New driver announcements

It has been a busy day in the world of motor racing, with driver announcements across all levels of the sport, in single-seaters and tin-tops. Here’s a summary of the single-seater news:

Formula One
First up, HRT revealed their second driver to be none other than Narain Karthikeyan, who drove a part-season for them last year. He and Pedro de la Rosa will make up the oldest team on the grid, and will have a combined age of 76 years at the Melbourne GP. Despite this, they have less F1 experience than several other teams, having only 113 F1 starts between them.
Ferrari and Force India both launched their cars today – the F2012 and the VJM05. Ferrari’s rather ugly, square design and Force India’s smoother design both have the platypus nose that was first seen on the Caterham CT-01.

GP2
Josef Kral is the latest driver to be confirmed for the series. The Czech, who drove for Arden last season and picked up podiums in Monaco and Belgium, will be driving alongside Johnny Cecotto at Addax.

GP3
Marussia Manor Racing have confirmed their first driver as Dmitry Suranovich, who is currently competing in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. Born in Belarus, Suranovich is a Russian citizen and drives under a Russian license. The 16-year-old last year competed in Formula Arbath Europe and Italy. He did not have brilliant results. However, his rookie season in TRSNZ is going well and he is 9th in the championship, having picked up a podium at Timaru.
Carlin have also been confirming drivers in various series, including one in GP3. This is Alex Brundle, son of Martin, who will also be competing in European rounds of the WEC. Brundle had mixed luck in F2 last year, taking one pole and three podiums and finishing 7th in the championship.

British F3
A number of drivers have now been confirmed for the 2012 BF3 season, very few of whom are British. Carlin have five drivers signed so far – Pietro Fantin (BRA), Jazeman Jaafar (MAL), Jack Harvey (GBR), Carlos Sainz, Jr (ESP) and Harry Tincknell (GBR). At Fortec, Pipo Derani (BRA) joins FR UK champion Alex Lynn and another graduate of the series Felix Serralles. Only one driver – Spike Goddard (AUS) has been confirmed for T-Sport so far.

IndyCar
Takuma Sato, who drove for KV Racing for the last two seasons, was today announced as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (wow, long name or what?) lead driver. The Japanese driver has taken two poles and a best finish of fourth in his career so far. This will be Rahak’s first full IndyCar season since 2008, and they also hope to run a second car at some point.

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Coloni reveals 2012 lineup

Scuderia Coloni have announced their lineup for the 2012 GP2 season. Contrary to earlier resports, Kevin Ceccon has not signed with the team. Instead, it will be partnering Stefano Coletti with Febio Onidi. Coletti is entering his second full year of GP2, having won two races last season – the sprints in Turkey and Hungary – as well as the sprint in Abu Dhabi in GP2 Asia. Having come from a rookie year in GP3 where he only finished 9th, this was particularly impressive. The Monegasque driver looks like he will be the fourth driver from that country to reach F1 after Louis Chiron (1950-58), Andre Testut (1958-9) and Olivier Beretta (1994). Though injured in the GP2 feature race in Belgium, he returned for Coloni at the GP2 final where he finished 10th in the feature race.
Italian Fabio Onidi comes to GP2 from Auto GP, where he finished 5th overall. He won the second race at Monza, picking up two more podiums later in the season and gaining just 31 points less than Kevin Ceccon. In 2009 he came third in Euroseries 3000 and Italian F3000 for Coloni, though he came second in the same series the year before. Clearly a driver of potential, it will be interesting to see what the Italian team can do with their signings. Though they only came 7th last season, their fortunes were boosted by Luca Filippi, and he brought them up from the bottom of the table to take three wins and five fastest laps. Admittedly they were hampered by the loss of Davide Rigon, who was injured in the sprint race at the first round of the season.
Hopefully they will be spared injuries this year, and go on to do well in the championship.

Meanwhile, Max Chilton – who drove for Carlin in GP2 for 2011 – has tweeted “Already looking forward to the #GP2 season opener in Sepang, Malaysia in 72 days!” There are connections between Carlin and the team his brother Tom drives for in touring cars, and it is likely Max will stay with the British team for this season.

Signings galore!

Formula Renault 3.5
Champions Carlin have become the first team to complete their 2012 lineup with the addition of Brit Will Stevens. Stevens competed in two rounds of Formula Renault UK this season, and in two of the four races he finished second. He also competed in the Eurocup, driving for Fortec, taking three pole positions and winning the second race at Aragon. Overall he finished fourth in the championship.

GP2
Ocean Racing Technology have signed GP3 race winner Nigel Melker for 2012. Melker finished third in the championship despite not scoring points in the final rounds, and led after the first two races. He competed with DAMS in the GP2 final at Abu Dhabi.
More GP2 news is expected later today.

F1
Former Minardi driver Luis Perez-Sala has been signed by HRT as their Team Principal. Scoring just one point in his career (at a time when points only went down to sixth place) in the slow, unreliable Minardi, he had better success in the days before he became an F1 driver. The Spaniard continued racing up until 2008, when he finished second in the Spanish GT Championship.

Here’s a video of Sala driving in the rain at the 1986 Birmingam Superprix in F3000.

Razia, Chilton and Charouz in Abu Dhabi final

F1
Formula Renault 3.5’s 2011 champion Robert Wickens takes to the track for Marussia Virgin in the first practice session at Abu Dhabi next Friday. He will replace Jerome d’Ambrosio. The Canadian has shown great form over the past three years of racing, finishing second in GP3 and F2 before this year’s victory. It is unlikely that he will be an F1 driver next year, with GP2 being the most likely option, but he has the backing of Marussia. As the FR3.5 champion, he will also be taking part in the young drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi for Renault.

GP2
Kevin Ceccon will be taking part in the test as well, and like teammate Stefano Coletti will be in the Toro Rosso STR06. It’s a big step up for Ceccon, who only turned 18 this year and was moved into a GP2 seat after Davide Rigon’s accident. Though he wasn’t able to shine in GP2, he fought well in Auto GP to emerge victor in the final race of the season.
Carlin have announced that their full-time driver Max Chilton will be driving alongside Jan Charouz the Renault reserve and FR3.5 driver in the GP2 final. AirAsia have their driver Luiz Razia alongside Alexander Rossi for the final, and Razia will also be taking part in the F1 young drivers’ test for Team Lotus. Razia also took part last year for Virgin when he was their test driver.

Magnussen first 2012 FR3.5 driver

British F3 runner-up Kevin Magnussen will be beginning his Formula Renault 3.5 career next season with Carlin, for whom he also drove last year. The Dane is the son of Jan Magnussen, who scored a single F1 point in 1990 with Stewart, though he would have scored more under the current system, and has had several Le Mans victories in recent years. Kevin is also a member of the McLaren young driver programme. He won seven races this season in BF3, taking six pole positions and eight fastest laps (including all three at the closing round at Silverstone).
Magnussen has been testing a GP2 car this week, but today (Thursday) the team announced he would be driving in Formula Renault 3.5. He is the first driver to be confirmed for the series since the teams list was announced earlier in the week.

Vettel and Wickens win titles

Two titles were decided today, as the inter-team battle of Vergne vs Wickens was decided in Formula Renault 3.5, while Sebastian Vettel finished in the points at Suzuka to take the world championship and become the youngest-ever double world champion.

Robert Wickens only needed to finish nine points or less behind Jean-Eric Vergne to take the title, but his hopes were almost dashed at the start of the race as he took himself out in an altercation with Vergne. The Virgin driver had to watch the race from the pits, and hope Vergne didn’t finish in the top five. The Red Bull driver struggled himself, and eventually retired on lap nine when he clashed with Fairuz Fauzy.
It was a race of high attrition, with only fourteen drivers surviving till the finish. Six of those drivers (including Wickens) didn’t even complete the first lap. Albert Costa won, with Nick Yelloly second and Brendon Hartley third. But it was Robert Wickens who celebrated winning the title after two years being runner-up.
Alex Rossi took third in the drivers’ championship after finishing seventh in the race, with Albert Costa’s win taking him to fourth. Daniel Ricciardo’s F1 career meant he missed the race and was demoted to fifth.

In Formula One, Vettel naturally took the lead from pole, with Lewis Hamilton getting into second. But Button was on the pace, and overtook Hamilton when his tyres were fading. After the first round of pit stops he was right on the tail of the Red Bull, and came out ahead after the second stops. From then on, Jenson dominated, though Alonso (who got out ahead of Vettel as well) was closing on him at the finish. Vettel took his first third-place of the season, which was enough to secure him the championship.
It was a good race for Team Lotus, who finished for the first time on the lead lap. They were helped by a safety car mid-way through the race, which pulled the field back together. Both Virgins and Daniel Ricciardo finished two laps down, while Tonio Liuzzi was lapped three times. The only non-finisher was Sebastien Buemi, whose tyre hadn’t been fitted properly. It was a similar problem to Alguersuari’s in China.
Hamilton and Massa had their regulation collision, though for once Lewis wasn’t penalised. It did cause Massa to lose a small part of his car, which was the cause of the safety car. But these two seem to be coming together far too often. Massa ended up seventh as Schumacher’s tyre strategy paid off. The German led a race for the first time today since the Japanese GP five years ago. Hamilton finished fifth, with Webber fourth. In eight was Perez, not letting his illness get him down. Perez set the second-fastest lap of the day by 0.001 seconds – fastest was Button, whose previous lap had been 0.005s slower than Perez. Ninth was Petrov, and Rosberg came 10th from 23rd.

Final race showdown for Carlin

The fight between Robert Wickens and Jean-Eric Vergne continues to the final race of the Formula Renault season, as today’s race failed to find a victor. Wickens led the race from pole, while Vergne fought his way up the order and onto the podium. There are only nine points between them, but Wickens holds the advantage. Having been runner-up in Formula Two in 2009, and GP3 last year, he’ll want to win tomorrow. Even if he doesn’t, the support from Marussia Virgin Racing should see him get a GP2 seat next year. As for Jean-Eric Vergne, he’s a Red Bull driver so will probably stick in the series as he begins to test drive in a Toro Rosso from the next Grand Prix.

There are nine points difference between the drivers, and both are on an equal number of wins following today’s race, but it is Wickens who has taken more second-places. Therefore Vergne needs to finish at least 10 points ahead of Wickens (if he wins the race, the Canadian cannot score exactly nine points less) in order to win the championship.

  • Vergne wins – Wickens must be 3rd or lower
  • Vergne 2nd – Wickens must be 6th or lower
  • Vergne 3rd – Wickens must be 8th or lower
  • Vergne 4th – Wickens must be 9th or lower
  • Vergne 5th – Wickens must not score
  • Vergne 6th or lower – Wickens is champion

Got that? Tomorrow, the F1 championship will probably be decided. Vettel is on pole. Race begins at 7am British time, with BBC coverage beginning from 6am. See you then!