With the first round coming up fast, more names have been confirmed on the roster. Others seem to have vanished. Iranian Kourosh Khani is one of those confirmed. Last year Khani drove in the Formula Renault BARC Championship, taking one win and three podiums on his way to fourth. He also finished third in the MRF Formula 1600 Delhi Championship supporting the F1 in |India. He picked up a podium in one of the two races.
One of Khani’s BARC opponents was Dino Zamparelli, a British-Italian driver who won the championship with 4 wins, 6 poles, 8 podiums and 1 fastest lap. Zamparelli was nominated for the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award. In previous years he has also won the Ginetta Jr Championship, where a lot of young British drivers start out before progressing to single seaters. In 2012, Zamparelli will also be in F2, at least for the opening round at Silverstone and hopefully longer.
Dry for most of the day, Silverstone turned wet in the final hour of testing. This gave plenty of time for the nine teams present at the test to get some work in, and for Mitch Evans to go fastest just ahead of his MW Arden teammate Matias Laine. On the face of it, Arden are most likely to provide the champion for GP3 this season. However, they will need more consistency than in 2011 when two of their three drivers could have taken the championship.
The names at the top of the timing screen today were much as expected: Tio Ellinas, Antonio Felix da Costa and Conor Daly. Will Buller and Alex Brundle were both doing well for Carlin, and Romania’s Robert Visoiu has been shining for Status.
Alice Powell was fastest of the three ladies, though she had caused a red flag in the morning. Most of her day has been spent getting used to the car, and she didn’t put on fresh tyres in the afternoon, so we can surely expect improved times from the British driver tomorrow.
Maxim Zimin will be in the car for Jenzer tomorrow.
Suzie Wolff has become the latest female development driver in F1, taking on the role for Williams. Wolff is married to Toto Wolff, a Director at the team, though he did not take part in the decision to give her the position. Wolff drives in the DTM, and you may know her better as Suzie Stoddart.
Carlin reacted fast after BF3 free practice when their opponents Fortec dominated. And it worked. Jack Harvey set three laps faster than anyone else, and took pole for both race 3 (best laps) and race 1 (second-best laps). Coming close was Felix Serralles, who will be the first Puerto Rican to start on the front row in any international series (so far as anyone knows) in race 3. Serralles only set one really good lap, however, and will start 8th in race 1.
Race 1 will have an all-British front row despite only three being in the series, with Harry Tincknell (Carlin) P2. Their teammates Jazeman Jaafar and Carlos Sainz Jr will start on row 2 tomorrow morning. Alex Lynn was the best qualifier for Fortec in race 1, starting 5th next to the final Carlin driver Pietro Fantin. Hannes van Asseldonk, the runner-up in TRSNZ 2012, will start 7th next to Serrales.
Carlin’s times also dominated the best laps. Tincknell will start 3rd with Sainz next to him for race 3. Jaafar and van Asseldonk will be side-by-side on row three.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A slow getaway for Davide Valsecchi saw Luiz Razia storm into the lead for Arden in the opening race of the 2005 GP2 season. Fabio Leimer got into second with Coletti and then Valsecchi behind. The Swiss driver was not as quick as the drivers behind, but he was able to hold them back for a while. Valsecchi finally got ahead as Leimer’s tyres dropped off, and stormed after Razia. But he never really made up the deficit.
Behind, Max Chilton was also fighting and found himself in third after the pit stops. He defended well from Leimer and took his and Carlin’s best GP2 finish ever. Coletti, who had started strongly, finished 5th. Behind Coletti, there was another good battle going on.
The two Lotus drivers had been battling hard all race, with Calado generally ahead, but despite messing up coming into the pits, Gutierrez was soon on top of his teammate and managed to take 7th. Felipe Nasr, in the second DAMS car, had a great debut and defended well from the more experienced ex-GP3 champion to come home sixth. Calado finished his race eighth, defending position from Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde. The British driver starts from reversed pole, just as he did in the GP2 final last year.
The final points went to Fabrizio Crestani, but it was Crestani’s teammate who was the talking point. Giancarlo Serenelli is an appalling driver, and caused havoc amongst the leaders by ignoring blue flags. It’s disgusting that the Venezuelan government is paying money to put that guy in a racing seat. To be honest, I can’t understand why if they want people to have a good impression of their country that they would do this. Neither Gonzalez or Cecotto finished either: Gonzalez went into the gravel, tried to power out (WHY?) and hit the wall lightly. Cecotto’s pit crew failed to fit his right rear tyre properly and it came off, much as happened to Jenson Button in the British GP last year. Finally Jon Lancaster damaged his front wing and was forced to retire very early on.
With Valsecchi securing pole and fastest lap, Razia leads the championship by a single point. The top ten should race well, and there are some good rookies in the rest of the field. Unfortunately, however, this is one of the least talented GP2 fields ever. It could be an interesting race.
There will no doubt be several penalties applied after the race.
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.
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.
39-year-old Bulgarian motorsport ambassador Plamen Kralev returns to the FIA Formula Two championship for a third season, continuing in his number 8 car. Kralev has scored two points in his F2 career – one in each season – and honestly I cannot think there is much hope of him doing better this season. He is the sixth driver to be announced for F2 so far, and more will come over the next weeks.
It was Antonio Felix da Costa who, despite not being signed for the coming GP3 season, set the fastest time in today’s test. He set a 1:37.934 around the Circuit de Catalunya, beating Arden’s Matias Laine and Mitch Evans – Laine was the only other driver to dip into the 1:37s.
In the afternoon, Daniel Abt went fastest after a troubled morning session. Maxim Zimin – driving for Jenzer as he did last season – showed considerable improvement by going second-fastest. Tio Ellinas was third-fastest with Tamas Pal Kiss fourth.
I have to say, some of the drivers who had a tough season last year in GP3 – Laine, Zimin, and Pal Kiss despite his win – look set to be much better this year. Let’s hope they get signed!
The premier Formula Renault series got its pre-season testing under way today. Fastest was Fortec’s Robin Frijns, setting a 1:47.006 around Paul Ricard in the afternoon. That’s impressive considering his rookie status – the Dutch driver was Eurocup champion last year. Lotus (formerly Gravity-Charouz) went second with a 1:47.125 from Richie Stanaway, another rookie, while Force India’s Jules Bianchi was third-fastest. Alex Rossi was fourth-fastest for Arden-Caterham, and the second Fortec driver of Carlos Huertas was fifth.
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.