Spanish GP qualifying: what happened there?

Our apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Obviously we had wanted to wait for the jury to return first. And when they did and gave us the verdict we needed to have a little sit down, count to ten. Then we had to take a little walk outside to get some air. And when that didn’t work, we had a stiff drink.

But we’re still fit to throw one in the direction of the telly. Come on; total disqualification from the whole session? Why don’t they go the whole way and ban Lewis for the race, the season? A general ban on anything McLaren?

Let’s face it, if there is ever an opportunity to make Formula One’s ‘second most famous team’s’ life harder, the FIA always seems to take it. And, as ever, Wing Commander Whitmarsh takes it on the chin. Even plucky young pilot Hamilton is showing an unfamiliar phlegmatic side on the wires right now. He shouldn’t have to.

Pushed off the pole and made to start at the back, behind a car that didn’t even qualify inside the 107 per cent rule. We reckon that’s a pretty outrageous penalty. Those Who Know are all saying not having the requisite fuel for the FIA’s two-litre sample at best, might have gifted Lewis one-tenth of a second. The other four-tenths (please let it not be forgotten what an astonishing lap that was — half a second quicker than anyone) was the talent.

If the stewards had simply nixed the quick lap, then Lewis would start sixth. All seem agreed that would have been appropriate. So why the big hammer? Granted, McLaren’s ‘force majeure’ mitigation appeal was as dry as Lewis’ tank. “Someone didn’t put enough fuel in” is a statement of fact, not a justification for a breach of the Technical Regulations (and not for the first time — McLaren and Lewis pulled a similar stunt in 2010 in Canada). Maybe a simple ‘Ooops! Sorry!’ and big dopey grin would have been more appropriate. But maybe it was always a lost cause.

Completely unrelated to any of the above, Lewis’s penalty means local hero Fernando Alonso now starts on the front row, just behind the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. It’s hard to know what’s more impressive there, a largely un-rated driver getting what’s clearly a good car on to the front of the grid or something of a super-hero getting what’s still clearly an extremely difficult car up there alongside him.

‘Twas ever thus; here on the Sunday Afternoon Sofa (we have sat down now) we can recall the early reports from pre-season testing telling us just how composed Maldonado’s Williams looked and, conversely, how the Ferrari F2012 never looked balanced entering or navigating a corner and would struggle to get its power down after. Maldonado’s pace was no freaky flash-in-the-pan like Nico Hulkenberg’s 2010 pole in Brazil; with its new-for-2012 Renault engine, the FW34 is a properly fast car.

Spare a thought for the other two drivers piloting a Williams and a Ferrari this weekend, Felipe Massa has not looked close to Alonso since Friday morning. Any sense we might have had of him closing the gap on the boss evaporating as rapidly as his hopes to be in a Ferrari in 2013. Or June.

Bruno Senna meanwhile…. it’s impossible not to like Bruno: he wears his uncle’s name with such dignity and grace, so when he races or qualifies well there’s always an extra thrill to it but also, today, a terrible sense of disappointment when it doesn’t go so well. His exit from the proceedings at the first cut must have hurt. Knowing that on pole it’s his team-mate Maldonado, as famous for the size the cheques that come pinned to his application letters as for his driving, will demand Bruno summons up all the Senna family steel he can muster.

So a Williams and a Ferrari on the front and two Lotus’ behind. It’s all very retro isn’t it? But we’ll be watching the guy right at the back come 1.00pm tomorrow. Lewis is promising to ‘drive his heart out’.

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