2012 Spanish Grand Prix
The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race that was held on 13 May 2012 at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. It was the fifth round of the 2012 season and the twenty-second time the Spanish Grand Prix been held at the circuit. The race was supported by the GP2 and GP3 Series.
Lewis Hamilton initially qualified on pole, but he was excluded from the results for a technical infringement, and Williams' Pastor Maldonado inherited pole. Maldonado went on to win the race, his team's first victory since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix and the first ever Formula One victory by a Venezuelan driver. Fernando Alonso finished second, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen in third.
Following criticism over the extreme sensitivity of their tyre compounds, tyre supplier Pirelli announced that they would be providing teams with the silver-banded hard compound and yellow-banded soft compound for the Spanish Grand Prix, as opposed to the soft and medium tyres they had supplied for previous races in the season.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) zone was placed in a similar position to the 2011 race. Race officials elected to place it on the start-finish straight to allow for overtaking into the first corner complex however, it was 50 metres longer than the previous year. The DRS detection point was positioned at the safety car line before the final turn, with the activation point located on the start/finish control line, creating a DRS zone of 830 metres.
Alexander Rossi replaced Heikki Kovalainen at Caterham for the first Friday practice session. In the same session, Dani Clos replaced HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, Jules Bianchi replaced Paul di Resta at Force India and Valtteri Bottas replaced Bruno Senna at Williams.
The first qualifying session of the 2012 Formula One season to be held in Europe started at 14:00 local time under bright sunshine. The ambient temperature was Script error: No such module "convert". while the track temperature was a warm Script error: No such module "convert". with wind speed a potential problem at 2.7 m/s.
The first knockout session began with the drivers apprehensive about going out first due to lots of pollen and vegetation in the air making the track dirty. In fact no car went on the track for the first four minutes of the twenty-minute session. Finally Paul di Resta broke the deadlock and, like with many previous qualifying sessions, was the first onto the track choosing to use the hard compound tyres. The two Lotus cars followed and after ten minutes sixteen drivers had set timed laps. After the first phase of the session, where drivers set initial times and then pit, Lewis Hamilton was the fastest on the hard compound tyre with a 1:23.989. Pastor Maldonado quickly eclipsed that time by six tenths of a second on the soft compound tyre with just over six minutes remaining in the session.
Jenson Button complained on the team radio that he had "massive understeer" and that his rear was "still not stable". Interestingly the two Red Bull cars waited until five minutes remained until they left their respective garages. Both, not even bothering using a set of hard tyres, went straight onto the quicker softs. Using the hard tyres at the start of Q1 had been common practice for the faster teams in the previous four races but due to how close the field was predicted to be, tyre preservation took precedence.
During the last two minutes of the session the all the drivers frantically set times as the qualifying positions changed very quickly. Hamilton went out again, this time on a set of soft tyres and set the fastest time in the 1:22s however, in hindsight he did not need to go for another run as he would have reached Q2 with his hard tyre time. As the session ended Jean-Éric Vergne was again in danger of being eliminated in the first session for the fourth time in a row, lying in seventeenth. Williams driver Bruno Senna was behind him and in the knockout zone along with the usual backrunners (Caterham, Marussia and HRT) when the time ran out on the session. However, Senna was still on a 'hot' lap had the opportunity to progress to the next session. Senna on the soft tyres had made a mistake on his previous lap in the braking zone of turn 10 which resulted in a front left tyre lock up and going wide of the apex. His sector times were close to seeing him progress but on turn 12 he pushed too hard lost control of the rear of the car, ending up in the gravel trap and leaving him eliminated from further qualifying.
Behind Senna was Vitaly Petrov who out-qualified teammate Heikki Kovalainen for the first time this season. The Caterhams were comfortably (a full second) ahead of the Marussias. Charles Pic was the faster of the two and out-qualified his much more experienced teammate, Timo Glock, for the second time this season. Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa in the first Hispania car qualified in 23rd while his teammate Narain Karthikeyan was more than three seconds behind him and more importantly outside the 107% time, set by Hamilton, that permitted him to race.
Similarly with the first session, fifteen-minute Q2 period began with no cars venturing onto the track until nearly three minutes in, again due to pollen in the air. Kamui Kobayashi was the first to set a timed lap followed by a host of other cars. Most drivers on their early first runs went on used (from Q1) soft tyres to post a time on the timesheet. Button continued to have problems with his car balance stating "still struggling with the rears" to his engineer. Early on, Hamilton led Mark Webber and Button followed by Nico Rosberg and defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.
With five minutes remaining, only four cars were out on the track – the two Lotus and Toro Rosso cars – who were the only drivers not to set a timed lap for Q2. The Lotus cars went second and third respectively on their only timed laps.
The second phase of Q2 began with two minutes remaining in the session and the only two cars not to go back out were Hamilton, sitting in first on a 1:22.465, and Webber in fourth on 1:22.977. Webber could only watch as Fernando Alonso, Vettel, Button, Kobayashi, Sergio Pérez, Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher and Pastor Maldonado all posted quicker times than him and pushed him out of the top ten shootout. Webber (twelfth) along with Button (eleventh) were the surprise eliminations of Q2 as Williams driver Maldonado posted the final – and fastest – time of the Q2 session to eliminate Button from qualifying. It was the first time in 21 races (2011 Chinese Grand Prix) that Webber had failed to make the top 10. It was also the first time since the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix that Button had failed to reach Q3.
Ferrari driver Felipe Massa posted the slowest time in Q2 and took seventeenth place in a disappointing performance. Ahead of him was Toro Rosso duo Jean-Éric Vergne (fifteenth) and Daniel Ricciardo (sixteenth) in a car that clearly lacked something on its rivals. Along with Toro Rosso, Force India looked like a midfield team for the Spanish race as Paul di Resta led German teammate Nico Hülkenberg into thirteenth and fourteenth respectively.
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi stopped on track at the conclusion of Q2 due to a hydraulic leak, and therefore could not take part in Q3. The unpredictability of this season was further highlighted with less than a second separating second to seventeenth position.
In contrast to the previous two sessions, the remaining Red Bull – Sebastian Vettel – was waiting for a few moments at the end of the pit lane for the lights to go green for the ten-minute session, and was the first to run. He began a timed lap but had slower than usual pace meaning he would simply set sector times to allow him to be ahead of Kamui Kobayashi (who could not run in Q3) and anyone else who would decide to not set a time in a bid to save tyres for the race. This also gave Vettel the option of being able to choose which tyre compound he wanted to start the race on. Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher also only set sector times without actually completing a timed lap in order to be ahead of Kobayashi on the grid.
The sole remaining McLaren of Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time with over five minutes remaining. Not much happened for the entire session as only 'banker' laps were set as a benchmark for the final two frantic minutes of action. Vettel went out on track for another lap with under two minutes left, but later decided to pit without a lap time as he thought of saving tyres for the race and that maybe he did not have the pace of the top five cars.
As the session ended, most of the cars were still on 'hot' laps so a frantic finish to the session was a high probability. Alonso took pole first as Kimi Räikkönen followed, second quickest at the time. The only running Sauber of Sergio Pérez crossed the line third fastest only to be squeezed down the order by the other Lotus of Frenchman Romain Grosjean who claimed second place from Räikkönen. Following this Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado took pole from Alonso by 0.017s only for his pole time to be beaten by Lewis Hamilton. Soon after setting the fastest time, Hamilton who had never been on pole in Barcelona, was told to stop his car before he could make it back to the pit lane.
Hamilton, on pole for the time being, was more than half a second clear of the impressive Williams of Maldonado in second. Completing the top three was another impressive performance from Ferrari's Alonso – it was the first time since the 2011 British Grand Prix that he qualified (excluding penalties) in the top three – followed by the Grosjean-led Lotus cars some seven tenths from Hamilton's time. Pérez and Rosberg rounded out the last of the drivers to complete timed laps in the Q3 session, placing sixth and seventh respectively. Neither Vettel, Schumacher nor Kobayashi set a lap time and thus had the option of choosing to start the race on either the hard or soft compound tyres. Of particular note was the difference in the top three drivers to their teammates. At McLaren, Hamilton was first yet Button was eleventh; at Williams, Maldonado was second and Senna was eighteenth; while at Ferrari Alonso was third yet teammate Massa was seventeenth.
After the session Lewis Hamilton was excluded from the results of the qualifying session due to insufficient fuel aboard his car. Over the radio his team told him to pull over immediately, however there was not enough fuel in the car to enable it to return the pits under its own power. It also did not have the one-litre fuel sample required for testing by the FIA after qualifying. This meant that Hamilton would start from the very back of the grid as per article 6.6.2 of the FIA Formula One Technical Regulations It was also the first time that Hamilton had started at the very back of the grid. At the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix Hamilton was due to start from the back due to a gearbox penalty but with Timo Glock starting from pit lane, Hamilton avoided starting last.
On review of qualifying, Mark Webber thought the track would only improve by 2–3 tenths of a second by the end of the Q2 session however, the track actually improved by more like eight tenths of a second. Later Webber said he "underestimated" other cars speed and was subsequently "caught with our pants down" highlighting the embarrassment of missing out on Q3. He also stated he was "happy" with his lap, also stating "it's the way it goes sometimes".
Of particular note was the performance of Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Pérez who both achieved their best ever qualifying results. Maldonado's previous best was seventh, set at the 2011 British Grand Prix, and his second place in Spain was elevated to pole position on the grid after Hamilton was excluded from qualifying. Similarly, Pérez also improved on his best qualifying performance achieved at the previous two grands prix (eighth position at Bahrain and China). His sixth place was elevated to fifth on the grid due to Hamilton's exclusion.
The first European race of the 2012 season began at 12:00 UTC (14:00 local) under cloudy conditions. The ambient temperature was Script error: No such module "convert". while the track temperature was Script error: No such module "convert"., 6 °C (11 °F) degrees cooler than the Saturday qualifying. The wind speed was still around the 2.5 m/s mark from the previous days qualifying.
Despite all but the top seven drivers having the option of starting on either compound tyre, all of the grid choose to start on the faster but higher degrading yellow banded soft ‘option’ tyre. As the five red lights went out Fernando Alonso got a great start as the Williams of Pastor Maldonado attempted to push him to the dirty side of the track. Maldonado couldn't match the Ferrari's start and aggressiveness and was beaten to the first turn by Alonso who (like 2011) led his home grand prix from the first turn. Finn Kimi Räikkönen led Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean while 5th to the first turn was Sauber's Sergio Pérez. The two Mercedes followed Pérez with Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull and Jenson Button's McLaren rounding out the top 8. Red Bull teammate Mark Webber had another poor start from the grid dropping places to both Force Indias, the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa and Jean-Éric Vergne's Toro Rosso, leaving him in 15th by turn 1.
Turn three saw Grosjean and Pérez make contact just enough for Pérez to receive a left rear puncture and struggle to avoid the gravel trap. Lewis Hamilton, starting from 24th, was 20th by the end of lap 1 while Vergne and Massa made great starts after promoting themselves to 10th and 11th respectively.
Pérez, limping to the pits, chose to fit hard compound tyres, which proved to be quicker (at the time) than the soft tyres used by the rest of the field. Marussia F1's Charles Pic also had a bad start, going into a spin at the rear of the field, but was able to recover and continue the race.
The two Red Bull drivers, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, made very early pit stops on laps 7 and 8 respectively, switching to the harder tyres. After lap 9 the Red Bull and Sauber teams were the only cars to have pitted, all choosing hard compound tyres. Sauber was thought to pit Kamui Kobayashi in order to cover the early-stopping Red Bulls. At this stage the Hamilton was charging his way through the field while the three at the front (Alonso, Maldonado, and Räikkönen) were building a twelve-second gap to 4th-placed Grosjean.
Shortly afterwards, the majority of the other drivers made their first scheduled pit stop, with Lotus, Mercedes and Force India the only front running teams to opt for the soft compound tyre again. On lap 13, Michael Schumacher hit Bruno Senna from behind after misjudging his braking, forcing both of them out of the race. Hamilton, who was using a two-stop strategy, was running as high as 4th place when he finally pitted on lap 15. On the exit of his pit box, Hamilton appeared to run over something. Replays suggested that he could have hit a used tyre that a mechanic was holding. Mark Webber ran into problems on lap 17, losing several places from 13th place before pitting for the second time, where he was fitted with a new nose cone and a new set of hard tyres. Crucially for the Australian, before he lost front wing performance he led a train of six cars all close behind each other.
The next round of pit stops occurred between laps 23 and 28. Come lap 25, Maldonado's stop proved to be faster, and he ‘undercut’ Alonso from the pits to emerge ahead, taking the lead when Räikkönen pitted. Alonso pitted on lap 27 and prior to the pit stop was shown waving his hand in disgust at Charles Pic for not allowing the faster Ferrari to pass the lapped Marussia. Narain Karthikeyan stopped at the end of the pit lane on track during lap 25, one of his wheels apparently not correctly fitted after his pit stop.
Soon after, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa were both handed drive through penalties for failing to slow for a yellow flag warning, presumably for the flags shown at the turn 1 Schumacher/Senna incident.
After the Lotus cars switched back from soft to hard tyres, their pace was visibly more competitive with the leaders and it became clear a strategic error had occurred. Lap 34 saw a daring move from the Japanese driver Kobayashi on 2009 world champion Button where he out braked Button on the inside of turn 5 and gently nudged him further out of his way. Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle said “you know when you’ve been KK’d” referring to Kobayashi’s initials and his attacking overtaking style.
At this stage of the race, Maldonado, Alonso or Räikkönen looked to be the only drivers with a realistic chance of winning the grand prix. Webber, after his front wing replacement, was stuck behind Nico Hülkenberg in the second Force India and could not find enough straight line speed to pass him under DRS. Many cars hit the rev limiter down the front straight early and relied on delayed braking to complete a pass.
Hamilton made his second and final pit stop from 7th place on lap 36, rejoining the race in 14th place. Soon afterwards, Charles Pic withdrew from the race with mechanical problems, having just been handed a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags for the Alonso incident. The final retirement occurred on lap 40, when a botched pit stop and transmission problems ended Sergio Pérez's race.
At the head of the field, Alonso was making steady inroads into Maldonado's lead, cutting it to 6 seconds by lap 38. On Maldonado’s final pit stop, a slight delay occurred when there was trouble with the left rear wheel. This delay cost him 2-3 valuable seconds and, it was thought at the time, perhaps the race. Unusually, the other Red Bull, Vettel, also got his front wing changed on lap 44. Following his final pit stop (lap 49), Räikkönen also began to make up ground on the two leaders.
Räikkönen after his final it stop was 22.809seconds down on the leader but fresher tyres meant that he would have a speed advantage for the last 16 laps. Alonso eventually caught the back of Maldonado but did not have the ability to overtake him. Maldonado was clear on his focus of tyre preservation. The gap hovered around one second for some time until Alonso started dropping off.
Räikkönen was consistently gaining one second a lap on the leaders and his team thought that they would be in the best position for the win when Maldonado and Alonso’s tyres hit the performance ‘cliff’. Meanwhile, Kobayashi took 5th from Rosberg at turn 10 under brakes and Webber was still stuck right behind the Force India of Hülkenberg. All the while a fast Vettel passed Hamilton and Rosberg in the closing stages to eventually claim 6th behind the sole remaining Sauber.
It appeared that the more experienced Alonso would eventually regain the lead, but Maldonado withstood the pressure and eventually Alonso decided to settle for second, rather than risk losing any more traction on his tyres. Räikkönen's late surge proved insufficient to take second place. The win for Maldonado was his first in Formula One and eclipsed his previous best result - 8th in China. In fact it was only his third ever points scoring finish in 24 races. It was also Williams best result since the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Räikkönen's team-mate Romain Grosjean finished 4th, driving a steady race after the first lap incident with Pérez. Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastian Vettel overtook Nico Rosberg late in the race for 5th and 6th places respectively. Lewis Hamilton finished a meritorious 8th after starting from the back of the grid, with Jenson Button and Nico Hülkenberg (who had kept Mark Webber (11th) behind from lap 22 until the end) taking the final points. It was also Kamui Kobayashi's equal best result of his Formula One career, matching his previous best of 5th from the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix.
After the race, the stewards gave Michael Schumacher a five-place grid penalty at the next race, Monaco, after he crashed into Bruno Senna and caused them both to retire. This penalty was applied in accordance with article 16.1 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations.
Pit lane fire
Ninety minutes after the race, the Williams garage caught fire. Pit crews from several teams were able to bring the blaze under control. Thirty-one people were injured, with seven transferred to local hospitals. All were later released. Early accounts surfaced suggesting that the fire was caused by fuel that exploded while being prepared for a routine post-race inspection. Photographs taken at the scene showed Senna's car as being the point of origin of the fire, which ignited when a fuel rig used to drain the car started leaking, while other reports suggested that a spark from the KERS unit initiated the blaze. Senna's FW34 was damaged as a result; Maldonado's car was not in the garage at the time. Teams were reported as loaning equipment to Williams for the Monaco Grand Prix to replace everything that was lost in the fire. Maldonado rescued his twelve-year-old cousin Manuel from the fire, as he had a broken foot.
The event took place between the 11–13 May where throughout the weekend there was a range of support events. Taking part in the FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA SANTANDER 2012 program was the opening round of the 2012 GP3 Series (two 16 lap races); the fourth round of the 2012 GP2 Series (1 feature race, 1 sprint race); and the second round of the 2012 Porsche Supercup season (1 race). However, the Porsche Supercup race was cancelled due to safety concerns.
- ^1 — Narain Karthikeyan failed to post a time within 107% of the fastest in the first part of qualification, but the stewards later allowed him to take part in the race.
- ^2 — Lewis Hamilton, who set a 1:21.707 qualifying time in Q3 and subsequently would have started from pole position, was excluded from the qualifying results for violating the rules by not having enough fuel to return to the pits. However, the stewards allowed him to start at the back of the grid for the race.
- ^3 — Kamui Kobayashi did not run in Q3 due to a hydraulic leak at the conclusion of Q2.
- ^4 — Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel did not complete a timed lap in Q3. However, they did complete sector times which put them ahead of Kobayashi and determined their grid positions. This was due to both drivers wanting to save tyres and have the choice of both compounds for the start of the race.
Championship standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
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This still from Sky Sports shows the initial fire from driver Bruno Senna's car. It is believed the team had been taking photos when a fuel rig being used to drain Senna's car leaked and a flash fire erupted.
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