2012 has seen some of the tightest results in history. The cars and drivers are so evenly matched, it has become very difficult to predict who will be competitive. Qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix this afternoon could see just about anyone on pole.
As expected, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes have been quick all weekend. Lotus were a little off the pace on Friday, but have shown their pace in third practice earlier today. The surprise package of the weekend, however, is Ferrari. After a difficult start to the season, the team from Maranello has improved massively through the last few races, and today Fernando Alonso was just 0.006s off the pace in second. Massa made a mistake on his quickest lap, which means his sixth place is not representative of what he can do in qualifying.
The top 15 cars were separated by just 0.885 seconds in third practice. And that did not include the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, who stopped on track on his installation lap with a clutch problem.
So a qualifying prediction is difficult. It could be Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Webber, Schumacher, Maldonado or any one of another 10 drivers. It is likely that there will be at least one or two big names who fail to make it into Q3, and it is probable that almost everyone will have to use the supersoft tyres in Q2, perhaps even Q1.
Follow @chrisonf1 for live Twitter commentary during today’s qualifying session.
Formula One heads to Montreal next week for the Canadian Grand Prix. The city is a favourite for teams and drivers. As Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen says, “The Canadian people are brilliant and there’s a special atmosphere all over Montreal, which we only get at a few races we go to so it’s one of the weekends everyone’s up for.”
The track is characterised by long straights and slow corners, which means high top speed, good traction and low speed grip are crucial. Vitaly Petrov describes the ideal car setup: “There a few things to get right for a really quick lap – you need to manage the brake wear and cooling enough to be able to get on the brakes hard every time you need them, you have to have very good traction out of the slower corners and you need to be able to really hit the kerbs hard to save the tenths of a second that add to up to a good time.”
With that in mind, Mercedes should be in strong contention for pole position. Rosberg and Schumacher have each topped the times in qualifying once this season, showing that the car is quick. The Mercedes engine is the most powerful on the grid, which provides high top speed on the long straights in Montreal. The unique DRS system on the W03 will even further increase acceleration and straight-line speed during qualifying. Stability in low-speed corners was evident in Monaco, where Schumacher was quickest in qualifying, and Rosberg finished second in the race. The Mercedes showed good traction out of the final chicane at the Spanish Grand Prix, and also demonstrated an ability to ride the kerbs well.
The weakness of the Mercedes is a slight lack of downforce in high-speed corners. In Canada, there aren’t any high-speed corners. All of the circuit characteristics suit the Silver Arrows.
Schumacher’s best result since returing to Formula One came at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, where he finished fourth after running as high as second in changing weather conditions. The German multiple world champion will be hoping to go at least one better than that this year, to achieve the first podium of his second career. But before that, he and his team-mate Nico Rosberg will be aiming for pole position. They have the car to do it.
Lewis Hamilton has been excluded from the results of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, after he was found to have breached article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations, which states:
Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.
Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.
Hamilton stopped his car on track on his way back to the pits, in order to ensure that he had sufficient fuel to provide a sample. The team claimed force majeure as a team member had failed to put enough fuel in the car. The Stewards rejected the claim of force majeure as the fuelling of the car is “under the complete control of the Competitor”. Hamilton was therefore in clear contravention of Article 6.6.2.
There is no doubt of the guilt of Hamilton and McLaren. What is questionable is the harsh penalty. The Stewards are entitled to exclude Hamilton from the results of qualifying, which they did, but was it a fair penalty?
Hamilton completed Q1 and Q2 legally. He also completed a legal run in Q3, before his illegal run, that would have put him sixth on the grid. The Stewards have decided to exclude him from qualifying entirely, which seems somewhat harsh, given the nature of the offense. Exclusion of his offending laptime is obvious, exclusion from Q3 would be justified, but exclusion from the entire session shows that the Stewards have sought to make an example of Hamilton and McLaren, rather than dealing with the offense on its merits.
A dramatic qualifying session for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix has resulted in Pastor Maldonado taking his first pole position. It is the first pole for the Williams team since Brazil 2010, and the first for the Williams-Renault partnership since 1997.
The surprises started in Q1 when Bruno Senna spun off while trying to progress to Q2. The Brazilian will be ruing his poor performance after team-mate Maldonado showed what the car can do.
Q2 saw the unexpected elimination of Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Button has struggled with the set-up of his McLaren all weekend, complaining of understeer throughout the practice sessions. Neither Red Bull seemed to have the pace to challenge at the front, and although Vettel managed to squeak into Q3, Webber was not so lucky, despite being only a tenth slower than his team-mate in Q2. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa seemed to re-discover his poor form, languishing down in 17th, while Alonso easily progressed to Q3. Maldonado topped the session, confirming indications from earlier in the weekend that the Williams FW34 works well around the Circuit de Catalunya.
The final session started with Sebastian Vettel going out on hard tyres for a very slow run, returning to the pits without completing a flying lap. The motivation for this strange tactic became clear when Vettel did not set a time in the session. He had simply been ensuring that he could save a new set of soft tyres for the race and also start first of the drivers who chose not to set a time in Q3. Michael Schumacher also chose not to set a time in Q3 in order to save a new set of soft tyres, and Kamui Kobayashi did not participate in the session, a hydraulics issue having forced him to stop on track at the end of Q2.
At the end of the session, Hamilton put in a last-minute stellar lap to beat Maldonado to pole by just over half a second. Fernando Alonso outperformed his car to qualify third, followed by the Lotus pair of Grosjean and Raikkonen, with Perez and Rosberg sixth and seventh respectively. And then the drama started.
On his in lap after taking pole, Hamilton was told by his team to stop the car on track. The immediate impression was that he must have been low on fuel. His car certainly wasn’t displaying any technical issues, having just set the fastest lap of the weekend. After the session was concluded, there was an announcement that Hamilton was under investigation by the stewards.
Article 6.6.2 of the Technical Regulations states:
“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the Event.
“Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”
The stewards found that Hamilton’s car had been under-fuelled due to an error by a member of the pit crew. There was no acceptable proof of force majeure, and so Hamilton was excluded from qualifying and will start the race 24th. That rather dramatic turn of events gives Maldonado his first pole position, the first in history for a Venezuelan driver. Hamilton’s penalty also means that Fernando Alonso will start second on the grid in front of his home crowd.
While Hamilton will be bitterly disappointed to start last after such a stunning performance in qualifying, his loss is the viewers’ gain, as we now get to watch him work his way up through the field. At the sharp end of the grid, it remains to be seen whether Maldonado can stay in front for an historic win, or if he will be beaten by a resurgent Alonso, or if a Lotus will top the podium for the first time this season. With both Red Bulls and both Mercedes cars a little further back than expected, there is likely to be a lot of action on the track. A thrilling race beckons.
The provisional starting grid is:
- Maldonado – Williams
- Alonso – Ferrari
- Grosjean – Lotus
- Raikkonen – Lotus
- Perez – Sauber
- Rosberg – Mercedes
- Vettel – Red Bull
- Schumacher – Mercedes
- Kobayashi – Sauber
- Button – McLaren
- Webber – Red Bull
- di Resta – Force India
- Hulkenberg – Force India
- Vergne – Toro Rosso
- Ricciardo – Toro Rosso
- Massa – Ferrari
- Senna – Williams
- Petrov – Caterham
- Kovalainen – Caterham
- Pic – Marussia
- Glock – Marussia
- de la Rosa – HRT
- Karthikeyan – HRT
- Hamilton – McLaren
The 2012 Formula One season has been full of action, and Saturday’s qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix was no different.
Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the first time this season. The Red Bull has looked strong all weekend, and Mark Webber’s third place underlines the improved pace of the RB8.
The McLarens of Hamilton and Button continued to be strong in qualifying, taking second and fourth places respectively. Four races into the season, Hamilton has qualified on the front row for every race. A grid penalty in China pushed him back to seventh, but his qualifying time was second fastest.
Six different constructors feature in fifth to tenth place. Rosberg’s Mercedes is followed by Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso, a superb performance from the Australian driver in a car that has not looked that quick so far this season. Grosjean in the Lotus and Perez in the Sauber make up the fourth row of the grid, followed by Alonso’s Ferrari and di Resta’s Force India. Alonso and di Resta chose not to set Q3 times, presumably to save new tyres for the race.
The major surprises of the session happened in Q1. The track has been evolving quickly throughout the weekend, and laptimes fell significantly during the 20-minute Q1 session. As a result, Heikki Kovalainen managed to get his Caterham into Q2, with a quick lap right at the end of the session. Michael Schumacher was the big loser of qualifying, the team reporting that a technical issue with the rear wing of his Mercedes cost him some time in Q1. Schumacher ended up 18th, just a second off the fastest Q1 time, but slow enough to be out of Q2. Jean-Eric Vergne was soundly out-performed by team-mate Ricciardo. Vergne qualified 19th, not proceeding into Q2, while Ricciardo starts sixth.
The grid is very mixed. No two cars from the same team qualified in successive places, which is unusual. The grid is so close in terms of performance that anything could happen in the race. Any one of the top five is a good bet for victory, and behind them the action promises to be close.
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