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.
Having picked up 12 points at the opening weekend of the 2012 Auto GP season with Euronova, Antonio Spavone headed to Barcelona today to test – and sign – for Trident Racing. He will be teammate to Vicky Piria. Spavone, who drove in both Formula Arbath series last year, and is seventeen years old.
The young Italian was not the star of today’s tests, however. That was Kiwi Mitch Evans, who shone last season and seems set to do so again. Also on form was Formula Renault UK graduate Tio Ellinas, who looks set to be the rookie of the season – and a championship challenger. German Daniel Abt was also on form for Lotus GP. Matias Laine has been having a good start to the season and set the second-fastest time in the afternoon.
Tomorrow, Aaro Vainio returns to Lotus GP while Yann Zimmer replaces Tom Blomqvist.
It’s sad that Mucke Motorsport have not been present at the tests. We can only hope that they or a replacement team are found soon.
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.
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.
Sadly, Renault have confirmed today what we all suspected: Robert Kubica will not be returning to F1 for the start of the 2012 season. The Pole, who has kept out of the media spotlight since his accident, made an announcement via the team’s website to say that he would be unable to be drive-ready on time. Though he has 100% mobility in his hand and the rest of his body, getting back to race fitness and getting used to driving a race car again is hard work. It will take a long time to get there. Hopefully, Robert will be ready to return mid-season.
However, this does leave the future Lotus GP in a bit of a conundrum, with three drivers to fill two spaces. Romain Grosjean, the GP2 champion, is likely to take one of those seats. The remainder will be fought over by Petrov and Senna. Though Petrov has a contract for next year, Senna also brings good sponsorship and is in negotiations with the team. Having a Senna in a black and gold Lotus is obviously a very attractive option.
Meanwhile, F2 driver Alex Brundle will be taking part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next season along with his father Martin. The endurance race does not fall on an F1 weekend this year, meaning that whether or not Brundle Sr is working for Sky or the BBC, he will still be able to race that weekend.
The GP3 teams have been testing in Valencia today. At midday of day one, Daniel Abt was fastest followed by Niederhauser, Guerin, Daly, Laine, Stockinger, Ellinas, Stevens, Zimin and Blomqvist.