Great racing under a shadow

GP2
It was almost a perfect weekend for Davide Valsecchi, coming from eighth to first to win the Bahrain sprint race in the closing laps. Calado had made a good start, getting in the lead ahead of Leimer and Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Leimer scrapped, and the Racing Engineering driver eventually won. Leimer also took the Brit, who had a bit of wear of his tyres and also lost out to his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. In the lead, Leimer was judged to have gone too fast under yellow flags and had to take a drive through penalty. Gutierrez was back but not in charge as Valsecchi was right behind him. The Italian took the win in the penultimate lap.
Felipe Nasr, despite his penalty and having to start from the pitlane after stalling on the way to the grid, finished 6th. It was an excellent drive from the young Brazilian. Simon Trummer also did well and took the final point in eighth – his first in GP2. Razia finished fourth, Chilton fifth, and Jolyon Palmer also had a great race to finish seventh. For a sprint race, there were a lot of drivers coming from the back into the points. Even Ricardo Teixeira had a good race to finish 13th, van der Garde finished 9th and also took fastest lap to make sure Valsecchi didn’t have a perfect weekend. Grid staller Tom Dillmann finished 10th.

F1
Usually when Vettel starts in the lead, he’ll get miles down the road and nobody will be able to catch him. Today, however, Lotus were flying. Grosjean and Raikkonen soon found themselves second and third, and after pit stops it was the Finn in second. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to quite get close enough to Vettel, but they put pressure on the Red Bull. The team were delighted with their double podium – the first for the Enstone team since 2006. It was also the first double podium for a team called Lotus since the 1970s!
Behind, things weren’t quite so simple. McLaren were struggling with pit stops especially for Hamilton. The Brit was released late after wheel nut trouble, putting him in the path of Nico Rosberg. Rosberg squeezed Hamilton as he overtook, in an incident that was put under investigation by the stewards. He later had another, similar, incident with Alonso. Button was doing well until he had problems in the final laps, and was forced to retire two laps from the end. Senna also had to end his race early.
A two-stop strategy paid off for Force India’s Paul di Resta, and he took sixth behind Rosberg. Webber was well off Vettel’s pace, but managed his traditional fourth. In seventh was Alonso, doing well for Ferrari, and then Hamilton behind. Massa was racing well and took ninth, at times faster than his teammate during the race. Button’s retirement saw Schumacher promoted to the final points position.

Frankly, the race was fantastic and if it weren’t for the circumstances in Bahrain, I’d be delighted. I’m happy for all the guys, but I hope they stay safe as they celebrate and prepare to leave Bahrain. I also hope the GP2 boys stay safe as they remain in the country for another week. James Calado reported seeing “A lot of black smoke around the villages on way back from track. Police with stun grenades at the ready.” (@JamesCalado)

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Force India skip free practice – should we be in Bahrain?

F1
Practice One saw limited running due to the sandy conditions. As per usual, Lewis Hamilton came out fastest with Vettel close behind. Force India were busiest, and even put their cars on softs in the first session. Paul di Resta was third fastest, Hulkenberg sixth. As the session closed, it emerged that the Silverstone-based team planned to only run a part-session in FP2, or maybe even miss it, due to safety fears. What is most confusing is that qualifying is at the same time as FP2, and the race tomorrow will be later. So why miss FP2 but not the other sessions?

Force India did indeed miss Q2, while the Caterhams moved closer to the midfield – their drivers split Senna and Maldonado. Nico Rosberg was fastest, though he has concerns about the heat with the tyres. Button was not happy with the McLaren, but the Red Bulls were doing well. Webber was second, outpacing his teammate who was third. Then it was Hamilton, Schumacher, Button. Kobayashi got the Sauber into seventh ahead of Alonso, Grosjean and Perez.

Some Sauber team members were also involved in an incident last night, but escaped without harm.

Protests have been escalating in Bahrain for the last while, and there have been serious clashes with the police. We can only hope that nobody is seriously injured – Bahraini or F1. With more protests planned for the next two days, surely things will only get worse?

GP2
In practice Davide Valsecchi easily went fastest, 0.67 ahead of Max Chilton in second. Johnny Cecotto was third-fastest, 0.87 off Valsecchi.
Qualifying saw the Italian repeat his effort, going fastest on options on his third lap. Esteban Gutierrez will start second, with Felipe Nasr third to continue his spectacular rookie season. Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer took fourth, ahead of Johnny Cecotto – the Venezuelan having a good weekend so far. Ericsson took the sixth-fastest time but his 10-place grid penalty from Malaysia sent him down to sixteenth, promoting Stephane Richelmi. James Calado was seventh, Luiz Razia eighth. Chilton and Haryanto shared the fifth row for Carlin.
Brendon Hartley was given a five-place grid penalty for an incident with Giedo van der Garde, knocking him down to last behind Ricardo Teixeira. Slow Serenelli beat Teixeira by nearly two tenths of a second, but both were way off the pace.

NEC
Kevin Kleveros was Manor MP’s unannounced driver in car 31 for the opening round of the Formula Renault NEC. In Q1, Stoffel Vandoorne took pole with Pierre Gasly second and Jordan King third. The session had been held up for a few minutes because of hail!
Q2 was also red flagged due to rain and a huge number of crashes. In the end, Vandoorne took pole again. Reigning Intersteps champion Jake Dennis took second, while an impressive run from Shahaan Engineer saw him go third.

Mega rookie win for Calado

The GP2 sprint race in Malaysia was well worth waking up early for, with some of the best driving seem on track so far this year. Polesitter Calado led the cars around, but it was always close between him and his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The British rookie, taking part in only his fourth GP2 race (including the final), took his second victory. Gutierrez was also followed closely, with reigning British F3 champion Felipe Nasr always on the lookout for an overtaking opportunity. Though Nasr didn’t manage it, he did take his first GP2 podium.
Giedo van der Garde had a cracking start and soon found himself overtaking Fabio Leimer for fourth, while Stefano Coletti struggled somewhat. Coletti had difficulties with his car, and retired in the closing laps. Behind Leimer, there was some fantastic racing between Valsecchi and Razia, with Chilton close behind. Razia did a fantastic job of defending from the Italian, and overtook Leimer in the final laps. Valsecchi ran wide trying to overtake his former teammate, came back on track and was clipped by Marcus Ericsson. The DAMS rolled, while Ericsson stopped on track. Both drivers were fine, and the iSport car was cleared incredibly quickly with no need for a safety car.
This let Max Chilton and Nathanael Berthon get up behind Razia – at this point in eighth and ninth. The trio were catching Coletti, and Razia quickly overtook. Behind, an incredible scrap for the final two points positions took place. So far, this is one of the best pieces of driving I have seen in 2012. Chilton tried to overtake Coletti, and while the Monegasque driver was defending the Carlin, Berthon got ahead of both of them, then Chilton came back and overtook Berthon leaving Coletti behind. At this point the Coloni was struggling, however, and soon fell back.
Out of the points, Tom Dillmann was showing his potential with some great overtaking. Ricardo Teixeira was struggling to race against himself, let alone other drivers.

Luiz Razia now leads the championship with Valsecchi second and Calado third. But anything could happen between now and the end of the season. It’s a long one, with rounds to come at Bahrain and Singapore as well as the usual European races. It is going to be great!

New test driver for Marussia

F1
Marussia have announced their new test driver for the 2012 season: Maria de Villota. Maria had initially tried for the Renault team, but the Spanish driver has ended up at the Sheffield-based team instead. Since she does not qualify for a super license yet (she needs more test mileage), the team will probably have to find another reserve driver.
Maria participated in the first round of the truncated 2011 Superleague Formula series, finishing 12th in both races to take home Spain’s only points in the series. She also participated in the 2010 season for Athletico Madrid, picking up several top-ten finishes in her races (though she was also excluded from one round for crashing into Sebastien Bourdais).

Pirelli also had news today, with the team gaining a new test car from Renault. The R30 – two-year-old predecessor to the Lotus E20 – will be in their hands for tyre tests throughout 2012. This is the car that was driven by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, gaining three podium positions.

GP2
Today was the second of three testing days for the series, and 2010 GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez at Lotus GP set the pace in the morning. He was unbeaten by the afternoon times. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde was only four thousandths slower, and Carlin’s Max Chilton was four thousandths slower than the Dutchman. Davide Valsecchi was 15 thousandths slower than Gutierrez for DAMS, before a slightly bigger gap to Stefano Coletti. Those top four were the only ones who made it into the 1:28 lap times, and look set to be title contenders this year. Fabrizio Crestani put Lazarus into the top ten as well. Race simulations were the order of the afternoon, which saw some rookie faces in the top ten – notably Jon Lancaster and Ricardo Teixeira who have not typically been high on the timesheets.

GP3
Tiago Monteiro’s Ocean Racing Technology have replaced Tech 1 in the bottom tier of F1’s support races. Ocean, who have signed GP3 graduate Nigel Melker and Jon Lancaster in their GP2 squad, have been showing interest in the series. Tech 1 began the 2011 season of GP3 well, with a win in the second sprint from Tamas Pal Kiss, but the loss of Andrea Caldarelli didn’t help and they struggled for the remainder of the races. They have a better record in Formula Renault 3.5, where they will be running Jules Bianchi alongside Kevin Korjus this year.

(Part 1/2)

Leimer takes debut pole at Abu Dhabi

F1
First, the news. GP2’s Johnny Cecotto, Jr. will be joining Max Chilton in driving the VJM04 at the young drivers’ test next week. For Virgin there will be Robert Wickens (who is also driving for Renault), Charles Pic (who is likely to be driving for them in F1 next year) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.

Today was free practice, and three drivers were being replaced for the first session – Romain Grosjean replaced Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne replaced Sebastien Buemi, and Robert Wickens replaced Jerome d’Ambrosio. Plenty of cars were spinning – both Ferraris, Kovalainen and Glock amongst others. Fastest overall was Jenson Button, with Webber second and Hamilton third. Rubens Barrichello finally wore out his engine, and will bring his eighth into service for the remainder of the weekend. Pastor Maldonado is on his ninth engine, and will incur a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday.
The second session had no real incidents until about 30 minutes from the end. Sebastian Vettel locked up into turn one, and about ten minutes later Fernando Alonso went into the same turn too quickly. Both drivers slid into the barrier. Vettel has always taken pole when he crashes on Friday (Canada, Turkey and Japan), though only once has he converted that into a victory. The Red Bull wasn’t really damaged, and the car was returned quickly so Vettel was able to get back on track. Meanwhile, Ferrari weren’t able to get their car back on time to complete the session. Fastest in the end was Hamilton, second Button, and third Alonso.

GP2
The GP2 cars are also on track this weekend for their non-championship race. The last time GP2 cars came to Yas Marina was for the first round of the GP2 Asia championship. Jules Bianchi, who is not racing this weekend, won the feature race. Stefano Coletti, who is racing this weekend, won the sprint.
But in this morning’s practice session it was Esteban Gutierrez who went fastest, with Fabio Leimer second and Tom Dillmann third, and the only GP3 driver in the top ten. Nathanael Berthon in seventh was the fastest of the Formula Renault drivers. Meanwhile, Giacomo Ricci and Nicholas Marroc both received 10-place grid penalties for the feature race after ignoring yellow flags.
Qualifying saw Dani Clos, Josef Kral and Fabio Leimer fight over pole. It was Leimer who eventually took it after a red flag was caused by Esteban Gutierrez. It is the Swiss driver’s first pole in GP2. Clos took second with Kral third, Razia fourth. The first GP2 newbie was Tom Dillmann, still showing incredible pace and starting ninth tomorrow ahead of his iSport teammate Marcus Ericsson. James Calado qualified 12th but will start 11th after Ricci’s penalty, with Nigel Melker right behind him. The fastest Formula Renault driver is Alex Rossi, who will start 14th.

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.

GP2 is back! Sort of…

The big news today is that the GP2 2012 lineup is already being filled up. 2010 GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez had a great season with Lotus ART this year, and will be continuing with the team for the next season.

Aside from that, it’s the GP2 tests tomorrow and Thursday at Jerez. The lineups in full can be found here. Notably, the following GP3 drivers are taking part:
Champion Valtteri Bottas with Lotus ART. Race winners James Calado, Nico Muller, Rio Haryanto, Nigel Melker and Antonio Felix da Costa. Simon Trummer.
Several past and present GP2 drivers are taking part, including Javier Villa, Adam Carroll, Sam Bird and Max Chilton. The remaining drivers mainly come from Formula Renault, including Daniel Ricciardo’s teammate Nathanael Berthon.