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After a brief summer break, the second half of the F1 2012 season opened with a BANG. Literally.
The race started like all other race, cars lined up in their grid positions, anxiously waiting for the light changes to signal start of the race. Before the lights signaled "GO", Maldonado jump started the race from his 6th position, racing down towards the front. Shortly after that, the rest of the cars officially start, and that's when mad chaos happened. Grosjean weaved towards Hamilton, their wheels made contact, and before you can say "Oh no!", Hamilton and Grosjean collided which ended with the Lotus tumbling across the front part of Alonso's Ferrari, taking Alonso and Perez out of the race. For a moment after the massive opening crash, all eyes were on Alonso as there was no movement in the Ferrari. To everyone's relief, Alonso was fine and climbed out of the car looking unharmed.
This is a jaw-dropping opener, showcasing again the danger factor and the unpredictability of this sport.
Nothing throws a wrench into Race day grid positions like a bit of rain on Qualifying day. That is precisely what we had at the German Grand Prix this weekend. Some teams were prepared (or lucky) while others were slightly doomed (or not prepared). Alonso, the front-runner of the championship after British Grand Prix, was certainly prepared with a wet setup and capture Pole position. Not so lucky was Massa, Rosberg and Grosjean, none of them made Q3 Top-10 shootout.
To keep things interesting, Hokkenheim gave the German Grand Prix a sunny and dry race day. Alonso was on pole, followed by Vettel and Schumacher. With 4 wins in the pocket and a 3rd place on the grid, I had high hopes for Schumacher. However, ultimately it was just not meant to be. Schumacher ended the race at 7th.
Taking full advantage of the pole position, however, is Alonso. Alonso blew away the competition, surged ahead and never looked back from the moment the race started. Alonso seems to be ready for any challenge and made his strategy stick in recent races. Even in a seemingly less competitive car, Alonso has driven the wheels off of the Ferrari and took the top spot on the podium for the German Grand Prix. This is the 3rd win for Alonso at the Hokkenheim track. I think he may have shed some joyous tears on the podium. In my pre-race post, I've mentioned that the odds are in Schumacher, Alonso and Hamilton's favor at this Grand Prix, I'm mildly excited that my guesses are getting more accurate in this unpredictable season.
Hoping for a comeback from a disappointing finish last week, Hamilton started on 7th and ended up retiring at Lap 58 due to lack of pace and a puncture. With a bit of reversed fortune, Button did very well in the race, going from 6th to 3rd by lap 12 and just kept pushing up front. It certainly helped that McLaren has dramatically improved their pit stop time, with one of Button's stop taking a fleeting 2.31 seconds, fastest ever in the records. All these with some good driving nudged Button to 2nd near closing stage of the race. That was until Button started losing tyres performance. Vettel saw the weakness and decided to be naughty (and play innocent), attempted to pass Button on Lap 66, went wide AND off the track that give him some grip to slip in front of Button to take 2nd place on the podium.
Even though Vettel was on podium for 2nd, the stewards investigate the overtaking move and decided to give him a 20-second penalty which dropped him to Fifth. Quite the misfortune for Vettel at the home race. As a result, Button is 2nd, with Raikkonen taking 3rd in the 67-lap race. Button must be absolutely thrilled to be back on the podium after a drought of wins.
Honorable mentions of the Hokkenheim race are Kobayashi, who went up 7 spots with a 2-stop strategy to end the race in 5th, and Perez, went up a whopping 11 spots to 6th place. Both of these drivers are not always the front-runners, but are always driving their heart out with their cars, great pleasure to watch and definitely adds to the entertaining factor of the race to see them dual!
Grid girls, what's going on with the outfits? Is it because we're still in Europe that the last few races your outfit has not changed? It's still a red dress with a white bow-knot in the front and red heels. I was hoping that there'd be some new outfits, but alas. And who wins the Post-race Best hair award? That prize goes to none other than Button, who kept his cool on the podium with cool head and hair while waiting for the stewards to decide Vettel's illegal overtaking move.
That's all for the German Grand Prix! Can't wait for the Hungarian Grand Prix to come around July 27-29! Catch you then!
Good things come to those who wait. For Hamilton, that good thing came in the shape and form of a Grand Prix Gold Cup from the beautiful Sunday race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal. It was a much-needed boost for Hamilton's points in the Championship to stay competitive, a long time coming win for Hamilton to prove to the world that he still got it, and a respectable comeback for the McLaren Team from the many errors they've made in recent races.
The race started well enough with the usual suspects on the front rows - Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber. Soon after the race started, we are treated with Webber and Rosberg fighting for 4th position with some great wheel to wheel action, and Massa driving like a man who has something to prove. Rumor has it that Ferrari is looking for a new driver to replace Massa, so Massa has a lot riding on his performance in coming races. I am also continuously impressed with Di Resta, he's been doing really well in qualifying and races given the car he has, with a little more time and a better car I could see Di Resta on the podium.
Noticeably missing in the front battles are Button and Raikkonen, they've both fallen off the radar in the last few races. It's definitely odd to see Button struggling so much while Hamilton is competitive from the same McLaren car. Can the car setup really make that much of a difference? Button went from 10th position 16th at the end of the race. With Raikkonen's Lotus, it's hard to decide whether it's car or strategy that ultimately ruins the Ice Man and his comeback, I'm inclined to think both are factors for the time being. Started at 12th spot on the grid, Raikkonen went up 8 positions to 4th and then fell back to 8th right. And yet, Grosjean, also with a Lotus car, went from 7th to 2nd. How long will we have to wait before we see the Ice Man smile a non-smile on the podium?
Nothing like a little pit-stop action to shake up the line up. Right around lap 17, Vettel pitted and then just missed by a hair coming out to have Hamilton over cut, and then Alonso did the same to Hamilton after Hamilton pitted. McLaren's pitstops continue to make me nervous, even though I think the mini-stall at the pitstop was Hamilton's own doing. No matter, Hamilton recovered from that little hiccup at pitstop and eventually passed Alonso in DRS zone in lap 20.
The person who didn't recover and basically had some of the worst luck of the season is Schumacher. Schumacher qualified 9th, but ended up with a faulty DRS wing and had to retire. The mechanics can't even fix it with their gloved-hands at the pit stop. Totally tragic to watch.
For a long while (30 laps!), Hamilton was leading the way with Alonso and Vettel behind. I thought, well, that's how the race would end. Wrong! Lap 50 came around, Hamilton pitted with another nerve-wrecking McLaren pit stop, and stuck to his 2-stop strategy. I was fully expecting Alonso and Vettel to pit since their tyres' been hustling and need some refreshing. A few more laps and neither pitted, it became clear that Alonso and Vettel were both trying to stick it with those tyres until the end of the race. Haven't they learned the lessons from Raikkonen a few races back? It's a ballsy strategy gamble from the teams, and one of these races it may actually work, but Ferrari and Red Bull got it all wrong for this race.
One teams' wrong call is another teams' gain though. Perez and Grosjean both made the 1-stop strategy work for them and started to climb up the positions at the late part of the race. Red Bull realized quickly by lap 60 that Hamilton is catching Vettel and Alonso fast and furious with fresh tyres and they are now defenseless. Red Bull did the only sensible thing a team can do - bringing in Vettel for new tyres at lap 64 in a 70-lap race. Red Bull is hugely lucky that the pit stop at Montreal is one of the shortest run and they were able to slot Vettel back in near the top. Alas, the damage is done and Vettel can only fight back to pass Alonso to take 4th at lap 69.
Meanwhile, Hamilton took his 1st Grand Prix win of this season with a spectacular drive, with Grosjean and Perez taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. The race was completely unpredictable from the beginning until the very end. Amazing!
In case anyone has any doubt on who should win the Best Post-race hair at Montreal, that special title goes to Perez. His hair didn't look like it's been compressed in a hot helmet for 70 laps at all! And as a Canadian, I'm mildly relieved to see the Montreal grid girls outfit. Short red dress (no weird cutout bits!) with white heels is boring but classy! European Grand Prix grid girls, I hope you bring it in the next race on 6/22-6/24 weekend!
This year's Formula 1 World Championship just got a little hotter after Lewis Hamilton took the win for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team at the Canadian Grand Prix. This is Lewis' first win of the season, making him the seventh different winner so far; an unprecedented situation in Formula 1.
Sunday's race was a stark contrast to the previous years where rain delays added a whole new meaning to the word patience. The bright sun and clear skies made the race a hot one, 109° F (43° C) on the track, a 20°+ jump over the qualifying conditions. The heat took it's toll on the teams, forcing them to jump quickly from the two different choices of tires to maximize their longevity. The race had a great start with no major collisions on the tight "Senna S" turn in the first few seconds and maintained collision free for a majority of the race.
Vettel lead from pole position and developed a large gap over Hamilton and Alonso, signaling his path to secure the race win with a quick first stint overall. Vettel wore out quickly though, and was forced to pit first out of the front runners, costing him the lead to Hamilton and Alonso.
The tire strategy of McLaren helped edge Hamilton to the lead with a two stop strategy that gave him the right amount of rubber to keep him going to the end. With Alonso and Vettel struggling to keep the pace of Hamilton, Sergio Perez and Roman Grosjean edged past and climbed to the top and made it to the podium.
This was Grosjean's third podium of the season and Perez's second, adding excitement as the two young drivers are making their mark on the sport. Hailing from Mexico, Sergio is gaining a large following in the Americas and quickly becoming a star. The Sauber F1 Team driver has named Circuit of The Americas in Austin his home track, and though an American has yet to re-enter the sport, all eyes are on Perez as he will be the home crowd favorite in Austin.
Following the race, Sergio had this to say about his third place finish:
To be honest, starting 15th the last thing you think about is to end up on the podium. We went quite aggressive, the first stint was quite good, the stop very good, and the second stint very, very good.
Though Ferrari and Red Bull failed to put their drivers on the podium, speculations are that the title race will narrow and turn into a three man competition as the teams get in their groove and things start to settle. Who those three drivers are is largely still speculation but so far, McLaren is the only team to put both drivers in first position. However, Jensen Button's 16th place finish in Monaco and Canada has many wondering why there is so much contrast between him and his teammate Hamilton, not to mention his ninth position in the drivers championship points puts him well behind his teamate in first place.
Mark Webber's win in Monaco and Vettel's pole position on Saturday made it look like the Red Bull team was back and ready to regain their dominance. However Sunday's race was likely a big disappointment as both Vettel and Webber were unable to stay at the top and secure a podium finish. Ferrari was also suffering as Alonso was unable to fight off Grosjean and Perez, and Felipe Massa's spinout early in the race cost him any chance of returning to the top.
We're now a third of the way through the Formula 1 season and it's still hard to make serious predictions about the championship. Like I suggested a while ago, the inaugural F1USGP in Austin may play host to that championship decision, adding to the excitement and grabbing even more attention around the world. All I know is that I'm looking forward to the next race as we will hopefully get another new winner for the season; who might that driver be? Your guess is as good as mine.
// Race Recap
Amidst the complexities surrounding Sunday's race in Bahrain, Red Bull finally took their first win of the season and re-entered the push for the 2012 championship. Sebastian Vettel took both pole position and the win in Sunday's race with his teamate Mark Webber finishing fourth position for the fourth time in a row (a record of sorts).
A good qualifying session on Saturday began a great weekend for the Red Bull team, starting first and third in the race and setup for a decisive win. Sebastian had a good start from the grid and maintained his first position, while both Ferrari's jumped quickly into the top ten after a poor qualifying session from both drivers.
Lotus Renault GP's Roman Grosjean also made up some ground quickly, with a superb start for the newcomer, Grosjean jumped from sixth to fourth in the first turn and then finally into second position after passing Webber and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.
Battling for position to gain world championship points got interesting very early on as Kimi Raikonnen in the Lotus Renault fought with previous race winner Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso before moving into third position. With nearly half the race complete, Kimi was just behind his teamate Grosjean, chasing Vettel's Red Bull and setting a very quick pace. Raikonnen passed Grosjean on lap 24 of 57 but despite the rumors, there were no "team orders" which forced Grosjean to step aside, Raikonnen's pace was solid and gaining on the leader quickly.
With Rosberg pushing hard to regain last weekend's pace and catch up the the top three, he battled closely with Hamilton, pushing him off track and into the run-off area with a wheel to wheel skirmish which almost cost Hamilton the race. Action regarding the incident was to be taken following the race, but the FIA Stewards (regulation enforcers) took no action. Speculation about their abrupt departure from enforcing the incident was cited as a need to leave the track before sundown to avoid entanglement with potentially threatening protests.
Shortly after his close call with Hamilton, Nico repeated the defensive maneuver while also battling with Fernando Alonso; again, no punishment was assigned to Nico for doing so in this situation.
As the counter moved to lap 36, Raikonnen gained on Vettel and was just half a second behind the Red Bull car. Kimi set himself up to make the move on Vettel on the main straight with both DRS and KERS giving him the speed to do so. As he made his move to pass on the inside leading up to turn one, Vettel defended with a strong maneuver, keeping Kimi behind for the duration of the race.
The final podium was Vettel, Raikonnen, and Grosjean; all Renault powered cars and the first podium for the Lotus Renault team with returning champion Kimi Raikonnen in 2nd and newcomer, Roman Grosjean in 3rd.
// Mugello Testing
Following Sunday's race, the teams head to Mugello, Italy for a three day test session before the Spanish GP on May 13th. We'll be following the testing to see how the technical improvements will influence the remainder of the season.