GP2 and GP3 calendars announced

The 2012 GP2 calendar was released today, and as well as supporting the European F1 races, GP2 will also support the Malaysia, Bahrain and Singapore Grands Prix. There will also be a second Bahrain round in a standalone event one week after the first round.
Malaysia will open the proceedings in March, giving Anglo-Malaysian team Caterham a home race. Next is the double-header at Bahrain, before they follow the European F1 season. After Monza, the teams head out to Singapore. I am curious to know whether the Singapore races will be in the day (as with the Abu Dhabi GP2 final) or at night.
Some of the drivers do not seem to be happy about the Bahrain repetition. James Calado on his Twitter said: “Bahrain twice.. Stupid” His thoughts are backed up by fans. If you’re going to have two rounds at the same track, why not make it somewhere more exciting? Even ignoring the political situation, Sakhir has never been the most enthralling place to race.

The GP3 calendar features seven guaranteed races on the European circuits, and one hopeful at Monaco. Last year GP3 were unable to race there due to a lack of garage space, but despite the inclusion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series, they are trying again. Good luck!

Meanwhile, Force India have finally confirmed what we all knew – their 2012 lineup will be Scot Paul di Resta alongside German and Brazil 2010 polesitter Nico Hulkenberg. It’s a young but skilled team who should do well. Nico Hulkenberg, the 2009 GP2 champion, was dropped from Williams after 2010 despite securing that pole. This was so that the team could hire better-funded Pastor Maldonado. But Williams had a disastrous 2011, while Force India (who hired Hulkenberg as reserve driver) finished very close behind fifth-placed Renault this year.
After driving for five years at Midland/Spyker/Force India, Adrian Sutil now has to move on. He is a good driver, but has probably reached the limit of his potential. Meanwhile di Resta and Hulkenberg are yet to prove themselves, and both shone in their rookie seasons. With an improving team and two potential champion drivers, Force India should do well in 2012.

2011 Reliability – part 1/2

In general, the 2011 cars in F1 have been more reliable than those in 2010. This year each team could complete up to 2266 laps compared to 2258 last year, and only four teams completed 90% or more – Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren. In 2011, once again only four teams have managed better than 90% reliability, but while McLaren (fourth best in both years) only just managed 90% before, this year they are on 93%. On the other hand, Ferrari were the most reliable in 2010 with 97%, but the best team this year only has 95%. So all of the top four are pretty close.

Today’s post covers the top six teams. Tomorrow will be the bottom six.

1 – Red Bull (2163/2266 laps; 95%) After Vettel’s retirement in Abu Dhabi the team were one lap behind Force India, but gained two laps over the Indian team in Brazil to retake first place in the reliability standings. Neither Vettel nor Webber have ever finished a race outside of the lead lap, but their two retirements – Webber at Monza and Vettel at Yas Marina – were in the opening stages of the races. This brought their total down considerably. Luckily for Red Bull, their mechanical issues have not caused any retirements. They have a better percentage than last year (93%), avoiding crashing into each other and driving much better in the rain.

2 – Force India (2162/2266 laps; 95%) They may have had a few more retirements than Red Bull, but they have all come close to the end of races. Not as fast as the Red Bulls, they lost first place due to finishing on the lead lap fewer times. Both drivers have been on the ball in races, and it’s a shame that Sutil will probably be leaving as he has done a good job. But rookie di Resta hasn’t made many (if any) rookie mistakes. The young team only completed 81% of race laps in 2010, beating the three new teams and Sauber alone. This is a big step up for them, and hopefully 2012 will be even better.

3 – Ferrari (2148/2266 laps; 94%) The Scuderia have had a couple of reliability problems in 2011, but most of their retirements came thanks to smashes with McLaren drivers (Alonso with Button in Canada, and Massa with Hamilton on multiple occasions). Despite this they have been able to keep good pace and usually finish on the lead lap. With just 15 less than Red Bull, if they can find some more pace then they will be a dangerous threat in 2012.

4 – McLaren (2108/2266 laps; 93%) The British team have improved on their reliability since 2010, though they still had a couple of problems. Button had a hydraulics issue in Germany following a pit stop error in Britain that lost him a tyre; Hamilton had gearbox problems in Brazil as well as smashes with Kobayashi and Massa mid-season. But their pace has meant they almost never finished off the lead lap, so they are not too far behind the top teams.

5 – Renault (2025/2266 laps; 89%) The last of five teams to complete more than 2000 laps in 2011, they are a long way behind McLaren. But with Petrov improved over the previous season and Bruno Senna avoiding any retirements (the Brazilian dropped only eight laps in his eight races), they have beaten last season’s reliability score. Renault have not had many early race retirements except for the smash that saw Liuzzi put Petrov out at Monza, though they would have done better had Heidfeld not gone up in smoke at Hungary.

6 – Sauber (1975/2266 laps) In 2010, they were the least reliable car on track and completed only 67% of race laps. Kobayashi retired from six of his first eight races that year. By contrast, he was scoring points all the time at the start of 2011, and Perez had a good turn of pace at times. Due to reliability issues in the middle of the season (a double DNF at Monza, for example) they have lost several laps, and Perez’s accident in qualifying at Monaco also takes off 71 laps from their score.

2010 Brazil GP polesitter gets to drive in FP1

2010 Brazilian Grand Prix polesitter Nico Hulkenberg hasn’t raced an F1 car since Abu Dhabi last year, when Williams booted him off the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan sponsorship. After the British team’s poor performance this season, I expect he’s glad he made the change to Force India test driver. F1 returns to Brazil next weekend, and though Nico is still in want of a race seat he will be taking part, replacing Adrian Sutil for FP1. While it’s a shame he won’t be in the car for any longer than that, hopefully next year he will be a full-blown Force India race driver.
Luiz Razia will also be driving in FP1. It will be the first time the GP2 driver has driven an F1 car at his home track, and he is looking forward to it. He took part in the young driver test for Team Lotus, and previously drove the car on-track in first practice in China. He was only able to complete twelve laps.
For Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne will be stepping into Sebastien Buemi’s car once again. The French driver did brilliantly in the young driver tests, finishing fastest every day. Also, I believe Romain Grosjean is going to be in one of the Renaults.

Renault’s lineup for 2012 seems to be coming down to three drivers: Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean. GP2 champion Grosjean is likely to get the drive, leaving a fierce battle between Senna and Petrov. According to Senna’s mother (and sister of Ayrton) Viviane, Bruno is also negotiating a deal for 2012.

Speaking of Senna, the documentary “Senna” has been passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in their Oscar nominations. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of 2011 (how many documentaries get shown in so many cinemas for such a long period of time?), it has been left out along with several other good documentaries. It is very disappointing. But Senna doesn’t need an Oscar for us to know how amazing it is. And if you haven’t already, please watch it.

Four seats TBA in GP2 final

GP2
Addax have confirmed that Jolyon Palmer, who drove for Arden this season, will be one of their two drivers for the GP2 final in Abu Dhabi. The second will be American Jake Rosenzweig from Formula Renault. At Ocean Racing, French driver Nicolas Marroc will be joining Antonio Felix da Costa. Marroc currently drives in the International GT Open, but last year took part in the F3 Euroseries. He is the third Frenchman currently signed up for the final.
The remaining seats to be announced are at Arden and Super Nova.

F1
In the young drivers’ test, Dani Clos (GP2) will be driving for HRT; Renault/Lotus will have Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens, Estonian Kevin Korjus, and their reserve driver Jan Charouz; and Max Chilton will be driving for Force India.
Korjus will be only the second Estonian to drive an F1 car, and along with Kevin Ceccon will be one of the first drivers called ‘Kevin’ in an F1 car since 1981.

Race of Champions
Marussia Virgin’s Timo Glock will be competing in the ROC alongside Timo Scheider, the German touring car star. They will make up a second German team, with the first being Schumacher and Vettel.

In other news, former F1 driver for Williams and Team Lotus and American CART champion Alex Zanardi, who was injured in a CART accident in 2001, has won the New York Marathon handcycling class. Good work!

Raikkonen to Williams – opinion

Kimi Raikkonen has had an interesting year. Being removed from the WRC championship for not competing in the two required overseas rounds, and having a rather troubled attempt at NASCAR, perhaps he’s regretting his move away from F1.
Interest in the championship-winning Finn has been shown from Williams, who also had Adrian Sutil looking around. But will Kimi race his whole heart in F1? And is it right to bring a veteran back into the sport when there are so many youngsters looking for a seat?
Williams could take a look at Sauber, whose drivers have both done spectacular jobs in the first half of the season though the car’s poor development – and gearbox problems – have lost them points more recently. Though Kobayashi and Perez have limited time in F1, they can drive well. Could Williams go with two junior drivers?
It is unlikely. After their disasterous 2011, they’ll want an experienced driver to help with the car’s development (though Barrichello should have been able to do that). And having a champion on their side could give another boost. But Adrian Sutil is an experienced driver too. He has spent all his career at the same team – albeit with a name change – and could do with a new team although he says he is happy at Force India. Well I would be too – sixth in the championship! But I am biased and want to see Nico Hulkenberg return to F1, which a Sutil move would do.

I think Barrichello retiring would be good for F1 after 19 seasons of the Brazilian in the series. Once you have been around for such a long time, even if you love driving, it’s time to give youngsters a chance. As it is, it is hard to see anywhere for even GP2 champion Romain Grosjean to fit in. Therefore I do not think it is right for ex-drivers to return, no matter how prematurely they left the sport.
So if you want my thoughts, it would be Sutil to Williams, Hulkenberg up to second driver at Force India. Valtteri Bottas will remain Williams test driver with a hope of coming to F1 in a season or two, and meanwhile make Max Chilton or Luca Filippi the Force India tester.

Summer day 16 – Adrian Sutil

Adrian Sutil – 12
After pre-season testing, the Force India looked like being one of the weakest cars on the track. It didn’t seem to have improved at all since 2010, and seemed likely to be stuck behind the Toro Rossos and Saubers. This was pretty-much the case in Australia, when both Force Indias picked up points only thanks to the Saubers’ disqualification, but since then they have made some major improvements to now stand seventh overall.
Adrian hasn’t had an easy year, what with the ‘glassing’ incident causing people to question his future. But he’s done well on track. With the car’s improvements, he has gone from risking going out in Q1, to challenging for Q3. So far he has succeeded three times – qualifying tenth in Valencia before taking eighth in the last two races.
Race-wise, the Force India has done well at a number of tracks, and with its natural strength being at Monza (there Fisichella score the team’s first pole, points and podium in the same race) there should be more points to come. Like his teammate, retirements have been limited to a problem in Canada.
One of his best races this year was at the Nurburgring when he finished 6th, though his 7th place at Monaco was resoundingly applauded as well. He failed to score in Hungary after getting stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen for the majority of the race.

Points: 18
Worst qualifying: 17
Best qualifying: 8
Worst finish: 15 (China)
Best finish: 6 (Germany)
Average difference: 0.82
Laps completed: 652/681 (96%)
Average race position: 11.49 (Best: 6.4 Germany; Worst: 16.3 Spain)

Summer day 12 – Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta – 16
Scottish rookie Paul di Resta has had a good first season in F1. Having won the DTM championship, many people hoped he would be a more competitive teammate for Adrian Sutil, and so far they haven’t been proven wrong. Having beaten the German in seven of eleven qualifying sessions, he’s clearly got it in single-seaters as well as tin tops. In fact, he put the VJM04 into Q3 first of the two drivers, taking eighth on the grid in China.
He’s also one of that rare breed to score points on their debut, though they were received thanks to the disqualification of the two Saubers. In Malaysia, however, he finished 10th again, receiving points much more fairly. But until the most recent race, Paul went through a dry spell. In Hungary, however, he achieved his best-ever finish coming in 7th ahead of Rosberg’s works Mercedes. It’s rather worrying when the works car is struggling to compete with the teams they supply engines too. McLaren is one thing, but Force India…?
Paul has only been in Q3 once since China, when a brilliant push got him into sixth at his home race of Silverstone, again ahead of both works Mercedes. The Force India is doing well this year, and with both drivers putting in good performances, beating Sauber could be on the cards. But there is always the threat from Toro Rosso.
People are already speaking about Paul replacing Schumacher at Mercedes in 2012, or in 2013 if the seven-time world champion completes his contract. He is Mercedes’ golden boy, so a promotion is very likely. Meanwhile, he’ll definitely be around next season for more racing.

Points: 8
Worst qualifying: 16
Best qualifying: 6
Worst finish: 15 (Britain; classified non-finish 18th in Canada)
Best finish: 7 (Hungary)
Average difference: -1.36
Laps completed: 656/681 (96%)
Average race position: 11.56 (Best: 8.5 Hungary; Worst: 14.5 Monaco)