That Williams feeling: Spain 2012

Photo: LAT Photographic
I need to get something off my chest. I didn’t watch the Spanish Grand Prix. Not live anyway. It’s the first time in over three years I couldn’t find a television to watch a race live, and it just so happened to be the much anticipated Williams comeback Grand Prix. Typical.
I must also confess something else – I never thought I’d be writing about Pastor Maldonado’s first Grand Prix win. Be honest – you also thought this day would never come. Pastor was supposed to be the epitome of the pay driver – so much so that he was backed by an entire country. The pet project of a wealthy international leader. He was never supposed to win, just make up the numbers. Well, how wrong we were.
Maldonado took his first win in commanding style. No longer the accident prone also-ran, he drove a calculated race to out-wit none other than Fernando Alonso – who I consider to be the best driver on today’s grid – all the way to the finish. With the exception of a brief pit stop mistake, the race always seemed in hand.
What this win really does highlight is a fact that we’ve been vaguely aware of for the last five or ten years, but are only now having to accept. Formula One, with a 24-driver cap, only has room for the best. Some of these 24 are paying to be here, but their talents can no longer be discounted. Every driver on this grid has the potentially to be a Grand Prix winner in their own right.
With two new winners already, 2012 looks to be the season to prove this rule.
I haven’t written the regular race report today, since there seemed little point so many hours after the race had been run. Instead, here are three key themes I took from today’s race. Have a think about them.
Williams’ return to form
There isn’t much to say here, really – which is a great start to this article. Before this round, it had been eight years since the once-great Williams team had last tasted victory. With the exception of Nico Hulkenberg’s fluke (but totally deserved) pole position at Brazil in 2010, it was the team’s first P1 start for seven years. This win had been due for an extraordinarily long time.
Williams is arguably one of the three top teams in Formula One – alongside Ferrari and McLaren. Its dominance in the 1980s and 1990s is the stuff of legend. However, for the past decade, the team has struggled to rekindle that form that made it famous – culminating in what was its worst ever season in 2011.
To its credit, it’s bounced back – and a significant part of this form reversal is down to Adam Parr, who oversaw wholesale changes across both the executive and operational staff. Parr left earlier in the year in mysterious circumstance – rumours that a rift between he and Bernie Ecclestone left him with no choice but to leave Formula One are well known. It makes me sad that Parr could not be with the team to see it take this historic win.
What does make me happy is that this victory can now provide that fresh start Williams has been so sorely searching for. The team is in a state of transition, with co-found Patrick Head having stepped down last year, and team principal Sir Frank Williams creating an exit plan for himself as well. These events have been unfolding during dark times within the team. It’s nice to think that the personnel changeover might now be completed during happier, more optimistic, times.
Fernando Alonso vs Felipe Massa
So many words have been written about this intra-team battle, and there are certainly far more to come before the end of the season.
Felipe Massa has, since his return in 2010, paled in comparison to Fernando Alonso. Alonso is, in my opinion, the finest Formula One driver on the grid, and one I never expected Massa to dominate. However, the Brazilian’s total lack of performance against the double World Champion has been disappointing – to say the bare least.
It struck me as a poignant moment today that, as he battled with Maldonado for the lead, Alonso lapped Massa. True, Massa was handed a drive-through penalty for ignoring yellow flags, so was further back than he perhaps should have been, but nonetheless – when this updated Ferrari is evidently capable of high top-six finishes, it should be inconceivable that one of the team’s drivers be languishing amongst the backmarkers.
It does truly seem only a matter of time until Massa is asked to leave Maranello, and never come back. This makes me incredibly sad, as I wrote in the lead up to this season. Who does Ferrari employ in his place? Sergio Perez is undoubtedly a future Scuderia driver, but it seems the team would prefer him to complete another year with Sauber before being called up to the big leagues. Mark Webber? Perhaps, perhaps – though Red Bull doesn’t seem ready just yet to promote either of its STR drivers, and have become rather chummy with Webber since rumours of his leaving have surfaced.
Whatever the case, I do not believe it will happen before the end of the season – both because this doesn’t seem like Ferrari’s style, and because it could be significantly detrimental to the new driver’s career. See: Luca Badoer/Giancarlo Fisichella. Massa has the rest of 2012 to prove himself – though the likelihood of this happening looks increasingly dim.
Michael Schumacher and Pirelli’s tyres
Michael Schumacher has been making headlines for his criticism of Pirelli’s latest iteration of rubber. He’s not been happy with the 2012-spec tyres, believing them to be too weak to foster what one might call ‘real racing’.
Schumacher feels that he can’t drive his car as hard as possible because looking after the tyres is of such primary concern – so temperamental are they. Some of the older drivers – Mark Webber, for example – seem to agree with him to some degree, while many of the younger driver don’t know what older-spec tyres were like, so don’t understand the issue.
Up until this point I was inclined to disagree with the seven-times World Champion. The tyres seemed to be consistent, which is what matters – the compounds aren’t falling apart spontaneously. But after five rounds, something feels… amiss… to me.
It’s something I can’t quite place my finger on. There’s no doubt that the racing this season is excellent for the spectators. But is Formula One moving too far in the novelty direction?
There’s certainly no-one to blame, I should add. The sport had to act in order to foster strategy once refuelling was banned, and the tyres are the logical first place to look for alterations. Moreover, Pirelli must be commended for its excellent job producing tyres to the brief with which it was supplied. The tyres we have are exactly those for which we asked.
For all I know, the order established in Spain will be the order that continues for the rest of the season, and it this post would become redundant. But if this is not the case, and the performance of the teams continue to bounce around at random, then Michael Schumacher is right to say we must seriously reconsider whether this is the Formula One we want. Yes, it’s great to watch – but what’s the point when performance seems to come by chance?

 Get rid of the 5 cent coin and 10. I want all notes no coins go @MichaelLamonato

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