Felipe Massa is a BRILLIANT driver

Ferrari are not a team to tolerate poor quality. No matter what loyalties are involved, if you can’t keep up with the requirements, you’re out, however long you have left on your contract. Yet when it comes to Felipe Massa the Prancing Horse seem to have had a change of heart. But is this really the case? Has the accident in Hungary really cost Massa his ability, or is something else going on?

Most fans, from what I can tell, believe that Massa’s poor form comes from his accident. However, if we look at his results upon his return to F1, we can see that this is not the case. The 2010 Ferrari was an excellent car, scoring podiums almost all season. Designed around Alonso, the car was always bound to favour the Spaniard, but Massa showed the world in Bahrain that he hadn’t lost his ability.
He took second in qualifying, just a tenth behind Vettel, and in the race he finished second. He came third in the next race, beating Alonso by two seconds. Now, he was second in the WDC, Alonso in the lead. After Malaysia, an engine failure for Alonso put Massa at the top of the championship. He continued to score points up to the Turkish Grand Prix, before three tough races for the Brazilian that would then be followed by the scandal at Hockenheim.
Canada, Valencia and Britain saw Massa score 0 points, but nobody was calling for his retirement. When he led the race in Hockenheim, everyone hoped for a Massa victory. When Ferrari refused to let him fight for position against Alonso, we were angry. We knew Massa was just as good as he had been before, and deserved a fair chance at victory.
Despite this, Massa did well for the next few races. At Hungary, Belgium and Italy he performed on a par with Alonso, including third place at Monza. After Monza, however, things seemed to go downhill. It is interesting that this should happen after the Scuderia’s home race. He picked up third at Korea – an extraordinary wet race – and this would be his most recent podium.
Ferrari knew that Robert Kubica had one year left at Renault, and though Massa’s performance was dropping as the team struggled to make such a great car, they kept him on. Surely the intention was to bring Kubica in for 2012. But as we all know, this never happened. Massa picked up points regularly, and seemed to end up clashing with Hamilton far too often. Alonso, always able to make the best of a tricky car, shone and got many podiums including the win at Silverstone. Silverstone in fact was Massa’s best race of the season, and he was closing fast on Hamilton by the end of the race. He almost got the lead into the final corner, but the Briton fought well. Still, it was a great example of how Massa can still drive brilliantly when Ferrari are at their best.
This year hasn’t been so good for Massa. It is clear he needs to be in a good car to shine, but when you’re in Formula One you can’t always get the best car. With Perez set to stay at Sauber (which is a better car than the Ferrari at the moment), I cannot think that any other driver would be brought in to replace the Brazilian. If future updates work, I think Massa will shine again. Having watched his kart race, the Desafio das Estrelas, at the end of 2011, it is apparent that he is a brilliant driver. In fact, 5 live commentator Jaime Alguersuari was the one who won that event. He also has experience with Ferrari engines. But would Ferrari take that chance?
Massa seems destined to end his career after 2012, despite his ability. Bruno Senna’s short career may also be over too soon, leaving F1 without any Brazilians. It will be up to Luiz Razia and Felipe Nasr in GP2 to prove themselves to the F1 teams, and so far they have done a great job with a win and a third place respectively.

I will be sad to see Felipe Massa disappear from F1. He’s provided some extraordinary moments over the years. But there are still 18 races left in the season. Come on Felipe!

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.

Rain falls in Barcelona

F1
Testing has continued at Barcelona, with one more day left to run. Today (Saturday) saw the first rain. After silly rumours about Ferrari sacking Massa flooded Twitter yesterday, the team cancelled all media interviews with the drivers. This may also be connected to the poor performance of the F2012 so far – how bad a season will it be for the Scuderia? Grosjean went fastest for the second day of the test, while Perez was fastest in the dry today.
HRT will not be present tomorrow, but hope to launch their car at a filming day on Monday. While poor, this is still progress for the Spanish team compared to previous years.

GP3
Jenzer have announced Formula Arbath Italia champion Patric Niederhauser as the second of their drivers for 2012. He also came second in the European season.

FR 3.5
Lotus continue their ‘invasion’ into every single seater category with Gravity-Charouz. The Lotus team will have a Czech nationality, and run with Danish driver Marco Sorensen (2nd last year in German F3) and Richie Stanaway (winner of German F3, as well as the Belgian GP3 sprint race).

Raikkonen goes fastest on first day back

In the world of motor racing, today has been quiet… well, as quiet as it gets on the first day of an F1 test! After Williams launched their FW34, featuring the all-familiar stepped nose, it was time to take to the track. First up, and continuing a tradition from last season, Caterham were first on the track with Heikki Kovalainen.
But the first flyer was Kimi Raikkonen, quickly getting up to speed in the E20. He went fastest overall, though not much more than Paul di Resta in the Force India. We cannot get the whole picture from testing, of course. As I am sure you have already heard, Williams were fastest at Jerez last year, but had their worst season of all time in 2011. Many teams will be sandbagging, and others will face unexpected problems – the Caterham, for example, was prevented from running by a broken starter shaft. Red Bull were also late in starting, after parts were held up by heavy fog.

First Impressions
Kovalainen’s shortened time in the CT01 today (he’ll be back tomorrow, with van der Garde in on Thursday followed by Trulli on Friday) was enough for him to get a reasonable impression of the new car. The Finn said “The steering feels slightly more precise. I have only done three laps so I can’t really tell more but, so far, positive feeling.” This will be good news for Trulli, so long as the rumours of his replacement do not come true.
Franz Tost, the Toro Rosso boss, believes Caterham have what it takes to be a midfield team in 2012, stating them as one of their main competitors in 2012. They also believe they will be up against Sauber and Force India. It is interesting to note that Williams were not mentioned here.
The smooth-nosed McLaren has pleased Button, who said that there weren’t so many downforce issues as expected after the removal of blown diffusers. The team hope to have a much better testing session than last year, where difficulties left them far behind where they had hoped to be by the start of the season.
Schumacher – who drove half a day in the 2011 Mercedes – expressed his pleasure with the new rear tyres from Pirelli, saying that they were more consistent than 2011’s.

The only team not present at the test was Marussia, who will probably be at Barcelona. HRT hope to pass the final crash tests soon, which means their car should also be ready for the next test. The most laps today were completed by Kamui Kobayashi and Paul di Resta, while Kovalainen and Maldonado completed the least. I am not sure why Williams did such little running. Unsurprisingly, Pedro de la Rosa was slowest in the 2011 HRT.

New driver announcements

It has been a busy day in the world of motor racing, with driver announcements across all levels of the sport, in single-seaters and tin-tops. Here’s a summary of the single-seater news:

Formula One
First up, HRT revealed their second driver to be none other than Narain Karthikeyan, who drove a part-season for them last year. He and Pedro de la Rosa will make up the oldest team on the grid, and will have a combined age of 76 years at the Melbourne GP. Despite this, they have less F1 experience than several other teams, having only 113 F1 starts between them.
Ferrari and Force India both launched their cars today – the F2012 and the VJM05. Ferrari’s rather ugly, square design and Force India’s smoother design both have the platypus nose that was first seen on the Caterham CT-01.

GP2
Josef Kral is the latest driver to be confirmed for the series. The Czech, who drove for Arden last season and picked up podiums in Monaco and Belgium, will be driving alongside Johnny Cecotto at Addax.

GP3
Marussia Manor Racing have confirmed their first driver as Dmitry Suranovich, who is currently competing in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. Born in Belarus, Suranovich is a Russian citizen and drives under a Russian license. The 16-year-old last year competed in Formula Arbath Europe and Italy. He did not have brilliant results. However, his rookie season in TRSNZ is going well and he is 9th in the championship, having picked up a podium at Timaru.
Carlin have also been confirming drivers in various series, including one in GP3. This is Alex Brundle, son of Martin, who will also be competing in European rounds of the WEC. Brundle had mixed luck in F2 last year, taking one pole and three podiums and finishing 7th in the championship.

British F3
A number of drivers have now been confirmed for the 2012 BF3 season, very few of whom are British. Carlin have five drivers signed so far – Pietro Fantin (BRA), Jazeman Jaafar (MAL), Jack Harvey (GBR), Carlos Sainz, Jr (ESP) and Harry Tincknell (GBR). At Fortec, Pipo Derani (BRA) joins FR UK champion Alex Lynn and another graduate of the series Felix Serralles. Only one driver – Spike Goddard (AUS) has been confirmed for T-Sport so far.

IndyCar
Takuma Sato, who drove for KV Racing for the last two seasons, was today announced as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (wow, long name or what?) lead driver. The Japanese driver has taken two poles and a best finish of fourth in his career so far. This will be Rahak’s first full IndyCar season since 2008, and they also hope to run a second car at some point.

GP2 and GP3 head to Sky

There has been plenty of motor racing news over the past few days, so this might be a long post!

Formula Renault 3.5
Eurocup champion Robin Frijns graduates to the elite Renault series, where he will be driving alongside Carlos Huertas at Fortec. Meanwhile Kevin Korjus, who came sixth in his rookie season with three wins, continues with Tech 1. P1 Motorsport, as last season, will field Daniil Move alongside Austrian driver Walter Grubmuller.
There are well-founded rumours that Arden and Caterham will be joining together for the 2012 FR 3.5 campaign, with Alexander Rossi alongside Lewis Williamson. However, these have not yet been confirmed. Wikipedia also lists a number of other drivers, but these have not been confirmed by the teams.

GP2 and GP3
The two F1 support series will no longer be shown by Eurosport but by Sky, which is good news for fans fed up with delayed GP2 coverage. The races will be shown on Sky Sports F1. This will definitely make the series more popular with fans. The series have changed their Twitter usernames to @GP2_Official (formerly @feeder_series) and @GP3_Official (formerly @stepping_series) respectively, which will help avoid confusion in the future.

Former F1 drivers
Rubens Barrichello has been testing the new IndyCar chassis at Sebring, primarily to help out his friend – KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan – but also to get a taste for the cars. He has said that he would consider entering the series next year, but this would depend on his wife giving him permission. Motor Racing is a scary sport, and especially with Dan Wheldon’s death so close at hand it would be a hard decision to make.
Adrian Sutil has had his court case after the incident with Eric Lux in a Chinese nightclub last year. The former Force India driver was given an 18-month suspended sentence and a large fine. This is likely to kill the German’s racing career, as he will find it difficult to get a visa for many countries.
Nick Heidfeld is moving on, and has confirmed that he will be taking part in the new FIA WEC at the Sebring 12 Hours, Spa 6 Hours and Le Mans alongside Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost. This will be for the Rebellion team in a Lola-Toyota LMP1 car. The last time Heidfeld competed at Le Mans was in 1999.

Formula One
McLaren’s MP4-27 was successfully launched yesterday, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button as well as test drivers Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey. The event was streamed online. The car is generally quite similar to the MP4-26, though it has a lower nose. Unlike Caterham, however, the nose does not have a strange dip in it to pass technical regulations.
Ferrari, however, have had to cancel tomorrow’s launch due to an overabundance of snow at Maranello. Photos and a technical Q&A will be launched on their website.

i1 SuperSeries
The 2012 i1 Super Series has been cancelled. The series will now begin in 2013. This is disappointing for all the drivers hoping to take part, and for everyone wanting to watch. The names associated with the series suggested it would be a great thing to watch, but now we shall have to wait another year.

Jules Bianchi becomes Force India reserve

Today it was confirmed by Force India that Jules Bianchi will be coming to the team for 2012. Bianchi, who has been a Ferrari test driver and remains in their driver training program, will take part in some of the pre-season testing and a number of Friday practice sessions.
The Frenchman is the grandnephew of Lucien Bianchi, a Belgian racing driver who drove sporadically in F1 and came third in the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix. Bianchi regularly took part in Le Mans, and died in 1969 when his Alfa Romeo T33 hit a telegraph pole during testing.
As for Jules, he has finished third in GP2 for the last two seasons, both years with ART (now Lotus). In fact, these have been his only years in the series, and include a pole position on his debut! Though he has only won one GP2 race (the 2011 British feature race), he has been incredibly consistent throughout his whole time in the series. He also finished second in the 2011 GP2 Asia series, winning the Abu Dhabi feature race. Before GP2 he was still an ART driver, and won the F3 Euroseries in 2009 having come third the year before. It is a shame that this fantastic driver isn’t in F1 yet. However, Force India have two equally good drivers in their main lineup. They will be hard to replace.

Lotus have named their new car the E20, as it is the 20th car to be built at Enstone. Though the team has changed names twice, the E20 is a direct successor of the Benetton F1 cars that were first made there.

Finally, GP3 have made some announcements over the last couple of days. First, the series will finally be racing at Monaco alongside F1, GP2 and FR 3.5. This is great news for the series, and will be a real encouragement for young drivers. As if that wasn’t enough, Pirelli will be offering a prize to the champion of the series – 200,000 Euros, plus a GP2 test drive over the winter break – providing the driver moves to a GP2 team the next season. So far, only one of the two GP3 champions has moved to GP2 the following season, though Valtteri Bottas’s plans have not yet been announced. It is a very tempting reward. Hopefully, it will attract a fantastic calibre of drivers this season and in the years to come.

As I was writing this post, Formula Renault UK made a big announcement which I will post about in a short while.