Trulli out, Petrov in at Caterham

After months of speculation, when people finally began to think that maybe Caterham would honour Jarno Trulli’s contract, the rumours have come true. The Italian driver, who won at Monaco with Renault and has spent two years with the back-of-the-grid team, has been fired despite taking part in the first F1 test of 2012. He has been replaced by Vitaly Petrov, and there is no doubt that the money has helped. You need money to improve your prospects.
Vitaly isn’t a bad driver, and definitely has potential with Caterham, but Trulli had potential too. It is a shame he – like Rubens Barrichello – wasn’t given the opportunity to retire gracefully. At least Barrichello’s replacement was done honestly by Williams, and the Brazilian seems likely to continue his career in IndyCar. What is there for Trulli?
What is done is done. I think Petrov will do well, and he looks alright in green. Much better than black anyway.

The SuperNova team have left the GP2 championship after seven years. The British team, who have featured such drivers as Giorgio Pantano, Adam Carroll, Luca Filippi and Mike Conway, will be replaced by Venezuela-sponsored Italian outfit Venezuela GP Lazarus. Team Lazarus took part in Auto GP, last year running with Fabrizio Crestani and Fabio Onidi. The drivers finished 6th and 5th respectively in the championship.

Two drivers have been signed today. Trident revealed their first driver, Vicky Piria. She will be the first girl to take part in GP3. Hopefully she’ll do well, though she has not scored any wins or podiums so far in her career.
Meanwhile Cypriot Tio Ellinas, who came fourth in the 2010 British FFord season and finished third in Formula Renault UK on equal points with Oli Rowland and after dropping 40 points from his total (Rowland dropped none), comes to GP3 with Marussia Manor Racing. He will partner Dmitry Suranovich and Fabiano Machado.

Cassidy wins Toyota Racing Series

The final round of the Toyota Racing Series saw Mitch Evans’s dominance get rather irritating for some of the international drivers. The GP3 driver took first and second in the first two races, barely losing to Felix Serrales who took his first win of 2012. In the final race, only Evans’ retirement allowed series champion Nick Cassidy to victory.
Hannes van Asseldonk, who came second in the championship, was doing well, with two second-place finishes; the Dutch driver was due for a podium before he retired in race 2. The third place podiums went to Cassidy, Josh Hill and Lucas Auer – who won the rookie cup.
Third in the championship was Damon Leitch, whose good start to the series tailed off towards the end. Josh Hill came fourth, only four points behind the Kiwi. Jordan King, who was struggling this weekend, came fifth. Lucas Auer was overall sixth as well as rookie champion, while Nathanael Berthon came seventh.

HRT announced today that they have signed Spanish racing driver Dani Clos as third driver for 2012. Clos, who drove for Racing Engineering from 2009-2011 (no confirmed team for 2012 yet) has won one GP2 race – the Turkish sprint in 2010 – but taken many podiums as well as pole at Monaco in 2010. He finished 4th in the series that year, and last year came 9th. Going on past form, Dani Clos could be promoted to an HRT race seat mid-season, but for now the young Spaniard will be watching from the sidelines – except on a number of Fridays when he will be in the driving seat.

Also this weekend, BBC pitlane reporter for 2012 Jennie Gow got married. Congratulations to her!
It’s BAFTA weekend, and Senna was nominated in several categories. The movie won awards for Best Documentary and Best Editing, both of which it thouroughly deserves.

All change at Toro Rosso

In a surprising move, Toro Rosso have dumped both their 2011 drivers and replaced them with their two up-and-coming juniors Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. This will put an end to the ‘Ricciardo to Caterham’ rumours, which is good news for Jarno Trulli, but leaves Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in the cold.
Ricciardo did as good a job as possible under the circumstances, and in the young driver test at Abu Dhabi Jean-Eric Vergne shone; the Frenchman was close runner-up to Robert Wickens in Formula Renault 3.5 this season too, and Ricciardo would have had a chance if he had not been busy with his F1 commitments.
For the dropped drivers, Alguersuari in particular had a good season, and deserves to continue in F1. Red Bull, however, have a reputation for abandoning drivers; Sebastian Vettel is the only survivor. Former Toro Rosso drivers have typically not survived in F1 – out of Speed, Bourdais and Liuzzi, only Liuzzi managed to continue and he does not look like surviving into 2012.

Meanwhile, HRT’s Team Principal Colin Kolles is leaving the team. They struggled in their first two seasons, usually losing out to Virgin in the races but getting just enough good finishes to beat the Russian team. HRT, who will be a Spanish national team next season, could well hire Jaime Alguersuari to partner Pedro de la Rosa.

F2 testing today saw many of the eighteen drivers set very similar times. The twelfth-fastest (Scott Malvern) was less than a second away from Christopher Zanella’s fastest time. Second-fastest driver and F2 rookie Markus Pommer was only 0.014s away from Zanella’s time in his fastest lap of the day, though it was set in a different session. Even fourteenth-fastest Max Snegirev was only 1.066s away from Zanella’s time.
Meanwhile Mirko Bortolotti was testing the 2012 F2 car. The new car should be able to lap around 2 seconds faster than the current car, which should make for much more exciting racing in the future.

Romain Grosjean’s F1 Return

Romain Grosjean is back! The reigning GP2 champion, who was previously thrown in the deep end at Renault for 2009 after Nelson Piquet jr left, will be driving alongside Kimi Raikkonen in 2012 at Lotus F1 Team.
The second French driver to make the grid for the next season, Grosjean has had a dominating year in GP2. By himself, he gave DAMS enough points to finish second behind Addax and their two top-five finishing drivers Giedo van der Garde and Marussia newbie Charles Pic.
Having won the short GP2 Asia championship, as he did with the longer one in 2008, he moved into the 2011 championship as a lead contender. At Turkey he took pole position, then won the race. But did he have it in him to win? He only got one point in the sprint – for securing fastest lap – and no points in Spain. Then came Monaco, and he really began to show his ability. Mastering pit stop strategy brilliantly he was able to come from the back of the field after failing to set a good lap time and getting a penalty as well. He finished fourth, and came third in the sprint the next day. At Silverstone he did it again, starting 13th but finishing fourth before winning the sprint, and taking fastest lap both times. The Frenchman’s worst race came after he had sealed the championship, finishing 21st in the sprint at Monza having been run into by Charles Pic at the start and requiring a new rear wing.

(You know you’re good when your overtakes video is nearly eight minutes long)
Many people had doubts about Romain Grosjean after 2009, but his impressive GP2 season and maturer attitude – alongside his coming in at the start of the season instead of the middle – tells me that he has a good chance on his return. Even alongside Kimi Raikkonen.

Other series
Aaro Vainio is set to continue in GP3 with ART, while Kevin Ceccon be driving for Coloni in GP2. Zoel Amberg (0 points in GP3 this year) has signed for Pons for Formula Renault 3.5.

Autosport Awards round-up

Last night the Autosport Awards took place in London. These awards give recognition to the best British drivers, and the best drivers around the world. Jenson Button won the award for the best British Competition Driver, while Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly won best International Driver after his spectacular performance this year. Vettel had a great acceptance speech/chat with Steve Rider (presenting the awards).

A special award was given to Dan Wheldon, collected by his father, for his outstanding achievements over his career. He was due to collect the Gregor Grant award after his second Indianapolis win, and after his death the decision was made to still present the award in his honour.

Rookie of the year went to Paul di Resta, for his outstanding deubt season in Formula One. The Senna film won the Pioneering and Innovation award, for the incredible way it worked with the F1 archives and created such a moving and honest documentary of the legendary driver.

Lots of other awards were given, but the biggest award of the night was the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award, to a young driver who has incredible potential. With so many big names having earned this award, and with the McLaren test included in the prize, whichever driver won it would be one to watch out for in the future. In the end, the award went to Formula Renault UK runner-up Oliver Rowland. Rowland will be entering the Formula Renault Eurocup next year. Keep an eye out for him!

Petrov’s career in jeopardy!

In 2010, GP2 runner-up Vitaly Petrov became the first-ever Russian F1 driver. He started slowly, retiring from his first three races before finishing seventh in China. His next points finish wasn’t until Germany, when he finished tenth, then in Hungary he managed a great fifth-place finish (helped by retirements from Hamilton and his teammate Robert Kubica). Of course, next to Kubica he was never going to look brilliant. He beat the pole in qualifying only twice: in Hungary, and at the final round in Abu Dhabi. It was on merit each time, as Kubica qualified just behind him on both occasions. Petrov’s highest moment came in Abu Dhabi, when for almost the entire Grand Prix he held off former Renault driver Fernando Alonso and prevented the Spaniard from achieving his third world championship.
Renault had high hopes for 2011, with a radical forward-facing exhaust system. After the first two races, it seemed to be a fantastic move: Petrov took his first podium in Australia (and finishing ahead of Alonso as well!), and Nick Heidfeld took third place in Malaysia. Could Renault challenge for fourth in the championship?
Petrov took Renault’s only points in China, finishing ninth, while it was another double-pointer in Turkey. Yet the Renaults had already dropped back from their initial brilliance. Canada brought the Russian ten points for fourth, but since then he has only had three points finishes. He also hasn’t been able to consistently beat Bruno Senna, who spent all of 2010 in an HRT.
What with the two big fires from Nick Heidfeld and the struggle to score over the past races (Senna was even being caught by Kovalainen at the end of both the Singapore and Abu Dhabi GPs) something has drastically gone wrong at Renault.
When interviewed by Russian media recently, Petrov decided to make it clear how he felt. He’s put his career on the line by crticising the team. It’s no surprise that he wants to do better than he has been, especially since he has been so much better as a driver in 2011. The Russian has beaten his teamate in qualifying 11 times out of 18, though only 3 out of 7 against Senna. And I wonder, with so many drivers willing to drive for Renault in 2012, whether or not this marks the curtain call for Petrov’s Renault/Lotus career, or even his F1 career…

To find out more, go to Autosport.

Big changes at Spa and the Red Bull Ring

Renault have announced today that what Eddie Jordan said about Bruno Senna replacing Nick Heidfeld for the remainder of the season is at least partly-true. The Brazilian driver will be taking Quick Nick’s place at Spa – a track he has experience of in the car from a World Series by Renault demo earlier in the year. Check out his video here.

In the other series who return this weekend, there are changes in GP3 and Formula Two. In GP3, ART have dropped Brazilian Pedro Nunes for German F3 leader Richie Stanaway, Jenzer have replaced Vittorio Ghirelli with Alex Fontana, and Mucke Motorsport have dropped Luciano Bacheta for Daniel Mancinelli.
Italian driver Mancinelli is currently competing in Italian F3, though since winning the first race he has struggled. Last season he came fourth in the series. Kiwi Stanaway has won all but three German F3 races this season and taken a lot of pole positions too. Swiss Alex Fontana currently leads the European F3 Open.

In F2, Jose Luis Abadin is unable to take part at the Red Bull Ring but will return to Monza. Luciano Bacheta will make his F2 debut at the ring as will Austrian driver Rene Binder. Binder will be in the 25 car and Bacheta in the 26 car.
Rene Binder is also taking part in German F3. He is currently 8th in the series having taken a podium in the second race. Luciano Bacheta picked up his only GP3 points this season at Silverstone after some good tyre strategy.

In GP2, the lineup from Hungary will be retained, with Filippi driving for Coloni and Aleshin for Carlin.

Karun Chandhok is back!

This morning I woke up to Team Lotus hinting at some exciting news for the weekend. But I had to go to university, so I headed to the bus. Meanwhile, the team made a big announcement. For once I wasn’t checking my Twitter while I was on the bus, so I missed it! But now, of course, you all know – Jarno Trulli won’t be driving this weekend for Team Lotus. Instead, Karun Chandhok will be. It was at this stage last season that Karun stopped driving for HRT, having participated in the first 10 races (Bahrain to Silverstone), so this will be his first German Grand Prix as a Formula One driver.
Not that he hasn’t driven at the track before. Like all the other drivers, his last outing there was in 2009, when he was partnering Alvaro Parente in the GP2 support races. So he knows the track as well as every other driver, if not better. Karun, after all, is a bit of a stats geek so he knows all about the Nurburgring. Good luck to Karun!

Wall of Wannabes?

Not only did Sebastian Vettel make friends with the Wall of Champions this weekend, but Sergio Perez is not as well as he thought. He has been replaced by 2010 Sauber driver and current McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa for the remainder of the weekend, as Sauber test driver Esteban Gutierrez is in Mexico this weekend. Perhaps a bit stupid of Sauber not to bring their test driver with their first choice driver still recovering from a bad accident. All the same, Canada might not be the best place to make your debut though Timo Glock did make his debut at the track for Jordan in 2004.
More bad luck for Sauber came in the second practice session, when Kamui Kobayashi shoved his Sauber into a different – so-far unnamed – wall. The session was red flagged. It resumed but was red flagged again minutes later when Jerome d’Ambrosio put his Virgin in the same wall. Perhaps it needs a name too. The Wall of Wannabes ‘cos Kobayashi and d’Ambrosio aren’t champions just yet. Sauber had spent the first half of the session getting the car ready for De La Rosa, and he went out in McLaren overalls in the Sauber (his helmet, however, had Sauber sponsor stickers on) when the session resumed after Kobayashi’s accident.
The Sauber has been looking good this season. I wonder how well the Spanish driver can do in it? Better than Mercedes’ drivers, it seems. Schumacher and Rosberg were both slower than the Team Lotus cars in FP2. This is strange because they were some of the fastest cars in FP1. Only d’Ambrosio in the Wall of Wannabes was outside the 107% time, and the Hispanias were fighting with the Virgins for pace.
Fastest in FP1 was Rosberg, then Alonso and Schumacher. Fastest in FP2 was Alonso, then Vettel and Massa. Is this Ferrari’s weekend at last? Despite that, it would be funny to see three drivers in McLaren overalls on the podium (though I’m not sure the Sauber has that much pace). De La Rosa being McLaren’s tester, he doesn’t have Sauber overalls.

Scary crash for Checo Perez

The events of today have been heavily overshadowed by the dramatic incident of Sergio Perez in Q3. He did amazingly well to get to Q3, but lost control and hit the barrier between the escape road and the track. Earlier in the day, Nico Rosberg had a similar accident in the Mercedes but missed the barrier. David Coulthard had also been through a similar accident in 2008 and also missed the barrier. The session of course was immediately red flagged, and marshalls and ambulance men rushed to the scene. It of course took time to sort out. The side of the car was smashed in, but it didn’t look like the part of the chassis holding the driver was damaged. According to the BBC, it was reported that Checo was conscious and talking, and possibly that he hurt his legs.

A typical Monaco practice session saw two red flags from Nico Rosberg’s crash and Tonio Liuzzi losing control in the Hispania at Ste. Devote. The back end of his car completely fell to pieces, and there was no way the team were going to make it to qualifying. It was his second crash of the weekend, and he has already missed FP2 because of the FP1 crash.
Renault were not showing a great turn of speed, with Kovalainen’s Lotus close on their tails. This is unlike last year when Robert Kubica – who is around Monaco but staying away from the press – was P2 in qualifying and fastest in FP3, and challenged well for pole.
Fastest of all in the session was Fernando Alonso, a good distance ahead of his challengers.

But Perez’s crash meant that Q3 didn’t go the way it could have gone, and it was another Red Bull pole. Schumacher beat his teammate for the first time. Neither HRT went on track, meaning if they do get to race then Karthikeyan will be ahead of Liuzzi. Alguersuari failed to get into Q2 and qualified behind both Lotuses.
In Q2, Pastor Maldonado scraped into the top ten as did Sergio Perez. His teammate Kobayashi qualified further down the grid. For the first time, neither Renault made it to Q3. Paul di Resta once again beat his teammate.
The drivers who set times before Perez’s accident were best placed, and Vettel took pole position. Next to him will be Jenson Button, then Webber and Alonso on row 2. A good qualifying for Ferrari.
But Monaco is proving once again to be a deadly track, and drivers will need 100% concentration to make it around all 78 laps safely. The most dangerous areas of the track seem to be coming out of the tunnel and Ste. Devote. We’ve seen two crashes at each of those places this weekend. If Perez is able to start tomorrow, it will be from P10. If he cannot, Sauber may choose not to run or they may let their reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez drive. But since Perez – a rookie who won at Monaco last year – had this accident, it might not be such a wise decision.

The GP2 race has been delayed by 20 minutes and will start at 4:30pm local time, 3:30pm GMT.