Great racing under a shadow

GP2
It was almost a perfect weekend for Davide Valsecchi, coming from eighth to first to win the Bahrain sprint race in the closing laps. Calado had made a good start, getting in the lead ahead of Leimer and Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Leimer scrapped, and the Racing Engineering driver eventually won. Leimer also took the Brit, who had a bit of wear of his tyres and also lost out to his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. In the lead, Leimer was judged to have gone too fast under yellow flags and had to take a drive through penalty. Gutierrez was back but not in charge as Valsecchi was right behind him. The Italian took the win in the penultimate lap.
Felipe Nasr, despite his penalty and having to start from the pitlane after stalling on the way to the grid, finished 6th. It was an excellent drive from the young Brazilian. Simon Trummer also did well and took the final point in eighth – his first in GP2. Razia finished fourth, Chilton fifth, and Jolyon Palmer also had a great race to finish seventh. For a sprint race, there were a lot of drivers coming from the back into the points. Even Ricardo Teixeira had a good race to finish 13th, van der Garde finished 9th and also took fastest lap to make sure Valsecchi didn’t have a perfect weekend. Grid staller Tom Dillmann finished 10th.

F1
Usually when Vettel starts in the lead, he’ll get miles down the road and nobody will be able to catch him. Today, however, Lotus were flying. Grosjean and Raikkonen soon found themselves second and third, and after pit stops it was the Finn in second. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to quite get close enough to Vettel, but they put pressure on the Red Bull. The team were delighted with their double podium – the first for the Enstone team since 2006. It was also the first double podium for a team called Lotus since the 1970s!
Behind, things weren’t quite so simple. McLaren were struggling with pit stops especially for Hamilton. The Brit was released late after wheel nut trouble, putting him in the path of Nico Rosberg. Rosberg squeezed Hamilton as he overtook, in an incident that was put under investigation by the stewards. He later had another, similar, incident with Alonso. Button was doing well until he had problems in the final laps, and was forced to retire two laps from the end. Senna also had to end his race early.
A two-stop strategy paid off for Force India’s Paul di Resta, and he took sixth behind Rosberg. Webber was well off Vettel’s pace, but managed his traditional fourth. In seventh was Alonso, doing well for Ferrari, and then Hamilton behind. Massa was racing well and took ninth, at times faster than his teammate during the race. Button’s retirement saw Schumacher promoted to the final points position.

Frankly, the race was fantastic and if it weren’t for the circumstances in Bahrain, I’d be delighted. I’m happy for all the guys, but I hope they stay safe as they celebrate and prepare to leave Bahrain. I also hope the GP2 boys stay safe as they remain in the country for another week. James Calado reported seeing “A lot of black smoke around the villages on way back from track. Police with stun grenades at the ready.” (@JamesCalado)

Mega rookie win for Calado

The GP2 sprint race in Malaysia was well worth waking up early for, with some of the best driving seem on track so far this year. Polesitter Calado led the cars around, but it was always close between him and his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The British rookie, taking part in only his fourth GP2 race (including the final), took his second victory. Gutierrez was also followed closely, with reigning British F3 champion Felipe Nasr always on the lookout for an overtaking opportunity. Though Nasr didn’t manage it, he did take his first GP2 podium.
Giedo van der Garde had a cracking start and soon found himself overtaking Fabio Leimer for fourth, while Stefano Coletti struggled somewhat. Coletti had difficulties with his car, and retired in the closing laps. Behind Leimer, there was some fantastic racing between Valsecchi and Razia, with Chilton close behind. Razia did a fantastic job of defending from the Italian, and overtook Leimer in the final laps. Valsecchi ran wide trying to overtake his former teammate, came back on track and was clipped by Marcus Ericsson. The DAMS rolled, while Ericsson stopped on track. Both drivers were fine, and the iSport car was cleared incredibly quickly with no need for a safety car.
This let Max Chilton and Nathanael Berthon get up behind Razia – at this point in eighth and ninth. The trio were catching Coletti, and Razia quickly overtook. Behind, an incredible scrap for the final two points positions took place. So far, this is one of the best pieces of driving I have seen in 2012. Chilton tried to overtake Coletti, and while the Monegasque driver was defending the Carlin, Berthon got ahead of both of them, then Chilton came back and overtook Berthon leaving Coletti behind. At this point the Coloni was struggling, however, and soon fell back.
Out of the points, Tom Dillmann was showing his potential with some great overtaking. Ricardo Teixeira was struggling to race against himself, let alone other drivers.

Luiz Razia now leads the championship with Valsecchi second and Calado third. But anything could happen between now and the end of the season. It’s a long one, with rounds to come at Bahrain and Singapore as well as the usual European races. It is going to be great!

Calado flies under the desert sun

There were two great races today in Abu Dhabi. First the GP2 cars fought under the sun, and then the F1 cars chased each other in the early evening. The F1 report will come later.

James Calado, ART’s new signing for 2012, started from pole. He was closely chased in the race, particularly in the first few laps when there were less than three seconds between the top five: Calado, da Costa, Ericsson, Razia and Dillmann. But Calado maintained his lead, eventually pulling away as da Costa was under pressure from Ericsson and eventually gave way. Next it was Razia’s turn. The AirAsia driver got ahead, and da Costa severely cut the corner to get the position back. He was given a drive-through penalty.
Mihai Marinescu crashed, causing yellow flags which were ignored once by Razia and Leal, but twice by Ricci. Leal and Razia both had drive-through penalties, while Ricci had a stop-and-go. By the final lap, there was a massive battle for fifth with Leimer pushing Stefano Coletti. Behind were Esteban Gutierrez, Kevin Ceccon, Alex Rossi and Luiz Razia. Leimer tangled with Coletti, putting the Monegasque driver out. The final lap was an almighty scrap, with several drivers going wide on the final corner. Gutierrez, who had started 21st, took fifth. Ceccon took sixth. Rossi and Razia came seventh and eighth, allowing the Brazilian to take the point for fastest lap.
Marcus Ericsson finished second behind Calado, while his iSport teammate and GP3 graduate Tom Dillmann came third. Jolyon Palmer finished fourth. As the best GP3 graduates, Calado and Dillmann earn monetary rewards from Pirelli; they had equal points, but Calado’s win gives him the 15,000 Euros.

Dominant win for Leimer

The GP2 final race proved today that it is definitely possible to overtake without DRS at Yas Marina. Polesitter Fabio Leimer had a good start while Dani Clos fell between Josef Kral and Luiz Razia. They went three-wide into the first corner – Luiz Razia came out on top while Clos caused Kral to spin and soon retired himself. Behind, Jolyon Palmer found himself in third place, with a few other drivers behind including GP3’s Tom Dillmann.
Max Chilton was another early retiree, as his brakes stopped working and he hit the barrier at turn one. Esteban Gutierrez had technical problems and finished a lap behind along with Stephane Richelmi.
During the race there were scraps up and down the field. Marcus Ericsson overtook his teammate and eventually finished fourth, but he was battling closely with Palmer through the final laps. Fifth was Kevin Ceccon, much improved since his first stint in GP2 earlier in the season. Then came three GP3 drivers – Tom Dillmann, Antonio Felix da Costa, and James Calado. But in my opinion Tom Dillmann has been the best of the rookies so far, displaying great pace throughout the weekend.
Fabio Leimer took the fastest lap on the way to victory, and Luiz Razia did not let him escape too far ahead. Jolyon Palmer also showed himself well with Addax as he took his first ever points finish and podium.

Tomorrow, the first three grid positions will be taken by Calado, da Costa and Dillmann. Good luck GP3 grads!

Calado gets closer to F1

ART GP have become the first GP2 team to complete their 2012 lineup, let alone announce it! 2011 GP3 runner-up James Caldado will partner 2010 GP3 champion and GP2 race winner Esteban Gutierrez at the team. Worcestershire-born Calado began his career in 2008, coming seventh in British Formula Renault with 1 win, 3 other podiums and 2 pole positions. After winning the winter series for the British and Portuguese FR 2.0 series, he took on the main FR 2.0 series again. He came second that year, and so in 2010 moved to British F3. His team was Carlin, and he won 5 of the 30 races, finishing second overall. This year, he only won a single race but his consistency (six podiums, one pole, two fastest laps) got him to second. So it is no surprise that he has graduated to the step below F1. Could he be the next British F1 driver?

In less exciting news, Karun Chandhok will not be driving for Team Lotus in India. He will be doing FP1, but that is all. While I am disappointed, I can understand the team’s logic. They cannot afford to run an inexperienced driver on a new track when anything could happen in the race. Finishing tenth in the championship is crucial to the team’s future development. If they were scoring points regularly, I think they would have less qualms about putting Karun on track.

Saturday qualifying and race report

F1
It’s ‘as you were’ in today’s qualifying session dominated by the Red Bulls. Pole for Vettel gave him his tenth of the season, and fourteenth consecutive for Red Bull who haven’t lost a single one since Brazil 2010. Vettel has taken at least ten pole positions in multiple seasons, making him the first driver to achieve this since Ayrton Senna – Senna achieved this in three seasons, so Vettel still has something to aim for!
The two McLarens took second and third, with Alonso in fourth. Vettel’s teammate took fifth with Massa – who had given Alonso a ‘tow’ around the track – in sixth. The two Renaults surrounded a Mercedes sandwich – Petrov starts seventh with Schumacher ahead of Rosberg for the second time this season. Bruno Senna did not attempt a time after squeaking into Q3 by six thousandths of a second.
It was Paul di Resta whom Senna narrowly beat, and next to the Scot on row six is his teammate Adrian Sutil. Both Williams share row seven, with Barrichello ahead of Maldonado. Behind them, Perez in the Sauber is next to Buemi in the Toro Rosso, and Kobayashi in his Sauber is seventeenth. The fall guy was Jaime Alguersuari, who lines up behind his teammate.
No surprises in to the final three rows – Lotus on row ten with Trulli beating Kovalainen for a change. Trulli has always been dominant at Monza qualifying, with only former Renault teammate Alonso ever beating him. Glock narrowly beat out d’Ambrosio, while Ricciardo’s Italian ancestry helped him outqualifying full Italian Tonio Liuzzi.

GP2
Damage and a drive through saw Giedo van der Garde demoted to fifth in the championship, but only three points behind teammate Charles Pic who is in second after coming second in the race. Luca Filippi won and took the fastest lap by a few hundredths from Jules Bianchi, which means he is one point behind Pic. Bianchi’s point is enough for him to be fourth in the championship on equal points with van der Garde and take reversed pole for race two. Reversed pole could be critical, but so could Filippi’s point for fastest lap. Anyone could come second, which would almost guarantee them a place in Formula One in either 2012 or 2013.

GP3
No pole for Valtteri Bottas, but in a hard fought race he took the win from his teammate by 0.3 seconds and claimed the championship. The Finn is the second GP3 champion, and will no doubt be heading to GP2 next season. He is likely to be joined by his afforementioned teammate James Calado, who is guaranteed second. Conor Daly also had a good race, finishing sixth having started seventeenth. His teammates also had good races, finishing 11th for Callum MacLeod and 13th for Leonardo Cordeiro.

Race weekend summary – GP2 and GP3

GP3
It was ART’s weekend as James Calado took pole in the first race. Beaten by championship leader Valtteri Bottas off the start, however, he could only come home second. After his early-season drought, Nigel Melker came third, with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs fourth after they had battled during the race. Fifth went to Carlin’s Conor Daly – his second points finish this year – sixth to Tom Dillmann, seventh to Nico Muller and eight to debutant Richie Stanaway. Alex Sims had been attacking Conor early in the race, but a spin caused his tyres too much wear and he fell backwards rapidly.
Stanaway led the second race from reversed pole for an impressive victory. James Calado took second again – along with the fastest lap – to put the gap between himself and Valtteri at 5 points. Valtteri had an incident during the race which must have shot his tyres as he was 19th by the end. Nico Muller came third for his second podium of 2011, and birthday boy Michael Christensen came fourth. In fifth was Arden’s Simon Trummer – his first points finish of the year and finally beating his teammates (though Lewis Williamson DNSed after mechanical problems, and Mitch Evans also retired). The final point went to Alex Fontana, another debutant.

GP2
The feature race began sanely, with only a couple of incidents – Charles Pic spinning into Luiz Razia and taking them both out – and then the rain came down. Giedo van der Garde went off at the top of Eau Rouge and the safety car came out. Then Max Chilton lost drive, Stefano Coletti went into the back of Mikhail Aleshin, and as the safety car had to slow right down behind Chilton’s stricken Carlin it caused problems for a lot of other drivers whose cars also began breaking. When things finally calmed, ten cars had retired and Brendon Hartley was on course for Ocean Racing’s first points. So was Johnny Cecotto Jr! The safety car went in and they raced for a lap. Johnny Jr sadly lost it on the final corner, allowing Fairuz Fauzy to take the final point behind Josef Kral. Later, the two positions were reversed as it emerged Fauzy had overtaken a very slow Kral under the safety car then given the position back, but it was determined that this shouldn’t have happened.
Christian Vietoris won from pole and also took the fastest lap, second was Jules Bianchi, and third Romain Grosjean, who was happy to be on the podium at the moment his championship win was secured. Luca Filippi came fourth, Hartley fifth, Dani Clos sixth and then Fauzy and Kral.
I wasn’t able to watch the sprint, but Johnny Jr had a great start to get up to second, but was overtaken during the race to finish eighth. So unlucky for the Venezuelan. It was Luca Filippi who won, the Italian driving brilliantly for Coloni, and he also took the fastest lap to go seventh in the championship. Jules Bianchi again came second, with Josef Kral on the podium for the second time this season and glad of some more points. Grosjean was fourth, Sam Bird fifth and Dani Clos sixth.