GP2 and GP3 head to Sky

There has been plenty of motor racing news over the past few days, so this might be a long post!

Formula Renault 3.5
Eurocup champion Robin Frijns graduates to the elite Renault series, where he will be driving alongside Carlos Huertas at Fortec. Meanwhile Kevin Korjus, who came sixth in his rookie season with three wins, continues with Tech 1. P1 Motorsport, as last season, will field Daniil Move alongside Austrian driver Walter Grubmuller.
There are well-founded rumours that Arden and Caterham will be joining together for the 2012 FR 3.5 campaign, with Alexander Rossi alongside Lewis Williamson. However, these have not yet been confirmed. Wikipedia also lists a number of other drivers, but these have not been confirmed by the teams.

GP2 and GP3
The two F1 support series will no longer be shown by Eurosport but by Sky, which is good news for fans fed up with delayed GP2 coverage. The races will be shown on Sky Sports F1. This will definitely make the series more popular with fans. The series have changed their Twitter usernames to @GP2_Official (formerly @feeder_series) and @GP3_Official (formerly @stepping_series) respectively, which will help avoid confusion in the future.

Former F1 drivers
Rubens Barrichello has been testing the new IndyCar chassis at Sebring, primarily to help out his friend – KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan – but also to get a taste for the cars. He has said that he would consider entering the series next year, but this would depend on his wife giving him permission. Motor Racing is a scary sport, and especially with Dan Wheldon’s death so close at hand it would be a hard decision to make.
Adrian Sutil has had his court case after the incident with Eric Lux in a Chinese nightclub last year. The former Force India driver was given an 18-month suspended sentence and a large fine. This is likely to kill the German’s racing career, as he will find it difficult to get a visa for many countries.
Nick Heidfeld is moving on, and has confirmed that he will be taking part in the new FIA WEC at the Sebring 12 Hours, Spa 6 Hours and Le Mans alongside Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost. This will be for the Rebellion team in a Lola-Toyota LMP1 car. The last time Heidfeld competed at Le Mans was in 1999.

Formula One
McLaren’s MP4-27 was successfully launched yesterday, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button as well as test drivers Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey. The event was streamed online. The car is generally quite similar to the MP4-26, though it has a lower nose. Unlike Caterham, however, the nose does not have a strange dip in it to pass technical regulations.
Ferrari, however, have had to cancel tomorrow’s launch due to an overabundance of snow at Maranello. Photos and a technical Q&A will be launched on their website.

i1 SuperSeries
The 2012 i1 Super Series has been cancelled. The series will now begin in 2013. This is disappointing for all the drivers hoping to take part, and for everyone wanting to watch. The names associated with the series suggested it would be a great thing to watch, but now we shall have to wait another year.

WRC in trouble

Former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has turned down a racing seat with HRT. The Spaniard says he hopes to become a McLaren test driver, which would see him replacing Pedro de la Rosa. This leaves HRT still looking for a second driver, and this could go to GP2’s Dani Clos. Spaniard Dani has been driving in GP2 for three years, all with Racing Engineering. He scored his first points with a podium at Portugal in 2009 (supporting the FIA GT World Championship), when he finished third in the sprint race.
In 2010 he finished fourth in the GP2 championship, taking his first (and so far only) main series win in the process; he won the sprint at Imola in GP2 Asia this year Last season he didn’t do quite as well, finishing 9th overall but coming second in the Spain and Britain sprint races. A good driver, he would be a sensible choice for the Spanish national team.

Meanwhile, Italian physio Raniero Gianotti who has worked with Barrichello, Alguersuari and Vettel, amongst others, has sadly passed away. According to Rubens Barrichello, he suffered a heart attack whilst on his bike. May he rest in peace.

Finally, the WRC is in trouble after series promoter North One Sports had its contract terminated by the FIA after failing to fulfil the terms of its contract. Due to the lack of a purchaser for NOS and its parent company CSI (who went into administration in November) the FIA are now having to work hard in order to ensure the series goes ahead; the first event – the Monte Carlo Rally – is in just 10 days’ time.

Red Bull keep hold of Buemi

Good news today as Sebastien Buemi remains in Formula One. With Red Bull lacking a junior series driver at the right level for F1, they have retained the Swiss for the next season. He will be reserve at Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
Buemi was the last of the Red Bull drivers to go through GP2, with the scheme preferring Formula Renault 3.5. He drove for ART in 2007 for half a season, taking two seventh places and a fastest lap. In 2008 he moved to Arden, run by Christian Horner’s Dad (the team originally being set up for Horner to race in) and took two wins and three other podiums on his way to sixth. So in 2009 he became a Toro Rosso driver.
In his first season, he scored six points (under the old top-8 system) with a best finish of 7th. This would end up being his best finish of his career so far, achieved on his debut in Australia and at the Brazilian GP that year.
2010 was a tough year for Toro Rosso, scoring few points and finishing ninth as they lacked an f-duct where every other team developed one. Buemi scored six points, beating his teammate Jaime Alguersuari.
Finally 2011, and Toro Rosso were improving. Despite a strong start to the season he faltered, and was overtaken in the points by his younger teammate. While Buemi’s best finish was 8th, Alguersuari finished 7th twice, both in races that Buemi also finished (Italy and Korea). The Spaniard also managed to finish in the points twice after going out in Q1.
Clearly Red Bull still think they can get something from Sebastien, and hopefully he will be able to continue improving the Toro Rosso as well as working with the RB8.

In other news, P1 Motorsport founder Roly Vincini hopes to be joining the Formula Renault UK championship this year. He has abandoned British F3 plans, and is likely to enter two cars under the GP1 Engineering name. This is good news for the championship, which had a regular field of about 12 drivers last season. Vincini aims to increase the size of the team to four eventually, and says that he is already close to signing his first driver. (via Autosport Magazine)

The first F1 cars are due to be launched next month, with McLaren first before pre-season testing begins in Jerez on February 7th. The noise coming from McLaren (and in particular Lewis Hamilton) is that the MP4-27 should be a good contender against the RB8. Of course, testing can only tell you so much. Nothing is certain until the first race in Australia.

More news will hopefully come soon regarding Williams. See you soon!

2011 review part 8 – Canada

The F1 circuit left Monaco for its sole trip to North America, where the cars would be roaring around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. It was dry at the start of the weekend, but rain was predicted for Sunday.

Friday morning and it seemed Sergio Perez had fully recovered from his Monaco accident as he took part in FP1. Sebastian Vettel decided to take his first hit in the Wall of Champions. It was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg who went fastest, with Alonso second and Schumacher third. The Mercs had good pace on this track.
About fifteen minutes before the second practise session began, Sauber announced a change in their plans for the weekend. Perez was not feeling well enough to drive, and his place was taken by McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard is a tall driver, while Perez is much shorter, so he missed most of the second session while the pedals were adjusted. Fastest was Alonso, ahead of a recovered Sebastian Vettel.
On the Saturday, however, things were back to normal with the German leading. Alonso’s Ferrari was again running well and he finished second-fastest. Then it was time for qualifying.

Rain threatened in Montreal’s skies, but did not fall as Jarno Trulli beat his teammate for the first time in 2011. Liuzzi was ahead of Glock, Karthikeyan ahead of D’Ambrosio. Though the Belgian did not meet the 107% rule, he was allowed to race. Dropping out in Q1 was Jaime Alguersuari.
The second session saw Paul di Resta become the fastest of the dropouts, with Maldonado, Kobayashi and Sutil behind. Massa was fastest. De la Rosa managed 17th.
Finally, the shining Ferraris did their best to knock Vettel off pole, but despite being very close they did not manage it. As usual, it would be world champion Sebastian Vettel at the front for the race on Sunday.

Sunday came, and with it the promised rain. It began under the safety car, and as the rain lightened the car came in and the race really began. On the start-finish straight, Hamilton attempted to overtake his teammate through a closing gap and failed. He was out of the race, but Button was able to continue. He pitted to check for damage, but was okay. The safety car came out again as the damage was cleared. Button, who switched to intermediates on the drying track, was penalised for speeding under the safety car, putting him in 18th.
The race continued after the restart, with Vettel showing his skill in getting a good lead on his opponents at the hairpin. Button’s tyres were doing well, so others decided to pit for inters just before the rain worsened again. Vettel led from Kobayashi and Massa as the safety car came out for the third time, and eventually the red flags stopped the race.
For over two hours the cars sat on the grid, waiting for the restart. But it came, to the delight of the Canadian fans. The safety car led them away, and Kovalainen’s car broke down shortly after. The Finn was forced to retire. His teammate would also struggle, and be stuck at the back of the race for the remaining laps. The safety car was kept out a long time, and Virgin pitted Jerome d’Ambrosio for intermediates during this time. However, this was not allowed as they were supposed to be on wet tyres, and they received a drive-through penalty.
Once the racing restarted, Vettel led away from Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was busy holding off Massa. Everyone pitted for inters. Alonso tangled with Button and crashed out, though it was deemed a racing incident. Button had a puncture, and limped back to the pits as the safety car came out. Once again, Vettel pilled away easily on the restart – Button was at the back of the field. As Schumacher shone, Sutil crashed into the wall. Slicks were becoming the order of the day on a drying track. Schumacher was by now up to second, between Vettel and Massa.
Massa spun while trying to lap Karthikeyan, and recovered but lost third to Webber. Button, on a charge, was up to fourth! Heidfeld hit Kobayashi from behind and the safety car came out for the final time. Button fought his way past everyone, and was closing on Vettel by seconds every lap. On the final lap, he was close behind. Could the German hold the rainmaster off?
A mistake from Vettel – the first of the season! Button passed and took the lead for the first time in the race. He crossed the line and won! It was an incredible final lap, and this race will go down in F1 history.
Barrichello took two points for struggling Williams, while Tonio Liuzzi finished 13th for HRT to put them in 11th in the championship.
There were further retirements from Maldonado and di Resta, though the Brit was classified as he had his accident three laps before the end of the race.

F1 now returned to Valencia. Could DRS make a difference in this dull race? Well, I didn’t watch much of it. Nobody retired, Alguersuari went from the back to the points. Vettel won. And then they went to Britain, where F1 silly season would be in full force.

[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]

Peter Gethin dies aged 71

Formula One race winner Peter Gethin died today aged 71 after a long illness.

In 1970, the British racing driver signed for McLaren, taking part in a few races that season and picking up a single point from finishing sixth in Canada. In 1971, he switched mid-way through the season to BRM, and picked up his only point in a shocking – and very close – win at Monza. In fact, it was the closest win ever in F1, by 0.01s on Ronnie Peterson, and only 0.61s from fifth-place finisher Howden Ganley. Taking place on the current Monza circuit but minus the chicanes, until 2003 it was the fastest Grand Prix ever to take place.

Gethin continued to drive for BRM, and scored one more point in 1972 – again at Monza. He raced once in 1973 and once in 1974, failing to score any points as he retired each time. But as a Grand Prix race winner, he clearly had talent. It is possible that, had he been in more reliable cars, he would have been able to have a more successful F1 career. But he will always go down in history as the winner of the closest victory ever.

Autosport Awards round-up

Last night the Autosport Awards took place in London. These awards give recognition to the best British drivers, and the best drivers around the world. Jenson Button won the award for the best British Competition Driver, while Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly won best International Driver after his spectacular performance this year. Vettel had a great acceptance speech/chat with Steve Rider (presenting the awards).

A special award was given to Dan Wheldon, collected by his father, for his outstanding achievements over his career. He was due to collect the Gregor Grant award after his second Indianapolis win, and after his death the decision was made to still present the award in his honour.

Rookie of the year went to Paul di Resta, for his outstanding deubt season in Formula One. The Senna film won the Pioneering and Innovation award, for the incredible way it worked with the F1 archives and created such a moving and honest documentary of the legendary driver.

Lots of other awards were given, but the biggest award of the night was the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award, to a young driver who has incredible potential. With so many big names having earned this award, and with the McLaren test included in the prize, whichever driver won it would be one to watch out for in the future. In the end, the award went to Formula Renault UK runner-up Oliver Rowland. Rowland will be entering the Formula Renault Eurocup next year. Keep an eye out for him!