We all thought that the return to Spain would show us who is quick and who isn’t. Well that doesn’t seem to be the case, although McLaren could have the quickest car, we have seen a surprising pace from Williams and Lotus who seem to have been fast all weekend.
Qualifying took place on a beautiful day in the countryside just outside of Barcelona, the hottest day of the weekend by far. The first round saw the surprise of Bruno Senna dropping out in Q1, he had traffic and then spun when pushing on his last lap. The big talking point was Lewis Hamilton stopping on his in lap, after getting pole from Pastor Maldonado by half a second. The FIA decided that even though he had 1.3 litres of fuel left in the tank, he was in breach of the regulations which means that he was disqualified from qualifying and therefore starts in 24th at the back of the field. Pastor Maldonado inherits pole and Fernando Alonso starts on the front row.
On race day it was overcast, with some saying that they could have been a little chance of rain. Everyone though would start on the soft tyres in the first stint. A really great start from Alonso gets him alongside Maldonado, who pushed him to the inside of the track, almost off the track, but Alonso is able to keep the drive and take the lead from the Venezuelan into the first corner. Further back Perez had an incident in the first corner, (which looked like Grosjean who hit him) pulling to the side of the track in in turn 3. Hamilton got an OK start from the back, and ended up 19th at the end of the first lap. t was all very tight in the midfield, with Mass also gaining places early on, along with Schumacher. Although not in the lead, Maldonado was the fastest car on the circuit , maintaining the gap to Alonso.
As things seed down after the start, Hamilton started to make steady progress up the field, passing Bruno Senna on Lap 3 in turn 7, then taking Heikki Kovalianen on Lap 5 for 16th. At the front Alonso was still ahead of Maldonado by just over a second, therefor just outside of the DRS zone which the Williams driver would be able to use. Raikkonen for Lotus was still 3rd, again too far back to use the DRS and looking after his soft tyres. Fernando Alonso team radio: “Left front and rear [tyres] degrading at the same time.”
A lap later and surprisingly Red Bull were the first to pit with Mark Webber, and he swaps to the Hard tyres. Stuck in traffic at the time, it seemed to be sensible to run in clear air. The lap after Vettel does the same thing, however its not working that well for Webber as he was stuck behind Karthikeyan, almost hitting him into turn 5. Vettel got out in front of him, just behind Glock in P19.
Kobaiyashi was the next of the leading group to pit and came out ahead of Webber in P19. Hamilton was still charging up the order, ahead of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg in 12th.
McLaren were ready on Lap 10 for their first pitstop for Jenson Button, all went well for the new procedure. Fernando stopped a lap later for the harder tyre, another great stop from the Ferrari team and Maldonado took the lead of the race for the first time, going longer on the first stint for the Williams team. Then everyone pitted at a similar time, Maldonado, Schumacher, Grosjean all having good pit stops. On the exit however, Senna and Grosjean touch, with Grosjean loosing part of his front wing. It wasn’t enough to pit for a new nose, so he continued. Maldonado followed the Ferrari route of putting on the harder tyre, with Lotus deciding to put on the softer tyre for the second stint.
A lap later there was an accident at the first corner, Michael Schumacher had driven into the back of Bruno Senna, with replays showing that the Mercedes driver had so much more speed going into the breaking area that he just misjudged how far behind he was. There was substantial damage to the Williams car causing him to stop further around the lap, and with Michaels car stuck in the gravel, both cars were retired. Michael later described Bruno as an ‘idiot’ as he thought he was wondering around on his line. The decision on this and gone to the stewards.
Lap 15, and Lewis Hamilton pitted later than most. A good stop from McLaren again, but it looked like he had a stumble away – running over an object, possibly a gun or a tyre. He lost a second or two, but it wasn’t a major problem like the previous races. As Hamilton came out, Webber was having some problems loosing ground in the group he was racing, with him pitting again a lap later. The team suggested it was a loading problem, which later looked like some of the winglets were loose. Again, Red Bull lost places.
At the front Maldonado was still behind Alonso, far enough in front to be out of the DRS zone and Raikkonen who were eking out from the following Lotus of Grosjean. Hamilton was down in 12th, behind the Ferrari of Felipe Massa! Sergio Perez though had set the fastest time with newer tyres. It became apparent that Lewis knew that the cars in front of him were going to 3 stop, to his 2. He got a great tow down the main straight from Massa, overtaking him into the first corner with the help of the DRS, but Massa resisted pushing him on the outside and cutting him off.
Maldonado made the first move in the second round of pit stops, pitting on Lap 25, another good stop from the Williams crew brought him out in 3rd place behind Alonso and Raikkonen, hinting to a 3 stop race for them. Jenson also pitted for the second time with no problems! Maldonado came out in clear air, to take advantage of the new tyres in order to jump ahead of the Ferrari. Alonso was stuck behind the Marussia of Charles Pic loosing valuable time. Pic would later have a drive though penalty for this, but retired before being able to take it.
Alonso pitted a couple of laps later, but it was too late. Maldonado was miles clear, taking the lead of the race for the first time. Further down the field Massa and Hamilton were still battling, but it was clean and there was no tears this time from Lewis. However some good news for Lewis came in the fact that Massa and Vettel had received drive through penalties for ignoring yellow flags, something that we don’t see too often in F1, especially for drivers further up the grid. Vettel and Massa took them quickly in order to preserve their tyres. Also in this higher midfield battle was Rosberg and Button, but Button didn’t have enough to pass. It was Kobayashi though that was able to make the move stick on Button on a lovely pass in Turn 5, not somewhere you would normally see a lot of overtaking.
Lap 36 and Hamilton pitted for his ‘final’ stop, that would mean that he would have to do 30 laps on one set of tyres, could Hamilton do this? Straight after his pit stop with newer tyres he was able to overtake Di Resta who was struggling at this point for 14th. Button also lost a place to Vettel. With newer tyres than the people around him Hamilton was pulling off very unlikely looking overtaking moves, taking Ricciardo and Vergne quickly to take 9th, things were looking up for McLaren after a really poor weekend. Button is this time on the back of Massa, who was struggling on his tyres at this point, but found some speed to attack Di Resta. All came down a bit later on with Button overtaking Massa with the help of DRS on Lap 41.
At the front Maldonado pitted on lap 42, bit of a problem on the rear lost them a couple of seconds, but he was on his way again with some more hard tyres, the favoured tyre of the afternoon. Could he not stop again, and he had pitted ahead of Alonso, meaning the Spaniard would have problems in jumping him at the pitstop, even with the problem. Raikkonen was 14 seconds behind at this point, and out of the picture, nearly a pitstop behind. Lap 45, 3 laps later than Williams, and Alonso pitted from the lead in order for them not to get too far behind the Williams on fresher tyres. A really good stop from Ferrari again, who have been doing some demon pitstops. The big question is now with fresher tyres, would Ferrari have an advantage at the end of the race? Ferrari seemed confidant that the Williams would have so good tyre degradation as they did and they would be able to fight at the end to take the lead. Early on in the stint Alonso was slowly catching the Williams, who were clearly looking after the tyres. Maldonado at this point was stuck behind the Lotus of Raikkonen who hadn’t pitted yet, causing Alonso to catch at a much quicker rate. He managed to pass on using the DRS on Lap 47, with Alonso doing the same thing a lap later.
Lap 50 Raikkonen pitted being told that the cars ahead of him would have to pit again. At the front Alonso was getting closer and closer to Maldonado, even within the DRS zone. However he wasn’t getting enough traction out the last chicane to make the pass into the front corner. Further back Raikkonen on new tyres was making waves, setting fastest laps, trying to close down the gaps to the leaders. He would have 15 laps to close down 20 seconds!
Further down the field Romain Grosjean was 4th, with Rosberg 5th and Kobayashi 6th. Lewis and Jenson were just behind them as well.
The crowd were going wild for Alonso, willing him to get to lead, but the traction out of the last corner was his undoing, slowly falling back from Maldonado. However, with a charging Kimi behind, could he catch Alonso by the end of the race, it would be mighty tight. Lewis further back on the 2 stop option was falling back to Vettel, with him being overtaken. Kobayashi wasn’t taking many prisoners either, with some his customary outlandish overtaking moves on Nico Rosberg.
Alonso couldn’t do anything about Maldonado, leaving him to just carry the win home for himself and preserve the tyres. Raikkonen was still catching though to within 4 seconds of the Ferrari by the last lap. A great charge at the end there by Kimi.
1. Maldonado Williams-Renault 1h39:09.145
2. Alonso Ferrari + 3.195
3. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 3.884
4. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 14.799
5. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:14.641
6. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 1:17.576
7. Rosberg Mercedes + 1:27.919
8. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 1:28.100
9. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1:25.200
10. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
11. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 1 lap
12. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
13. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
14. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
15. Massa Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
18. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
19. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps
Fastest lap: Grosjean, 1:26.250
Perez Sauber-Ferrari 38
Pic Marussia-Cosworth 36
Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 23
Senna Williams-Renault 13
Schumacher Mercedes 13