Auto GP drivers join F2 ranks

F2
Having competed in the first three rounds of Auto GP, and picking up reasonable results in the first two of those rounds, Max Snegirev returns to Formula Two for its remaining rounds. With F2’s round at Paul Ricard clashing with Auto GP at Curitiba (Brazil) on July 20-22, he could still compete in the majority of the Auto GP season, though it would create a rather hectic timetable. Max picked up 14 points in last year’s F2 season, but the smaller field should allow him to pick up more points this year.
He will have competition from another driver in this year’s Auto GP championship, Victor Guerin. Guerin has been Adrian Quaife-Hobbs’ teammate at Super Nova, and has struggled in comparison to the Brit, only taking two fifth-place finishes. Guerin has a good record, however, and will hopefully do well.

With Paul Ricard returning as an F1 track from next year, F2 now has six F1 tracks on its calendar, alongside Brands Hatch and the Algarve. F2 is at the Algarve circuit this coming weekend, with live TV coverage on the F2 website as well as on Motors TV.

GP2
The F1 feeder series is back this weekend as well, with its back-to-back rounds at Sakhir. It will be a standalone event, with practice, qualifying and race one on Friday, followed by race two on Saturday. As usual, every session will be on Sky TV. Hopefully, Jon Lancaster will be back but we shall just have to see.

F1
Testing in Mugello starts soon: May 1st-3rd, to be exact. Originally planning to run Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey, it seems McLaren may need to give Lewis Hamilton some running time as well after Bahrain (though honestly I think it’s their pit stops, not their drivers, who need testing time). Jerome d’Ambrosio will get a day in the Lotus E20 before Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. Other teams have yet to confirm their lineups.

As mentioned above, Bernie Ecclestone has done a deal to secure Paul Ricard as a Grand Prix venue for the future. It will alternate with another track – presumably Spa – and have its first race next season.

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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.

Valsecchi dominates at Jerez

GP2
After the final day of GP2 testing, new DAMS signing Davide Valsecchi has proved to be the most consistent and fastest driver – leading on all three days. The question is, can DAMS win a second driver’s championship with the Italian? If he wins, he could well become the next Italian in F1 – though Italians have a bad record when it comes to transferring between the series.
Of the GP3 graduates taking part, James Calado was one of the most impressive. Van der Garde was doing well for Caterham, while Stefano Coletti shone for Coloni. Max Chilton showed much improvement on 2011, and Carlin also have improved as they come to their second year (with a little help from Marussia). I expect we will see a good showing from all 2010 and 2011 GP3 graduates, but also from F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer who is doing well with iSport.
There’s another GP2 test at Barcelona next week before they all head out to Malaysia for the first round of the season.

IndyCar
Rubens Barrichello’s CV boasts Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn and Williams. Now, F1’s most experienced driver can add KV Racing to that list. The Brazilian today announced that he would be racing a full season for the IndyCar team, taking to ovals for the first time. Barrichello admitted to a little help from his kids in persuading their Mum that he could race. He will be partnering his close friend Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan EJ Viso. The team also drove with three drivers last year – Kanaan, Viso and another ex-F1 driver in Takuma Sato. Mika Salo also drove for the team in four races in 2003, back in the days of Champ Car.
KV were supported by Lotus in 2011, but will use Chevrolet engines this season despite the British marque supplying engines to the series. According to the IndyCar website, Barrichello will take number 8 on his car.

F1
The first day of testing, and Heikki Kovalainen was unable to take part due to food poisoning (apparently from one of the team’s sponsor’s!). The mechanics got the car sorted for Vitaly Petrov and he did a full day of running, taking the second-highest lap tally. It was Rosberg who did the most laps, with nearly 130. Fastest of all was Grosjean, with Button second. Williams only managed a small number of laps with Maldonado for unspecified reasons.
HRT hope to get on track by Sunday, while Kovalainen will be back tomorrow (Friday). Kamui Kobayashi was also ill today, but hopefully he will be well by the time he’s needed.

FR 3.5
Andre Negrao and Nico Muller have been confirmed at Draco for 2012. Muller is a GP3 graduate, winning three races in the series and coming 3rd in 2010 (4th in 2011). He won the Silverstone feature race where unexpected rain caused a mass pit stop at the start of the race – all seven other drivers who scored points were British. Brazilian Negrao enters his second year of the series, and with Draco, having graduated from the Eurocup at the end of 2010.

Cassidy joins Fortec in Eurocup

As the second F1 and first GP3 tests get going today, it’s time to talk about the news that’s been released over the last few days.

FR Eurocup
British team Fortect have announced that Nick Cassidy – deserved winner of the Toyota Racing Series – will be driving for them in Eurocup Formula Renault this year. There are a strong team of drivers in this year’s Eurocup, including several FRUK graduates, so it will be a great challenge for Cassidy.

GP3
Testing today saw strong performances from Mitch Evans (MW Arden) and Nico Muller (testing for Trident) in Estoril. Other drivers who did well included Antonio Felix da Costa (testing for Carlin), Aaro Vainio (Lotus GP) and Tio Ellinas (Manor). In total 25 drivers took part in the test, with Mucke Motorsport absent, while Tech 1 and Atech only fielded two drivers each.

F1
After a few laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, Romain Grosjean was uncomfortable with the feel of the E20 chassis that had been upgraded from the one used in Jerez. Lotus believe this to be an issue with the chassis, and have pulled out of this week’s test.
Fastest today was Sebastian Vettel, but Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was close behind. Times, of course, mean nothing, but Nico has been making positive noises about the car. Caterham had a problem with a broken track rod that left the CT-01 stranded on the final corner, but got just under an hour of running at the end of the test with Heikki Kovalainen. Daniel Ricciardo also caused a red flag in the STR7.
The new Mercedes was put through its paces by Michael Schumacher, whilst Charles Pic put in 121 laps as he got used to driving an F1 car. Marussia are still using the MVR02. Lewis Hamilton also put in over 100 laps, coming third-fastest in the McLaren.

Williams have hired former F1 and current WEC driver Alex Wurz as a driver coach for their team. They have a young duo in terms of races, as well as the inexperienced Valtteri Bottas as reserve driver. It is not common for teams to hire driver coaches, but hopefully this will have a positive effect on Maldonado and Senna.

Raikkonen goes fastest on first day back

In the world of motor racing, today has been quiet… well, as quiet as it gets on the first day of an F1 test! After Williams launched their FW34, featuring the all-familiar stepped nose, it was time to take to the track. First up, and continuing a tradition from last season, Caterham were first on the track with Heikki Kovalainen.
But the first flyer was Kimi Raikkonen, quickly getting up to speed in the E20. He went fastest overall, though not much more than Paul di Resta in the Force India. We cannot get the whole picture from testing, of course. As I am sure you have already heard, Williams were fastest at Jerez last year, but had their worst season of all time in 2011. Many teams will be sandbagging, and others will face unexpected problems – the Caterham, for example, was prevented from running by a broken starter shaft. Red Bull were also late in starting, after parts were held up by heavy fog.

First Impressions
Kovalainen’s shortened time in the CT01 today (he’ll be back tomorrow, with van der Garde in on Thursday followed by Trulli on Friday) was enough for him to get a reasonable impression of the new car. The Finn said “The steering feels slightly more precise. I have only done three laps so I can’t really tell more but, so far, positive feeling.” This will be good news for Trulli, so long as the rumours of his replacement do not come true.
Franz Tost, the Toro Rosso boss, believes Caterham have what it takes to be a midfield team in 2012, stating them as one of their main competitors in 2012. They also believe they will be up against Sauber and Force India. It is interesting to note that Williams were not mentioned here.
The smooth-nosed McLaren has pleased Button, who said that there weren’t so many downforce issues as expected after the removal of blown diffusers. The team hope to have a much better testing session than last year, where difficulties left them far behind where they had hoped to be by the start of the season.
Schumacher – who drove half a day in the 2011 Mercedes – expressed his pleasure with the new rear tyres from Pirelli, saying that they were more consistent than 2011’s.

The only team not present at the test was Marussia, who will probably be at Barcelona. HRT hope to pass the final crash tests soon, which means their car should also be ready for the next test. The most laps today were completed by Kamui Kobayashi and Paul di Resta, while Kovalainen and Maldonado completed the least. I am not sure why Williams did such little running. Unsurprisingly, Pedro de la Rosa was slowest in the 2011 HRT.

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.

MW Arden completes Laine-up

It’s a few months until the first GP3 race of 2012, but MW Arden aren’t hanging around. The Australian team have chosen to fill all three of their driver slots, placing Finn Matias Laine alongside Mitch Evans and David Fumanelli. Laine has one year of GP3 experience, though he failed to finish higher than 14th last season. He has also participated in Formula Renault UK and the F3 Euroseries.

In other news, Pirelli have launched their 2012 F1 tyres. The colourings on the dry tyres will be similar to 2011, but the wet tyres have changed with the intermediate going from blue to green while the wet goes from orange to blue. The compounds will also be softer, with the new soft tyre closer to 2011’s super-soft. This is designed create more challenging and interesting racing, though as teams are allowed more flexibility on weight distribution this year they should overcome some wear problems.
Former Virgin (now Marussia) driver Jerome d’Ambrosio has signed with Lotus (formerly Renault, as I have to keep reminding myself) as third driver for 2012. The Belgian will be present at every Grand Prix next season, on hand in case one of them is unable to race for some reason.
It is rumoured that Rubens Barrichello will be testing the DW12 – the new Indycar chassis – in the next few days. It would be good to see the Brazilian continue his motorsport career, and if he does race then he will certainly improve IndyCar’s international viewing figures (especially from Brazil). It will be the first time in a while that an experienced and proven F1 driver has gone to the series, which has one round in Sau Paulo. Indy is not as lucrative as F1, and there is a shadow over it since the death of Dan Wheldon last season. Perhaps his wife might prefer it if he retired! You can take the driver out of racing, but you can’t take racing out of the driver. Even Stirling Moss only hung up his gloves last year. I say, keep going Rubinho!