Paddock Postcard from Barcelona 22 May 2011
With most teams bringing major updates to the Spanish round, talk of upsets in the pecking order dominated the build-up to the championships European opener. But while the need for speed may rule in Formula One, the sport has also been hard at work looking beyond its own borders this week as the UN and FIA promoted the Decade of Action for Road Safety initiative.
McLarens Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton found time before flying out to Spain to meet up with UK Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the project, which aims to reduce number of fatal road crashes around the world, while Formula One Global Partner Allianz announced their involvement in the project at Berlins Michelin Challenge Bibendum conference.
With the paddock journeying to Barcelona just days after an earthquake devastated the Spanish town of Lorca, thoughts were with those affected. Home team HRT led the response, donating to a charity football match between players from Murcia and Real Madrid.
As I said last week, Murcia is a very special place for me and, given the relationship between the team and this city, we have decided to put our part in and will be at the game tomorrow, said HRT president Jose Ramon Carabante. I urge all the fans to fill up the stadium, not because of the quality of the game, which of course will be a fantastic spectacle, but because of how important it is for everyone to chip in, every little bit counts towards those who have lost a relative or their house.
Another football match was a hot topic on Thursday, with one Spanish television company asking the drivers to predict the result of the forthcoming Champions League final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona as they came through the paddock gates. Perhaps swayed by their surroundings, most seemed to believe a victory for the Spanish team is on the cards.
The 2011 drivers aside, the paddock at the Circuit de Catalunya was bustling as usual with familiar faces. FIA President Jean Todt made another appearance at a Grand Prix, while from the ex-driver ranks regulars such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Marc Surer, Jacques Laffite and Niki Lauda were joined by Gerhard Berger, Carlos Sainz, Randy Mamola, Harald Huysman and stewards assistant Mark Blundell.
On the management side, Ron Dennis arrived on Saturday at McLaren, Paul di Restas father Louis drove to see his first Grand Prix with his son competing, Lola boss Martin Birrane put in a welcome appearance, Dave Spence was a guest of John Buttons, Craig Pollock was present to talk about his new PURE engine manufacturing business, Dietrich Materschitz watched over his highly successful Red Bull team and former Spirit F1 boss John Wickham was working for Renault.
Other sporting figures included Spanish MotoGP rider Toni Elias, who visited HRT, RCD Espanyol footballers Jordi Amat, Alvaro Vazquez and Javi Lopez, and Danish goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel. Meanwhile, representatives from Bahrain were again present to discuss the prospects of running their delayed race this year, and a high-powered party from Dorna, who run MotoGP, which will be here in two weeks time, made a fact-finding visit.
Down at Virgin veteran commentator, the ever-urbane Bob Constanduros, was given a nice surprise as the team flew in his wife Jane and sons Ben and Max to celebrate his 500th Grand Prix (though it actually turned out to be his 499th after Bahrain was delayed!). There was also a presentation for Sebastian Vettel, who helped Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and race organisers unveil the plaque that will add the Red Bull star to the Circuit de Catalunyas Champions Avenue.
On track, Charles Pic took advantage of a fast pit stop to leapfrog from third to first in Saturday afternoon's feature GP2 race, holding off a strong challenge in the second half of the race from Barwa Addax team mate Giedo van der Garde and Britains Sam Bird (iSport). DAMS Romain Grosjean was fourth from Team AirAsias Davide Valsecchi and iSports Marcus Ericsson. That put Lotus ARTs Jules Bianchi on pole for Sundays sprint race, but when Grosjeans car failed post-race inspection and he was disqualified, that put Fabio Leimer on pole for Rapax and the Swiss driver then converted that into victory.
In GP3 Mark Webbers New Zealand protege Mitch Evans fulfilled all of his promise with an excellent pole-to-flag victory for the MW Arden team. Briton James Calado continued to take his Racing Steps forward with a strong second place for Lotus ART ahead of the Tech 1 duo of Aaso Vainio and Andrea Caldarelli (whom Evans had beaten to pole by a thousandth of a second), with Jenzers Nico Muller and RSC Muckes Nigel Melker claiming fifth and sixth ahead of Briton Dean Smith for Addax and Tech 1s Tamas Pal Kiss who then started Sundays race from pole and went on to take his maiden series win.
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