2011 review part 5 – Spain

After the traditional short break for Easter, the European season began in Turkey. Joining the F1 circus were the GP2 and GP3 teams, beginning their own championship races.
The Friday morning was soaking wet, which meant Team Lotus’s Karun Chandhok was once again denied any decent practice time (he had crashed the car at the start of FP1 in Australia). The biggest event of the session, however, was caused by Sebastian Vettel. Pushing the RB7 to its limits, he got onto the wet kerbs just after turn eight and spun, skidding through the grass and hitting the wall.

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The rest of practice was dry and uneventful, with Vettel failing to run in the second session. In the third, he set the fastest time by a thousandth of a second from Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. On Saturday afternoon, it was time for qualifying.

Kamui Kobayashi became the fall guy, not even setting a time after his Sauber broke down. D’Ambrosio received a penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice and started 23rd, with Kobayashi at the back as he did not meet the 107% rule but was granted permission to race. (The penalties would not always be applied in this order for future races) In Q2, Barrichello was narrowly squeezed out of the top ten by Nick Heidfeld, and the two Force Indias would start behind the Brazilian but ahead of Maldonado. Perez and the Toro Rossos were next. In Q3, Felipe Massa failed to set a time after mechanical problems and would line up tenth on the grid for race day. Nico Rosberg trounced his teammate for Mercedes’ best qualifying thus far, starting third behind the Red Bulls. Vettel, as ever, was on pole.

Race day came, and DRS was to play a major part in the action. In the opinion of many, it was just too easy at Istanbul Park, especially after the zone had been extended. The Pirellis wore quickly and winner Sebastian Vettel stopped four times on his way to the third win of the season. Pit stops, however, were all he had to worry about. Mark Webber took second while Fernando Alonso claimed third for Ferrari having been overtaken by the Aussie close to the end of the race. Both Buemi and Kobayashi would put in great drives, finishing in the points despite bad qualifying.
Retirements were few, coming only from Paul di Resta whose car broke down late in the race. Timo Glock failed to start the race. Kovalainen would have beaten his teammate had his Lotus not suffered mechanical issues which slowed him down.

Vettel dominated the championship. But with Barcelona traditionally the location for major car upgrades, there was still a chance to beat him despite the huge lead on Hamilton.

In GP2, Romain Grosjean won the feature race from pole, and took fastest lap in the sprint. This put him at the top of the championship, on equal points with Sam Bird and just three ahead of GP3 graduate Stefano Coletti who won the sprint race.
In GP3 it was Nigel Melker who had the best start, winning the feature race and coming third in the sprint for fourteen points. Andrea Caldarelli was closest behind, on ten points. Sprint winner Alex Sims had eight points – the same as fourth-placed Tom Dillmann.

[To be continued]

Qualifying summary

Not much can pull me away from F1, except for Jordan King, my favourite up-and-coming driver because he’s from my home town. Jordan has been driving in the Formula Renault Northern European Cup, and was on pole for today’s race. Though overtaken, he stayed close to the winner to finish less than a second behind and taking the number two spot on the podium. It’s so far his best finish ever – matching a second place in Formula Renault UK that came after the winner was disqualified. He starts second for the next race. His 24 points have boosted him up to 12th place.
For a driver in his first full year of racing, he is doing incredibly well. He has so far had two pole positions – one in the UK series where he got taken out by Alex Lynn and today’s – and had three podium finishes. He has participated in Formula Two as well as these other series, and done himself proud there too. Jordan might not be doing brilliantly in Formula Renault UK, but he’s shown elsewhere how much talent he has.

Now F1, and qualifying today wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. Q1 began with silence before the first drivers came out on track, and the Lotuses and HRTs left it a while before making their first runs. Renault turned out to be the team on the edge, with their updates for Singapore abandoned. Heikki Kovalainen was unable to make a second good run, but still beat his teammate’s best lap. And Vitaly Petrov became the fall guy.
Q2, and a crash for Kobayashi in a bad spot caused a red flag. The Japanese will start 17th. The others dropping out were the Williams, Senna, Perez and the Toro Rosso drivers. So we had both Red Bulls, McLarens, Ferraris, Mercedes and Force Indias in Q3.
It could had been a very exciting finale, but in the end it didn’t go that way. Vettel set a hot lap quickly and Hamilton was second. The Force Indias did not attempt a lap at all. McLaren had a refuelling problem and Hamilton was unable to set another lap, while Vettel messed up on his final attempt – quite unusual for the German – but was not beaten by his nearest challenger of Webber. Button took third, while Alonso and Massa were fifth and sixth. The two Mercs were next, followed by the Force Indias in numerical order.
Hopefully the race will be better tomorrow. It’s a big challenge for the drivers to stay out of the wall and also to avoid copying Kobayashi and catching air at turn 10 – the chicane. If you get off the ground, there’s no way you’ll be able to catch yourself in time before you go into the wall. So this could be a good one, and if the backmarkers stay cautious they could be in with a chance at a good finish.

This is Red Bull’s 15th consecutive pole – they have taken every one since Abu Dhabi last year. They need ten more to beat Williams’ 1992-3 record of 24. Can they do it? Probably.

Summer day 17 – Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi – 11
When he started driving for Sauber in 2010, nobody expected that Kamui Kobayashi would get on far better with the car than his much more experienced teammates. But his charm, smile and incredible overtaking have made him a firm favourite with most F1 fans. And in 2011, despite only one full season under his belt, he has taken the mantle of team leader with no problems. He scored points in his first seven races, though those in Australia were taken away due to a technical breach resulting in disqualification. But immediately it was apparent just how good the Sauber is this season, and how good the Kobayashi-Perez lineup is.
He’s had some impressive results. Making it to Q3 three times, he still picked up points in Turkey when he was unable to compete in Q1 and started at the back of the grid – though to be fair that’s normal this year as you save your tyres that way. But his best-ever F1 result came at the Monte-Carlo Grand Prix. Starting 12th on the grid after his teammate’s accident, he finished fifth. But he was running fourth at lap 76, before an unfortunate mistake saw him let Webber past.
Canada was another good race for Kamui, who found himself lining up second next to Sebastian Vettel when the red flags fell. Half of me wanted the race to end at this point, expecting that Seb would win, but though Kamui eventually had to settle for seventh, I am glad that it continued. He managed to stay in second for a long time, and got into some good fights with Felipe Massa. Indeed, the difference between Kamui in seventh and Massa in sixth was a few thousandths of a second – it came right down to a photo finish as Felipe overtook the Japanese driver on the start-finish straight.
Since Canada, Kamui has found it harder to score points. At Valencia he finished 16th, when Sauber’s tyre strategy failed. At Silverstone he retired after being spun by Schumacher. He picked up two points in Germany, but just missed out at the Hungaroring.
With 27 points, the Japanese driver is scrapping with Schumacher, Petrov (both 32) and Heidfeld (34) for a good finish in the championship. He might be able to do it, with a bit of luck!

Points: 27
Worst qualifying: 24
Best qualifying: 8
Worst finish: 16 (Valencia)
Best finish: 5 (Monaco)
Average difference: 3.10
Laps completed: 648/681 (95%)
Average race position: 10.14 (Best: 4.5 Canada; Worst: 16.5 Spain)

Goodbye to GP2 Asia

As hinted at by Autosport a while ago, the GP2 and GP2 Asia series are merging. GP2 Asia, which began with a long calendar of races but only managed four this winter (of which only one was in Asia because of the Bahrain uprising), hasn’t really worked out the way the organisers wanted it to. Instead, there will be a single series from 2012 with flyaway races. For the first time in 2011, all thirteen teams who competed in GP2 Asia were the same thirteen who are competing in the main series. The merger is far more practical.
To celebrate this merger, in November at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix there will be a special race weekend for GP2 called the ‘2011 GP2 Final’. The 13 teams will compete for a prize fund while young drivers will get a chance to test the GP2/11 car that has been used this year for the first time.

GP2 Asia has a short history. Only four seasons have ever been run. In 2008, there were five rounds in Dubai, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bahrain and Dubai (again). Lots of familiar names were taking part: Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok for iSport; Romain Grosjean for ART; Vitaly Petrov for Campos; Fairuz Fauzy for Super Nova; Jerome d’Ambrosio and Kamui Kobayashi for DAMS; Sebastien Buemi for Arden; Davide Valsecchi for Durango, and current F2 river Armaan Ebrahim for DPR. Yep, there were two Indian drivers! This is because GP2 Asia at the time wanted each team to have an Asian driver in it.
The first round was totally dominated by Romain Grosjean, who took pole position and both wins. Bruno Senna took second and the fastest lap in the first race, with Andy Soucek third. Fairuz Fauzy scored his first points in a GP2 car in the first race, and came second in ths second race with Karun Chandhok third. In the end, the winner was Grosjean, with Buemi second after a coming second in the final four races, Petrov third, Fauzy fourth, Senna fifth and Kobayashi sixth.

The second season took place over the winter of 2008-2009. It featured Yamamoto, Maldonado and Hulkenberg in ART; Razia in Arden; Petrov and Perez at Barwa Campos; the d’Ambrosio and Kobayashi pairing at DAMS again; van der Garde at iSport; Valsecchi at Durango; Chandhok at Ocean Racing; and Ricardo Teixeira at Trident. Yep, the whole Team Lotus reserve contingent took part.
There were six rounds: China, Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, Malaysia and Bahrain (again). Eventual winner Kamui Kobayashi started with a second-place finish, and though he only managed two wins altogether he got enough points finishes to beat his teammate Jerome d’Ambrosio into second. Roldan Rodriguez came third, with Valsecchi fourth, Petrov fifth, Hulkenberg sixth despite only competing in four races, Perez seventh and Yamamoto ninth.

The third season was 2009-10. Taking part were many current GP2 drivers including Christian Vietoris (DAMS); Luiz Razia (Rapax/Addax); Chilton, van der Garde and Perez (Addax); Ericsson (ART and Super Nova); Bianchi and Bird (ART); Pic and Gonzalez (Arden); Kral (Super Nova); Valsecchi (iSport); Cecotto and Clos (Trident); Filippi (a Malaysian team not AirAsia); Leimer (Ocean Racing); Parente (Coloni); and Herck (DPR).
There were only four rounds: two at Abu Dhabi followed by two at Bahrain. And the championship winner dominated; iSport’s Davide Valsecchi took three wins and three second places on top of a fourth place to get 56 points. Luca Filippi came second. But it was a short season.

For 2011, the fourth and final season was shortened firstly due to the new GP2 cars, and secondly due to the Bahrain uprising which caused the second round to be held at Imola. Most of the current GP2 drivers took part. Romain Grosjean marked his return to GP2 with an adequate performance, taking both pole positions, a win, a second place and two fastest laps. Fellow Frenchman Jules Bianchi won the first race at Abu Dhabi, and came third in the first race at Imola. He also took two fastest laps. Stefano Coletti took the win at the Abu Dhabi sprint having started from reverse pole, while Dani Clos took the Imola sprint. Meanwhile, Davide Valsecchi gave AirAsia their first podium in the first race at Abu Dhabi. Romain Grosjean took the championship.

So in total that’s four GP2 Asia championships. Romain Grosjean took the first and the last, with Kamui Kobayashi taking the second and Davide Valsecchi the third. Now, however, we’ll be seeing a longer GP2 season. This could make the championship very interesting next year.

Wall of Wannabes?

Not only did Sebastian Vettel make friends with the Wall of Champions this weekend, but Sergio Perez is not as well as he thought. He has been replaced by 2010 Sauber driver and current McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa for the remainder of the weekend, as Sauber test driver Esteban Gutierrez is in Mexico this weekend. Perhaps a bit stupid of Sauber not to bring their test driver with their first choice driver still recovering from a bad accident. All the same, Canada might not be the best place to make your debut though Timo Glock did make his debut at the track for Jordan in 2004.
More bad luck for Sauber came in the second practice session, when Kamui Kobayashi shoved his Sauber into a different – so-far unnamed – wall. The session was red flagged. It resumed but was red flagged again minutes later when Jerome d’Ambrosio put his Virgin in the same wall. Perhaps it needs a name too. The Wall of Wannabes ‘cos Kobayashi and d’Ambrosio aren’t champions just yet. Sauber had spent the first half of the session getting the car ready for De La Rosa, and he went out in McLaren overalls in the Sauber (his helmet, however, had Sauber sponsor stickers on) when the session resumed after Kobayashi’s accident.
The Sauber has been looking good this season. I wonder how well the Spanish driver can do in it? Better than Mercedes’ drivers, it seems. Schumacher and Rosberg were both slower than the Team Lotus cars in FP2. This is strange because they were some of the fastest cars in FP1. Only d’Ambrosio in the Wall of Wannabes was outside the 107% time, and the Hispanias were fighting with the Virgins for pace.
Fastest in FP1 was Rosberg, then Alonso and Schumacher. Fastest in FP2 was Alonso, then Vettel and Massa. Is this Ferrari’s weekend at last? Despite that, it would be funny to see three drivers in McLaren overalls on the podium (though I’m not sure the Sauber has that much pace). De La Rosa being McLaren’s tester, he doesn’t have Sauber overalls.

Eleven drivers in Monaco

11 – Jaime Alguersuari He qualified behind the Lotuses, and spent most of the race somewhere between the backmarkers and the midfield. He didn’t help himself by running into the back of Lewis Hamilton. He was one of my favourite drivers. Now I don’t know what to think about him.

10 – Lewis Hamilton Scrappy driving from the Brit, not always backing off when he should have done and taking risks in the wrong places. Was unlucky to recieve two penalties, and hasn’t had a good start to the season overall with the stewards despite some good finishes.

9 – Jerome d’Ambrosio His teammate was battling with the Lotuses for position, but the rookie couldn’t keep up. He was fortunate not to be penalised for blocking the Lotuses in the final stint having just been put a lap behind them.

8 – Paul di Resta A Monaco novice because of his time in DTM, he will admit he could have driven better. He finished close behind Rosberg, ending up on the same lap as the two Lotuses as well. Not his best race.

7 – Felipe Massa I don’t know exactly how much he was to blame for his accident. He got onto the marbles and then there was no chance. He was doing well before then to defend from Hamilton.

6 – Michael Schumacher Lost out to his teammate at the start. Though he managed to catch up, he was then impeded by his car failing on him. Reasonable driving, but the Mercedes was not quick at Monaco and both picked up trains very early on.

5 – Vitaly Petrov A good race and reasonable qualifying, he was the second serious accident of the weekend but only suffered bruising and a swollen ankle. Maybe he should stay off the football for a while!

4 – Pastor Maldonado Was he taken out by Hamilton or did he just lose control? He’s got a bad habit of crashing, but this was going to be his first points finish. Barrichello did get the points. Rookie Maldonado has really started to shine in the last two races. Maybe, just maybe, he is a worthwhile Hulkenberg replacement.

3 – Mark Webber He lost a position, but managed to pressure Kobayashi into a mistake at the end to get fourth place and give Red Bull another 37 points. He’s close to beating Lewis Hamilton in the championship now.

2 – Jarno Trulli Beat his teammate off the line, and stayed ahead throughout the race even when they were racing each other. He got his first opportunity for a long time to have a competitive race against other teams. In the end he finished 13th for the second time in 2011, cementing his 18th place in the championship.

1 – Kamui Kobayashi Maybe he did lose out to Webber, but after another non-Q3 start he had his career-best finish. Brilliant! I almost hoped there were some crashes amongst the leaders so he could get a podium.
There is no doubt that Sauber – despite not being the BMW works team any more – have done amazing things this year. Taking the risk of running a rookie and a driver with just over one season in F1 has worked out well for them. Perez, with no F1 experience, has matched his teammate at times and even made it into Q3 before his accident in Monaco. Kobayashi has not finished outside the top ten all year, and today earned his best finish of all time. While I don’t think we’ll be seeing podiums for Sauber just yet, they clearly deserve their sixth place in the championship ahead of Force India and Toro Rosso.

Penalties changing nothing

Reprimands for Kobayashi and Sutil, who retain their amazing points finishes, while Hamilton recieved a 20 second penalty that ended up not affecting his result. The angry McLaren driver allowed himself a rant in his interview with the BBC’s Lee McKenzie, frustrated at his fifth call to the stewards this season. Following the recent FIA decision, the reprimands now have an impact: three of them will equal a five-place grid penalty. This is probably why the drivers were given reprimands as opposed to a more serious penalty.
This means today has been Kobayashi’s best-ever F1 finish. His next-best are the British GP last year, and Abu Dhabi GP in 2009. In his short time in F1, Kamui has done 27 races. He’s had 8 retirements, 15 top ten finishes and one disqualification where he ought to have finished in the top 10. That leaves only three races in which he’s finished but not in the top 10: Spain, Germany and Abu Dhabi last year.
Force India have now scored 10 points, and this lifts the team above Toro Rosso in the standings. Williams scored their first points, sealing their ninth place. Lotus’s Jarno Trulli had his second thirteenth-place finishes of the season, and Heikki Kovalainen had his first fourteenth-place finish. This lifts him above D’Ambrosio in the championship. Barrichello also gets a lift, while Maldonado sadly remains towards the bottom.

Stats and facts
Kobayashi has now entered the top ten of drivers for ‘most points without a win’. Headed by Heidfeld (254) and Rosberg (243.5), Sutil has the eighth-most points without a win (61), going ahead of Andrea de Cesaris (59), and Kobayashi has the tenth-most (54).
Mark Webber has 4 of the 6 possible fastest laps this season so far. He set today’s in the final lap of the race.
Sebastian Vettel, taking his fourteenth total win and fifth this season, now has 8 consecutive podium positions, matching Reutemann, Senna and Montoya’s strings. One more and he will match Clark, Lauda, Piquet, Schumacher (twice) and Hamilton. With six from the start of the season, he matches Fittipaldi and Mansell: one more will match Lauda, Prost, Schumacher and Button. Vettel has scored 143 points already, which is just one less than Massa scored in the entirety of last season!
Jenson Button now has more career points than Ayrton Senna: 617 to 614. To be fair, nearly half of Button’s have come under the new points system. Hamilton has beaten Raikkonen’s career points: 581 to 579, and just one more points finish is needed for Jenson Button to make it to 100 points finishes: the same as Nelson Piquet.

Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Kobayashi, Vettel and Webber have finished in the points in every race. Vettel and Webber, however, are the only ones who have been top five every race.
Vettel, Webber, Hamilton and Button all managed to complete every race lap. Kobayashi and Alonso are the only drivers to have only missed a single lap. The driver who has completed the least F1 laps is Timo Glock, with only 67.2 under his belt after several retirements and a DNS.
With some great performances over the last few races, Kobayashi has gained over 6 places on average per race in the season, as has Nick Heidfeld. Pastor Maldonado has lost over five on average. Today’s loss wasn’t his fault, however.