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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F1 China Race Results & Report: Hamilton Wins Passing-Strewn Race, Webber 3rd

What Happens When It’s In the Strategy, and the Ability to Push

4:53am EST — Lewis Hamilton won a heart-pounding 2011 Chinese Grand Prix after nearly not making the grid Sunday. Teammate Jenson Button passed pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the start. It was not so clear-cut as that, with multiple tire strategies and close racing putting six different drivers in the lead. Vettel had his turn at leading after the first round of pit stops, but Hamilton took him in the final laps of the race. The star of the race was Mark Webber, pushing his Red Bull to finish third after starting eighteenth. Button was his last victim, finishing fourth on fading tires. Nico Rosberg, who led a good deal completed the top five, while Felipe Massa finished where he started and teammate Fernando Alonso finished seventh.

In what has become somewhat routine, Vettel started the race on pole, having set the fastest time by a wide margin during Saturday’s qualifying, and posting fastest times during both the Friday morning and afternoon sessions, as well as the Saturday morning practice. Other than Vitaly Petrov’s red flag stacking up seventeen drivers for a two minute shoot-out in Q2, qualifying followed the standard 2011 script: Vettel was very quick, with Button and Hamilton the only drivers in his vicinity. For Webber, qualifying was not standard, as he was knocked out in Q1, with KERS and possibly other issues. He started only eighteenth. Rosberg slotted into fourth to start next to Hamilton, with Alonso and Massa starting the race from the third row. McLaren barely made the grid, as Hamilton’s engine did not want to start whilst flooded with fuel, according to Paddy Lowe, though most others in the area called it a fuel leak. He managed to leave the pit lane with thirty seconds to spare, but missing bodywork that had to be added while on the grid.

The race got underway under the first clear blue skies of the weekend, with A great start for Button to take the lead, while Hamilton fought with Vettel for second, managing to take the position. Rosberg also took a look on Vettel, but could not manage to take third. Vettel lost time looking to block Hamilton, allowing Button to safely take the lead and be on his way. Rosberg then came under fire from the Ferraris, but held his fourth position. By the end of the first lap, Button had more than a second on Hamilton, with Vettel, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, di Resta, Sutil, Schumacher, and Alguersuari as the top ten. Webber had moved up one position to seventeenth. After the second lap, Hamilton had gained back a bit on Button.

Though Button continued to lead through the first few laps, he remained unable to put more than a second between himself and Hamilton. Vettel remained less than a second behind Hamilton, with Rosberg two seconds behind his fellow German. Massa and Alonso were less than a second apart and close behind Rosberg, while di Resta was complaining of problems from the rear and over four seconds behind Alonso in seventh, five laps into the fifty-six lap race. Schumacher took some interesting lines to keep his Mercedes in cleaner air, with the team’s overheating problems continuing. Continue reading

F1 China Quali Results & Report: Vettel Wins Pole Again, Webber KO’d in Q1

What Happens When Something is Wrong

3:22am EST — Sebastian Vettel dominated his way to pole for the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, with Jenson Button joining him on the front row. Shockingly, Mark Webber was unable to make it out of Q1, qualifying only eighteenth without KERS and on hard tires. Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row, qualifying just four hundredths off his teammate’s time and joined by Nico Rosberg on the second row. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa complete the third starting row, with Jaime Alguersuari, Paul di Resta, and Sebastien Buemi starting in the top ten. Just after going fourth fastest on his only Q2 run, Vitaly Petrov stopped on track, bringing out a red flag that left a two minute shootout to move on to Q3. Felipe Massa did, but Michael Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld did not. Though Petrov’s time put him into Q3, he was unable to compete and qualified tenth. All drivers qualified to start Sunday’s race.

Vettel ran away with the headlines in all three practice sessions, ending all three quickest, and with the fastest lap of the weekend. There seemed no limit to the Red Bull’s pace, so long as technical gremlins weren’t attacking Webber’s Red Bull. He was second quickest Friday morning, but drifted farther back as the weekend progressed, ending the Saturday morning session fifteenth and without an opportunity to run on soft tires before qualifying. Meanwhile, the only other cars or drivers able to come close to Vettel were Hamilton and Button, or Rosberg and Schumacher, all running under Mercedes power. Though the Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso continued their slow-Friday-quicker-Saturday running, Alonso missed valuable track time with a hydraulic issue Friday afternoon. In heartening news, all times set during the final practice session were within 107% of Vettel’s quickest time (1:34.968), indicating that all drivers should qualify for Sunday’s race. “With less than 20 mins to go to the start of Q1 Webber’s car still on high stands in garage. Mechanics working flat out,” tweeted Anthony Davidson from China. He would make it out for Q1, but without KERS, again.

Q1:
The day was still cool as the first, twenty-minute qualifying session began in Shanghai. Perez was the first out, quickly followed by birthday boy di Resta. Other drivers began trickling out of their garages, though there was no mass exodus. Perez’s first time was a respectable 1:38.295, followed by di Resta, nearly seven tenths slower. Five minutes in, and only Vettel, Webber, Buemi, and Kobayashi were still in the box, though the former two would be on track just a minute or so later. There were no more times at that point. Continue reading

F1 Malaysia Quali Results & Report: Vettel on Pole Again, but Hamilton Very Close

What Happens When the Same Old Show is Still Dramatic

5:17am EST — Sebastian Vettel beat Lewis Hamilton to pole for the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix in a last-second shootout after the Briton led most of Q3. Jenson Button and Mark Webber will complete the front two rows for Sunday’s race, and continued the Red Bull/McLaren domination of the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld will start fifth and sixth after reserving their shot at pole to a single lap, as did the other drivers in Q3. Nico Rosberg, who will start ninth, shoved teammate Michael Schumacher out in Q2 while the HRTs will start their first race of the season, posting times within the 107% rule.

Red Bull and McLaren ran away with the three practice sessions at Sepang, with Webber quickest by a long shot over Hamilton Friday morning, by a tiny margin over Button Friday afternoon, and Hamilton claiming the top spot over Webber in the final practice on Saturday. While both McLaren drivers were pretty quick during all three sessions, Webber outshone Vettel in all three, with the reigning champion seventeenth, fourth, and fifth fastest. Ferrari was either well behind the other two teams during practice or reserving their times for qualifying, with Alonso and Massa only in the top ten in all three sessions. Though Renault had a rough day Friday with front-end issues, Heidfeld was fourth fastest and Petrov seventh in the third practice. HRT continued its slow pace, though Karthikeyan and Liuzzi were faster than Virgin Racing for much of the practice, ending Saturday morning outside the 107% rule.

Q1:
Q1 started dry and sunny, with Liuzzi the first driver to leave pit lane and no one immediately following him. Ferrari, whose weather predictions ruined qualifying last year at Sepang, indicated taht rain was on its way, but would not fall for thirty minutes. Five minutes in, di Resta led the way, with D’ambrosio and Liuzzi the only others to have set a time. Barrichello quickly eclipsed all of them with an early time of 1:40.157, only to have teammate Maldonado go faster. Continue reading