GP2 testing begins

F1
HRT passed their crash tests, and hope to be present for at least some of the final test session in Barcelona. Marussia, however, were not so lucky. They have failed their final crash test and will not be able to properly test the car until first practice in Melbourne.
A clarification of F1 regulations means that Red Bull and Ferrari will only be able to test their cars from Thursday until Sunday. Teams are not allowed to test in the week before the first race of the season, which the teams believed meant from the Monday before the race. However, the regulations have been clarified to mean the first Monday-Sunday week without an event before the first race of the season. This also means that Lotus will not be able to have five days of testing after they missed out at the last test.

GP2
As testing commences, more drivers have been confirmed. Luiz Razia has changed to Arden, while Caterham brings in their F1 tester Giedo van der Garde, and Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez.
Present at the test but not confirmed for 2012 are Nathanael Berthon (Racing Engineering), Dani Clos and Daniel de Jong (Rapax), Vittorio Ghirelli (Lazarus) and Tom Dillmann (Ocean Racing Tech).

This morning the fastest driver was DAMS’s Davide Valsecchi, second was Fabio Onidi (Trident), third was 2010 F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer (iSport). Palmer’s teammate Marcus Ericsson was fourth-fastest. Notably both Lotus GP/ART drivers set great times, with Gutierrez fifth and GP3 graduate Calado sixth.

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GP3 loosens three-car rules

It was revealed in this week’s Autosport magazine that the strictly-imposed GP3 three-car limit will be loosened from the coming season, with only two cars being a requirement and the third being optional. In the past, teams have struggled to find a third driver for their team, but in order to avoid fines have had to operate over a race weekend at a loss. Hopefully many of the ten teams will still run three cars, and there are certainly enough drivers out there who are willing to get into GP3. This should help, however, to prevent some drivers trailing a long way behind the others.
The Tech 1 team, who last year had to find a replacement for Italian driver Andrea Caldarelli (he left to race in Japan), welcomed the announcement. GP3 CEO Bruno Michel said that the reason for the change was to help make sure the teams could continue in the series.

In other news, Kevin Korjus has re-signed with Tech 1 in Formula Renault 3.5. The Estonian won three races last season and finished sixth in the championship.
The GP3 branch of Lotus GP (formerly known as ART) has signed German racing driver Daniel Abt for 2012. Abt was consistently quick in post-season testing, and the team can clearly see the potential for their third successive champion in him.

F1 teams have been announcing their launch dates, which I will put in a separate post and stick to the front of this blog so you can check it.

ART becomes Lotus

ART Grand Prix, a team founded in 1991, have shown great success in their time in GP2, GP3 and F3 Euroseries, but from this season the ART name will not be present in GP2 or GP3. Instead, they will be known as Lotus GP as their title sponsor from 2011 becomes their team name. This will connect them strongly to the Lotus F1 Team (formerly known as Renault), and they will be driving in black and gold.
ART has produced both GP3 champions and three of the seven GP2 champions (Rosberg, Hamilton and Hulkenberg). It has also produced six F3 Euroseries champions, and since 2003 (when it started in F3 Euroseries) it finished first every year except 2010 – when it finished second. In GP3 it has always been team champion as well, and its worst finish in GP2 is fifth on two occasions.
This is a team that has made winners and even F1 champions. Even with a different name it should go on to make more. Will Lotus GP’s lineup of Esteban Gutierrez and James Calado – both graduates of ART’s GP3 team – or Aaro Vainio who will drive for their GP3 team be the next to join that list?

There’s only one way to find out…

de Villota to become 2012 Lotus reserve

Spanish racing driver Maria de Villota looks set to become one of Lotus GP’s (currently Renault) reserve drivers in 2012. According to El Confidencial, all that is now needed are a few signatures and the deal will be done. Maria, 31, aims to become the first female F1 driver in 20 years, since Giovanna Amati attempted to qualify for three races with Brabham in 1992. The last woman to actually start an F1 race was Lella Lombardi in 1976. Driving for Brabham, March and Williams in her career, she scored half a point in the 1975 Spanish GP for March in a race that was cut short due to the tragic accident of Rolf Stommelen that killed five spectators and left the driver badly injured. Lella started her final race in Austria in 1976 with Brabham on August 15th. That race is also notable for being Penske’s only European win thanks to John Watson, and the last race in which no Ferrari took part.
Maria has most recently competed in Superleague Formula for Spain, but the series was unfortunately cut short this season. She only competed in the round at Assen, and had a tough weekend of it. Whether she has the ability to compete against F1 drivers is a serious question that must be asked. We cannot have a woman in F1 just because she’s a woman. She has to be competitive.
Maria clearly knows she has to work hard, however, and according to the article will be spending her Christmas holidays working hard in the gym to achieve the required level of fitness. She has test driven the Renault this year at Paul Ricard, and also driven the team’s showcar at the World Series by Renault event at the Circuit de Catalunya.

In other news, Daniel Abt continues to be superbly quick in the GP3 tests, having headed all three sessions so far with Lotus ART. Matias Laine’s new-found speed is also placing him high in the standings along with Conor Daly and Marlon Stockinger. Today, 2012 GP2 driver James Calado is also in the car doing some work for ART.

Calado flies under the desert sun

There were two great races today in Abu Dhabi. First the GP2 cars fought under the sun, and then the F1 cars chased each other in the early evening. The F1 report will come later.

James Calado, ART’s new signing for 2012, started from pole. He was closely chased in the race, particularly in the first few laps when there were less than three seconds between the top five: Calado, da Costa, Ericsson, Razia and Dillmann. But Calado maintained his lead, eventually pulling away as da Costa was under pressure from Ericsson and eventually gave way. Next it was Razia’s turn. The AirAsia driver got ahead, and da Costa severely cut the corner to get the position back. He was given a drive-through penalty.
Mihai Marinescu crashed, causing yellow flags which were ignored once by Razia and Leal, but twice by Ricci. Leal and Razia both had drive-through penalties, while Ricci had a stop-and-go. By the final lap, there was a massive battle for fifth with Leimer pushing Stefano Coletti. Behind were Esteban Gutierrez, Kevin Ceccon, Alex Rossi and Luiz Razia. Leimer tangled with Coletti, putting the Monegasque driver out. The final lap was an almighty scrap, with several drivers going wide on the final corner. Gutierrez, who had started 21st, took fifth. Ceccon took sixth. Rossi and Razia came seventh and eighth, allowing the Brazilian to take the point for fastest lap.
Marcus Ericsson finished second behind Calado, while his iSport teammate and GP3 graduate Tom Dillmann came third. Jolyon Palmer finished fourth. As the best GP3 graduates, Calado and Dillmann earn monetary rewards from Pirelli; they had equal points, but Calado’s win gives him the 15,000 Euros.

Yellow and green

Two champions will be driving the Williams FW33 at the F1 young drivers’ test this year. Mirko Bortolotti will be taking control of the car on day three as his prize for winning the F2 championship, while GP3 champion and Williams tester Valtteri Bottas will be driving for the first two days. So no surprises.

Meanwhile Riad Asmat the Team Lotus/Caterham CEO has announced that the team will be continuing with the green and yellow colour scheme in 2012. It’s a great way for the team to maintain continuity whilst leaving behind the Lotus brand that has caused so much confusion this season. I can’t help but wonder if the ART GP2 and GP3 teams currently sponsored by Group Lotus will be changing their colour scheme in 2012; currently Caterham Team AirAsia uses the same green and yellow as their F1 sister, and will most likely continue to do so in the next season.

Calado gets closer to F1

ART GP have become the first GP2 team to complete their 2012 lineup, let alone announce it! 2011 GP3 runner-up James Caldado will partner 2010 GP3 champion and GP2 race winner Esteban Gutierrez at the team. Worcestershire-born Calado began his career in 2008, coming seventh in British Formula Renault with 1 win, 3 other podiums and 2 pole positions. After winning the winter series for the British and Portuguese FR 2.0 series, he took on the main FR 2.0 series again. He came second that year, and so in 2010 moved to British F3. His team was Carlin, and he won 5 of the 30 races, finishing second overall. This year, he only won a single race but his consistency (six podiums, one pole, two fastest laps) got him to second. So it is no surprise that he has graduated to the step below F1. Could he be the next British F1 driver?

In less exciting news, Karun Chandhok will not be driving for Team Lotus in India. He will be doing FP1, but that is all. While I am disappointed, I can understand the team’s logic. They cannot afford to run an inexperienced driver on a new track when anything could happen in the race. Finishing tenth in the championship is crucial to the team’s future development. If they were scoring points regularly, I think they would have less qualms about putting Karun on track.