2011 review part 6 – Spain

The Spanish Grand Prix marked the real start to the European season. Traditionally the place where most teams bring out major upgrades to their cars, perhaps Williams could improve on their poor start to the season. Another hope was that DRS would not be as effective as in Turkey.

Mark Webber proved to be fastest in the first sessions, while Lotus got a huge boost in pace to leave the Virgins in the dust. The McLarens – particularly Hamilton – were able to come close to the Red Bull’s practice pace. Final practice saw Vettel fastest by less than a tenth from his teammate. Renault were more concerned with their car making it to qualifying, as an issue with their exhaust set Nick Heidfeld’s car on fire. This would go on to cause a Photoshop meme, with the German leaping away from the fire.

Come qualifying, there was hope from Lotus that Kovalainen at least would make Q2, and so it proved to be. This was mainly thanks to problems with Williams (Barrichello had technical problems and would start 19th) and Renault’s injured car. Jarno Trulli was fastest of the dropouts in 18th. Q2 saw the Force Indias choose hard tyres while Kovalainen went for it on soft tyres. This placed the Lotus fifteenth on the grid ahead of di Resta and Sutil. The Saubers and Toro Rossos also failed to make the final session, but Pastor Maldonado made it for struggling Williams.
In the final session, Vettel had no KERS for his single lap, and he almost made it to pole. But Webber, who had the boost, went faster by two tenths of a second. Third was Hamilton, while on home turf Alonso got into fourth. Petrov managed sixth ahead of Rosberg, while Massa would start a disappointing eighth. Behind came Maldonado, and in tenth – saving tyres for the race – was Michael Schumacher.

Race day, and Webber did not hold his lead as Vettel snatched it straight away. But he didn’t have it all his own way as Hamilton hounded him for two-thirds of the race. Only DRS’s ineffectiveness prevented Hamilton from getting that much-needed overtake on a track that has always been notoriously difficult in this area.
Alonso struggled on the Pirelli tyres, ending up fifth and the first of the lapped drivers. Webber and Button finished third and fourth to maintain their teams’ perfect total of laps completed thus far. Schumacher beat Rosberg, while Nick Heidfeld proved tyres were everything by finishing in the points from starting 24th. Both Saubers also got points.
Team Lotus’s Kovalainen had a rare crash while pushing hard on the circuit. He had been running well in a midfield position when he lost it and went into the wall. Retirements also came from Tonio Liuzzi and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian suffering from a gearbox problem.

The teams had to leave Barcelona quickly for Monaco, where the race weekend starts a day early and you have to fit in the track walk and setting everything up. Could Lotus continue to close on the midfield? Could Red Bull hold off McLaren? And how well would DRS work on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo?

[To be continued]

2011 review part 4 – China

China’s Grand Prix is usually wet, and after Vettel’s dominance in the first two races of the year it was hoped that the rain – along with the fast-wearing Pirelli tyres and DRS – would allow somebody else a chance to win. On the first day of practice heavy smog surrounded the circuit, but it cleared up as the race weekend progressed and did not cause too many visibility problems.

Red Bull dominated on the Friday with a massive lead from the McLarens and Nick Heidfeld’s Renault. The midfielders were joined by a surprisingly speedy Heikki Kovalainen, while at the back was HRT doing well to come close to the Virgins.
More surprises were to come on the Saturday, though not for pole position as Vettel made it three from three. Webber had been having car problems and only took one run in the session, on hard tyres. This was a surprising choice from Red Bull, but it was even more surprising when the Aussie could not even manage the 17th-fastest time. He was out in Q1. Q2 also saw a rather amusing sight. Petrov, putting some good laps in with his Renault, stopped on track after he made it into the top ten. The red flags came out with just over two minutes left on the clock. As the car was taken to safety, there was a huge queue for the pit exit. The lights went green, and the track exploded as cars raced to make it over the line before the chequered flag. All made it, but it was close.
Making it to Q3 were both Toro Rossos, with Jaime Alguersuari ahead of his Swiss teammate. The Mercedes of Nico Rosberg qualified 4th and well ahead of the Ferraris, but behind the McLaren pair. Paul di Resta squeezed in-between the two Toro Rossos to start 8th. Vitaly Petrov, unable to set a time, would start 10th.

Race day was dry, but Jenson Button put his all into the start to lead from Vettel after the first lap. This was a crucial move that would determine the fate of the race, as Vettel could not get enough lead to have a free strategy choice. The state of his tyres and KERS would decide what happened.
Mark Webber was determined to make up for qualifying with a storming drive that would take him from 18th to 3rd. The lead changed hands more than at any other race in the season, with Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Rosberg and Massa all taking their turn at the front and in total ten different leader changes. Button would not lead again after that first stint, but the work had been done. Red Bull’s two-stop strategy for Vettel failed to pay off, and Hamilton was closing in on him in the closing laps. With better tyres and a clever use of his KERS, Hamilton overtook with five laps to go. He maintained the lead as Vettel fell behind. The German managed to avoid being overtaken by his teammate, but it was a close thing.
Perez and Sutil had a tangle which left the Mexican with a drive-through penalty. The Sauber driver came home 17th behind Lotus’s Heikki Kovalainen but ahead of a struggling Pastor Maldonado. Though Williams had managed to get both cars home, it was obvious that their car had serious problems – and perhaps serious driver problems as well.
The only retirement came early in the race as Jaime Alguersuari’s tyre came off after a Toro Rosso pit stop error, yet the race was still exciting. For the first time a race had 23 classified finishers – a new record, emphasizing how reliable modern F1 cars are. For Narain Karthikeyan, not such a good record – the first driver to finish 23rd as he was overtaken by Tonio Liuzzi (recovering from a drive-through after a jump start) in the final lap.

Could McLaren continue to challenge Red Bull and prevent them from securing another constructor’s championship? And did Webber’s comeback make going out in Q1 to save tyres a good thing that could get you points?

[To be continued]

2011 review part 2 – Australia

It was worryingly close to the season start when HRT announced that Tonio Liuzzi had signed a contract with them for 2011. Sebastian Vettel signed a long-term contract with Red Bull, and Karun Chandhok became a reserve driver at Team Lotus. The circus headed across the sea to Australia, for the first race of the season. Back in England, as Team Lotus and Lotus Renault GP took to the track in F1, the court case between the two outfits over the use of the ‘Team Lotus’ name was about to go ahead.
On the 25th of March we got our first look at the post-testing cars, Pirelli tyres, and DRS. The Red Bulls were fastest in the first session, with Webber ahead of Vettel on home turf. Alonso was third, Rosberg fourth, Barrichello fifth and the two McLarens following. The fastest Renault was Petrov, with Massa slower and Heidfeld slower still. It still seemed the Williams had pace. In the second session it was the two McLarens fastest, and the top seven were separated by less than a second. Sauber’s new driver, Sergio Perez, impressed with his time. He was eighth-fastest, ahead of Barrichello and Rosberg. On the Saturday, Sauber’s pace continued to impress as Kobayashi got into the top ten again, and Petrov was fifth-fastest in the Renault. This time, Williams were nowhere to be seen. And then it was qualifying…
Taking pole position was Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton second but much slower. Webber didn’t quite meet his teammate’s time and started third. Vitaly Petrov got into Q3, but teammate Nick Heidfeld had a dreadful qualifying, becoming the first ‘fall guy’ alongside the two Lotuses and Virgins. HRT, whose car was not ready in time, failed to qualify at all. It would be the only time the 107% rule would be applied in the season.

In the race, neither Williams nor Mercedes finished. The Williams both had mechanical issues, while Schumacher had a puncture and Rosberg was too damaged from an accident. Heikki Kovalainen had a water leak that caused the Team Lotus driver to retire as well.
Despite driving most of the race with damage on the floor of his car, Lewis Hamilton came home second behind Sebastian Vettel. Vitaly Petrov managed third to stun the crowd, coming ahead of Fernando Alonso. Jenson Button, however, had less luck. Stuck behind Felipe Massa, he struggled to overtake for a long time. Eventually he cut a corner, getting him in front but resulting in a drive-through penalty as he refused to give the position back. The Saubers also impressed, with rookie Perez managing a one-stop strategy to perfection and finishing just ahead of his teammate. But the car broke the FIA regulations and to the disappointment of everyone, the Saubers were disqualified. This allowed Force India rookie Paul di Resta to score points on his debut instead. Perez and di Resta looked set to be the star rookies of 2011.

With the Australian Grand Prix over, Vettel led the championship. But could he retain his title? Could Renault continue to challenge the top teams? And could Sauber come out leaders of the midfield?

[To be continued]

F1 report – Abu Dhabi

Sunday was a bad day for Sebastian Vettel. First he had trouble with his hire car when entering the circuit – specifically, locking it! And when he began the race, he made it less than two corners before getting a puncture. Lewis Hamilton cannot have believed his luck as he saw the Red Bull spin off. Though Vettel made it back to the pits, he had damaged his suspension too much to continue.
Hamilton took his chance as his teammate was overtaken by Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard pushed hard all race, and at one point he came close to the Brit, but was unable to get there in the end. Behind, Jenson Button could not keep up due to a KERS failure in the first half of the race. He took the third spot on the podium.
One driver down, Red Bull botched Webber’s first stop and ended up moving him to a three-stop strategy. He went onto soft tyres for the first three stints, then did the final lap on hard tyres. This strategy allowed him to beat Felipe Massa, but I am sure the Aussie would much rather not have been racing the Brazilian, who as usual was in a race of his own.
Rosberg came home first in the Mercedes, with Sutil eighth and di Resta ninth on a failed one-stop strategy. Unfortunately, the Force India was just too hard on its tyres.
First of the lapped drivers was Kobayashi, scoring a rare point for Sauber, and Perez was eleventh. Barrichello finished 12th having started last, and behind him was Petrov. In fourteenth and fifteenth were Maldonado and Alguersuari. Maldonado was penalised twice for ignoring blue flags, the second time resulting in a stop-and-go penalty that became 30s of added time. Alguersuari had a drive-through for the same reason. Sixteenth was Senna, who also had a drive-through for ignoring blue flags and finished three seconds ahead of Kovalainen. Just as in Singapore, the Lotus was closing on the Renault in the final lap.
Trulli, who was ill this weekend, finished over a minute behind his teammate. Glock and Liuzzi followed the Italian home. Aside from Vettel, the retirements were Jerome d’Ambrosio, Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo. All suffered mechanical failures.

In the news, reliable journalist Joe Saward has reported that Charles Pic will be driving for Marussia next season alongside Timo Glock. The French driver had a great season in GP2, driving for team champions Addax. He won twice, also finishing second on three occasions. He took pole in Valencia, at the Nurburgring and at Monza, and had only two points less than runner-up Luca Filippi at the end of the season. The French press have also reported this, and the driver will not be testing with Team Lotus as he was initially going to. Instead, Rodolfo Gonzalez will be in the car.
Meanwhile, with Renault confirming that Robert Kubica almost certainly not going to be driving at the start of the season, it seems most likely that Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean will be driving for Lotus next year. (Renault, of course, will become Lotus after the end of this season)

Business as usual for Vettel

F1
Vettel on pole, Williams having problems, Force India not really trying in Q3… nothing new then. But it was an incredibly exciting qualifying session. Heikki Kovalainen had a chance at Q2 with Rubens Barrichello’s car problems not allowing him to run, but was unable to get ahead of Schumacher. Daniel Ricciardo beat his teammate again, showing good form in the HRT.
In Q2, a red flag halted a fast lap from Vettel. It had been caused by an unnamed driver taking out one of the bollards, which was left dangerously in the middle of the track. Hamilton went fastest, setting a 1:38.4. Pastor Maldonado finished 17th, which will demote him to 23rd tomrrow after his grid penalty. Two Williams on the back of the grid is very much symbolic of the team’s terrible 2011 season. Neither Sauber, Renault or Toro Rosso made it through to the final session, leaving five teams to challenge for top spot.
But realistically it came down to the McLarens and Vettel. After the first set of hot laps, it was close, and then they went out again. Button was first, Hamilton second, and Vettel a good way behind them all in clear space. First, Button took P1, then Hamilton. Hope filled McLaren despite Hamilton’s lap not being as good as his Q2 time. But then, Vettel did it again. He went a few hundredths slower than the Brit’s Q2 time, but it didn’t matter. He was still on pole.

GP2
Simon Trummer and Fabio Onidi have both been penalised following today’s race. Simon Trummer receives a 10-place grid penalty for tomorrow after a collision with Jake Rosenzweig that took both of them out; Fabio Onidi was discovered to have been ignoring yellow flags and has twenty seconds added to his race time in place of a drive-through penalty.

Leimer takes debut pole at Abu Dhabi

F1
First, the news. GP2’s Johnny Cecotto, Jr. will be joining Max Chilton in driving the VJM04 at the young drivers’ test next week. For Virgin there will be Robert Wickens (who is also driving for Renault), Charles Pic (who is likely to be driving for them in F1 next year) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.

Today was free practice, and three drivers were being replaced for the first session – Romain Grosjean replaced Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne replaced Sebastien Buemi, and Robert Wickens replaced Jerome d’Ambrosio. Plenty of cars were spinning – both Ferraris, Kovalainen and Glock amongst others. Fastest overall was Jenson Button, with Webber second and Hamilton third. Rubens Barrichello finally wore out his engine, and will bring his eighth into service for the remainder of the weekend. Pastor Maldonado is on his ninth engine, and will incur a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday.
The second session had no real incidents until about 30 minutes from the end. Sebastian Vettel locked up into turn one, and about ten minutes later Fernando Alonso went into the same turn too quickly. Both drivers slid into the barrier. Vettel has always taken pole when he crashes on Friday (Canada, Turkey and Japan), though only once has he converted that into a victory. The Red Bull wasn’t really damaged, and the car was returned quickly so Vettel was able to get back on track. Meanwhile, Ferrari weren’t able to get their car back on time to complete the session. Fastest in the end was Hamilton, second Button, and third Alonso.

GP2
The GP2 cars are also on track this weekend for their non-championship race. The last time GP2 cars came to Yas Marina was for the first round of the GP2 Asia championship. Jules Bianchi, who is not racing this weekend, won the feature race. Stefano Coletti, who is racing this weekend, won the sprint.
But in this morning’s practice session it was Esteban Gutierrez who went fastest, with Fabio Leimer second and Tom Dillmann third, and the only GP3 driver in the top ten. Nathanael Berthon in seventh was the fastest of the Formula Renault drivers. Meanwhile, Giacomo Ricci and Nicholas Marroc both received 10-place grid penalties for the feature race after ignoring yellow flags.
Qualifying saw Dani Clos, Josef Kral and Fabio Leimer fight over pole. It was Leimer who eventually took it after a red flag was caused by Esteban Gutierrez. It is the Swiss driver’s first pole in GP2. Clos took second with Kral third, Razia fourth. The first GP2 newbie was Tom Dillmann, still showing incredible pace and starting ninth tomorrow ahead of his iSport teammate Marcus Ericsson. James Calado qualified 12th but will start 11th after Ricci’s penalty, with Nigel Melker right behind him. The fastest Formula Renault driver is Alex Rossi, who will start 14th.

Vettel and Bortolotti dominate in India and Spain

What a day! Formula One completed the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix (won, as expected, in a dominant fashion by Sebastian Vettel) and the F2 championship was completed.

F1
The sun was shining through the haze as twenty-four cars set off for the first corner. But only 23 made it through as Kamui Kobayashi got into an incident with a few other drivers including Barrichello and Glock. Barrichello pitted for a new front wing, and despite attempting to continue, Glock retired on lap two.
There was a second incident at the next corner, and Jarno Trulli received a puncture from one of the HRTs. He drove slowly back to the pits, but ended up finishing the race two laps behind Daniel Ricciardo. Trulli’s teammate Kovalainen, howver, had a good race. For the first half he scrapped with the back of the midfield, but after changing to hard tyres he could not keep in touch with Petrov, Perez and di Resta. The trio had got their hard tyre stint done in the first lap, which paid off in the form of a point for Perez.
The Toro Rossos had plenty of wings, and though Sebastien Buemi had a failure which forced him to retire, Jaime Alguersuari finished eighth. This puts the team level with Sauber on points, though Sauber are ahead due to a fifth-place finish for Kobayashi. Renault weren’t so lucky. Senna was running well but needed to use the hard tyre. He had to pit in the final few laps, losing him the chance of a point, while Petrov was unable to overtake Perez.
Schumacher had a brilliant start and finished fifth with teammate Rosberg unable to keep up. Rosberg was sixth. Behind them came Lewis Hamilton, who once again came off badly after an incident with Felipe Massa. It is astonishing how regularly they have collided this year. Massa was penalised with a drive-through, but later retired after breaking his suspension on one of the kerbs. The other driver who retired was Pastor Maldonado, who has been having problems all weekend. He also had a mechanical failure.
Sharing the podium with Vettel were Jenson Button – who had a relatively quiet race after being troubled by Webber – and Fernando Alonso who undercut Webber in the pits. If Red Bull are going to get Mark into second in the championship, it is going to be hard work; he is 19 points behind Button and 6 behind Alonso. The way Button has been running recently, he is most likely not to lose out to the Aussie or the Spaniard. As for Hamilton, he is 38 points behind Button. This is very likely to be the first season he is beaten by his teammate.
Elsewhere, the Renaults finished 11th and 12th, di Resta came home 13th ahead of Kovalainen, and the two HRTs finished behind d’Ambrosio in 17th and 18th for Karthikeyan and Ricciardo respectively. The Indian should consider this to be a good race.

F2
Two spectacular dominating races for Mirko Bortolotti saw him top the podium in Barcelona on Saturday and Sunday, starting each from pole. Second on Saturday was Miki Monras, who found himself in a no-man’s land between Bortolotti and his fellow-countryman Ramon Pineiro who came third. Pineiro was in a similar state. On Sunday, Pineiro came second, once again running a lonely race. Behind him, however, Mihai Marinescu fended off Monras for third. It was not enough for Pineiro to take second in the championship, but he did take a well-deserved third and will soon get to test a GP2 car along with Christopher Zanella. Bortolotti, however, will be packing for Abu Dhabi where he will participare in the young drivers’ test with Williams.
There was not a huge amount of overtaking in the race, but Mikkel Mac managed a spectacular pass on Jack Clarke. Alex Brundle finishes the season top Brit after a tough year. He has only two points more than Jack Clarke, and ten more than Will Bratt who probably would have been a championship challenger if he had been able to continue. Full championship listings will be found on this website in a few days’ time.