Ceccon gets Oceans of chance in GP3

F2
There’s just one week until the 2012 season kicks off, and it looks like a number of talented drivers will be on track. Swiss driver Mauro Calamia is the latest to be officially announced, but there are also a number of drivers listed on the website who are yet to be confirmed, including 2010 champion Dean Stoneman. With the new faster, better cars, this year looks set to produce some good racing. We can only hope that there aren’t too many regulars at the back of the field.
Mauro Calamia joins F2 from Formula Renault Alps, where he finished 10th of 25 drivers. He picked up a reasonable 125 points. He tended to be in the bottom half of the timesheets during testing, but hopefully the 20-year-old rookie will catch up as the season progresses.

GP3
As well as Tamas Pal Kiss, two other drivers have been announced this week. Status Grand Prix have a second driver in Kotaro Sakurai, a Japanese driver who was British F3 national class champion last season. The youngster has tested GP3 before, but this will be his first season in the series.
Meanwhile, Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon will be joining Carmen Jorda and Robert Cregan at Ocean Racing Technology. Ceccon participated in GP2 for Scuderia Coloni last season after Davide Rigon was injured, but it was a premature step up for the Italian. Ceccon should do well in GP3, and I expect him to be a frontrunner from the first race.

F1
If you thought the Lotus saga was over, think again! Group Lotus, who were title sponsors of Renault last season, have pulled out of that role by mutual consent with the team. Group Lotus have been struggling, and their owners Proton have been cutting back. Lotus F1 Team will still keep the name, however, until 2017. So there will be a Lotus with no connection to either the original team or the car manufacturer for the next few years in F1. In fact, Caterham probably have more connection to the original Team Lotus than Lotus F1 now!
All you need to know is, Lotus are still called Lotus. They have no connection to Lotus but they still have the name. Ow my head!

Meanwhile, news out of South America suggests that Argentina are likely to be hosting an F1 race from 2013 and replacing South Korea, despite the Asian venue arranging a lower hosting fee. This will be confirmed (or not) within the next few weeks. If it does go ahead, this means there will be two new races for 2013: Argentina and New Jersey. The question is, which races will be set aside?

Things are hotting up once again in Bahrain, with the F1 race looking set to be the focal point of protests. While F1 should be careful not to take sides, I think that the situation merits a cancellation. I fear that the protesters would target the media and team personnel, to make sure that their voices are heard. It would be awful if anyone were injured or killed just because Bernie Ecclestone insisted the race go ahead. The protesters might see it as a victory, but it would be a hollow one. The government might be in the wrong, but I doubt they would target anyone connected to F1. I fear the protesters would have no such qualms.

British F3
The new season starts this weekend at Oulton Park. At the time of writing, only free practice has happened so far. Alex Lynn was fastest by almost 0.5s from Felix Serralles, which is a good start from the Formula Renault UK graduates who are both at Fortec. Jack Harvey was Carlin’s fastest, only 0.04s slower than Serralles, and his teammate Harry Tincknell was fourth-fastest.

Other
Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens is setting his single seater career aside to join Mercedes’s DTM team this year. There are a lot of drivers taking part in the series, from a wide variety of nations. Most of them are talented, and if you can watch it then it should be good fun! The season starts on April 29th at Hockenheim.

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Varhaug wins second Auto GP race

Auto GP
The second race of the weekend got underway with a great race from winner Pal Varhaug. Virtuosi UK made a great pit stop to get him into the lead from his start in seventh. It was a close race throughout until lap 10, with 0.3s between van der Drift, Spavone, Campana and Guerin. Guerin took polesitter Campana out as he locked his brakes into the first chicane. With Spavone taking the escape road, it was all the opportunity Adrian Quaife-Hobbs needed to take third. Van der Drift finished 3.5s behind Varhaug, and 1s ahead of yesterday’s race winner. Sergey Sirotkin barely lost out to Quaife-Hobbs, the Russian making a magnificent comeback after his stall from race 1 left him at the back on the grid and taking fastest lap once again.

Adrian and Pal are tied for points at the top of the championship, though in the under-21 championship it is the Brit who leads as van der Drift is over 21. The Kiwi sits in third ahead of his Manor MP teammate de Jong, who retired from race 2. Fifth is Facu Regalia, and Sirotkin is sixth. In the team’s championship, Manor MP are leading due to the consistency of their drivers – both Super Nova and Virtuosi UK have only score points from one driver.

GP3
There is a two-day GP3 test in Barcelona starting tomorrow, and as well as the signed drivers the teams are testing a number of potentials. At Lotus GP, Carlos Sainz Jr [taking part in British F3 this year]; at Status, Kotaro Sakurai [British F3 National class champion] and Tom Blomqvist [FRUK 2010 champion]; Maxim Zimin will be at Jenzer; Antonio Spavone and Kevin Ceccon [Auto GP champion] at Trident; Antonio Felix da Costa and Will Buller [Fourth in British F3] at Carlin; and Tamas Pal Kiss and John Wartique at Atech CRS.

Romain Grosjean’s F1 Return

Romain Grosjean is back! The reigning GP2 champion, who was previously thrown in the deep end at Renault for 2009 after Nelson Piquet jr left, will be driving alongside Kimi Raikkonen in 2012 at Lotus F1 Team.
The second French driver to make the grid for the next season, Grosjean has had a dominating year in GP2. By himself, he gave DAMS enough points to finish second behind Addax and their two top-five finishing drivers Giedo van der Garde and Marussia newbie Charles Pic.
Having won the short GP2 Asia championship, as he did with the longer one in 2008, he moved into the 2011 championship as a lead contender. At Turkey he took pole position, then won the race. But did he have it in him to win? He only got one point in the sprint – for securing fastest lap – and no points in Spain. Then came Monaco, and he really began to show his ability. Mastering pit stop strategy brilliantly he was able to come from the back of the field after failing to set a good lap time and getting a penalty as well. He finished fourth, and came third in the sprint the next day. At Silverstone he did it again, starting 13th but finishing fourth before winning the sprint, and taking fastest lap both times. The Frenchman’s worst race came after he had sealed the championship, finishing 21st in the sprint at Monza having been run into by Charles Pic at the start and requiring a new rear wing.

(You know you’re good when your overtakes video is nearly eight minutes long)
Many people had doubts about Romain Grosjean after 2009, but his impressive GP2 season and maturer attitude – alongside his coming in at the start of the season instead of the middle – tells me that he has a good chance on his return. Even alongside Kimi Raikkonen.

Other series
Aaro Vainio is set to continue in GP3 with ART, while Kevin Ceccon be driving for Coloni in GP2. Zoel Amberg (0 points in GP3 this year) has signed for Pons for Formula Renault 3.5.

Dominant win for Leimer

The GP2 final race proved today that it is definitely possible to overtake without DRS at Yas Marina. Polesitter Fabio Leimer had a good start while Dani Clos fell between Josef Kral and Luiz Razia. They went three-wide into the first corner – Luiz Razia came out on top while Clos caused Kral to spin and soon retired himself. Behind, Jolyon Palmer found himself in third place, with a few other drivers behind including GP3’s Tom Dillmann.
Max Chilton was another early retiree, as his brakes stopped working and he hit the barrier at turn one. Esteban Gutierrez had technical problems and finished a lap behind along with Stephane Richelmi.
During the race there were scraps up and down the field. Marcus Ericsson overtook his teammate and eventually finished fourth, but he was battling closely with Palmer through the final laps. Fifth was Kevin Ceccon, much improved since his first stint in GP2 earlier in the season. Then came three GP3 drivers – Tom Dillmann, Antonio Felix da Costa, and James Calado. But in my opinion Tom Dillmann has been the best of the rookies so far, displaying great pace throughout the weekend.
Fabio Leimer took the fastest lap on the way to victory, and Luiz Razia did not let him escape too far ahead. Jolyon Palmer also showed himself well with Addax as he took his first ever points finish and podium.

Tomorrow, the first three grid positions will be taken by Calado, da Costa and Dillmann. Good luck GP3 grads!

Razia, Chilton and Charouz in Abu Dhabi final

F1
Formula Renault 3.5’s 2011 champion Robert Wickens takes to the track for Marussia Virgin in the first practice session at Abu Dhabi next Friday. He will replace Jerome d’Ambrosio. The Canadian has shown great form over the past three years of racing, finishing second in GP3 and F2 before this year’s victory. It is unlikely that he will be an F1 driver next year, with GP2 being the most likely option, but he has the backing of Marussia. As the FR3.5 champion, he will also be taking part in the young drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi for Renault.

GP2
Kevin Ceccon will be taking part in the test as well, and like teammate Stefano Coletti will be in the Toro Rosso STR06. It’s a big step up for Ceccon, who only turned 18 this year and was moved into a GP2 seat after Davide Rigon’s accident. Though he wasn’t able to shine in GP2, he fought well in Auto GP to emerge victor in the final race of the season.
Carlin have announced that their full-time driver Max Chilton will be driving alongside Jan Charouz the Renault reserve and FR3.5 driver in the GP2 final. AirAsia have their driver Luiz Razia alongside Alexander Rossi for the final, and Razia will also be taking part in the F1 young drivers’ test for Team Lotus. Razia also took part last year for Virgin when he was their test driver.

Title deciding weekend – F2 and Auto GP

F2
The morning’s qualifying session saw Mihai Marinescu take pole for the first time this season, with Alex Brundle next door on the front row. Behind, Ramon Pineiro and championship leader Mirko Bortolotti shared the second row. The only remaining championship contender, Christopher Zanella, was on the third row ahead of Tobias Hegewald.
When the lights went out, Brundle took the lead from Marinescu, while Pineiro headed Bortolotti and Hegewald got ahead of Zanella. Marinescu got his position back after the first lap, but it remained tight between the pair while the Pineiro-Bortolotti and Hegewald-Zanella battles continued behind them.
About a third of the way into the race, Bortolotti got the better of Pineiro and prepared for his next goal – Brundle, who was slowly falling behind Marinescu. And Zanella behind knew he had to overtake Hegewald, to prevent the Austro-Italian from taking the title today should Bortolotti get Brundle.
Bortolotti soon closed on Brundle, and it was a tight battle between the pair for the remainder of the race. The Brit held on to second for all but the final lap, as he refused to give in to the pressure. But on the final lap, Bortolotti had his way as he got past Brundle and took a close second. Brundle took the final podium spot, while a trailing Pineiro came fourth. Zanella, who had overtaken Hegewald, had tried to fight with Pineiro but ended up fifth. Hegewald came sixth, with Thiemo Storz seventh, Jack Clarke eighth, Mikkel Mac ninth and Luciano Bacheta picking up the point for tenth after struggling all weekend.
If Zanella is to take the title, he will need Bortolotti to DNF all the remaining races, whilst winning them all himself. Not quite as hard as Jenson Button’s task in F1, but about as unlikely!

Auto GP
The penultimate race of a closely-fought championship took place today. Polesitter Adrien Tambay (son of Patrick Tambay) took the win, just ahead of GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi who had fought hard. Tambay is now fourth in the championship, and needs the win at least (he could also do with fastest lap) – plus disaster for his opponents – if he’s to take the title.
More likely to win are the top three. Leading the championship is Kevin Ceccon. Already the under-21 champion, he’s already taken part in the GP2 test he won. Ceccon came fourth in today’s race and will start fifth tomorrow with the reversed grid. Luca Filippi is in second – nine points behind Ceccon – and will start seventh tomorrow. In third is Sergei Afanasiev of Russia, who finished sixth today and starts third tomorrow. He is 11 points behind Ceccon.
Third-placed in today’s race was Fabio Onidi, who also took part in this week’s GP2 test. Eighth was Adam Carroll, who stalled on the grid but came back to take reversed pole tomorrow and also set the fastest lap.

Summer day 1 – Mikhail Aleshin and Kevin Ceccon

Mikhail Aleshin – 30
The Russian driver began the season with budget problems, and only completed the first two rounds for Carlin before being replaced by Oliver Turvey. When Alvaro Parente went to the Spa 24 hours, he was able to return for the Hungarian round. He has struggled in the races, with an accident in qualifying at Turkey causing him to miss both rounds there. In Barcelona, he had pretty miserable finishes, and in Hungary he had a midfield finish in the feature race and a retirement in the wet/dry/wet sprint race. When he wasn’t competing in GP2, he took part in Superleague Formula, finishing 3rd in the second race and 8th in the super final, and also in Formula Renault 3.5, the series he became champion of last season.

Best qualifying: 17
Worst qualifying: 23
Best finish: 15
Worst finish: 18
Retirements: 1

Kevin Ceccon – 29
Drafted in after Davide Rigon broke his leg in Turkey, the Italian became the youngest ever GP2 driver. Also competing in Auto GP, which he currently leads over Luca Filippi by two points, he has not found the GP2 cars easy to handle. However, it will be good experience for when he (presumably) returns next year.

Best qualifying: 17
Worst qualifying: 23
Best finish: 11
Worst finish: 20
Retirements: 2 (1 classified)