Formula One is proving outrageously unpredictable this season. In the five opening races, there have been five different winners from five different teams: there hasn’t been so much variety to the start of a championship since 1983! At the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, it was the turn of Williams and their 200/1 shot Pastor Maldonado to take the spoils. It was his and Venezuela’s first F1 win and it was the team’s first victory since Brazil 2004.
As if to emphasise the unpredictable form of the teams, Red Bull Racing didn’t get a car on the podium, despite winning last time out in Bahrain. However, Sebastian Vettel still leads the drivers’ championship with 61 points and Red Bull Racing still leads the constructors’ championship on 109 points.
The nature of the track makes it very difficult to overtake - Webber
The weekend started well for the team. Seb Vettel recorded the second fastest time in each of Friday’s practice sessions and he was then fastest of everyone during Saturday morning practice. But that was as good as it got. Both Red Bulls bagged slightly disappointing grid positions (Vettel: 7th; Mark Webber: 11th) and the race wasn’t much better. An unscheduled front wing change on both RB8s put the drivers out of position, from where it was hard to recover on a track that’s notorious for its lack of overtaking opportunities.
Sebastian also had a drive-through penalty for a yellow flag infringement, so he did a great job to come home sixth. He even overtook three cars – Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – in the last eight laps.
“It was a difficult day at the office,” said Seb afterwards. “We need to understand what went wrong, and why I needed a front wing change because I know I didn’t hit anyone. Maybe a large bit of rubber got lodged in the wing because that can affect the performance a lot. I’m a bit frustrated.”
Seb wasn’t as frustrated as his team-mate, who finished outside the points and ended his run of 10 consecutive top four finishes. After pitting on lap 17 to replace the front wing, he dropped back to 17th and then spent many laps stuck behind the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.
“When you’re out of position at Barcelona,” says Mark, “the nature of the track makes it very difficult to overtake. You can catch people, but it’s difficult to pass them because you take a lot out of the tyres as soon as you get into their dirty air. We all use KERS at the same place and if you use the DRS as well, you end up hitting the rev limiter.”
In the end, Mark crossed the finish line 0.2s behind Hulkenberg in 11th place, just ahead of the Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne in 12th and 13th respectively. His fastest lap of the race was faster than that of race winner Maldonado, so the potential was clearly there for a better result. Hence the frustration.
As for the Toro Rosso drivers, there was little to separate Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo all weekend. They qualified 0.2s apart and were separated by just 4.8s at the chequered flag, after three pitstops apiece and 66 laps of racing.
“I managed to look after the tyres quite well, says Ricciardo. “It looked for a while as though I might have been able to challenge for 10th, but it did not pan out that way. Overall, it was a bit up and down, but at least it showed some slight progress compared to Bahrain.”
The teams now turn their attention to the Monaco Grand Prix, where a good qualifying position will be absolutely vital. “Even on a normal track,” says Webber, “you need to start at the front because that’s the only way you’re going to drive your own race. If you start towards the back, you’re going to finish towards the back because it’s very difficult to push these tyres in traffic.
“Never is a grid position more important than at Monaco, where overtaking is almost impossible. The track is a fantastic challenge; it’s one that’s relished by all of the drivers.”
Such is the competitiveness of the 2012 field that a sixth different winner in six races could be on the cards in two weeks time. That would be a first in the 62-year history of F1.