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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jules Bianchi – 4
French Ferrari reserve Jules Bianchi was one of the favourites for this year’s GP2 championship, and when he came third in the first race he looked like fulfilling these expectations. But he only picked up two points at the Barcelona feature race before going through a pointless patch mostly self-caused as he retired from three of the next five races.
Finally, the lack of points ended when he returned to form magnificently at Silverstone. He won the feature race from pole, then came fifth in the sprint. At the Nurburgring he came fourth then second, and at the Hungaroring seventh in the feature before having a bit more trouble in the sprint to come sixth. He probably won’t get the championship this year, but he’s a favourite for 2012.
Best qualifying: 1
Worst qualifying: 11
Best finish: 1 (Silverstone feature)
Worst finish: 19 (Monaco sprint)
The two racing drivers who celebrate their birthdays today are the same age. Jules Bianchi and Tobias Hegewald are both 22 today.
French GP2 driver Jules Bianchi is the grand-nephew of Belgian F1 driver Lucien Bianchi, who was born Luciano in Milan. Lucien’s best finish was third in Monaco in 1968 driving for Cooper. He shared the podium with Graham Hill and Richard Attwood in a race where only 5 drivers finished of 16, and the last retirement was on lap 16 – a long way before the end.
Anyway back to Jules, who began driving in French Formula Renault in 2007. He won the series with 5 wins, 5 poles and 10 fastest laps. In 2008 he came third in F3 Euroseries despite only 2 wins. The winner that year was Nico Hulkenberg.
In 2009, he won the F3 Euroseries title taking 9 wins, and moved into GP2 for the next season. Immediately he prospered, coming third overall. He seems to have a great ability to adapt to new cars quickly. In the four-race GP2 Asia series this year he finished second.
Though Jules was tipped to take the GP2 title this season, he has has a lot of bad luck. After a good start, he had a lot of non-points finishes which dropped him down the table. But a recent resurgence has pushed him back up to fourth and he is likely to finish in the top three or four.
Jules is a Ferrari test driver, and one that the Scuderia have their eye on for the future. But as long as Sauber are watching Esteban Gutierrez and have Kobayashi and Perez as their main drivers, Ferrari are going to struggle to get him into F1.
Tobias Hegewald began racing in 2005, taking part in German Formula BMW. He finished 20th in his first season. The next year he finished 13th. He also took place in some FBMW USA races.
In 2007, he began driving in FR2.0 Eurocup and the Northern European Cup. He did well in the NEC and finished 2nd with 3 wins and 297 points. He continued in both series for 2008, as well as competing in the Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy. He finished 5th in Eurocup FR, 3rd in the NEC and 7th in the FPA trophy.
For 2009 he participated in his first Formula Two season, and also drove two races in FR 3.5. He finished 6th overall in F2, and decided to move to GP3 for its inaugural season in 2010. He drove for Mucke Motorsport, scoring 6 points for them and finishing 22nd – that’s not too bad in a field of 30 or more drivers.
This year, Tobias has moved back to F2 and is currently 5th with 91 points. He achieved his first pole position of the season in the first Brands Hatch race. He’s unlikely to catch up with Mirko Bortolotti, but his future looks good.