Practice report – India

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.

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.

Afternoon practice and GP2 qualifying

In the second practice this afternoon, the track was damp to start with and everyone went out on inters. Eventually it dried enough for slicks and the times tumbled before the rain came down again. Amidst those conditions, it was Mark Webber who went fastest, with Alonso in second and rain master Button third. Webber’s teammate Vettel only went tenth fastest. The Force Indias always get on well at Spa, and came in eight and ninth with Nico Hulkenberg replacing Adrian Sutil for the session. Sergio Perez did even better with the seventh-fastest time, and Rosberg was sixth-fastest. Massa found himself a familiar fifth, and Hamilton fourth.
The Renaults were also struggling, and a steering problem for Petrov left him unable to set a competitive time. His new teammate came in 17th, a few tenths off Barrichello but still well ahead of the backmarkers. But Senna had been doing well earlier in the session as the track dried. Maybe he has some of his uncle’s talent in the rain.
The times aren’t really representative, and we may not find out where everyone lies this weekend until race day, with heavy rain expected tomorrow.

A wet qualifying session saw Sam Bird become the first casualty. Later, Charles Pic ended up going off the track at turn 17, which caused final sector problems. Fastest was Christian Vietoris, with Luca Filippi second and Pic third. Bianchi took fourth before one of two top-ten surprises – Michael Herck, who has picked up just one point so far this season. Romain Grosjean only managed eighth, while Johnny Ceccotto Jr became the second surprise. He currently starts 9th. I expect that we will see some penalties being issued, including to Vietoris who set his fastest final sector under yellow flags.

In the afternoon practice session at a hot Red Bull Ring, the fastest driver was once again Mirko Bortolotti. Benjamin Lariche did well to finish third, while Sunghak Mun got in a hot lap less than a second off the leader to finish sixth. If he can do that in qualifying he’ll probably turn into a moving traffic island, unfortunately. He was nine hundredths ahead of Alex Brundle in seventh. Eighth was Christopher Zanella. Again Julian Theobald has managed to beat his brother, and seems to be getting on better with the track. Thiemo Storz was a disappointing 18th while Mikkel Mac and Armaan Ebrahim will have been surprised to be slowest.

Friday morning practices

First up today, GP3, who have only one practice session this weekend. Instead of two 30 minute sessions, they had one 45 minute session. It was dry and wet, but the session was topped by championship leader Valtteri Bottas. Second was currently-struggling Mitch Evans, with James Calado in third. Most surprising are Simon Trummer 8th and Ivan Lukashevich 10th. Neither driver has yet scored points this season.
Matias Laine was 11th, which is also a surprise. However, the Manor driver went out from the pits after they had closed at the end of the session and did a lap of the track. He will receive a 15-place grid penalty for the race tomorrow.

In F2, we’ve got a slightly bigger field than Brands Hatch. Jordan King of course is not racing in the series for the rest of the season, and Jose Luis Abadin is also unable to drive this weekend. However, Luciano Bacheta and Rene Binder add to the numbers, as does the return of Johannes and Julian Theobald.
It was a good debut for Bacheta, who took eighth in the practice session. Championship leader Mirko Bortolotti came first, with Zanella second. Miki Monras didn’t make the top ten. But Julian Theobald (that’s right, Julian!) made tenth. Julian has usually been behind his brother this season.

F1 practice began dry, and the Mercedes drivers (perhaps doing some laps to celebrate 20 years of Michael Schumacher in F1) were doing multiple installation laps. Thus they had the two fastest times just before it started to rain. It was bad enough that for a long while there was no running on the track. The rain died down a bit, and the teams began to test the track again. First Vettel on inters, and then some others. As the track began to dry, the drivers were giving it a bit more. Bruno Senna lost control of his Renault and hit the back end into the wall, writing off the rest of his session. Later, while Bruno’s car was on the way back to the pits, Paul di Resta managed to put his car off at the same spot. The damage wasn’t so bad for the Force India. However, due to the crane being busy, they had to red flag the session as they couldn’t retrieve the car. Nobody could go faster than Schumacher on the drying track, but really the time was meaningless.

The rain affected the GP2 session towards the end. No surprise for Grosjean being fastest, but a big surprise for Romainian Michael Herck taking second just a thousandth ahead of Marcus Ericsson. Jolyon Palmer, who caused a red flag just as the session was starting, didn’t set a time and came last. Fortunately this is only practice.

Practice sessions summarised

As it turns out, the FIA overall problem only affected the drivers of Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India. But they have got their problems sorted and were driving well this morning. There were also practice sessions for F2, GP2 and GP3 today. A summary follows after the jump.
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No weekend break for these guys!

GP3 leader Nigel Melker is having another good weekend. He’s participating in F3 Euroseries as a rookie alongside the F1 feeder series’ feeder series. Anyway, he doesn’t lead F3 Euroseries, which has had two rounds of three races each so far. But the Dutchman did win the first race. This week, he’s on pole position for the first race; then the second race has the top 8 finishers from the first race reversed. In the final race, he has qualified P2. He drives for the same team in F3 Euroseries as GP3, but he is the only driver to be competing in both series. Definitely Melker will be one to watch. There are seven rounds of three races left, so the results could go anywhere.
Winning the F3 Euroseries is usually a sign of a good driver. In 2005, Lewis Hamilton won with Adrian Sutil second; in 2006, Paul di Resta won with Sebastian Vettel second. In 2007, Romain Grosjean won with Sebastien Buemi second and Nico Hulkenberg third; the Hulk won in 2008, and Julies Bianchi came third; Bianchi won the next year, and current GP2 driver Christian Vietoris came second. Christian Klien came second in 2003, with Lucas di Grassi coming third in 2005. Valtteri Bottas (currenly 7th in GP3) came third for the last two seasons. IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe won the 2003 series. However, GP3 seems to be causing attendance in this series to diminish, with only 12 regular drivers for the last two seasons compared to at least 20 in 2009.

Rio Haryanto and Luca Filippi have also been off in Auto GP, the new name for Euroseries 3000. They were qualifying today in Monza, with Luca in P4 for Super Nova and Rio P11 for DAMS. Rio drivers for Manor Racing in GP3, while Luca is still a Super Nova driver in GP2.

In F2, there were two practice sessions today. Miki Monras headed both of them. Three Brits featured in each top ten: Will Bratt (5th, 5th), Jon Lancaster (7th, 6th) and Alex Brundle (9th, 9th). As for Natalia “I’m a girl so you have to mention me” Kowalska, she was P15 in the first session. In the second session she was P11, but only 0.002s off P10 (Kelvin Snoeks), 0.015 off P9 (Brundle) and 0.016 off P8 (Bortolotti). That is incredibly close between P11 and P8. I’ll be back with a race report tomorrow.

F2 practice 2 – Silverstone 2011

Two more red flags in the afternoon practice session. The rookies were in fine form overall, but second-seasoner Mihail Marinescu set the fastest lap on 1:51.636. Second was rookie Ramon Pineiro, whose fastest sectors in FP1 would have given him the fastest lap if they’d all come together. Pineiro was the only other driver to dip into the 1:51s.
Slowest of all was red-flag causer Mun, and Julian Theobald again lagged behind his brother. The overall gap between first and last was 3.3s. Natalia Kowalska was disappointingly slow, but she is recovering from an injury that hampered her over the winter, so hopefully she will improve.
Times and stats to come…

F2 Practice 1 – Silverstone 2011

The Formula Two series got under way today at Silverstone on the Arena circuit layout – the same one that was used in the British Grand Prix last year – though I am not sure whether or not they were using the new pit complex. With five British drivers, they’ll be hoping for a good home race, and Jack Clarke – an expert at F2 having been in the reincarnated series since its return in 2009) – finished top of the timing sheets. Second, however, was rookie Ramón Piñeiro of Spain. So experience doesn’t count for everything!

There were two red flags – a brief one from rookie James Cole who managed to get going again and finished fifteenth – and one right at the end of the session from Johannes Theobald, who finished 14th. Johannes is the younger of the Theobald brothers, but finished far ahead of Julian, who was 24th.
A gap of only 3.230 seconds between first and 24th shows how close these drivers are. Of course, the cars are all the same build, and the drivers and their engineers can only adjust certain things to get the best out of them. A lot of it is down to driver skill.
I’ve updated the championship and driver lists with the final two drivers. You’ll notice that Jose Luis Abadin is daringly running with the number 13 car. I don’t believe in superstition like that, so I would probably do the same thing. He finished 21st out of the 24 drivers.

Full times and information on each driver’s runs available here at . More to come when I’ve looked at the data.