Just because this is Monaco doesn’t mean we should assume a predictable race with Webber winning from pole; first and foremost different teams may be better on the super soft or sot tyres and we shouldn’t expect everyone to make the same number of stops, we are likely to see at least three stops but some drivers may need four and a few could even try a two stop.
Though a two stop shouldn’t be the quickest way to complete the race if you can be slow but also hold up those behind you on fresh tyres then you might have a chance of getting into the points, this is certainly worth looking at for someone like Perez who is good on his tyres anyway and for the Toro Rossos
The other thing that should mean that this Monaco Grand Prix is unpredictable is the fact the first 16 cars finished Q2 within nine tenths of a second, some will undoutably have better race pace than qualifying pace and even at Monaco teh undercut is still a factor. Pitting early followed by a few quick laps can gain more places if anything at Monaco than elsewhere: if your closest competitors are stuck behind traffic. Traffic will indeed be one of the main forces behind deciding when people pit, both being stuck behind it as a reasion to pit and ensuring you won’t come out into it if you do.
It may be starting to sound then like Monaco will be down to luck with traffic but at the end of the day driver skill will still be the main factor and so Webber and Hamilton starting first and third must surely be the main protagnists having won here before. Rosberg though shouldn’t be discounted from 2nd nor should Grosjean who looked good in practice and starts fourth, then there’s previous Monaco winner Alonso behind him and Schumacher who was fastest in Qualifying but starts 6th and has won Monaco 5 times before.
Then of course a first lap incident blocking the track could change everything, Caterham especially will be hoping for a high retirement rate, as Monaco is their best chance of points this season but even an 11th 12th, or 13th place would be welcome to take them above Marussia in the standings. Caterham crucially seem to have sufficient pace to keep on the back of the field and take advantage of any problems drivers have and we may well see a few nose changes today.
There has been talk of rain all week for Sunday at the Circuit de Catalunya:, though this now looks unlikely it is overcast and there’s a strong breeze: this is one reason why race performance may not reflect qualifying performance; a quickly evolving Barcelona circuit though is another.
Even in qualifying changing conditions caught out some, Button especially, and gave a grid that looked a little different from what we would have expected from practice: Hamilton had tipped teammate Button for Pole. The weather for the race could be such that a different set of drivers, those who struggled in qualifying, will find performance come to them in the race and with the amount of long run data from pre season testing and practice some drivers may have gone for a setup to suit the race more, Webber and Button fans will certianly hope this is the case for their drivers.
For Hamilton though he seemed to have a perfect setup for qualifying to initially get an outstanding pole, could the difference between him and Button be due to splitting stratgey for race and qualifying performance? Well Hmailton is now at the back of the grid having been disqualified from qualifying, he therefore gets in on the same basis as Karthikeyan for having posted a representative time in earlier practice sessions. Jenson too, in tenth now, is further back than he would have expected even if he has compromised on setup.
Fernando Alonso has to be the favorite for the win and could become the first driver of the year to win two races, we wouldn’t discount Maldonado who is undoubtably fast but sometimes his race craft seems a little rough around the edges and he is accident prone. His starts though have often been good, though especially at Australia.
The Lotuses are now expected to win a race sometime this season but the next couple of races are likely to be their best chance as they may fall behind in performance as they did last year due to slower development than the top teams: Grosjean and Raikkonen start 3rd and 4th respectively. Having said this we expected the status quo to be resumed here in Barcelona with the top teams getting a march on their smaller rivals with less resources to spend on development: it seems though that that isn’t the case and with more potential in their cars some midfield teams may have jumped forwards as well; as have Marussia who now have a very nicely sculpted front wing.
The Saubers and the Mercedes don’t seem to have the pace to challenge for the podium spots though this could change in the race, even a short shower though could change things around and all but perhaps the top 4 will hope for this, Perez from a career best qualifying position of fifth especially may fancy a little rain. Vettel and Schumacher though having not set any times in Q3 have more tyres and a choice to start on, will the soft tyres have a big advantage though or will the tougher hard tyres actually be used for two or more stints with the softs only used once.
From Friday Free Practice for the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, looking mainly at free practice two as free practice one was rain affected, there are a lot of interesting hints at form to consider.
It seems to be we can now conclude that in qualifying trim Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull are the fastest teams and probably in that order, we can also tell that McLaren have good race pace, for both drivers.
After those front three teams there are another three teams, or two and a half, close together with the Force Indias, Saubers and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari looking close together, Massa seems to be struggling again, more of a inidication of how Alonso can get the most out of a difficult car perhaps though?
What also seems to be the case is that Williams and Lotus may not be as fast as we had though before, this may not be the case or it may be now we are seeing the cars not on a street circuit and not in rain affected sessions we are getting a better idea of where everyone is.
The order could change again in the race of course still and could certianly change after the Mugello test at Barcelona for the first European race of the season.
Now to talk more about drivers than cars, Hamilton of course has a five place penalty but has made comments suggesting that he relishes the challenge and will perhaps feel less pressure than starting on pole. Button looks set to challenge him in qualifying though he hasn’t shown what he can do on a clear fast lap.
Vettel and Webber look close as well, though they will have different exhaust systems in China; if the Red Bulls can catch up with the McLaren’s pace early enough this season a four way battle is possible perhaps. In the Chinese Grand Prix though what we are likely to see is perhaps Button leading from the front with Hamilton battling to get past the two Red Bulls and maybe initially the Mercedes from 6th or maybe 7th place assuming he gets a top two position in qualifying before his penalty.
Of course what seems most likely to happen often doesn’t happen, it certianly didn’t in Malaysia and it could rain at the Shangahi circuit on Sunday to throw things up in the air again.
So another team of well matched drivers, the Force Indias may well be fighting for points with the Williams of Senna and Maldonado, though it is unclear which of them is looking best yet in 2012, as well as the Ferrari of Fernado Alonso. Felipe Massa seems to have made very little progress since Malaysia and things could get very tough for him if he doesn’t at least score points in China.
As for the new teams the Caterhams have a new floor and Kovalainen was only two tenths away from Senna so perhaps a little closer, Senna was a half second behind Massa though. Still any step forward for Caterham is good and it suggests there may be potential in their car they still need to extract and that their car despite its early launch is still having parts developed that other teams would develop more intensively before the start of the season, meaning they have more to gain than other teams perhaps.
As for Marussia and HRT they look to be at a simialr pace, at least meaning that they can battle with each other making the season a little more entertianing for them, Caterham though may find themselves untorubled by Marussia and HRT yet unable to bother any mid field teams.
It’s only been a week since the Australian Grand Prix so you wouldn’t expect much to change, there are no real updates though Red Bull have played with the two exhaust systems they have available, Caterham seem unsure which spec nose to use and Massa has a new chassis; what other teams may have tweaked for the Malaysian Grand Prix following Australia though may not show results until qualifying or the race.
Felipe Massa has a lot to prove if his position isn’t going to become untenable, regardless of his contract; a new chassis is seemingly Ferrari’s way of saying ‘we are giving you every chance: now perform’. If he can’t get closer at the Malaysian Grand Prix to Alonso than he did in Australia there have to be questions over whether he really wants to be racing: practice 1 and 2 at Sepang though didn’t indicate he had made any kind of step forward. Felipe Massa may be downcast and troubled since Alonso came in as the number 1 and when he had to hand him victory in 2010 at Hockenheim but whether a new seat at another team will transform him also has to be questioned as does whether anyone will want him by the start of 2013?
The Malaysian Grand Prix is going to be about a lot more than Massa’s future though; for a start it could be an important race for Hamilton’s future as well. There are few doubts Hamilton will see out his contract at McLaren that ends this year but for him to want to stay and McLaren to want to keep him it is time for him to step up and start at least matching Button. If Button does resoundly beat Hamilton this weekend in Malaysia, especially if he beats him to a victory that Hamilton will feel could have been his, this could set back Lewis Hamilton’s mind set further still.
It certainly seems from practice that the McLarens are likely to be fighting for victory. The Mercedes aren’t too far off but it seems that they will probably be fighting with Red Bull whose practice pace has been a little off but who seem to be able to get a couple more laps out of their sets of tyres than the Mercedes. Webber looks to be a match for Vettel so far this weekend too importantly; with Schumacher seemingly a little faster than Rosberg a four way battle, perhaps joined by Fernando Alonso, could well ensue with each keen to get that final podium place if McLaren dominate.
Then there is Lotus, we never really got a clear view of their pace in Australia, though in qualifying trim the Car looked great. If both cars qualify well in the top ten and avoid incidents we may see if they can keep up with Red Bull and Mercedes.
Running through the teams in something like the positions they may finish Williams and Sauber should be mentioned next based on performances at Albert Park; Sauber are third in the constructor’s standings thanks to getting two drivers home but this is only part of the story, Perez was fantastic on one set of tyres coming from the back of the grid: he will surely excel in Malaysia where tyre degradation is going to be a big factor, even if he does the same number of stops as everyone else he will have a lot more flexibility and be able to keep an even pace. As for Kobayashi he was fantastic both defending and attacking and will find even more opportunities at the fantastic Sepang circuit. With a close midfield likely as well Kamui Kobayashi may be able to take advantage where things are close using more than outright pace: for him a safety car later in the race to bring cars within his grasp as happened in Melbourne will be ideal. Williams will expect points here, maybe even for both cars, after their disappointment in Australia; Williams may have the legs on Sauber but it is likely to be close.
Both Force India and Toro Rosso will hope for good points finishes but unless they improve on their pace from Australia they could be left pointless if few cars drop out. Having said this the Toro Rossos looked good in both Friday practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Caterham should have the legs on Marussia again but will be unlikely to challenge the established teams. All three new teams will hope for rain, both in the race and in qualifying. Rain may be HRT’s only chance to get into the race especially a wet/dry session if they call it just right to make their runs. Marussia may be stronger here in Malaysia having had good runs in Australia that will have allowed them to learn a lot of what they should have learnt in pre–season testing. Caterham have perhaps less to gain but they have hinted that they will make gains soon, based on practice these look like they will have to wait for China though.
What I have written here may make it seem like Malaysia will be very predictable, it would be wrong to assume that, there are still a lot of unknowns and this is a different circuit to Melbourne. Every year for the Malaysian Grand Prix we hear talk of five or six stop strategies that never materialise but this year it could be that some teams could be at this extreme with others getting by with three or even two stops; then of course rain could completely change things again and open up possible points to almost anyone, rain is possible but not yet predictable for either Saturday or Sunday at Sepang.
One thing is for sure, the Albert Park circuit will be slippery for Sunday’s race; for a start it is always a fairly slippery circuit not being used for motorsport at any other time in the year and starting the weekend covered in dust, dirt and dead leaves. Also though any efforts to put rubber down it seems will be thwarted by the rain that is expected at least for Friday and Saturday, it may well rain on Sunday as well however leaving the drivers with a real challenge on new rubber in new cars.
So for spectators it couldn’t get much better, what has already been heralded as the most unpredictable season opening in years will lose any shred of predictability there might have been, though Vettel will undoubtedly remain favourite for the win. I’m sure a few people will put a bet on Button though who has won in the wet here before, in 2010, and who is fantastic in this sort of race. If it doesn’t rain then Button is still a good bet as he may be able to look after his tyres better and we can expect tyre degradation on this green track being a major factor: with tyres predicted to have a very short window at which they are at their best. Webber of course shouldn’t be forgotten, after narrowly missing out on the championship in 2010 he seemed to flounder in 2011, if he is mentally in a better place now this may see him challenge for the win at his home Australian Grand Prix.
Lotus and Mercedes will both be hoping to get some points and podiums, if not challenge for a win, in the early races of the season and at Melbourne especially they will know they may have their best chances of getting a win; if Ferrari aren’t up to speed still then his puts them in an even better position. Force India too could surprise and from what we have seen they are fast enough to get onto the podium if a few things go their way at any point, di Resta and Hulkenburg are also fast enough and smart enough to take advantage.
Seeing if Williams and Caterham have made steps forward and where Sauber really are, after very mixed testing and some suspected glory runs, will of course be interesting, it may be that these three cars have much better race pace than qualifying pace and so we won’t really know until the race weekend is over and it may still take a couple of races to be completely clear.
Then there are the HRT and Marussia teams, we can guess where they will be on the grid but how far behind is really unknown, they could be well within the 107% rule or miles off, they may still have reliability problems as well of course and then there is where they are relative to each other. It must be hoped for their sakes they are at least close to each other so they have some battles otherwise we could find two cars lapping at 2 laps back and another two lapping 4 laps back, this isn’t good for anyone. Of course either team or both teams could surprise us and take a big step forwards, I somehow think HRT are the better prepared with crash tests being the only reason they didn’t test, Marussia seem to have simply not been ready in time meaning when they did have minor crash test problems they had no time to sort what was reported as a minor problem. I hope both teams will be ready for Melbourne though and Practice 1 should be fascinating: I’m almost more excited about practice 1 than the race in fact.
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