Formula 1’s return to Europe, began with yesterday’s Grand Prix of Spain. In a race where many predicted to see a repeat driver or team win, it was Pastor Maldonado and Williams who secured top honors. The win marked a first for Maldonado, who’s in his 2nd year of Formula 1. It also saw the end of an 8 year drought, for one of racing’s most storied teams.
While it may not have been the most exciting race so far this season, the controversial Pirelli tires ensured an unpredictable one for all the teams. 2012 is seeing a massive shift, where teams who have long dominated the sport, are having to find new ways of staying on top. Tire strategy is more important than ever and as we’ve seen many times, it can make or break a race weekend.
Williams Ends The Drought
I’m not going to say that Williams is a contender, not just yet. McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull all had lousy weekends and when those teams are on, they’re hard to beat. With that said, a solid drive by Pastor Maldonado, a driver I’ve never really been fond of. People have made comments in the past, myself included, that Maldonado is a pay driver. He proved his worth on Sunday and held the lead for much of the race. A great pitting strategy by Williams ensured Maldonado the win. Things didn’t fare so well for his teammate, Bruno Senna, although he’s another driver that has shown considerable improvement this season. Williams have gotten their act together in 2012 with a car that’s dialed in and quicker than Ferrari’s F2012.
McLaren In Shambles
There’s no other way to say it, McLaren are a train wreck. It’s the kind of slow moving catastrophe, you can see coming from a mile away. For some reason, it’s all a big joke for Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, who likes using the UK media as his personal diary. 3 weeks ago, Whitmarsh made remarks in response to the team’s horrendous pitting strategy. He defended the wheel mechanic who botched Hamilton’s race and said the team were behind him. In Spain we learned the mechanic in question, had been relieved of his job. Rightfully so, but why discuss it in the first place?
With two of the biggest driver’s in the sport and a budding road-going division, McLaren are becoming the most Hollywood of Formula 1 teams. The irony in the situation, is that the drivers aren’t to blame for the team’s shortcomings. On the back of a horrific season in 2011, Lewis Hamilton has turned over a new leaf. He’s arguably driving better now, than he ever has. He seems to have a clearer mind and is determined to win another Driver’s Championship with McLaren. However, his team are keeping that from happening. There was no excuse for sending Hamilton out in Q3, without enough fuel in the car. Those are the kinds of silly mistakes one would expect from rookie teams, not the sport’s Imperial Powerhouse.
Despite everything his team is throwing at him, Hamilton had one hell of a race. I’m tired of people from the We Hate Lewis bandwagon. The man’s still got it and Sunday’s drive proved it. Following his Q3 penalty, Hamilton started in 24th and finished a respectable 8th. This isn’t the grid of 2011 either. Most of the midfield teams are more competitive than ever. On the other hand, Jenson Button was lame on Sunday. He cruised the car to a mediocre 9th, after getting knocked out in Q2. Button was quoted in the media saying he was just going to “forget this one”.
It may be time for Ron Dennis to spend some time back in the pit lane. His presence as Team Principal, is severely missed and I’m not sure Whitmarsh is up to the job. Ultimately, the remainder of the season will determine, whether or not he’s working for McLaren in 2013. The same can be said for Hamilton, who is surely on his way out, if the team can’t turn things around. It’s going to be a telling next couple of races.
Drivers & Tires
For all the crying Michael Schumacher has been doing about Pirelli’s tires, many of the drivers seem to be flourishing on the new rubber. It’s been very advantageous for teams like Ferrari, who don’t have a solid car, but have managed to have fantastic races at the hands of Fernando Alonso. I have great respect for Alonso and the job he’s done this season. While he didn’t win on Sunday, he had another great race. The F2012 is a car no one had faith in, but Alonso is working it.
Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus are also off to a great start. The car is no doubt quick and Kimi is on the hunt. For a guy who prides himself on not giving a damn, he’s certainly had a lot of passion following the last 2 races, in which he thought he should’ve won. Week after week I’ve said it’s only a matter of time, before his first race victory this season. With the way things are going, it could be any weekend now.
I’ve struggled with my opinions of the tires this season. While they’ve certainly made racing more fun to watch and kept the season extremely unpredictable, they’ve made qualifying a complete bore. Most teams are opting out of Q3 hot laps, in favor of conserving rubber. The drivers are also holding back during racing, for the same reason. There’s no doubt they could push the cars far more than they do and that in of itself, would create more wheel to wheel racing and more excitement, for the drivers and their fans. A lot of them have come to the defense of Pirelli, following Schumacher’s comments, but I’m not buying it. These guys don’t race on the World’s stage to look after tires.
Fire In The Paddock
You’ve already read about the fire that broke out in the Williams garage, following the Grand Prix of Spain. I think it’s a shame; to end on such a high, only to have that overshadowed by such chaos. It was really great to see the other team’s immediate support, when the incident broke out and even better to know, that no one was seriously injured. In the safety era of Formula 1, it’s easy to forget just how dangerous it still is.
The glitz and glamor of Monte Carlo is less than 2 weeks away.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.