2011 review part 6 – Spain

The Spanish Grand Prix marked the real start to the European season. Traditionally the place where most teams bring out major upgrades to their cars, perhaps Williams could improve on their poor start to the season. Another hope was that DRS would not be as effective as in Turkey.

Mark Webber proved to be fastest in the first sessions, while Lotus got a huge boost in pace to leave the Virgins in the dust. The McLarens – particularly Hamilton – were able to come close to the Red Bull’s practice pace. Final practice saw Vettel fastest by less than a tenth from his teammate. Renault were more concerned with their car making it to qualifying, as an issue with their exhaust set Nick Heidfeld’s car on fire. This would go on to cause a Photoshop meme, with the German leaping away from the fire.

Come qualifying, there was hope from Lotus that Kovalainen at least would make Q2, and so it proved to be. This was mainly thanks to problems with Williams (Barrichello had technical problems and would start 19th) and Renault’s injured car. Jarno Trulli was fastest of the dropouts in 18th. Q2 saw the Force Indias choose hard tyres while Kovalainen went for it on soft tyres. This placed the Lotus fifteenth on the grid ahead of di Resta and Sutil. The Saubers and Toro Rossos also failed to make the final session, but Pastor Maldonado made it for struggling Williams.
In the final session, Vettel had no KERS for his single lap, and he almost made it to pole. But Webber, who had the boost, went faster by two tenths of a second. Third was Hamilton, while on home turf Alonso got into fourth. Petrov managed sixth ahead of Rosberg, while Massa would start a disappointing eighth. Behind came Maldonado, and in tenth – saving tyres for the race – was Michael Schumacher.

Race day, and Webber did not hold his lead as Vettel snatched it straight away. But he didn’t have it all his own way as Hamilton hounded him for two-thirds of the race. Only DRS’s ineffectiveness prevented Hamilton from getting that much-needed overtake on a track that has always been notoriously difficult in this area.
Alonso struggled on the Pirelli tyres, ending up fifth and the first of the lapped drivers. Webber and Button finished third and fourth to maintain their teams’ perfect total of laps completed thus far. Schumacher beat Rosberg, while Nick Heidfeld proved tyres were everything by finishing in the points from starting 24th. Both Saubers also got points.
Team Lotus’s Kovalainen had a rare crash while pushing hard on the circuit. He had been running well in a midfield position when he lost it and went into the wall. Retirements also came from Tonio Liuzzi and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian suffering from a gearbox problem.

The teams had to leave Barcelona quickly for Monaco, where the race weekend starts a day early and you have to fit in the track walk and setting everything up. Could Lotus continue to close on the midfield? Could Red Bull hold off McLaren? And how well would DRS work on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo?

[To be continued]

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d’Ambrosio gets Pic-axe

(I stole the title from someone else!)

It was an emotional Brazilian Grand Prix. For Jerome d’Ambrosio, it will most likely be his final F1 race unless he can go somewhere next season. He has been replaced at Marussia by excellent French GP2 driver Charles Pic. D’Ambrosio competed well against his German teammate, helped a bit by the car being more reliable. He finished 14th twice, with Glock’s best being 15th.

The race today was full of tension, but despite attempts by Jessica Michibata to perform the McLaren Rain Dance, none fell. Taking the lead from the start was polesitter Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber close behind. Alonso got between the two McLarens, but nobody could keep up with the Red Bulls. Early on, Vettel had gearbox problems, and though he held on, he lost some time to Webber. The Aussie took the lead, making it the first time both Red Bulls have led in the same race for the entirety of 2011.
Behind, Alonso overtook Button with a daring move arund the outside that will definitely go down as one of the best overtakes of the season. Towards the end of the race, the situation reversed itself as DRS and KERS brought Button back to third. The gap to Vettel was too far for the Brit to catch up in the remaining laps, and he settled for the bottom step of the podium.
In fifth came Felipe Massa. He had been having an okay race, not getting into trouble. Stopping later than most other drivers, he even led for a lap or two. Towards the final laps, the out-of-position McLarens came to overtaken the Brazilian. Jenson Button succeeded easily, but Lewis was struggling with gearbox problems. He tried hard to get past, and tension was in the air. But it was the McLaren gearbox that gave way first and Lewis parked up by the side of the track. At the end of the race, Felipe did some spectacular doughnuts before entering the pit lane. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap.
Coming home sixth was a special treat for Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Despite driving well this season, the German seems likely to be replaced at the team by test driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sutil brilliantly overtook Nico Rosberg mid-race, and was definitely the driver of the race. In eighth was Sutil’s teammate Paul di Resta. The Scottish rookie has had a great first season, racking up 27 points to beat Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Sutil finishes with 42 points, placing him 9th in the championship.
In ninth was Kamui Kobayashi, making sure Sauber beat Toro Rosso, and in tenth was Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen made sure Team Lotus secured 10th in the championship by finishing 16th and best of the new teams, ahead of Bruno Senna. Retirements came from Tonio Liuzzi, Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado and Timo Glock.

Maldonado has retired from seven races this season – more than any other driver – yet looks set to secure a drive for next season. By contrast, rookie Paul di Resta has led more laps than any other driver; the Scot has completed seven more than Fernando Alonso despite retiring in Turkey and Canada. He had late retirements in both races, however, whereas Alonso’s came earlier in the Canadian race.

From tomorrow, I will be figuring out season statistics and posting the most interesting ones here and on Twitter. I hope you have a great winter break!

Friday practice summary

Well, what can I say? Today was very exciting! Ten minutes before FP1 was supposed to begin, the race director announced that it would be delayed by 30 minutes due to the need to repair some kerbs that the support races had damaged. This was in multiple sections of the track, and there was also a water leak at turn 14. Kerbs were removed, and the cars permitted to cross the white lines.
Thirty minutes late, the shortened sixty-minute session got underway. It began fairly calmly, before Webber got stuck behind Glock for several laps. Instead of holding back to gain more space, he tried to overtake the Virgin on the final corner. But Glock turned in without seeing the Red Bull – he had no reason to expect him to be there – and Webber’s front wing caught on Glock’s tyre. This resulted in a puncture and a broken front wing.
A few minutes after that, Heikki Kovalainen was suffering from mechanical issues so had to pull up in a run-off area. But his front brake ducts overheated as he stopped, setting both front tyres alight. Red flags went out, giving teams even less running time in the session.
Things got going again, until Felipe Massa ran over some of the repaired kerbing. It hadn’t been repaired very well, and the Ferrari pulled it loose. The session was again red-flagged, and there were about three minutes of running left at the end for one flying lap.
The fastest driver was Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel 0.4s lower. Third was Mark Webber, a second off his teammate’s pace, and fourth Alonso.

Practice two was the full 90 minutes, and there were thankfully no red flags. The kerbing had been removed from the apex of Turn 13, however, which allowed the cars to cut it close to the wall there and on the track they turned into.
A lot of drivers came millimetres from the wall, a few touched it lightly, and Sebastien Buemi managed to knock his wheel completely off, held on merely by the tethers. Fortunately he only caused a yellow flag, but his session was over. His teammate also suffered mechanical issues and missed half the session, which is not good for Toro Rosso.
Jenson Button was another driver to have problems, when his McLaren’s wheels locked as he was going around a corner. He went straight on instead, but was unable to get reverse gear. The front of his car started smoking and he quickly got out to head back to the paddock. Incredibly, once you leave the circuit you find yourself in the middle of a normal, active city, and it was strange to see the McLaren driver motorbiking through the people.
Maldonado, Sutil and other drivers sometimes found themselves in run-off areas, but they managed to spin around and get back on track. Paul di Resta had mechanical issues as well and only set eight laps.
Fastest was Vettel, with Alonso 0.2s slower. Hamilton was just ahead of Massa, both around 0.7s slower.

So it was definitely an interesting day at the Singapore Grand Prix circuit. This bodes well for qualifying tomorrow, and the race on Sunday.

Summer day 5 – Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen – 23
Nobody doubts that Heikki Kovalainen has been driving brilliantly this year. But his driving has sadly not been translated into points as his car has been suffering from technical failures. The first came at the opening Grand Prix in Australia – a race of high attrition (or rather, lots of breaking cars with both Mercedes and Williams failing) which would have put Heikki in 13th if he’d finished thanks to the Sauber disqualification.
Heikki finished the race in China, just behind both Toro Rossos, and the next two races after that. Then in Barcelona things went wrong again. The Finn began on a high, getting his Lotus into Q2 after Kobayashi and Barrichello had problems and starting 15th. But as he was pushing his way around the track and doing pretty well, he lost the car and crashed into the wall.
The next race was Monaco, and Lotus took the opportunity for a good finish with Trulli and Kovalainen in 13th and 14th respectively. But it was disappointing for Heikki that he didn’t manage to get that 13th place. Then Canada, and it was looking good right up until the restart. As the cars were proceeding around under the safety car, a drive failure for Heikki meant another DNF. And a struggling Jarno Trulli came in behind the HRTs and Virgins.
Valencia meant starting where you finish for almost everyone. And then it was Silverstone. A good push by Lotus in the first half of Q1 saw Heikki in 17th ahead of both Toro Rossos before the rain came down. So it was Q2 for Heikki, who qualified 17th. But for Team Lotus it was another bad day with Kovalainen and Trulli both retiring through faults with the McLaren technical unit and Renault engine. They had barely made it 11 laps into the race.
Kovalainen finished 16th in Germany, then the Hungaroring saw another double DNF with the cars suffering from water leaks. Sadly, Heikki has been hit with the worst of the failures, and the Lotus has been much less reliable than any other team’s car.

Worst qualifying: 20
Best qualifying: 15
Worst finish: 19 (Turkey, Valencia)
Best finish: 14 (Monaco)
Average difference: -0.82
Laps completed: 507/681 (74%)
Average race position: 17.29 (Best: 16.2 Malaysia; Worst: 19.2 Canada)

Former Hungaroring winners

There are plenty of former winners from the Hungaroring taking place in the races this weekend. Quite a few drivers made their win debuts at this track as well, helped perhaps by the difficulty in overtaking.

First Formula One, where the track has been part of the world championship since 1986. First won by Nelson Piquet, of the current F1 crop the first winner was Michael Schumacher in 1994. He also got pole position and fastest lap for Benneton. Schumi has also won here in 1998 (pole, fastest lap), 2001 (pole) and 2004 (pole, fastest lap, led every lap), but hasn’t dominated in comparison to his usual record at tracks. Rubens Barrichello also won here in 2002 for Ferrari getting pole and barely beating Schumi to the line, and the next year it was Fernando Alonso in the Renault – unsurprisingly, he also had pole.
More recently, the race hasn’t been won by anyone in their championship year. 2006 was the debut win for Jenson Button, who took the first victory for a British driver since Australia 2003. Incredibly Jenson did not start on pole – he qualified 4th and an engine change meant he started 14th. The next year was Lewis Hamilton’s debut season; the race was hit with controversy when Alonso held up his teammate in the pits. Hamilton qualified second, but started 1st because of a five-place grid penalty given to Alonso. Another win from pole.
2008, and Heikki Kovalainen’s first season with McLaren. He took his debut (and so far only) win at the Hungaroring after Hamilton got a puncture and Massa’s engine blew up. He’d started second on the track. Kovalainen became F1’s 10th winner. The next year, Hamilton won again, incredibly qualifying ahead of both Brawns. He was assisted by problems for Alonso on pole and Vettel who’d started second.
Last year, Mark Webber won the race because of a drive-through penalty for teammate and polesitter Sebastian Vettel, who had fallen too far behind the safety car and thus broken sporting regulations.

In GP2, Sebastien Buemi won the sprint race in 2008. Pastor Maldonado won the feature race last year. Neither are likely to win this weekend, but may score some points for their teams.
Current GP2 drivers Giedo van der Garde and Adam Carroll have also both won here in the series. Carroll won the feature race in 2007, and van der Garde won the sprint in 2009.

Last year’s GP3 feature race winner Nico Muller, who has won a race this year, took the feature GP3 race last year. If things continue the way they have been going, however, we’ll get another two new winners at Hungary.

A few drivers have had victories here in Formula Renault 3.5: Daniel Ricciardo won the first race in 2010, though if he won this year it would be a miracle. GP2 driver Fairuz Fauzy won the first race in 2009, and Giedo van der Garde won the first race the year before his GP2 victory at the track.

The ups and downs of Arden

GP3 tests got underway today in Hungary. In the morning session, the fastest driver was GP3’s youngest ever race winner Mitch Evans. He’s really shining for Arden, who after several years struggling in GP2 are making a comeback. Arden were the kings of Formula 3000 before it became GP2, with Tonio Liuzzi taking the title for them, and in 2005 when boss Christian Horner began moving his focus towards his new job with Red Bull, Heikki Kovalainen came second for them in the first GP2 season.
Heikki Kovalainen won five races for Arden in 2005, taking four pole positions. He also took one of the team’s two fastest laps. His teammate took the other, along with a pole position. Since then they have struggled in GP2. Last year they finished eighth. Here’s a quick summary.

Year

Wins

Poles

Podiums

F. laps

Pts

C’ship

2005

5

5

13

2

126

2nd

2006

1

0

6

1

57

4th

2007

1

0

2

0

44

7th

2008

2

0

6

0

56

6th

2009

1

0

3

3

41

8th

2010

1

1

2

0

32

7th

So far this year, Arden have no wins, no poles, no fastest laps and one podium, with second-placed Josef Kral finishing P2 in the Monaco sprint race. With nine points, the team stands eighth in the championship.
GP3 is looking better, with Mitch Evans the stand out driver. The rookie is currently third in the championship, just five points behind leader Nigel Melker. He, Andrea Caldarelli (who is being replaced) and Nigel Melker are far ahead of the other drivers. Neither of Arden’s other drivers have scored points just yet, but the team stands third in the championship.

Arden is named after the Forest of Arden, an area close to my home in England.You might also recognise the name if you know about Shakespeare. His mother was Mary Arden, and you can visit Mary Arden’s House near Stratford (Warwickshire, not London). Mary Arden’s family owned the forest. So I’m a bit of a fan, and will be supporting them. Their GP3 ability is shining through. On the GP2 record, a lot of Arden’s drivers have gone on to finish well in the series for other teams. Bruno Senna came second with iSport, Sergio Perez finished second with Addax, and Charles Pic is currently third with Addax. Sebastien Buemi moved straight from Arden to driving for Toro Rosso.

Monaco news

Construction of the pit and paddock is nearly complete in Monaco. Teams drove yesterday from Barcelona to Monaco, and have already set everything up. However, there was also a mad fire at Ste Devote corner (that’s the first one where Jenson Button went out early in the race last year), which means that tarmac is having to be relaid there tonight and tomorrow. So that could be interesting. It seems that it’s on the racing line and breaking point.
First comment I saw on this said “where’s Kovalainen when you need him?” He must be so frustrated with all the fire references by now!

The FIA are expected to agree on a rule that says if a driver gets three reprimands then he gets a 5-place grid penalty at the next race. Since drivers can get reprimands for being late for a PR event, they will have to be careful. At least this means reprimands mean something.

In NASCAR-land, Kimi Raikkonen has been having fun with trucks. Now he’s stepping up to the second tier of the series in the next race to try out some proper cars. Jaques Villeneue, another former F1 champion, also drives a few races in that series. But whether the two will ever compete… NASCAR is just going around in circles anyway.