d’Ambrosio gets Pic-axe

(I stole the title from someone else!)

It was an emotional Brazilian Grand Prix. For Jerome d’Ambrosio, it will most likely be his final F1 race unless he can go somewhere next season. He has been replaced at Marussia by excellent French GP2 driver Charles Pic. D’Ambrosio competed well against his German teammate, helped a bit by the car being more reliable. He finished 14th twice, with Glock’s best being 15th.

The race today was full of tension, but despite attempts by Jessica Michibata to perform the McLaren Rain Dance, none fell. Taking the lead from the start was polesitter Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber close behind. Alonso got between the two McLarens, but nobody could keep up with the Red Bulls. Early on, Vettel had gearbox problems, and though he held on, he lost some time to Webber. The Aussie took the lead, making it the first time both Red Bulls have led in the same race for the entirety of 2011.
Behind, Alonso overtook Button with a daring move arund the outside that will definitely go down as one of the best overtakes of the season. Towards the end of the race, the situation reversed itself as DRS and KERS brought Button back to third. The gap to Vettel was too far for the Brit to catch up in the remaining laps, and he settled for the bottom step of the podium.
In fifth came Felipe Massa. He had been having an okay race, not getting into trouble. Stopping later than most other drivers, he even led for a lap or two. Towards the final laps, the out-of-position McLarens came to overtaken the Brazilian. Jenson Button succeeded easily, but Lewis was struggling with gearbox problems. He tried hard to get past, and tension was in the air. But it was the McLaren gearbox that gave way first and Lewis parked up by the side of the track. At the end of the race, Felipe did some spectacular doughnuts before entering the pit lane. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap.
Coming home sixth was a special treat for Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Despite driving well this season, the German seems likely to be replaced at the team by test driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sutil brilliantly overtook Nico Rosberg mid-race, and was definitely the driver of the race. In eighth was Sutil’s teammate Paul di Resta. The Scottish rookie has had a great first season, racking up 27 points to beat Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Sutil finishes with 42 points, placing him 9th in the championship.
In ninth was Kamui Kobayashi, making sure Sauber beat Toro Rosso, and in tenth was Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen made sure Team Lotus secured 10th in the championship by finishing 16th and best of the new teams, ahead of Bruno Senna. Retirements came from Tonio Liuzzi, Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado and Timo Glock.

Maldonado has retired from seven races this season – more than any other driver – yet looks set to secure a drive for next season. By contrast, rookie Paul di Resta has led more laps than any other driver; the Scot has completed seven more than Fernando Alonso despite retiring in Turkey and Canada. He had late retirements in both races, however, whereas Alonso’s came earlier in the Canadian race.

From tomorrow, I will be figuring out season statistics and posting the most interesting ones here and on Twitter. I hope you have a great winter break!

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Young drivers’ test day one

The first day of the F1 young drivers’ test is over. Of the 23 taking part in the three-day test, fourteen were driving today. So far as I’m aware, nothing significant happened and the young drivers generally did well.
In the morning, Jean-Eric Vergne topped the times for Red Bull with Jules Bianchi about two seconds behind in the Ferrari. McLaren ran Oliver Turvey, who was 0.9s behind the French driver. Finn Valtteri Bottas was getting the most out of the Williams and set the fourth-fastest time.
In the afternoon, Charles Pic took over from Adrian Quaife-Hobbs in the Virgin, while Gary Paffett took over in the McLaren. The British team have been using the time to work on 2012 modifications, since Paffett has no race experience despite testing for a long time with them. Vergne was again fastest, with Bianchi around 0.9s slower in the Ferrari. Robert Wickens in the Renault set the third-fastest time. Williams had a few gearbox troubles, but Bottas still managed some good running.

Full times: TSL Timing

F1 report – Abu Dhabi

Sunday was a bad day for Sebastian Vettel. First he had trouble with his hire car when entering the circuit – specifically, locking it! And when he began the race, he made it less than two corners before getting a puncture. Lewis Hamilton cannot have believed his luck as he saw the Red Bull spin off. Though Vettel made it back to the pits, he had damaged his suspension too much to continue.
Hamilton took his chance as his teammate was overtaken by Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard pushed hard all race, and at one point he came close to the Brit, but was unable to get there in the end. Behind, Jenson Button could not keep up due to a KERS failure in the first half of the race. He took the third spot on the podium.
One driver down, Red Bull botched Webber’s first stop and ended up moving him to a three-stop strategy. He went onto soft tyres for the first three stints, then did the final lap on hard tyres. This strategy allowed him to beat Felipe Massa, but I am sure the Aussie would much rather not have been racing the Brazilian, who as usual was in a race of his own.
Rosberg came home first in the Mercedes, with Sutil eighth and di Resta ninth on a failed one-stop strategy. Unfortunately, the Force India was just too hard on its tyres.
First of the lapped drivers was Kobayashi, scoring a rare point for Sauber, and Perez was eleventh. Barrichello finished 12th having started last, and behind him was Petrov. In fourteenth and fifteenth were Maldonado and Alguersuari. Maldonado was penalised twice for ignoring blue flags, the second time resulting in a stop-and-go penalty that became 30s of added time. Alguersuari had a drive-through for the same reason. Sixteenth was Senna, who also had a drive-through for ignoring blue flags and finished three seconds ahead of Kovalainen. Just as in Singapore, the Lotus was closing on the Renault in the final lap.
Trulli, who was ill this weekend, finished over a minute behind his teammate. Glock and Liuzzi followed the Italian home. Aside from Vettel, the retirements were Jerome d’Ambrosio, Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo. All suffered mechanical failures.

In the news, reliable journalist Joe Saward has reported that Charles Pic will be driving for Marussia next season alongside Timo Glock. The French driver had a great season in GP2, driving for team champions Addax. He won twice, also finishing second on three occasions. He took pole in Valencia, at the Nurburgring and at Monza, and had only two points less than runner-up Luca Filippi at the end of the season. The French press have also reported this, and the driver will not be testing with Team Lotus as he was initially going to. Instead, Rodolfo Gonzalez will be in the car.
Meanwhile, with Renault confirming that Robert Kubica almost certainly not going to be driving at the start of the season, it seems most likely that Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean will be driving for Lotus next year. (Renault, of course, will become Lotus after the end of this season)

New for 2012: Lotus, Caterham and Marussia

The start of 2010 was very confusing for me, as Mercedes came into F1 as a constructor as opposed to just an engine supplier. Before that time, McLaren was the de facto Mercedes team, as evidenced by, for example, the 2007 Alonso v Hamilton advert. So it was a little confusing for me. There was also the confusing ‘BMW Sauber’ situation, fortunately resolved for 2011.
2012, however, looks set to be even more confusing. Renault will become Lotus, Lotus will become Caterham, and Virgin will become Marussia. Marussia are the title sponsors and majority owners of Virgin, and as a Russian car company it makes sense for them to be the constructors, especially with the Russian license. Richard Branson will still be a title sponsor. This also improves the ties to the Marussia Manor teams in the junior series.
We all know the Lotus Renault GP vs Team Lotus has caused many headaches over the past year, and it will be good to have a resolution even if it means the Lotus name changes hands. Hopefully, this will not cause too many problems in the future. The change will not leave Team Lotus/Caterham out of pocket, however, since it will be agreed by at least 2/3 majority of the Formula One Commission (18 of the 26 members). They will still have the money that comes from finishing tenth in 2010 and 2011 unless something crazy happens in the next two races.

In other news, Jean-Eric Vergne will be driving the RB7 in the young drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi after the race weekend wheree he will be in a Toro Rosso. Fabio Leimer and Esteban Gutierrez of GP2 will be driving Sauber’s car the C30 (that’s old news, but I hadn’t mentioned it before). It also appears that Stefano Coletti will be driving for Toro Rosso, Kevin Korjus and Christian Vietoris will be driving for Renault, and Charles Pic will be in Force India’s VJM04, though these are yet to be confirmed.

Pic attempts to break into F1

Charles Pic, one of the major contenders for GP2’s runner-up spot going into the final races of the season (along with teammate Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi, and Luca Filippi), doesn’t want to be in the series any more. French and Belgian media have been reporting that he is in negotiations with three teams: Virgin, Lotus and Toro Rosso.
He won two races last season: the feature at Barcelona, and the sprint at Monaco where he started from reversed pole position. At Valencia he suffered the traditional GP2 pole position curse, when he retired from both races. He also had pole at the Nurburgring and Monza, each time finishing the feature race second, but he was disqualified from the sprint in Germany, and retired in Italy. That retirement left the battle for GP2 runner-up to Filippi and Bianchi, which the Italian eventually won.
The Frenchman has only completed two years of the series, but he had an impressive first season with Arden after winning his first race (the Spanish feature). He also had a pole at Hockenheim, which he converted into third place. Looking further back, he also has a good record from Formula Renault 3.5: four wins, seven podiums and three poles. In his debut season he finished 6th, and came third in 2009. He came third in his only season of Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup as well.

Getting into F1 is tough, but Pic has a good record. On the other hand, Virgin have interest in Robert Wickens, Lotus have Alex Rossi and Karun Chandhok as well as their GP2 team, and Toro Rosso have four drivers to decide between.

Saturday qualifying and race report

F1
It’s ‘as you were’ in today’s qualifying session dominated by the Red Bulls. Pole for Vettel gave him his tenth of the season, and fourteenth consecutive for Red Bull who haven’t lost a single one since Brazil 2010. Vettel has taken at least ten pole positions in multiple seasons, making him the first driver to achieve this since Ayrton Senna – Senna achieved this in three seasons, so Vettel still has something to aim for!
The two McLarens took second and third, with Alonso in fourth. Vettel’s teammate took fifth with Massa – who had given Alonso a ‘tow’ around the track – in sixth. The two Renaults surrounded a Mercedes sandwich – Petrov starts seventh with Schumacher ahead of Rosberg for the second time this season. Bruno Senna did not attempt a time after squeaking into Q3 by six thousandths of a second.
It was Paul di Resta whom Senna narrowly beat, and next to the Scot on row six is his teammate Adrian Sutil. Both Williams share row seven, with Barrichello ahead of Maldonado. Behind them, Perez in the Sauber is next to Buemi in the Toro Rosso, and Kobayashi in his Sauber is seventeenth. The fall guy was Jaime Alguersuari, who lines up behind his teammate.
No surprises in to the final three rows – Lotus on row ten with Trulli beating Kovalainen for a change. Trulli has always been dominant at Monza qualifying, with only former Renault teammate Alonso ever beating him. Glock narrowly beat out d’Ambrosio, while Ricciardo’s Italian ancestry helped him outqualifying full Italian Tonio Liuzzi.

GP2
Damage and a drive through saw Giedo van der Garde demoted to fifth in the championship, but only three points behind teammate Charles Pic who is in second after coming second in the race. Luca Filippi won and took the fastest lap by a few hundredths from Jules Bianchi, which means he is one point behind Pic. Bianchi’s point is enough for him to be fourth in the championship on equal points with van der Garde and take reversed pole for race two. Reversed pole could be critical, but so could Filippi’s point for fastest lap. Anyone could come second, which would almost guarantee them a place in Formula One in either 2012 or 2013.

GP3
No pole for Valtteri Bottas, but in a hard fought race he took the win from his teammate by 0.3 seconds and claimed the championship. The Finn is the second GP3 champion, and will no doubt be heading to GP2 next season. He is likely to be joined by his afforementioned teammate James Calado, who is guaranteed second. Conor Daly also had a good race, finishing sixth having started seventeenth. His teammates also had good races, finishing 11th for Callum MacLeod and 13th for Leonardo Cordeiro.

GP2 and 3 qualifying

It’s not been a good weekend for Addax driver Giedo van der Garde. Qualifying 20th after he failed to get in a single clean lap, he and his trainer were robbed last night. Not a good way for the man currently second in GP2 to start the weekend.
The close battle for second is hotting up, and the front row is taken up by Charles Pic (VDG’s teammate and fourth in the championship) and Luca Filippi (fifth). Luca has been second for the last four races, and this has resulted in two wins and three fastest laps. Third-placed Jules Bianchi only managed to qualify nineteenth.
It was a better session for Carlin, as both their drivers made it into the top ten. Fabio Leimer starts third which is an improvement after a tough season for the Swiss. After Parente in fourth, champion Grosjean is fifth followed by the Racing Engineering drivers of Clos and Vietoris. Adam Carroll and Sam Bird start eighth and ninth respectively.
Yellow flags prevented anyone from setting a hot lap at the end of the session, but the nature of Monza should make overtaking fairly easy. With less than a second between pole and 20th, the field is as close as GP3. It should be – as ever – a cracking race this afternoon.

GP3 now, and Vittorio Ghirelli returns, albeit at Addax in place of Dean Smith who’s been struggling in the second half of the season. At Jenzer, his old seat has been taken by Christophe Hurni, a 48-year-old who is probably the oldest driver to take to the track at Monza this weekend! It’s possible that one of the Porsche drivers may be older of course.
Fifth-placed Adrian Quaife-Hobbs took pole for Manor Motorsport, while Silverstone winner Nico Muller is second. Adrian’s teammate Rio Haryanto is third, with Mitch Evans fourth. Championship leader Valtteri Bottas starts fifth with teammate James Calado in sixth. Arden’s Simon Trummer is seventh, next to Christensen. Tamas Pal Kiss and Tom Dillman make up row five. Alex Sims starts 11th and Nigel Melker 13th.
Free practice gave Lewis Williamson a ten-place grid penalty for putting himself and Quaife-Hobbs off the road, while Daniel Mancinelli was demoted three places for impeding AQH earlier in the same lap. They will start from almost the back of the grid.