Wow. Just wow. The 2012 Formula 1 season has been truly amazing so far. The first four races gave us four different winners from four different teams and a lot of surprises. We’re seeing some new drivers show that they are competitive and some of the old timers are finally finding their way to the top of the podium: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg had his first ever Formula 1 victory in the Chinese grand prix, while Sergio Pérez managed to get his Sauber over the finish line for a very promising second place in Malaysia, just two seconds behind the race winner, Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso.
This weekend’s grand prix, the Formula 1 Gran Premio de España Santander at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, was no exception in terms of surprises. It all began during qualifying, when big names like McLaren’s Jenson Button and Red Bull driver Mark Webber suddenly failed to get through to Q3. The Spanish track has never been Button’s favorite, but Webber started from pole in 2011. For failing to make it to Q3 he blamed the team for telling him that he did not have to go out of the pits to do a new lap He was under the impression that his time in Q2 was good enough to advance to Q3, but with 12 of 17 cars running in Q2 on laps within the same second (1:22), that’s not a gamble you can take.
The real bomb shells during qualifying, however, were McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and William’s Venezuelan driver, Pastor Maldonado.
From pretty much out of nowhere, Maldonado appears and crushes everyone in Q2. He is almost as good in Q3, only beaten by Hamilton who does an absolutely incredible lap, beating Maldonado by over half a second. But the Brit is forced to abandon his car on the track, not able to reach the pits after having completed his stunning flying lap. The rules state that the car has to have enough fuel to return to the pits and provide a fuel sample for inspection. Because Hamilton violated the rule, he was pushed all the way to the back of the grid on race day, meaning that Pastor Maldonado started from pole position.
Fernando Alonso managed to get past Maldonado during the start of the race, but the Venezuelan kept up and eventually managed to get past Alonso again. Elsewhere on the track, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa were awarded drive through penalties for something they did during a yellow flag situation. Exactly what they did is unclear to me, but a drive through penalty can be pretty devastating for a driver as it means he’ll be pushed back about 20 seconds in the field. Massa eventually finished 15th, while Vettel managed to get all the way to 6th, only three seconds behind 5th place.
The reason for the yellow flag situation that resulted in the drive through penalties was Michael Schumacher attempt at driving his Mercedes through the Williams of poor Bruno Senna. Both drivers were forced to retire after the incident, which Schumacher clearly felt was Senna’s fault, calling him an “idiot” while communicating with the team on his radio. The stewards, however, thought otherwise and Schumacher was given a five grid penalty for the next race in Monaco in two weeks. Everything looks different from the car’s cockpit, but from the TV pictures it clearly looks like the German simply rams Senna.
In the end, Pastor Maldonado wins the race for Williams, their first win since 2004. In the first 5 races of the 2012 seasons we have now had 5 different winners from 5 different teams. A great birthday present for William’s team principal Frank Williams, who celebrated his 70th birthday just yesterday.
But the action didn’t stop there. After the race was over, an explosion rocked the Williams garage. It is believed that an failure in a KERS unit caused the fuel rig in the back of the garage to explode, engulfing Bruno Sennas retired FW34 in flames. Everything looked very dramatic for a while and Sky Sports has some pictures from the ordeal. In the end, no one was seriously hurt, four Williams staff were sent to the hospital for precautionary checks, together with one Force India and four Caterham team members.
The F1 tweeters were quite active during the fire, with both text and pictures coming in at a steady pace. Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen was the first to break the news with a picture of a smoke filled paddock. Then a picture of Senna’s scorched FW34 surfaced, together with a picture of race winner Pastor Maldonado carrying his cousin out of the Williams garage after the fire broke out.
Pastor Maldonado: Becomes the first Venezuelan to ever win a Formula 1 race and saves his cousin. All in a day’s work.
Here’s a video from the BBC of the incident. If the video is gone when you try to watch it, it’s because Formula 1 videos are usually removed quite quickly from the interwebs. If there’s something Formula 1 related online somewhere that Bernie doesn’t make any money off of, he makes sure it disappears without a trace.