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 @ Sepang

Fernando Alonso won a rain stopped 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, holding off a charging Sergio Perez in the final half of the race. Only a mistake from the young driver on a wet kerb kept him from pushing the Spaniard hard for the win, though he still ended the race barely over two seconds behind the two-time world champion. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium. The race began under a cloud and lightly falling rain that fell more heavily early on, bringing out the safety car and stopping the race just nine laps into the fifty-six lap race distance.  After fifty minutes of red flag boredom, the race restarted under the safety car with Hamilton and Button leading. Once the SC pulled back in, pit stop mayhem shook up the order and proper racing commenced. In the end, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five, while Sebastian Vettel finished outside the points in eleventh, despite odd stoppage orders from Red Bull on the final lap. Read the full Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Hamilton (1:36.219) started next to Button on the front row after the second McLaren domination of qualifying in a row. The younger Briton set his very fast lap midway through Q3 in Saturday’s qualifying session and no one could touch it during that session. Button barely managed to join his teammate on the front row, pipping third place starter Schumacher with a final, post-checkers hot lap. Next to Schumacher qualified Webber. The Australian made for some drama, as he looked set to be nearly knocked out in Q2, but a quick lap moved him smartly up the order. Raikkonen’s lap was fifth fastest, but he lined up only tenth after a gearbox change five place penalty. That put Vettel and Raikkonen’s Lotus teammate Grosjean on the third row of starters. Vettel, however, made a gamble to use the harder tyre to set his time and was the only top ten starter to line up on that compound. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

It really was Hamilton’s weekend, as the driver led both Friday sessions. In the dry morning practice, Vettel, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Grosjean completed the fastest five, while Schumacher, Button, Rosberg, and Ricciardo did so during the dry afternoon session. Oddly, the only damp running came Saturday morning, as a drizzle coated the circuit for about twenty minutes before that session began. It stopped around the time the final practice began and allowed a dry line to form quickly. Rosberg topped Saturday morning, with Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joining him. There were no major incidents though most drivers struggled with rear grip. Many increased the heart rates of their mechanics with power slides and trips through the gravel, but the damage was relatively light all weekend. Ferrari continued to fare poorly, as Alonso managed to set only the ninth fastest qualifying lap and Massa made it only to Q2.

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 Testing: Hulkenberg Fastest in Barcelona, 2 More Days of Testing

What Happens When No One Knows Anything

12:21pm EST — Nico Hulkenberg held on to his position as fastest at the end of the session, as second quickest Fernando Alonso spun off, causing a red flag and for the session to be ended completely.  Pedro de la Rosa posted the third quickest time, with the top three all in the 1:20s range.  The top six posted times faster than Kimi Raikkonen’s record lap at the circuit in 2008 (1:21.670).

1. Nico Hulkenberg, Williams, 1:20.614, 99 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari. 1:20.637, 134 Laps
3. Pedro de la Rosa, Sauber, 1:20.973, 114 Laps
4. Tonio Liuzzi, Force India, 1:21.056, 90 Laps
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:21.258, 125 Laps
6. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso, 1:21.571, 104 Laps
7. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP, 1:21.689, 85 Laps
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1:22.152, 93 Laps
9. Robert Kubica, Renault, 1:24.912, 53 Laps
10. Jarno Trulli, LotusF1, 1:25.524, 70 Laps
11. Timo Glock, Virgin Racing, 1:25.942, 52 Laps

With Williams working on qualifying simulations, their time was certain to be at or near the top.  Most of the other teams, barring Alonso in the Ferrari, spent their time working on race simulations, complete with pitstop practices.  LotusF1 had continued problems with failures, as “a seal failed in the power steering,” according to Mike Gascoyne, which stopped the car for a while.  It is still very difficult to make any determinations from these times, with no knowledge of fuel loads and set-ups.  Look for a comparison of all the Barcelona times when the session is complete on Sunday.

Some Pre-Testing Analysis for This Week in Jerez

What Happens When I’m So Proud of Something I Re-Post it From F1B

12:29pm EST —  In a re-post of this week’s “VMR on Sunday” weekly opinion column from Formula1Blog (sue me, I’m pleased with this one), I discuss “More testing, more teams: How will Red Bull, Force India, Virgin Racing add to the mix in Jerez?

In my opinion, the basic crux of the first 2010 testing last week at Jerez wasn’t so much that Ferrari and Fernando Alonso appeared quite fast and quite able to put a lot of laps on the car, but the important knowledge earned was that what the fans want, the fans get (all of my opinion and analysis of the test is available here at F1B).  This is usually not true in Formula1.  Usually, when we want more and better coverage, we get less and worse.  Instead, those attending the event as both participants and journalists provided, essentially, live timing and scoring via Twitter.  Then, when so many people commented favorably on the Twitter coverage, Autosport stepped up and provided actual live coverage on its site.

Presumably, it will continue, this formerly spontaneous coverage of an event that brings racing light into the winter darkness.  Too many have expressed appreciation in a market that is based on readers and the advertisement money that can be gotten from them.  With that concern alleviated, one has to start thinking about what will happen to what we really watch: the times.

Three more teams, Red Bull, Force India, and Virgin Racing, will be participating this week in Jerez.  Red Bull has long been considered the bane of the track, with slow times and dance club lights in the garage.  In 2009, though, its promise began to be fulfilled when fighting with the Brawns for the championship.  The team just missed out last year, but can now be considered an established and fast team.  There’s only one problem for them when thinking about testing this year, though.  All of their 2009 time was spent fighting for the 2009 championship.  That doesn’t bode well for 2010 performance, as the Brawn (now Mercedes) was lacking some pace last week in testing.  Even worse is the precedent set in 2009 by the 2008 championship fighters.  McLaren and Ferrari were not the powerhouse teams we were used to seeing them as after spending all of 2008 working for the championship.  Ferrari’s fast pace at the first session can be directly linked back to a statement by Kimi Raikkonen in the late summer at Monza, having finished on the podium, that the team would no longer be developing the 2009 car and would focus on the 2010 car.  McLaren continued to develop for 2009 and showed a continued lack of speed last week, in comparison.

What does that mean for Red Bull?  I don’t know, I don’t speak engineer.  What I do know, is that the team has, rather than did Ferrari, raised expectations before this week’s test.  Christian Horner (and, forgive me, my usual particular sourcing has failed me and I don’t remember where I read it. Suffice to say the paraphrasing is from a reliable news source) has said that the team is quite prepared and is looking to perform very well in relation to the other teams at the test, despite their week later start.  Personally, I think the extra week will have helped them tie up loose ends from 2009 and finalize design and manufacture for 2010.

For Force India, it is hard to say what the outcome of testing will be.  For a brief moment in 2009 (at Spa, with Giancarlo Fisichella on pole and only thwarted in the race by an inspired and KERS-powered Kimi Raikkonen), it looked as though the team’s speed problems had disappeared.  Then they returned to the middle to bottom of the field.  Adrian Sutil remains at the team and Fisichella’s replacement (after moving to Ferrari and staying there as reserve driver/Le Mans Series competitor for the manufacturer) Tonio Liuzzi has raced in F1 before.  One could easily presume that they will move, by default, up in the rankings and ahead of the new teams in 2010, but there is really no telling.

Virgin Racing is another cipher, though a most often discussed one.  As the first of the new teams to participate in 2010 testing, it has both a large target painted on that red and white and black chassis and great expectations.  Judging solely on the performance of the fellow Cosworth-powered Williams, the Virgin Racing car, as piloted by Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi, will have quite a ways to go to catch up to the rest of the field.  Unless, all that “we’re doing long runs of heavy full” stuff from Williams last week was absolutely true.  Also, Glock is not known as the best qualifier, so his testing performance may not be an indication of the car’s speed in his hands during an actual race.  Rookie di Grassi was Renault’s test/reserve driver during a season with no testing, so we’ll also have to just make a guess as to how that car will fit in amongst the rest.  Never mind the CFD design and lack of windtunnel, though.  From what I hear, the only difference between the two is the ease and speed of changing design elements in the windtunnel as compared to CFD.

Essentially, what I’ve just spent eight hundred words saying is that we don’t know (and won’t know) what differences Red Bull, Force India, and Virgin Racing will bring to testing this week.  There are too many variables that even the teams are unlikely to know at this point.  Still, four days of testing is on the horizon and so close we can nearly touch it.  Michael Schumacher is back, there are four world champions taking to the track, Ferrari is fast again, Felipe Massa is recovered, and the new teams are beginning to show up.  Oh, yes, and the forecast calls for rain, in Spain.  all. four. days.  Happy testing, everyone, and welcome to the 2010 season!

F1 News: More StefanGP Intrigue, Launches Continue and Are Scheduled, a Reserve Driver for Williams

What Happens When There Is Too Much F1 to Ignore

12:02am EST — While there is actual on-track racing occurring in the States (see Friday’s coverage of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona here at On Any Sunday, These Days) and Kimi Raikkonen is again crashing into trees in a rally, the Formula1 season must be nearing its kick-off with testing beginning Monday and cars being launched left and right.

StefanGP Buy Toyota Designs, As Speculated:
According to the team’s website, “Stefan GP has already made its wishes clear to compete in Formula 1, and Stefan GP has just come to a basic agreement with Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) that Stefan GP will receive technical supports from TMG.  Further details will be released to the press in due course.”  According to Reuters, “part of Stefan GP’s agreement with the car giant would be for Toyota-backed Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima, dropped by Williams last year, to take one of the race seats.”  The team that clearly wishes to enter the 2010 Formula1 grid has also positioned itself publicly as a testing firm and way around the in-season testing ban.

Ferrari and McLaren Launch 2010 Cars Online:
While the Ferrari launch was Thursday and McLaren’s Friday, two of the best-known and -loved (and hated) teams showed off their new cars online and in the traditional event launch this week.  F1Fanatic has one of the best picture comparisons of the two cars (side shot, front view), showing the differences and similarities between the two 2010 cars.  The McLaren fin over the engine cover is quite large compared to both the 2010 Ferrari and the 2009 McLaren (a comparison between the top and side views of last season’s Mclaren are also available from F1Fanatic, as are the same top and side Ferrari views as well as a front ’09/’10 picture line-up).  While an entire set of articles could (and will) be devoted to thoughts about the differences and how they might stack up against each other and the other cars running in 2010, this pictures will have to be enough for now.

More 2010 Car Launches Scheduled:
LotusF1 and Virgin Racing have released more details regarding their car launches before 2010.  Both will miss the first test this week in Valencia, but will launch their cars February 12th and 3rd, respectively.  LotusF1 will unveil the car in London, at the Royal Horticultural hall, according to Autosport.  Virgin Racing, however, will have a virtual launch for it’s virtually designed car (no windtunnel testing here, folks) at 10 am GMT (5am EST) at the team’s website.

Williams Announce Valtteri Bottas as Reserve Driver:
According to the team’s website, Bottas will be the third, reserve driver for Williams.  The Finnish Formula3 driver is managed by Mika Hakkinen.  The position was left open after the team contracted Nico Hulkenberg as a 2010 race driver along side Rubens Barrichello.