Worrying times in Bahrain

A car carrying four members of the Force India team was involved in a car bombing incident in Bahrain yesterday. While none of them were injured, it is believed that tear gas and Molotov Cocktails were thrown near the car. The action was sparked by protestors with petrol bombs, and the tear gas was the natural retaliation of the police. One team member not involved has asked for and been given permission to go home, while I have also heard from Twitter that one of those in the car has also asked to go home.
This may have been an isolated incident, but unlike the media who are bravely taking on extra responsibilities to seek out the protestors and find out what is really going on, the Force India guys were just there to do their job. Protests are expected to increase over the weekend, with one scheduled for tomorrow after FP2, and others over the remainder of the weekend.
Force India will still race on Sunday, though Nico Hulkenberg has expressed reservations. The team have put in additional security measures to make sure everything goes well.
This race will be overshadowed by the political situation, but I am going to watch it. Not to support the government, but because if the F1 and GP2 guys are going out there despite fears for safety, how can I – in the safety of Britain – not support them? I hope that they all stay safe and that no more incidents happen. F1 people are not a target, but they could get caught up in things.

Meanwhile many members of the press who were expecting to report on the race have been forbidden from entering the country, being turned back at the airport, while it’s rumoured that tourists are being forced to buy F1 tickets in order to enter the country.

In a very last-minute change, Brendon Hartley will be replacing Jon Lancaster at Ocean this weekend. Even the Ocean website has quotes from Lancaster, as well as his teammate Nigel Melker, about Bahrain. The British driver did tweet last Friday: “All that media attention in Bahrain, hope nobody tries to prove the decision wrong to race in Bahrain. #risky” (@Lancaster4F1)
Hartley drove two rounds for Ocean in the 2011 championship, picking up four points for the team in the feature race in Belgium. Shockingly, these were the team’s only points of the season. The Kiwi also picked up several podiums to finish fifth in the FR 3.5 series, but had not been given a drive this year.
I hope that Lancaster is OK. I recall last year that he had been hoping to drive in the Spa-Francorchamps round of F2 but had been unable to compete, leaving him without a drive for the rest of 2012 after budget problems. He’s a good driver and definitely deserves a seat in GP2.

Alguersuari joins the BBC

Dumped Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has a new job. His voice will soon be broadcast throughout the UK on BBC Radio 5 Live as he becomes the station’s expert F1 analyst – a role previously held by Sky’s Anthony Davidson. Alguersuari has a clear desire to return to F1, and this will give him every opportunity to stay around the paddock; he will be karting throughout the year to help keep up his physical training, and no doubt he will also do some DJing.
Whilst it’s not the best place to be in, it could be much worse for the Spaniard – who became the youngest ever to start an F1 race in 2009. Hopefully he will adapt well to radio, and soon be back on track. He was regarded by fans as a great prospect, and at only 21 he has a good chance of a return. Meanwhile, I will look forward to hearing him for the first race of the season.

Marussia also presented good news today, as their car passed the final crash test. It’s been a hard winter, but now they are ready for Melbourne.

It was a choppy 2011 for new Ocean Racing signing Jon Lancaster. The Brit participated in the F2 round at Magny-Cours, finishing both times in the points, but dropped out of the series. He then moved to Auto GP, participating in four races. He scored in all four of them, including a win and fastest lap at Donnington Park. But it’s hard to find sponsorship, and Lancaster was struggling. However, the Brit now has an opportunity to shine with what will hopefully be a full season at GP2.

The GP2s were testing in Barcelona today, and Fabrizio Crestani surprised everyone by going fastest for new team Lazarus. Carlin’s Max Chilton was fastest in the afternoon – a great improvement on 2011, as the team get used to the series. Second was Julian Leal, with Marcus Ericsson third. James Calado continued to be the best of the GP3 graduates, and he has a good chance of being a rookie champion.

Auto GP
This series gets under way in just a few days at Monza, supporting the WTCC. A few drivers have been confirmed, including Max Snegirev, Pal Varhaug and Daniel de Jong. The strange make-up of the calendar may be somewhat off-putting to drivers, but more should be revealed in the next few days.

2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi has confirmed that he will be participating in the IndyCar championship this year from the Indy 500. He will be driving at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which have Honda engines, alongside former F1 star Takuma Sato.

Silverstone is on for FR 3.5!

FR 3.5
For a long time, there have been questions about the presence of Silverstone in the World Series by Renault calendar this year. A round had been declared for 25th-26th August, but with no location given. Was the track to be left off the calendar? It seemed even more likely with the WEC’s 6 Hours of Silverstone set for that weekend.
However, today it was revealed that Formula Renault 3.5 will be supporting the WEC event that weekend, which is great news for British fans who can go and see Sam Bird, Nick Yelloly and other great drivers. It remains to be seen whether the series will be able to offer free tickets as they have done in the past, but I hope so!

Formula Renault Eurocup, which will not be present at Silverstone, is testing for two days at Paul Ricard. There’s a huge number of drivers who are going to be there, and you can follow the progress on the WSR Twitter account @WSR_Live.

According to F2 commentator Jack Nicholls, drivers are set to be announced over the next few weeks. He said, “Some interesting drivers are set to be announced for #F2 in the coming weeks. It’s going to be a very competitive season.” (@Jack_Nicholls) The first test is coming up at Silverstone on March 26th.

The teams get back to work tomorrow with three days at the Circuit de Catalunya. Many of the drivers were already out at the track, either with F1 teams or just to watch testing before they have their own turn. Giancarlo Serenelli (winner of the (South American) Latam Challenge Series and third in the SEAT Leon Super Cup Mexico) will be with Lazarus, Jon Lancaster – who had a brief spell in F2 last year – will be with Ocean, Sergio Canamasas and former Caterham test driver Ricardo Teixeira will be with Rapax.

Marussia launched their smooth-nosed MR01 today at Silverstone. The car is not yet ready to race, still with crash tests to pass despite the first race being 13 days away! HRT also launched at Barcelona, with Narain Karthikeyan driving the few laps allowed. Pedro de la Rosa was also there, of course, as was former HRT driver Tonio Liuzzi. The HRT’s livery is fantastic – white, gold and maroon. In the end, livery doesn’t get you points, but the fact that their car is ready before FP1 is a real step up for the Spanish outfit despite a troubled winter.

Summer day 15 – Jon Lancaster

Jon Lancaster – 13
Silver Lining’s driver at Magny-Cours got a double points finish. Also driving in Auto GP this season, he was hoping to compete in F2 at Spa but for some reason decided not to. He’s a young, talented British driver. It remains to be seen how well he will do in Auto GP. Hopefully pretty well, although he missed the last round due to injury.

Points: 14
Best qualifying: 8
Worst qualifing: 11
Best finish: 6 (Magny-Cours race 2)
Worst finish: 7 (Magny-Cours race 1)
Retirements: 0

Auto GP mid-season

Auto GP – formerly known as Euroseries 3000 – doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose these days except to give drivers from other series extra practice. The leader of the series is Luca Filippi, the Italian driver who has been in all but one series of GP2 with a best finish of fourth (59 points) and a worst of 20th (5 points, for a part-season). He’s currently 13th.
Second in the championship is Kevin Ceccon, a driver who got an early and unexpected promotion into GP2 this season because of an injury to Davide Rigon at Turkey. The young Italian has only failed to finish one race, though he has struggled because of his age (17) and inexperience (2 seasons of European F3).
Also competing in Auto GP is Marussia Manor Racing’s Rio Haryanto. Rio finished fourth in Silverstone for his first GP3 points of the season, though last year he finished fifth in that championship. Rio is currently 10th in the Auto GP championship.
Adam Carroll is a former GP2 race winner who competed from 2005-2008 with a best finish of fifth (53 points), and also won a lot of races in the A1 GP (winning the 2008-09 series for Ireland in dominating fashion). He went to America last year but has returned to Europe. At the last round of Formula Renault he replaced the injured Walter Grubmuller and immediately scored points, taking fourth in the first race and a podium in the second.
Daniel de Jong, who is driving with the struggling Comtec team in Formula Renault, has also taken part in Auto GP. He and Adam Carroll were both taking part in their first round this weekend.
Finally Jon Lancaster, who made a strong impression in the second round of Formula Two, has taken part in two rounds so far of Auto GP. Jon has taken three non-podium points finishes and one win, as well as two fastest laps, and is sixth in the championship. As Luca Filippi’s teammate, he has rather shown up the Italian this weekend – though Filippi beat him at Brno. Perhaps it’s because of it being Jon’s home race.
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No weekend break for these guys!

GP3 leader Nigel Melker is having another good weekend. He’s participating in F3 Euroseries as a rookie alongside the F1 feeder series’ feeder series. Anyway, he doesn’t lead F3 Euroseries, which has had two rounds of three races each so far. But the Dutchman did win the first race. This week, he’s on pole position for the first race; then the second race has the top 8 finishers from the first race reversed. In the final race, he has qualified P2. He drives for the same team in F3 Euroseries as GP3, but he is the only driver to be competing in both series. Definitely Melker will be one to watch. There are seven rounds of three races left, so the results could go anywhere.
Winning the F3 Euroseries is usually a sign of a good driver. In 2005, Lewis Hamilton won with Adrian Sutil second; in 2006, Paul di Resta won with Sebastian Vettel second. In 2007, Romain Grosjean won with Sebastien Buemi second and Nico Hulkenberg third; the Hulk won in 2008, and Julies Bianchi came third; Bianchi won the next year, and current GP2 driver Christian Vietoris came second. Christian Klien came second in 2003, with Lucas di Grassi coming third in 2005. Valtteri Bottas (currenly 7th in GP3) came third for the last two seasons. IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe won the 2003 series. However, GP3 seems to be causing attendance in this series to diminish, with only 12 regular drivers for the last two seasons compared to at least 20 in 2009.

Rio Haryanto and Luca Filippi have also been off in Auto GP, the new name for Euroseries 3000. They were qualifying today in Monza, with Luca in P4 for Super Nova and Rio P11 for DAMS. Rio drivers for Manor Racing in GP3, while Luca is still a Super Nova driver in GP2.

In F2, there were two practice sessions today. Miki Monras headed both of them. Three Brits featured in each top ten: Will Bratt (5th, 5th), Jon Lancaster (7th, 6th) and Alex Brundle (9th, 9th). As for Natalia “I’m a girl so you have to mention me” Kowalska, she was P15 in the first session. In the second session she was P11, but only 0.002s off P10 (Kelvin Snoeks), 0.015 off P9 (Brundle) and 0.016 off P8 (Bortolotti). That is incredibly close between P11 and P8. I’ll be back with a race report tomorrow.