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.

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.

GP2 and 3 qualifying

It’s not been a good weekend for Addax driver Giedo van der Garde. Qualifying 20th after he failed to get in a single clean lap, he and his trainer were robbed last night. Not a good way for the man currently second in GP2 to start the weekend.
The close battle for second is hotting up, and the front row is taken up by Charles Pic (VDG’s teammate and fourth in the championship) and Luca Filippi (fifth). Luca has been second for the last four races, and this has resulted in two wins and three fastest laps. Third-placed Jules Bianchi only managed to qualify nineteenth.
It was a better session for Carlin, as both their drivers made it into the top ten. Fabio Leimer starts third which is an improvement after a tough season for the Swiss. After Parente in fourth, champion Grosjean is fifth followed by the Racing Engineering drivers of Clos and Vietoris. Adam Carroll and Sam Bird start eighth and ninth respectively.
Yellow flags prevented anyone from setting a hot lap at the end of the session, but the nature of Monza should make overtaking fairly easy. With less than a second between pole and 20th, the field is as close as GP3. It should be – as ever – a cracking race this afternoon.

GP3 now, and Vittorio Ghirelli returns, albeit at Addax in place of Dean Smith who’s been struggling in the second half of the season. At Jenzer, his old seat has been taken by Christophe Hurni, a 48-year-old who is probably the oldest driver to take to the track at Monza this weekend! It’s possible that one of the Porsche drivers may be older of course.
Fifth-placed Adrian Quaife-Hobbs took pole for Manor Motorsport, while Silverstone winner Nico Muller is second. Adrian’s teammate Rio Haryanto is third, with Mitch Evans fourth. Championship leader Valtteri Bottas starts fifth with teammate James Calado in sixth. Arden’s Simon Trummer is seventh, next to Christensen. Tamas Pal Kiss and Tom Dillman make up row five. Alex Sims starts 11th and Nigel Melker 13th.
Free practice gave Lewis Williamson a ten-place grid penalty for putting himself and Quaife-Hobbs off the road, while Daniel Mancinelli was demoted three places for impeding AQH earlier in the same lap. They will start from almost the back of the grid.

Afternoon practice and GP2 qualifying

F1
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.

GP2
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.

F2
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.

Debut pole for Razia and AirAsia

Celebrations today for Caterham Team AirAsia as they took pole by 0.140s ahead of Luca Filippi – admittedly, they were helped by a spin from Adam Carroll in the middle sector which caused yellow flags to be waved, and Filippi had to abandon his hot lap. However, Luiz Razia had been fast all session and you take the chances where you can. He completely deserves to have pole.
This is Luiz’s first ever GP2 pole position, though he has previously been a race winner in 2009 with Scuderia Coloni in Italy. It is also the team’s first pole, coming hot on the heels of their win at Monaco when polesitter Sam Bird stalled off the line. Seize the day. AirAsia’s form has been up and down this season, with the team sometimes finishing in the points and sometimes barely finishing at all. But Monaco shares similar characteristics with Hungary so the team should do well on both tracks.
On the second row behind Razia and Filippi are Marcus Ericsson and Charles Pic, with the two French drivers Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi on row three. However, Bianchi is in trouble for an incident with Julian Leal, and may end up losing some grid positions. Davide Valsecchi has been penalised 5 grid places from the German GP, and starts 19th.

Meanwhile, in Formula One the fastest lap each session was taken by Lewis Hamilton as the Red Bulls continue to fall back into the main field. They’ve lost their edge over everyone else. For once, Jarno Trulli was enjoying his power steering, and went faster than his teammate in the second session. Webber clipped the astroturf at turn 9 during the first session, bashing off his front wing for a marshall’s souvienir, immitating GP3’s Luciano Bacheta, who had rolled severely at the same place in their first practice session. Webber was faster than Vettel in the second session, but still only finished fourth. Vettel was fifth. Button and Alonso were both faster than the Red Bulls.

In GP3 practice, aside from Bacheta’s roll it was fairly standard. The amazing guys at Mucke Motorsport managed to get a new car built up for the young Brit for practice two. He didn’t quite have the pace, but seems confident for qualifying tomorrow morning. Fastest in P2 was last week’s race winner Valtteri Bottas, with James Calado, Tom Dillmann, Mitch Evans, Antonio Felix da Costa, Rio Haryanto, Nico Muller and many other drivers close behind. Surprisingly, Ivan Lukashevich got himself 13th fastest, buoyed by the support from the Russian fans who had travelled to the circuit. But there’s all to play for tomorrow morning in qualifying.

Qualifyings

Sorry for the silence on practice and qualifying. I have been very busy recently.

F1
Webber takes pole! They only managed to get one dry run in Q3, but it was enough for the Aussie to go quicker. And Heikki Kovalainen made it to Q2 after the rain prevented the other teams from getting in a better lap. Daniel Ricciardo qualified – as expected – in 24th place, while Timo Glock outqualified Jarno Trulli struggling this weekend in his Lotus.
McLaren are having real trouble. Hamilton is only 10th on the grid tomorrow while Di Resta made it into 6th next to Button in 5th. The Ferraris share row 2.

GP2
A wet qualifying messed things up, with all the frontrunners in the middle of the field. Dangerous for accidents. But unlucky Bianchi got in a hot lap before the rain came down and takes pole. Grosjean starts 13th after qualifying 3rd because of his penalty after causing an accident in Valencia.

GP3
This morning pole was taken by Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, with James Calado alongside him after a penalty was revoked. Lewis Williamson and Mitch Evans take row 2 for Arden, and hopefully will do well to seal a great day for their boss Mark Webber. Nigel Melker starts 16th after his penalty.

The races are up next. Let’s see what happens…

F2 and GP3 qualifying

Italian Mirko Bortolotti took provisional pole today for the first race at a soggy Spa. He qualified 1.3s ahead of the nearest competitor Ramon Pineiro, with Alex Brundle in third and Christopher Zanella fourth. However, he was then penalised for going too fast with yelow flags waving so now Pineiro and Brundle will share the front row. Jon Lancaster is again notable by his absence, the cause of which I am unable to determine. I am concerned that something serious has happened, since if it had just been a car failure they surely would have mentioned something by now. Neither Mun, Kralev or Sureshwaren set reasonable qualifying times, but will hopefully still be able to race.

In GP3, plenty of different drivers took the chance to lead the session including Mitch Evans and Adrian Quaiffe-Hobbs. But in the end it was Evans’ Arden teammate Lewis Williamson who took his first pole position. Arden have a good lineup for 2011 with a pair of strong rookie drivers who taken two of the three pole positions this season. Second and third were two other Brits: Dean Smith and Adrian Quaiffe-Hobbs. Evans was fourth, then Vainio, Sims, Dillmann, Chaves, Bottas and Calado, with Sims and Chaves both recovering despite a collision. The final qualifying positions are as ever subject to penalties.

Finally, a brief word to say that Takuma Sato has taken his first IndyCar pole. So far the best Japanese F1 driver, Sato has been doing reasonably well in IndyCar as well, though sometimes his races have been muddled by his team’s poor strategy choices.