Papa Wheelie reviews the happenings of the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix.
I’ve been following Formula 1 for a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like what happened on Sunday in Spain. There are definitely strange things afoot at the Circle K. Although we’re not jumping in a phone booth to travel back in time, you do have to set the way-back machine to 2004 at the Brazilian GP where Williams scored their last victory (ironically enough, Kimi Räikkönen was on that podium as well). While the Williams-BMW of that era was a pretty competitive machine, the Williams team has largely been written off by the other competitors in the last few years, along with their so called “pay” driver Pastor Maldonado. Everyone likes to talk about how much money he brought to the team when he first signed from GP2, but no one really ever mentions how handily he dominated his final races in GP2, nor how much true talent he brings to the table. That talent really showed this weekend, as he superbly controlled the race from the front and made it pay off big time.
Maldonado and Williams’ win in Spain means there have been five different winners, and five different constructors to top the podium so far in 2012. While Williams looked strong all weekend, Lewis Hamilton’s penalty probably played a big part in their victory. Since Cataluñya has been on the F1 calendar, no driver has ever won the race from anywhere other than the front row of the grid (dry conditions), and in recent years only Sebastien Vettel was even able to win from second. A huge error in judgement from the McLaren team cost Hamilton the pole position and any chance of having a strong points finish. Regardless, Hamilton fought hard and finished ahead of his teammate in 8th spot after starting dead last. But you got to ask yourself, what in the world is happening at McLaren? They have one of the strongest cars on the grid, but they just can’t pull it together. Poor strategy calls, pit stop blunders, and anything short of an anvil falling out of the sky have really hampered their title campaigns. I’m not counting them out yet, but the way this year is unfolding, anything can happen at any time.
Fernando Alonso had great race. Ferrari’s upgrades seemed to have pushed both drivers forward a bit, and Alonso experiencing the biggest gain. The F2012 continues to be a beast, and Alonso continues to prove himself the class of the field. The team really has it together, and the car is coming along. Alonso looks like he’s having a better season on paper then he does on the track, but consistency definitely wins the championships. If he can pull it off this year, this will arguably be his greatest championship. And there’s Felipe Massa. Started 16th, ended up 15th. He never had a shot at the pole in Q3, and he wasn’t ever really in contention for any points. If he can’t shake his confidence problem in the car, he’s living on borrowed time at Ferrari… especially if Alonso has become a genuine contender for the championship.
The only ones really looking like strong contenders at this point are Lotus, and especially Kimi Räikkönen. They looked strong and smooth all weekend, and the car was really looking better than both the Williams and the Ferrari late in the race. It’s very tough to get the cards right in Spain, and if Kimi had five extra laps, he probably could have made a difference. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, as they say. Nevertheless the Iceman is hungry for his first win of the season, and it looks like it’s coming pretty soon. Romain Grosjean also drove a fine race, but early scraps and contact really didn’t give him a shot at a podium this weekend. But he’s just as hungry to get his first win, and with two brand new F1 winners in 2012, he’ll very likely get that shot.
Sauber continues its strong form as both cars made Q3 and Kamui Kobayashi finished his record high 5th place again in Spain. Although not blindingly fast, Sauber is looking very consistent and are looking to step forward soon. Both Monaco and Montreal could easily fall into their hands, and score a victory as well. Both Mercedes and Red Bull Racing really had lackluster races, especially since both teams have taken wins this season. Nico Rosberg showed decent form, but struggled with the tire degradation late in the race and eventually slipped back to seventh. Michael Schumacher gets the chump of the race again by uncharacteristically smashing into the back of Bruno Senna and taking both drivers out of the race. With a five grid spot penalty for the incident, Schumacher has a very tough battle coming in Monaco, a track which is even more crucial to get qualifying right.
After failing to make Q3, Mark Webber had a weekend to forget in Spain. He and Vettel suffered from handling inconsistency, and couple of front nose failures that have everyone wondering if Red Bull has taken a step back in their performance. The title is still pretty wide open after five races, but unless Red Bull can get their car back to being the handling monster that it was in the last couple years, they are going to have a tough fight this year to keep their crowns.
The grand prix of Spain is usually a very clean cut and methodical race, where qualifying and strategy always get the results. But 2012 has already proved to be a very strange season. Maldonado had a 500:1 shot at pole for this weekend, and not only did that pay off, but he even won the race. With five different teams winning races, and another two teams right up there as well, this season has been one of the most competitive ones in the history of the sport. A team’s fortune can turn on them in an instant (quite literally for Williams, who won on Sunday and had a massive garage fire 90 minutes later). Buckle up kids, this ride is just getting started and it’s only going to get wilder from here.
Fire in the Williams Garage
1. Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Renault – 25 points
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – 18 points
3. Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus-Renault – 15
4. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault – 12 points
5. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari – 10 points
6. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault – 8 points
7. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – 6 points
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 4 points
9. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes – 2 points
10. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes – 1 point
Featured image courtesy of: (Mark Thompson/Getty Images Europe)