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.

The Who’s Who of the NEC

There are a lot of drivers in the 2012 Formula Renault NEC. This is partly due to the influx of British drivers following the cancellation of the Formula Renault UK Championship: Manor, Fortec and Mark Burdett have all made the switch. But with almost 40 drivers set to race in Hockenheim, how can you know who to pay attention to?

To save you the trouble, I have researched all 38 drivers listed on the NEC website, and have narrowed them down to fifteen. There may also be others who surprise during the year, and some of these may not take part in every race.

5 – Pieter Schothorst (NED) – Josef Kaufmann Racing
In a part season of the NEC, he picked up one second place finish. He has fantastic results prior to 2011, and his website is well worth checking out. His less-experienced brother is also taking part in the NEC, for Manor MP, so there should be some good rivalry on track.

6- Alex Riberas (ESP) – Josef Kaufmann Racing
Last year Alex finished 6th in the Eurocup. The Spaniard will primarily be focusing on that championship, but that is unlikely to hinder his NEC performance too much!

7 – Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) – Josef Kaufmann Racing
After finishing third in the NEC last season, he is a certain contender for the championship. Look out for him in the Eurocup as well!

8 – David Freiburghaus (SUI) – SL Formula Racing
Not one of the main contenders, but he was third in Formula Lista Junior, and was rookie champion. He should do well once he gets used to the cars. His teammate is 69-year-old American Bob Siska.

11 – Jeroen Slaghekke (NED) – Van Amersfoort Racing
The 2011 British Formula Ford championship was dominated by Scott Malvern, but Jeroen Slaghekke did well and after a close battle finished second overall. Like Freiburghaus, he should do well once he gets used to the cars.

14 – Leopold Ringbom (FIN) – Position One Motorsport
He will either do well or badly. His website is impressive and full of boasts about his ability. He was Asia Formula Renault Challenge Champion last year, but Asian championships are not known for their brilliance. Now, he must face Europe’s drivers – a much bigger challenge.

26 – Nyck de Vries (NED) – R Ace GP
Having been World Karting champion two years in a row, it’s time for Nyck to step up into single seaters. It’s a tough ask, but if the transition goes well then a 2013 championship is definitely on the cards.

27 – Pierre Gasly (FRA) – R Ace GP
Third last season in French F4, he’s got some ability but now needs to prove it in Europe. Unfortunately, his teammate (see below) beat him in French F4, so it will be a tough challenge.

28 – Andrea Pizzitola (AUT) – R Ace GP
One of two drivers to beat Pierre Gasly, Andrea Pizzitola ought to beat the Frenchman again this year. He is also making the step up. None of the R Ace GP drivers are likely to be championship challengers in 2012, but perhaps 2013?

32 – Jordan King (GBR) – Manor MP Motorsport
Of course I would never miss Jordan King from this list! Impressive in the TRS, and consistently quick, his joint season with the Eurocup should give him the experience he needs to be a championship challenger. He shone in his part-season last year, outclassing FRUK teammate Josh Hill and taking four podiums to finish tenth overall.

38 – Dennis Wusthoff (GER) – Daltec
2nd in Formula Lista Junior last season, he steps up to the NEC and should be able to challenge in the second half of the season.

40 – Kevin Giovesi (ITA) – Daltec
Seventh in Italian F3 doesn’t sound like much, but Kevin achieved two wins over the season. He’ll be a challenger but probably not a champion.

44 – Christof von Grunigen (SUI) – Daltec
Last year in a limited NEC season he picked up several good results and should be able to get victories in 2012.

55 – Josh Hill (GBR) – Fortec
The son and grandson of world champions, Josh needs to do well. He has had rather too many retirements for his own liking, but did very well in the TRS this year and ought to be a championship challenger.

You should also keep an eye out for Corinna Kamper, who took a win and a pole position in Formula Lista Junior last season. She finished sixth overall. Steijn Schothorst is Pieter’s brother, and was 4th in Formula Ford Benelux in 2011. Yu Kanamaru and Ignazio d’Agosto are both coming out of good karting careers. Jake Dennis was Intersteps champion with Fortec in his first year of racing.

The first round begins this weekend in Germany, at Hockenheim.

111 is the magic number!

F1
After 110 races and six seasons in Formula One, it was easy to believe that Nico Rosberg would never win an F1 race. Since his win at Bahrain in the 2005 GP2 championship (which he won), he has struggled to prove in F1 that he’s got what it takes to do it. Today, however, that all changed. A combination of good strategy and fast pace, as well as the right temperatures to get the Pirellis working on the Mercedes, brought him home with a good 20s to spare.
Behind Nico, things weren’t quite so simple. A huge train of drivers from second backwards showed just how close it is this year. There isn’t really a definite midfield, with cars changing from track to track. Even Massa was running in second for some time, but after a pit stop he fell to the back of the train in 13th. Perez, who led the race for a couple of laps, finished outside the points in eleventh after a battle with his teammate.
Only Jenson Button had the opportunity to challenge for the win today, but a botched McLaren pitstop put an end to that idea. And that was when the exciting racing really kicked off. In the first half of the race, few overtakes happened. But as tyres collapsed towards the end, the situation changed.
Raikkonen was running second after the final round of stops, but he’d been on his tyres longer than the others. When his tyres fell off the cliff, he could only go backwards. Vettel overtook, and Button was third with Hamilton and Webber behind. Raikkonen kept going backwards and was fourteenth at the end of the race.
Vettel had also been on his tyres for a while, and the three-stopping McLarens had the advantage. First Button and then Hamilton took their turn at the Red Bull, pushing the German off the podium. Finally, even Webber was able to overtake his teammate.
Grosjean beat Senna to sixth, while Maldonado had his best result with eighth. Alonso and Kobayashi (who got fastest lap) took the final points. But from Hamilton backwards there were only small gaps between the cars, and seventeenth-placed Daniel Ricciardo was only 63s behind Rosberg.

Schumacher was the only retirement. Having held back the pack for Rosberg before the first pit stops, a mistake in the Mercedes pits saw his right rear fail to be fitted with its wheel nut and he had to stop.

F2
Mihai Marinescu led all but the final laps of the second F2 race today. Once again it was Luciano Bacheta who was in second, and once again he overtook on the last-but-one lap and took the chequered flag. Bacheta leads the championship with a perfect 50 points. Could this be the first year the champion has the same number as the previous year? Mirko Bortolotti also had car number 4. I’d love to see it!

Auto GP
Manor MP’s Chris van der Drift clinched the win today, with Sergey Sirotkin close behind. Championship leader Pal Varhaug finished fourth, with Pal Varhaug seventh. Manor MP are still second in the team championship, with Daniel de Jong failing to finish. They have 9 points less than Super Nova.

British F3
It was raining at Monza as Carlos Sainz took his first British F3 victory for Carlin yesterday. Today, the first win was taken by Fortec’s Felix Serralles, while the second race went to Sainz at Carlin. Sainz now leads the championship ahead of Serralles.

NEC
The entry list has been announced! It’s long, but there are some good names on it: Jordan King and Josh Hill of course, and some others who might have a chance. The first race is next weekend, and is probably worth a watch much more than the F1 in Bahrain. I’m not sure where it will be on TV, but hopefully it will be somewhere!

IndyCar
There’s IndyCar tonight! It’s worth a watch if you can. I probably won’t be able to as I’m busy at the moment. Blog posts are also likely to be less regular.

Let’s not go to Bahrain

Unlike any other country in the world, F1 is a focal point in Bahrain. For the government, bringing F1 is intended to unify the nation and show that things are back to normal. For the protestors, F1 is a sign that the government will not listen. F1 represents those who have been killed and tortures.
But regardless of politics, human nature is what tells me it is not safe to travel to Bahrain. How easily a peaceful protest can turn to violence, whatever country you are in and whatever the intentions of the organisers.
From past experience, I fear the Bahrain government will exert a large amount of force on the protestors and arrest many during the F1 weekend. This will cause a response. The government will not target F1 personnel of course, but what about the protestors? Off the track is dangerous enough, and if they can get onto the track who knows what they will do?
I fear for the GP2 and F1 men and women who are heading out to the country. Their lives are in danger, and I will be praying my heart out to God for their safety.
Put money aside for once, Bernie Ecclestone. Postponing/cancelling Bahrain will not be a sign one way or the other. If you leave because of safety fears against the protestors, that is not supporting the protestors. It is also not supporting the government. F1 can ill afford another death. F1 has a great safety record mechanically. Let’s keep it a great safety record from a human standpoint too. Bernie, where will F1 be if someone is kidnapped or dies? Nobody will watch it. You will not have any money then. So come on, do the sensible thing. Cancel Bahrain before you lose F1 altogether.

Alternatives
If you want to watch a different racing series the weekend of the Bahrain GP, it’s the opening weekend of the Formula Renault NEC. It seems the series is oversubscribed – you can take a look at the massive entry list here – so there will be a lot of great young future F1 drivers on track. This includes Josh Hill (son of Damon, grandson of Graham), and my personal favourite Jordan King.
I’m not sure where/if you’ll be able to watch it on TV, but hopefully somewhere will have it.

Let’s hope it doesn’t have to come down to boycotting Bahrain. Bernie Ecclestone will have a lot to answer for if it does.

Quaife-Hobbs begins weekend on a high

Auto GP
Today the teams were testing in Valencia, minus Chris van der Drift who will be back in action for Manor MP tomorrow. Championship leader and winner at the first race in Monza, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, went fastest for Super Nova. Sergey Sirotkin, whose weekend in Italy was marred by a stall, was second-fastest. Adrian’s teammate Victor Guerin – who had an appalling weekend last time out, was third-fastest.
Sten Pentus and Yann Cunha both did well on their first Auto GP outings, with Pentus beating his teammate Pal Varhaug by 0.02s. Yann Cunha was 0.4s faster than his teammate Giancarlo Serenelli.
Matteo Beretta has moved from Virtuosi to Zele, becoming teammate to Giacomo Ricci. Beretta is currently last in the championship (yep, even Giancarlo Serenelli is ahead). Speaking of Serenelli, he might be better to focus his attention on Auto GP as he returns to motorsport, considering his disasterous first weekend of GP2. I suspect, however, that the money flowing from Venezuela will secure his seat for the near future.

Chris van der Drift was not present for today’s tests, but will be back tomorrow for practice and qualifying.

NEC
Fortec Motorsport confirmed today that in light of the FR UK championship’s cancellation for 2012, they will be entering their four drivers into the Formula Renault NEC. Those are Josh Hill, Shahaan Engineer, Jake Dennis and Dan de Zille.
Josh drove for Manor in FR UK last season, and shone in the Finals as well but with Fortec. He also picked up some excellent results in the Toyota Racing Series.
Dan de Zille came sixth in British Formula Ford last season, picking up five podiums, and drove for Fortec in the FR UK Finals.
Jake Dennis won the InterSteps Championship, with eight wins out of 20 races. He also drove for Fortec in the Finals.
Finally Shahaan Engineer is the only Indian driver in the group (the others are British). He, like the others, participated in the Finals with Fortec, and also drove in TRS NZ. His younger brother Cyrus is also a racing driver.