Auto GP drivers join F2 ranks

F2
Having competed in the first three rounds of Auto GP, and picking up reasonable results in the first two of those rounds, Max Snegirev returns to Formula Two for its remaining rounds. With F2’s round at Paul Ricard clashing with Auto GP at Curitiba (Brazil) on July 20-22, he could still compete in the majority of the Auto GP season, though it would create a rather hectic timetable. Max picked up 14 points in last year’s F2 season, but the smaller field should allow him to pick up more points this year.
He will have competition from another driver in this year’s Auto GP championship, Victor Guerin. Guerin has been Adrian Quaife-Hobbs’ teammate at Super Nova, and has struggled in comparison to the Brit, only taking two fifth-place finishes. Guerin has a good record, however, and will hopefully do well.

With Paul Ricard returning as an F1 track from next year, F2 now has six F1 tracks on its calendar, alongside Brands Hatch and the Algarve. F2 is at the Algarve circuit this coming weekend, with live TV coverage on the F2 website as well as on Motors TV.

GP2
The F1 feeder series is back this weekend as well, with its back-to-back rounds at Sakhir. It will be a standalone event, with practice, qualifying and race one on Friday, followed by race two on Saturday. As usual, every session will be on Sky TV. Hopefully, Jon Lancaster will be back but we shall just have to see.

F1
Testing in Mugello starts soon: May 1st-3rd, to be exact. Originally planning to run Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey, it seems McLaren may need to give Lewis Hamilton some running time as well after Bahrain (though honestly I think it’s their pit stops, not their drivers, who need testing time). Jerome d’Ambrosio will get a day in the Lotus E20 before Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Other teams have yet to confirm their lineups.

As mentioned above, Bernie Ecclestone has done a deal to secure Paul Ricard as a Grand Prix venue for the future. It will alternate with another track – presumably Spa – and have its first race next season.

Advertisements

Great racing under a shadow

GP2
It was almost a perfect weekend for Davide Valsecchi, coming from eighth to first to win the Bahrain sprint race in the closing laps. Calado had made a good start, getting in the lead ahead of Leimer and Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Leimer scrapped, and the Racing Engineering driver eventually won. Leimer also took the Brit, who had a bit of wear of his tyres and also lost out to his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. In the lead, Leimer was judged to have gone too fast under yellow flags and had to take a drive through penalty. Gutierrez was back but not in charge as Valsecchi was right behind him. The Italian took the win in the penultimate lap.
Felipe Nasr, despite his penalty and having to start from the pitlane after stalling on the way to the grid, finished 6th. It was an excellent drive from the young Brazilian. Simon Trummer also did well and took the final point in eighth – his first in GP2. Razia finished fourth, Chilton fifth, and Jolyon Palmer also had a great race to finish seventh. For a sprint race, there were a lot of drivers coming from the back into the points. Even Ricardo Teixeira had a good race to finish 13th, van der Garde finished 9th and also took fastest lap to make sure Valsecchi didn’t have a perfect weekend. Grid staller Tom Dillmann finished 10th.

F1
Usually when Vettel starts in the lead, he’ll get miles down the road and nobody will be able to catch him. Today, however, Lotus were flying. Grosjean and Raikkonen soon found themselves second and third, and after pit stops it was the Finn in second. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to quite get close enough to Vettel, but they put pressure on the Red Bull. The team were delighted with their double podium – the first for the Enstone team since 2006. It was also the first double podium for a team called Lotus since the 1970s!
Behind, things weren’t quite so simple. McLaren were struggling with pit stops especially for Hamilton. The Brit was released late after wheel nut trouble, putting him in the path of Nico Rosberg. Rosberg squeezed Hamilton as he overtook, in an incident that was put under investigation by the stewards. He later had another, similar, incident with Alonso. Button was doing well until he had problems in the final laps, and was forced to retire two laps from the end. Senna also had to end his race early.
A two-stop strategy paid off for Force India’s Paul di Resta, and he took sixth behind Rosberg. Webber was well off Vettel’s pace, but managed his traditional fourth. In seventh was Alonso, doing well for Ferrari, and then Hamilton behind. Massa was racing well and took ninth, at times faster than his teammate during the race. Button’s retirement saw Schumacher promoted to the final points position.

Frankly, the race was fantastic and if it weren’t for the circumstances in Bahrain, I’d be delighted. I’m happy for all the guys, but I hope they stay safe as they celebrate and prepare to leave Bahrain. I also hope the GP2 boys stay safe as they remain in the country for another week. James Calado reported seeing “A lot of black smoke around the villages on way back from track. Police with stun grenades at the ready.” (@JamesCalado)

Force India skip free practice – should we be in Bahrain?

F1
Practice One saw limited running due to the sandy conditions. As per usual, Lewis Hamilton came out fastest with Vettel close behind. Force India were busiest, and even put their cars on softs in the first session. Paul di Resta was third fastest, Hulkenberg sixth. As the session closed, it emerged that the Silverstone-based team planned to only run a part-session in FP2, or maybe even miss it, due to safety fears. What is most confusing is that qualifying is at the same time as FP2, and the race tomorrow will be later. So why miss FP2 but not the other sessions?

Force India did indeed miss Q2, while the Caterhams moved closer to the midfield – their drivers split Senna and Maldonado. Nico Rosberg was fastest, though he has concerns about the heat with the tyres. Button was not happy with the McLaren, but the Red Bulls were doing well. Webber was second, outpacing his teammate who was third. Then it was Hamilton, Schumacher, Button. Kobayashi got the Sauber into seventh ahead of Alonso, Grosjean and Perez.

Some Sauber team members were also involved in an incident last night, but escaped without harm.

Protests have been escalating in Bahrain for the last while, and there have been serious clashes with the police. We can only hope that nobody is seriously injured – Bahraini or F1. With more protests planned for the next two days, surely things will only get worse?

GP2
In practice Davide Valsecchi easily went fastest, 0.67 ahead of Max Chilton in second. Johnny Cecotto was third-fastest, 0.87 off Valsecchi.
Qualifying saw the Italian repeat his effort, going fastest on options on his third lap. Esteban Gutierrez will start second, with Felipe Nasr third to continue his spectacular rookie season. Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer took fourth, ahead of Johnny Cecotto – the Venezuelan having a good weekend so far. Ericsson took the sixth-fastest time but his 10-place grid penalty from Malaysia sent him down to sixteenth, promoting Stephane Richelmi. James Calado was seventh, Luiz Razia eighth. Chilton and Haryanto shared the fifth row for Carlin.
Brendon Hartley was given a five-place grid penalty for an incident with Giedo van der Garde, knocking him down to last behind Ricardo Teixeira. Slow Serenelli beat Teixeira by nearly two tenths of a second, but both were way off the pace.

NEC
Kevin Kleveros was Manor MP’s unannounced driver in car 31 for the opening round of the Formula Renault NEC. In Q1, Stoffel Vandoorne took pole with Pierre Gasly second and Jordan King third. The session had been held up for a few minutes because of hail!
Q2 was also red flagged due to rain and a huge number of crashes. In the end, Vandoorne took pole again. Reigning Intersteps champion Jake Dennis took second, while an impressive run from Shahaan Engineer saw him go third.

Worrying times in Bahrain

Bahrain
A car carrying four members of the Force India team was involved in a car bombing incident in Bahrain yesterday. While none of them were injured, it is believed that tear gas and Molotov Cocktails were thrown near the car. The action was sparked by protestors with petrol bombs, and the tear gas was the natural retaliation of the police. One team member not involved has asked for and been given permission to go home, while I have also heard from Twitter that one of those in the car has also asked to go home.
This may have been an isolated incident, but unlike the media who are bravely taking on extra responsibilities to seek out the protestors and find out what is really going on, the Force India guys were just there to do their job. Protests are expected to increase over the weekend, with one scheduled for tomorrow after FP2, and others over the remainder of the weekend.
Force India will still race on Sunday, though Nico Hulkenberg has expressed reservations. The team have put in additional security measures to make sure everything goes well.
This race will be overshadowed by the political situation, but I am going to watch it. Not to support the government, but because if the F1 and GP2 guys are going out there despite fears for safety, how can I – in the safety of Britain – not support them? I hope that they all stay safe and that no more incidents happen. F1 people are not a target, but they could get caught up in things.

Meanwhile many members of the press who were expecting to report on the race have been forbidden from entering the country, being turned back at the airport, while it’s rumoured that tourists are being forced to buy F1 tickets in order to enter the country.

GP2
In a very last-minute change, Brendon Hartley will be replacing Jon Lancaster at Ocean this weekend. Even the Ocean website has quotes from Lancaster, as well as his teammate Nigel Melker, about Bahrain. The British driver did tweet last Friday: “All that media attention in Bahrain, hope nobody tries to prove the decision wrong to race in Bahrain. #risky” (@Lancaster4F1)
Hartley drove two rounds for Ocean in the 2011 championship, picking up four points for the team in the feature race in Belgium. Shockingly, these were the team’s only points of the season. The Kiwi also picked up several podiums to finish fifth in the FR 3.5 series, but had not been given a drive this year.
I hope that Lancaster is OK. I recall last year that he had been hoping to drive in the Spa-Francorchamps round of F2 but had been unable to compete, leaving him without a drive for the rest of 2012 after budget problems. He’s a good driver and definitely deserves a seat in GP2.

Powell Power in GP3

GP3
As the opening round of the GP3 series draws closer, the final drivers announcements are being made. At Status, the series’ third female driver has found her place – Alice Powell. Unlike Jorda or Piria, Powell can claim race victories to her name. She was the first Formula Renault BARC female champion, and finished 9th last season in the Formula Renault UK championship ahead of Dan Wells, and only just behind her teammates Josh Hill and Jordan King. Certainly she is one of motor racing’s best female prospects, and despite her lack of experience she outperformed both other girls in the last GP3 test.
I don’t think she’s going to be a championship challenger, but she should pick up a few points.

Eurocup
Two days of testing have just taken place at Aragon, with Formula Renault UK runner-up Oliver Rowland (the winner of the Autosport McLaren BDRC Award) taking the fastest time overall. Alex Riberas was second-fastest, with Norman Nato third. All the fastest times were set this morning, with the track at optimum conditions for the cars. The first race gets underway at the start of May.
Several drivers missed the closing session in order to head to Hockenheim for this weekend’s opening round of the Formula Renault NEC. Other NEC drivers stayed for the final session. The NEC recently started a Twitter account where you can follow the progress of the series: @FR2NEC.

GP2
HRT reserve driver Dani Clos is set to replace Josef Kral at Addax for the second round of the series in Bahrain. No reason has been given for this change, though money is likely to have been a factor. Currently, Kral is the highest-placed driver in the championship who hasn’t scored a point. Last year Clos finished 9th in the GP2 championship; his results included two second-place finishes.

Other
Dani Sordo is set to replace an injured Jari-Matti Latvala at the Argentinian round of the WRC. Latvala broke his collarbone in a skiing accident. Sordo, who has impressed for Prodrive in the Mini, is expected to take the Finn’s place at Ford but only for one round. Latvala is currently sixth in the championship, seven points ahead of Sordo (who has only competed in three rounds compared to Latvala’s four).

Penalties for Karthikeyan, Ericsson and Teixeira

F1
Narain Karthikeyan was given a 20-second penalty after the race in Malaysia for causing the collision with Sebastian Vettel. Considering how wet the edges of the track were at the time, and how the Indian needed to move away from the edges to make sure he didn’t spin, I’m not sure he was to blame. Vettel should have given the HRT more room – it was a wide stretch of track – and been less enthusiastic to move onto the racing line.

GP3
As expected, Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed at Carlin for 2012. The Portuguese driver who won the final GP3 race last year with Status, will be Alex Brundle’s teammate. da Costa was 2009 FR NEC champion and came third in the Eurocup. Clearly talented, he should have a great year at the British team.

F2
2010 champion Dean Stoneman returns to F2 for the pre-season test at Silverstone this week. The Brit, who was due to drive in FR 3.5 last season but was diagnosed with cancer, has made a good recovery. It is possible that he will be back in the series this year.

GP2
Marcus Ericsson was handed a 10-place grid penalty for the accident with Davide Valsecchi’s during the weekend’s sprint race. The Italian had gone off the road trying to overtake Luiz Razia, and when he came back onto the track, the Swede hit him and caused the car to flip over. GP2 cars are built to F1 safety standards, which was good news for the Indian. iSport believe the penalty to be unfair.
Meanwhile Ricardo Teixeira was fined for coming back onto the track in an unsafe manner. The Angolan driver had gone the wrong way down the access road after going off the track, then turned himself around once back on it.

Mega rookie win for Calado

The GP2 sprint race in Malaysia was well worth waking up early for, with some of the best driving seem on track so far this year. Polesitter Calado led the cars around, but it was always close between him and his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The British rookie, taking part in only his fourth GP2 race (including the final), took his second victory. Gutierrez was also followed closely, with reigning British F3 champion Felipe Nasr always on the lookout for an overtaking opportunity. Though Nasr didn’t manage it, he did take his first GP2 podium.
Giedo van der Garde had a cracking start and soon found himself overtaking Fabio Leimer for fourth, while Stefano Coletti struggled somewhat. Coletti had difficulties with his car, and retired in the closing laps. Behind Leimer, there was some fantastic racing between Valsecchi and Razia, with Chilton close behind. Razia did a fantastic job of defending from the Italian, and overtook Leimer in the final laps. Valsecchi ran wide trying to overtake his former teammate, came back on track and was clipped by Marcus Ericsson. The DAMS rolled, while Ericsson stopped on track. Both drivers were fine, and the iSport car was cleared incredibly quickly with no need for a safety car.
This let Max Chilton and Nathanael Berthon get up behind Razia – at this point in eighth and ninth. The trio were catching Coletti, and Razia quickly overtook. Behind, an incredible scrap for the final two points positions took place. So far, this is one of the best pieces of driving I have seen in 2012. Chilton tried to overtake Coletti, and while the Monegasque driver was defending the Carlin, Berthon got ahead of both of them, then Chilton came back and overtook Berthon leaving Coletti behind. At this point the Coloni was struggling, however, and soon fell back.
Out of the points, Tom Dillmann was showing his potential with some great overtaking. Ricardo Teixeira was struggling to race against himself, let alone other drivers.

Luiz Razia now leads the championship with Valsecchi second and Calado third. But anything could happen between now and the end of the season. It’s a long one, with rounds to come at Bahrain and Singapore as well as the usual European races. It is going to be great!