Ex-teammates share front row at Sepang

GP2
Former Caterham teammates Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia showed their talent today by putting their cars on the front row for the feature race at Sepang. Valsecchi, who was not penalised for setting a fast final sector in practice under yellow flags (he was probably past the incident when it happened), took pole for DAMS just ahead of Razia’s Arden. Valsecchi was dismissive of his achievement, remembering that what really matters is the race. “Having the pole position today but a bad result tomorrow then you throw away your weekend.” Surprisingly, it is only the third pole he has achieved in GP2 – once in his title-winning Asia campaign, and once in 2010.
Luiz Razia, however, was much happier. Afer a tricky 2011, Arden will be delighted to find themselves on the front row. Razia believes that his team’s tyre strategy could pay off, as he things they will be taking a different route with the primes/options to others.
On the second row, Carlin’s Max Chilton showed just how well he and the team are working together in their second year of GP2. The consistent Brit belives he could have gone even faster if he hadn’t hit traffic on the final corner, so we will have to see what happens in the race.

Fastest in practice was Jolyon Palmer, the first to try out the medium tyres, will start 7th. Apart from Razia, the remained of the top eight are drivers whom I believe could win the championship: P4 – Coletti; P5 – Leimer; P6 – Calado; P7 – Palmer; P8 – van der Garde. Felipe Nazr qualified 10th but will start 9th after Fabio Onidi was given a three-place grid penalty for impeding Rodolfo Gonzalez. Esteban Gutierrez starts a disappointing 15th, while Marcus Ericsson starts 20th. The gap from first to 24th was 1.5s.

F1
Dry sessions allowed good running for the teams, and Lewis Hamilton topped both sessions for McLaren. Mercedes and Alonso were also going well, with Red Bull and Toro Rosso close behind.
There were no major incidents and despite threats of rain it never came.

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And the fastest team is… someone

Both free practice sessions in Melbourne today were marred by rain, and as if that wasn’t bad enough for HRT, their cars had massive reliability issues – when they could get them on track. Narain Karthikeyan’s car was available straight away in FP1, but broke down on its third lap of the circuit. Pedro de la Rosa had to wait until FP2 for his turn, though this is still a massive improvement on previous years for the Spanish outfit. Pedro’s car also only managed one lap in that session, though Narain Karthikeyan managed 16.
Wets, inters then finally slicks were the order of the day, with the fastest times coming at the close of the sessions. McLaren set a Button-Hamilton 1-2 in FP1, while Schumacher pipped Nico Hulkenberg to the top in FP2. Schumi was also third in FP1, and looks set to be a strong contender, but Hulkenberg was 12th. It seems we won’t know the likely order until FP3 or qualifying.

It will probably be dry on Sunday, so none of this wet running is very helpful for the teams. Who will be on pole? Nobody knows. Who will win? Nobody knows.

I’m off to the Scottish Highlands for the weekend, and while I will catch the F1, I won’t be able to write about it. See you all on Monday!

Leimer takes debut pole at Abu Dhabi

F1
First, the news. GP2’s Johnny Cecotto, Jr. will be joining Max Chilton in driving the VJM04 at the young drivers’ test next week. For Virgin there will be Robert Wickens (who is also driving for Renault), Charles Pic (who is likely to be driving for them in F1 next year) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.

Today was free practice, and three drivers were being replaced for the first session – Romain Grosjean replaced Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne replaced Sebastien Buemi, and Robert Wickens replaced Jerome d’Ambrosio. Plenty of cars were spinning – both Ferraris, Kovalainen and Glock amongst others. Fastest overall was Jenson Button, with Webber second and Hamilton third. Rubens Barrichello finally wore out his engine, and will bring his eighth into service for the remainder of the weekend. Pastor Maldonado is on his ninth engine, and will incur a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday.
The second session had no real incidents until about 30 minutes from the end. Sebastian Vettel locked up into turn one, and about ten minutes later Fernando Alonso went into the same turn too quickly. Both drivers slid into the barrier. Vettel has always taken pole when he crashes on Friday (Canada, Turkey and Japan), though only once has he converted that into a victory. The Red Bull wasn’t really damaged, and the car was returned quickly so Vettel was able to get back on track. Meanwhile, Ferrari weren’t able to get their car back on time to complete the session. Fastest in the end was Hamilton, second Button, and third Alonso.

GP2
The GP2 cars are also on track this weekend for their non-championship race. The last time GP2 cars came to Yas Marina was for the first round of the GP2 Asia championship. Jules Bianchi, who is not racing this weekend, won the feature race. Stefano Coletti, who is racing this weekend, won the sprint.
But in this morning’s practice session it was Esteban Gutierrez who went fastest, with Fabio Leimer second and Tom Dillmann third, and the only GP3 driver in the top ten. Nathanael Berthon in seventh was the fastest of the Formula Renault drivers. Meanwhile, Giacomo Ricci and Nicholas Marroc both received 10-place grid penalties for the feature race after ignoring yellow flags.
Qualifying saw Dani Clos, Josef Kral and Fabio Leimer fight over pole. It was Leimer who eventually took it after a red flag was caused by Esteban Gutierrez. It is the Swiss driver’s first pole in GP2. Clos took second with Kral third, Razia fourth. The first GP2 newbie was Tom Dillmann, still showing incredible pace and starting ninth tomorrow ahead of his iSport teammate Marcus Ericsson. James Calado qualified 12th but will start 11th after Ricci’s penalty, with Nigel Melker right behind him. The fastest Formula Renault driver is Alex Rossi, who will start 14th.

Practice report – India

F1
It was certainly an eventful first day for the Indian Grand Prix. There was a red flag in each session, plenty of off-track excursions by the drivers as they learned their way around, and a couple of grid penalties as well.
Session one was the most dramatic. Dusty and hazy, the first drivers on track were the Indians – Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok (replacing Heikki Kovalainen for the session) – and the two Force India drivers. The first flying lap was a 1:52.148 by Chandhok, but before he could really get going the session was red-flagged due to a dog on the circuit. That will have brought back memories for Bruno Senna, who was taken out of a GP2 race in Turkey in 2008 after he hit a dog.
Once the session resumed, things were rather quiet until the Hispanias began their work. Narain Karthikeyan moved into P1. But he was soon overtaken, and half-way through the session it was Jenson Button’s McLaren fastest with the Toro Rossos close behind. The times were tumbling for most, but not for Fernando Alonso whose car broke down as he was attempting his second timed lap. He pulled off on the escape road, so the session was not interrupted. He ended up sitting looking rather glum under the big screen.
The session continued with times falling. But it was still dusty in the pit lane, and as Karun Chandhok attempted to lay down some rubber the car spun rather dramatically and almost went too far into the path of Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan managed to avoid the accident, which allowed him to continue.
The Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari crashed in the final minutes of the session, causing waved yellow flags. Then Pastor Maldonado had a firey mechanical failure. As marshalls cleared the cars and track, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton set their fastest laps – Perez first then Hamilton right at the end to beat Sebastian Vettel. Both have been given 3-place grid penalties for qualifying tomorrow. Hamilton’s lap was the fastest of the session.

Practice two saw Pastor Maldonado crash, though Williams were able to get him out again. The story of the day was Ferrari’s flexible front wing. Especially for Felipe Massa, it was noticably scraping the ground. But it was clearly working for the team, as Massa set the fastest lap of the session. It is the first time he has topped a session since second practice in Silverstone. Fernando Alonso hit traffic as he was attempting to beat that time.
The red flag came mid-way through the session, when Jerome d’Ambrosio spun dramatically and hit the wall. Most drivers were getting used to the track, however, and apart from a spin for Petrov and a few off-track moments for Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastien Buemi, things went smoothly.

F2
A small field for a wet Barcelona. Spaniard Miki Monras was fastest in the first session, and German Tobias Hegewald was fastest in the second. Parthiva Sureshwaren set a top-ten time in FP2, perhaps inspired by the Grand Prix in his home country. Champion Mirko Bortolotti remained consistent, setting the second-fastest time in both sessions, but there is going to be an almighty scrap for second and third in the championship over the next two days.

Is it a bull, is it a horse? No, it’s McLaren on pole!

It was dry in the small corner of South Korea where the Yeongam track stands, except for underneath Daniel Ricciardo’s car. He had a leak in FP3, which had not been fixed for qualifying. The Australian starts from the back of the grid. As teams attempted to get their set up right for the race, FP3 was busy. The fastest time was set by Jenson Button – using an old Hamilton chassis after his was discovered to have a defect. Lewis was second-fastest. The McLarens showed their pace yesterday, and proved this morning that it wasn’t in the wet that they were good here. The question was, could they keep it up in qualifying and deny Vettel pole, and Red Bull their seventeenth in succession?

Well, qualifying began as expected. Several cars chose to wait until near the end of the first session, but other teams went out straight away. Unusually, the Red Bulls used the super-soft tyres in Q1. The HRTs were struggling. With Daniel Ricciardo unable to run, Tonio Liuzzi was unable to meet the 107% rule on his first try. He was successful the second time around, and qualifies 23rd. The Williams were the last to go out, and while both were able to beat the usual six easily, it still wasn’t enough for Rubens Barrichello who became the ‘fall guy’. Heikki Kovalainen was happy with his qualifying, however, with the gap less than a second to the Brazilian.
Q2, and it was close between the midfield teams. Sauber struggled for pace, but Force India were again shining and managed to knock the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes out of the top ten. Schumacher had not gone for a final run, as his car was suffering from mechanical issues. Senna also failed to make it through. So it was both Red Bulls, both McLarens, both Ferraris, Rosberg, Petrov and both Force Indias for Q3.
Surprisingly, we had an action-packed session with lots of people going for two runs. And after the first runs, the fastest was not Vettel. They returned to the pits to try again, knowing that the German would never settle for second. Out again, the McLarens and Red Bulls were flying. Hamilton set a 1:35.820. But Vettel behind had been fastest in the middle sector. Could be do it? There must have been cheers all over Britain when the German failed. 1:36.042 his best time, 0.222 seconds off the McLaren.
It should be a massive confidence-booster for Lewis. But he did not look particularly happy when getting out of the car. He knows that he still has all to prove when he gets on track tomorrow. Red Bull have been working on their race pace, so it will be a challenge for the McLarens. But I hope he does succeed, and shows he can race without crashing with Felipe Massa.
No pole for Red Bull. The last time they missed out was after Nico Hulkenburg’s amazing run on a drying track in Brazil. That day, Sebastian was the victory in the race. But could McLaren deny him tomorrow? Could we have a weekend when Red Bull finish no session on top? The Woking-based team have had a massive resurgence in this latter half of the season. Next year looks like it will provide some much closer racing.

Anyway, the race tomorrow starts at 7am, British time. 6am for BBC TV coverage. See you then!

Friday practice in Korea

In free practice today, it rained. A lot.

Oh, and Nico Rosberg hit Jaime Alguersuari – just a little tap thank goodness. He wasn’t penalised for that, but he was given a fine for being late to the steward’s office. It totalled 10,000 Euros, with half of that suspended. Schumacher was fastest in the completely unrepresentative, full-wet tyres only, FP1. Both McLarens set good times on inters in FP2 with Hamilton very slightly faster. But what they will do in the dry is anyone’s guess. FP3 is going to be worth getting up for.

Friday practice summary

Well, what can I say? Today was very exciting! Ten minutes before FP1 was supposed to begin, the race director announced that it would be delayed by 30 minutes due to the need to repair some kerbs that the support races had damaged. This was in multiple sections of the track, and there was also a water leak at turn 14. Kerbs were removed, and the cars permitted to cross the white lines.
Thirty minutes late, the shortened sixty-minute session got underway. It began fairly calmly, before Webber got stuck behind Glock for several laps. Instead of holding back to gain more space, he tried to overtake the Virgin on the final corner. But Glock turned in without seeing the Red Bull – he had no reason to expect him to be there – and Webber’s front wing caught on Glock’s tyre. This resulted in a puncture and a broken front wing.
A few minutes after that, Heikki Kovalainen was suffering from mechanical issues so had to pull up in a run-off area. But his front brake ducts overheated as he stopped, setting both front tyres alight. Red flags went out, giving teams even less running time in the session.
Things got going again, until Felipe Massa ran over some of the repaired kerbing. It hadn’t been repaired very well, and the Ferrari pulled it loose. The session was again red-flagged, and there were about three minutes of running left at the end for one flying lap.
The fastest driver was Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel 0.4s lower. Third was Mark Webber, a second off his teammate’s pace, and fourth Alonso.

Practice two was the full 90 minutes, and there were thankfully no red flags. The kerbing had been removed from the apex of Turn 13, however, which allowed the cars to cut it close to the wall there and on the track they turned into.
A lot of drivers came millimetres from the wall, a few touched it lightly, and Sebastien Buemi managed to knock his wheel completely off, held on merely by the tethers. Fortunately he only caused a yellow flag, but his session was over. His teammate also suffered mechanical issues and missed half the session, which is not good for Toro Rosso.
Jenson Button was another driver to have problems, when his McLaren’s wheels locked as he was going around a corner. He went straight on instead, but was unable to get reverse gear. The front of his car started smoking and he quickly got out to head back to the paddock. Incredibly, once you leave the circuit you find yourself in the middle of a normal, active city, and it was strange to see the McLaren driver motorbiking through the people.
Maldonado, Sutil and other drivers sometimes found themselves in run-off areas, but they managed to spin around and get back on track. Paul di Resta had mechanical issues as well and only set eight laps.
Fastest was Vettel, with Alonso 0.2s slower. Hamilton was just ahead of Massa, both around 0.7s slower.

So it was definitely an interesting day at the Singapore Grand Prix circuit. This bodes well for qualifying tomorrow, and the race on Sunday.