And the fastest team is… someone

Both free practice sessions in Melbourne today were marred by rain, and as if that wasn’t bad enough for HRT, their cars had massive reliability issues – when they could get them on track. Narain Karthikeyan’s car was available straight away in FP1, but broke down on its third lap of the circuit. Pedro de la Rosa had to wait until FP2 for his turn, though this is still a massive improvement on previous years for the Spanish outfit. Pedro’s car also only managed one lap in that session, though Narain Karthikeyan managed 16.
Wets, inters then finally slicks were the order of the day, with the fastest times coming at the close of the sessions. McLaren set a Button-Hamilton 1-2 in FP1, while Schumacher pipped Nico Hulkenberg to the top in FP2. Schumi was also third in FP1, and looks set to be a strong contender, but Hulkenberg was 12th. It seems we won’t know the likely order until FP3 or qualifying.

It will probably be dry on Sunday, so none of this wet running is very helpful for the teams. Who will be on pole? Nobody knows. Who will win? Nobody knows.

I’m off to the Scottish Highlands for the weekend, and while I will catch the F1, I won’t be able to write about it. See you all on Monday!

Advertisements

F1 – the sponsorship ‘problem’

There is a perception that these days it is impossible for a young driver going on talent – as opposed to sponsorship – to get into Formula One. If you’re returning from retirement, or you have bags of cash, then it’s easy to get in. But is this really the case?

Today, companies don’t have money they can throw at racing teams – whether in F1 or other series – to sponsor them. Most of the companies who do sponsor teams seem to be out of reach for the average fan, or they are companies belonging to the team owner. The other sponsors on cars tend to come from drivers, who carry the names with them as they change teams and series. Racing is horribly expensive, and with a cost of several hundred thousand pounds even for Formula Renault UK, most drivers have no choice but to seek sponsorship in order to get into the series. Drivers who struggle to find sponsors may be left without a seat, and in recent days – starting with Dan Wells – we have seen many turn to the public via Twitter to get funding.

But is there really a dilemma between sponsorship and talent? Is it really true that good drivers miss out while worse drivers get all the funding?

The truth is, companies aren’t going to sponsor bad drivers. They want to sponsor good drivers so that they will get noticed! Some drivers can use their name to get sponsorship – Bruno Senna, for example – yet nobody thinks of him as a ‘pay driver’. There was great delight when Senna got into Williams, though at Barrichello’s expense. And though Vitaly Petrov brings in Russian sponsorship, his ability has also been proven. His displacement of Trulli might cause disgruntlement, but in truth he will be good competition for Kovalainen.

The list goes on: Jerome d’Ambrosio, replaced at Virgin/Marussia by Charles Pic, but he also brought in sponsorship which now features on Lotus’s cars. Di Resta has help from Mercedes, Perez has help from Escuderia Telmex. These are all fantastic drivers. And though Hulkenberg isn’t regarded as a pay driver, it doesn’t say ‘Katjes’ on his cap for no reason. As for drivers in the top teams, they have had some help to get to where they are – Hamilton through his young bravery with Ron Dennis, Alonso indirectly brings in Santander sponsorship to Ferrari (and it stayed at McLaren though the Abbey connection). There are very few, if any, drivers on the grid now who are there purely by talent.

As for the age of F1 drivers, 11 on the grid this year are 25 or younger. Four of those are GP2 champions (Rosberg, Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Grosjean); one is DTM champion (Di Resta); one is a world champion (Vettel) and the others all have good records in Formula Renault or GP2. All but six drivers are 30 or younger. So F1 does not have an age problem.

I believe F1 has one of the most talented lineups of all time. If we put them in equally-matched cars, we would have some incredible racing. I think the few drivers regarded as ‘bad’ are severely underrated (Maldonado might be good at disobeying rules but you need talent to win in GP2; Karthikeyan has done brilliantly outside F1). Yes, some talented drivers have been left out of F1 – Luca Filippi is a prime example – but many others who are just as talented have made it. So stop complaining and enjoy the racing. And hope that somewhere out there is a team to match Red Bull!

GP2 and GP3 calendars announced

The 2012 GP2 calendar was released today, and as well as supporting the European F1 races, GP2 will also support the Malaysia, Bahrain and Singapore Grands Prix. There will also be a second Bahrain round in a standalone event one week after the first round.
Malaysia will open the proceedings in March, giving Anglo-Malaysian team Caterham a home race. Next is the double-header at Bahrain, before they follow the European F1 season. After Monza, the teams head out to Singapore. I am curious to know whether the Singapore races will be in the day (as with the Abu Dhabi GP2 final) or at night.
Some of the drivers do not seem to be happy about the Bahrain repetition. James Calado on his Twitter said: “Bahrain twice.. Stupid” His thoughts are backed up by fans. If you’re going to have two rounds at the same track, why not make it somewhere more exciting? Even ignoring the political situation, Sakhir has never been the most enthralling place to race.

The GP3 calendar features seven guaranteed races on the European circuits, and one hopeful at Monaco. Last year GP3 were unable to race there due to a lack of garage space, but despite the inclusion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series, they are trying again. Good luck!

Meanwhile, Force India have finally confirmed what we all knew – their 2012 lineup will be Scot Paul di Resta alongside German and Brazil 2010 polesitter Nico Hulkenberg. It’s a young but skilled team who should do well. Nico Hulkenberg, the 2009 GP2 champion, was dropped from Williams after 2010 despite securing that pole. This was so that the team could hire better-funded Pastor Maldonado. But Williams had a disastrous 2011, while Force India (who hired Hulkenberg as reserve driver) finished very close behind fifth-placed Renault this year.
After driving for five years at Midland/Spyker/Force India, Adrian Sutil now has to move on. He is a good driver, but has probably reached the limit of his potential. Meanwhile di Resta and Hulkenberg are yet to prove themselves, and both shone in their rookie seasons. With an improving team and two potential champion drivers, Force India should do well in 2012.

2010 Brazil GP polesitter gets to drive in FP1

2010 Brazilian Grand Prix polesitter Nico Hulkenberg hasn’t raced an F1 car since Abu Dhabi last year, when Williams booted him off the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan sponsorship. After the British team’s poor performance this season, I expect he’s glad he made the change to Force India test driver. F1 returns to Brazil next weekend, and though Nico is still in want of a race seat he will be taking part, replacing Adrian Sutil for FP1. While it’s a shame he won’t be in the car for any longer than that, hopefully next year he will be a full-blown Force India race driver.
Luiz Razia will also be driving in FP1. It will be the first time the GP2 driver has driven an F1 car at his home track, and he is looking forward to it. He took part in the young driver test for Team Lotus, and previously drove the car on-track in first practice in China. He was only able to complete twelve laps.
For Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne will be stepping into Sebastien Buemi’s car once again. The French driver did brilliantly in the young driver tests, finishing fastest every day. Also, I believe Romain Grosjean is going to be in one of the Renaults.

Renault’s lineup for 2012 seems to be coming down to three drivers: Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean. GP2 champion Grosjean is likely to get the drive, leaving a fierce battle between Senna and Petrov. According to Senna’s mother (and sister of Ayrton) Viviane, Bruno is also negotiating a deal for 2012.

Speaking of Senna, the documentary “Senna” has been passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in their Oscar nominations. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of 2011 (how many documentaries get shown in so many cinemas for such a long period of time?), it has been left out along with several other good documentaries. It is very disappointing. But Senna doesn’t need an Oscar for us to know how amazing it is. And if you haven’t already, please watch it.

Timetable South Korea

Jean-Eric Vergne will be replacing Jaime Alguersuari at Toro Rosso in FP1. Narain Karthikeyan will also be taking part with HRT. However, Nico Hulkenberg will not be driving.

Day

Time

BST

Session

Length

Friday

10:00

02:00

Practice 1

90 mins

Friday

14:00

06:00

Practice 2

90 mins

Saturday

11:00

03:00

Practice 3

60 mins

Saturday

14:00

06:00

Qualifying

60 mins

Sunday

15:00

07:00

Race

55 laps

Raikkonen to Williams – opinion

Kimi Raikkonen has had an interesting year. Being removed from the WRC championship for not competing in the two required overseas rounds, and having a rather troubled attempt at NASCAR, perhaps he’s regretting his move away from F1.
Interest in the championship-winning Finn has been shown from Williams, who also had Adrian Sutil looking around. But will Kimi race his whole heart in F1? And is it right to bring a veteran back into the sport when there are so many youngsters looking for a seat?
Williams could take a look at Sauber, whose drivers have both done spectacular jobs in the first half of the season though the car’s poor development – and gearbox problems – have lost them points more recently. Though Kobayashi and Perez have limited time in F1, they can drive well. Could Williams go with two junior drivers?
It is unlikely. After their disasterous 2011, they’ll want an experienced driver to help with the car’s development (though Barrichello should have been able to do that). And having a champion on their side could give another boost. But Adrian Sutil is an experienced driver too. He has spent all his career at the same team – albeit with a name change – and could do with a new team although he says he is happy at Force India. Well I would be too – sixth in the championship! But I am biased and want to see Nico Hulkenberg return to F1, which a Sutil move would do.

I think Barrichello retiring would be good for F1 after 19 seasons of the Brazilian in the series. Once you have been around for such a long time, even if you love driving, it’s time to give youngsters a chance. As it is, it is hard to see anywhere for even GP2 champion Romain Grosjean to fit in. Therefore I do not think it is right for ex-drivers to return, no matter how prematurely they left the sport.
So if you want my thoughts, it would be Sutil to Williams, Hulkenberg up to second driver at Force India. Valtteri Bottas will remain Williams test driver with a hope of coming to F1 in a season or two, and meanwhile make Max Chilton or Luca Filippi the Force India tester.

F1 birthdays: 9/3/2011

Pastor Maldonado is the latest in a lengthening line of GP2 winners to make it into Formula One. Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg, and now today’s birthday boy Pastor Maldonado. He’s rather old for an F1 rookie, beating eight of the grid’s drivers and only a few months younger than Lewis Hamilton and Vitaly Petrov.
So what took him so long to get to F1? In 2003 he began racing in Italian Formula Renault, finishing seventh. The next season, he won that championship and came eighth in European Formula Renault, also having an opportunity to test for Minardi that year. He stuck around to try out several different series, but didn’t complete a full season for any of them, having been banned from four races in the World Series by Renault for dangerous driving.
2006 brought him full-time into Formula Renault 3.5, where a technical infringement by the team cost him 15 points that would have won him the season (he finished third instead), and then he moved on to the GP2 series in 2007. Pastor spent four seasons in GP2, getting a win with Trident Racing that year but breaking his collarbone to prevent him from finishing the season.
The next year, he moved to Piquet Sports but picked up several penalties for pitlane speeding and passing under yellows, then crashing into two fellow drivers. Yet despite that he still finished fifth. In 2009 he moved to ART where Nico Hulkenberg was his teammate, and finished sixth. Changing teams once more, he drove for Rapax alongside Luiz Razia, and finally won the championship in Monza.
Now, he’s been controversially been taken up by the Williams F1 team in place of his old teammate. Naturally, there are mutterings about ‘sponsor drivers’, and also about his worrying driving style. But he clearly has ability, even if he shows a lack of attention to flags, so if he can drive well then Williams will have been proved right. But replacing Nico will be a massive shadow over him, because if you’ve been a polesitter then you don’t usually get left out of F1 the next year unless you retire. So he’s got to be amazing to get support from fans this year, although I think the worst fallout is over from Williams’ deal.