The first big piece of news today was that KMP Racing have been renamed Team RFR – Russia France Racing. The team will field a pair of Russian drivers in the 2012 championship – 2010 champion Mikhail Aleshin, and Anton Neybilitskiy. Neybilitskiy has managed one podium in the series so far, and with only average results in his two completed seasons, he will be hoping for better this year.
Nick Yelloly, who had a great part-season alongside his GP3 races last year, has signed for British team Comtec, who came last in the championship with only two points. With Yelloly, they will hope for much better.
Testing continued in Estoril for the second and final day, and once again the drivers were showing a strong hand. Finnish driver Aaro Vainio was fastest, beating Nico Muller’s time from yesterday by one second. Tio Ellinas was second-fastest, the Cypriot showing just how good British racing series are at training young drivers (he graduates from Formula Renault UK). Ellinas was also fastest in the afternoon, though he could not match his morning time. Other drivers who shone were Mitch Evans, Conor Daly and Antonio Felix da Costa. Not all these drivers have been signed for 2012, and it its hoped that they soon will be, because they could make this an incredibly close and hard-fought championship to rival last season.
Times mean nothing in F1 testing. Lotus were of course not present after the problems of day one. Toro Rosso were also struggling, causing two red flags though one was deliberately caused by running out of fuel. Petrov had his first day in the Caterham and was doing okay. Fastest overall was Nico Hulkenberg, the Force India continuing to put in good times.
F2 announced its first driver today with Luciano Bacheta, a British racer of Indian and Italian descent. In 2011, Bacheta began in GP3, taking fifth in the Silverstone feature race having started 24th after a great decision to start on wet tyres. He left GP3 to compete in a part-season of F2, taking top-ten finishes in all his races including a best of fifth in the second race at Monza. He beat Jordan King, who also had four top-ten finishes, by a single point, and only lost out to Thiemo Storz, who was doing a complete season, by the same amount.
Bacheta, who will be driving the number four car, said on Twitter “It’s confirmed, I’m racing F2 this year!!! So happy and excited for the season :-).” (@LucianoBacheta)
Also confirmed today was Johnny Cecotto, Jr., who will be driving for Addax in the 2012 GP2 season. The German-born Venezuelan who is the son of motorbike champion Johnny Cecotto will be entering his third full season in the sport.
Finn Aaro Vainio, meanwhile, continues his GP3 campaign as Lotus confirm he will be partnering Daniel Abt at the team. Vainio picked up 12 points last season, including third in the Barcelona feature race. Though his results were inconsistent, this should improve with the change of team.
Romain Grosjean is back! The reigning GP2 champion, who was previously thrown in the deep end at Renault for 2009 after Nelson Piquet jr left, will be driving alongside Kimi Raikkonen in 2012 at Lotus F1 Team.
The second French driver to make the grid for the next season, Grosjean has had a dominating year in GP2. By himself, he gave DAMS enough points to finish second behind Addax and their two top-five finishing drivers Giedo van der Garde and Marussia newbie Charles Pic.
Having won the short GP2 Asia championship, as he did with the longer one in 2008, he moved into the 2011 championship as a lead contender. At Turkey he took pole position, then won the race. But did he have it in him to win? He only got one point in the sprint – for securing fastest lap – and no points in Spain. Then came Monaco, and he really began to show his ability. Mastering pit stop strategy brilliantly he was able to come from the back of the field after failing to set a good lap time and getting a penalty as well. He finished fourth, and came third in the sprint the next day. At Silverstone he did it again, starting 13th but finishing fourth before winning the sprint, and taking fastest lap both times. The Frenchman’s worst race came after he had sealed the championship, finishing 21st in the sprint at Monza having been run into by Charles Pic at the start and requiring a new rear wing.
(You know you’re good when your overtakes video is nearly eight minutes long)
Many people had doubts about Romain Grosjean after 2009, but his impressive GP2 season and maturer attitude – alongside his coming in at the start of the season instead of the middle – tells me that he has a good chance on his return. Even alongside Kimi Raikkonen.
Aaro Vainio is set to continue in GP3 with ART, while Kevin Ceccon be driving for Coloni in GP2. Zoel Amberg (0 points in GP3 this year) has signed for Pons for Formula Renault 3.5.
Aaro Vainio – 14
Finnish driver Aaro has been doing well this season. Apart from the first qualifying session, when he started at the back of the grid, his worst start has been 12th and usually he starts within the points. When it comes to the race, however, he can be hit by bad luck. Perhaps he’s just better at qualifying. That said, he has had a podium – at Barcelona in the feature race when he came third – and two other points finishes – all in the feature race. At Hungary, he barely missed out on the sprint points as he finished 7th. He has improved in consistency and ability through the season as his results have got better. Expect more from this driver in the future.
Best qualifying: 3
Worst qualifing: 30
Best finish: 3 (Barcelona feature)
Worst finish: 20 (Barcelona sprint)
GP2 and GP3 had their races this afternoon. Qualifying for the Indy 500 is also going on. Ho Pin Tung, the Renault reserve driver, has been in an accident just a short while ago, and taken to hospital. It’s on YouTube: a terrifying spin and smash, but he walks away.
In GP2, the race was begun on pole by Giedo van der Garde. The Dutchman also took fastest lap, but the win went to Charles Pic – his French teammate – jumping him in the pits. Sam Bird made it three podiums out of three as he finished third. Both Johnny Ceccotto and Fabio Leimer started from the back of the grid, but improved dramatically. Leimer was P9, only just outside the points! He has a chance to get there tomorrow. However, there was a retirement for AirAsia’s Luiz Razia, Luca Filippi (Super Nova) had an accident right at the start, and Michael Herck spun and collected Esteban Gutierrez mid-way through the race.
In GP3, the win went to polesitter Mitch Evans, taking a great victory for MW Arden. Tech 1’s Andrea Caldarelli started from second but could only manage fourth, being beaten by James Calado of ART and his teammate Aaro Vainio. Tech 1’s third driver Tamas Pal Kiss celebrated his recent birthday by also finishing in the points – a great day for the French team. Nigel Melker managed more points, giving him at least joint lead depending on who got the fastest lap.