Spanish Grand Prix Wrap-Up
A record crowd was on hand to see their king and to show him their support. Fernando Alonso has revived Formula One in the hearts of the Spanish people. Yet despite Alonso's efforts, the crowd willing their champion on, and the apparent home-court advantage, Spain had to crown a Brazilian their king.
Formula One couldn't even be found on Spanish TV until Fernando Alonso came into the series back in 2001. But now after back-to-back driver's championships, if given the word, the people would willingly depose their king and give Alonso the title of Head of State…that is if he ever grew tired of racing.
Coming into Spain, the championship was anything but boring. So far this year Alonso has found himself caught up in a tough fight, a fight to take away his crown. And who says F1 would miss Michael Schumacher? After the last race in Bahrain there was a three-way tie for the points lead, which included Alonso, his McLaren-Mercedes teammate and rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton, and Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari.
Despite the tight competition; however, the Spanish GP had the feel of being a virtual lock for Fernando. After all, it's his home grand prix. Nothing could stop him…right? However, either nobody told this to Felipe Massa or he failed to heed the point. For all Alonso strained to do he would still find the Ferrari driver just in front. But once again, the fight up front proved only to be part of the story and the drama throughout the weekend. The race proved to be filled with much drama and many surprises.
Qualifying looked like a race day given the incredible throng of fans surrounding the track. Qualifying, and its new and exciting knock-out format, didn't let the fans down. If anything, it only heightened the drama and anticipation for the race the following day.
Session one meant all of the cars hit the track. All of the drivers began the fight for the all-important grid positions. Before the heat really got turned up in the first round, Scott Speed's qualifying efforts came to a premature end when his engine seemed to die whenever he shifted down. Scott's team would never get his car fixed in time, and despite looking good all throughout practice, Speed's day was done and the American was relegated to the last spot on the grid, 22nd.
Hamilton started the charge bringing the lap times down. Many teams, however, waited to the last few minutes before they sent their drivers out onto the track. But when they did, the action really began to heat up. Another Red Bull sponsored driver, Mark Webber, again suffered from car issues, and thus, would only qualify in the 19th spot. As the session drew to a close many drivers, who needed good laps, started to turn the wick up. Nobody from 13th, or so, back was safe. Ralf Schumacher faced elimination but his fast lap allowed him to jump up into the top 16. This lap result pushed Barrichello out of the top 16. Fisichella, who only went out with some 3 minutes left, put in a lap that saw him leap up to 11th. This pushed Jarno Trulli down to 17th and out of the next round of qualifying...for the moment. The real drama came with both Barrichello's and Jeson Button's last lap. Rubens had been bumped out but recovered and was able to push both Trulli and Button further down for the moment. Trulli's last lap, however, vaulted him passed Alex Wurz and into the eventual 13th spot for the round, which meant Trulli was safe. Button too turned his last lap up a little bit more and unseated Ralf Schumacher who thought he was safely into the next session. So in the end, the drivers who failed to make it to the next round of qualifying were, from 22nd to 17th, Speed, Albers, Sutil, Webber, Wurz, and Schumacher.
The second session was no less exciting. Jarno Trulli and David Coulthard hit the track early. Anthony Davidson stepped off the track and through the gravel. This meant Anthony had to go back to have his car checked for any needed repairs. Shortly after his incident, Anthony's Super Aguri teammate Takuma Sato came to a stop on the track, thus ending his push to get into the last round of qualifying. During this round Hamilton set the fastest time of the weekend; that is, until Massa eclipsed him a little later on in the session. Alonso waited until the last 4 minutes until he went out on track. This did not hold him down since only a couple of laps later he would set the 4th fastest time and safely make it into the final round of qualifying.
Once again, the excitement and drama all built up during the last couple of minutes. Kubica put the hammer down and took over the 6th spot. Anthony Davidson pushed hard but it proved to be a little too hard. The car swapped ends and again traveled through the gravel effectively ending Davidson's bid to move up any further. David Coulthard busted out one more good lap to slide into the 7th spot. And yet, despite pushing very hard Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, or Rubens Barrichello could not make up the necessary time to advance. The order from 16th to 11th went: Vitantonio Liuzzi, Anthony Davidson, Jenson Button, Takuma Sato, Rubens Barrichello, and Nico Rosberg.
The final ten prepared to do battle in the final session for the best spots on the grid. And there were a few surprises among those that would fight it out. David Coulthard and Heikki Kovalainen were able to make it into the final session for the first time in the season.
All of the cars lined up in the pit lane waiting for the green light and the start of the final session. Each team and driver took advantage of every second to burn down fuel since the rules stated those who would make it to the final round of qualifying had to at least start the final session with the fuel load the driver would start the race with. Therefore, each driver took to the track to burn down fuel to make the car as light as possible toward the end of qualifying. The cars continued to circulate, but in the closing moments the intensity rose and the nerves stood on edge. The race for the pole really began.
With a little over three minutes remaining the darling of the home crowd, Alonso, set the fastest time. The crowd understandably erupted in a roar. With one minute remaining Hamilton started what was the final race for the top spot. Lewis couldn't dethrone Alonso's earlier time, and for a moment, sat in 2nd. That result was brief as, right behind Lewis, Kimi finished his last lap in his Ferrari. Kimi would overtake Hamilton with the second best time. This pushed Hamilton back to 3rd. Heidfeld finished his lap right behind Raikkonen but couldn't mount any kind of challenge and had to settle for the provisional 5th spot. Trulli eclipsed Heidfeld's time but was immediately eclipsed by the other BMW-Sauber driver Robert Kubica. Coulthard was the next to the line and was able to jump up to the 8th spot. Massa followed and set the pole time, beating Alonso's previous best by only two tenths of a second. But the race for the pole wasn't over. Alonso was one of the last cars on the track and he would have the opportunity to take the pole back in front of his home crowd. Alonso's bid looked good. He had set the fastest time in the second sector. Fernando rounded the last corner powered down the straight and…like that, the air went out of McLaren-Mercedes. Alonso's bid for pole came up short by only three hundredths of a second.
Unnoticed, since all eyes were directed on the race for the pole, was that Kovalainen's last lap proved to be enough for him to leap up and take David Coulthard's position in 8th, and thus, push David down to 9th. So, after catching one's breath the order went as follows: Massa on pole, Alonso next to him. Then it was Raikkonen and Hamilton, Kubica and Trulli, Heidfeld and Kovalainen, and Coulthard and Fisichella.
Qualifying only got things rolling. Prior to the race, the grid was a maze of dignitaries and celebrities. Despite starting second, most all of the attention was on the two-time champion, this being his home grand prix. The drama and anticipation that had been building all weekend long grew ever higher when the start had to be aborted as Jarno Trulli's Toyota stalled on the grid due to a struggling engine-driven fuel pump. After the aborted start Trulli's car was pushed to the pitlane. Jarno would have to start from there as the rest of the cars were sent around the track again, and then, lined back up on the grid for the start.
As the lights went out and the scramble for position began, Alonso drafted Massa down to the first turn. Massa stayed wide-right to block and to have position into the first turn, while Alonso pulled out of line to Massa's left. The tow and late braking allowed Fernando to be ahead of Felipe but Felipe's inside line meant he would hold the first place spot. The late braking from Alonso, as well as being on the outside, led to the McLaren slipping off the track and through the gravel trap in what looked like a huge sand storm. Alonso rejoined the track, narrowly being missed by his teammate Hamilton and Raikkonen in his Ferrari. As the first lap unfolded, Alonso's playing in the gravel proved to be only the first of many exciting things to come.
Giancarlo Fisichella was desperate to get past his teammate Kovalainen. In his haste, Giancarlo went off the track and rejoined, but did so while having lost a few spots. But the drama didn't end there for Fisichella. Giancarlo moved down inside one of the Super Aguri's going into the very next corner. This move caused other drivers to check up. Ralf Schumacher checked up just enough to catch Alex Wurz off guard. Alex collided into the back of the Schumacher's Toyota, damaging the front suspension and wing on the Williams. Wurz limped back to the pits with his left-front tire sliding along on top of a piece of wing. Despite making it to the pits, the car was too heavily damaged, and thus, led to Alex's retirement.
Things finally settled down for a few laps, with the exception of Alonso attacking Raikkonen. Massa led Hamilton. After Hamilton the rest of the top ten were Raikkonen, Alonso, Kubica, Heidfeld, Coulthard, Kovalainen, Rosberg and Barrichello. After about eight laps the excitement and drama picked back up when a slew of cars ran into trouble all at once. The first victim of the fallout was Mark Webber with another hydraulic problem. Immediately after that, Trulli's day ended due to the fuel pressure problems that had plagued the car and had led to the first start being aborted. After Jarno's retirement, Kimi Raikkonen's car fell victim to some sort of electrical problem. While Kimi's car was being pushed down pit road toward the garage, Scott Speed's weekend turned worse when his left rear tire exploded on the front straight. This ended Scott's day.
All during this trouble Massa stretched his lead. It was thought Ferrari would dominate. The week prior Ferrari had dominated at the same Barcelona track. Now, the race seemed to be proving those speculations to be well founded.
The action didn't cease when the first round of stops began. Massa's stress level was possibly highest during his pit stop than out on the track. Massa's car slowly began to roll while waiting for the crewman to remove the fuel nozzle. What fuel that dripped out of the nozzle upon it being removed ignited on the extremely hot exhaust. A huge streak of flame stretched from the fuel port past the rear wing as Massa exited. Having pulled away, the flames extinguished and Felipe went on his way.
During the pit stops Liuzzi's Toro Rosso slowed and barely made it back to the pits. David Coulthard had to do some evasive maneuvering to avoid hitting Vitantonio's car in the entry to pit lane.
As with each previous race, Hamilton had his turn in the lead before making his stop. Upon Lewis' stop, the surprising BMW-Sauber team, with Nick Heidfeld at the wheel, took over the lead. While Nick continued to cycle around the track in the lead, Jenson Button, in the Honda, made his stop and re-entered side-by-side with his teammate Rubens Barrichello. Button lost the back-end a little going into turn one which caused his nose to tag his teammate's rear. While Rubens was fine and continued on, Jenson's front wing had broken off, which led him to have to return to the pits for a new nose.
Most people would say that was enough excitement, but oh no…it wasn't over yet. The teams thought they would do even more to entertain the viewers and the fans at the track. BWM-Sauber thought having the lead wasn't exciting enough. As Heidfeld made his stop the right front tire was not going on properly. The air-gun was still engaged when Heidfeld was given the signal to go. Nick slid to a stop a short distance past his pit but the wheel nut that holds the tire on went rolling down the pit lane. Miscommunication led to Nick continuing back onto the track without the wheel being attached properly. Miraculously, the tire stayed on and let Nick circulate and eventually make it back to the pits. New tires were put on and Nick went on his way, albeit far down in the running by that time.
Finally, after all the chaos that took place around the first stop ended the focus could get back to the boring, old race. After all the stops cycled through, Massa resumed the point and pulled away. Hamilton maintained second. Alonso still languished back in third. The greatest drama on the track came down to the nose-to-tail battle between Coulthard and Kovalainen.
Giancarlo Fisichella led the second round of stops. With 23 laps to go Massa made his final stop and came close to repeating the same problem that ignited during the first stop. Kubica, Coulthard and Rosberg all made clean stops. Hamilton, again, had to relinquish the lead to come in for his final stop and to make the mandatory switch to the harder compound tire since he had been running the softer tire. A couple of laps later, Alonso, having made the decision to switch to the harder tire at the first stop, was fitted with soft tires again with the intention of bringing a fight to his teammate for 2nd before the end of the race. All-in-all, the second round of stops were relatively straight-forward. The top eight to this point were Massa, Hamilton, Alonso, Kubica, Coulthard, Rosberg, Kovalainen, and Fisichella.
Massa walked the last ten laps. Hamilton followed in second but far enough back that only a mechanical failure would have given the Brit a chance at victory. In fact, Massa even dialed down the revs just to make sure the car would make it to the end. The damaged caused to Alonso's car from the run through the gravel at the start seemed to hinder his ability to mount any kind of challenge for Lewis.
Looking further back through the points paying positions, a BMW-Sauber finished 4th again but it was Kubica in the spot instead of Heidfeld. Following Kubica was David Coulthard in the RBR 3. Coulthard had to baby the car to even finish. Red Bull was worried about the reliability of their new seamless-shift transmission. They had David switch to the conventional semi-automatic shifting toward the end of the race to make sure the car would finish. On top of this struggle, Coulthard also had lost the use of one of his gears. Despite this, Rosberg was too far back to overtake and gain the 5th finishing spot. Due to Coulthard's problems Nico made up time fast but still had to settle for 6th. However, this was the best result for Williams since the opener in Australia. Kovalainen and his Renault settled for the 7th spot. Rounding out the points paying spots was a relative surprise. A failed pit strategy, or unmentioned problem, led Fisichella to make a pit stop very late. This surrendered the 8th spot to the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato.
Massa ruled the weekend. Felipe achieved pole, fastest lap of the race and the race win. This was a dominant display from the Ferrari driver. Lewis Hamilton left Spain leading the championship; the youngest ever to do so. Fernando's weekend was filled with frustration. He put on a show, but ultimately had to settle for points instead of a glorious triumph. For some, the weekend proved to be memorable. For the others, the Spanish grand prix ended up being a race they would desire to forget.
FERRARI While Spain would be a glorious triumph, there still had to be some questions following Kimi Raikkonen's failed race. Massa's weekend was one filled with highlights for his portfolio. Felipe did everything he needed and also added some extras, bonuses that went on to prove his dominant performance. Felipe took the pole in dramatic fashion. While all attention was on Alonso, Massa made a statement about his chances and ability. This race, like Bahrain, showed the consistency, concentration and sheer pace Felipe is capable.
Kimi's Spanish grand prix was nothing to write home about. Kimi's weekend turned from good to bad. Raikkonen was near the top of the time sheets all throughout the weekend. Raikkonen qualified a respectable third. However, Kimi's race went bad. If there is a car meant to break Raikkonen will be the one driving it. After years of bad results and failures at McLaren, it is undoubtedly sure that one of the reasons for Kimi's departure for Ferrari was there apparently bullet-proof cars. It doesn't seem to matter where Raikkonen goes. Raikkonen's car inexplicably slowed out on the track. Apparently some electrical problem ended his race.
MCLAREN-MERCEDES This race seemed all about McLaren-Mercedes and Fernando Alonso. The double world champion gave it his all but it wasn't even him that left feeling the best of the two McLaren drivers. Lewis Hamilton's weekend proved to be another solid performance by the rookie. Each and every race Lewis looks more and more like a veteran than a rookie. He continues to amaze and stretch the thoughts about what a rookie should be able to do. In fact, Lewis showed his prowess throughout qualifying being consistently near the top. Hamilton didn't let the pressure get to him in the race either. He got off a good start from the line and slid into second after Alonso's 'off'. He would never put a foot wrong all throughout the race and finished with a very good 2nd.
Alonso's grand prix very well could be described by the term 'hindsight'. There were many moments throughout the weekend where Alonso could go back and tell himself, 'If only I had done this instead, or, If only I had pushed harder here.' Fernando stood on it in qualifying but fell only three hundredths short. Then, in the race, instead of keeping the position behind Massa going into turn one he aggressively tried for the lead. The move failed, and were it not for Raikkonen's troubles, it is doubtful Alonso would have even been able to finish 3rd. No one can accuse Fernando of holding back; that is one thing not in doubt.
BMW-SAUBER Yes, the result is good, but it ought to be like the team who has to run laps after a game because they didn't win by as much as they could have. BMW could have really stunned some people. They could have shown the world how good they truly are. Instead, the team needs to be happy with the result achieved and go home and work on pit stops. Robert Kubica has proven he is getting more comfortable with his car despite having to change his style. He let his rear-end hang out during qualifying and achieved a good starting spot for the race; better than his teammate Heidfeld. Not much was heard or seen of Kubica during the race as he ran a consistent race—no hold your breath moments. Kubica's 4th was the best result for him all season.
Nick Heidfeld's race should have ended better, much better, than it did. Nick was quick all throughout the weekend. Despite being out-qualified by his teammate, a great start led Nick to be up in 6th after turn one. Nick ran fast and even held the lead at one point. But it was his pit stop after being in the lead that led to his race coming unraveled. With the right front tire not being held on by the wheel nut Heidfeld had to circulate the track much slower. He fell way down in the order once he stopped again to have the situation remedied. Eventually, Nick's car slowed toward the end of the race and ended what could have been another promising race.
RED BULL Amidst rumors that he was fighting for a job next year, David Coulthard put together a good result to take into the negotiations. David showed the RBR3 chassis was strong and competitive. The RBR3 was one of the fastest in the speed trap and Coulthard made good use of it. David reached the top ten in qualifying for the time in the season. He made a good start and was 7th in the early going. A good solid drive and some mistakes and failures of others led to Red Bull's best finish of the season so far, 5th.
Mark Webber's weekend was literally stuck in neutral. The problems never hit until it counts. Webber was fine during practice. Qualifying and the race were another matter all together. Mark never got out of the first round of qualifying. In fact, he barely even got out of the garage. He was able to post a lap fast enough to start 19th, but that was it. He barely went any further in the race. Just prior to the first round of stops, Mark's Red Bull-Renault would shift into neutral any time he didn't have the gas pedal down. This situation led to his retirement.
WILLIAMS-TOYOTA It would be easy to think the seasoned test driver would be able to get more out of a car than a sophomore driver. That was not the case in Spain for Williams' two drivers. They could not have been any further to each end of the spectrum. Nico Rosberg's weekend revived his confidence. Rosberg's good result in Australia had yet to be duplicated. However, Nico's qualifying didn't appear to be a sign of the good things to come. At a track where position is of great importance, Rosberg's position on the grid could have kept him out of the points. His race was something entirely different. No doubt helped out by mistakes and attrition, Rosberg still put together a strong race. Nico didn't just get into the points. He finished a very solid 6th, a good result for the Williams team.
While Nico left Spain with confidence, Alex Wurz left possibly worrying about his status as a race driver. Wurz's weekend was a disaster all throughout. At least he was consistent. Qualifying was tough. Alex never could get clear of other traffic. This traffic obviously slowed him down. Things got even worse in the race when he collided with Ralf Schumacher halfway through the first lap. In Alex's defense, it appeared Ralf checked up to avoid hitting one of the Super Aguris. This maneuver, at such close distances, obviously spelled disaster.
RENAULT The most exciting part of the Spanish grand prix for Renault was qualifying. After that, it just turned strange. Kovalainen managed to get into the top ten in qualifying, which was his first time this season. Heikki's race offered a good result. This was badly needed for him. Heikki ran a rather quiet race, but he put in a strong performance and earned a 7th place finish. Still, this is a shock considering this is the constructors champion for the last two years.
If Renault's struggles weren't enough to talk about, then the strange strategy employed for the race would more than make up for any lacking conversation. Renault worked on their car to make it better and it appeared to be. Giancarlo Fisichella put the second Renault in the top ten in qualifying. Giancarlo pushed hard in the race even to the point that he went off the track trying to get by his teammate. Whether the car was damaged or not is uncertain, but from that point on Renault employed a different pit strategy. Unfortunately, this caught Giancarlo too much out of sequence with the other runners. Giancarlo's late pit stop surrendered the final points paying position to Takuma Sato. There seems to be a lot of confusion at Renault right now, it even has affected their pit strategy. What else will get confusing for the team?
SUPER AGURI-HONDA A group of the right people can mean more than a whole lot of able people. Such is the case with Super Aguri. This team continued to surprise the Formula One community. The weekend appeared to be heading toward a result that was nothing spectacular. But oh, how things can change, and in the closing laps too. Takuma Sato had a rather quiet and unassuming weekend. Practice times were nothing exciting. Qualifying went even worse. Sato's car came to a stop in the second round and ruined any hope of a better starting spot. Takuma ran solidly in the race however. He stayed out of trouble and, when Giancarlo had to make a late pit stop, inherited the 8th and final points paying spot. What a result for one of the smallest team in the paddock.
Anthony Davidson has made it clear that his target is his teammate. After the Spanish grand prix weekend, that psychological gap between Anthony and Takuma increased a few paces. Takuma's qualifying ended with apparent trouble with the car. Anthony's qualifying ended due to him having two 'offs' in one session. These run-ins with the gravel hurt his starting spot, and thus, ability to come up through the field. While Sato was able to come forward and gain a point for the team, Anthony finished a quiet 11th.
HONDA When a team is struggling, and Honda is struggling mightily, the last thing the team needs is to have both of its cars come together and potentially knock each other out. It is the ultimate display of how badly things are going. Rubens Barrichello's weekend started out without much of a surprise. Rubens could only make it into the second round of qualifying. The race went a little better however. All throughout the race Barrichello flirted with the top ten. With the help of some attrition and some hard racing he was able to get his Honda into the 10th spot at the end, albeit one lap down. But, things could have been for naught if Rubens' teammate pushed the issue a little more than he did.
Jenson's weekend was indicative of Honda's season. Honda's car could only provide Button enough pace to make it into the second round of qualifying. Button's race also went better until the pit stops. When the team doesn't have the pace to really race faster teams, then the team's drivers will end up racing each other. Jenson pushed hard coming out of the pits in order to get in front of his teammate. Button pushed a little too hard and almost erased any hope the team had of a good result in what has been a difficult season. This cost Button his nose. Jenson would recover; however, but would finish a rather disappointing 12th.
SPYKER-FERRARI A victory to the Spyker team is when both cars finish a race. Straight-line speed has always been a problem for the team, but reliability and driver error had been a bigger problem. Adrian Sutil started the race in the familiar back of the grid. However, Adrian ran a smooth and consistent race. Part of motor racing is being blessed while others seem cursed. And while many other cars were laid waste with attrition, Sutil powered on and would be rewarded with a 13th finishing spot.
Christijan Albers' race was very quiet, just as was qualifying. Not surprising, neither Albers nor his teammate made it past the first round of qualifying. But, for Spyker, qualifying is far less important than merely finishing the race. And like his teammate, Albers took the opportunity to drive a smooth race. Staying out of trouble rewarded the driver. And though Albers too finished two laps down on the leaders, the 14th spot was a great result. Although it doesn't look like it, these results are a great reward for a team merely looking for reliability from both its machines and its drivers.
TOYOTA All that money to look like the biggest bust? At least Spyker, who's barely able to keep competing in F1 finished with both cars running! Ralf Schumacher was the highest finishing Toyota on paper for the Spanish grand prix, but by no means is he really worth what honor that may be. Ralf's weekend was very lackluster. While his teammate was able to start the race from the 6th position, Ralf, in the same car, could not even get into the second round. And while many might have sympathy for his being hit in the back by Alex Wurz, which led to his eventual retirement, there still has to be a reckoning as to how he could have been that far back on the grid in the first place.
Jarno Trulli's weekend looked promising, but just like the other races so far, the race didn't prove the promise. Toyota has shown pace at times but their struggles are just not like what people are used to from one of the largest motor companies in the world. Jarno had a good qualifying but was let down in the race. Fuel pressure problems led to an aborted start and an early exit; such disappointment for a team dearly needing a better result than they have been able to achieve so far.
TORO ROSSO Toro Rosso's weekend proved to be good but it could have been much better. Vitantonio Liuzzi's weekend was suspicious and was a sign of things to come. He had no time in the second round of qualifying and started 16th. The race itself was showing to be better. However, the team's fears about hydraulic problems were visited again. The problem struck Liuzzi's car after only 19 laps.
Vitantonio's race lasted a bit longer than his teammate's however. Scott Speed's weekend started out with such promise. Speed had the 10th fastest time at the end of the second round of practice on Friday. But Saturday was a whole new day and gave evidence to how Sunday would go as well. Gearbox issues right at the start left the American unable to even put in a flying lap. This relegated Scott to the back of the grid. Speed recovered well in the race however. After avoiding the first lap melee, Speed climbed all the way up to 14th. Scott's day was looking good until his left-rear tire exploded down the front straight. What started out looking so good literally exploded into little pieces, just like Scott's hopes.By Jeremy McMullen