Force India skip free practice – should we be in Bahrain?

F1
Practice One saw limited running due to the sandy conditions. As per usual, Lewis Hamilton came out fastest with Vettel close behind. Force India were busiest, and even put their cars on softs in the first session. Paul di Resta was third fastest, Hulkenberg sixth. As the session closed, it emerged that the Silverstone-based team planned to only run a part-session in FP2, or maybe even miss it, due to safety fears. What is most confusing is that qualifying is at the same time as FP2, and the race tomorrow will be later. So why miss FP2 but not the other sessions?

Force India did indeed miss Q2, while the Caterhams moved closer to the midfield – their drivers split Senna and Maldonado. Nico Rosberg was fastest, though he has concerns about the heat with the tyres. Button was not happy with the McLaren, but the Red Bulls were doing well. Webber was second, outpacing his teammate who was third. Then it was Hamilton, Schumacher, Button. Kobayashi got the Sauber into seventh ahead of Alonso, Grosjean and Perez.

Some Sauber team members were also involved in an incident last night, but escaped without harm.

Protests have been escalating in Bahrain for the last while, and there have been serious clashes with the police. We can only hope that nobody is seriously injured – Bahraini or F1. With more protests planned for the next two days, surely things will only get worse?

GP2
In practice Davide Valsecchi easily went fastest, 0.67 ahead of Max Chilton in second. Johnny Cecotto was third-fastest, 0.87 off Valsecchi.
Qualifying saw the Italian repeat his effort, going fastest on options on his third lap. Esteban Gutierrez will start second, with Felipe Nasr third to continue his spectacular rookie season. Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer took fourth, ahead of Johnny Cecotto – the Venezuelan having a good weekend so far. Ericsson took the sixth-fastest time but his 10-place grid penalty from Malaysia sent him down to sixteenth, promoting Stephane Richelmi. James Calado was seventh, Luiz Razia eighth. Chilton and Haryanto shared the fifth row for Carlin.
Brendon Hartley was given a five-place grid penalty for an incident with Giedo van der Garde, knocking him down to last behind Ricardo Teixeira. Slow Serenelli beat Teixeira by nearly two tenths of a second, but both were way off the pace.

NEC
Kevin Kleveros was Manor MP’s unannounced driver in car 31 for the opening round of the Formula Renault NEC. In Q1, Stoffel Vandoorne took pole with Pierre Gasly second and Jordan King third. The session had been held up for a few minutes because of hail!
Q2 was also red flagged due to rain and a huge number of crashes. In the end, Vandoorne took pole again. Reigning Intersteps champion Jake Dennis took second, while an impressive run from Shahaan Engineer saw him go third.

Brits do well in third weekend of TRSNZ

It’s been another exciting weekend for the Toyota Racing Series as they reached Taupo for the third round. Qualifying was a hectic affair, and it was incredibly close between the top three for race one. Jordan King took pole by 0.026s from Lucas Auer, and the Austrian was only 0.029s ahead of Josh Hill. Hannes van Asseldonk and Raffaele Marciello were not far behind the top three, with van Asseldonk fastest by three thousandths of a second! For race three, the starting positions were determined by the average of the two best lap times, and here Josh Hill won out. It was, however, close. Van Asseldonk was 0.007s slower than Hill, and King was 0.007s slower than the Dutch driver.

On Saturday afternoon in New Zealand (1:30am in the UK) the drivers took to the track for the first race. King maintained his lead, pursued by his fellow BDRC rising star Hill. King’s pace was too much for his fellow Brit, and he took his first win of 2012. Van Asseldonk, who had been overtaken near the start, came third.
The second race began with the top six finishers of race one reversed. King had a bad start and fell to ninth before fighting his way back through the field to fourth. Ahead, Nick Cassidy was in charge and had a reasonable gap on Damon Leitch and Marciello for most of the race. Van Asseldonk and Auer could not keep the pace, and though King was fast enough he was too far back from the leaders.
In the final race, Josh Hill lost out to van Asseldonk but kept off Jordan King for second. Felix Serrales, who had had engine problems in the second race, finished fourth – an excellent result for Formula Renault UK.

Kiwi Nick Cassidy continues to lead the championship ahead of Damon Leitch. They have a lead of around 100 points from Josh Hill, who is now only one point ahead of van Asseldonk. Felix Serralles is fifth, while Jordan King is now sixth having recovered from two retirements in the first two races. The rookies continue to be led by Jono Lester, who is 20 points ahead of Russian Dmitry Suranovich.

Manor and MP combine for NEC and Eurocup campaigns

Since 1989, when Formula Renault UK began, Manor Motorsport has been there. They won the team championship for all but one year from 1994-2000, including that of Kimi Raikkonen, and also won in 2010 with Tom Blomqvist amidst the domination of Fortec. Last season, their main trio of drivers were Josh Hill, Alice Powell and Jordan King – all drivers whose names seem to come up regularly these days.
Founded by John Booth (Marussia team principal), the team was sold to engineer Tony Shaw and his wife Sarah in 2006. They continued to race under the name Manor Competition, and when Virgin Racing came into existence they adopted the same black and red livery to maintain a connection to the F1 team.
Costs, however, are high in FR UK. Until 2009, the team was able to race soley in the series, but new cars from 2010 gave a massive burden on the team’s coffers and, according to this week’s Autosport magazine, they have been forced to make changes. Combining with Dutch outfit MP Motorsport, their Formula Renault team will be known as Manor MP Motorsport, and race in the FR Eurocup with three cars, and the Northern European Cup with six cars. They will retain the red and black livery.

MP Motorsport, who usually run with a yellow livery, began racing in Formula Ford before they turned to Benelux FR 2.0 in 2003. Since 2006 they have been involved in the NEC, and in 2009 they began with the Eurocup. They have picked up a few Eurocup podiums, but had better success in the NEC.
Some 2012 drivers have already been signed; Jordan King joins from the Manor side, while Kal-Oscar Liiv comes from MP Motorsport. Both will be competing in the Eurocup and NEC, alongside one other driver. Meanwhile FFord festival runner-up Steijn Schothorst, a Dutch driver, will be taking part in the NEC for Manor MP.

It will be a shame not to have Manor Competition in FR UK any more. The series supports the BTCC, which means that they are on British televisions every race weekend. This gives massive exposure to the teams. However, the Eurocup and NEC will provide better exposure within single-seater racing, as the Eurocup supports the Formula Renault 3.5 championship.

Toyota Racing Series

It seems to be the ‘in thing’ these days with up-and-coming racing drivers to participate in as many series as possible to get as much experience as possible. Whether it’s the JK Racing series in India, a couple of rounds of Formula Two or the Formula Renault NEC, you will usually find a few drivers who are taking part alongside their ‘home’ series.
Formula Renault UK drivers in particular seem to have this down to an art form. It is winter in the northern hemisphere, but in the south there’s racing going on. Josh Hill, Felix Serrales and Jordan King have all made their way to New Zealand for the Toyota Racing Series – five rounds of three races each – and they are not alone. Only a few Kiwi drivers are participating against the largest field of international drivers the series has seen.

So far, two rounds of the series have been played out, and the local drivers have been acquiting themselves admirably, though they haven’t had it all their own way. The first winner was son and grandson of champions Josh Hill, before Hannes van Asseldonk (5th in ATS Formel 3 Cup last season) took the next two.
In the second round of three races, Kiwi Nick Cassidy – who came second to van Asseldonk both times the Dutchman won – showed his abilities by winning the first two races and coming third in the final race. He now leads the championship with 383 points. Second is Damon Leitch, who took the most recent win and also has two seconds and a third. He has 372 points.
Third in the championship is Felix Serralles. Though he only has one podium (second at the second race of round two) he has been very consistent and has 295 points. Josh Hill is fourth with 261 points, and van Asseldonk is fifth with 237 (and equal with Kiwi Jono Lester who came third in the first race). Other drivers who have taken podiums are Russian Dmitry Suranovich (second in the third race of round two), Bruno Bonifacio (third in the second race of round one) and Jordan King (third in the second race of round two). This series, is heavily penalising to drivers who fail to finish, as all classified finishers get points. However, a few good finishes should boost most drivers up towards the top of the standings as the points given to lower finishers are not huge.

JK Racing Asia series champion Lucas Auer, Italian girl driver Michela Cerruti, and FR 3.5’s Nathanael Berthon, are also amongst the drivers taking part. To find out more you can visit the series website http://www.toyotaracing.co.nz or their Twitter account @ToyotaRacingNZ.

Clos and Marinescu called up for Rapax

GP2
Rapax have announced their GP2 finals lineup. Despite not finishing in the top three in F2, Mihai Marinescu will have his chance in a GP2 car alongside experienced Spaniard Dani Clos. Romanian Mihai finished 5th this season, winning the first race at Monza from pole, and also taking the fastest lap. He also finished third on three occasions: in both races at the Red Bull Ring and in the second race at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Though he hasn’t won any GP2 races this season, Dani Clos finished second on two occasions and finished 9th overall. He won a GP2 race in 2010, and has plenty of experience.

FR UK
The experienced Formula Renault UK drivers shone in qualifying, with Daniil Kvyat also making good pace. Josh Hill was fastest, with Jordan King second, Oliver Rowland third, Dan Wells fourth, Kvyat fifth and Felix Serrales sixth. For the second race, the drivers’ second-fastest times were taken. Again, Hill took pole, with Rowland second, Wells third, King fourth, Serrales fifth and Kvyat sixth.
The races went well for Rowland, who won both. Josh Hill was demoted to second, and followed by Dany Kvyat and Jordan King. But King and Hill both spun, leaving them further down the results. Instead, Felix Serrales joined Rowland and Kvyat on the podium. The second was marred by a clumsy overtake from Rowland on Josh Hill who was forced out of the race. The situation also caused a safety car for several laps. Dan Wells came second followed by Serrales. Kvyat was fourth, with King seventh behind Josh Webster and Stefan Wackerbauer.

Tomorrow there will be more GP2 news and more Formula Renault UK racing.

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.

F1
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.

Indycar
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.

Kvyat and King dominate the NEC

The final two Formula Renault NEC races of the season took place yesterday. In the first of Sunday’s races, Danny Kvyat dominated from pole, though he was challenged by his teammate Carlos Sainz (the series champion). Jordan King was also battling with the pair, and it must have been a great race to watch. King took up the third step on the podium.
In the final race, Jordan King battled his way up into the top three with Kvyat chasing – the first six drivers were reversed from the finish of race one. Stoffel Vandoorne tried hard but lost his pole position start, while Clemente Picariello had been running in third for the final laps before hitting the kerb as the clock ran down, relinquishing the position to Jordan King.
Incredibly, Kvyat and King have dominated this final round of the NEC, with the British driver picking up his third, fourth and fifth podiums of the season. Kvyat narrowed his gap to fourty points behind Sainz, and has finished second in the championship. King finished 11th having only competed in half the races.

Now to Formula One, and the race was dominated by Sebastian Vettel, though it came close at the end. Famously easy on his tyres, Jenson Button came close to the Red Bull driver at the end but the traffic prevented him from getting through.
There were four retirements from the race – Timo Glock took himself out on a wall in lap nine. Later, the two Mercedes drivers were battling with Perez and when the Sauber driver ran off the track, Rosberg got past. Schumacher was next to attempt to pass, but he ended up emulating Mark Webber’s accident in Valencia 2010. Though he didn’t fly, his accident was enough to cause a safety car. And Jarno Trulli was the second driver in the queue, having just been lapped by Vettel. The German was destined to get away, with second-placed Jenson fifth in the line.
It is clear that something needs to be done about the safety car proceedure in order to make it much more exciting when the car comes in. Watching as drivers try to untangle themselves ruins some of the excitement. If Jenson had been right behind Seb… who knows?
The third retirement was Jarno Trulli, whose gearbox blew up. It had been on the edge, but Lotus decided to run it anyway to avoid a penalty. It lasted until close to the end of the race, so it was a good risk. Finally, Jaime Alguersuari took himself out in the final few laps, too close to the end to call a safety car, so he was a classified non-finisher.
Of course, the accidents can’t tell the whole story of the race, and there was a big battle between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. They may have been championship rivals in 2008, but these guys are not getting on well this season. Hamilton was trying to overtake the Ferrari when he hit the Brazilian’s tyre with his front wing. The wing was damaged and the tyre punctured. This was – typically for Massa – right after they had pitted. Massa has had a lot of bad luck with his tyres getting damaged right after a pit stop.
The Brazilian was not happy, and only climbed back into ninth at the end, while Lewis – who was behind Massa after his drive-through – came back to fifth.
With Alonso finishing fourth and Button finishing second, Vettel hasn’t won the championship just yet. But as he only needs to score a single point – or either Alonso or Button to not win all the remaining races – to secure the championship, it is pretty-much in the bag.

Next weekend: Formula Renault UK action at Brands Hatch, Formula Two action at Monza.