Ceccon gets Oceans of chance in GP3

There’s just one week until the 2012 season kicks off, and it looks like a number of talented drivers will be on track. Swiss driver Mauro Calamia is the latest to be officially announced, but there are also a number of drivers listed on the website who are yet to be confirmed, including 2010 champion Dean Stoneman. With the new faster, better cars, this year looks set to produce some good racing. We can only hope that there aren’t too many regulars at the back of the field.
Mauro Calamia joins F2 from Formula Renault Alps, where he finished 10th of 25 drivers. He picked up a reasonable 125 points. He tended to be in the bottom half of the timesheets during testing, but hopefully the 20-year-old rookie will catch up as the season progresses.

As well as Tamas Pal Kiss, two other drivers have been announced this week. Status Grand Prix have a second driver in Kotaro Sakurai, a Japanese driver who was British F3 national class champion last season. The youngster has tested GP3 before, but this will be his first season in the series.
Meanwhile, Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon will be joining Carmen Jorda and Robert Cregan at Ocean Racing Technology. Ceccon participated in GP2 for Scuderia Coloni last season after Davide Rigon was injured, but it was a premature step up for the Italian. Ceccon should do well in GP3, and I expect him to be a frontrunner from the first race.

If you thought the Lotus saga was over, think again! Group Lotus, who were title sponsors of Renault last season, have pulled out of that role by mutual consent with the team. Group Lotus have been struggling, and their owners Proton have been cutting back. Lotus F1 Team will still keep the name, however, until 2017. So there will be a Lotus with no connection to either the original team or the car manufacturer for the next few years in F1. In fact, Caterham probably have more connection to the original Team Lotus than Lotus F1 now!
All you need to know is, Lotus are still called Lotus. They have no connection to Lotus but they still have the name. Ow my head!

Meanwhile, news out of South America suggests that Argentina are likely to be hosting an F1 race from 2013 and replacing South Korea, despite the Asian venue arranging a lower hosting fee. This will be confirmed (or not) within the next few weeks. If it does go ahead, this means there will be two new races for 2013: Argentina and New Jersey. The question is, which races will be set aside?

Things are hotting up once again in Bahrain, with the F1 race looking set to be the focal point of protests. While F1 should be careful not to take sides, I think that the situation merits a cancellation. I fear that the protesters would target the media and team personnel, to make sure that their voices are heard. It would be awful if anyone were injured or killed just because Bernie Ecclestone insisted the race go ahead. The protesters might see it as a victory, but it would be a hollow one. The government might be in the wrong, but I doubt they would target anyone connected to F1. I fear the protesters would have no such qualms.

British F3
The new season starts this weekend at Oulton Park. At the time of writing, only free practice has happened so far. Alex Lynn was fastest by almost 0.5s from Felix Serralles, which is a good start from the Formula Renault UK graduates who are both at Fortec. Jack Harvey was Carlin’s fastest, only 0.04s slower than Serralles, and his teammate Harry Tincknell was fourth-fastest.

Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens is setting his single seater career aside to join Mercedes’s DTM team this year. There are a lot of drivers taking part in the series, from a wide variety of nations. Most of them are talented, and if you can watch it then it should be good fun! The season starts on April 29th at Hockenheim.

KERS, confusion and GP2

Team Lotus and Red Bull, Virgin and McLaren, HRT and Williams. Each of the three ‘baby teams’ has a collaboration with one of the more experienced teams on track. HRT have renewed their deal with Williams for 2012, which includes the use of Williams KERS. Now that the British outfit have had a year to work on their KERS, it should be much more reliable. Hopefully it will help the Spanish outfit to boost their performance next year. Virgin/Marussia might have more trouble than the other two teams, as unlike Team Lotus/Caterham and HRT it does not share the same engine supplier as its partner. They will have to get KERS from somewhere if they are to be competitive, otherwise they will once again finish 12th overall.
Speaking of ‘Finnish’, Williams are rumoured to be announcing at Abu Dhabi that they have signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2012. The Finn quit F1 after 2009 in order to pursue rallying. He has also had a go at NASCAR. At the start of this year, it seemed unlikely he would ever return. Now, however, the Iceman could be back. A great racer, he will be an additional boost for the struggling team. It could provide a good challenge for him in a less competitive car.
After a meeting of the Formula One Committee today, it has been confirmed that from 2012 Team Lotus will be known as ‘Caterham’, Renault will be known as ‘Lotus’, and Virgin will become ‘Marussia’. It remains to be seen what team names they will adopt.

Meanwhile, Stefano Coletti returns to racing in Abu Dhabi alongside Kevin Ceccon at Scuderia Coloni for the GP2 final. Afterwards, he will be taking part in the F1 young driver test for Toro Rosso. Stefano injured his back in the Spa-Francorchamps GP2 feature race. He won two races this season – the Turkey and Hungary sprints – despite being a rookie. He has a lot of potential, and should do well.
Another driver taking part is, unsurprisingly, Alexander Rossi. The young American will be driving for Team AirAsia, as well as taking part in the young drivers’ test for Team Lotus.

Formula Renault UK winter series

Formula Renault UK
The Formula Renault Finals Series (formerly the winter series) hits the tarmac at Snetterton this weekend, and unlike the summer series has a packed field. As well as the usual British teams, there are a few international teams and the drivers are truly international – though several of the summer series drivers return. Not, however, Alice Powell, who is missing out. Six of the cars will be BARC entries (running older Formula Renault cars), and those drivers will be in bold.
So who isn’t missing out? Korainen (FIN) are fielding six drivers in cars 2-7: Daniil Kvyat (RUS), Esteban Ocon (FRA), Hans Villemi (EST), John Bryant-Meisner (SWE), Martin Rump (EST) and Stefan Wackerbauer (GER). There will be two drivers for Atech Reid (GBR) in cars 8 and 16 – Geoff Uhrhane (AUS) and Dan Wells (GBR) respectively. Interwetten (AST) will be supporting just Melville McKee (GBR), and Van Amersfoort (NED) will field cars 11 and 12 – Dennis van der Laar (NED) and Joao Sergio Camara (BRA).
Next Fortec (GBR), the summer series champions, whose eight drivers include several series regulars and a few who are new to racing. Josh Hill (GBR) son of Damon and formerly of Manor is in car 14. Dan De Zille (GBR) is in car 19, Felix Serrales (PR) who took part in a few races as a guest driver is in car 24. Archie Hamilton (GBR) is in car 26; Ed Jones (UAE) another guest driver is in car 29; Thomas Jager (AST) is in car 34, and Shahaan Engineer (IND) is car 39. Jake Dennis is in car 41, and summer’s runner-up Oli Rowland is in car 44.
Manor Competition are entering three drivers, and retain just one of their summer lineup. With Alice not driving and Josh off to Fortec, it has to be the incredible Jordan King (GBR), who took a win and a second place in Indian GP support races. As usual he is in car 42. Nick McBridge (AUS) and Hector Hurst (GBR) are in cars 17 and 18 respectively.
Hillspeed (GBR) are also putting out three cars, with Victor Jiminez (ESP) in car 25, Joe Kibbler (GBR) in car 31, and Sean Walkinshaw (GBR) in car 33. Mark Burdett (GBR) have cars 21 and 22: Josh Webster (GBR) and Tomasz Krzeminski (POL). Antel Motorsport (GBR) have Ivan Taranov (RUS) and Chirag Marhotra (IND) in cars 27 and 28. Finally, MGR (GBR) have cars 66 and 99. James Fletcher (GBR) is in car 66, while 99 is TBC.
The drivers to look out for are probably Oliver Rowland, Daniil Kvyat, Josh Hill and Jordan King. The British drivers will have experience of Snetterton, and Daniil is simply a good driver.

Live timing will be at http://www.tsl-timing.co.uk

GP2 Final
Watch out James Calado and Tom Dillmann! GP3 double race winner Rio Haryanto and one-time winner (but consistent) Nigel Melker will be driving for DAMS in the GP2 final! Rio will be the first ever Indonesian GP2 driver.

Sam Michael has begun working for McLaren after Williams gave him permission. He would originally have had to take ‘gardening leave’ until March before working for his new team, but the teams have recently made an arrangement that will see McLaren’s new sporting director present at Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

Despite being sponsored by the Lotus car company, KV Racing will be using Chevrolet engines in 2012. I don’t usually report on Indycar, but with Lotus always a hot topic in F1 circles, I thought this merited a mention. Lotus engines will be available to Indy teams next season along with Chevvy and Honda, but so far only one team has committed to running them. It will be interesting to see whether this affects the relationship between KV and Lotus.

Wirth loses his Virginity

Williams have managed a great comeback after their initial disappointing start to the season. Virgin, however, haven’t managed to come out from their position between Team Lotus and Hispania. They have therefore departed company with Nick Wirth their technical director. Pat Symonds, former Renault engineering director, can’t work in F1 just yet, but he is consulting for the team and helping them for the future.
They will be dumping their all-CFD approach for the near future, and are also expected to be looking at establishing their own technical base. There are also reports that they are looking at working with McLaren or Mercedes, which would mean dumping the Cosworth engines. A similar partnership helped Force India out in the past.
The developments that have already been developed with Wirth Research will go on the car, but they are going to be beginning to focus on their 2012 car. This should hopefully be much better. Unfortunately, CFD hasn’t yet developed to the point where it renders wind tunnels unnecessary, though it is getting better all the time.

Lotus Cars looks set to lose up to 99 members of staff from its Norfolk base following money problems. The company has been struggling ever since Dany Bahar became CEO and began an agressive plan to launch five new models in the middle of the recession. They have also lost a lot of money over the Lotus v Lotus court case. Dany has massive ambitions for Group Lotus, but unfortunately they do not seem to work with everyone else. His position of power has caused a lot of pain and destruction in relations within the company, and between Group Lotus and Team Lotus. Proton and the higher-ups at Group Lotus and Renault F1 back Bahar. Everyone else seems to be pissed off.

We’re all winners here

I have read through the entire judgement by Mr Justice Peter Smith on the Group Lotus vs Team Lotus case. It is fairly easy to see why both parties believe they have won:

1 – Group Lotus won because their allegations of the breach of the agreement were upheld. In truth, I am rather shocked that the 1 Malaysia Racing Team people were breaching the clause on merchandise so quickly after the agreement had been signed. GL had a viable interest in maintaining the quality of their goods, and the 1MRT people did not at all go along with this clause.
As the judge points out, the two sides both quickly realised they wanted out of the agreement. In reality, they ought to have come to an amicable separation, rather than having to go to court.

2 – Team Lotus won because their right to use the Team Lotus name and roundel was upheld. Group Lotus have no right to this. GL do have the right to race as a sponsor of an F1 team but not using the word ‘Team’ with the word ‘Lotus’. Therefore they could not be part of the Lotus Renault F1 Team, for example. The judge ruled that there was no real confusion or similarity between TL and GL, and fans would be able to tell them apart. He notes that GL are a sponsor of Renault, and not in fact a manufacturer, which invalidated a lot of the arguments against TL. He also notes that fans can cope with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, so would have no trouble with the two Lotus teams.

Recently, GL stuck a bunch of Lotus roundels on the Renaults. I don’t know whether we will continue to see these, though as a sponsor they have the right. However, this does lead me to wonder whether Renault are struggling for sponsors.
Both parties have acted rather idiotically in this. Perhaps they will learn their lesson. 1MRT/Team Lotus at least do not have a licensing agreement to restrict their production of mercandise anymore (in fact, they opened their online shop after the resolution was announced), but I am slightly concerned about the quality having read the part of the judgement relating to the 1MRT breach of the licensing agreement.

I will still continue to support Team Lotus, though I have cooled a little after reading how they breached the license agreement. At least they admitted it. They’re a proud young team. They do own the goodwill of the original Team Lotus. Hopefully they will progress, and will one day in the next few years see the first Team Lotus winner since Ayrton Senna at Monaco in 1987.
It remains to be seen whether or not Team Lotus will be allowed to keep the ‘lotus’ chassis name. As ‘lotus’ as a chassis has been inextricably linked with Team Lotus throughout history, I suspect that they will. But this is for the FIA to rule.

Nothing has changed

And the result of Group Lotus vs Team Lotus is that the status quo has been maintained. Ha ha. Both sides have claimed victory.

Group Lotus are allowed to use the ‘Lotus’ name by itself in Formula One. Team Lotus are allowed to use ‘Team Lotus’, but apparently not ‘Lotus’ by itself, although they will keep the chassis name according to Tony Fernandes. I have changed all the ‘lotus’ tags on this site to ‘Team Lotus’ just to clarify things.
Group Lotus are still allowed to have the black and gold cars on the track through their sponsorship of Renault. Team Lotus are still allowed to have the green and yellow cars, and use the iconic Team Lotus symbol. The only real ruling that was made was that Group’s decision to end the license agreement with 1 Malaysia F1 Team was legitimate.
Each company has released a statement about the judgement: Group Lotus, Team Lotus.
Tony Fernandes seems happiest about the result, with Group Lotus intending to appeal as they don’t think the Team Lotus name should be allowed to be used at all by Tony’s team. They say this is to ‘avoid confusion’. I’m not confused. The most confused I get in F1 is when I get a Toro Rosso or a Red Bull mixed up. I think they’re forgetting that Renault aren’t actually their team, but they’re just a sponsor! Probably the happiest people are the lawyers, who have made lots of money to keep things the way they are.

Oliver Turvey has been handed a 30-second penalty from the feature race for failing to take a drive through penalty for jumping the start. This has demoted him to 15th, losing him his two points and promoting Charles Pic to the reverse grid pole. Sam Bird has been penalised five grid places for the race tomorrow after causing the collision between himself and his teammate in the race. Max Chilton is now 16th in the championship, while Turvey is second-last as all drivers except Mikhail Aleshin have at least one race finish better than fifteenth. It does not affect the team standings.

It’s interesting to note that I am doing all this from my home and have never been to an F1 or GP2 race. I love the Internet. I was watching the race today through an online stream that was fantastic quality, using a cable to connect the video to my TV screen while having the live timing on my laptop.
For all the events going on tomorrow, check the front page of my blog.