New test driver for Marussia

F1
Marussia have announced their new test driver for the 2012 season: Maria de Villota. Maria had initially tried for the Renault team, but the Spanish driver has ended up at the Sheffield-based team instead. Since she does not qualify for a super license yet (she needs more test mileage), the team will probably have to find another reserve driver.
Maria participated in the first round of the truncated 2011 Superleague Formula series, finishing 12th in both races to take home Spain’s only points in the series. She also participated in the 2010 season for Athletico Madrid, picking up several top-ten finishes in her races (though she was also excluded from one round for crashing into Sebastien Bourdais).

Pirelli also had news today, with the team gaining a new test car from Renault. The R30 – two-year-old predecessor to the Lotus E20 – will be in their hands for tyre tests throughout 2012. This is the car that was driven by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, gaining three podium positions.

GP2
Today was the second of three testing days for the series, and 2010 GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez at Lotus GP set the pace in the morning. He was unbeaten by the afternoon times. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde was only four thousandths slower, and Carlin’s Max Chilton was four thousandths slower than the Dutchman. Davide Valsecchi was 15 thousandths slower than Gutierrez for DAMS, before a slightly bigger gap to Stefano Coletti. Those top four were the only ones who made it into the 1:28 lap times, and look set to be title contenders this year. Fabrizio Crestani put Lazarus into the top ten as well. Race simulations were the order of the afternoon, which saw some rookie faces in the top ten – notably Jon Lancaster and Ricardo Teixeira who have not typically been high on the timesheets.

GP3
Tiago Monteiro’s Ocean Racing Technology have replaced Tech 1 in the bottom tier of F1’s support races. Ocean, who have signed GP3 graduate Nigel Melker and Jon Lancaster in their GP2 squad, have been showing interest in the series. Tech 1 began the 2011 season of GP3 well, with a win in the second sprint from Tamas Pal Kiss, but the loss of Andrea Caldarelli didn’t help and they struggled for the remainder of the races. They have a better record in Formula Renault 3.5, where they will be running Jules Bianchi alongside Kevin Korjus this year.

(Part 1/2)

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Alguersuari joins the BBC

F1
Dumped Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has a new job. His voice will soon be broadcast throughout the UK on BBC Radio 5 Live as he becomes the station’s expert F1 analyst – a role previously held by Sky’s Anthony Davidson. Alguersuari has a clear desire to return to F1, and this will give him every opportunity to stay around the paddock; he will be karting throughout the year to help keep up his physical training, and no doubt he will also do some DJing.
Whilst it’s not the best place to be in, it could be much worse for the Spaniard – who became the youngest ever to start an F1 race in 2009. Hopefully he will adapt well to radio, and soon be back on track. He was regarded by fans as a great prospect, and at only 21 he has a good chance of a return. Meanwhile, I will look forward to hearing him for the first race of the season.

Marussia also presented good news today, as their car passed the final crash test. It’s been a hard winter, but now they are ready for Melbourne.

GP2
It was a choppy 2011 for new Ocean Racing signing Jon Lancaster. The Brit participated in the F2 round at Magny-Cours, finishing both times in the points, but dropped out of the series. He then moved to Auto GP, participating in four races. He scored in all four of them, including a win and fastest lap at Donnington Park. But it’s hard to find sponsorship, and Lancaster was struggling. However, the Brit now has an opportunity to shine with what will hopefully be a full season at GP2.

The GP2s were testing in Barcelona today, and Fabrizio Crestani surprised everyone by going fastest for new team Lazarus. Carlin’s Max Chilton was fastest in the afternoon – a great improvement on 2011, as the team get used to the series. Second was Julian Leal, with Marcus Ericsson third. James Calado continued to be the best of the GP3 graduates, and he has a good chance of being a rookie champion.

Auto GP
This series gets under way in just a few days at Monza, supporting the WTCC. A few drivers have been confirmed, including Max Snegirev, Pal Varhaug and Daniel de Jong. The strange make-up of the calendar may be somewhat off-putting to drivers, but more should be revealed in the next few days.

IndyCar
2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi has confirmed that he will be participating in the IndyCar championship this year from the Indy 500. He will be driving at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which have Honda engines, alongside former F1 star Takuma Sato.

Silverstone is on for FR 3.5!

FR 3.5
For a long time, there have been questions about the presence of Silverstone in the World Series by Renault calendar this year. A round had been declared for 25th-26th August, but with no location given. Was the track to be left off the calendar? It seemed even more likely with the WEC’s 6 Hours of Silverstone set for that weekend.
However, today it was revealed that Formula Renault 3.5 will be supporting the WEC event that weekend, which is great news for British fans who can go and see Sam Bird, Nick Yelloly and other great drivers. It remains to be seen whether the series will be able to offer free tickets as they have done in the past, but I hope so!

Eurocup
Formula Renault Eurocup, which will not be present at Silverstone, is testing for two days at Paul Ricard. There’s a huge number of drivers who are going to be there, and you can follow the progress on the WSR Twitter account @WSR_Live.

F2
According to F2 commentator Jack Nicholls, drivers are set to be announced over the next few weeks. He said, “Some interesting drivers are set to be announced for #F2 in the coming weeks. It’s going to be a very competitive season.” (@Jack_Nicholls) The first test is coming up at Silverstone on March 26th.

GP2
The teams get back to work tomorrow with three days at the Circuit de Catalunya. Many of the drivers were already out at the track, either with F1 teams or just to watch testing before they have their own turn. Giancarlo Serenelli (winner of the (South American) Latam Challenge Series and third in the SEAT Leon Super Cup Mexico) will be with Lazarus, Jon Lancaster – who had a brief spell in F2 last year – will be with Ocean, Sergio Canamasas and former Caterham test driver Ricardo Teixeira will be with Rapax.

F1
Marussia launched their smooth-nosed MR01 today at Silverstone. The car is not yet ready to race, still with crash tests to pass despite the first race being 13 days away! HRT also launched at Barcelona, with Narain Karthikeyan driving the few laps allowed. Pedro de la Rosa was also there, of course, as was former HRT driver Tonio Liuzzi. The HRT’s livery is fantastic – white, gold and maroon. In the end, livery doesn’t get you points, but the fact that their car is ready before FP1 is a real step up for the Spanish outfit despite a troubled winter.

d’Ambrosio gets Pic-axe

(I stole the title from someone else!)

It was an emotional Brazilian Grand Prix. For Jerome d’Ambrosio, it will most likely be his final F1 race unless he can go somewhere next season. He has been replaced at Marussia by excellent French GP2 driver Charles Pic. D’Ambrosio competed well against his German teammate, helped a bit by the car being more reliable. He finished 14th twice, with Glock’s best being 15th.

The race today was full of tension, but despite attempts by Jessica Michibata to perform the McLaren Rain Dance, none fell. Taking the lead from the start was polesitter Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber close behind. Alonso got between the two McLarens, but nobody could keep up with the Red Bulls. Early on, Vettel had gearbox problems, and though he held on, he lost some time to Webber. The Aussie took the lead, making it the first time both Red Bulls have led in the same race for the entirety of 2011.
Behind, Alonso overtook Button with a daring move arund the outside that will definitely go down as one of the best overtakes of the season. Towards the end of the race, the situation reversed itself as DRS and KERS brought Button back to third. The gap to Vettel was too far for the Brit to catch up in the remaining laps, and he settled for the bottom step of the podium.
In fifth came Felipe Massa. He had been having an okay race, not getting into trouble. Stopping later than most other drivers, he even led for a lap or two. Towards the final laps, the out-of-position McLarens came to overtaken the Brazilian. Jenson Button succeeded easily, but Lewis was struggling with gearbox problems. He tried hard to get past, and tension was in the air. But it was the McLaren gearbox that gave way first and Lewis parked up by the side of the track. At the end of the race, Felipe did some spectacular doughnuts before entering the pit lane. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap.
Coming home sixth was a special treat for Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Despite driving well this season, the German seems likely to be replaced at the team by test driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sutil brilliantly overtook Nico Rosberg mid-race, and was definitely the driver of the race. In eighth was Sutil’s teammate Paul di Resta. The Scottish rookie has had a great first season, racking up 27 points to beat Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Sutil finishes with 42 points, placing him 9th in the championship.
In ninth was Kamui Kobayashi, making sure Sauber beat Toro Rosso, and in tenth was Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen made sure Team Lotus secured 10th in the championship by finishing 16th and best of the new teams, ahead of Bruno Senna. Retirements came from Tonio Liuzzi, Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado and Timo Glock.

Maldonado has retired from seven races this season – more than any other driver – yet looks set to secure a drive for next season. By contrast, rookie Paul di Resta has led more laps than any other driver; the Scot has completed seven more than Fernando Alonso despite retiring in Turkey and Canada. He had late retirements in both races, however, whereas Alonso’s came earlier in the Canadian race.

From tomorrow, I will be figuring out season statistics and posting the most interesting ones here and on Twitter. I hope you have a great winter break!

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)