Ah! Back in fairytale Europe. Somehow, there is nothing quite like looking forward to a Sunday evening of F1, and the spectacular European circuits nestled among mountains really add to the sheen of the sport.
Home hero Fernando Alonso flattered to deceive as Finland’s Iceman Kimi Raikkonen drove to victory from pole at the Spanish Grand Prix. The weather was perfect for a race, a nice, sunny day (proving the weathermen wrong yet again), and the Ferrari camp made no mistake, Felipe Massa finishing second to give the team their successive 1-2 finish. With three consecutive wins between them, Raikkonen and Massa have managed to steer their team to the top of the constructors’ championship with 47 points, clear of BMW, the best of the rest, by 8 points.
The race at this picturesque circuit of Catalunya was a far cry from the unexciting race in Bahrain. The start itself provided a bit of a shuffle in the orders, as Massa overtook Alonso to move into second place, while Lewis Hamilton eased into fourth in his McLaren Mercedes with a manoeuvre on BMW’s Robert Kubica. Hamilton finished third, coming back on the podium for the first time this season after his victory in Australia. All did not go well for the McLaren team, however, with the left front tyre on Heikki Kovalainen’s car going bust; he slammed into the tyre wall, his car having to be extricated with much trouble. He luckily escaped injury, but the incident did throw the race into a tizzy as the safety car had to be brought out. Nick Heidfeld made the mistake of pitting while the safety car was on track, paying for it later with a 10 second stop-and-go penalty in the pit lane.
Earlier, Adrian Sutil’s race in his Force India came to a premature end as he collided with Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel, putting them both out of the race. Nelsinho Piquet of Renault had a run-in with Sebastien Bourdais, ending the race for the two drivers. Renault’s miseries were compounded as Alonso had an engine failure, failing to finish his home race. The heat in Bahrain apparently overworked quite a few engines, for Nico Rosberg suffered a similar fate in his Williams. However, his teammate, Kazuki Nakajima, picked up two points.
Vijay Mallya might have lost a bit of sleep with things not quite going his way in the IPL. Sutil didn’t do anything to alleviate his sorrow, but thanks to the fight put up by Giancarlo Fisichella, Mallya still has some reason for hope. Fisi staved off Heidfeld’s efforts bravely before being overtaken by the much better performing BMW. The Italian finished a commendable tenth in a race that saw only thirteen finishers. There was another battle between David Coulthard’s Red Bull and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato, which the Scottish veteran won. These were not the only moments of worry for Coulthard; he earlier had a collision with Toyota’s Timo Glock, which sent the German limping with front wing damage, and a problem with his own rear suspension, causing his rear left tyre to wear away and bringing him smoking and bumping into the pit lane.
The safety car periods brought some changes into the race; I believe Raikkonen would have opened a bigger gap on his rivals than he could manage, if not for the stints behind the safety car. I also have a question about the pit lane regulations during the safety car period. If the pit lane is closed and a car is running out of fuel, shouldn’t it be allowed to pit? It boils down to sheer ill luck, then, as was possibly the case with Heidfeld.
The top order remains unchanged, the front runners are doing well. Reliability, however, has become a question with the McLaren team, as they haven’t really been able to match last year’s form. Bourdais and Piquet are yet to impress; freak incidents don’t really raise their stakes in the high pressure world of F1. Rosberg has been having a torrid time as well, and being outdone by Nakajima is certainly not what he is looking forward to. Kubica has been consistent, and it will be good to see him pick up his first win this season, but the BMWs really need to up their game to match Ferrari. There is much at stake, and the picture will get clearer as the season progresses with the next race in Turkey.