The GP2 sprint race in Malaysia was well worth waking up early for, with some of the best driving seem on track so far this year. Polesitter Calado led the cars around, but it was always close between him and his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The British rookie, taking part in only his fourth GP2 race (including the final), took his second victory. Gutierrez was also followed closely, with reigning British F3 champion Felipe Nasr always on the lookout for an overtaking opportunity. Though Nasr didn’t manage it, he did take his first GP2 podium.
Giedo van der Garde had a cracking start and soon found himself overtaking Fabio Leimer for fourth, while Stefano Coletti struggled somewhat. Coletti had difficulties with his car, and retired in the closing laps. Behind Leimer, there was some fantastic racing between Valsecchi and Razia, with Chilton close behind. Razia did a fantastic job of defending from the Italian, and overtook Leimer in the final laps. Valsecchi ran wide trying to overtake his former teammate, came back on track and was clipped by Marcus Ericsson. The DAMS rolled, while Ericsson stopped on track. Both drivers were fine, and the iSport car was cleared incredibly quickly with no need for a safety car.
This let Max Chilton and Nathanael Berthon get up behind Razia – at this point in eighth and ninth. The trio were catching Coletti, and Razia quickly overtook. Behind, an incredible scrap for the final two points positions took place. So far, this is one of the best pieces of driving I have seen in 2012. Chilton tried to overtake Coletti, and while the Monegasque driver was defending the Carlin, Berthon got ahead of both of them, then Chilton came back and overtook Berthon leaving Coletti behind. At this point the Coloni was struggling, however, and soon fell back.
Out of the points, Tom Dillmann was showing his potential with some great overtaking. Ricardo Teixeira was struggling to race against himself, let alone other drivers.
Luiz Razia now leads the championship with Valsecchi second and Calado third. But anything could happen between now and the end of the season. It’s a long one, with rounds to come at Bahrain and Singapore as well as the usual European races. It is going to be great!
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.
Having picked up 12 points at the opening weekend of the 2012 Auto GP season with Euronova, Antonio Spavone headed to Barcelona today to test – and sign – for Trident Racing. He will be teammate to Vicky Piria. Spavone, who drove in both Formula Arbath series last year, and is seventeen years old.
The young Italian was not the star of today’s tests, however. That was Kiwi Mitch Evans, who shone last season and seems set to do so again. Also on form was Formula Renault UK graduate Tio Ellinas, who looks set to be the rookie of the season – and a championship challenger. German Daniel Abt was also on form for Lotus GP. Matias Laine has been having a good start to the season and set the second-fastest time in the afternoon.
Tomorrow, Aaro Vainio returns to Lotus GP while Yann Zimmer replaces Tom Blomqvist.
It’s sad that Mucke Motorsport have not been present at the tests. We can only hope that they or a replacement team are found soon.
HRT passed their crash tests, and hope to be present for at least some of the final test session in Barcelona. Marussia, however, were not so lucky. They have failed their final crash test and will not be able to properly test the car until first practice in Melbourne.
A clarification of F1 regulations means that Red Bull and Ferrari will only be able to test their cars from Thursday until Sunday. Teams are not allowed to test in the week before the first race of the season, which the teams believed meant from the Monday before the race. However, the regulations have been clarified to mean the first Monday-Sunday week without an event before the first race of the season. This also means that Lotus will not be able to have five days of testing after they missed out at the last test.
As testing commences, more drivers have been confirmed. Luiz Razia has changed to Arden, while Caterham brings in their F1 tester Giedo van der Garde, and Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez.
Present at the test but not confirmed for 2012 are Nathanael Berthon (Racing Engineering), Dani Clos and Daniel de Jong (Rapax), Vittorio Ghirelli (Lazarus) and Tom Dillmann (Ocean Racing Tech).
This morning the fastest driver was DAMS’s Davide Valsecchi, second was Fabio Onidi (Trident), third was 2010 F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer (iSport). Palmer’s teammate Marcus Ericsson was fourth-fastest. Notably both Lotus GP/ART drivers set great times, with Gutierrez fifth and GP3 graduate Calado sixth.
The first big piece of news today was that KMP Racing have been renamed Team RFR – Russia France Racing. The team will field a pair of Russian drivers in the 2012 championship – 2010 champion Mikhail Aleshin, and Anton Neybilitskiy. Neybilitskiy has managed one podium in the series so far, and with only average results in his two completed seasons, he will be hoping for better this year.
Nick Yelloly, who had a great part-season alongside his GP3 races last year, has signed for British team Comtec, who came last in the championship with only two points. With Yelloly, they will hope for much better.
Testing continued in Estoril for the second and final day, and once again the drivers were showing a strong hand. Finnish driver Aaro Vainio was fastest, beating Nico Muller’s time from yesterday by one second. Tio Ellinas was second-fastest, the Cypriot showing just how good British racing series are at training young drivers (he graduates from Formula Renault UK). Ellinas was also fastest in the afternoon, though he could not match his morning time. Other drivers who shone were Mitch Evans, Conor Daly and Antonio Felix da Costa. Not all these drivers have been signed for 2012, and it its hoped that they soon will be, because they could make this an incredibly close and hard-fought championship to rival last season.
Times mean nothing in F1 testing. Lotus were of course not present after the problems of day one. Toro Rosso were also struggling, causing two red flags though one was deliberately caused by running out of fuel. Petrov had his first day in the Caterham and was doing okay. Fastest overall was Nico Hulkenberg, the Force India continuing to put in good times.
F2 announced its first driver today with Luciano Bacheta, a British racer of Indian and Italian descent. In 2011, Bacheta began in GP3, taking fifth in the Silverstone feature race having started 24th after a great decision to start on wet tyres. He left GP3 to compete in a part-season of F2, taking top-ten finishes in all his races including a best of fifth in the second race at Monza. He beat Jordan King, who also had four top-ten finishes, by a single point, and only lost out to Thiemo Storz, who was doing a complete season, by the same amount.
Bacheta, who will be driving the number four car, said on Twitter “It’s confirmed, I’m racing F2 this year!!! So happy and excited for the season :-).” (@LucianoBacheta)
Also confirmed today was Johnny Cecotto, Jr., who will be driving for Addax in the 2012 GP2 season. The German-born Venezuelan who is the son of motorbike champion Johnny Cecotto will be entering his third full season in the sport.
Finn Aaro Vainio, meanwhile, continues his GP3 campaign as Lotus confirm he will be partnering Daniel Abt at the team. Vainio picked up 12 points last season, including third in the Barcelona feature race. Though his results were inconsistent, this should improve with the change of team.
It was revealed in this week’s Autosport magazine that the strictly-imposed GP3 three-car limit will be loosened from the coming season, with only two cars being a requirement and the third being optional. In the past, teams have struggled to find a third driver for their team, but in order to avoid fines have had to operate over a race weekend at a loss. Hopefully many of the ten teams will still run three cars, and there are certainly enough drivers out there who are willing to get into GP3. This should help, however, to prevent some drivers trailing a long way behind the others.
The Tech 1 team, who last year had to find a replacement for Italian driver Andrea Caldarelli (he left to race in Japan), welcomed the announcement. GP3 CEO Bruno Michel said that the reason for the change was to help make sure the teams could continue in the series.
In other news, Kevin Korjus has re-signed with Tech 1 in Formula Renault 3.5. The Estonian won three races last season and finished sixth in the championship.
The GP3 branch of Lotus GP (formerly known as ART) has signed German racing driver Daniel Abt for 2012. Abt was consistently quick in post-season testing, and the team can clearly see the potential for their third successive champion in him.
F1 teams have been announcing their launch dates, which I will put in a separate post and stick to the front of this blog so you can check it.