13/05/2012

Spanish GP - Sunday sweep-up

Well, before the race i had made a bold prediction of a podium for Nico Hulkenberg and it turns out i was right to a certain extent:

(Maldonado winning the race, click to enlarge)

As highlighted in this picture, Nico Hulkenberg was the second person to cross the line, unfortunately he was lapped however - not a 2nd place finish.

So how did the race pan out for the Sahara Force India boys? Well both drivers had the same strategy:
Start: Used Softs
1st stop: New Soft
2nd stop: New Hard
3rd stop: New Hard

And this gave mixed fortunes for our drivers:

Hulkenberg: Started 13th, Finished 10th (+3)
di Resta: Started 12th, Finished 14th (-2)

So why did Hulkenberg make up positions while di Resta lost out? To understand this we need to look at the timing of the pit stops. di Resta made his first pit stop on lap 9, Hulkenberg on lap 10. For the second pit stops Hulkenberg pitted on lap 19, di Resta on lap 23. This is where alot of ground was lost. Hulkenberg only did 9 laps on the new set of soft tyres (from lap 10-19) whereas di Resta stayed out for 14 laps on the new softs (from lap 9-23) - a bad strategy call.

I'm not a 100% sure why the team decided to keep di Resta out so long on those soft tyres, but we must remember that they have more data than us and i'm sure any decision they made at the time was completely justified - it's only with hindsight that we know they were wrong.

Nevertheless a good effort by Paul in the race, in terms of laptime he matched Nico which was a great feat considering the Scotsman was struggling on Friday in comparison. As for Nico, he made a great race, picking up a point for the team and managing to keep Red Bull's Mark Webber behind for many laps towards the end of the Grand Prix.

I've been looking through various places on the internet which play host to Sahara Force India fans, such as their facebook page, and many have expressed concern about other "midfield" teams grabbing podiums (Sauber and Williams).

This is how the standings currently look (excluding the newer teams):
  1. Red Bull (109)
  2. McLaren (98)
  3. Lotus (84)
  4. Ferrari (63)
  5. Mercedes (43)
  6. Williams (43)
  7. Sauber (41)
  8. Force India (18)
  9. Toro Rosso (6)
I'll admit based on the standings that it doesn't look brilliant for Sahara Force India to achieve their target of 5th place in the constructors, however this doesn't tell the whole story. The thing to note is that no team really has the fastest car, everyone is relatively equal this season meaning points are freely available on a race-by-race basis. One poor lap in qualifying can literally be the difference between pole and 18th (ahead of the newer teams). We saw that this weekend; Pastor Maldonado got pole and in the same car Bruno Senna qualified 17th!

All the team need are great laps during qualifying and they'll be right up there, those podiums will come this season we just have to be patient and wait our turn is all! I'm not saying Nico & Paul have done bad laps in qualifying, they have done average laps on the most part and that's why they have been mid-grid. Infact i do remember on one occasion Paul di Resta put in a stunning lap, but it was just to get into Q3 (the top ten) not to determine his grid slot. Anyway the point is just be patient, no team has a real pace advantage over another - this championship is wide open for the top nine places!

Here's what the boys had to say after today:

Nico Hulkenberg
(Sahara Force India driver):
"A lot of hard work went into today's race so it's nice to get the reward of one point. It was a very tough race physically and there was never a moment to relax because I had Mark [Webber] filling my mirrors for the second half of the race. It was a great battle, with a lot of pressure, but fortunately I was able to keep him behind, which was not easy with the DRS on the main straight. Considering where I started it's good to score a point and I don't think we could have got much more from the race. The team did an excellent job with the pit stops and the strategy, and I'm pleased with what we achieved today".

Paul di Resta (Sahara Force India driver):
"I'm disappointed not to have been further up in the battle for points because my race was looking promising to begin with. But as things unfolded I lost track position so I think we need to analyse why our performance on the hard tyres did not meet our expectations and exactly why we lost out. My main battle in the second half of the race was with the Toro Rosso's, but they were on the soft tyres when I was on the hards and it was impossible to keep them behind me. I think it's just one of those races that didn't work out for me for whatever reason so we'll take it on the chin and look to come back stronger in Monaco".

Robert Fernley (Sahara Force India deputy team principle):
"Another very tough and competitive Grand Prix, so we are pleased to have picked up a point with Nico. It was a hard-earned point with an optimised strategy and brilliant driving, especially Nico's efforts to fend off Mark Webber in the final stages of the race. Paul was not far behind, but it was hard to keep him ahead of the Toro Rosso's because our race pace was pretty similar and so we had to settle for P14. Looking back on the weekend as a whole we've seen once again that the entire field remains incredibly competitive and that we need to keep pushing hard to optimise the developments we have made to the car. We know there is more speed to come and we hope to demonstrate that in the next few races".

Meanwhile Narain Karthikeyan retired his car after 22 laps due to a mechanical failure. It was apt for him really on a weekend where he had numerous car problems - there was not much he could do!

This is what he had to say:

Narain Karthikeyan (HRT driver):
"I had some trouble at the start with a little bit too much wheel spin, but it didn't affect me too much and by the first turn I was already back up behind Pedro. It was the first time I drove on heavy fuel this weekend so, with the first set of tyres, my objective was to get used to them. On the second set I had a really good stint and was catching Pedro as we came in for the pit stop to switch to hard tyres. That's when my bad luck continued... I hope to leave it behind in Spain and have a fresh start in Monaco".

Then later on twitter:

"Utterly disappointing weekend finally ends.. Expected a lot, but rotten luck had other ideas. Hoping to leave it behind here..But really happy to see Williams back on the top. Having been a part of Sir Frank's ship, can say he's a true racer. Wishing them the best!!"

These quotes ended the on-track action but there was more to come. An explosion in the Williams garage caused a huge fire which resulted in the entire pit lane becoming engrossed in smoke (video here) and naturally every mechanic in the vicinity grabbed any fire extinguisher they could to try and help fight the flames.

(a video still at the moment of the explosion)

The fire was eventually put out and a total of 31 F1 team members had to be seen by circuit medical staff in the aftermath. Seven of those were transferred to local hospitals. One (very brave) Sahara Force India mechanic was caught up in the incident while fighting the blaze. The team said however, on twitter, that:

"Our guy is OK on the whole. Just some coughing from all that smoke. Our guys are made of strong stuff! Thanks for all your messages."

As for all the other mechanics there were thankfully no serious injuries, or at least none reported yet, if that changes then we'll let you know.

(Senna's Williams car post-fire, click to enlarge)

I want to give the final mention on this blog to the guys who helped during that fire. They deserve a mention for their heroics - the situation could have been far worse! Good effort people! :-)

(Race winner Pastor Maldonado helps a fan during the fire, click to enlarge)


(A member from the Sky Sports F1 team (UK TV coverage) helps a Williams mechanic, click to enlarge)

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