Malaysian Grand Prix more than Exceeds Expectations

Today, an up-and-coming young driver challenged a two-time world champion for victory… and almost made it. It was wet to start, and most were on inters, but Sergio Perez pitted on the first lap for wets. Others soon followed. After a soggy first few laps at Malaysia, the race was red-flagged until the rain grew lighter. At this point, Perez was sitting in third behind Hamilton and Button. But the race began again, and soon it became dry enough for intermediates. Perez was one of the last to pit, while Ferrari got Alonso out ahead of the McLarens. When Perez emerged, he was also ahead.
At first, Perez slowly fell away from the Ferrari – though he had a fantastic gap to Hamilton in third. Button had disappeared, having hit Narain Karthikeyan while racing for position (the HRTs had got ahead by starting on wets instead of inters). The time came to change for fresh intermediates, but as usual the Sauber was treating the Pirellis better. The Mexican led for a few laps before also changing tyres. Then the charge began.
Closer and closer, by over a second a lap at some points on the drying track. But it was getting so dry that slicks were the way to go. Ricciardo pitted first, and soon the others did too. Ferrari brought in Alonso, but Sauber kept Perez out an extra lap. This left the Mexican in second after his stop, and may have costed him the win. Still, Perez was faster. The Sauber once again closed by over a second per lap, until it got within DRS range. The first try didn’t work. The second… never got an opportunity to happen as Perez went wide, losing four seconds.
There were only a few laps to go, and Perez’s pace wasn’t as good as it had been. Still, he finished 2s behind Alonso in a fantastic drive that will go down in history. If he is not driving for Ferrari in 2013, I shall be very surprised.

Sergio Perez gained 14 places in his first race (starting from 22nd) and 7 places today, making a total of 21 places over 2 races – more than any other driver. He is the first Mexican on the podium in over 40 years, since Pedro Rodriguez.
By contrast, Romain Grosjean has had an appalling first two races. Qualifying well, he has lost 36 places over 2 races, and only completed just over 3% of the possible laps.
Sebastian Vettel has sunk to 6th in the championship, his lowest position since Australia 2010. The last time Vettel scored 0 points but finished a race was at the 2010 Belgian GP. Vettel also had an avoidable collision with Karthikeyan towards the end of the race, which shred his tyre and lost him position. Surprisingly, Karthikeyan was penalised with a drive-through, while Button had accepted the blame for his incident earlier in the race.
The leader of the WDC, contrary to all expectations, is Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is second, Button third and Webber fourth. McLaren still lead the WCC, with Red Bull second, Ferrari third and Sauber 4th.

What will happen in the rest of the season? If the first two races are anything to go by… I haven’t got a clue!

There’s a short break for Easter, and then the Chinese GP will be on April 15th.

i1 Supercar Series tests in Abu Dhabi

Unlike footballers and musicians, racing drivers don’t usually have their private lives on display to the public. So it was a surprise today when Fernando Alonso revealed that he would be divorcing his wife, Spanish singer Raquel del Rosario.

In happier news, Columbian Julian Leal will be driving alongside Stephane Richelmi at Trident in the 2012 GP2 season. Leal drove with Trident at the GP2 final after a difficult debut season with Rapax, and will be hoping to pick up some points! He won Italian F3000 in 2008 despite not winning a single race.

The i1 Supercar Series was testing in Abu Dhabi today. There is an interesting mix of drivers, with F1 stars from the past including Jacques Villeneuve and Jean Alesi alongside up-and-coming international drivers such as Armaan Ebrahim and Matthias Lauda, and future Indian stars. The fastest of all in today’s test was Parthiva Sureshwaren, but one group of international drivers was particularly speedy. There will also be two female drivers taking part – Pippa Mann and Cyndie Allemann. Pippa is an Indycar driver from Britain, while Cyndie is a Swiss driver who has tried out a number of disciplines.
There are 27 drivers, and in each round of two races eighteen of them will be chosen – two for each of the nine teams. India is clearly determined to get passionate about motor racing. It will never match cricket, but I think the country will do a good job. Hopefully the work of passionate Indians will make sure the country will host Formula One for many years to come.
The first race will be at Sepang on January 21st.

2011 review part 5 – Spain

After the traditional short break for Easter, the European season began in Turkey. Joining the F1 circus were the GP2 and GP3 teams, beginning their own championship races.
The Friday morning was soaking wet, which meant Team Lotus’s Karun Chandhok was once again denied any decent practice time (he had crashed the car at the start of FP1 in Australia). The biggest event of the session, however, was caused by Sebastian Vettel. Pushing the RB7 to its limits, he got onto the wet kerbs just after turn eight and spun, skidding through the grass and hitting the wall.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/player.swf

The rest of practice was dry and uneventful, with Vettel failing to run in the second session. In the third, he set the fastest time by a thousandth of a second from Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. On Saturday afternoon, it was time for qualifying.

Kamui Kobayashi became the fall guy, not even setting a time after his Sauber broke down. D’Ambrosio received a penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice and started 23rd, with Kobayashi at the back as he did not meet the 107% rule but was granted permission to race. (The penalties would not always be applied in this order for future races) In Q2, Barrichello was narrowly squeezed out of the top ten by Nick Heidfeld, and the two Force Indias would start behind the Brazilian but ahead of Maldonado. Perez and the Toro Rossos were next. In Q3, Felipe Massa failed to set a time after mechanical problems and would line up tenth on the grid for race day. Nico Rosberg trounced his teammate for Mercedes’ best qualifying thus far, starting third behind the Red Bulls. Vettel, as ever, was on pole.

Race day came, and DRS was to play a major part in the action. In the opinion of many, it was just too easy at Istanbul Park, especially after the zone had been extended. The Pirellis wore quickly and winner Sebastian Vettel stopped four times on his way to the third win of the season. Pit stops, however, were all he had to worry about. Mark Webber took second while Fernando Alonso claimed third for Ferrari having been overtaken by the Aussie close to the end of the race. Both Buemi and Kobayashi would put in great drives, finishing in the points despite bad qualifying.
Retirements were few, coming only from Paul di Resta whose car broke down late in the race. Timo Glock failed to start the race. Kovalainen would have beaten his teammate had his Lotus not suffered mechanical issues which slowed him down.

Vettel dominated the championship. But with Barcelona traditionally the location for major car upgrades, there was still a chance to beat him despite the huge lead on Hamilton.

In GP2, Romain Grosjean won the feature race from pole, and took fastest lap in the sprint. This put him at the top of the championship, on equal points with Sam Bird and just three ahead of GP3 graduate Stefano Coletti who won the sprint race.
In GP3 it was Nigel Melker who had the best start, winning the feature race and coming third in the sprint for fourteen points. Andrea Caldarelli was closest behind, on ten points. Sprint winner Alex Sims had eight points – the same as fourth-placed Tom Dillmann.

[To be continued]

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)

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.

Practice report – India

F1
It was certainly an eventful first day for the Indian Grand Prix. There was a red flag in each session, plenty of off-track excursions by the drivers as they learned their way around, and a couple of grid penalties as well.
Session one was the most dramatic. Dusty and hazy, the first drivers on track were the Indians – Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok (replacing Heikki Kovalainen for the session) – and the two Force India drivers. The first flying lap was a 1:52.148 by Chandhok, but before he could really get going the session was red-flagged due to a dog on the circuit. That will have brought back memories for Bruno Senna, who was taken out of a GP2 race in Turkey in 2008 after he hit a dog.
Once the session resumed, things were rather quiet until the Hispanias began their work. Narain Karthikeyan moved into P1. But he was soon overtaken, and half-way through the session it was Jenson Button’s McLaren fastest with the Toro Rossos close behind. The times were tumbling for most, but not for Fernando Alonso whose car broke down as he was attempting his second timed lap. He pulled off on the escape road, so the session was not interrupted. He ended up sitting looking rather glum under the big screen.
The session continued with times falling. But it was still dusty in the pit lane, and as Karun Chandhok attempted to lay down some rubber the car spun rather dramatically and almost went too far into the path of Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan managed to avoid the accident, which allowed him to continue.
The Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari crashed in the final minutes of the session, causing waved yellow flags. Then Pastor Maldonado had a firey mechanical failure. As marshalls cleared the cars and track, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton set their fastest laps – Perez first then Hamilton right at the end to beat Sebastian Vettel. Both have been given 3-place grid penalties for qualifying tomorrow. Hamilton’s lap was the fastest of the session.

Practice two saw Pastor Maldonado crash, though Williams were able to get him out again. The story of the day was Ferrari’s flexible front wing. Especially for Felipe Massa, it was noticably scraping the ground. But it was clearly working for the team, as Massa set the fastest lap of the session. It is the first time he has topped a session since second practice in Silverstone. Fernando Alonso hit traffic as he was attempting to beat that time.
The red flag came mid-way through the session, when Jerome d’Ambrosio spun dramatically and hit the wall. Most drivers were getting used to the track, however, and apart from a spin for Petrov and a few off-track moments for Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastien Buemi, things went smoothly.

F2
A small field for a wet Barcelona. Spaniard Miki Monras was fastest in the first session, and German Tobias Hegewald was fastest in the second. Parthiva Sureshwaren set a top-ten time in FP2, perhaps inspired by the Grand Prix in his home country. Champion Mirko Bortolotti remained consistent, setting the second-fastest time in both sessions, but there is going to be an almighty scrap for second and third in the championship over the next two days.

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.