And the fastest team is… someone

Both free practice sessions in Melbourne today were marred by rain, and as if that wasn’t bad enough for HRT, their cars had massive reliability issues – when they could get them on track. Narain Karthikeyan’s car was available straight away in FP1, but broke down on its third lap of the circuit. Pedro de la Rosa had to wait until FP2 for his turn, though this is still a massive improvement on previous years for the Spanish outfit. Pedro’s car also only managed one lap in that session, though Narain Karthikeyan managed 16.
Wets, inters then finally slicks were the order of the day, with the fastest times coming at the close of the sessions. McLaren set a Button-Hamilton 1-2 in FP1, while Schumacher pipped Nico Hulkenberg to the top in FP2. Schumi was also third in FP1, and looks set to be a strong contender, but Hulkenberg was 12th. It seems we won’t know the likely order until FP3 or qualifying.

It will probably be dry on Sunday, so none of this wet running is very helpful for the teams. Who will be on pole? Nobody knows. Who will win? Nobody knows.

I’m off to the Scottish Highlands for the weekend, and while I will catch the F1, I won’t be able to write about it. See you all on Monday!

Valsecchi dominates at Jerez

GP2
After the final day of GP2 testing, new DAMS signing Davide Valsecchi has proved to be the most consistent and fastest driver – leading on all three days. The question is, can DAMS win a second driver’s championship with the Italian? If he wins, he could well become the next Italian in F1 – though Italians have a bad record when it comes to transferring between the series.
Of the GP3 graduates taking part, James Calado was one of the most impressive. Van der Garde was doing well for Caterham, while Stefano Coletti shone for Coloni. Max Chilton showed much improvement on 2011, and Carlin also have improved as they come to their second year (with a little help from Marussia). I expect we will see a good showing from all 2010 and 2011 GP3 graduates, but also from F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer who is doing well with iSport.
There’s another GP2 test at Barcelona next week before they all head out to Malaysia for the first round of the season.

IndyCar
Rubens Barrichello’s CV boasts Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn and Williams. Now, F1’s most experienced driver can add KV Racing to that list. The Brazilian today announced that he would be racing a full season for the IndyCar team, taking to ovals for the first time. Barrichello admitted to a little help from his kids in persuading their Mum that he could race. He will be partnering his close friend Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan EJ Viso. The team also drove with three drivers last year – Kanaan, Viso and another ex-F1 driver in Takuma Sato. Mika Salo also drove for the team in four races in 2003, back in the days of Champ Car.
KV were supported by Lotus in 2011, but will use Chevrolet engines this season despite the British marque supplying engines to the series. According to the IndyCar website, Barrichello will take number 8 on his car.

F1
The first day of testing, and Heikki Kovalainen was unable to take part due to food poisoning (apparently from one of the team’s sponsor’s!). The mechanics got the car sorted for Vitaly Petrov and he did a full day of running, taking the second-highest lap tally. It was Rosberg who did the most laps, with nearly 130. Fastest of all was Grosjean, with Button second. Williams only managed a small number of laps with Maldonado for unspecified reasons.
HRT hope to get on track by Sunday, while Kovalainen will be back tomorrow (Friday). Kamui Kobayashi was also ill today, but hopefully he will be well by the time he’s needed.

FR 3.5
Andre Negrao and Nico Muller have been confirmed at Draco for 2012. Muller is a GP3 graduate, winning three races in the series and coming 3rd in 2010 (4th in 2011). He won the Silverstone feature race where unexpected rain caused a mass pit stop at the start of the race – all seven other drivers who scored points were British. Brazilian Negrao enters his second year of the series, and with Draco, having graduated from the Eurocup at the end of 2010.

2011 review part 8 – Canada

The F1 circuit left Monaco for its sole trip to North America, where the cars would be roaring around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. It was dry at the start of the weekend, but rain was predicted for Sunday.

Friday morning and it seemed Sergio Perez had fully recovered from his Monaco accident as he took part in FP1. Sebastian Vettel decided to take his first hit in the Wall of Champions. It was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg who went fastest, with Alonso second and Schumacher third. The Mercs had good pace on this track.
About fifteen minutes before the second practise session began, Sauber announced a change in their plans for the weekend. Perez was not feeling well enough to drive, and his place was taken by McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard is a tall driver, while Perez is much shorter, so he missed most of the second session while the pedals were adjusted. Fastest was Alonso, ahead of a recovered Sebastian Vettel.
On the Saturday, however, things were back to normal with the German leading. Alonso’s Ferrari was again running well and he finished second-fastest. Then it was time for qualifying.

Rain threatened in Montreal’s skies, but did not fall as Jarno Trulli beat his teammate for the first time in 2011. Liuzzi was ahead of Glock, Karthikeyan ahead of D’Ambrosio. Though the Belgian did not meet the 107% rule, he was allowed to race. Dropping out in Q1 was Jaime Alguersuari.
The second session saw Paul di Resta become the fastest of the dropouts, with Maldonado, Kobayashi and Sutil behind. Massa was fastest. De la Rosa managed 17th.
Finally, the shining Ferraris did their best to knock Vettel off pole, but despite being very close they did not manage it. As usual, it would be world champion Sebastian Vettel at the front for the race on Sunday.

Sunday came, and with it the promised rain. It began under the safety car, and as the rain lightened the car came in and the race really began. On the start-finish straight, Hamilton attempted to overtake his teammate through a closing gap and failed. He was out of the race, but Button was able to continue. He pitted to check for damage, but was okay. The safety car came out again as the damage was cleared. Button, who switched to intermediates on the drying track, was penalised for speeding under the safety car, putting him in 18th.
The race continued after the restart, with Vettel showing his skill in getting a good lead on his opponents at the hairpin. Button’s tyres were doing well, so others decided to pit for inters just before the rain worsened again. Vettel led from Kobayashi and Massa as the safety car came out for the third time, and eventually the red flags stopped the race.
For over two hours the cars sat on the grid, waiting for the restart. But it came, to the delight of the Canadian fans. The safety car led them away, and Kovalainen’s car broke down shortly after. The Finn was forced to retire. His teammate would also struggle, and be stuck at the back of the race for the remaining laps. The safety car was kept out a long time, and Virgin pitted Jerome d’Ambrosio for intermediates during this time. However, this was not allowed as they were supposed to be on wet tyres, and they received a drive-through penalty.
Once the racing restarted, Vettel led away from Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was busy holding off Massa. Everyone pitted for inters. Alonso tangled with Button and crashed out, though it was deemed a racing incident. Button had a puncture, and limped back to the pits as the safety car came out. Once again, Vettel pilled away easily on the restart – Button was at the back of the field. As Schumacher shone, Sutil crashed into the wall. Slicks were becoming the order of the day on a drying track. Schumacher was by now up to second, between Vettel and Massa.
Massa spun while trying to lap Karthikeyan, and recovered but lost third to Webber. Button, on a charge, was up to fourth! Heidfeld hit Kobayashi from behind and the safety car came out for the final time. Button fought his way past everyone, and was closing on Vettel by seconds every lap. On the final lap, he was close behind. Could the German hold the rainmaster off?
A mistake from Vettel – the first of the season! Button passed and took the lead for the first time in the race. He crossed the line and won! It was an incredible final lap, and this race will go down in F1 history.
Barrichello took two points for struggling Williams, while Tonio Liuzzi finished 13th for HRT to put them in 11th in the championship.
There were further retirements from Maldonado and di Resta, though the Brit was classified as he had his accident three laps before the end of the race.

F1 now returned to Valencia. Could DRS make a difference in this dull race? Well, I didn’t watch much of it. Nobody retired, Alguersuari went from the back to the points. Vettel won. And then they went to Britain, where F1 silly season would be in full force.

[To be continued]

2011 review part 3 – Malaysia

Malaysia saw the first real running of HRT’s F111, though as expected they were slow. The Renault drivers shone in golden racing suits, to protect against the heat; their regular suits were black. It was expected that this would be the first wet race of the season, but despite bad weather in the days coming up to the race, it was dry.
Red Bull racing’s first goal was to get their KERS working. Right after the Australian Grand Prix it was revealed that their KERS had not been operating at all during the race, yet Vettel had still won. But the team would need to get the KERS working if they were to maintain their lead as other teams developed.
In first practice, Nick Heidfeld’s car suffered a serious problem as the front-right tyre locked up as he was negotiating the track. He struggled back to the pits, wearing a huge amount of rubber from the bottom of the tyre.

Qualifying saw Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado become the fall guy along with the two Lotuses, Virgins and HRTs. The Spanish outfit saw both cars easily beat the 107% rule to make their first Grand Prix of the season. Q2 saw Schumacher fail to make the third session for the second race in a row, but both Renaults survived. In the final session, it was Sebastian Vettel who again took pole, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him.

Race day, and the Williams cars were destined to retire once again as the team suffered their worst ever start to the season. Nick Heidfeld, however, was having a good day. He got his Renault into second at the start, and held back the other cars to give Vettel a good lead. Perez was unable to give another demonstration of his skill after his car was struck by debris. Meanwhile, Jarno Trulli suffered a clutch failure. Both HRTs were withdrawn from the race for ‘safety reasons’.
Vettel won the race with Button second. In third, Nick Heidfeld secured another podium to make him the driver with the most podiums without a win. Petrov was on course for a points finish when he went off track. Coming back on, his car jumped into the air, and when it hit the ground the steering column broke.
Alonso and Hamilton were both given 20s penalties after the race for their actions as they fought each other on track. Alonso’s was for contact while trying to pass Hamilton, while Hamilton’s was for weaving while trying to pass Alonso. This demoted Hamilton to eighth behind Kamui Kobayashi. And as we all know, it would not be the last time the Englishman came off badly after fighting for position with a Ferrari this season!

Los Mini Drivers – amazing!

[To be continued]

Autosport Awards round-up

Last night the Autosport Awards took place in London. These awards give recognition to the best British drivers, and the best drivers around the world. Jenson Button won the award for the best British Competition Driver, while Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly won best International Driver after his spectacular performance this year. Vettel had a great acceptance speech/chat with Steve Rider (presenting the awards).

A special award was given to Dan Wheldon, collected by his father, for his outstanding achievements over his career. He was due to collect the Gregor Grant award after his second Indianapolis win, and after his death the decision was made to still present the award in his honour.

Rookie of the year went to Paul di Resta, for his outstanding deubt season in Formula One. The Senna film won the Pioneering and Innovation award, for the incredible way it worked with the F1 archives and created such a moving and honest documentary of the legendary driver.

Lots of other awards were given, but the biggest award of the night was the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award, to a young driver who has incredible potential. With so many big names having earned this award, and with the McLaren test included in the prize, whichever driver won it would be one to watch out for in the future. In the end, the award went to Formula Renault UK runner-up Oliver Rowland. Rowland will be entering the Formula Renault Eurocup next year. Keep an eye out for him!

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!

F1 report – Abu Dhabi

Sunday was a bad day for Sebastian Vettel. First he had trouble with his hire car when entering the circuit – specifically, locking it! And when he began the race, he made it less than two corners before getting a puncture. Lewis Hamilton cannot have believed his luck as he saw the Red Bull spin off. Though Vettel made it back to the pits, he had damaged his suspension too much to continue.
Hamilton took his chance as his teammate was overtaken by Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard pushed hard all race, and at one point he came close to the Brit, but was unable to get there in the end. Behind, Jenson Button could not keep up due to a KERS failure in the first half of the race. He took the third spot on the podium.
One driver down, Red Bull botched Webber’s first stop and ended up moving him to a three-stop strategy. He went onto soft tyres for the first three stints, then did the final lap on hard tyres. This strategy allowed him to beat Felipe Massa, but I am sure the Aussie would much rather not have been racing the Brazilian, who as usual was in a race of his own.
Rosberg came home first in the Mercedes, with Sutil eighth and di Resta ninth on a failed one-stop strategy. Unfortunately, the Force India was just too hard on its tyres.
First of the lapped drivers was Kobayashi, scoring a rare point for Sauber, and Perez was eleventh. Barrichello finished 12th having started last, and behind him was Petrov. In fourteenth and fifteenth were Maldonado and Alguersuari. Maldonado was penalised twice for ignoring blue flags, the second time resulting in a stop-and-go penalty that became 30s of added time. Alguersuari had a drive-through for the same reason. Sixteenth was Senna, who also had a drive-through for ignoring blue flags and finished three seconds ahead of Kovalainen. Just as in Singapore, the Lotus was closing on the Renault in the final lap.
Trulli, who was ill this weekend, finished over a minute behind his teammate. Glock and Liuzzi followed the Italian home. Aside from Vettel, the retirements were Jerome d’Ambrosio, Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo. All suffered mechanical failures.

In the news, reliable journalist Joe Saward has reported that Charles Pic will be driving for Marussia next season alongside Timo Glock. The French driver had a great season in GP2, driving for team champions Addax. He won twice, also finishing second on three occasions. He took pole in Valencia, at the Nurburgring and at Monza, and had only two points less than runner-up Luca Filippi at the end of the season. The French press have also reported this, and the driver will not be testing with Team Lotus as he was initially going to. Instead, Rodolfo Gonzalez will be in the car.
Meanwhile, with Renault confirming that Robert Kubica almost certainly not going to be driving at the start of the season, it seems most likely that Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean will be driving for Lotus next year. (Renault, of course, will become Lotus after the end of this season)