Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Europe 2012 - Vintage victory for Ferrari in Valencia // Fernando Alonso wins the European GP in front of a home crowd

Published by Christine

Ferrari perform a pitstop in Valencia
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A.

We’ve long since stopped making any serious predictions for F1 this year, but we all agreed that Valencia wasn’t going to be a classic race. How wrong we were. Most agree it’s the best race we’ve ever seen round the dockland street circuit. Some have even said it’s the best race of the year so far.

Fernando Alonso would probably fall into that camp, taking victory in front of his home crowds, and becoming the first driver of 2012 to secure two wins. We’ll start with Ferrari, then, and how their race was - as ever - one of mixed fortunes.

Ferrari

Victory looked certain to be in Sebastian Vettel’s hands - through a supreme pole position and bafflingly quick pace in the race. However, once the Red Bull driver was taken out of the equation, it could only have been Fernando Alonso’s trophy. The driver was on top form for the entire afternoon, making up for what was a miserable qualifying session for Ferrari.

Both drivers failed to get into the top ten, with Alonso qualifying 11th and Felipe Massa 13th. Alonso moved up to eighth at the start, and set about overtaking as many cars as possible. He was in contention for a podium when the Safety Car came out, and slipped past Romain Grosjean as soon as the racing action restarted. Once Vettel retired, the race was the Spaniard’s to take - much to the home crowds joy.

For the team as a whole, however, it was only half joy. Massa also had a reasonably good start, but was one of the first to come in for a pit stop. Then Kamui Kobayashi crashed into the back of him and he was forced to stop out of sequence for a new set of tyres and a front wing. It was a long, long stop, and dropped him to the very rear of the field. From there, he managed to recover to 16th place by the time the chequered flag fell.

Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo has warned his team not to get complacent after such an exciting and well-earned victory. There should be no complacency, however, because they are still only managing to get one car on form. Until they’re securing 1-2 finishes, complacency should be nowhere near the Ferrari garage.

8/10

Lotus

There was a lot of talk about the potential for an eighth different winner ahead of the European Grand Prix, and some of it centered around Kimi Räikkönen. Is he due his first win? After this weekend’s performance, you might start to wonder. The Finn finished second, picking up a very handy podium, but was overshadowed by his teammate for most of the weekend.

Romain Grosjean qualified fourth, Kimi fifth. Grosjean overtook Hamilton to move up to second place, and Kimi had to follow up with a move over Maldonado to keep pace. It was Grosjean who was sitting in second when the safety car came out, and it was Grosjean who could have challenged Alonso for the win. His car suffered the same issue that knocked Vettel out of the race, cruelly halting what could have been a great second half of the race for the Lotus team.

In his place, Kimi managed to repeat Grosjean’s earlier move of overtaking Hamilton and put himself into second - but he never seemed quite on the pace of those around him. His move on the McLaren came about as the result of a mistake on Lewis’ part, and there was never enough time for him to catch the Ferrari.

It was a good, strong race for the team as a whole - a weekend where they got the best from what they could, and the retirement was not of their doing. Disappointment for one half, but also the knowledge that they are showing the better performance at the moment. If there is an eighth winner, it will likely be Romain before it is Kimi.

7/10

Mercedes

We saw three former champions on the podium this past weekend, with Michael Schumacher picking up his first top three slot since his comeback in 2010. My overriding memory of Schumacher in the race itself, however, is him leading a train of cars round and round the never-ending circuit. Eventually it was freed up by the Mercedes coming in for a pitstop, and it felt as though there was some pace missing from the car.

Schumacher qualified in 12th place, whilst his teammate Nico Rosberg made it all the way up to sixth. This is another example of the younger driver overshadowing the elder, but that did not last into the race. Rosberg started sixth and finished sixth, although he dropped to tenth position at the very start of the race and spent much of his afternoon regaining those positions he had lost.

Meanwhile, Schumacher found himself mixed up in the midfield and, along with Mark Webber, started to scythe his way up the order as the race neared its conclusion. He was consistent, with a good tyre strategy beneath him, but there was plenty of luck involved in his podium as well. That didn’t stop a beaming smile crossing his face when he finally got to spray that champagne after six long years.

The team will be impressed with this double points finish, no doubt, but the problems that plague Schumacher in qualifying are still there, and if other teams are starting to improve their pace, Mercedes need to keep in step.

7/10

Red Bull

It looked like it would be another one of those Vettel-dominated weekends that we have seen so often before. The German driver was supreme in qualifying, gaining four tenths of a second over what was an incredibly tight field. In the race, his pace out front was staggering. The lead was up to four seconds after just three laps, and he’d gained enough time to complete his first pit stop and return to the track still in the lead. The Safety Car cut his domination down, but also would have helped him in the pit stop strategy stakes. Unfortunately, this was never played out as his car stopped on track just moments after the action restarted.

A visibly frustrated Vettel stomped back to the pitlane, a seemingly easy victory thwarted by the machinery beneath him. Nevertheless, the team have gained a lot of confidence from this glimpse into the pace that they had last year.

Mark Webber also had great pace, and was also thwarted by mechanical issues, but his was a different story. The Australian failed to make it out of the first session of qualifying, securing himself 19th on the grid, and an awful lot of work to do.

The pace of the car, and some good clean driving through the field, allowed him to rise up to that midfield train involving Schumacher. The two pitted at the same time, and then were practically inseparable. Webber followed the former champ up the order, overtaking each car just moments after the Mercedes had done the same. He finished fourth, picking up an incredible points haul considering his start position.

The team have a lot of thinking to do regarding reliability, but the potential is there, if they can only hold on to it.

7/10

Force India

I’ve written about Force India’s race weekend in much more detail, but the summary is simple: this was the team’s best finish since 2010, and there was still more to get from the weekend.

Paul di Resta opted for a one-stop strategy, something he later thinks they should have changed mid-race in reaction to some of the events around him. However, the team were sticking to their guns, and he made the best of the tyre situation to finish seventh. It was a great drive from Paul, it’s not easy to be on a strategy at complete odds to the rest of the field, but he made it work.

Meanwhile, Nico Hülkenberg was on the more established two-stop strategy. Both teammates qualified in the top ten, but where Di Resta started 10th, Hülkenberg was two tenths higher in eighth. The useful qualifying position and standard strategy allowed him to remain there or thereabouts for the entire race, and he finished in the strong points position of fifth.

Force India have now clawed their way back to within a point of Williams’ seventh place in the constructor’s championship, and they will be setting their sights on going even higher.

8/10

McLaren

Jenson Button had a bad start from ninth position on the Valencia grid, dropping back in the first few corners. It served only to make life harder for himself, particularly when he was the first to come in for a stop - indicating exactly what the team’s strategy was going to be. After a difficult afternoon, Button crossed the finish line in eighth place - damage limitation at its best.

For Lewis Hamilton, it was an incredibly frustrating day. McLaren let him down with yet another awful pit stop. This time, not only was there some tyre changing trouble, there was also a serious problem with the jack. It was a 14 second stop that dropped Hamilton from third (he started second, soon to be overtaken by Grosjean) way down the order.

The Brit fought his way back to second place, but found himself with worn tyres as the last few laps approached. He lost a position to Kimi Räikkönen and found himself in a battle with Pastor Maldonado for the final podium place. It wasn’t long before Maldonado had swiped into the side of Lewis, pushing him into the wall and out of the points. He retired from the race but was classified 18th and last. He was another driver not afraid to let his frustration show.

McLaren have been quick to point out that Hamilton’s slow stop is overshadowing the fact that they secured the record for the quickest pit stop in Formula One ever earlier in the race. Striving for speed is fine, but for Hamilton’s sake, we need to see some consistency. I’m sure he would rather have ten regular stops than five quick and five disastrous. Race wins depend upon it.

5/10

Sauber

Sergio Pérez had a very quiet weekend, particularly after his impressive performance in Canada. He qualified 15th on the grid with no specific reason, just some general grumbling about the balance of the car. He had already played down expectations by suggesting the race would be a tough one for the team and that the track would not suit the car.

From outside the points, Pérez did well to come through and finish ninth - he played it safe with a two stop strategy which seemed unusual for the normally feisty Mexican.

There was enough trouble on the other side of the garage, though. Kamui Kobayashi qualified much higher than his teammate, in seventh place. He also worried about the conditions of the race, concerned about the temperatures and their effect on the car. In the race, it wasn’t the conditions he needed to worry about, so much as the other drivers around him. He was involved in an early incident with Bruno Senna, which wasn’t his fault but did put him on the back foot.

Later, he smashed into the back of Felipe Massa, which was his fault and earned him a five place grid drop for the next race. It also ended his afternoon early in Spain, with the car too damaged to continue.

As ever, Sauber need to work on taming their drivers, gaining some consistency and keeping their cars in the points so they can retain their sixth place in the championship.

5/10

Williams

The other half of Kobayashi’s first incident was Bruno Senna. The Williams driver qualified in 14th place, completely embarrassed by his teammate Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan had shown some impressive speed throughout the qualifying sessions and lined up on the grid third.

From 14th, Senna had a lot of work to do. He was attempting a one stop strategy, but that was halted after his incident with the Sauber car. Although he managed to demonstrate great car control afterwards and save a spin to continue onwards, he earned himself a drive through penalty that pushed him down the order.

It’s only through the disappointing actions of Maldonado himself that Senna managed to finish above him in the race. He picked up a single point from tenth place - a position inherited due to Pastor’s post-race penalty.

Maldonado had been up in a great position towards the end of the race, ready to pounce and take the third podium spot from Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, he couldn’t wait, made the move, failed, and made another move - right into the side of the McLaren. He was pushed down to tenth place, and was given a drive through after the stewards had heard all sides of the story. The added time dropped him from the points completely.

Whilst the car is still showing signs of the one that won a race already this year, the drivers seem to be heading the wrong way down the learning curve.

3/10

Toro Rosso

It was an incident packed race, and Toro Rosso managed to provide two of the crashes, each with a Toro Rosso.

Jean-Éric Vergne was the worst offender, drawing alongside Heikki Kovalainen and then driving into the side of him for no apparent reason. It was the end of Vergne’s race (after a terrible qualifying anyway). He afterwards admitted it was a rookie mistake and apologised to the Finn, but that was not enough to stop the stewards handing him a hefty fine and a ten place grid drop for Silverstone.

Daniel Ricciardo’s accident is causing more consternation than his teammates, with debate raging over who was at fault or if it was just a simple racing incident. The stewards opted for the latter, handing out no penalty. The Toro Rosso car was tipped into the air during the incident, coming down to earth with a crash. It wasn’t race-ending though, Daniel continued onwards to eventually finish the race 11th - just missing out on some points.

2/10

Caterham

Caterham had a great start to their weekend, managing to outqualify both Toro Rosso drivers on merit, and an out-of-place Mark Webber. At one point during the race Vitaly Petrov was up into tenth place, seemingly on for the best finish of the team’s short career.

Unfortunately, two crashes later and things were looking mightily different. Petrov finished 13th after four pit stops and Kovalainen 14th after just two.

It was a difficult end to the race for the team, but heart should be taken from both the qualifying performance and the finishing positions. Despite having all manner of problems with the Toro Rosso drivers as the laps flew by, they still managed to pick up their best joint finish since Italy 2011. Progress is being made, albeit excruciatingly slowly.

3/10

Marussia

Marussia were stuck with just one driver for most of the weekend after Timo Glock was ruled unfit to race, fighting a stomach bug. He participated in a couple of the practice sessions but missed qualifying and the race, leaving Charles Pic to do all the hard work.

Pic didn’t qualify well, falling behind both HRT drivers, but from 23rd on the grid he improved on Sunday. Steering clear of the majority of incidents during the race (just a minor scuffle with Narain Karthikeyan), Pic saw his way to 15th place - finishing just two seconds behind Heikki Kovalainen. That matches his best result in Australia, which in itself was a classified non-finish.

A tough weekend for the team as a whole, but one they made the best of and can move on from with no significant regrets. Except perhaps the lack of a reserve driver.

2/10

HRT

HRT outqualified the Marussia team - although one half of that squad didn’t participate and the other is still quite new. From 21st and 22nd, the team finished 17th and 18th - mostly through other drivers retiring behind them.

Narain Karthikeyan had a brief tangle with Charles Pic, with some carbon fibre flying in all directions, but it was not race-ending for either driver. The Indian did have to take an extra pit stop when given a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane.

Although not a particularly inspiring weekend for the team, it was a good result to get both cars to the finish line, after a double retirement in Canada.

2/10

All content in the series Europe 2012