Monday, 14 May 2012

Maldonado takes incredible first win

Pastor Maldonado became the 5th different winner in 5 races in a season which is becoming increasingly strange and difficult to comprehend...

Maldonado seizes his chance: It's so unusual to have a driver starting on pole position when they've never even qualified on the front 3 rows of the grid before and so for Pastor Maldonado to build on that and execute the race he did was very impressive. I commented after Malaysia that I felt the Williams looked a really good car and also seem to have good tyre management but the question marks were the drivers. Could they deliver the goods? Maldonado has always had the speed but putting a clean weekend together has been his downfall. Yesterday really was a huge breakthrough for the Venezuelan in that regard.

Having been overtaken by Fernando Alonso at the start, the key phase of the race was the second round of pitstops. Maldonado was 1.5 seconds behind the Ferrari when he pitted on lap 24. His out lap was truly remarkable as it was over 2 seconds quicker than what any other driver managed after their respective second stops. This does includes the pitlane time but whilst Maldonado did have a quick stop, the vast chunk of that time came from on the track itself. He must have been able to get the tyres switched on immediately and made full use of a clear track. Alonso lost some time behind Charles Pic and not pitting to cover Maldonado seem a strange decision to me as it handed the Williams the lead on a plate but I think even if the Ferrari had pitted a lap earlier, Maldonado would have still taken the lead as his out lap was so good.

A word too for the race winning engineer Xevi Pujolar. He always comes across so cool and calm on the radio and let's be honest, that can't have always been easy when Maldonado was enduring some troubles in his rookie season. The Spaniard really monitored the race well and never panicked, even when Alonso closed in during the final stint. He knew as long as his driver looked after the tyres and stayed smooth and consistent that it would be too difficult for Alonso to overtake on the circuit and the plan paid off as it was the Ferrari which struggled with tyre wear more on the closing stages.

Unfortunate Hamilton shows resolve: Lewis Hamilton always seems to be in the headlines for one reason or another and Saturday night would prove to be the case again, albeit he was not at fault for his exclusion from qualifying. A team member made a mistake with the refuelling process and that meant Hamilton had less fuel than required. When he stopped on his in lap after turn 8 he had 1.3 litres of fuel in the car. To get back to Parc Ferme would probably have needed another litre but the problem is that the FIA need a minimum of 1 litre after the session for a sample which is checked for legality. Without stopping, Hamilton would have technically failed scrutineering so whilst his penalty seem harsh, it was the right decision and does  follow a precedent set from Germany last year when Sebastien Buemi was excluded from qualifying for illegal fuel

It was a real shame for Hamilton who had soared to pole position by half a second. With a lack of fresh tyres, it was always going to be difficult to make up ground so to get 8th on Sunday (beating his team mate in the process) was a great effort. He made a 2 stop strategy work, including a final stint of 30 laps and was even pressurising Nico Rosberg on the last lap. McLaren will still rue their Saturday error as a win would have been a likely outcome without it. With hindsight, they should have told Hamilton to abort his final effort and he would have started 6th but it would have been a tough call in the heat of the moment.

Raikkonen comes close to glory again: This was a strange afternoon for Lotus. Third and fourth was a very good result and a solid follow up to Bahrain yet it seemed to be dampened slightly due to a lot of expectation that they would come through for the win before the race began. Kimi Raikkonen's strategy was a bit different as he went for 2 stints on the option tyre before running prime stints of 21 and 18 laps respectively. This is unusual as degradation tends to decrease as the race goes on but the likely reason for Raikkonen staying out was that Maldonado and Alonso were behind him. With little pressure on his third place i'm guessing that Lotus left him out there just to back them up for a bit. Of course, making up the time of a pitstop seem unlikely in the final stint but Raikkonen nearly managed it. He finished just 0.7 seconds behind the Ferrari. On reflection, Lotus pitted him one lap too late. Had they pulled him in a lap earlier when Alonso was preparing to pass down the main straight anyway, we might have seen an almighty scrap for second place on the final lap. A tough one to have foreseen but that extra lap in his third stint ended up costing the Finn 2 vital seconds

Vettel recovers well on tough day: A difficult day for Red Bull who had to change the front wings on both cars during the race. Sebastian Vettel also received a drive through penalty for failing to slow down under yellow flags. Christian Horner said after the race that he believed the reason for the penalty was because the German had his DRS activated through the yellow flag zone. Jenson Button radioed in when this happened to say that "Vettel is using DRS in yellow flag zones" I've taken another look at the situation and Button deactivated his DRS as soon as he arrived at the yellow flags. The McLaren's sector time was actually a tenth quicker than the Red Bull. Indeed Vettel was outpaced by about 4 cars in that first sector on that lap so it appears the use of DRS alone was the reason for the penalty. That seems harsh as he would have opened it 500 metres before the corner and could still have taken caution even with the wing open. Of course, there is a chance that the drivers have been told in a briefing that they shouldn't use DRS under yellow flags. A big message has been sent out with those penalties being awarded. Last year in Barcelona, 4 drivers got away with a reprimand for failing to slow for yellow flags but all the drivers will now have to be extra careful after yesterday's precedent. Vettel recovered well with some nice overtakes and looking at how the race panned out, his various troubles really only cost him one position. He still leads the championship.

Senna endures difficult weekend: It was a tough few days for Bruno Senna. After some struggles with long runs on Friday, the Brazilian spun into the gravel at the end of Q1. Then his race was over early after Michael Schumacher ploughed into the back of his car at turn 1. The German was given a deserved 5 place grid drop for Monaco in 2 weeks. Senna is in a difficult situation right now. He's glad of the seat at Williams after being dropped by Lotus. However he only has a one year deal whilst Pastor Maldonado is likely secure in the team for another 3 years thanks to a big sponsorship deal with PDVSA. Senna has to give his car over to young Finn Valtteri Bottas for most FP1's this season (though he won't have to in Monaco and Canada). The Williams reserve driver has been making his stake for a race seat with some eye catching times and no incidents of note. It may only be practice running but it is clear that Bottas is a big talent and this could leave Senna squeezed out again unless he can make his own impression and continue to bring the support he has brought to Williams from Brazil.

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