By Berthold Bouman
Like all other teams HRT is getting ready for the toughest race of the year: the Monaco Grand Prix. HRT has last week completed the move to their new headquarters at the Caja Mágica in Madrid, an ultra-modern facility with brand-new management, administration, operations and engineering areas.
“It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s a dream that has finally come true and an exciting project. This is the present but we continue to work looking ahead to the future to make this a top level sporting and technological centre and surely, with the help of everyone, we will achieve this,” said HRT Team Principal and ex-Formula One driver Luis Perez-Sala.
About Monaco Perez-Sala said, “It’s a very demanding track mechanically, where drivers need great ability and suffer physically and psychologically because you can’t make any slip-ups and therefore you need to be fully focused at all times.”
And he added, “It’s a tough test for the car’s reliability and even more so if it is hot. We have minor upgrades for this race which we hope will help us to close the gap to the front pack.”
Driver Pedro de la Rosa describes the circuit and the problems drivers encounter. ”Monaco is by far the most difficult and technical circuit in the entire Championship. The only trick to this track is to do miles and not change the car’s set-up too much because you can find more time in the driver than in the car.”
Qualifying will be the biggest problem, de la Rosa reckons, “Another major difficulty at this track is the traffic, it’s vital to complete a clean lap and make the most of it. Pirelli is bringing its soft and super-soft tyres so it’s even more important to do a good first lap with the super-softs as you won’t have two laps with them.”
Narain Karthikeyan agrees with his Spanish team mate, “It’s not every day that you get to race in such a beautiful setting and with such a special vibe surrounding the race. It’s one of the toughest races because you’re so close to the guardrails that you know you can’t make one single mistake.”
Karthikeyan encountered a lot of problems during the Spanish Grand Prix and was plagued by cooling problems, which meant he was only able to complete a few laps in free practice. “I am hoping for better luck this time and to get a proper chance to work with the updates we brought in Spain and have a trouble-free weekend,” the Indian commented.
Paul di Resta in the past already made no bones about it, he has dreams of driving for Mercedes in Formula One. “I’d love to drive for them, I’ve got great friends and great support at Mercedes-Benz. I’ve been part of their programme for six years and I’m still very close to them now. I never say never,” the 26-year old Scot said in January in an interview with the UK Mail.
And his dream could become true as Mercedes CEO Nick Fry revealed in an interview that “Paul’s on our radar” after being asked who could replace the 43-year old and seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher if he would retire from Grand Prix racing.
“He’s done a fantastic job, he’s a nice guy, he’s great team player and he would be one of the drivers undoubtedly that, if Michael were to decide he didn’t want to continue, we would look at. But we haven’t reached that time yet in our thinking but we have all got a lot of admiration for Paul,” Fry said to Sky Sports.
With this statement from Fry, it seems Schumacher’s position is at stake at the Silver Arrows team, the German has scored only two points this season, while his team mate Nico Rosberg won the Chinese Grand Prix and has so far collected 41 points.
Di Resta started his career like almost all drivers in karting, he moved up to Formula Renault and the Formula Three Euroseries. He won the Formula Three Euroseries in 2006 after scoring five pole positions and winning five races. In 2007, under the wings of Mercedes, di Resta moved to the German Touringcar Masters (DTM) and won the title in 2010.
In 2011 he made the step to Formula One driving for Vijay Mallya’s Force India team, also with the backing of Mercedes as the Indian team has a long-term contract with Mercedes as an engine supplier.
By Berthold Bouman
Ferrari this week once more warned Felipe Massa he should raise his game as the Reds need a second driver to score points for the Constructors’ Championship, and Massa has obviously not been very helpful because he only has scored two points during the first five Grands Prix of the season.
While his team mate Fernando Alonso has taken second place in the Drivers’ Championship and also won the Malaysian Grand Prix, Massa is in 17th place with the two points he scored in Bahrain. In a Ferrari press release this week the team from Maranello makes no bones about it, Massa must make ‘a change of gear’ starting with the Monaco Grand Prix.
But as usual, Massa claims in a by Ferrari conducted interview he still has the support of his Italian friends. Asked whether Ferrari still has faith in him he replied, “I feel the whole team stands by me. Obviously, they are not happy with the results and neither am I: we all want is to get out of this and return to normal. It’s possible and for sure it’s what I want and I know that with the team’s help we will manage it.”
It is true though, Ferrari’s F2012 contender is a difficult car to drive to say the least, and especially Massa has been struggling to extract the right speed from the new car. So, what is the problem with the car?
“It’s definitely not a very easy car to drive and it’s hard to find a good balance. Many times I have found myself having to fight the car and, in these circumstances it’s easy to lose a tenth here and there; with my driving style maybe I struggle a bit more, because I don’t manage to find a smooth way of driving,” Massa remarked.
The latest updates have certainly made the car faster Massa admitted, “In Spain, we made a significant improvement, which could clearly be seen from Fernando’s performance in the race, but I too, when I had a clear track ahead of me, had a good pace.”
Of course people always have linked his far under par performance to his near fatal accident in Hungary in 2009, but Massa is adamant he hasn’t become slower as a result of it. “All the doctors I consulted are prepared to swear hand on heart that there are absolutely no traces of the impact with the spring. As for myself, I don’t feel in any way different to the way I was before that weekend,” he commented.
Meanwhile, others are already trying to answer the question who will replace Massa, as they are convinced it is just a matter of time before he will lose his seat, and many believe he will lose it before the end of the season. Jaime Alguersuari, ousted by Toro Rosso and without a doubt someone who would love to take over Massa’s now hot seat, said, “At this point, only a miracle will keep Massa at Ferrari.”
Of course there is the young and promising Frenchman Jules Bianchi, already being groomed by Ferrari and temporarily parked at Force India as test and reserve driver, but he would be too inexperienced to replace Massa this season, Ferrari needs points for the Constructors’ Championship so they need an experienced driver.
The drivers Ferrari really would like to have, Perez, Kobayashi and Webber are not available at this moment. Swapping Massa with Perez or Kobayashi could be an option as Massa has already been driving for Sauber at the start of his career so he would feel at home at the Swiss team, but it is highly unlikely Peter Sauber would let one of his star drivers go as he needs them himself to score points for the Constructors’ Championship.
Also the name of Adrian Sutil has been mentioned, he could go directly to Ferrari, or replace one of the two current Force India drivers, Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, if one of them would go to Ferrari. Another contender is Jerome d’Ambrosio who is currently Lotus’ test and reserve driver, and there’s of course a whole bunch of drivers waiting in the wings to replace Massa; after all, who doesn’t want to drive for Ferrari, the greatest Formula One team of all times?
By Berthold Bouman
Since Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Formula One many have been speculating about how long it will take the Iceman to score his first victory, and thus also scoring Lotus’ maiden victory. So far the Finn is in fourth place of the Drivers’ Championship, just 12 points behind Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso who share the lead with 61 points each.
His team mate Romain Grosjean is eighth with 35 points but let’s not forget the Frenchman didn’t finish the first two races after collisions with Pastor Maldonado and Michael Schumacher. Grosjean also made an impressive Formula One return, always qualified for Q3 and finished third in Bahrain.
With two podium finishes, second in Bahrain and third place in Spain, Raikkonen is getting closer to the highest step of the podium. In Spain, Raikkonen wasn’t able to fight for the win, and he was disappointed.
“I expected us to be a bit stronger in the race, especially at the beginning. We weren’t fast enough in the first stints and that’s why we couldn’t fight for the win,” he said, adding. “We showed at the end that we have the speed but it was too late. Maybe we made the wrong choice in the first pit stop, but like I said we weren’t quick enough at the start and that cost us the race.”
Asked whether a win is imminent he replied, “Twice now we’ve come close and I’m sure we can make that last step. Unfortunately you’re not always going to be able to challenge for the win, and if you get the chance you have to take it because it’s not every race that you will have the opportunity to go for it.”
And what about Monaco? “The next race is a bit different -– Monaco -– and it’s hard to say how we’ll go there. The team has done a good job, but we still have work to do and things to improve. So far the season is going well; obviously we’re not 100% happy because we’re not winning just yet, but that’s normal and I’m pleased the team want to push even further.”
But he remained upbeat, “Hopefully we can keep doing what we’re doing now and eventually I’m sure things will go exactly right and we’ll be up there.”
It will be difficult to win in Monaco, it is notoriously hard to overtake on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo, so pole position would make it a lot easier, but qualifying doesn’t seem to be Raikkonen’s strongest point this season. Raikkonen won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005 for McLaren after he had started the race from pole position.
By Berthold Bouman
Pastor Maldonado scored his maiden Formula One victory during the Spanish Grand Prix, also giving Williams their first victory in eight years. A flawless drive by the 27-year old Venezuelan, and certainly not a lucky strike but a solid and convincing win from a man who has always been labeled as the ultimate pay-driver. “I don’t focus on these comments, I prefer to do my talking on the track and do the best job I can for the team,” Maldonado commented in a by Williams conducted interview.
Maldonado silenced his critics and beat the big teams and experienced drivers like Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Also a flawless performance from his Williams team, who managed to get Maldonado ahead of Alonso again during the final pit stop at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Maldonado visited the factory in Grove, UK, and he was surprised by the warm welcome. “I arrived at the factory this morning and everybody I have met has been congratulating me and there seems to be a lot of optimism about what we can achieve this season. We had a gathering this morning with all of the people in the factory to celebrate our win and this allowed me to thank all of them for their hard work,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado also admitted the complete overhaul of the Williams technical department has led to his success, “We have a new technical team and they seem to be making a very positive impact already. I also have more experience now compared to last year and this is certainly helping me. I don’t think there is one single thing that has led us to improve this year, but a number of little changes that when put together have made us more competitive on track.”
During the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Maldonado was also chasing Alonso, but he made a small mistake and crashed, losing fifth place in the process. “In Melbourne I was pushing very hard to get as many points as possible for the team and perhaps pushed a little too hard. After last year the team were desperate for a strong start to the season and I wanted as many points as possible,” he said.
And he added, “I learnt from that and the experience certainly made me a stronger driver in Barcelona. Fernando is a tough competitor with a lot of talent so it was a tough battle but this time I came out on top.”
And asked whether he can be successful again the next race, the Monaco Grand Prix, he answered, “We will certainly do our best. Our package is definitely getting better and although we don’t have the quickest car right now, we are improving very quickly. I have always liked Monaco and after Sunday I am certainly full of confidence.”
By Berthold Bouman
Not a novelty and already seen last year: the tyre-saving tactics during qualifying. Last season a few drivers found out it was actually an advantage to have one extra fresh set of tyres for the race, although not using that set in qualifying meant they had to sacrifice a few places on the start grid. The extra fresh set of Pirellis was an advantage as the difference between used and new tyres can be as much as two to three seconds per lap.
The same is happening this season, but now all teams seem to save tyres for the race, which means there are fewer cars on track during qualifying, which is bad from a spectator’s point of view. But more important, the qualifying result no longer represents the real strength of the 24 drivers participating in the greatest show on earth.
During the third qualifying session, drivers just stay in the garage and do one run at the end of the session, while others don’t even bother to put a time on the clock and instead go out on a set of tyres they want to start the race on, and then return to the pits without a timed lap. During qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi did not set a time in Q3.
Other teams like Lotus, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren do believe it is an advantage to start the race from the highest possible grid position; therefore they were the ones who fought for pole position at the Circuit de Catalunya, a battle this time won by Lewis Hamilton who sacrificed a set of unused soft tyres to grab pole.
Sadly for him and McLaren, he was stripped of pole again after he could not bring the car back into the pits under its own power as the regulations require, because his team for whatever reason forgot to give him enough fuel to do just that.
Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were the only drivers who two runs in Q3, as they both completed 17 laps that afternoon, while Pastor Maldonado completed 14 laps, Fernando Alonso 15, Romain Grosjean 14, and Kimi Raikkonen completed 13 laps.
The reason the numbers eight to ten, Vettel, Schumacher and Kobayashi, stayed in the garage in Q3 was simple: they already had sacrificed an extra set tyres to get into Q3 to begin with and didn’t want to waste another set just to get seventh or eight position.
Although the fast degrading Pirellis do provide some rather intriguing tyre tactics for the race, for spectators the Saturday afternoon qualifying session has become less of a spectacle, and for the casual fan it will be very hard to understand why for instance two-times World Champion Sebastian Vettel doesn’t even try to set a time on the board and apparently let’s Hamilton get away with the pole.
For a race weekend each driver gets six sets of ‘prime’ specification tyres, and five sets of ‘option’ specification tyres. The regulations say: “One set of “prime” specification must be returned to the tyre supplier before the start of P2 and one further set of “prime” specification and one set of “option” specification before the start of P3.”
Again one set of each specification has to be returned before qualifying, which means each driver has three sets of primes and two sets of option tyres available for qualifying and the race.
And with the now even faster degrading tyres, the teams’ priority is to make sure they have enough fresh tyres for the race, and they now prefer to sacrifice a few grid positions in exchange for a fresh set of tyres.
In the past the qualifying format has been changed several times to provide more spectacle for the fans, the current knock-out system which eliminates seven drivers after each session until ten drivers are left for the final session Q3, has been the most successful format. Unfortunately drivers stay in the garage during Q2 and Q3 as they only do one run, and to make things worse, these days drivers even prefer to stay in the garage without completing a timed lap.
Of course the problem can simply be solved: all drivers should complete at least one timed lap in all three sessions, which means they will at least have to go out for three laps to do so. And, like in the case of Vettel last weekend in Q3, then he might as well try to get pole position on this mandatory timed lap in Q3. And a timed lap in this case means a lap on race speed, and not a lap of 2m50s just to comply to the rule, the lap should at least be 107 percent of the fastest time set in that session.
Pirelli has done a great job to make Formula One a spectacle again, but Formula One is about who crosses the finish line first, and not about how many tyres you can preserve, and the further ahead you are on the start grid, the closer you are to the finish line.
By Berthold Bouman
In an unusual move Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn has been given a one-third stake in the Swiss-based Formula One team. Team owner Peter Sauber made the decision in ‘the interest of continuity’, but Sauber himself will remain Team Principal and President of the Board of Directors of all Sauber group companies, and he will retain the remaining two-thirds in the company, a Sauber statement today read.
“When BMW pulled out of Formula One in 2009, Monisha Kaltenborn was instrumental in the team’s survival and since then she has been doing outstanding work in her capacity as CEO,” said Sauber.
And Sauber further declared, “Transferring one third of the stake to her represents an important step for me in providing continuity. My desire is to ensure that the company continues to be led as I would want over the long term.
“Monisha Kaltenborn and my son Alex, who joined the company as Marketing Director in 2010 and has since also been a member of the Board of Management, both embrace this aim. It means we can offer our employees a positive outlook for the future.”
The one-third stake is in fact a reward for Kaltenborn’s hard work over the years, and she commented, “For me this step is a mark of the greatest possible trust, which I will do everything in my power to justify.”
By Berthold Bouman
Last year it was McLaren criticizing their star driver Lewis Hamilton, this year it is Hamilton who rightfully could complain about the mistakes of his team that have already cost him dearly. After a tumultuous 2011 season with multiple on and off track incidents, most notably the ones he had with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and his black joke about being black, Hamilton has now apparently found the inner calm he needs to keep his head cool in the cockpit.
No more incidents, no more angry gestures from the cockpit, in 2012 Hamilton showed he is a mature driver, despite many disappointments. Three third places for him in Australia, Malaysia and China, but in Bahrain things went wrong.
At the Sakhir circuit the 2008 World Champion lost valuable time during two pit stops, while his team mate Jenson Button had trouble-free stops and did not lose any time. Hard to swallow for Hamilton who finally finished in eighth position as a result of the team’s failures.
A very unhappy Hamilton commented, “We gave a lot of points away today, which is what championships are lost from. We have to try and make sure we pick it up from the next race because we can’t afford to lose points like we did today.”
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh agreed at the time, “Lewis pulled off some sensational passing manoeuvres in his efforts to push his way through to the front, but in the end he was let down by two slow pit stops, both of which were caused by delays at the left-rear corner of his car.”
Everything seemed hunky dory after Hamilton took pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix, but just a few hours later he was disqualified and put back to the last place on the grid as his car did not make it to the pits under its own power, and gone were the chances for a good result.
After the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix a new rule was added to the sporting regulations after Hamilton had parked his car to make sure there was still one liter of fuel in it for the FIA scrutineers. Other teams felt McLaren had gained an unfair advantage by setting his fastest lap with an almost empty fuel tank, thus the FIA decided a car should have enough fuel on board to get back to the pits under its own power, and still have one liter of fuel left in the tank as well for testing purposes.
For one reason or another Hamilton was again asked to park his car at the Circuit de Catalunya after Q3, later it emerged there was again not enough fuel on board of the McLaren, a mistake that cost him pole. “Today’s qualifying session was one of the best I’ve ever driven — the whole car was just rolling so smoothly — it felt fantastic. To hear that I’d been excluded from qualifying, was of course extremely disappointing,” Hamilton said. But, he added, “I’ll never give up and I’ll give it everything I’ve got. Whatever grid position I start a Grand Prix from, I’ll always race my heart out!”
This time it was McLaren’s turn to start to worry, as it happens Hamilton’s five-year contract, worth some £75m, expires at the end of 2012 and these kind of team errors could make Hamilton think twice before signing another McLaren contract. At the start of the season Hamilton told the UK Guardian ‘the first four races may settle my McLaren future’ and his decision would be ‘based on more than just the car.’
Rumors emerged McLaren is now afraid to lose the talented driver due to the many mistakes that have been made. But Whitmarsh is not afraid to lose Hamilton, “He has got to build the support of the team, he has got to feel comfortable doing it, he has got to want to drive and he is in good shape. I look forward to working with him for a long time to come.”
And asked about Hamilton losing his pole position he said, “I was concerned, because it is a pretty tough thing to happen to a driver. But I have to say he showed some greatness I had not seen before. By the end of our chat he was consoling me. The relationship between Lewis and the team is stronger and better and hopefully we will work together for a long time!”
After Pastor Maldonado’s sensational win at the Circuit the Catalunya, his employer, Sir Frank Williams, is convinced he has a winner in his team. Maldonado, the first Venezuelan ever to win a Formula One race, convincingly won the Spanish Grand Prix, leaving the competition far behind him. The 27-year old driver started from first place of the start grid after McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton had been stripped of pole position because he could not bring his car back to the pits under its own power.
At the start of the race Maldonado squeezed Fernando Alonso to the right, all according to the rules and never unfair, but he had to let the Spaniard past as he did not want to risk a crash, as he knew how important it was for his Williams team to go home with a podium place in the bag. After the last tyre stop Maldonado got ahead of Alonso again and thus for the first time in eight years Williams won a Grand Prix again.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling winning my first race,” Maldonado reported after the race. “Alonso was chasing me hard but we looked after our tyres well and I managed to open the gap towards the end. The team has worked so hard all year and this win is for them. To be the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race is a big honour and hopefully I will win more races in the future.”
Maldonado certainly silenced his critics who had labeled him as a talentless pay-driver, he made not one single mistake during the 66 lap long race, he kept his cool even after Alonso came closer and closer at the end of the race. BBC commentator David Coulthard said, “Some said Maldonado was a pay driver and he didn’t deserve his place in Formula One but they’ll be eating their words now.”
“He did a great job, he’s a very happy boy, he deserves to be. He fully deserves to be in the team with or without the dosh. The truth is that if you haven’t got the dosh you can’t go Formula One racing,” said a very happy Sir Frank. He also praised him for his mature driving, “We’ve got a real racing driver as well. I am just astonished by the way he just controlled himself, he didn’t make a mistake at all.”
And he added, “It’s the first race he’s led and as the race goes on you become under more pressure to not think about the podium, not think about what your mother’s going to say, not think how much the prize money is going to be, don’t crash. Don’t make mistakes, brake a little bit earlier, look after it — that’s what you’ve got to do and that’s what he did.”
In his home country Venezuela Maldonado’s victory hasn’t gone unnoticed, he was heralded as a true champion, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tweeted, “I said so: Our Pastor Maldonado won, making history. Bravo Pastor! Congratulations to you and all your fighting team! We shall overcome!”
And Maldonado said, “For sure everyone is so happy in my country. I’m very lucky to have a country behind me, pushing so hard, to see me here in Formula One and especially to be here, between these guys.”
And he became a hero for a second time that day when photos emerged of the Williams garage fire, where Maldonado (who’s first name Pastor means ‘shepherd’ in Spanish) was seen carrying his 12-year old cousin Manuel – wearing a protective boot on a broken right foot – on his back out of the garage into safety.
Asked about the next race in Monaco Maldonado said, “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to be strong again.” And Helmut Marko, Red Bull and Toro Rosso advisor agreed, “If the Williams really has traction that good, then Maldonado will run rings around everyone in Monte Carlo!”
By Berthold Bouman
Triumph and tragedy on the same day for the Williams team, one and a half hour after they celebrated Williams’ first win in eight years as Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish Grand Prix, their garage caught fire. Seven Formula One personnel were taken to hospital, a total of 31 personnel were injured by the blaze but most of them could be treated by the doctors present at the medical center of the Circuit de Catalunya.
A FIA statement read, “Thirty-one team members were seen by circuit medical center staff and all have been released, with the exception of seven who were transferred to a variety of local hospitals where they are receiving treatment.”
Before the emergency services arrived, the fire was fought by personnel from Williams, Caterham, HRT and Force India, the latter three were quickly at the spot to assist their colleagues. Four Williams team members were injured and were brought to the medical center on the circuit, three were transferred to a Spanish hospital while the fourth was released after treatment.
Caterham, who’s garage was next to the Williams garage, reported that four of their personnel had been injured and were taken to the medical center, one suffered a minor hand injury and three suffered from respiratory problems. Force India also reported one of their team members had been treated for smoke inhalation. Given the number of people present in the Williams garage at the time, it is a miracle no-one was seriously injured.
At the back of the garage on the paddock side, members of Williams, Lotus, HRT and Toro Rosso attacked the blaze with fire hoses. All this was captured live by TV crews of the BBC and Sky Sports.
It is believed fuel that was stored in the Williams garage had exploded, and the resulting blaze had damaged all the equipment in the garage, Bruno Senna’s car was still in the garage and was seen after the blaze covered in extinguishing powder, Maldonado’s car was still in the FIA parc ferme waiting to be checked by the FIA scrutineers after it had won the Spanish Grand Prix.
Team Principal Sir Frank Williams was present in the garage giving a victory speech when the fire broke out, but he was quickly wheeled to safety according to his daughter Claire. Reserve driver Valtteri Bottas stated, “I was there when Frank Williams was giving his speech to everyone, I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly.”
Photos published in the German media showed that even Team Manager Dickie Stanford had been involved in putting out the fire. “Everything in our garage is totally destroyed,” Stanford said afterwards. Race winner Maldonado was seen carrying his 12 year old cousin Manuel, who had an injured right foot and was holding the winner’s trophy, to safety while circuit personnel evacuated the pit lane area.
“The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire and an update statement will be released in due course,” Williams said in a statement.
They still have to fully assess the damage but other teams have already said they would help the British privateer team to replace lost equipment they need for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time.