Saturday, 26 April 2008

Spanish Grand Prix: Qualifying Session

Kimi Raikkonen took an easily predicted pole position in Saturday's qualifying session in Barcelona, but there were surprises aplenty behind him as Ferrari weren't quite as dominant as they were expected to be. Indeed, Kimi's fifteenth career pole came at the expense of home favourite Fernando Alonso, who came within a whisker of providing the shock of the season so far. Still, the Spanish fans will be going home extremely happy after that result!

The first session passed largely without incident for the first 15 minutes or so, with Ferrari's predicted dominance showing. But in the final seconds of the session things went crazy as the times started tumbling. It appears that the track had lost a bit of pace and took the first 15 minutes or so to "rubber in" and start yielding the truly quick times.

It would be nigh on impossible to relate all the changes in position in those final seconds, but as a reference Jenson Button was in P9 about ten seconds after the chequered flag dropped, but by the end of the action he was right down in P16, only just making it through to the second session! David Coulthard was the big loser of the session. He was second quickest in practice this morning but could only manage a lowly 17th place. Fisichella, Vettel, Sutil, Davidson and Sato joined him on the sidelines for the rest of the session.

The second session again showed the Ferrari's pace, but BMW started to come to the fore with Kubica especially putting in a great lap. All of the main players made it through to the final session without too much fuss. Again, things were ridiculously close in the midfield. Sebastien Bourdais, probably the star of Q1 was the slowest man out on track, and in the final shake up he was joined by Rosberg, Glock, Button, Nakajima (out-pacing his teammate for the first time ever) and Barrichello.

The final session caused the real talking points of the day though, with a sensational finish. Kimi Raikkonen had a poor first hot lap, struggling with understeer in his car. Massa too wasn't impressing and it looked for a short while as though Ferrari were about to fumble the ball at the vital moment. The McLaren's looked decent, but they will be a tad worried as to why their obvious one-lap pace didn't translate to good pace with heavy fuel loads. They had to settle for fifth and sixth place for Hamilton and Kovalainen respectively.

BMW were again showing they had the measure of the McLarens with Kubica looking to repeat his brilliant performance of a few weeks ago. It looked for a while as though he had a shot at front row grid slot as he made it to P2 behind Massa who recovered reasonably well. However, the big surprise was to come in the dying seconds after the clock had run down to zero. Fernando Alonso sent the thousands of Spanish fans wild with a brilliant lap to take first place on the time sheets. I don't think anybody could quite believe it, especially the likes of McLaren and BMW who had their thunder well and truly stolen.

The dream was to be shattered for Alonso just seconds later though, as Kimi Raikkonen finally got his act together to take pole at the final moment. We all knew that Renault had taken a big step forward during the Easter break, but I don't think anyone thought they had jumped that far forward. In all honesty we have to assume that they will be very light on fuel and will struggle to make it to the podium for the race tomorrow. However, having the Renault up there on the front row really throws the cat amongst the pigeons for the race tomorrow, with things being made very difficult now for the BMWs and McLarens to be able to challenge the Ferraris.

Kimi Raikkonen will be the red-hot favourite for the race tomorrow, but it should be a fascinating battle behind him due to Alonso's incredible performance.
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Spanish Grand Prix: Saturday Practice

Whilst Ferrari and McLaren spent time working on heavy fuel running in Saturday's final practice, Constructor's Championship leaders BMW took their chance to show their hand in Barcelona. Nick Heidfeld took top spot ahead of David Coulthard's Red Bull with Fernando Alonso again impressing for Renault in third place.

The best any of the Ferrari or McLaren drivers could manage was ninth place for Felipe Massa. Lewis Hamilton was eleventh, Raikkonen thirteenth and Kovalainen fifteenth. Elsewhere Nelson Piquet Jnr was the only driver to leave the circuit during the session, running wide after a lock up, but there was no damage to speak of. In general it was a fairly quiet and cagey session throughout, and again there were few clues as to how the midfield battle will shape up. Everyone is just so close!

In terms of times things were very tight all the way down the grid. Excluding the Super Aguris who were again way off the pace, the entire field was separated by just 1.2 seconds per lap. Even perennial strugglers Force India (nee Jordan/Midland/Spyker) appear to have made a decent step forward in pace, leaving poor Super Aguri trailing in their wake.


01 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:21.269 19 laps
02 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:21.465 16 laps
03 F. Alonso Renault 1:21.599 16 laps
04 R. Kubica BMW 1:21.717 23 laps
05 J. Trulli Toyota 1:21.771 21 laps
06 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:21.942 19 laps
07 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:21.992 18 laps
08 J. Button Honda 1:22.060 17 laps
09 F. Massa Ferrari 1:22.075 16 laps
10 T. Glock Toyota 1:22.081 23 laps
11 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:22.094 15 laps
12 N. Rosberg Williams 1:22.174 19 laps
13 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:22.176 18 laps
14 K. Nakajima Williams 1:22.189 16 laps
15 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:22.220 16 laps
16 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:22.292 20 laps
17 R. Barrichello Honda 1:22.350 17 laps
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:22.466 22 laps
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:22.689 21 laps
20 T. Sato Super Aguri 1:23.726 16 laps
21 A. Davidson Super Aguri 1:23.921 15 laps
22 M. Webber Red Bull no time 2 laps
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Friday, 25 April 2008

Spanish Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen dominated proceedings on the first day's practice at the Spanish Grand Prix by recording the fastest time in both sessions. It was an impressive show from the World Champion and current championship leader as he really highlighted Ferrari's superior pace, finishing with a fastest time of the day that was over half a second quicker than the nearest non-Ferrari car.

Friday's first session was run under glorious Catalunyan sunshine in Montmelo, and the sun was shining most brightly on the Ferrari team as they blitzed the time sheets. Kimi and Massa were separated by just a fraction of a second, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton a distant third. It wasn't all plain sailing for Ferrari however, as Felipe Massa managed to spin out on the final chicane on his first flying lap, and then again lost it in turn 8. Not the perfect start to the weekend then for the hero of Bahrain.

McLaren looked decent in third and fifth place, but will no doubt be demoralised somewhat by Ferrari's dominance. Robert Kubica showed that BMW still have some decent place by splitting the McLarens, with Heidfeld down in ninth.

The team that seemed to have made the biggest step forward over the past few weeks is Renault. Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet finished sixth and seventh respectively, amarked improvement on their recent showings. Whether that will translate into good quali and race pace remains to be seen, they may just be gunning for a few practice day headlines in front of Fernando's home crowd.

Elsewhere there weren't too many surprises or thrills and spills. Jarno Trulli spun under braking for turn 10 but that was the only hairy moment of the session aside from Massa's misadventures. The midfield bunch looks as close and tightly packed as ever, making it really quite difficult to say who has got the advantage amongst the Red Bulls, Williams, Toyotas, Hondas etc. Super Aguri were unsurprisingly woefully short of pace, but frankly they will be glad just to have been able to get a few laps under their belts no matter how slow.

Practice One Times

01 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:20.649 17 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:20.699 9 laps
03 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:21.192 20 laps
04 R. Kubica BMW 1:21.568 20 laps
05 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:21.758 10 laps
06 F. Alonso Renault 1:21.933 18 laps
07 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:21.936 21 laps
08 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:22.118 20 laps
09 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:22.278 24 laps
10 J. Button Honda 1:22.632 16 laps
11 T. Glock Toyota 1:23.002 21 laps
12 N. Rosberg Williams 1:23.003 25 laps
13 M. Webber Red Bull 1:23.015 14 laps
14 J. Trulli Toyota 1:23.141 15 laps
15 K. Nakajima Williams 1:23.153 24 laps
16 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:23.156 22 laps
17 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:23.196 20 laps
18 R. Barrichello Honda 1:23.353 14 laps
19 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.952 15 laps
20 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:24.082 15 laps
21 T. Sato Super Aguri 1:24.278 14 laps
22 A. Davidson Super Aguri 1:25.068 10 laps

The second practice session again ended with Kimi Raikkonen topping the timesheets, although this time there were a few surprises as to who was filling up the space behind him. The Renaults continued their impressive showing by taking second and third; Piquet this time edging out his more experienced teammate by a hair's breadth. Kazuki Nakajima took a very unexpected fourth place in the session, beating Ferrari's Felipe Massa into fifth.

The McLarens and BMWs were way down in middle of the field, no doubt working on their long run setups. Indeed, it seems that most teams were trying out their long runs as all of the times in the session were a fair bit slower than in session one. AS such it makes it very difficult to judge who has the pace and who doesn't in that midfield area. The only things we can really know for sure are that the Ferraris are definitely ahead at the front of the pack, and the Super Aguris are definitely miles behind at the back of the grid. Everything else is a lot harder to call thus far...

Practice Two Times
01 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:21.935 38 laps
02 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:22.019 38 laps
03 F. Alonso Renault 1:22.032 26 laps
04 K. Nakajima Williams 1:22.172 35 laps
05 F. Massa Ferrari 1:22.229 32 laps
06 M. Webber Red Bull 1:22.238 36 laps
07 N. Rosberg Williams 1:22.266 33 laps
08 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:22.289 30 laps
09 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:22.383 38 laps
10 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:22.548 38 laps
11 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:22.685 33 laps
12 R. Kubica BMW 1:22.788 38 laps
13 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:23.130 40 laps
14 J. Trulli Toyota 1:23.224 34 laps
15 J. Button Honda 1:23.263 34 laps
16 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:23.264 8 laps
17 R. Barrichello Honda 1:23.415 31 laps
18 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.661 35 laps
19 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.684 37 laps
20 T. Glock Toyota 1:23.883 40 laps
21 T. Sato Super Aguri 1:25.110 30 laps
22 A. Davidson Super Aguri 1:25.163 31 laps
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Spanish Grand Prix Preview

After three weeks of preparations and frantic testing the Formula One championship battle will recommence this weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya on the outskirts of Barcelona. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will go into the race as red hot favourites for the race victory after their dominant display in Bahrain. The key point of interest of the weekend may turn out to be seeing who is the team most capable of challenging Ferrari. McLaren took a real mauling last time out, not just at the hands of the Scuderia, but from BMW too. Will Hamilton and co be in a position to fight back, or will BMW again show the consistent pace that has seen them jump to the top of the Constructor's Championship table?

Whilst the tabloids and pundits worked themselves up into a frenzy over certain salacious allegations relating to the FIA President during the past few weeks, most teams spent vital time racking up the testing mileage in Barcelona. This first race of the European season traditionally sees the first major updates and revisions to the cars of every team, and we will see just who has been the most effective in the windtunnels and laboratories back home whilst the race teams had their fun globe-trotting.

As well as the usual fine-tuning of race and qualifying setups, several of the teams used the track time to trial some rather, erm, "interesting" aerodynamic updates. A wide variety of wings, sails and other more bizarre protuberances sprouted out of certain cars, most notably Renault's Red Bull-esque engine cover 'sail', Honda's nose-cone 'bunny ears', and Ferrari's hole in the front nose-cone. How many of these will make the race set-ups of the cars, and whether they will yield any significant performance gains remains to be seen, but at least they had F1 fans talking about something other than Max Mosley's sexual predilections for a while! It was pretty hard to ascertain who had made progress from the testing times alone as most teams also got to trial some Bridgestone slick tyres in anticipation of the 2009 rule changes, which threw the timing sheets on their head for much of the test days.

The other big story over the three week break was the continuing trials and tribulations of the Super Aguri outfit. As with the run up to the Australian Grand Prix they were seemed on the brink of collapsing before again being bailed out at the eleventh hour, this time by by Honda. Whether this will allow SA to come up with a long term strategy or merely provides a stay of execution remains to be seen. However, they are in Spain and ready to race, which is great news for all concerned as they are one of the most popular of all the teams, both within the paddock and with the F1 fans. Shame that there's not much hope for them out on track with Force India looking like they may have made a step forward away from the foot of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton needs a big weekend. He would be the first to admit that Bahrain was the worst weekend he has yet had in his young career in F1, and it came at exactly the wrong time with Ferrari and BMW both finding some great form. Incredibly, there have even been some people voicing their opinion that perhaps Hamilton isn't the real deal after all. Bizarre given the absolute masterclass he gave in Australia three races ago. Such is the fickle world of Formula One...

One thing's for sure, Hamilton will not be the most popular guy amongst the vocal Spanish crowd. The Spanish F1 fans seem to hold Hamilton personally responsible for the downfall of their hero Fernando Alonso last year, and show no signs of being willing to forgive and forget just yet. Unfortunately for them, it seems that there will be little to cheer in terms of home interest as Alonso's Renault seems to be well off the pace. He'll do well just to scrap his way to a points finish; any thoughts of victories or even podiums will be right at the back of his mind. Alonso himself has already begun to voice his obvious disquiet at the current state of play at Renault, seemingly issuing a "come and get me" plea to Ferrari, a plea that has been rejected in no uncertain terms by Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo.

So finally all thoughts of prostitutes, spankings and insinuated Nazi overtones can be put to the back of people's minds for a few days at least, and we can (hopefully) have some great racing to talk about. Hallelujah.
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