1-2s for McLaren and Penske around the world

Indycar and Formula One – the two top single-seater series in the world. Today, Indycar’s first round and F1’s second round both had their qualifying sessions. Despite popular perception, Indycar is NOT just cars going round and round in circles – especially since there are only a few oval tracks left on the calendar. Unlike NASCAR, there are several permenant race tracks and street courses.
Indycar’s 2012 series features an all-new car: the DW12 named after Dan Wheldon. There are also two new engine suppliers, meaning that the series has a new dimension that will allow much more interesting racing. However, the chassis are still single-make.
Twenty-six drivers are taking part this weekend, though the number will change over the season, including reigning champion Dario Franchitti who is cousin to Force India’s Paul di Resta. Unlike the 26 taking part in GP2, however, these guys are all competitive. Rubens Barrichello, taking part in his first race weekend in the series, was soon on the pace. During qualifying, he barely missed out on the second session. He will start 14th, just behind his KV Racing teammate EJ Viso and just ahead of Takuma Sato.
Pole position was taken by Will Power, who has regularly been barely beaten by Dario Franchitti to the championship. His teammate at Penske, Ryan Briscoe, will be next to him.

Formula One saw the McLarens sandbagging until the final qualifying session, when they suddenly gained pace. It wasn’t as big a gap as in Melbourne, but Lewis went top fairly early on and Jenson Button lines up next to him. In third was Michael Schumacher. Mercedes engines last had a 1-2-3 in the 2009 European Grand Prix: Hamilton on pole, with Kovalainen and Barrichello second and third.
Mark Webber once again outqualified his teammate, who starts fifth due to Kimi Raikkonen suffering a five-place grid penalty. Then it’s Grosjean, Rosberg, Alonso, Perez and the demoted Raikkonen. Starting at the back after his penalty is Heikki Kovalainen, who is behind the HRTs. Both managed to beat the 107% rule.

Lotus F1’s hospitality unit suffered a major fire on the Friday night just before the curfew began. It was caused by a dodgy fuse on a fridge. Fortunately they saved a race suit for each driver as well as some helmets – but not all of them. Lotus also lost a lot of food and gifts for their guests. They have been relocated down by the Marussia garage, and seem to be taking the situation well judging by their Twitter account.

Business as usual for Vettel

F1
Vettel on pole, Williams having problems, Force India not really trying in Q3… nothing new then. But it was an incredibly exciting qualifying session. Heikki Kovalainen had a chance at Q2 with Rubens Barrichello’s car problems not allowing him to run, but was unable to get ahead of Schumacher. Daniel Ricciardo beat his teammate again, showing good form in the HRT.
In Q2, a red flag halted a fast lap from Vettel. It had been caused by an unnamed driver taking out one of the bollards, which was left dangerously in the middle of the track. Hamilton went fastest, setting a 1:38.4. Pastor Maldonado finished 17th, which will demote him to 23rd tomrrow after his grid penalty. Two Williams on the back of the grid is very much symbolic of the team’s terrible 2011 season. Neither Sauber, Renault or Toro Rosso made it through to the final session, leaving five teams to challenge for top spot.
But realistically it came down to the McLarens and Vettel. After the first set of hot laps, it was close, and then they went out again. Button was first, Hamilton second, and Vettel a good way behind them all in clear space. First, Button took P1, then Hamilton. Hope filled McLaren despite Hamilton’s lap not being as good as his Q2 time. But then, Vettel did it again. He went a few hundredths slower than the Brit’s Q2 time, but it didn’t matter. He was still on pole.

GP2
Simon Trummer and Fabio Onidi have both been penalised following today’s race. Simon Trummer receives a 10-place grid penalty for tomorrow after a collision with Jake Rosenzweig that took both of them out; Fabio Onidi was discovered to have been ignoring yellow flags and has twenty seconds added to his race time in place of a drive-through penalty.

Qualifying in India

Five drivers will suffer grid penalties tomorow: Petrov for colliding with Schumacher in Korea (5 places), Perez and Hamilton for not being sufficiently cautious under waved yellows (3 places), Ricciardo for changing gearbox (5 places) and Karthikeyan for impeding Schumacher (5 places). Timo Glock failed to meet the 107% rule, but will be allowed to race. He will start from the back of the grid, just as Kobayashi did in Turkey – grid penalties are applied before 107% rule.

Qualifying was generally okay, though once again three drivers failed to set a timed lap in Q3. The first session saw Kovalainen once again force drivers to push to get into Q2, including the impeded Schumacher. It was the Sauber of Kobayashi who fell eventually. Suffering a gearbox problem, Glock was unable to complete a good-enough timed lap and will start 24th. The remaining HRTs both beat d’Ambrosio’s Virgin, but their penalties placed them behind him – Ricciardo first as he was penalised earlier.
In Q2, despite some determined laps, neither Senna, Petrov or Schumacher made it to the third session. Instead, both Toro Rossos and Adrian Sutil were there (they were the drivers who didn’t set a timed lap). Petrov qualified 11th so will start 16th, while Perez qualified 17th and will start 20th behind the two Lotuses and Kobayashi. Schumacher will now start 11th, with Paul di Resta beside him.
Q3 was looking close for pole, until Felipe Massa crashed right at the end. So naturally Vettel took it, giving Red Bull their sixteenth this season – a record number. It is Sebastian’s 13th of the year. Hamilton set the second-fastest time, but his penalty leaves him fifth behind Jenson Button (who was not having a good qualifying), Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Beside him on the grid is the man he always seems to end up fighting – Felipe Massa. Seventh is Rosberg. The Force India and Toro Rossos are in numerical order behind.

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!

Japan qualifying is ever so close!

In a typical 2011 qualifying session, saving tyres was the order of the day. The session was also punctuated by three drivers suffering from technical issues. Tonio Liuzzi and Nico Rosberg had theirs in Q1, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to outqualify his teammate and start 22nd. Jerome d’Ambrosio managed a great last lap to leap his teammate and starts 20th tomorrow. Meanwhile, Heikki Kovalainen continues his domination of Team Lotus qualifying and will start 18th.
In Q2, several drivers waited to set a fast lap including the Renaults. Sergio Perez – already suffering from flu – picked up a hydraulic problem so joins Kovalainen on row nine. The Toro Rossos set some decent laps early in the session, but didn’t come out again so start side-by-side on row eight; Buemi was the faster by exactly 2 tenths of a second. Just ahead, the Williams were also close to Q3 but ended up on row seven, with Barrichello ahead. The Force Indias continue the pattern by sharing row six, Sutil ahead by a few tenths. Home hero Kamui Kobayashi managed to get into Q3 by less than a tenth of a second.
Q3 was… boring. In an effort to save tyres, Sauber sent Kobayashi out for a sighter lap early in the session. This boosted him ahead of the Renaults, who did not attempt a lap and although they left the pits it was too near to the end of the session to set a time. Therefore they start ninth and tenth. Michael Schumacher also missed the chequered flag, though it was close, and starts eighth. Kobayashi therefore starts seventh. Ahead, there was a last-minute dash for pole. Lewis Hamilton had had the fastest time, but also missed the cut-off and it was down to Vettel and Button. Vettel crossed the line to take provisional pole, but Jenson had set faster times in the first two sectors. But in the short third sector he lost time and ended up second by a mere 0.009s.
Hamilton still took third, while next to him on the second row is his ‘nemesis’ Felipe Massa, outqualifying Alonso for the third time this season. Alonso starts fifth with Webber sixth. Button was fastest in every practice session, so he could still win the race. But it will be tough. Red Bull has amazing reliability, though Vettel has not taken a new engine for the race, so who knows… maybe the championship will go to Korea. I doubt it though. Japan will crown another champion tomorrow.

Qualifying summary

Not much can pull me away from F1, except for Jordan King, my favourite up-and-coming driver because he’s from my home town. Jordan has been driving in the Formula Renault Northern European Cup, and was on pole for today’s race. Though overtaken, he stayed close to the winner to finish less than a second behind and taking the number two spot on the podium. It’s so far his best finish ever – matching a second place in Formula Renault UK that came after the winner was disqualified. He starts second for the next race. His 24 points have boosted him up to 12th place.
For a driver in his first full year of racing, he is doing incredibly well. He has so far had two pole positions – one in the UK series where he got taken out by Alex Lynn and today’s – and had three podium finishes. He has participated in Formula Two as well as these other series, and done himself proud there too. Jordan might not be doing brilliantly in Formula Renault UK, but he’s shown elsewhere how much talent he has.

Now F1, and qualifying today wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. Q1 began with silence before the first drivers came out on track, and the Lotuses and HRTs left it a while before making their first runs. Renault turned out to be the team on the edge, with their updates for Singapore abandoned. Heikki Kovalainen was unable to make a second good run, but still beat his teammate’s best lap. And Vitaly Petrov became the fall guy.
Q2, and a crash for Kobayashi in a bad spot caused a red flag. The Japanese will start 17th. The others dropping out were the Williams, Senna, Perez and the Toro Rosso drivers. So we had both Red Bulls, McLarens, Ferraris, Mercedes and Force Indias in Q3.
It could had been a very exciting finale, but in the end it didn’t go that way. Vettel set a hot lap quickly and Hamilton was second. The Force Indias did not attempt a lap at all. McLaren had a refuelling problem and Hamilton was unable to set another lap, while Vettel messed up on his final attempt – quite unusual for the German – but was not beaten by his nearest challenger of Webber. Button took third, while Alonso and Massa were fifth and sixth. The two Mercs were next, followed by the Force Indias in numerical order.
Hopefully the race will be better tomorrow. It’s a big challenge for the drivers to stay out of the wall and also to avoid copying Kobayashi and catching air at turn 10 – the chicane. If you get off the ground, there’s no way you’ll be able to catch yourself in time before you go into the wall. So this could be a good one, and if the backmarkers stay cautious they could be in with a chance at a good finish.

This is Red Bull’s 15th consecutive pole – they have taken every one since Abu Dhabi last year. They need ten more to beat Williams’ 1992-3 record of 24. Can they do it? Probably.

Saturday qualifying and race report

F1
It’s ‘as you were’ in today’s qualifying session dominated by the Red Bulls. Pole for Vettel gave him his tenth of the season, and fourteenth consecutive for Red Bull who haven’t lost a single one since Brazil 2010. Vettel has taken at least ten pole positions in multiple seasons, making him the first driver to achieve this since Ayrton Senna – Senna achieved this in three seasons, so Vettel still has something to aim for!
The two McLarens took second and third, with Alonso in fourth. Vettel’s teammate took fifth with Massa – who had given Alonso a ‘tow’ around the track – in sixth. The two Renaults surrounded a Mercedes sandwich – Petrov starts seventh with Schumacher ahead of Rosberg for the second time this season. Bruno Senna did not attempt a time after squeaking into Q3 by six thousandths of a second.
It was Paul di Resta whom Senna narrowly beat, and next to the Scot on row six is his teammate Adrian Sutil. Both Williams share row seven, with Barrichello ahead of Maldonado. Behind them, Perez in the Sauber is next to Buemi in the Toro Rosso, and Kobayashi in his Sauber is seventeenth. The fall guy was Jaime Alguersuari, who lines up behind his teammate.
No surprises in to the final three rows – Lotus on row ten with Trulli beating Kovalainen for a change. Trulli has always been dominant at Monza qualifying, with only former Renault teammate Alonso ever beating him. Glock narrowly beat out d’Ambrosio, while Ricciardo’s Italian ancestry helped him outqualifying full Italian Tonio Liuzzi.

GP2
Damage and a drive through saw Giedo van der Garde demoted to fifth in the championship, but only three points behind teammate Charles Pic who is in second after coming second in the race. Luca Filippi won and took the fastest lap by a few hundredths from Jules Bianchi, which means he is one point behind Pic. Bianchi’s point is enough for him to be fourth in the championship on equal points with van der Garde and take reversed pole for race two. Reversed pole could be critical, but so could Filippi’s point for fastest lap. Anyone could come second, which would almost guarantee them a place in Formula One in either 2012 or 2013.

GP3
No pole for Valtteri Bottas, but in a hard fought race he took the win from his teammate by 0.3 seconds and claimed the championship. The Finn is the second GP3 champion, and will no doubt be heading to GP2 next season. He is likely to be joined by his afforementioned teammate James Calado, who is guaranteed second. Conor Daly also had a good race, finishing sixth having started seventeenth. His teammates also had good races, finishing 11th for Callum MacLeod and 13th for Leonardo Cordeiro.