Four races, four winners, four constructors. That’s the 2012 Formula 1 season heading in the Spanish Grand Prix. And though lots of hand-wringing is starting to emerge regarding whether tires and their management are playing too large a role in making the field as competitive as it is, there can be little doubt that a year like this is more exciting than a beginning-to-end championship run by a single car. You don’t hear the NFL or NASCAR, perhaps the two most successful spectator sports in North America, worrying about why their fields are so perpetually competitive. So long as everybody is playing by the same rules, it’s good for everyone, especially the fans. And what’s good for the fans is good for the sport.
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) won the pole, but stopped on track following qualifying and was moved to the back of the field to begin the race, leaving Pastor Maldonado (Williams) on point with Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) next to him and an all-Lotus second row of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen. Given that only won person (Alonso from P2) has ever won at Circuit de Catalunya without being on pole, the prospects of fifth new winner were very high going into the race. Also notable from qualifying were both Jenson Button (McLaren) and Mark Webber (Red Bull) failing to make it into the final round of qualifying, starting P11 and P12 respectively.
Alonso drove hard inside into Turn 1 to take the lead at the start. Sergio Perez (Sauber) suffered a punctured left rear tire on Lap 1, falling back in the field. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) moved up to P4 by Lap 4. Alonso came in on Lap 10 to get off the soft tires, with the hard compound proving early on to be the better of the two for track conditions. The stop left Maldonado in P1 for the first time in his career.
Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) took Bruno Senna (Williams), as well as himself, out of race on Lap 14, slamming hard into his rear end. A bad pit stop for Hamilton on Lap 15 saw him fall down the standings into P14, continuing McLaren’s woes in that regard, and partially undoing a hard charge from the back. Grosjean retook P4 from Rosberg on Lap 17.
Maldonado moved into P1 on Lap 28, out-pitting Alonso and then turning in the race’s fastest lap to move to the front when Raikkonen pitted. Also charging hard was Hamilton, using a two-stop strategy to move to P5 by Lap 33.
Perez retired on Lap 40 following a botched pit stop. Williams narrowly averted disaster on Lap 41, a 6 sec. pit stop leaving the door open for Ferrari and Alonso to retake the lead. Once the pit cycles were done, however, Maldonado remained in front, chased by Alonso, Grosjean, Raikkonen, and Rosberg. By Lap 51 Alonso had closed the gap on track to 0.6 sec and continued to apply pressure.
Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) took P5 from Rosberg on Lap 61. Maldonado stretched his lead on Alonso back out to 2.3 sec by Lap 63 and continued to pull away for the victory. Alonso’s second place finished moved him into a tie with Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) for first in the standings. Raikkonen, who was closing fast all the way to the end, finished P3. Hamilton finished P8 after starting last on the grid.
Williams last victory? Brazil 2004, with Juan Pablo Montoya driving. Maldonado’s win was the first ever by a Venezuelan driver. And now…5 races, 5 winning drivers (second first-timer this year, with Rosberg), 5 winning constructors, with 20 points covering the top 7 drivers.
Driver standings - Top 10
61 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
61 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) - Ferrari
53 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
49 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) – Lotus-Renault
48 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
45 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
41 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) - Mercedes
35 – Romain Grosjean (France) – Lotus-Renault
29 – Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) – Williams-Renault
22 – Sergio Perez (Mexico) – Sauber-Ferrari
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
109 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
98 - McLaren-Mercedes - Hamilton, Button
84 – Lotus-Renault – Raikkonen, Grosjean
63 - Ferrari - Alonso, Felipe Massa
43 - Mercedes - Rosberg, Michael Schumacher
43 - Williams-Renault – Maldonado, Bruno Senna
41 - Sauber-Ferrari – Perez, Kamui Kobayashi
18 – Force India-Mercedes – Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
6 – STR-Ferrari – Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
Next event: GRAND PRIX DE MONACO – Monte Carlo – May 24-27, 2012