It was the Race of Champions this weekend, with the Nations Cup on Saturday before the individual event on Sunday. The eight teams were split into two groups, and held football-style playoffs to determine who would go through to the semi finals. For each ‘match’, the first members of each team would drive against each other for two laps, and then the second members. At the end, the two teams who won the most races go through to the semis. If there’s a tie, the team with the fastest total time goes through.
The most surprising result of the group stages came when Vitaly Petrov beat Michael Schumacher by hundredths of a second. David Coulthard, driving for Team All-Stars, did not have a good time, being beaten by Button before false starting against Schumacher. The Scot got a five-second time penalty.
The semi final for group A came down to France (Sebastien Ogier and Romain Grosjean) versus the Nordic team (Tom Kristensen and Juho Hanninen), while for group B it was Britain (Jenson Button and Andy Priaulx) versus Germany (Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel). The Nordic team beat France with two wins, but Britain came down to a tie break after Button beat Schumacher but Vettel beat Priaulx. It was close after the first lap, then Jenson spun his car and it was all over. The final came down to Nordic vs Germany.
In the end, Germany easily beat Team Nordic as the organisers decided Hanninen knew the Skoda S2000 too well to drive it against Vettel. The change of car meant that the German easily dominated and secured the country’s fifth consecutive win.
In the competition to find the champion of champions, four groups of four – mostly drivers from the nations cup but with the two Timos replaced by Ekstrom and Tomczyk – followed the same elimination pattern. Grosjean narrowly beat Petrov, but despite losing to Tom Kristensen, Vettel had done enough to knock the Frenchman out. Others who made it through were Schumacher, Button, Ogier, Kristensen, Tomczyk and Priaulx and Coulthard.
The quarter-finals saw Schumacher beat Vettel, Kristensen beat Button, Tomczyk beat Coulthard and Ogier beat Priaulx. Schumacher was the only F1 driver left, and going up against Kristensen. Ogier was up against DTM champion Tomczyk. The winners were Kristensen and ROC rookie Ogier, who went through to the finals for two head-to-head races.
Kristensen fought hard, but Ogier’s speed and talent was too much and the rally driver – recently signed by VW – became the 2011 Champion of Champions.
Meanwhile in Brazil, Felipe Massa’s Desafio Internacional des Estralias – a kart race with international drivers from various disciplines – was taking place. Former world karting champion Tonio Liuzzi was on pole, but Jules Bianchi went into the lead from the start. Liuzzi spun, but fought his way back to 11th by the flag. Massa was in second, and at first had a decent gap as Pizzonia, Piquet jr and Alguersuari fought over third. The Spaniard got through, however, and quickly closed on Massa as the wet track dried. The two drivers had a mighty scrap, with Alguersuari eventually getting into second. He could not get any gap on Massa, and they were incredibly close on the line. The Toro Rosso driver edged it by about a tenth of a second. But Bianchi led all the way, winning by almost eight seconds in a dominating performance by the Ferrari reserve.
The second race saw Bianchi fight his way up the field from 8th – as with GP2 and GP3, the top eight are reversed – and soon dominate again after a scrap between di Grassi and d’Ambrosio that saw the Belgian lose out. Alguersuari fell back to tenth at the start, but battled past Massa and Barrichello before getting on the tail of di Grassi. They swapped positions a couple of times before Alguersuari pulled away for second. After the race, Bianchi was disqualified for having a too-light kart, which means Alguersuari was given the win.
The Spaniard won the weekend overall with Massa second. It’s an impressive job from the Toro Rosso driver, who looks likely to continue in F1 next season.
In the news, Scottish driver Lewis Williamson – who recently was accepted to join the FIA Young Drivers Academy – will be continuing his racing career with Arden. He has signed a contract to race for them in Formula Renault 3.5, having done two races in place of Daniel Ricciardo last year. This year, he managed one win and two seconds in GP3 to finish the best of the Arden drivers. As a Red Bull junior driver, he was always unlikely to go to GP2, and it will be interesting to see what 2012 has in store for him.