2012 European Formula 1 Grand Prix Race Review
Round 8, Europe, or to put it another way, Spain, or to be more specific, Valencia and to be more realistic, perhaps the final European Grand Prix to be hosted in the beachside marina, designed specifically for the hosting of the America’s Cup in 2007, an event that occurs once every 5 years and attains about as much media attention as HRT on a Friday morning. Many cannot deny the tracks appeal, beautiful weather, beautiful venue, a great city, but far more cannot ignore the fact that with all the ingredients in place for a great weekend, time and again the race has come along and spoiled it all. For to describe the Valencia street circuit as ‘special’ is not to take in its 25-turn track layout but to marvel at the tracks ability to provide drivers with about as many chances to overtake as Monaco, despite the spectator directive that all future circuits do the exact opposite. This reputation for a lack of on-track overtaking was not earned from the previous four races but almost immediately after it was noted that the inaugural event in 2008 recorded 4 overtaking manoeuvres, bettered by the second year with none, the race having been won by Rubens Barrichello following an unorganised pit-stop from the McLaren team on Lewis Hamilton’s car, an issue haunting the team in 2012.
It’s an increasingly re-occurring theme for Formula 1 venues to be hosted near a water source. Already Monaco, Canada, Valencia, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Korea are located alongside a water source with proposed venues in New Jersey and Argentina doing the same. It goes without saying that where there’s water, there’s boats and where there’s boats there are usually bikinis. What does Formula 1 have to do with bikinis? I hear you ask. Well one thing it can do, particularly to the viewer at home, is distract them from the fact that they may well be witnessing one of the dullest races in Grand Prix history. Ever-aware of the audiences awareness of this fact, Red Bull, never ones to shy away from shameless self-promotion, devised the Red Bull roof top race day pool party, whereby numerous bikini-clad Catalans (If they’ve come down from Barcelona) sit in a pool, drink Red Bull, and have water fights when the cameras are rolling. It is this scene that becomes an effective way to break up the monotony on the circuit, and as the cars lined up on the grid for the 2012 edition of the European Grand Prix so too did the girls, only on this occasion, they would never be seen again…
Qualifying, Saturday 23 June 2012
Qualifying had sprung a few surprises, none more so than the poor showing from Mark Webber who suffered from a technical fault which hampered his FP3, only to find a problem with his DRS in Q3. As it was the Australian would finish 19th and out in Q3 for the second time in his career. This surprise should have enabled the usual suspects to enter into Q3 but once again Jean-Eric Vergne (JEV) found a way to be relegated in the first session, this time by Heikki Kovaleinen who continues to show form in a bad car without giving you the confidence that he’d consistently do the same in one that was better. They didn’t know it at the time but both JEV and Heikki would have a bigger part to play come Sunday’s race. Not content with beating JEV, Heikki went out in Q2 and beat Ricciardo as well to finish 16th and his best qualifying for the Lotus Racing/Team Lotus/Caterham driver. Q2 would see both Ferrari’s eliminated with Massa in 13th, less than a tenth slower than Alonso in 11th, the Brazilian building on his improved showing since Monaco. Michael Schumacher would split the Ferrari’s in 12th, the pundit’s dark horse for the win further confirming the unpredictable nature of the 2012 season. Q1 saw some drivers do two laps and Sebastien Vettel just embarrass them all by not only doing one, but making it over three tenths quicker than the next best. On this occasion the next best was Hamilton, leaving The Barron to hammer home a further nail into the coffin that is the Formula 1 career of Bruno Senna by finishing third, less than a tenth further back.
2012 Grand Prix of Europe, Sunday 24 June 2012
It would’ve taken a very brave man to bet against Sebastien Vettel for victory at the European Grand Prix on race morning, mind you it would’ve taken a brave man to bet against the qualifying order being reflected in the race results, such is the pessimism with the Valencia street circuit. Nevertheless the supreme optimist, problem gambler or Alonso tragic, had two arguments in his favour; this was 2012 and the baking Spanish heat could play havoc with the Pirelli rubber. As it was the heat would affect more than just the rubber.
Away off the line and the tone of the race to come was set with Grosjean forcing his way past The Baron to be third out of the first turn while The Baron could do nothing to stop the hard-charging Kobayashi into fourth. For the first 15 laps Vettel would build up such a lead that he would retain first place following his opening pit stop. In the early stages the action lay behind however with the wily Alonso moving up from 11th on the grid to now be skipping past Raikkonen and Kobayashi by pitting a lap later than his rivals and effectively placing him in fourth position. What was becoming abundantly clear to the viewing audience was that some drivers were going to try to do one stop while others would opt for two. This came to a head when the early pitting group of Alonso, Kobayashi, Raikkonen, Maldanado, Massa, Hulkenburg, Button and Perez loomed large on Schumacher, Senna, and Webber. Albeit somewhat contrived as a result of the different tyre strategies, the next four laps would see the crowd bare witness to one of the fiercest battles seen all season with slower cars trying to capitalise on their opponents being past by faster drivers all within the confines of the street circuit layout. For once the Formula 1 cars were racing in Valencia and to the amazement of Martin Brundle, no-one had caused an accident. It was at this point that the inevitable prang occurred, albeit two laps later than anticipated, with Bruno Senna leaning too far onto the unsighted Kobayashi forcing the Brazilian backwards and around at over 200km/h. For Senna and Kobayashi, in a season where they are being outshone by their teammates, it was hardly the outcome they needed. Up in front there was plenty of action as Grosjean pulled off one of the overtaking moves of the year around the outside of Hamilton at the end of the first straight. Hamilton, whose car was clearly enjoying the taste of Pirelli rubber, was in a battle to survive at the front and would suffer the further indignity when his front jack failed at his pit stop and allowed Alonso through to third.
No doubt frustrated by battling with a Caterham for the later placings, JEV ended his Valencian afternoon by cutting across the front of the Finn shortly after overtaking him on the back straight. The collision, which looked horrendously clumsy even after the third replay, required both drivers to the pits, however it was JEV’s decision to turn his flailing rear tyre into a whipper snipper for his rear suspension, that forced the Frenchman to the showers, an exercise that earns “nil point”. By spreading the track with copious amounts of TR7, JEV brought out the safety car, destroying the 20-second lead held by Vettel and giving hope to any driver considering a one-stop strategy.
Having overtaken Hamilton in the pit stops, Alonso took aim at Grosjean for the restart and in a brilliant move around the outside, took the Frenchman to the delight of the Spanish fans. For the next couple of laps the significance of the move went from the pass to claim second, to the winning manoeuvre when Vettel’s alternator let go on lap 34, to not needed at all when Grosjean’s alternator failed on lap 41. The heat that was melting Hamilton’s tyres had melted Renault’s, bringing an end to two brilliant drives. So Alonso inherited the lead from Hamilton and Raikkonen with The Baron hanging on behind. Massa had experienced a tough race amongst the mid-field traffic, a collision with Kobayashi on the restart effectively ended the Brazilian’s day. While not known at the time, Schumacher and Webber, who had effectively run line a-stern for the entire race, pitted for their second stops. This was unlike the leaders who had understandably chosen to do so at the safety-car period. However, could their soft tyres last the remaining 30 laps?
The answer came quickly and with little remorse as the soft-shoed duo of Schumacher and Webber charged through the field as had been done to them earlier in the race. Over the last 15 laps Schumacher and Webber went from 11th and 12th to be 5th and 6th, at the expense of the Force India drivers who had looked all weekend to be on course for some significant points. Up front Raikkonen showed that the Lotus was a master in the hot conditions as he eased passed Hamilton who’s tyres were so worn that his pace appeared to suggest he had suffered a puncture. As if by divine intervention from the Spanish fans, Maldonado attempted to do to Hamilton what Grosjean had done earlier in the race. The Baron got outside the Englishman, wide, off the circuit and back on just in time to tee-bone the McLaren into the outside retaining wall. Fortunately for Hamilton, the accident didn’t occur near a grandstand. If it had he would’ve had things thrown on him. Solid things. As it was, he was only heckled by the marshals, who looked more keen on pilfering his steering wheel, than helping him from his car.
So Alonso ran out the winner, the crowd cheered as though it all made sense and Hamilton went back to look at the data which no doubt revealed that his car never had the tyres but certainly had some points. For Schumacher third place brought a welcome return to the podium for the first time since China 2006 and the oldest man since Jack Brabham at the 1970 British Grand Prix, a race the Australian should have won were it not for a Brabham Mechanic by the name of Ron Dennis, who failed to adequately fill the fuel up for the race. Ron must no doubt get sick of hearing this story, but as there are more people who are sick of Ron, the story is welcomed.
On the slowing down lap Alonso, like Hamilton in Canada the race before, had souvenired his nation’s flag from a marshal and was clearly emotional following the win. When he was forced to stop his car, Alonso did so right in front of the grandstands so that he could celebrate with them. In scenes reminiscent of Nigel Mansell at Silverstone in 1992, or Patrick Tambay in San Marino in 1983, Alonso played to the crowd and the surrounding marshals, in a wonderful piece of impromptu celebration minus he dull strictness imposed by the FIA officialdom and their driver scales. Rules and regulations have their purpose, but when they impede on the emotion of the moment, then they have extended their welcome. In a nation struggling in a dire economic environment, the emergence of Alonso from 11th on the grid, fighting through the field was a pleasure to watch. In the post race press conference the man himself declared that “In terms of emotions nothing compared to this one”.
While the Spaniards celebrate, there is only one way for the Empire to strike back… bring on the British Grand Prix!!
Some questions arising from the race:
1. Have Red Bull and Vettel found the secret to consistency?
2. Have Force India found the pace to compete at the front?
3. Will new updates from Caterham bring them to the field?
4. Can Lotus finally get that first victory in 2012?