#863 2012 Spanish Grand Prix

2023-01-16 00:00

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#2012, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Laura Carminati,

#863 2012 Spanish Grand Prix

Monday 30 April 2012 Fernando Alonso speaks to the fans at the end of the Ferrari party, which took place at the Mugello circuit on the eve of the For


Monday 30 April 2012 Fernando Alonso speaks to the fans at the end of the Ferrari party, which took place at the Mugello circuit on the eve of the Formula 1 teams' three-day collective test, saying: 


"I feel like Rocky, always fighting at the start of the championship. Now, however, it will have to be us who get the results. The tests are going to be very important. And anyway, let's hold on".


The Spaniard thanked his team, which is doing the impossible to catch up with its rivals:


"I have a lot of respect for the work that so many people do around me. There are 800 people in the factory who give their all and that's why we have to push 101% on the track".


The Formula 1 teams start on Tuesday 1 May 2012 the second phase of car development, whose success will be known from the Spanish Grand Prix. For the first time in four years, the teams will be able to test after the championship has started. From Tuesday to Thursday, eleven of the twelve teams will be looking for speed and reliability before the Grand Prix in Europe.


"It will be difficult to achieve a miracle".


Admits Sebastian Vettel.


"The rules only allow it this year, but I am sure that all teams have some cards to play".


But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner points out:


"The work at Mugello must be based on the experience of the first four races, which were characterized by balance and the absence of a dominant car and driver. Thanks to Mugello we have time to reflect and we will see what we can learn from the first four races".


Only the modest Spanish team HRT will be absent at Mugello, as it wants to concentrate on moving its headquarters to Madrid. McLaren will be at Mugello, but will give its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button a break. In their place, Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey will be on track. Assures Jenson Button:


"It is not necessary for us to be there".


Thanks to the rain in the afternoon, on Tuesday 1 May 2012 Fernando Alonso set the fastest time on the first day of the Formula 1 collective test. The Spanish driver, closely followed by the numerous fans who came to the Tuscan circuit, set a time of 1'22"444. Behind Alonso is Mark Webber at over 1.2 seconds and the Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne at almost 1.5 seconds. Gaps that are almost equal to those suffered so far by Ferrari against rival teams during the first Grands Prix of the season. Ferrari fits new exhaust pipes that point downwards, to increase downforce, and the engineers promptly cover the other changes to the rear of the car by placing bulkheads every time the Spanish driver stops in the pits. Then, in the afternoon, with the wet track, Alonso concentrates on starting practice. Three red flags: the first caused by Vergne going off the track at the Poggio Secco corner; the second for Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso's double stop on the track, both due to technical problems; the third for the heavy rain that fell in the afternoon, forcing the stewards to suspend the practice session for 45 minutes. In case of need, the rescue helicopter wouldn't have had enough visibility to get up in the air. 


Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing driver, in a press conference at the Mugello circuit denies reports in a Spanish newspaper that he already has an agreement for 2013 with the Maranello team:


"Every week it seems that someone has signed for Ferrari. Once it's Jenson Button, then it was Sergio Perez. Now they write about me. Well, I tell you that I haven't signed for Ferrari. All I can say is that we are very focused on this championship and it will be many months before we talk about signing with any other team".


The Australian rider pays tribute to the Mugello track:


"It is a fantastic circuit, very fast, and maybe one day we'll race there. In the meantime I'm very happy to have seen so many people despite the bad weather".


Wednesday 2 May 2012 marks the end of the second day of Formula 1 testing at the Mugello circuit with an ex-aequo. The protagonists in this singular situation are Romain Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi. The Lotus Frenchman set the best time of the day after the first hour of testing in the morning, stopping the clock at 1'21"603. Time equalled by the Japanese of Sauber when there were only four minutes left to the end of the afternoon session. In weather and track conditions far from the torrential rain of Tuesday, the Red Bull Racing cars are also back in evidence, with World Champion Sebastian Vettel setting the third best time of the day (1'21"825 in 64 laps run), improving on the time set in the morning by his team-mate, Mark Webber, who still closes with the fourth fastest time (1'21"997). Felipe Massa does a lot of work. On the Tuscany track the Brazilian driver runs 106 laps, setting the fifth best time, more than 0.6 seconds behind the leaders. For the Brazilian the programme included developing some aerodynamic solutions and studying the behavior of the Pirelli tyres. The two Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, followed, while the palm of workaholic goes to Michael Schumacher, as the German driver completed 144 laps and set the eighth best time. Charles Pic and Vitalij Petrov close the top ten. The Mugello tests will conclude on Thursday, when Fernando Alonso will be back behind the wheel of the Ferrari F2012. Chasing themselves, rather than chasing tenths of a second, the men of Maranello's team are holding their breath in the soft hills of Scarperia. On Mugello track Felipe Massa and the F2012 are desperately trying to prove to the world that they aren't uncompetitive, and they're doing everything they can to help. Officially they all deny it, but in reality there is no one who doesn't know it: the moment is decisive and there will be no second chance. The period between these tests and the Spanish Grand Prix is crucial for the entire season. Either the aerodynamic components designed during these two months by Nicholas Tombazis will work, or this year, yet another, will be considered lost. The first doubt concerns the exhaust system. During the first day of testing, Ferrari tried an updated version of the sophisticated ones originally planned by Tombazis, but then replaced before Melbourne with simpler, more reliable devices. As soon as they were assembled, Fernando Alonso set the best time, but the result was plagued by rain and in any case the performance didn't entirely convince the team, which has now taken a period of time to decide whether to continue with that project or give up and concentrate on other parts of the car in search of speed and aerodynamic load. We are unlikely to see that in Barcelona anyway. Unlike numerous other novelties. A tiny advance of which was baptized by Felipe Massa (whose fifth fastest time has no particular technical value). While a much larger portion will be tested by Fernando Alonso.


"If we stick to the plan, by the end of practice at Mugello we should have tested around 50% of the new package with which we will race in Barcelona". 


The remaining 50% will make its debut directly on Friday 11 May 2012, during free practice. While we wait to see how much this 50% will yield, all that remains to be seen is yet another rumor about the identity of Ferrari's future second driver. 


According to the opinion of several Spanish journalists, Stefano Domenicali has bet big on Mark Webber, whose renewal with Red Bull Racing for 2013 is on the verge. Ferrari obviously denies it. As does the Australian (admittedly not convinced):


"Every week a different rumor circulates about the next Ferrari driver: once it's Button, once it's Perez. This time it's me. The truth is I haven't signed anything yet".


It can be seen that the teams are no longer used to testing during the championship (banned for four years by the regulations). On Thursday, 3 May 2012, at Mugello, everything happens: Fernando Alonso crashes into the barriers at the Correntaio bend, the Sauber catches fire. In short, a hellscape, testimony to the fact that both teams and drivers are working hard. Fortunately, there are no consequences, apart from the annoyance of having to interrupt the precious tests, which have now become a sort of tour de force to try everything. The spirit of these tests was immediately clear to everyone when the riders took to the track like madmen, immediately pushing to the limit to try the experimental solutions. Ferrari - from what is known because obviously everything here is very secretive - is concentrating on the new rear end, to improve aerodynamic flows at the rear of the car. This is why, during the third and final day of Formula 1 collective testing, they even notice the third different type of exhaust, one per day. In the end, the Spaniard's tests came to an end at the Correntaio corner after running 19 furious laps, significantly lowering the times achieved so far during the three days of testing at Mugello. Before leaving the track, Fernando Alonso had in fact set an extraordinary time of 1'21"363. An encouraging result. As for the accident, a wing of the F2012 driven by the Spaniard was definitely damaged, but at the Ferrari box they are assessing any other damage. Alonso was testing hard compound tyres, taking advantage of the dry asphalt. The exit from the track could have been caused by a combination of factors such as the low morning track surface temperature and, perhaps, even the Hard tyres themselves, not yet fully warmed up. In the end the car, immediately covered by a sheet to avoid prying eyes, got off lightly: damaged wing and left front corner. Alonso took it ironically:


"I want to let my family and all the people who love me know that I'm still alive. After crashing at 7 km/h, watching the news and TV, I got messages from very worried people, but fortunately everything is fine".


But Fernando Alonso's wasn't the only incident recorded during the day: there was also a fire at the Sauber of Mexican Sergio Perez. The car catches fire on one side, at exhaust level, as Perez returns to the pits. The fire was quickly extinguished by the safety officers present along the pit lane, and no further problems occurred. The cause of the trouble was said to be the overheating of the paint on the outer sides caused in the vicinity of the exhausts. OK, but how did it go in the end? As much as it is only testing, when you have so many cars running all at once lap times always matter. So you certainly can't ignore seeing Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheet again. In fact, it was the German who set the best time of the morning session. Romain Grosjean follows in second, and Fernando Alonso's Ferrari in third. In short, a really good performance for the Maranello team considering, however, that the car remained stationary in the pits for 2 hours and 40 minutes to allow the mechanics to repair the damage caused by the accident. The Spaniard says he's confident:


"I am very satisfied with these three days of testing. The feeling I have after the tests is positive. We have introduced some small, and I emphasize this word, aerodynamic updates that have given the response we expected and this is the most positive news, which makes me confident for the future, both in the short and long term".


He isn't there. But if he were, Stefano Domenicali wouldn't miss the opportunity to repeat his mantra of great occasions. The Maranello team principal has remained at the factory to direct the work, which is becoming more and more frenetic by the hour as the Spanish Grand Prix approaches, and so he doesn't witness the good performance delivered by the F2012 on the final day of this single official test session.


Yes, because it's a good performance that we must finally talk about. For goodness sake, nothing sensational or definitive. No miracle, no breakthrough. But undoubtedly a good basis for the future. Fernando Alonso, after a spectacular but inconsequential accident in the morning, set the third fastest time of the day and his car managed to set times of around 1 '21"0 with some frequency. Numbers that would be encouraging on their own, even more so if one listens to the words of the Spanish rider. Who at the end of the day even said he was very satisfied with the work done.


“We didn't try anything extraordinary, we had small adjustments, stuff that from a driving point of view is absolutely imperceptible. But they gave results.”


That is the most important aspect:


"For the first time since the start of the season, everything we tried gave exactly the expected results. For the first time there was an exact correspondence between expectations and reality. At the beginning it didn't happen, we brought ten pieces, rehearsed them and only six went well".


The impression, in short, is that Ferrari has found a thread of light at the end of the tunnel. The decisive step was to have resolved - at least momentarily - the issue of the exhausts. For those who missed the previous episodes, shortly before the start of the World Championship Ferrari had decided to disassemble the sophisticated ones, originally designed, and replace them with a less innovative and effective but more reliable device. Last Monday he tried to put them back together, the results advised against insisting. So the Maranello team tried a third, very conventional solution. Which had the merit of integrating better with the rest of the car. Of course, everyone knows how the tests work (especially these ones at Mugello, who knows why they were a bit boycotted by the English and German teams who didn't seem to take them too seriously). They mean nothing. The real test will come in Barcelona:


"We will bring two or three very important pieces, hopefully they will work as well as those tested today".


This is the only way to try and at least partially close the gap to the leading teams (Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes), which Alonso quantifies at 0.8 seconds. An eternity. Disappointed, as the first of the Ferrari fans, the president of the Maranello factory, Luca Montezemolo, doesn't hide his dissatisfaction for a start to the season that is anything but positive, although he doesn't lose optimism and confidence.


"I was disappointed with the start of the season, I didn't expect it. A different situation had been predicted for me. There were four races and we won one of them, we are there and now we have to make a quantum leap, have a car that is more competitive, less difficult to drive and gives confidence to the fans". 


Now, however, we go to Spain with a different mentality and a different goal:


"I have seen the engineers more confident, now let's see how it will go in Spain. Formula 1 is a constantly evolving reality and that's why I told my people that maybe in the last two years we have been too closed inside Maranello without looking around and letting fresh air in from other sources. These regulations, which wrongly make aerodynamics the essential element for winning or losing, convinced us to bring more experience into the team precisely on aerodynamics to try to change this situation. We like to take care of the engine, the gearbox, the mechanics, but now I expect to see an improved Ferrari in Spain because I want to win".


Luca Montezemolo especially praises the work done by Fernando Alonso.


"For me today in the race he is the best in the world, of that I have no doubt, we have to give him a more competitive car, the same goes for Massa who needs a better, almost perfect car. I asked for an extraordinary reaction from our technicians".


On Saturday 8 May 1982 Gilles Villeneuve died on board his Ferrari. On Tuesday 8 May 2012, at the Fiorano circuit, his son Jacques took to the track in the Ferrari 312 T4 that his father had driven. All under the eyes of Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo, as well as the driver's family and the mechanics and engineers who worked with the Canadian driver thirty years ago. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the team's current drivers, are also present.


"To see Villeneuve's car here again and to see so many Ferrari protagonists of the past together with Alonso and Massa shows that Ferrari has a history and a tradition, that it always looks ahead but doesn't forget the past. I remember when Ferrari phoned me, I was on the Board of the company, and told me that there was this guy with a great heart and temperament, Gilles had a pre-contract with McLaren. But Ferrari told me he wanted to open the taps with fresh water. He wanted him and his bet went well, he was a great driver, maybe not a result driver, but he was extraordinary, brave, fast, magnificent. I had less close relations with him than with Regazzoni and Lauda, quote-unquote my drivers. All he cared about was stepping on the accelerator and asking the maximum from the car, he cared little about the rest. Raikkonen also had this relationship with our engineers, he just wanted to get into the car without worrying about telemetry or anything else".


Fernando Alonso, also present at Fiorano, speaks instead about the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix: 


"Now we need to change the trend of this 2012, in the championship as points we are quite good, but from Barcelona onwards we need to step forward, we need to leave the middle of the grid and try to gain the advanced positions. In Barcelona there will be some changes, hopefully they will be better than those of our rivals".


Fernando Alonso faces in the best possible way - in terms of spirit - the hours that separate him from the start of the Grand Prix in Spain. As far as technique is concerned, the discourse is different, although the team led by Stefano Domenicali expects clear progress.


"At Montmelò we expect to take a step forward, but we won't know until Saturday if and how big it will be. We have some new things on the F2012, some that we tried last week at Mugello, others that we will test on Friday in free practice. It is clear that, after limiting the damage in the first four races of the year, we need to turn things around. Having said that, the important thing is to make progress, to reduce the gap as much as possible: this weekend, then again at Monte Carlo, and then on to Montreal, Valencia and Silverstone. The season is very long: there are sixteen races to run, the same number that, in 2003, made up the championship calendar".


Then, referring to the special day Ferrari experienced at Fiorano, the Spanish driver adds:


"We have to keep working day and night, like Gilles' mechanics did when I met them on the track and like our guys do today, with whom I will be flying to Barcelona this afternoon (Wednesday 9 May 2012). It was a special day at Maranello. It was the 30th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve's death and Ferrari wanted to remember him by inviting his son Jacques to drive the 312 T4, the single-seater that his father used in the 1979 season". 


And adds:


"Gilles is a myth for everyone, in Maranello and all over the world, and I think it must have been really incredible for Jacques to drive that fantastic car. It was great to see the faces of so many mechanics of the time, happy to be back on the track to see a Villeneuve: it was another episode that made me realize how special the history of Ferrari is, a team that has an incredible tradition but is also projected into the future".


There is careful optimism in the Ferrari garage on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix. Naturally, the most eagerly awaited by the Iberian fans is Fernando Alonso, who will race at home. Thursday, 10 May 2012, Fernando Alonso speaks at a press conference.


"Our single-seater isn't very different, we don't have any big changes even though we have some new parts. In the tests at Mugello we mainly concentrated on trying different set-ups and other aspects that we hadn't worked on in pre-season testing. So it was a matter of completing our winter work. Some of the things we tried at Mugello worked well, others not so much".


Alonso is careful even though many expect to see a completely new and above all competitive Ferrari. But if on the first point the Spanish driver was quite clear, on the second he admits:


"We are definitely more prepared now than we were before Australia. We have some aerodynamic updates and other new things, we have to wait and see where we will be at the end of the race. Because we are Ferrari, there seem to be a lot of expectations, but also the other teams have developed their single-seaters. What we have here in Barcelona isn't the last step and we have to continue to improve our performance for the qualifying and the race in Monaco, Canada and for the following rounds. It is just the first of a long series of steps we will take, and if it doesn't prove to be enough, then we will have to work even harder for Monaco and be even more aggressive in our approach. We won't give up on ourselves in May, just after four races".


The Spaniard agrees with Kimi Raikkonen, who is convinced that qualifying will be less important this year than in the past.


"He's right. I looked at the numbers and in past years there were four or five overtaking manoeuvres at this track during the Grand Prix, while last year there were 57. In the past, being on pole meant having 60% of the victory in the bag, but that's no longer the case".


To the many Spanish fans, Fernando Alonso says: 


"I can’t promise anything. As always we will give our 100%, but Formula 1 isn’t mathematics, it’s a sport. We will do our best, we will work hard on every detail in the hope of getting the best possible result".


Ferrari's revolution begins with Fernando Alonso's melina. The Spanish driver tries to minimize as much as possible the extent of the novelties that the F2012 will bring to the track at Montmelò, contradicting - or trying to contradict - the last-chance climate that is being breathed in these hours at Ferrari, with the F2012 forced to do well (this time, paradoxically, it is more important to convince than to win) to prove that it isn't the product of yet another failed project.


"Don't expect anything special. We didn't bring any big improvements to the car here in Spain. During the Mugello test, moreover, we just tried different set-ups and completed the work that was left over from the winter tests. So we can say that in terms of concrete improvement we will have very little change".


Anyone who doesn't know Alonso might believe he is telling the truth (the guy is a good bluffer). In reality, it's enough to re-read the statements made by the Spaniard after the third day of testing in Tuscany to understand that this is not the case, and that he is merely - and wisely - preaching calm. Spotted by the specialists in the pits, during pit stop practice, the F2012 appears if not literally transfigured, definitely modified. There have been several areas of intervention. Three in particular, the front wing, the bottom and the exhausts. And it is precisely the exhausts, it seems, that represent one of the key points of this new version of the car, because the Maranello team seems to have definitively opted for a very simple system, more conservative than the one initially conceived, but cleaner than the one proposed from Melbourne onwards. A device that seems to integrate much better with the rest of the car. As the Mugello data would have confirmed. However, the track's response is the only one that counts. And it is precisely here that Alonso's cautious tactics have their origin. Because in addition to the enigma linked to the behavior of the car, there is also that - even more unfathomable - linked to the evolutionary steps that will be proposed by the competition, McLaren in the lead. Apparently the British team is intent on trying a new front end, with a much higher nose which - they say from Woking - seems to work really well. Friday 11 May 2012 Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in the first free practice session, despite only lapping in the final half hour. Behind the Ferrari driver are Sebastian Vettel and Kamui Kobayashi. On the other Sauber of Sergio Pérez there is a fire start, with no consequences for the Mexican driver. American driver Alexander Rossi takes Heikki Kovalainen's place at Caterham in the first free practice. The Spaniard Dani Clos does the same for Narain Karthikeyan at HRT, Jules Bianchi that of Paul di Resta at Force India and Valtteri Bottas that of Bruno Senna at Williams. Rossi is the first US rider to take part in a World Championship weekend since 2007, when Scott Speed took part in the European Grand Prix. It's also the debut for Clos during a World Championship weekend. McLaren debuts a tall version of the nose. The British team, after the mistakes made during pit stops in the last Grands Prix, decides to replace some of the mechanics in charge of the operation. Shell, Ferrari's fuel supplier, introduces a new version of V-Power petrol. Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier, offered the teams Hard and Soft tyres for this Grand Prix. The tyres supplied by Pirelli were criticized by Michael Schumacher after the Bahrain Grand Prix as being too exposed to degradation, limiting the driver's ability to fully exploit them. The Mercedes driver's criticism was, however, described as exaggerated by Sebastian Vettel, who said:


"It was a bit of an exaggeration. In the end, we all have the same tyres, but for sure a driver always wants more grip, from the tyres or the car. It's in our nature to always want more. When I talk about this subject with Michael he's not so dramatic. He's been in this business for a long time and has seen a lot, also about tyres. I don't think he is easily impressed".


During the second practice session Jenson Button set the fastest time. The British driver is ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg. In the first part of the session, in which the drivers use Hard tyres, Fernando Alonso had set the best time using Soft tyres. Bruno Senna is the author of a spin, while Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen make excursions off the track. HRT-Cosworth driver Narain Karthikeyan doesn't set good times due to some electrical problems that force him to pit for almost the entire session.


"There are positive signs, but victory is still far away".


Fernando Alonso and Ferrari don't have any illusions. The first day of free practice of the Spanish Grand Prix doesn't allow dreams of glory in the box of the Maranello team. The Spanish driver, who was very fast during the first session, closes Friday's practice by testing.


"The signs are positive, but not as some hoped. There are still some elements missing from this single-seater with which, according to some, we could have aimed for the podium. Until we have analyzed the data, we won't know what worked and what didn't work. Felipe (Massa, ed) and I followed different programmes. In qualifying, the moment of truth will come. There is still a lot of work to be done, we will try to make up ground and hopefully take a small step forward here. But you can't catch up all at once".


If what Ferrari is doing is a bluff, well then you have to admit it's turning out really well. Friday's free practice of what has inevitably become one of the most important races of the season ended with Alonso's car placed fourteenth, 1.21 seconds behind Jenson Button's McLaren, and preceded, unusually, by Felipe Massa's car. The numbers of the chronometer were echoed by the words of the Spaniard, who understandably took refuge in an easy statement in the evening press conference:


"The car isn’t a disappointment. In fact, I would say that it exactly meets our expectations, maybe it falls short of yours. But not of ours".


It is certainly below the expectations of the fans in Spain who were expecting to see a revolutionized, and finally fast, Ferrari, but instead will apparently have to make do with a car that is only slightly developed.


"Rather than an F2012 version 2.0, it would be more appropriate to speak of a version 1.1".


However, the problem isn't expectations. The problem is the F2012 and its real potential. Which for now remains a mystery. Looking at the timesheet and listening to the Spanish driver one would feel desperate, but then analyzing the data more closely one realizes that perhaps some progress has indeed been made and that, for example, the race pace is more or less up to the level of the best competitors. There are a few more problems on the fast lap on soft tyres, but even from that point of view not much can be said, given that when Fernando Alonso made his attempt there were many cars on the track. What can be said on this eve, which is so complicated to decipher, is that the moment is indeed a decisive one, even if from this point of view Ferrari is not entirely in agreement:


"The championship is so balanced that, in theory, margins for recovery will still be there for a long time".


Up to now, four different drivers for four different teams have won, and the much-maligned 2012 version of Ferrari is only 10 points behind the top of the standings. The reasoning seems correct. However, it's true that there are many who think differently, so much so that on Friday there was talk of rolling heads, the most popular of which was that of the aerodynamic engineer Nick Tombazis, the one who got at least the last three Ferraris wrong. Since rumors cost nothing, there are also those who speak of a possible return of Ross Brawn to Maranello. But what is true is only the crisis that the English engineer is experiencing with Mercedes. Therefore, the chances of his return to Italy are zero. Saturday 12 May 2012, during the final practice session, Sebastian Vettel sets the fastest time. Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi set the second and third fastest times. Romain Grosjean, due to electrical problems, doesn't set any valid time, remaining inside the box for almost the entire duration of practice. A few hours later, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in Q1, ahead of Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso. In addition to the drivers of HRT (Narain Kartikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa), Marussia (Charles Pic and Timo Glock) and Caterham (Vitalij Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen), Bruno Senna is eliminated as he leaves the track during his last attempt, stopping in the gravel. In Q2 Pastor Maldonado sets the fastest time, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean, while Jenson Button, Mark Webber, the two Force India drivers, Paul di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg, the two Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers, Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, and Felipe Massa are eliminated. At the end of this session, Kamui Kobayashi's car suffers a technical fault which prevents him from taking part in Q3. In the next phase Lewis Hamilton takes pole position ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso. 


Only seven drivers set at least one timed lap, with Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher failing to set a valid time. At the end of qualifying, Lewis Hamilton stops his car on the track to avoid running out of petrol at Federation controls. Called upon to explain the incident before the stewards, technical director Sam Michael states that the car has been stopped due to force majeure. The cause, due to a human error in the fuel counting carried out in the pits in the moments before the British driver's last lap, isn't evaluated as force majeure and Hamilton is excluded from the qualifying results, losing pole position, due to a violation of Article 6.6.2 of the sporting regulations. Lewis Hamilton is relegated to last position and thus pole position is awarded to Pastor Maldonado. Williams returns to pole position after two years; the last first-place start was achieved by Nico Hülkenberg in the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix. In addition, it's the first pole position start for a Williams-Renault since the 1997 European Grand Prix, achieved at the time by Jacques Villeneuve. It is the first time a Venezuelan driver has started from pole position. Fernando Alonso also smiles. The Spaniard of Ferrari climbs to second position, preceding the two Lotuses of Frenchman Romain Grosejan and Finnish Kimi Raikkonen. Seventh time for the Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel, who doesn't set a time in the last round of official practice. Same for German Michael Schumacher and Japanese Kamui Kobayashi, who will line up on the fourth and fifth rows with Mercedes and Sauber. Behind them, the McLaren-Mercedes of Englishman Jenson Button and the Red Bull Racing of Australian Mark Webber. Not too surprising, however, is the P16 obtained by Brazilian Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari. Fernando Alonso can finally smile after his third qualifying time in the Spanish Grand Prix, which makes him second after Lewis Hamilton has been relegated to the last row.


"A dream that was also difficult to imagine: but the race isn't today and the points are scored on Sunday. In the first four races it was impossible to dream of starting in the top three, we have certainly taken a step forward. We are all close, it takes little to gain positions. I am happy with what I have done, now hopefully we can take advantage of this starting position. It's a special weekend with extra motivation for me. We'll need a very aggressive start, and then there are all the other variables, from tyre degradation to pit stops. We'll have to be good at keeping our position because there are very fast and competitive cars behind us. In any case, we are going in the right direction. The work done by the team in recent weeks has paid off. It's important for this race but it's also important in perspective: tomorrow I have the chance to get some important points for the championship".


Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari’s team principal, also analyses:


"We have taken a step forward: that is a fact. It was a very hard-fought session and full of surprises. Finally this year we were able to get to Q3 in a position to do well, at least with one driver. Fernando did a fantastic job, from the first to the last lap of the session, constantly improving and, once again, bringing out the full potential of the car. Felipe put up a fight but on his lap on new soft tyres in Q2 he had a lot of traffic and, as a result, lost those tenths that could have taken him close to tenth place".


Pastor Maldonado, who will start in pole position with Williams, is also satisfied.


"We worked hard to understand the tyres and the car, we made a good step forward, we have to continue like this. There is a great atmosphere in the factory and in the team, the car is consistent, I am looking forward to tomorrow. It's the first time I'm in the top three, I'm happy and I hope to continue like this in the future. I am happy for the team and for Venezuela, hopefully tomorrow will be another beautiful day like today".


Another negative qualifying, however, for Felipe Massa, only in P16 on the grid.


"I caught traffic. On my lap there were eight slow cars coming out of the pits, I lost more than 0.3 seconds, it was a pity because I could have done better than that and started at the front. It was a traffic problem, we could have done more".


It’ll also be an uphill race for Sebastian Vettel as the world champion will start from seventh position.


"We were quite happy with the balance of the car until the start of qualifying. But starting from Q1 I wasn't satisfied, at the end I could have taken one more position, but the race will be long, there will be many pit stops and a way to recover".


Michael Schumacher didn't set any time in Q3 and will start the race from eighth position.


"The soft tyres are going stronger than the hard ones, which is why we made the decision to get a set back for tomorrow. For me this is the best strategy, let's see what happens in the race. Tomorrow I have heard that the temperature will be lower and that will maybe help us. Are the tyres the key to the race? I hope the drivers are also important".


Mark Webber didn't qualify for the top ten. The Red Bull Racing driver will start from eleventh position.


"I didn't do the second lap. The first lap was fast and I was well set up, then the team thought the first one was enough to save the tyres, but it wasn't enough. In the race I can only improve".


A few well-placed patches and a perfect lap. Fernando Alonso doesn't give up. In Barcelona, in the most important Grand Prix of the season, the Spaniard's Ferrari starts from the front row and sends a clear message to everyone: the F2012 may have been born badly, the result of a project that was more innovative than successful, but it is still a Ferrari, and this is a detail that, in a World Championship without leaders like the one this year, can be decisive. Just consider how little it took the men from the Maranello team to put the car in front: a technical recovery of just 0.4 seconds on the version of the F2012 that raced in Bahrain - 0.2 seconds compared to the rivals, who also offered a few updates - and the car is back to frightening everyone. Certainly, no one in Maranello has any illusions. The line-up, including that of the Spanish Grand Prix, is full of cars that go faster, starting with the two McLarens and without underestimating Red Bull Racing, Lotus and Mercedes. There is still a lot of work to be done. And yet Alonso's second position isn't an optical illusion, due to chance or luck, any more than the Sepang victory was, rather it is the product of the combination of the mistakes made by the others and the step forward made in these months of work. The famous well-placed patches. And it is this combination of elements, regardless of the result of today's race, that is the decisive factor in this debut race of the European season. While Alonso's car made up 0.4 seconds on the track, the competitors began to suffer the extreme characteristics of a track that eats up tyres. Red Bull Racing, above all. Something had already been glimpsed in Friday's free practice. In qualifying there was confirmation: the former dominators of the circus also suffer with Pirelli tyres, so much so that both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had to use both sets of Soft tyres (the ones that give the best performance) to try and get into the final selection, that of the top ten. The same tried, unsuccessfully, to do Jenson Button whose McLaren, it must be said, seems to be the only car really above the others, as demonstrated by the ease with which Lewis Hamilton found the best times throughout the weekend. An advantage, that of McLaren, which shouldn't even be too clear-cut though, if it is true that the Englishman, in order to win pole position, tried to take on less petrol, but was discovered by the stewards who relegated him from first to last place on the grid: the regulations state that the driver must finish qualifying and bring the car back to the pits with at least one liter of petrol on board, to allow the stewards to take samples and check the regularity of the fuel. Anybody finishing with less fuel is to be considered underweight. Having crossed the finish line, Lewis Hamilton instead parked his car at the side of the track due to unspecified technical problems. 


And of that liter of petrol there was no trace. The result of all this was an incredible balance, with four top drivers - Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa - out of Q3, and with Pastor Maldonado's Williams taking pole position: the first for a Venezuelan. An unexpected outcome that puts Fernando Alonso in a position to play his chances of victory from start to finish, also counting on a single-seater that, at least in practice, showed good race pace. The Spanish driver was no longer used to such a situation. And in the press conference his eyes were almost sprinkled with emotion.


"We really didn't expect such a result, it's a dream. Of course, we were counting on taking a step forward that would allow us to enter Q3 without too much difficulty, but we really didn't expect to find ourselves so far ahead on the grid. The changes we brought have taken us a step in the right direction. Now let's try to get a good start but without taking too many risks: we will have to be aggressive, but not crazy, also because our main rivals in the title race will start behind us and so we have to try to take advantage of that".


Fernando Alonso's plural is obviously rhetorical. His team-mate has now been definitively eaten up by his losing syndrome, and after practice he spends the afternoon finding reasons (or excuses, it makes little difference at this point) to explain his umpteenth disappointing performance: he qualified 17th. Sunday, 13 May 2012, at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso makes a good start and moves into first position, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Räikkönen, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. Sergio Pérez punctures a tyre in contact with Grosjean and is forced to make a pit stop. The top three immediately increase their advantage over the rest of the field. Stuck in traffic, the Red Bull Racing cars try to anticipate the stop. The first to stop for a tyre change is Mark Webber on lap 6, followed by Sebastian Vettel on lap 7. Over the next few laps all the drivers make their pit stops, and most of the drivers are on hard tyres, except for the Mercedes and Lotus drivers. On lap 13 Michael Schumacher crashes into Bruno Senna's Williams, and both are forced to retire. After the first series of tyre changes Fernando Alonso remains in first position, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton (who hasn't done a tyre change yet), Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi. Lewis Hamilton pits on lap 14, while on lap 15 Romain Grosjean passes Nico Rosberg, and moves up to fourth. Next, Mark Webber's Red Bull Racing car has tyre wear problems, and the Austrian loses several places. When Webber returns to the pits to make a new tyre change, a new front end is fitted to his Red Bull. On lap 24 Pastor Maldonado anticipates the tyre change, and on his return to the track he sets the fastest lap. Thanks to this performance and a problematic lapping of Charles Pic from Fernando Alonso, after the Ferrari driver's tyre change on lap 26, the Venezuelan moves into first place, several seconds ahead of his rival. 


Meanwhile, both Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa are penalized with a drive-through for not respecting the yellow flags. After the two drivers switch to the pit lane, the classification, on lap 31, still sees Pastor Maldonado leading the race, followed by Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Romain Grosjean, Lewis Hamilton (who has not yet made his second stop), Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi. On lap 33 Kamui Kobayashi passes Jenson Button, and on lap 34 Lewis Hamilton makes his second tyre change. Jenson Button is also passed by Sebastian Vettel, on lap 38, before the Englishman makes his third stop. Between lap 42 and lap 45 Pastor Maldonado makes his third pit stop. Despite a less-than-perfect pit stop, the Venezuelan Williams driver maintains first position. Sebastian Vettel also decides to change the front end on his single-seater; behind the top three, there are still Romain Grosjean, Nico Rosberg, Kamui Kobayashi, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. The race for victory seems to be restricted to the first two drivers. Fernando Alonso puts pressure on the Venezuelan driver for about ten laps, constantly using the DRS but failing to overtake, before losing ground slightly due to a drop in tyre performance. In the final stages of the race the two Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, increased their pace with the last set of tyres, reducing the gap between them and Fernando Alonso and Pastor Maldonado, suggesting that with a different strategy they could have achieved more. Kimi Räikkönen, trailing by twenty seconds after his last stop, caught up with Fernando Alonso on the final lap, unable to mount an attack. 


On lap 59 Sebastian Vettel passes Jenson Button again, while on lap 60 Kamui Kobayashi gains a position on Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel continues his comeback passing Lewis Hamilton, who doesn't make a third stop, but goes into a tyre crisis, and then Nico Rosberg himself. Pastor Maldonado wins the Spanish Grand Prix, thus becoming the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One Grand Prix. This is the first victory for Williams since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, achieved at the time by Juan Pablo Montoya. It is also a return to success for a Williams-Renault, something that has not happened since the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix with Jacques Villeneuve. The British team also achieves its first podium finish since Nico Rosberg's second place in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen finish on the podium, followed by Romain Grosjean, Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg. In the first five races of the World Championship five different drivers win, with cars from five different manufacturers. The fastest lap is set by Romain Grosjean, the first for him in his World Championship career, and the first Frenchman to do so since Jean Alesi in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. Shortly after the end of the race a big fire occurred in the Williams pits, due to the fuel emptying operation: fortunately no serious injuries were recorded. 


The flames spread while Frank Williams, the historic boss of the team of the same name, is giving a speech in front of team members. A thick, acrid smoke rises from the Williams team garage, where mechanics from all the teams rush to try to extinguish the flames, while people run away with their noses and mouths covered because of the unbreathable air. Ambulances also arrive on the scene. The big wheel of the 2012 Formula 1 format stops on the unknown name of Pastor Maldonado. It is his turn, in Spain, to pop the winner's champagne. To him and his Williams. But a closer look reveals that the entire Circus is celebrating. Because it suddenly finds itself, and perhaps without too much merit, beautiful and exciting, full of champions - at the moment there are five in the running for the title, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen - of competitive teams and new, young and sometimes even interesting protagonists. Like Pastor Maldonado: son of Chavez's Venezuela, despite being rich and recommended, he claims his mission is to bring the values of socialism to the world's most capitalist sport. It's curious that in order to succeed in his mission he had to pay £29.000.000 out of the public purse (Chavez pulled it out), but there it is. Money well spent, the Venezuelan president must have thought as he watched his protégé scramble the motorsport giants and cross the finish line ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. Then he picked up the phone and contacted the boy to congratulate him on behalf of the whole country. And the protégé takes them gladly, as he takes those of the rest of the paddock, including amusing comments like:


"That boy drives as if he just stole the car".


Which perfectly describes the course of the race. What immediately turned out to be a kind of two-man war between Fernando Alonso in his rediscovered Ferrari, and the young South American. A sort of 66-lap chase, with the two exchanging the role of first driver from time to time, depending on who had got the timing of the tyre change right. In the end Pastor Maldonado won, although no one would have predicted it. Fernando Alonso, coming off an F2012 that was competitive again for a day, is enthusiastic. And not only for the fact that second place gives him the lead in the World Championship standings, but also because between the improvements shown and the new position in the standings the widespread feeling is that Ferrari's World Championship has suddenly reopened. Which, considering the car they had given him at the start of the season, is miraculous. Second place in Barcelona from a certain point of view is more important than the Sepang victory: that was a rather fortuitous event. This is something more constructed, searched for, wanted. A much more solid base on which to try and build the future. Especially since all the main competitors, despite having a car that is better in many cases (McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Lotus and even Williams) still have many more problems than expected. Problems that then translate into real personal crises. Just look at Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher (penalised for crashing into poor Bruno Senna, he'll start in Monaco five positions behind) and even Lewis Hamilton, who failed to win a race in which he was definitely the fastest on the track. 


The fact that the rivals had problems can also have another, less positive reading. There is no shortage of people in the paddock who point out, for example, that if Hamilton hadn't been penalized on the eve of the race, if Button hadn't encountered technical problems, if the two Red Bull Racing cars hadn't crashed into the front wing conundrum (both Vettel and Webber had to change it, losing time and road), if the Lotus cars hadn't made a wrong strategy, Alonso would have finished between fifth and sixth. But the beauty of Formula 1 is that ifs are worth nothing after the checkered flag.


"It's a great day, not just for me, but for the whole team. We pushed hard to improve race after race and here we are. Yesterday we had a great qualifying session and today we managed to repeat it".


Pastor Maldonado is celebrating his first F1 victory, the first by a Venezuelan driver.


"It was a tough race because of some problems with the rear tyres, when I had to fight a bit, but the car was extremely competitive from the first laps. Alonso made a better start but we did well. For me this is my first win and you can understand how I feel. Alonso was very close and I tried to manage the tyre degradation until the end of the race. Fernando came close at times, especially in the straight, but I managed the gap. Our pace was strong and the car and team were fantastic, maybe only a small mistake was made in the last pit stop but it didn't impact the race".


Also Fernando Alonso parties:


"Second place is fantastic, we took a step forward in the World Championship. The start was fantastic, I was on the inside and managed to take the lead. I wasn't too lucky, also because a Marussia slowed me down. Not everyone always respects the rules, maybe this episode compromised my race to some extent".


In the last part of the Spanish Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso seemed in a position to attack Pastor Maldonado. The Spaniard got to within a second of the Venezuelan but was never able to really challenge him.


"The single-seater became a bit strange, maybe I lost a bit of grip and I lost something aerodynamically. I had to think about defending second place, because Raikkonen's Lotus had definitely come closer".


On the other hand, Kimi Raikkonen is disappointed:


"I'm a bit disappointed. We weren't very fast at the beginning and that's why I didn't fight for the win, maybe we made a wrong choice at the beginning and we paid for it. I'm not overly disappointed though because in the end the car was very fast, a few more laps would have been better. We're happy to be on the podium twice but it was difficult to win, it's a shame we didn't take advantage of the opportunities but hopefully we'll continue to do well, things will get better and I can get back to winning. The car is going better and the team has done a great job, there are still things to improve but it's going well, we're not 100% happy because we're not winning, but for now it's fine".


Ferrari’s team principal, Stefano Domenicali, congratulates the Williams team:


"Congratulations to Williams, who hadn't had a win for years. But let's look at us: Alonso had a great race. At the end we had no more tyre to try to overtake Maldonado. This is a very strange championship, difficult to interpret. We keep the pressure on race by race to make the car faster".


Not far away, Fernando Alonso looks around and shakes his head.


"The truth is that we don't understand anything here, in Bahrain we took 57 seconds from Red Bull. Here at one point we were lapping them".


To see him like this, happy and lost, makes one smile. The fact is that the World Championship really does seem to have gone mad: five different winners in the first five races, a bad car (by Ferrari's own admission) at the top of the standings, and the favorites in each race losing scientifically. Not that he minds, quite the contrary. But the joy doesn't make him forget his obligation to be realistic and rational, and he doesn't quite manage it:


"Today's second place is fantastic, we took a good step forward in the world championship. But it has to be said that we were lucky: one more lap and Raikkonen would have overtaken us. The truth is that we got everything we could out of the car. In a certain sense we even went further, while others, I fear, were below their capabilities. That makes it impossible to say where exactly we are at the moment".


The distances are all too small and in the small space of 0.2 seconds there’s everything.


"In the end I think that reliability and continuity will be the key to this world championship. We had the most difficult start to the season in the last three years and yet here we are. More I cannot say".


Now, for the men of the Maranello team, it's a matter of doing a wacky reverse process to what is usually done, they have to adapt the car to the points obtained so far. Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari's team principal, points the way:


"We must continue to work on the road we have taken and which has brought us this far, i.e. pushing on developments in the search for speed and aerodynamic load. Now there's Monte Carlo which is a race in itself where you need traction and not aerodynamics, so we don't have anything special planned other than a good setup. But then from Montreal we'll start again with the new parts and hope to continue to make progress".


Which of course is what Alonso also hopes:


"We have to work hard and wait to see what the World Championship will be. In a few races everything will stabilize and then we will understand what the real values on the field are".


He sighs again, Alonso. Someone then asks him whether he likes all this uncertainty (there are even some party poopers who call it illogicality) or not.


"I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question. In a way I like it. For example, I'm going to Monaco in one week and I don't know whether I'm going there to raid for points or to watch the others. But I must also admit that after spending eleven years in Formula 1 and seeing Ferrari dominate almost all of them, now that I'm finally in Ferrari I wouldn't mind having more stability and a dominant car".


Giving Ferreri confidence after Fernando Alonso's fine second place in the Spanish Grand Prix is Stefano Domenicali:


"The World Championship? We must believe in it, always. There are many sports stories that prove that any feat is possible not least the epilogue of the English football championship. I watched again last night the images of the final of the matches in which the two Manchester teams were involved and the determination with which Roberto Mancini, whom I want to congratulate personally for this important success, continued to cheer his team on even when the situation seemed compromised. It must be an example for all sportsmen and women, and for us first of all, since we participate in a discipline where the factors at stake are many and where the differences are only a few tenths or, even, hundredths".


In fact, it has been decades since we have seen such a balanced start to the championship, with five winners at the wheel of five different single-seaters in so many races. This hasn't happened since 1983. Even then one of the five was a Ferrari driver, that Patrick Tambay who had won at Imola, in the San Marino Grand Prix. And the fact that in Barcelona Fernando Alonso was in a battle right up to the very last laps with Pastor Maldonado's Williams, without giving up a meter gives hope.


"This year the winner will be the one who can bring the best technical updates to the track in the shortest possible time. Standing still for even a couple of races can mean finishing out of the points, considering that there are so many teams that have shown they can fight for the top positions. We achieved our goal of making a step forward in Spain but we have to continue on this path, also because the gap to the time that had earned Hamilton pole position was still too big".


The work indeed: the F2012 has improved, it was seen in Barcelona, but not enough, the Spanish driver has already said. In the meantime, however, the rival teams make mistakes: in Spain in qualifying McLaren left Lewis Hamilton with a drop of petrol that cost him pole position. Admits McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh:


"In retrospect I can say that I was wrong, but I didn't expect such a sanction".


Ferrari has to win this World Championship in Maranello. That's the message Stefano Domenicali wants to send to his men the day after the Spanish Grand Prix. The miracle performed by Fernando Alonso at Sepang and the great performance at Montmelò have given Ferrari an incredible first place in the overall standings, but above all they have filled the hearts of mechanics and engineers with the conviction that they can do it, that they can get to the end of a season that, given the premises - wrong car and faster rivals - could practically already be over. And yet it isn't. Quite the contrary. On closer inspection, Ferrari really does have a chance to have its say. But don't miss a move, because despite what the classification says, the situation is very complicated. The balance of these first five races tells of at least two teams, McLaren and Lotus, whose cars are much faster than those made in Maranello in all conditions, from every point of view. Of the two, of course, the one of greatest concern is McLaren, whose ability to progress over the course of the season has proven, not only in recent years, monstrous. Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus also frightens, but it remains to be seen what kind of investments the Enstone team will be able to make to remain competitive. Then there is Red Bull Racing which, at this stage, seems to be struggling a bit, especially with regard to tyre consumption, but which, however, in terms of means and capabilities, is second to none, so much so that Sebastian Vettel leads the Drivers' World Championship standings together with Fernando Alonso. Less frightening, finally, is Mercedes, which despite having a good car has so far been more discontinuous than all the other competitors, including Ferrari. Assuming it cannot continue to rely solely on the talent of Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, in order to remain - or become - competitive, will have to make a monstrous effort right at the factory, continuing to follow the path taken after the shock debut in Melbourne, which led to the successful redesign of the F2012 we saw in Spain. The F2012 1.2, as Ferrari called it, making it clear that it wasn't a revolution, a 2.0, but just a major development of the basic version. Work that covered four areas - front wing, rear wing, bottom and exhausts - and also involved a strategic partner such as Shell who proposed a new, more efficient petrol. Of the two declared objectives of all that work - recovering downforce and increasing top speed - only the second was fully achieved in Spain. Now improvement is needed on the first. Reviewing the images from the Spanish Grand Prix, compared to Pastor Maldonado's Williams, Fernando Alonso's difficulties coming out of corners were more than evident. There is enough time to recover: the goal is to be ready for the Canadian Grand Prix. Stefano Domenicali explains:


"For Monte-Carlo we haven't planned any changes, we'll just look for the best setup possible".


Then the chase for McLaren will begin again.


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