Alguersuari joins the BBC

F1
Dumped Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has a new job. His voice will soon be broadcast throughout the UK on BBC Radio 5 Live as he becomes the station’s expert F1 analyst – a role previously held by Sky’s Anthony Davidson. Alguersuari has a clear desire to return to F1, and this will give him every opportunity to stay around the paddock; he will be karting throughout the year to help keep up his physical training, and no doubt he will also do some DJing.
Whilst it’s not the best place to be in, it could be much worse for the Spaniard – who became the youngest ever to start an F1 race in 2009. Hopefully he will adapt well to radio, and soon be back on track. He was regarded by fans as a great prospect, and at only 21 he has a good chance of a return. Meanwhile, I will look forward to hearing him for the first race of the season.

Marussia also presented good news today, as their car passed the final crash test. It’s been a hard winter, but now they are ready for Melbourne.

GP2
It was a choppy 2011 for new Ocean Racing signing Jon Lancaster. The Brit participated in the F2 round at Magny-Cours, finishing both times in the points, but dropped out of the series. He then moved to Auto GP, participating in four races. He scored in all four of them, including a win and fastest lap at Donnington Park. But it’s hard to find sponsorship, and Lancaster was struggling. However, the Brit now has an opportunity to shine with what will hopefully be a full season at GP2.

The GP2s were testing in Barcelona today, and Fabrizio Crestani surprised everyone by going fastest for new team Lazarus. Carlin’s Max Chilton was fastest in the afternoon – a great improvement on 2011, as the team get used to the series. Second was Julian Leal, with Marcus Ericsson third. James Calado continued to be the best of the GP3 graduates, and he has a good chance of being a rookie champion.

Auto GP
This series gets under way in just a few days at Monza, supporting the WTCC. A few drivers have been confirmed, including Max Snegirev, Pal Varhaug and Daniel de Jong. The strange make-up of the calendar may be somewhat off-putting to drivers, but more should be revealed in the next few days.

IndyCar
2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi has confirmed that he will be participating in the IndyCar championship this year from the Indy 500. He will be driving at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which have Honda engines, alongside former F1 star Takuma Sato.

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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.

FOTA loses two members

At the end of the 2010 season, HRT left the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) as they felt it was irrelevant to them as a small team, and they felt that the politics favoured the larger teams. Today, following an ongoing dispute over the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) that the FOTA teams signed up to, two of those larger teams – Ferrari and Red Bull – have both made the decision to leave the association.
Founded in 2008, FOTA was intended to give teams a united voice in discussions with the FIA and the Formula One Group. The chairman is Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s Team Principal. Through FOTA, the current Concorde Agreement was negotiated.

The RRA is intended to curtail spending within the teams, specifically relating to the chassis. But the rules of the RRA were apparently not clear enough, and there have been many attempts by the teams to clarify it over the past months before it is time to re-negotiate the Concorde Agreement for 2013 and beyond.
In its statement, Ferrari said that it would continue to try and improve the RRA in F1. Its main reasons for leaving were a lack of testing, and making F1 more user friendly and accesible to the public. This last point seems strange coming from a team that has banned its drivers from using Twitter.

Red Bull have not confirmed that they are the second team to leave FOTA, but they have been the constructor with the most RRA issues.

What does this entail for the future of F1? Well, it is likely that we will see more in-season testing from these three teams. Others may also chose to leave FOTA. This may also have implications for the next Concorde Agreement, which determines where the prize money goes at the end of the season. But for the day-to-day racing it should not have any major effect.

KERS, confusion and GP2

F1
Team Lotus and Red Bull, Virgin and McLaren, HRT and Williams. Each of the three ‘baby teams’ has a collaboration with one of the more experienced teams on track. HRT have renewed their deal with Williams for 2012, which includes the use of Williams KERS. Now that the British outfit have had a year to work on their KERS, it should be much more reliable. Hopefully it will help the Spanish outfit to boost their performance next year. Virgin/Marussia might have more trouble than the other two teams, as unlike Team Lotus/Caterham and HRT it does not share the same engine supplier as its partner. They will have to get KERS from somewhere if they are to be competitive, otherwise they will once again finish 12th overall.
Speaking of ‘Finnish’, Williams are rumoured to be announcing at Abu Dhabi that they have signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2012. The Finn quit F1 after 2009 in order to pursue rallying. He has also had a go at NASCAR. At the start of this year, it seemed unlikely he would ever return. Now, however, the Iceman could be back. A great racer, he will be an additional boost for the struggling team. It could provide a good challenge for him in a less competitive car.
After a meeting of the Formula One Committee today, it has been confirmed that from 2012 Team Lotus will be known as ‘Caterham’, Renault will be known as ‘Lotus’, and Virgin will become ‘Marussia’. It remains to be seen what team names they will adopt.

GP2
Meanwhile, Stefano Coletti returns to racing in Abu Dhabi alongside Kevin Ceccon at Scuderia Coloni for the GP2 final. Afterwards, he will be taking part in the F1 young driver test for Toro Rosso. Stefano injured his back in the Spa-Francorchamps GP2 feature race. He won two races this season – the Turkey and Hungary sprints – despite being a rookie. He has a lot of potential, and should do well.
Another driver taking part is, unsurprisingly, Alexander Rossi. The young American will be driving for Team AirAsia, as well as taking part in the young drivers’ test for Team Lotus.

Formula Renault UK winter series

Formula Renault UK
The Formula Renault Finals Series (formerly the winter series) hits the tarmac at Snetterton this weekend, and unlike the summer series has a packed field. As well as the usual British teams, there are a few international teams and the drivers are truly international – though several of the summer series drivers return. Not, however, Alice Powell, who is missing out. Six of the cars will be BARC entries (running older Formula Renault cars), and those drivers will be in bold.
So who isn’t missing out? Korainen (FIN) are fielding six drivers in cars 2-7: Daniil Kvyat (RUS), Esteban Ocon (FRA), Hans Villemi (EST), John Bryant-Meisner (SWE), Martin Rump (EST) and Stefan Wackerbauer (GER). There will be two drivers for Atech Reid (GBR) in cars 8 and 16 – Geoff Uhrhane (AUS) and Dan Wells (GBR) respectively. Interwetten (AST) will be supporting just Melville McKee (GBR), and Van Amersfoort (NED) will field cars 11 and 12 – Dennis van der Laar (NED) and Joao Sergio Camara (BRA).
Next Fortec (GBR), the summer series champions, whose eight drivers include several series regulars and a few who are new to racing. Josh Hill (GBR) son of Damon and formerly of Manor is in car 14. Dan De Zille (GBR) is in car 19, Felix Serrales (PR) who took part in a few races as a guest driver is in car 24. Archie Hamilton (GBR) is in car 26; Ed Jones (UAE) another guest driver is in car 29; Thomas Jager (AST) is in car 34, and Shahaan Engineer (IND) is car 39. Jake Dennis is in car 41, and summer’s runner-up Oli Rowland is in car 44.
Manor Competition are entering three drivers, and retain just one of their summer lineup. With Alice not driving and Josh off to Fortec, it has to be the incredible Jordan King (GBR), who took a win and a second place in Indian GP support races. As usual he is in car 42. Nick McBridge (AUS) and Hector Hurst (GBR) are in cars 17 and 18 respectively.
Hillspeed (GBR) are also putting out three cars, with Victor Jiminez (ESP) in car 25, Joe Kibbler (GBR) in car 31, and Sean Walkinshaw (GBR) in car 33. Mark Burdett (GBR) have cars 21 and 22: Josh Webster (GBR) and Tomasz Krzeminski (POL). Antel Motorsport (GBR) have Ivan Taranov (RUS) and Chirag Marhotra (IND) in cars 27 and 28. Finally, MGR (GBR) have cars 66 and 99. James Fletcher (GBR) is in car 66, while 99 is TBC.
The drivers to look out for are probably Oliver Rowland, Daniil Kvyat, Josh Hill and Jordan King. The British drivers will have experience of Snetterton, and Daniil is simply a good driver.

Live timing will be at http://www.tsl-timing.co.uk

GP2 Final
Watch out James Calado and Tom Dillmann! GP3 double race winner Rio Haryanto and one-time winner (but consistent) Nigel Melker will be driving for DAMS in the GP2 final! Rio will be the first ever Indonesian GP2 driver.

F1
Sam Michael has begun working for McLaren after Williams gave him permission. He would originally have had to take ‘gardening leave’ until March before working for his new team, but the teams have recently made an arrangement that will see McLaren’s new sporting director present at Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

Indycar
Despite being sponsored by the Lotus car company, KV Racing will be using Chevrolet engines in 2012. I don’t usually report on Indycar, but with Lotus always a hot topic in F1 circles, I thought this merited a mention. Lotus engines will be available to Indy teams next season along with Chevvy and Honda, but so far only one team has committed to running them. It will be interesting to see whether this affects the relationship between KV and Lotus.

Sponsors and drivers

There are a couple of changes to the GP2 lineup this weekend. Alvaro Parente returns for Carlin now that his McLaren commitments are over, so no Mikhail Aleshin. After his injury at Spa, Stefano Coletti’s place is taken by fellow Monagesque driver Stephane Richelmi. Richelmi currently drives in Formula Renault 3.5, and has taken six points so far in his debut season. Those six all came at Monza, which is encouraging.

Renault has signed a number of sponsorship deals recently, including with a Brazilian oil company and Gillette. Cue jokes about how they couldn’t sign with Gillette before because of Nick Heidfeld’s beard. After the amicable parting of Heidfeld and Renault, Bruno Senna will be driving for the remainder of the season.
At Toro Rosso, there’s also a sponsor coming on board in the form of Spanish company Cepsa. This might be good news for Jaime Alguersuari who of course is looking for a race seat next season. If Jaime doesn’t get the seat, he does have an alternative income as he moonlights as DJ Squire. The Spaniard is launching his debut album next week.
Virgin have got a sponsorship deal with Belgian company Soleco, who are renewable power company mainly dealing in solar panels and other forms of environmentally friendly power generation.

Finally, it is Vitaly Petrov’s birthday today. The Russian is 27 years old.

Not again Hispania!

Young Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo – currently Toro Rosso and Red Bull reserve – looks like he might be breaking into the F1 world very soon indeed. Because Hispania are at it again. They look to be setting aside Narain Karthikeyan for the majority of the rest of the season, apart fromm the Indian Grand Prix, and replacing him with the Aussie.
So far Hispania have made no announcement about this, so take the news with a pinch of salt until then. It’s also not on Autosport yet. The first reports came from the Australian media.
So is this a safe risk for Daniel? He already has his Formula Renault 3.5 campaign to worry about. On the other hand, Carlin’s Robert Wickens and his ISR teammate Kevin Korjus look to be dominating there. He might not have a chance to win. Besides that, driving with Hispania unfortunately doesn’t seem to do your reputation any good. It’s for ‘deseperate’ drivers at the moment (Tonio Liuzzi in particular).
I like Hispania. But I’m not sure taking Narain out mid-season is a good idea. He hasn’t raced in F1 for a while so he will take a little time to get back on pace. We shall see. But every time HRT do this my respect for them drops. Ricciardo will be the seventh driver to sit in an HRT in their two seasons!