Le Grand Retour
Paul Ricard 2018
French Grand Prix
Button heads tight Spanish GP field as Red Bull and Lotus challenge
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 May 2012   |  3:14 pm GMT  |  75 comments

It’s going to be a very closely contested Spanish Grand Prix, with McLaren looking like the pace setters but Red Bull and Mercedes there on qualifying pace and Lotus right right there on race pace, judging from today’s practice sessions.

Jenson Button set the fastest time in Friday’s second free practice session, ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull and Rosberg’s Mercedes, but it was the performance of the Lotus cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean (5th and 6th today), which caught the eye on the long runs. They both managed long runs on the soft Pirelli tyre which were both fast and consistent and hint at them challenging for the win on Sunday as they did in Bahrain. Lower temperatures are forecast for Sunday, so that could make things more difficult for them.

The high track temperatures certainly helped. It was 44 degrees for most of the afternoon, which suits the Lotus and they will be hoping that the temperatures stay high for Sunday.

“It was a positive afternoon,” said Jenson Button. “I did a good lap on the Option tyre, the car is running well, and our upgrades seem to be working. But there are still some improvements to be made. There are a lot of quick cars out there, but, aerodynamically, I think we’ve got a strong car.”

There was a lot of expectation going into this weekend about the heavily revised Ferrari; the team have at least six major changes on the car this weekend, including a new nose, front wing details, turning vanes, sidepods, exhausts, rear wing and floor.

Alonso was managing expectations yesterday in his press briefings, saying that this was only the first step to closing up the gap to the front runners, which had been around 1.2 to 1.5 seconds per lap. It’s likely that the gap will turn out to be around 0.9s, once we see the outright pace in qualifying. Alonso was only 14th today, as he had to abort his first lap on his soft tyre run and set the time on his second lap, when the tyres were past their best in sector three. Team mate Massa was 11th fastest on 1m 24.4s a second off the McLaren’s pace.

The Ferrari’s race pace was stronger and Alonso said after practice that he will be closer to the front runners than it looks. I also think he’s targeting being closer to the winner at the end of the race than he has been in the first races of this year. He was almost a minute behind Vettel in Bahrain.

“First impressions are positive,” said Alonso. “Some parts worked as we expected, others less so, but broadly speaking, it confirms the tendency we had already seen in Mugello last week, which is that the data emerging form the wind tunnel has been been confirmed on track.”

Lewis Hamilton also had a messy lap on new soft tyres, with lock ups, he set his fastest time on the second lap, so there’s more to come from him.

It looks like the first lap is the fastest on the soft tyre, so it’s important for drivers to get it right on that one lap. Also the gap between the soft and hard tyres looks like it’s around 1.2 seconds in qualifying. This will come down in the race.

There are many changes and updates on the cars this weekend, as one would expect for the first European race of the season, especially after a three day test like the one in Mugello last week. Many of the updates we saw there are on the cars here, some are not, like the revised exhausts on the Williams and Caterham, which ran in Mugello but are not on the car here.

There’s a lot of emphasis across the board on the front wings, improving the air flow to the rest of the car and on exhaust positioning. There’s no sign yet of anyone copying the Mercedes double DRS system.

After the session the drivers met to discuss the controversial moves by Nico Rosberg in Bahrain and Lewis Hamilton overtaking him by going off track. It seems that the issue was hotly debated and nothing has changed for the moment, but FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting will discuss with stewards before Sunday’s race whether they should take a zero tolerance to taking advantage by going off track, or exercise discretion, depending on circumstances. Schumacher argued for the former, Vettel argued for the latter.

For all the latest news from Barcelona, including drivers’ reactions to the day’s practice and breaking news stories go to JA on F1 Connect

SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, Free Practice 2
1. Jenson Button McLaren 1m23.399 38
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m23.563s + 0.164 38
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.771s + 0.372 41
4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m23.909s + 0.510 32
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m23.918s + 0.519 32
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m23.964s + 0.565 37
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m24.065s + 0.666 34
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.080s + 0.681 36
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m24.214s + 0.815 41
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m24.365s + 0.966 22
11. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m24.418s + 1.019 35
12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m24.422s + 1.023 32
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m24.468s + 1.069 40
14. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.600s + 1.201 33
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.688s + 1.289 30
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m24.733s + 1.334 34
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m24.769s + 1.370 37
18. Bruno Senna Williams 1m25.047s + 1.648 42
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.296s + 2.897 36
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m26.740s + 3.341 35
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m27.314s + 3.915 27
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m27.664s + 4.265 30
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m28.235s + 4.836 26
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT no time 2

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Brent McMaster

James, It must be non-stop for you over a race weekend and the fact you take the time to respond to your readers is really exceptional. I am sure I speak for the vast majority of the readers; thank you for thinking of us. It is unbelievable that we can have such a great contact, in the heart of the action, no matter where you are in the world. You do an amazing job.


It’s very full on these days, but I’m glad you appreciate it!


Hi James,

Firstly, let me say that you’re doing a great job in your new BBC 5 live role. I really enjoy it during FP1 when you’re in the pit lane and also when in commentary.

Could I ask for something for future races. During FP2, for the last 30 minutes or so, you know everyone usually goes out on high fuel and does a start of race simulation. I know you mentioned the odd lap time from that but, Crofty generally goes into quite a bit more detail about it, comparing the leading runners times lap by lap. So say Vettel does a 1.30.1, Webber a 1.30.5, Hamilton a 1.29.8, etc. It’s also nice to know how many laps they’ve done on their runs. So you could refer to Hamilton doing a 1.29.8 on the 10th lap of his run (which was the case on his prime tyre run yesterday). I know you can see laps on the live timing app as they happen but I know Crofty usually had access to all the laps so he could look back at previous lap history in real-time during the practice session. Maybe the BBC do not have this facility now? If not, could you ask – it’s the same thing that is produced on the FIA website after the session, but just having it in real-time during the session.

Let me be clear, this is not a criticism or a comparison between you and Crofty – it’s just that part of practice for me is usually the most exciting part because it’s where you get a better comparison of race pace and true overall pace. Another hint is that Mark Hughes in his analysis generally says Red Bull usually run a 2nd stint fuel load, compared to McLaren for example who run a 1st stint fuel load. This has been the case for a long time now, however, at the last race in Bahrain, I think Red Bull did run a 1st stint fuel load. Also here, seeming as Red Bull were slower than McLaren on both tyres on heavy fuel and Martin Whitmarsh has said they were on full tanks, then for Red Bull’s sake, they best be on full tanks as well. It’s just that kind of information that im interested in and enjoy being summarised.


Ok got it


“It seems that the issue was hotly debated and nothing has changed for the moment”

Not quite – we do know that Rosberg’s rather violent swerve is entirely legal so long as it’s done before the following car gets any sort of overlap (and as long as the defending car doesn’t cross the edge of the track at all – which I think Rosberg did briefly in one of the manoeuvres).

It also seemed as though Hamilton’s pass off the track would probably now be penalised – although as you say this isn’t entirely clear.

If anything, the guidance has shifted in favour of defense.


Yep he’s a grub.(clever one). Gotta say he is right about tyres though


let the great tire…nursing, coddling, pampering race begin.

roll up, roll up..see the driver that manages the tyres win, while the fastest finishes 5 or, 6 or 10 or whatever

this is getting ridiculous.

water cannons on the rear wing might make for an unpredictable race, or pot holes in the track..why dont we try that next..it will make it exciting wont it, woo hoo.


How wonderful to see that Schumacher now demands ‘zero tolerance’ for bending/breaking the rules. How many DWC’s would that have cost him had that (correct) approach been taken earlier in his career?





comes to mind.


…and a Benetton with traction control?


My understanding is that Valtteri Bottas has already signed for McLaren next season.

Test driver? Or replacement?


I predict the Lotus cars will take out the first 4 positions in the race! Thats how good their race pace looks.


James,as a long suffering williams supporter i am interested in your views on bottas.The lad seems very quick.


Yes. Looks good. Liked him in GP3. Let’s see how he is with more experience.


Can you tell me how the new McLaren high nose works without it looking so ugly? And do you think McLaren have lost ground on the others by using the youngsters in the recent test session in Italy?


No offence but what is it with people asking James technical questions? He’s a reporter, not technical director or designer. You might find better answers if the question was directed to some other like Gary Anderson who’d have lots to tell.

john wainwright

Be nice if James could get Gary Anderson on here as a sort of guest spot. What’d you think James???

James Clayton

I dunno, the new McLaren nose does look pretty ugly to me…


Their nose was lower to start with hence no step required initially or with the subsequent change in design.

New nose reminds me of last years Mercedes which I rather liked.


On autosport, it is said that, like Alonso, also Kimi did his fastest lap on the second flying lap (having made an error on the first one). Considering this, do you think the 0.7s between Kimi and Fernando is indicative of the relative performance of Lotus and Ferrari?


Any comment on Bottas’ (Williams reserve driver) running in the morning session? Based on times, he seemed to be doing very well, one might expect him to get a race seat next season.


Yes and he’s favoured by Toto Wolff who is increasingly important at Williams


Who will get the shove out of the team? Both their current drivers bring cash, talent and being well liked in the team didn’t do Nico Hulkenberg any favours there when trying to keep his seat for the second year. On the subject of Nico Hulkenberg and based on Jackie Stewart comments on Paul what do you make of the inteam battle at Force India so far James? Have my eye on it, two talented drivers with good repuations from the junior formulas reminds me of Ralf Schumacher and Fischella at Jordan 97.


Does he have any particular backing?


he was managed by toto and mika~~~ possible link to mclaren or merc due to the connection of mika~~


Lotus is probably the best package, but the team has no ckue how to get the maximum. So sad….

Michael Grievson

They could have had a lot more points. I hope they continue to do well.

I hope Kimi wins a race soon


Agreed. Had things gone a little better for Kimi and Lotus, he could’ve been leading the battle/near the top of the drivers standings. That wouldve made for big headlines!

I fear they’ll drop back in development though. Hoping they can keep in touch.

Also looking forward to Kimi at Monaco! 😀


Yes, every race they made a mistake. In first race, Kimi and the team were sleeping, in the second it was penalty due to gearbox change, in the third it was aiming too high than settling for a comfortable fifth place and in the end got nothing and in the last race, being very conservative and settling for second instead of the fifth & also allowing their drivers to race each other when there was no need and giving up win due to that.

Now if a single person is responsible for all these (or at least three excluding the gearbox change), that person must be fired from his job.


“settling for second instead of the fifth” should read as “settling for second instead of a win”.


Not sure about qualy but come race day, Ferrari will be very strong especially their start is very good.

If they can’t aim for pole, I have a feeling Mercedes will not go out on Q3.

I noticed that after the first practice, Horner was not very happy. I don’t think they have the strong race package.

Overall Lotus seems to be the fastest package followed by McLaren.

Andrew Carter

Its amazing, with all their recent problems with the name, finance and ownership that Lotus (or Team Enstone as Autosport has started calling them) seem to have come up with the best car.


Can anyone direct me to where I can find long run times from today?

Also, what is the different between the soft and the harder tyre over one lap? Wondering if any of the top teams would be able to get away running the harder tyre in Q1.


The below link has got the details and you may need to review the live updates from any of the reporting sites to understand what type of tire the drivers were using when they did those times.


As per the article,

Also the gap between the soft and hard tyres looks like it’s around 1.2 seconds in qualifying.


Thanks for the info and the link too! 🙂 And wow, quite a big gap between the two. I guess some or maybe all the front runners may have to use a set of softs to be sure of safety.


James, do you have any updates on the lotus steering column problem?

Were they still experimenting with Kimi’s steering today? Mystery why they didn’t use Mugello to fix that once and for all?


It has not been resolved. Actually he missed the morning session in Monte Carlo because of this problem. The reason why they did not resolve this issue in Mugelo is that some people in Lotus have their own interests to promote Grosjean on the expense of Kimi. Imagine how much will the price of Grosjean go up if he bits Kimi this season.


They’ve seemed to have stopped mentioning it.

So one could assume they’ve fixed it.


Lotus seem to be in great shape.

It’s a pity that this track has a too short DRS activation zone.


They’ve extended it…

Tornillo Amarillo

The best nurse will win!!!


Actually even jenson button (nurse manager general) said of practice that he changed one tiny aspect of set up and instantly went 0.6 secs faster. His comment was essentially get the tyre set up in that very narrow window and it’s wonderful, get it even slightly wrong and it’s dreadful.

So it’s not even about nursing the tyres. It’s like praying to the gods that you find win the tyre lottery with set up, temp, surface at that particular lap at that particular time.

It’s not the ‘nurses’ who’ll win – it’s the ‘lucky guessers’!


agree :'(


100% agree!

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

My thoughts exactly….let’s condemn the true racers on the grid.


Sad but true!


Dear James,

I understand that Michael has reworked rear suspension? How does that impact his performance?

Also any where i can hear your talk show on BBC with Gary Anderson?


SK Anand


I think it’s available if you have an iPhone app called “tune in radio” search five live and schedule it’s usually available to listen to. Im sure there is something similar on android or whatever you may use.


I don’t think it’s available on re-run.

It was great, very detailed. Very interesting


Thanks James. Any interesting upshots from it?

And…about michael’s rear suspension, does it help him with respect to the tire management?



So yet again it seems like track temperature and how this effects the tyres could define the result on Sunday, roll the dice and pray to the weather gods, great!

Andrew Carter

Some people seriously need to brush up on their history. Ambient weather conditions have had an effect on tyre performance, whatever the tyres, for the last 15 years+. Every year there are always cars that work their tyres better in hot conditions and cars that work them better in cool conditions.

I swear, if the olympics had a catagory for complaining, F1 fans would clean sweep the podium.


Andrew, as a long term follower of F1 and part-time/weekend kart mechanic for my son I am well aware of the fact that tyres are indeed affected by track and ambient temp changes along with track surface and many other factors.

Different fans prefer different elements and aspects of motorsport. My personal preference is for rubber that can operate in a more uniform manor across a wider temp range then this year’s crop of black bands. I thought last year the tyres were much better at handling temp variation, they were still effected, just not as much.

Do you think the result would be different if Monaco 92 was on tyres like we have today? Surly Mansell would have passed Senna for the win and my mum would have been well chuffed.

Perhaps we could enter a team of moaners together in the Olympics, I will bring my Goodyear’s.

Andrew Carter

From what I gather, the tyres this year are fairly similar in construction to last year, though a step softer on compound, so the working tempreture range shouldn’t be that much different. What everybody is labeling as “Crazy Pirelli Tyres” is rubbish, it is in fact a side effect of the ban on blown diffusers, everybody has less rear down force so all the cars are a little unbalanced.

Maybe Pirelli could go a little softer on its construction and maybe that would help, but I wish everyone would stop blaming them for problems brought about by the technical rules.


totally agree with you, seems to be f1 fans have a very short attention spans just like the speed of these cars.I dont know why people keep complaining about the tires, pirelli are the best thing that has happened to f1. I just watched aus gp from 2001 and it was a snorefest to be honest. The cars could be running close but still couldnt overtake or most of them were done in the pitlane. I would hate it if f1 went back to schumi years. This has been the most open championship season ever.

The real champion show up by the end of the season.


My attention span is pretty good. Pirellis don’t help the cars run closer, that will be the efforts of the Overtaking Working Group, DRS and KERS I think.


Eah? So what six upgrades and Ferrari appear to be going further backwards if anything! Immediate cull req at Ferrari any radical change from what is has to be more positive!

James Clayton

“Immediate cull req at Ferrari any radical change from what is has to be more positive!”

It was knee jerk reactions that got them into this mess. Any more and they risk dropping down with Torro Rosso and co


How do you mean?? they already are down there its the superior skill/talent of Alonso that is keeping them buoyant as they currently are!


All eyes are on Ferrari this weekend, because they are expected to make the most of the 3 weeks break.

It doesn’t look lie they are ready for a podium in a normal race. I also get a feeling after reading Mr. Anderson from Autosport that Ferrari is lost and the rac is lacking the unity and harmony in the design.

I guess they will start building a new car after this race for next year……


Funny, I was watching practice 2 today and Gary Anderson was saying that “he” was really pleased with the developments Ferrari had brought. They were heading in the right direction.

I have to assume that the Autosport article that you read was in the magazine that goes to print Monday and Tuesday for stop press articles.


James, any updates on what changes Mclaren have/are bringing to the pit stop routine? Especially the dammed wheel nut, which as per Jaime Alguersuari is more ‘primitive’ than Mercedes or Ferrari’s.


I really hope Ferrari are just playing their cards close to their chest. It’s a big disappointment if not.


They’ve made a step, but so have the leaders. Maybe Ferrari has closed up by a tenth or two. We’ll see in qualifying


Is this qualifying gap or the race gap?

Ferrari have seemed closer to the pace on a Sunday? Or am I grasping at straws?


Haha, if you are grasping at straws you’re not the only one. I’ve been at it all day so far.



Do you really think 0.9s will be gap between Ferrari and front runners?

We will find out how much you are a right predictor tomorrow.


Maybe a second.


Disagree. Alonso’s time in FP1 was 1.24.4 which is a second off Button time. Only difference is that Alonso time was done on hard tyres while Button’s on softs. Alonso’s time in the morining was faster then his option run. I would say he is about half a second off pole. His race pace was very good as well.


I think you have to look at FP2, Alonso’s lap on softs was blown by traffic and the tyres didn’t last a second lap. He will be quicker than Massa, who was 1 second off Button. So yes, could be 0.8s maybe. Race pace was good if he had same fuel as Lotus and McLaren

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