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix a classic, it has given us a first win for Williams F1 since 2004, a first win for Pastor Maldonado, and I think most importantly of all, the fifth round of the 2012 Formula One season has been won by a fifth different driver for a fifth different team!
Qualifying was a bit of a disappointment in many ways.
The first round (Q1) showed a clear improvement for Ferrari, and the fact that Williams and Sauber had come along way in the break; but of course the usual slow cars dropped out.
There was however a shock exit in Q1 as whilst his team mate topped the time sheets, Bruno Senna struggled to set decent times. The Williams man was pushing extremely hard and just clipped the corner of turn 10 with seconds until the end of this session. This mistake was technically minor, but it’s effects were huge for Senna who was sent spinning off into the gravel and out of qualifying.
Q2 also provided some shock exits. It seems strange to write, but it has become more expected than shocking to see Ferrari’s number two fall by the wayside in the second session.
More shocking were the exits of McLaren’s Jenson Button and last years pole man, Mark Webber.
Button had been struggling with his car throughout qualifying as was disappointed with his performance, but perhaps not too surprised. Webber on the other hand found himself eliminated through team error.
Red Bull believed Webber’s time to be good enough for survival and so didn’t bother sending him out in the closing stages of Q2. This was a risk and it didn’t pay off.
Unfortunately for the fans the final session was a bit of a farce. The first two rounds of qualifying had informed the teams that tyres would be crucial at the Spanish Grand Prix and so no one was in any rush to go out and burn brand new sets.
Sebastian Vettel was one of three drivers who choose not to set a competitive lap. Lotus gave it a good shot, but the fight for pole went down between Alonso, Hamilton and Maldonado.
First Alonso took P1 to the fantastic roar of his loyal followers. The fans were quickly quietened by Maldonado’s pole position soon after. You’d think that when Hamilton passed the line in P1 the fans would have left but they again had something to cheer about when Hamilton’s McLaren stopped out on track before making it back to the pits.
I think it must be strongly noted that although Alonso’s fans clearly felt animosity towards their man’s 2007 arch rival, Alonso specifically waited for Hamilton to return to the pits to give him a warm welcome and congratulatory high five. Hamilton reciprocated and I think we can safely say that bygones have truly become bygones.
McLaren weren’t happy for too long though when it became known that they had stopped through fear of not being able to provide the F.I.A. with a one-litre sample of fuel. The F1 rules state that you must finish your final lap and be able to provide one litres' worth of fuel for testing. McLaren couldn’t do both and so choose to stop. This caused a penalty and demoted Hamilton to last place.
So qualifying had set the stage for a tantalising start. Fan favourite Alonso would be on the front row with a first time pole sitter, and Hamilton would have to battle his way back into the points.
The start didn’t disappoint!
As the lights went out Maldonado moved straight across to cover Alonso, but the Ferrari man held an and the two drivers went into turn one side by side. Alonso had better track position going into the first turn and so by the second corner was in the lead!
Further back Felipe Massa had made up some good positions and Sergio Perez had been forced to the back with a puncture after contact with Lotus’s Roman Grosjean.
The top 10 drivers at this stage were:
Alonso, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Schumacher, Vettel, Button, Kobayashi, Vergne, Massa.
The race was close for the next few laps and there were some good little battles but the top 10 remained unchanged, and frankly the action was beginning to cool.
The Red Bull drivers both pitted very early and it was unclear at this stage if they merely opting for a different strategy, or if they had a problem with tyre wear.
Alonso was the first of the front runners to pit on lap 10. The Ferrari team were able yet again to show how well they have refined their stop strategy when they were able to rejoin their man in P3 and clear air after an astonishingly quick stop.
This caused a ripple effect as the other teams began to take to the pits. The stops led to some chopping and changing but nothing significant happened until lap 13 when Michael Schumacher smashed into the back of Senna’s Williams going into turn one.
Senna had suffered a minor bit of contact with Grosjean at turn one the lap before and was taking the corner more cautiously the second time around. Schumacher later stated that he was looking at his lap data and thought that Senna had stopped way too early for that particular corner. I must say the replays seem to show a very out of sorts Mercedes simply cruising into the back of Senna’s Williams.
After this there were some minor changes to note. McLaren suffered yet another pit stop blunder when Hamilton hit one of the spare tyres coming out of his pit box and Webber was forced to pit for a new nose after loosing front grip.
Other than this not a lot else changed.
The next game changing moment occurred on lap 25 when Maldonado took to the pits after significantly closing the gap on Alonso. Ferrari pitted their man two laps later but Maldonado’s hard work up to that point proved crucial as Alonso exited the pits behind his Williams rival.
Over the next few laps we saw drive through penalties for Vettel and Massa for failing to slow enough under yellow flags and some daring overtaking moves from Sauber’s Kobayashi. (Neither Vettel nor Massa lost out particularly badly from their penalties).
A lot was expected of Sauber at the Spanish Grand Prix and although Kobayashi was driving in his usual eccentrically brilliant way, neither car looked particularly fast. Unfortunately, Perez’s race was cut short on lap 38 when his right rear tyre was fitted incorrectly.
The next action occurred on lap 40 when Maldonado pitted slightly earlier than expected and found himself held up by a slow stop. Alonso pitted three laps later and the scene was set for a fantastic finale.
The question was could Maldonado hold Alonso off in the final stages with tyres that were three laps older. This question was made more exciting by the fact that Raikkonen’s third place Renault had come alive in the dying stages and was on newer tyres than both men in P1 and P2!
The racing was close and at times nail biting, but the top three positions remained unchanged. We did get some final overtakes from Vettel as he battled past drivers on older tyres, but other than that the race finished as it started really, slightly deflated with moments of excitement.
Don’t get me wrong the Spanish Grand Prix was not a dud, it just wasn’t quite as close as some expected. I’d also like to add that although I’m in a minority with Michael Schumacher, I don’t think the tyres loosing grip so quickly leads to better racing, it simply leads to deeper strategy. It’s very hard to get excited about number crunching!
The problem is, although it was exciting to see the top three so close, Alonso was eventually powerless to overtake Maldonado because his tyres had fallen away so much and if Raikkonen had been closer, Alonso would have been powerless against the Lotus’s fresh tyres. I just think it takes the edge off of wheel to wheel action.
Anyway, the race provided a great result and it was truly lovely to see Alonso and Raikkonen lift Maldonado up onto their shoulders on the podium.
Maldonado’s victory provided Williams with their first win since Juan Pueblo Montoya’s 2004 Brazilian victory. However, more importantly, the victory marks the fifth different winner, for the fifth different team at the fifth race of the season!!
I have never seen anything like this! Role on Monaco and a win for our sixth different team/driver …. Lotus?
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull 109
1) Pastor Maldonado - Williams
2) Fernando Alonso - Ferrari
3) Kimi Raikkonen - Lotus
4) Romain Grosjean - Lotus
5) Kamui Kobayashi - Sauber
6) Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull
7) Nico Rosberg - Mercedes
8) Lewis Hamilton - McLaren
9) Jenson Button - McLaren
10) Nico Hulkenberg - Force India
11) Mark Webber - Red Bull
12) Jean-Eric Vergne - Toro Rosso
13) Daniel Ricciardo - Toro Rosso
14) Paul di Resta - Force India
15) Felipe Massa - Ferrari
16) Heikki Kovalainen - Caterham
17) Vitaly Petrov - Caterham
18) Timo Glock – Marussia
19) Pedro de la Rosa - HRT
DNF Sergio Perez – Sauber
DNF Charles Pic – Marussia
DNF Narain Karthikeyan - HRT
DNF Bruno Senna - Williams
DNF Michael Schumacher - Mercedes