All change at Toro Rosso

In a surprising move, Toro Rosso have dumped both their 2011 drivers and replaced them with their two up-and-coming juniors Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. This will put an end to the ‘Ricciardo to Caterham’ rumours, which is good news for Jarno Trulli, but leaves Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in the cold.
Ricciardo did as good a job as possible under the circumstances, and in the young driver test at Abu Dhabi Jean-Eric Vergne shone; the Frenchman was close runner-up to Robert Wickens in Formula Renault 3.5 this season too, and Ricciardo would have had a chance if he had not been busy with his F1 commitments.
For the dropped drivers, Alguersuari in particular had a good season, and deserves to continue in F1. Red Bull, however, have a reputation for abandoning drivers; Sebastian Vettel is the only survivor. Former Toro Rosso drivers have typically not survived in F1 – out of Speed, Bourdais and Liuzzi, only Liuzzi managed to continue and he does not look like surviving into 2012.

Meanwhile, HRT’s Team Principal Colin Kolles is leaving the team. They struggled in their first two seasons, usually losing out to Virgin in the races but getting just enough good finishes to beat the Russian team. HRT, who will be a Spanish national team next season, could well hire Jaime Alguersuari to partner Pedro de la Rosa.

F2 testing today saw many of the eighteen drivers set very similar times. The twelfth-fastest (Scott Malvern) was less than a second away from Christopher Zanella’s fastest time. Second-fastest driver and F2 rookie Markus Pommer was only 0.014s away from Zanella’s time in his fastest lap of the day, though it was set in a different session. Even fourteenth-fastest Max Snegirev was only 1.066s away from Zanella’s time.
Meanwhile Mirko Bortolotti was testing the 2012 F2 car. The new car should be able to lap around 2 seconds faster than the current car, which should make for much more exciting racing in the future.

Qualifying in India

Five drivers will suffer grid penalties tomorow: Petrov for colliding with Schumacher in Korea (5 places), Perez and Hamilton for not being sufficiently cautious under waved yellows (3 places), Ricciardo for changing gearbox (5 places) and Karthikeyan for impeding Schumacher (5 places). Timo Glock failed to meet the 107% rule, but will be allowed to race. He will start from the back of the grid, just as Kobayashi did in Turkey – grid penalties are applied before 107% rule.

Qualifying was generally okay, though once again three drivers failed to set a timed lap in Q3. The first session saw Kovalainen once again force drivers to push to get into Q2, including the impeded Schumacher. It was the Sauber of Kobayashi who fell eventually. Suffering a gearbox problem, Glock was unable to complete a good-enough timed lap and will start 24th. The remaining HRTs both beat d’Ambrosio’s Virgin, but their penalties placed them behind him – Ricciardo first as he was penalised earlier.
In Q2, despite some determined laps, neither Senna, Petrov or Schumacher made it to the third session. Instead, both Toro Rossos and Adrian Sutil were there (they were the drivers who didn’t set a timed lap). Petrov qualified 11th so will start 16th, while Perez qualified 17th and will start 20th behind the two Lotuses and Kobayashi. Schumacher will now start 11th, with Paul di Resta beside him.
Q3 was looking close for pole, until Felipe Massa crashed right at the end. So naturally Vettel took it, giving Red Bull their sixteenth this season – a record number. It is Sebastian’s 13th of the year. Hamilton set the second-fastest time, but his penalty leaves him fifth behind Jenson Button (who was not having a good qualifying), Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Beside him on the grid is the man he always seems to end up fighting – Felipe Massa. Seventh is Rosberg. The Force India and Toro Rossos are in numerical order behind.

FR3.5 Championship Down to Carlin

Today was a bit crazy for Jean-Eric Vergne. Qualifying on pole at Paul Ricard, he also won a race that happened quite a bit earlier in the season – the second round at Monza. He had originally been demoted to third with a ten-second penalty, but the penalty was removed on appeal by the team. This gave him ten extra points, but Ricciardo lost seven and Rossi lost three. The French driver now only had 24 points less than teammate Wickens.
With 100 points up for grabs, today’s race turned out to be a decider for Daniel Ricciardo, who was mathematically in contention. Held up by a very slow Alex Rossi for a good part of the race, he was unable to contend for a podium position. The win was taken from pole by Vergne, and in second was Albert Costa. Costa was disqualified, however, after his car was ruled underweight in post-race scrutineering. Crossing the line third and promoted to second was Robert Wickens. He now has 216 points to Vergne’s 199 – 17 points apart. In third was Brendon Hartley, and fourth was Jake Rosenzweig who crossed the line sixth, but was promoted due to Costa’s disqualification and also a ten-second penalty to Riccidardo for breaking track limits. Sergio Canamasas took fifth, with the Aussie demoted to sixth. The Aussie is now out of contention, with only 126 points. That’s 90 less than Wickens with three races to go. Ricciardo might be able to get third in the championship, but his F1 career might just get in the way. The two drivers behind him – Korjus and Costa – both have 120 points, and Rossi has 113.
So it’s down to new Toro Rosso reserve Verge and Virgin reserve Wickens. If Carlin keep Max Chilton on for next year, they’ll only be able to put one of them in their GP2 team. That is, if they don’t get snapped up by one of the other teams first, or if their respective F1 teams don’t take a punt on them next year.

Summer day 2 – Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo – 26
At the end of 2010, Toro Rosso announced that Australian Daniel Ricciardo (pronounced ‘Ricardo’) would be driving for them in Friday practices, with the aim of evaluating him. At the end of the 2011 season – or more likely the middle – he would replace one of the current members of the team.
So he began taking to the track at every venue, alternating between Buemi’s and Alguersuari’s cars, until the Valencia Grand Prix. And then Red Bull did a deal with the Hispania racing team. The team got lots of money from Red Bull and a new driver who has replaced Narain Karthikeyan. It was rather a surprise, and I could not believe it at first. However, since then Daniel has driven at Silverstone, the Nurburgring and the Hungaroring. He qualified 24th in the first race, which immediately made people call for the return of Narain. He stayed at the back and finished last of the backmarkers. In Germany, Daniel qualified 24th but was promoted to 23rd after a 5-place grid penalty for Liuzzi, and 22nd after Buemi was excluded from qualifying. He again finished 19th, ahead of Karun Chandhok.
His best race so far has come in Hungary. Qualifying 22nd after a poor showing from D’Ambrosio and a penalty from Buemi, he finished 18th in the race ahead of Liuzzi and D’Ambrosio. His finishing ahead of Liuzzi has immediately shown him in a new light. Liuzzi was one of those who had switched to inters and had to switch back again.

Worst qualifying: 24
Best qualifying: 22
Worst finish: 19
Best finish: 18
Average difference: 4
Laps completed: 172/182 (94%)
Average race position: 20.54 (Best: 20.1 Germany; Worst: 21.0 Britain)

Former Hungaroring winners

There are plenty of former winners from the Hungaroring taking place in the races this weekend. Quite a few drivers made their win debuts at this track as well, helped perhaps by the difficulty in overtaking.

First Formula One, where the track has been part of the world championship since 1986. First won by Nelson Piquet, of the current F1 crop the first winner was Michael Schumacher in 1994. He also got pole position and fastest lap for Benneton. Schumi has also won here in 1998 (pole, fastest lap), 2001 (pole) and 2004 (pole, fastest lap, led every lap), but hasn’t dominated in comparison to his usual record at tracks. Rubens Barrichello also won here in 2002 for Ferrari getting pole and barely beating Schumi to the line, and the next year it was Fernando Alonso in the Renault – unsurprisingly, he also had pole.
More recently, the race hasn’t been won by anyone in their championship year. 2006 was the debut win for Jenson Button, who took the first victory for a British driver since Australia 2003. Incredibly Jenson did not start on pole – he qualified 4th and an engine change meant he started 14th. The next year was Lewis Hamilton’s debut season; the race was hit with controversy when Alonso held up his teammate in the pits. Hamilton qualified second, but started 1st because of a five-place grid penalty given to Alonso. Another win from pole.
2008, and Heikki Kovalainen’s first season with McLaren. He took his debut (and so far only) win at the Hungaroring after Hamilton got a puncture and Massa’s engine blew up. He’d started second on the track. Kovalainen became F1’s 10th winner. The next year, Hamilton won again, incredibly qualifying ahead of both Brawns. He was assisted by problems for Alonso on pole and Vettel who’d started second.
Last year, Mark Webber won the race because of a drive-through penalty for teammate and polesitter Sebastian Vettel, who had fallen too far behind the safety car and thus broken sporting regulations.

In GP2, Sebastien Buemi won the sprint race in 2008. Pastor Maldonado won the feature race last year. Neither are likely to win this weekend, but may score some points for their teams.
Current GP2 drivers Giedo van der Garde and Adam Carroll have also both won here in the series. Carroll won the feature race in 2007, and van der Garde won the sprint in 2009.

Last year’s GP3 feature race winner Nico Muller, who has won a race this year, took the feature GP3 race last year. If things continue the way they have been going, however, we’ll get another two new winners at Hungary.

A few drivers have had victories here in Formula Renault 3.5: Daniel Ricciardo won the first race in 2010, though if he won this year it would be a miracle. GP2 driver Fairuz Fauzy won the first race in 2009, and Giedo van der Garde won the first race the year before his GP2 victory at the track.

Toro Rojo? Hispania = Red Bull Three

Autosport and Red Bull confirm that Daniel Ricciardo will be driving for Hispania for the remainder of the season. Presumably this means that he won’t be driving a Toro Rosso in Friday Practice 1 any more. Meanwhile, Colin Kolles is stepping back from his current role at the Spanish team, and either team owner Jose Ramon Carabante or his son (also called Jose) are expecteed to become Team Principal.
Tonio Liuzzi is an ex-Red Bull, ex-Toro Rosso driver. So Hispania is basically a Red Bull team as well. I wonder if they’ll get any money from the deal? It probably helped them to say yes. I bet Alguesuari and Buemi are both glad they definitely won’t be replaced this season! But they will still have to drive well to make sure they’re not the ones being kicked out next year.
Team Lotus get their gearboxes from Red Bull. Hispania get their drivers. It will be interesting to see how the standings change with Red Bull’s own driver on the team. Maybe they’ll get that 12th place finish they dream of and beat Team Lotus. Maybe not. A driver can only make the car go so far. Team Lotuses are still much better than HRTs in normal conditions.

Not again Hispania!

Young Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo – currently Toro Rosso and Red Bull reserve – looks like he might be breaking into the F1 world very soon indeed. Because Hispania are at it again. They look to be setting aside Narain Karthikeyan for the majority of the rest of the season, apart fromm the Indian Grand Prix, and replacing him with the Aussie.
So far Hispania have made no announcement about this, so take the news with a pinch of salt until then. It’s also not on Autosport yet. The first reports came from the Australian media.
So is this a safe risk for Daniel? He already has his Formula Renault 3.5 campaign to worry about. On the other hand, Carlin’s Robert Wickens and his ISR teammate Kevin Korjus look to be dominating there. He might not have a chance to win. Besides that, driving with Hispania unfortunately doesn’t seem to do your reputation any good. It’s for ‘deseperate’ drivers at the moment (Tonio Liuzzi in particular).
I like Hispania. But I’m not sure taking Narain out mid-season is a good idea. He hasn’t raced in F1 for a while so he will take a little time to get back on pace. We shall see. But every time HRT do this my respect for them drops. Ricciardo will be the seventh driver to sit in an HRT in their two seasons!

Exhausting Monaco GP with overtakes

That was… incredible! Vettel gets yet another victory in the bag. No pole to flag this time, especially after his crew messed up the pit stop. But the team’s decision to run a 1-stop strategy served him well. Vettel, Kobayashi and Liuzzi all did 1-stop races, and Petrov had only done one before his crash.
Petrov was hurt but not seriously when the front runners of Vettel, Alonso and Button got tangled up with his group of runners. Unlike last year, five of the drivers from the three youngest teams finished, with Trulli ahead of Kovalainen in his second P13 of 2011.
Williams got points for the first time, breaking their duck despite Hamilton taking out Pastor Maldonado. The McLaren driver had a scrappy race causing Massa and Maldonado’s crashes. Sutil was the driver who caused the mega crash at the end that took Petrov and Alguersuari out and resulted in the red flag. Thanks to the red flag, Vettel was able to put on fresh tyres and easily maintained his lead in the final laps. However, Webber managed to set another fastest lap: his fourth of the season with a 1:16.234. It’s still 1.8s off Schumacher’s 2004 record.
Kobayashi got up from 12th to 4th before having to give a place up to Webber in the final stages when he cut the chicane. However he stayed ahead of Hamilton. Sutil finished P7, a lap behind but ahead of Heidfeld, Barrichello and Buemi.
The other race retirees were Schumacher, whose car died on him just outside the pits, and Glock. There were two safety car periods. This race weekend has seen five red flags, two injured drivers and a lot of crashes. But it has also seen overtakes, a fierce battle for the lead, and fairly durable Pirellis.

There are bound to be penalties, with Hamilton expected to recieve one for the Maldonado incident (the Williams driver was classified as he had completed enough of the race laps), and D’Ambrosio also for not allowing the Lotuses through in the final laps despite blue flags. So we shall see…

There was a FR 3.5 race this morning. Ricciardo won. Nothing exciting though. They use fairly durable Michelin tyres, so there was less of the unpredictability. Championship table will also be updated for that series.

Morning practices

First up today was Formula Renault 3.5, and Daniel Ricciardo set the fastest time. He won at Monaco last year, though the race has been won by rookies three years running. It was a fairly standard session.

Today’s Formula One FP1 was not standard at all. Narain Karthikeyan was the first man to set times on the track, first at almost 1:40, but quickly bringing the times down. Then the other cars got on track and went even faster. Felipe Massa set a 1:18.582. Then there was a red flag, caused by a water leak on the start/finish straight. It was quickly fixed (yeah, I know!) and the session began again.
After that, they got faster. Karthikeyan ran 37 laps – almost half race distance – in the session, but still ended up botttom. Webber didn’t set a time due to a gearbox problem. Liuzzi and Schumacher both crashed out – Liuzzi at the chicane coming out of the tunnel, and Schumacher at Ste Devote. Watching the drivers tear around Monaco almost daring themselves to hit the walls is a very scary experience. The fastest lap was set by Vettel, with Alonso and Rosberg just behind. Hamilton got caught up in traffic and was unable to join them.

Schumacher’s crash delayed the start of GP2 practice by 10 minutes, as repairs were needed. It seems like the whole track is falling apart! The session was filled with a smattering of yellow flags and a red flag, caused by an accident not a water leak. Monaco is a dangerous, smashy track that only the best drivers can survive. That’s why Nick Heidfeld has a 90% finish record here. Romain Grosjean went fastest in the GP2 session.