All change at Toro Rosso

In a surprising move, Toro Rosso have dumped both their 2011 drivers and replaced them with their two up-and-coming juniors Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. This will put an end to the ‘Ricciardo to Caterham’ rumours, which is good news for Jarno Trulli, but leaves Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in the cold.
Ricciardo did as good a job as possible under the circumstances, and in the young driver test at Abu Dhabi Jean-Eric Vergne shone; the Frenchman was close runner-up to Robert Wickens in Formula Renault 3.5 this season too, and Ricciardo would have had a chance if he had not been busy with his F1 commitments.
For the dropped drivers, Alguersuari in particular had a good season, and deserves to continue in F1. Red Bull, however, have a reputation for abandoning drivers; Sebastian Vettel is the only survivor. Former Toro Rosso drivers have typically not survived in F1 – out of Speed, Bourdais and Liuzzi, only Liuzzi managed to continue and he does not look like surviving into 2012.

Meanwhile, HRT’s Team Principal Colin Kolles is leaving the team. They struggled in their first two seasons, usually losing out to Virgin in the races but getting just enough good finishes to beat the Russian team. HRT, who will be a Spanish national team next season, could well hire Jaime Alguersuari to partner Pedro de la Rosa.

F2 testing today saw many of the eighteen drivers set very similar times. The twelfth-fastest (Scott Malvern) was less than a second away from Christopher Zanella’s fastest time. Second-fastest driver and F2 rookie Markus Pommer was only 0.014s away from Zanella’s time in his fastest lap of the day, though it was set in a different session. Even fourteenth-fastest Max Snegirev was only 1.066s away from Zanella’s time.
Meanwhile Mirko Bortolotti was testing the 2012 F2 car. The new car should be able to lap around 2 seconds faster than the current car, which should make for much more exciting racing in the future.

Yellow and green

Two champions will be driving the Williams FW33 at the F1 young drivers’ test this year. Mirko Bortolotti will be taking control of the car on day three as his prize for winning the F2 championship, while GP3 champion and Williams tester Valtteri Bottas will be driving for the first two days. So no surprises.

Meanwhile Riad Asmat the Team Lotus/Caterham CEO has announced that the team will be continuing with the green and yellow colour scheme in 2012. It’s a great way for the team to maintain continuity whilst leaving behind the Lotus brand that has caused so much confusion this season. I can’t help but wonder if the ART GP2 and GP3 teams currently sponsored by Group Lotus will be changing their colour scheme in 2012; currently Caterham Team AirAsia uses the same green and yellow as their F1 sister, and will most likely continue to do so in the next season.

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.

Title deciding weekend – F2 and Auto GP

F2
The morning’s qualifying session saw Mihai Marinescu take pole for the first time this season, with Alex Brundle next door on the front row. Behind, Ramon Pineiro and championship leader Mirko Bortolotti shared the second row. The only remaining championship contender, Christopher Zanella, was on the third row ahead of Tobias Hegewald.
When the lights went out, Brundle took the lead from Marinescu, while Pineiro headed Bortolotti and Hegewald got ahead of Zanella. Marinescu got his position back after the first lap, but it remained tight between the pair while the Pineiro-Bortolotti and Hegewald-Zanella battles continued behind them.
About a third of the way into the race, Bortolotti got the better of Pineiro and prepared for his next goal – Brundle, who was slowly falling behind Marinescu. And Zanella behind knew he had to overtake Hegewald, to prevent the Austro-Italian from taking the title today should Bortolotti get Brundle.
Bortolotti soon closed on Brundle, and it was a tight battle between the pair for the remainder of the race. The Brit held on to second for all but the final lap, as he refused to give in to the pressure. But on the final lap, Bortolotti had his way as he got past Brundle and took a close second. Brundle took the final podium spot, while a trailing Pineiro came fourth. Zanella, who had overtaken Hegewald, had tried to fight with Pineiro but ended up fifth. Hegewald came sixth, with Thiemo Storz seventh, Jack Clarke eighth, Mikkel Mac ninth and Luciano Bacheta picking up the point for tenth after struggling all weekend.
If Zanella is to take the title, he will need Bortolotti to DNF all the remaining races, whilst winning them all himself. Not quite as hard as Jenson Button’s task in F1, but about as unlikely!

Auto GP
The penultimate race of a closely-fought championship took place today. Polesitter Adrien Tambay (son of Patrick Tambay) took the win, just ahead of GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi who had fought hard. Tambay is now fourth in the championship, and needs the win at least (he could also do with fastest lap) – plus disaster for his opponents – if he’s to take the title.
More likely to win are the top three. Leading the championship is Kevin Ceccon. Already the under-21 champion, he’s already taken part in the GP2 test he won. Ceccon came fourth in today’s race and will start fifth tomorrow with the reversed grid. Luca Filippi is in second – nine points behind Ceccon – and will start seventh tomorrow. In third is Sergei Afanasiev of Russia, who finished sixth today and starts third tomorrow. He is 11 points behind Ceccon.
Third-placed in today’s race was Fabio Onidi, who also took part in this week’s GP2 test. Eighth was Adam Carroll, who stalled on the grid but came back to take reversed pole tomorrow and also set the fastest lap.

Summer day 27 – Mirko Bortolotti

Mirko Bortolotti – 1
It’s not quite been a Sebastian Vettel domination, but Mirko Bortolotti has taken podiums in all but two races. Four of those have been wins. But Christopher Zanella is close behind, and with six races left it could be a tough championship to win. He starts ahead of Zanella today but not on pole – which he has surprisingly only attained twice.

Points: 187
Best qualifying: 1
Worst qualifing: 7
Best finish: 1 (Four times)
Worst finish: 6 (Magny-Cours race 1)
Retirements: 0

Afternoon practice and GP2 qualifying

F1
In the second practice this afternoon, the track was damp to start with and everyone went out on inters. Eventually it dried enough for slicks and the times tumbled before the rain came down again. Amidst those conditions, it was Mark Webber who went fastest, with Alonso in second and rain master Button third. Webber’s teammate Vettel only went tenth fastest. The Force Indias always get on well at Spa, and came in eight and ninth with Nico Hulkenberg replacing Adrian Sutil for the session. Sergio Perez did even better with the seventh-fastest time, and Rosberg was sixth-fastest. Massa found himself a familiar fifth, and Hamilton fourth.
The Renaults were also struggling, and a steering problem for Petrov left him unable to set a competitive time. His new teammate came in 17th, a few tenths off Barrichello but still well ahead of the backmarkers. But Senna had been doing well earlier in the session as the track dried. Maybe he has some of his uncle’s talent in the rain.
The times aren’t really representative, and we may not find out where everyone lies this weekend until race day, with heavy rain expected tomorrow.

GP2
A wet qualifying session saw Sam Bird become the first casualty. Later, Charles Pic ended up going off the track at turn 17, which caused final sector problems. Fastest was Christian Vietoris, with Luca Filippi second and Pic third. Bianchi took fourth before one of two top-ten surprises – Michael Herck, who has picked up just one point so far this season. Romain Grosjean only managed eighth, while Johnny Ceccotto Jr became the second surprise. He currently starts 9th. I expect that we will see some penalties being issued, including to Vietoris who set his fastest final sector under yellow flags.

F2
In the afternoon practice session at a hot Red Bull Ring, the fastest driver was once again Mirko Bortolotti. Benjamin Lariche did well to finish third, while Sunghak Mun got in a hot lap less than a second off the leader to finish sixth. If he can do that in qualifying he’ll probably turn into a moving traffic island, unfortunately. He was nine hundredths ahead of Alex Brundle in seventh. Eighth was Christopher Zanella. Again Julian Theobald has managed to beat his brother, and seems to be getting on better with the track. Thiemo Storz was a disappointing 18th while Mikkel Mac and Armaan Ebrahim will have been surprised to be slowest.

Friday morning practices

First up today, GP3, who have only one practice session this weekend. Instead of two 30 minute sessions, they had one 45 minute session. It was dry and wet, but the session was topped by championship leader Valtteri Bottas. Second was currently-struggling Mitch Evans, with James Calado in third. Most surprising are Simon Trummer 8th and Ivan Lukashevich 10th. Neither driver has yet scored points this season.
Matias Laine was 11th, which is also a surprise. However, the Manor driver went out from the pits after they had closed at the end of the session and did a lap of the track. He will receive a 15-place grid penalty for the race tomorrow.

In F2, we’ve got a slightly bigger field than Brands Hatch. Jordan King of course is not racing in the series for the rest of the season, and Jose Luis Abadin is also unable to drive this weekend. However, Luciano Bacheta and Rene Binder add to the numbers, as does the return of Johannes and Julian Theobald.
It was a good debut for Bacheta, who took eighth in the practice session. Championship leader Mirko Bortolotti came first, with Zanella second. Miki Monras didn’t make the top ten. But Julian Theobald (that’s right, Julian!) made tenth. Julian has usually been behind his brother this season.

F1 practice began dry, and the Mercedes drivers (perhaps doing some laps to celebrate 20 years of Michael Schumacher in F1) were doing multiple installation laps. Thus they had the two fastest times just before it started to rain. It was bad enough that for a long while there was no running on the track. The rain died down a bit, and the teams began to test the track again. First Vettel on inters, and then some others. As the track began to dry, the drivers were giving it a bit more. Bruno Senna lost control of his Renault and hit the back end into the wall, writing off the rest of his session. Later, while Bruno’s car was on the way back to the pits, Paul di Resta managed to put his car off at the same spot. The damage wasn’t so bad for the Force India. However, due to the crane being busy, they had to red flag the session as they couldn’t retrieve the car. Nobody could go faster than Schumacher on the drying track, but really the time was meaningless.

The rain affected the GP2 session towards the end. No surprise for Grosjean being fastest, but a big surprise for Romainian Michael Herck taking second just a thousandth ahead of Marcus Ericsson. Jolyon Palmer, who caused a red flag just as the session was starting, didn’t set a time and came last. Fortunately this is only practice.