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The rough with the smooth - Which driver made the best of a difficult weekend to kickstart their European season?

Published by Adam Barton

So another race, another winner. This season is turning into an incredible one and despite the calls that Barcelona would sort out who had the genuine pace we are still no nearer to being able to accurately predicting this year's world champion. So who stood out? Who outperformed their technology on Sunday? Anyone fancy saying 'pay driver' and Pastor Maldonado in the same sentence? Whoever does is very brave and suddenly looks very deluded.

Judging the best driver on the day is a difficult one. It is unclear what the running order of the cars was as most teams had one car doing well, and one making mistakes or off the pace. Eight different constructors finished in the top ten and, on consistency at least, it appears that Lotus had the fastest car, but, as they went on a different tyre strategy (that may have cost them the race) it’s difficult to judge how fast they truly were.

Maldonado makes it look easy

It was clear to see that Pastor Maldonado had a near faultless weekend. As Bruno Senna span out pushing too hard to get out of Q1, Maldonado pushed on and made it into Q3 where he put in a very tidy lap that was good enough for the front row. We will never know how much he benefitted from drivers saving tyres for the race, but the fact is he put the lap in that got him up there and he was then the biggest benefactor of Hamilton’s exclusion.

The greatest element of his win was he showed the cunning edge needed to win

In the race, Pastor pushed when he needed to push and made use of an aggressive strategy to retake the lead from Fernando Alonso. Maldonado has appeared to be a passionate, if petulant, driver in the past, as was shown post qualifying in Spa last year. But this time he showed great experience and the greatest element of his win was he showed the cunning edge needed to win, what’s more he did it against the wiliest fox in the paddock, Alonso.

Revenge for Nico

Having been blown away by his teammate in Bahrain, Nico Hülkenberg showed the pace that many expected of him from the start of the season. It’s a shame that Force India don’t have the pace to mix it at the top but it appears that both they and Toro Rosso are paying for developing their 2011 car right until the end of the season.

Nonetheless, Hülkenberg fought off Mark Webber late in the race to take the final point as he finished well ahead of teammate Di Resta. Having started just behind his teammate, Hülkenberg made use of the strategy to get his second points finish of the season. Having both shown pace, the drivers will be hoping that the car develops quickly through the European season as they currently have half as many points as seventh placed Sauber.

Quiet but stellar from strong Sauber

Silent but deadly
Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

The next man on my list didn’t exactly make an impression but showed Sauber’s raw speed to match his career best finish of fifth (he also achieved this at Monaco last year). I don’t recall Kamui Kobayashi mentioned once and it’s safe to say he had a quiet race as he filled the chasm between Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg until late on. He finished three seconds ahead of reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, making use of the pace Sauber showed in qualifying, with Sergio Pérez sixth and Kobayashi tenth, having ended Q2 with a hydraulic leak.

Lewis is growing up (finally)

It was a strange kind of weekend for Lewis Hamilton. Having done what he felt was his best ever qualifying, storming to pole position by half a second, he had a character building afternoon as he drove from the back of the field to eighth, nearly taking seventh from Rosberg on the line. What will give Hamilton the most satisfaction is finishing ahead of teammate Button, although they were on different strategies.

He too can make the McLaren light on its tyres

Looking at Button’s race pace, it’s not clear cut that Hamilton would have had the pace to fight the Williams of Maldonado and Alonso’s Ferrari. That said, if he had lead into turn one, he would have been able to control the strategy of others and may have been good for a podium. Hamilton showed real maturity in a weekend where he himself performed perfectly and showed that he too can make the McLaren light on its tyres.

Looking ahead

So as we head off to Monaco, one of the biggest driver tracks of them all, we still don't know the relative performance of each of the cars. I will make one prediction: Michael Schumacher won't be on pole. Other than that it's anyone's guess.