Third F2 season for Kralev

F2
39-year-old Bulgarian motorsport ambassador Plamen Kralev returns to the FIA Formula Two championship for a third season, continuing in his number 8 car. Kralev has scored two points in his F2 career – one in each season – and honestly I cannot think there is much hope of him doing better this season. He is the sixth driver to be announced for F2 so far, and more will come over the next weeks.

GP3
It was Antonio Felix da Costa who, despite not being signed for the coming GP3 season, set the fastest time in today’s test. He set a 1:37.934 around the Circuit de Catalunya, beating Arden’s Matias Laine and Mitch Evans – Laine was the only other driver to dip into the 1:37s.
In the afternoon, Daniel Abt went fastest after a troubled morning session. Maxim Zimin – driving for Jenzer as he did last season – showed considerable improvement by going second-fastest. Tio Ellinas was third-fastest with Tamas Pal Kiss fourth.

I have to say, some of the drivers who had a tough season last year in GP3 – Laine, Zimin, and Pal Kiss despite his win – look set to be much better this year. Let’s hope they get signed!

FR3.5
The premier Formula Renault series got its pre-season testing under way today. Fastest was Fortec’s Robin Frijns, setting a 1:47.006 around Paul Ricard in the afternoon. That’s impressive considering his rookie status – the Dutch driver was Eurocup champion last year. Lotus (formerly Gravity-Charouz) went second with a 1:47.125 from Richie Stanaway, another rookie, while Force India’s Jules Bianchi was third-fastest. Alex Rossi was fourth-fastest for Arden-Caterham, and the second Fortec driver of Carlos Huertas was fifth.

GP3 has live timing!

It’s been ‘one of those days’ for Jules Bianchi. Having announced his 2012 drive with Tech 1 in Formula Renault 3.5 (alongside Estonian Kevin Korjus), he set off in the Force India for morning testing in Jerez. This lasted all of three laps, where he caused the first crash of testing. Though the car was not severely damaged, the team lacked the necessary parts for repair. This meant that neither Jules not Nico Hulkenberg (taking over in the afternoon) were able to do any more testing. Nico should get a full day tomorrow.
Generally teams have expressed pleasure with their new cars, though Ferrari have been making unhappy noises. It is probable that these teams are hiding the true facts – do Ferrari want others to underestimate them? Do other teams want to be overestimated? We shall see…
HRT have had a setback in their 2012 car as it failed an FIA crash test. They will need to make changes to the car quickly, as there are only around two weeks before the next test in Barcelona.

Alex Lynn will now be contesting the Euro F3 Open winter series with Team West-Tec, a British outfit. The FRUK champion will be in Portugal at the Algarve circuit the weekend after this one, and at Paul Ricard on the weekend of March 3rd. The Brit will go on to compete with Fortec in the British F3 series this year.

The new GP3 website has launched, featuring for the first time what we all wanted to see – live timing! Now it is possible to follow along with the races without TV coverage.

Don’t forget that Rally Sweden has started this weekend, with Mini’s Dani Sordo quickest on the opening superspecial stage. The Spaniard, who chose to run 11th on the road after the drivers picked their starting positions for the first time, is likely to lose ground over the next few days. However it is a good start for the team.

Jules Bianchi becomes Force India reserve

Today it was confirmed by Force India that Jules Bianchi will be coming to the team for 2012. Bianchi, who has been a Ferrari test driver and remains in their driver training program, will take part in some of the pre-season testing and a number of Friday practice sessions.
The Frenchman is the grandnephew of Lucien Bianchi, a Belgian racing driver who drove sporadically in F1 and came third in the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix. Bianchi regularly took part in Le Mans, and died in 1969 when his Alfa Romeo T33 hit a telegraph pole during testing.
As for Jules, he has finished third in GP2 for the last two seasons, both years with ART (now Lotus). In fact, these have been his only years in the series, and include a pole position on his debut! Though he has only won one GP2 race (the 2011 British feature race), he has been incredibly consistent throughout his whole time in the series. He also finished second in the 2011 GP2 Asia series, winning the Abu Dhabi feature race. Before GP2 he was still an ART driver, and won the F3 Euroseries in 2009 having come third the year before. It is a shame that this fantastic driver isn’t in F1 yet. However, Force India have two equally good drivers in their main lineup. They will be hard to replace.

Lotus have named their new car the E20, as it is the 20th car to be built at Enstone. Though the team has changed names twice, the E20 is a direct successor of the Benetton F1 cars that were first made there.

Finally, GP3 have made some announcements over the last couple of days. First, the series will finally be racing at Monaco alongside F1, GP2 and FR 3.5. This is great news for the series, and will be a real encouragement for young drivers. As if that wasn’t enough, Pirelli will be offering a prize to the champion of the series – 200,000 Euros, plus a GP2 test drive over the winter break – providing the driver moves to a GP2 team the next season. So far, only one of the two GP3 champions has moved to GP2 the following season, though Valtteri Bottas’s plans have not yet been announced. It is a very tempting reward. Hopefully, it will attract a fantastic calibre of drivers this season and in the years to come.

As I was writing this post, Formula Renault UK made a big announcement which I will post about in a short while.

Young drivers’ test day one

The first day of the F1 young drivers’ test is over. Of the 23 taking part in the three-day test, fourteen were driving today. So far as I’m aware, nothing significant happened and the young drivers generally did well.
In the morning, Jean-Eric Vergne topped the times for Red Bull with Jules Bianchi about two seconds behind in the Ferrari. McLaren ran Oliver Turvey, who was 0.9s behind the French driver. Finn Valtteri Bottas was getting the most out of the Williams and set the fourth-fastest time.
In the afternoon, Charles Pic took over from Adrian Quaife-Hobbs in the Virgin, while Gary Paffett took over in the McLaren. The British team have been using the time to work on 2012 modifications, since Paffett has no race experience despite testing for a long time with them. Vergne was again fastest, with Bianchi around 0.9s slower in the Ferrari. Robert Wickens in the Renault set the third-fastest time. Williams had a few gearbox troubles, but Bottas still managed some good running.

Full times: TSL Timing

Trummer and Kral drive for Arden

F1
Team Lotus welcomed on board new sporting director Steve Nielsen today. He will be starting work in September. Steve formerly worked at Arrows, old Team Lotus, Tyrrell, Benetton and (most recently) Renault, and will be replacing Dieter Gass.
In the young drivers’ test, McLaren have revealed that they will be using regular test driver Gary Paffett (who has never driven in a Grand Prix) alongside Oliver Turvey; Mercedes will field Sam Bird; and Ferrari will field their test driver Jules Bianchi.

GP2
Arden’s GP2 final lineup was announced early this morning, mixing its GP2 and GP3 teams. Simon Trummer, who found his pace late in the season in GP3, will partner Josef Kral. This means that there will be two Czech drivers in the GP2 final.
There is still no news on who will be driving for Super Nova.

GP2 race and season summary

In the GP2 race, it was a hectic first couple of laps which saw Charles Pic find himself in a tangle of cars and he took himself out of the race with Romain Grosjean’s rear wing. Grosjean rejoined the race two laps down with a replacement wing. Meanwhile Jules Bianchi found himself in third after cutting the chicane at the start and then being overtaken by Fabio Leimer. He had Sam Bird on his tail, and Luca Filippi overtook to fifth before sticking behind them. In their current positions, unless Bianchi got the fastest lap, Luca would be second in the championship.
They processed around their track, a rather quiet race with not much overtaking. Esteban Gutierrez the former GP3 champion found himself sixth for his final point of the season. Meanwhile, after going straight on at one of the chicanes and finding himself a short way behind third and fourth, Luca set the fastest lap as he was getting himself back with Bianchi and Bird. This sealed his second place finish in the championship, a position previously held by Heikki Kovalainen, Nelson Piquet Jr, Lucas di Grassi, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez. Bianchi finished third, where he also finished last season.
Luca Filippi has been in GP2 since 2006. This year he finally beat his previous-best of fourth with Super Nova in 2007. He has competed 107 races in the series with five wins, seven seconds, four thirds. He has had two pole positions and nine fastest laps – five of which he achieved in the last eight races.
What’s next for Luca? Well, it could be F1 although the Italian has expressed interest in IndyCar. Championship winner Romain Grosjean will almost certainly be racing next year, and will definitely be racing in 2013. It’s gonna be good.

Charles Pic ended up fourth in the championship with Giedo van der Garde fifth. Sam Bird came sixth with today’s winner Christian Vietoris seventh. AirAsia’s Davide Valsecchi finishes eighth despite a troubled second half to the season, followed by Dani Clos and Marcus Ericsson. Stefano Coletti’s accident means he finishes eleventh as he had no chance to make up the three points to the Swede.
Teams champion was Addax with 101 points, followed by DAMS with 89 – all supplied by Romain Grosjean. In third, the mighty Racing Engineering with 75 points, and five points behind them are iSport. Lotus ART are only two behind iSport on 68, and in their first season AirAsia finish with 49 points.
Scuderia Coloni finish seventh – Luca Filippi’s amazing end of season not able to help them enough but shooting them well off the bottom of the table where they were for most of the season. They had 46 points. Trident in eighth only managed 22 points thanks to two wins in sprint races. Super Nova managed ninth with 20 points, and Rapax were 10th with 15 but equal to Arden International apart from their sprint race win from Fabio Leimer. Ocean came in 12th with four points – the same as Carlin who finish their first season in last place.

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.