Notes From the Television Screen: F1 @ Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel took his first win of the 2012 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, holding off an occasionally charging Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean made it a double Lotus podium after a lightning start while Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg completed the top five. Lewis Hamilton dropped well down the order to finish eighth through two extraordinary long pit stops from McLaren while teammate Jenson Button was forced to retire with an engine or exhaust issue just two laps from the end. Rosberg’s Mercedes was also sickly, with the team telling him of his own exhaust issue. He is under investigation after the race from the stewards for incidents involving both Hamilton and seventh-place finishing Fernando Alonso. Both Germans in the top five pulled immediately off at the pit lane exit after crossing the line to finish the race. Paul Di Resta managed a career best sixth place finish. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher managed to scrap a single point despite starting twenty-second. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Vettel (1:32.422) won pole in a thrilling post-session duel between himself, second place starter Hamilton, and third place starter Webber during Saturday’s qualifying. Button would have been the last man to cross the line, but scrapped his lap after a locking moment cost him a faster lap time. He qualified fourth. Rosberg, the weekend’s golden boy after Shanghai, managed only fifth fastest but was considerably better off than teammate Schumacher who got knocked out in Q1 by Heikki Kovalainen. In other champions’ news, Raikkonen dropped out in Q2, qualifying only eleventh, and Alonso just squeaked through to qualify ninth. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

However, Rosberg led two of the three practice sessions (both Friday afternoon [1:32.816] and Saturday morning [1:33.254]). Though Hamilton (1:33.572) led Friday morning’s session, the real consistency came from the Red Bull teammates. Vettel was amongst the top five in all three sessions and Webber in two of them. Despite dusty conditions and plenty of complaining about a lack of rear grip, there were no damaging incidents in any of the practice sessions or qualifying. Most teams seemed quite happy to throw the softer tyre on early in qualifying, both looking for pace as the track evolved and seemingly not concerned with using the compound more than absolutely necessary during the race.

Force India did sit out the second practice after an incident involving team personnel and protestors occurred on Thursday. Instead, the team used that time to switch over their cars to Saturday set up and left the circuit before darkness fell. Di Resta qualified tenth and Hulkenberg thirteenth, though there were no shots of the cars seen on the world feed during qualifying.

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Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Shanghai

Nico Rosberg took his first ever win in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, ending a dominating twenty seconds ahead of Jenson Button. The Briton had a problem in a pit stop that cost him a fight for the win. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium, having participated in a ten car fight over eight positions in the third of the race. Kimi Raikkonen looked safe to finish on the podium, but drifted back to twelfth in that fight, as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel completed the top five. It was a race of strategy, with teams using both two and three stop strategies. There was no rain, but plenty of clouds in a grand prix that saw plenty of dicing for position, and Michael Schumacher the only retirement. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Rosberg (1:35.121) set the pole winning time in a remarkable fashion, retiring to the garage after one fast run early in the final Q3 part of Saturday’s qualifying session. Though Hamilton qualified second fastest, a gearbox change penalty dropped the Briton back to the seventh starting position and put Schumacher on for a Mercedes front row. Not only is it Rosberg’s first pole ever, it is also the first pole for a Mercedes factory car since 1955, when two Silver Arrows also started on the front row in Italy. Hamilton and Schumacher set the fastest practice times, but neither’s quali lap was closer than a half second to Rosberg. Kobayashi qualified fourth fastest but began the race in third, with next to him on the grid. Button and Webber completed the third row of starters. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

Webber contributed to teammate Vettel’s poor qualifying showing (he started only eleventh) by posting the fastest lap on the softer tyres in Q2 and knocking his teammate out in that session. Neither Red Bull looked to have any particular pace to match the Mercedes powered cars at the front in any of the practice sessions. Hamilton led both the Friday and Saturday morning sessions, with Schumacher taking the advantage at the end of the dry Friday afternoon session. Both Ferraris again struggled through the practices, but Alonso managed to qualify ninth and Massa twelfth. Despite the lack of grip and multitudinous slides and trips over kerbing, only Timo Glock suffered an incident during any of the sessions. He appeared to lose the front wing and nose cone entering Turn 1, leading to his skittering across the gravel and belting his Marussia into the tyre barrier. He was generally unhurt, though perplexed.

Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Albert Park, Australian Grand Prix

Editor’s note: I cover the entirety of the Formula 1 on-track action at Formula1Blog throughout each race weekend. This is just a taste of those session and race recaps. Follow the links to read the full story, as posted immediately after each session.

Jenson Button won the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in dominating fashion, having taken the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton into the first turn and only giving it up for a pit stop. Hamilton would finish third, as second place finisher Sebastian Vettel pipped him in a pit stop during a Safety Car period caused by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham stopping on the front straight. Mark Webber finished fourth, having lost positions on the start then retaking them through the race. The Australian was very close to Hamilton in the closing stages but remained unable to make a move on the Briton. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top five, having heaved his Ferrari up from a twelfth starting position. Read the entire Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Saturday’s qualifying session added to the newly mixed-up 2012 field, as Hamilton (1:24.922) won pole with a 2011 Vettel-style lap. Only Button came close to the former world champion, making a McLaren front row on the starting grid. Grosjean showed that Lotus’ pace in testing was no fluke, though a mistake from his new teammate Raikkonen meant that the Finn qualified only eighteenth. The biggest mistake, however, came from Alonso. The Spaniard beached his recalcitrant Ferrari in the gravel halfway through Q2 and was only twelfth quickest. Still, he fared better than Massa, who went out after Alonso’s red flag and was also knocked out in Q2. Back up front, Schumacher qualified to start next to Grosjean in the mad dash to fast laps in Q3 while Webber and Vettel managed only to qualify fifth and sixth, respectively. The Australian out-qualified his reigning champion teammate, despite yet another KERS failure. Despite usually winning an appeal to the stewards despite qualifying times outside 107% last year, neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan started the race, presumably due to their extensive balking of other drivers as moving chicanes during qualifying itself. Perez also had issues with his gearbox that forced Sauber to change it and resulted in a five place gird penalty from his qualifying position of seventeenth. Read more about qualifying for the Australian GP at Formula1Blog…

Both McLarens also showed good pace in the practice sessions, with each driver posting the fast lap for a session. Button (1:27.560) led the team 1-2 on the wet Friday morning, with Schumacher, Alonso, and Webber joining them as the fastest five. Hamilton (1:25.681) had his turn on the dry and sunny Saturday morning session, leading Grosjean, Webber, Button, and Rosberg as the quickest. Both Schumacher and Vettel had trips through the gravel in the sunshine, though no driver crashed out of either wet Friday practice. Schumacher (1:29.183) was the shining driver Friday afternoon, leading Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, and Kobayashi in that session as the track dried quickly in the final minutes.

F1 Spa Race Results & Report: Vettel Takes the Win, Button Podium, Schumacher 5th

What Happens When There is Serious Racing

9:47am EST — Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, a race highlighted by close dicing, dry conditions, a safety car, and a charge through the field by world champions. He led a Red Bull one-two with Mark Webber coming across the line second, and an entertaining charge by Jenson Button brought the Briton from thirteenth to third. Michael Schumacher also showed his mettle, fighting through the field to finish fifth after starting last. Fernando Alonso, who lost pace near the end of the race, finished fourth. Lewis Hamilton looked to be on line to fight for the win when an incident with Kamui Kobayashi ended the Briton’s race in dramatic fashion.

Vettel started on pole, having taken that position from Hamilton in the final seconds after the flag had fallen on Saturday’s eventful qualifying session. Webber, Massa, Rosberg, Alguersuari, Senna, Alonso, Perez, and Petrov completed the top ten starting grid for the race after Spa’s rainy and damp conditions provided an eventful show. Schumacher began the 20th anniversary of his first F1 start last on the grid after losing a rear wheel on his out lap in Q1, Hamilton and Maldonado collided in anger, Button and di Resta were forced into the wrong calls, and Massa outqualified Alonso for what felt like the first time in years, all in the span of an hour.

Webber led most of the practices, with only Schumacher beating him to the top of the timesheets after an early time in the dry on Friday morning. The Australian driver was fastest in the Friday afternoon session and again Saturday morning, as McLaren continued to be quick in the latter half of the season. Ferrari attempted to save tires in the wet before qualifying and was caught out by Sutil’s red flag in Q2.

Spa appeared surprisingly bone-dry for the start of the forty-four lap race, though there were issues with tires blistering, especially for Red Bull. The team asked to change their tires after qualifying due to their poor, worn, and blistered conditions (as the RBR camber was a bit outside the typical specifications) but were not allowed to do so. Weather forecasts differed as to whether the entire race would be dry, but the start certainly was. Most drivers were on the softer tire, though both Button and Schumacher started on the harder dry tire.

On the grid, Rosberg had a bit of smoke seemingly coming from his Mercedes as Vettel took a great start, but it was Rosberg was into third, then around Massa for second on a flying start. Webber again got a bad start, but it was the racing at the front that was dramatic, as Rosberg was around Vettel for the lead into Les Combes. In the middle of the pack, there was contact into the first turn. Massa made a great move to momentarily go through to second, but it was Senna hitting Alguersuri and shoving him into Alonso that broke the Toro Rosso suspension. As the field checked up, the two Lotus drivers got together and Sutil suffered some damage as well.

At the end of L1, Rosberg led Vettel, Massa, Hamilton, Alonso, Buemi, Perez, Webber, Kobayashi, and Petrov as the top ten. Alonso took a look on Hamilton for fourth, then simply powered around the McLaren on the run to Les Combes before the DRS was activated. Schumacher was also moving through the pack, already up to thirteenth by the end of the second lap.

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F1 Spa Quali Results & Report: Vettel Takes Pole From Hamilton in Dramatic Session

What Happens When Spa Equals Drama, Drama, Drama

9:20am EST — Sebastian Vettel (1:48.298) won pole in an eventful qualifying session for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix. Though the result might appear to indicate that it was business as usual for Red Bull in qualifying, that belies the dramatic nature of Saturday’s sessions at Spa. Lewis Hamilton held pole for moments at the very end of the session, only to have Vettel take it away by a half second in a dry, suny, and wet qualifying. Michael Schumacher did not complete a single lap, losing a rear wheel in Q1.

Both Jenson Button and Paul di Resta were stuck with bad calls that knocked them out in Q2 and Q2 respectively, and a red flag in Q2 for Adrian Sutil nearly ended Fernando Alonso’s day. Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, and Jaime Alguersuari will complete the front three rows of the starting grid, with Alonso starting only eighth and Button thirteenth. Hamilton was again embroiled in some controversy as Button pulled over on his suspected cool down lap for his teammate and Maldonado damaged Hamilton’s McLaren after Q2, likely in response to an aggresive move by the Briton earlier in the session.

Webber led two-thirds of the practice sessions with quick times in the wet. Though Mercedes might have looked strong from the timesheets in the Friday morning session, it was pure luck that Schumacher and Rosberg set times before the heavens opened on the rest of the field. Instead, Webber was quickest in the damp-dry-wet Friday afternoon session and the all-wet Saturday morning session as word came that he had re-signed with Red Bull for 2012. Ferrari spent that last session essentially in the garage, saving wet tires for the changeable Ardennes conditions. However, both McLaren drivers were strong in all three sessions, despite an uncharacteristically quick morning from the Toro Rosso duo. There were no major practice incidents as the conditions were generally either bad enough to keep drivers off the track or fair enough to allow moderately safe running.

Q1:
With the sun actually shining at the start of the twenty-minute Q1 session, the Toro Rossos, Virgin Racing cars, and Lotus drivers were lined up and waiting on the green light. They were also joined by Vettel and the McLarens, even as spray continued to fly behind the cars. Less than two minutes into the session, Schumacher lost a rear wheel on the straight heading toward Rivage, forcing him into the wall, down the track, and into the gravel. Buemi posted the first fastest time, with a bogey of 2:11.806, only for Hamilton to take more than two seconds off his time. Button slotted into third on his first lap, with Alonso taking second as many, many drivers finished their laps.

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F1 Spa FP3 Results & Report: Webber Fastest In Continued Damp Conditions

What Happens When Webber Celebrates His Birthday With a Contract & Fast Lap

6:18am EST — Running was slowed again in the final practice session for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix by rain, as teams stayed in the garage in terribly wet conditions to save tires. Mark Webber (2:08.988) ended the session on his birthday fastest, with Lewis Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari, Jenson Button, and Sebastian Buemi completing the top five. Felipe Massa set a time only in the final moments and well off the pace as Ferrari conserved their tires in the very wet conditions, while teammate Alonso set no timed laps.

Friday was a day marked by when rain had fallen and when it was going to fall next in the Ardennes. Schumacher (1:54.355) and Rosberg led the morning session simply because they posted times before anyone else, and before the heavens opened. Though there was some drier running at the end of the morning session, the truer times were posted in the first half of the afternoon practice.

It began in somewhat damp conditions, and rain was again pelting down when forty minutes remained. In the time when the track began to properly dry and slick tires were used, fast times came from a number of drivers, though Webber (1:50.321), Alonso, and Button were the men on top as the rain began. Hamilton and Massa completed the fastest five in a day that, surprisingly, had only two incidents. Both Senna and di Resta hit the barrier at Turn 9 in the morning, though neither crash caused an excessive amount of damage. di Resta did bring out a red flag, as the corner workers were still returning Senna’s Renault to the garage.

As had become typical, ten minutes before the final, sixty minute, practice began Saturday morning, rain began falling on the track. Also typical, D’Ambrosio was the first driver out onto the track, followed by Perez. With the rain falling rather lightly, and forecast to be far worse later, ten drivers were quickly out and completing their installation laps. Though most went out on the intermediates, McLaren waited a bit and were forced to put on the full wet tires for their first laps, which came five minutes into the session. Ferrari also put Alonso and Massa on the full wets, though they were out slightly earlier than McLaren. Soon, only Button was out on the very wet track for his single instal lap. Kovalainen summed the conditions up neatly, “It’s hardcore. It’s fun for sure, but a bit risky…”

The track had only rain on it a quarter of the way through the session, as Button explained that the conditions were “worse than Canada.” Ricciardo had not bothered to complete an installation lap, though he was the only driver who had not. He did make his way out a few minutes later when the conditions bettered, moving even more slowly than usual in the HRT and with spray streaming out behind him. Soon Buemi was also back out, as the rain appeared to have stopped. He was joined by teammate Alguersuari as Toro Rosso performed their typical track cleaning duties near the halfway point of the session.

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F1 Spa FP2 Results & Report: Webber Quickest on Friday as Rain Falls Again

What Happens When It’s Dry, Then Wet

9:37am EST — Mark Webber (1:50.321) was the fastest driver of the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix weekend on Friday, leading Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, and Felipe Massa as the fastest five in the afternoon practice session. Though the track was damp at the start, it soon dried and drivers were out testing longer runs on both slick tire compounds, right up to the point where rain began falling heavily again just past the halfway point. The most lurid moment came for Timo Glock when the rain lightened near the end of the session, as he had a long spin and slide across the track and a paved runoff area. He continued on with an unscathed car.

The Mercedes duo led the timesheets in the first practice, as the German drivers were the only ones to set a time before rain began pelting down early in the morning practice session. Schumacher (1:54.355) led his younger teammate, while late drying times from Button (2:02.740), Vettel, Hamilton, Sutil, Massa, Barrichello, Alguersuari, and Kobayashi completed the fastest ten. Though many drivers slid off the slippery track, only Senna and di Resta made contact with the barriers. Both drivers went off at Turn 9, as Senna’s crash damaged his Renault more heavily than di Resta’s his Force India. However, it was di Resta’s that brought out a red flag, as the equipment to remove his car form the circuit was still busy returning the Renault to the garage.

Rain was not falling minutes before the second, ninety minute, session began, though the track was a bit damp. Kobayashi led a bevy of drivers out in the dry-ish, slippery, and increasingly damp conditions. Just five minutes into the session, Kobayashi set the first time of 2:16.279, with Ricciardo second fastest. At that point, all but Vettel, Hamilton, Senna, and di Resta had already made their way onto the track. Webber was quickly fastest by nearly five seconds. He smartly bettered his time on the next lap, despite a bit of traffic and some seemingly careful driving.

Alonso was just three tenths slower on his own quick lap, as Alguersuari, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Petrov, Barrichello, Buemi, Maldonado, and Rosberg were the fastest ten, ten minutes into the session. Still, neither McLaren driver nor Massa had not set a time. Webber continued to improve, while a surprising Senna slotted into third fastest, a hundredth slower than Alonso. Soon, they were displaced by Petrov, showing some across the board speed from the Renault, only for Senna to pop up to second fastest. Webber, however, remained over a second faster, right up to the point that Senna, then Vettel took their own times to the top. Vettel was nearly 1.9s faster than Senna as the track continued to dry. Times came fast and furious as the drivers took half- and full-second chunks out of their own and each others’ time on the drying track.

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