Valsecchi dominates at Jerez

GP2
After the final day of GP2 testing, new DAMS signing Davide Valsecchi has proved to be the most consistent and fastest driver – leading on all three days. The question is, can DAMS win a second driver’s championship with the Italian? If he wins, he could well become the next Italian in F1 – though Italians have a bad record when it comes to transferring between the series.
Of the GP3 graduates taking part, James Calado was one of the most impressive. Van der Garde was doing well for Caterham, while Stefano Coletti shone for Coloni. Max Chilton showed much improvement on 2011, and Carlin also have improved as they come to their second year (with a little help from Marussia). I expect we will see a good showing from all 2010 and 2011 GP3 graduates, but also from F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer who is doing well with iSport.
There’s another GP2 test at Barcelona next week before they all head out to Malaysia for the first round of the season.

IndyCar
Rubens Barrichello’s CV boasts Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn and Williams. Now, F1’s most experienced driver can add KV Racing to that list. The Brazilian today announced that he would be racing a full season for the IndyCar team, taking to ovals for the first time. Barrichello admitted to a little help from his kids in persuading their Mum that he could race. He will be partnering his close friend Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan EJ Viso. The team also drove with three drivers last year – Kanaan, Viso and another ex-F1 driver in Takuma Sato. Mika Salo also drove for the team in four races in 2003, back in the days of Champ Car.
KV were supported by Lotus in 2011, but will use Chevrolet engines this season despite the British marque supplying engines to the series. According to the IndyCar website, Barrichello will take number 8 on his car.

F1
The first day of testing, and Heikki Kovalainen was unable to take part due to food poisoning (apparently from one of the team’s sponsor’s!). The mechanics got the car sorted for Vitaly Petrov and he did a full day of running, taking the second-highest lap tally. It was Rosberg who did the most laps, with nearly 130. Fastest of all was Grosjean, with Button second. Williams only managed a small number of laps with Maldonado for unspecified reasons.
HRT hope to get on track by Sunday, while Kovalainen will be back tomorrow (Friday). Kamui Kobayashi was also ill today, but hopefully he will be well by the time he’s needed.

FR 3.5
Andre Negrao and Nico Muller have been confirmed at Draco for 2012. Muller is a GP3 graduate, winning three races in the series and coming 3rd in 2010 (4th in 2011). He won the Silverstone feature race where unexpected rain caused a mass pit stop at the start of the race – all seven other drivers who scored points were British. Brazilian Negrao enters his second year of the series, and with Draco, having graduated from the Eurocup at the end of 2010.

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Cassidy joins Fortec in Eurocup

As the second F1 and first GP3 tests get going today, it’s time to talk about the news that’s been released over the last few days.

FR Eurocup
British team Fortect have announced that Nick Cassidy – deserved winner of the Toyota Racing Series – will be driving for them in Eurocup Formula Renault this year. There are a strong team of drivers in this year’s Eurocup, including several FRUK graduates, so it will be a great challenge for Cassidy.

GP3
Testing today saw strong performances from Mitch Evans (MW Arden) and Nico Muller (testing for Trident) in Estoril. Other drivers who did well included Antonio Felix da Costa (testing for Carlin), Aaro Vainio (Lotus GP) and Tio Ellinas (Manor). In total 25 drivers took part in the test, with Mucke Motorsport absent, while Tech 1 and Atech only fielded two drivers each.

F1
After a few laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, Romain Grosjean was uncomfortable with the feel of the E20 chassis that had been upgraded from the one used in Jerez. Lotus believe this to be an issue with the chassis, and have pulled out of this week’s test.
Fastest today was Sebastian Vettel, but Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was close behind. Times, of course, mean nothing, but Nico has been making positive noises about the car. Caterham had a problem with a broken track rod that left the CT-01 stranded on the final corner, but got just under an hour of running at the end of the test with Heikki Kovalainen. Daniel Ricciardo also caused a red flag in the STR7.
The new Mercedes was put through its paces by Michael Schumacher, whilst Charles Pic put in 121 laps as he got used to driving an F1 car. Marussia are still using the MVR02. Lewis Hamilton also put in over 100 laps, coming third-fastest in the McLaren.

Williams have hired former F1 and current WEC driver Alex Wurz as a driver coach for their team. They have a young duo in terms of races, as well as the inexperienced Valtteri Bottas as reserve driver. It is not common for teams to hire driver coaches, but hopefully this will have a positive effect on Maldonado and Senna.

GP3 race report and season summary

We haven’t had the Formula One yet, but I am almost certain that the prize for the most exciting race of the day goes to GP3. The championship leader and runner-up were causing most of the havoc, with Valtteri Bottas taking out two drivers almost straight away. First to go was Conor Daly, running in third, who was spun off the track by the Finn. As Bottas returned to the track he caused Alex Sims to move out the way, and the Status driver hit the car in front of him. The ART driver couldn’t have his championship taken away, but he did receive a drive-through penalty.
Meanwhile, James Calado was running with the leaders including Antonio Felix da Costa, Nico Muller, Mitch Evans, Simon Trummer, Rio Haryanto, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and – incredibly – Callum MacLeod of Carlin. At the first chicane, Calado was being squeezed off the track by the other runners and as he tried to stay on he went into Mitch Evans. The Arden driver had to retire, but it was a drive-throgh penalty for Calado who was running in second. Calado ended up with a time penalty due to the lateness of the punishment. Portuguese da Costa won, with Muller second and Haryanto third. Trummer came home fourth, while MacLeod was fifth and Quaife-Hobbs sixth. MacLeod was the only remaining Carlin runner after Leo Cordeiro spun and stalled, and he also took the point for fastest lap.
Despite not finishing the race after a self-caused accident, Nigel Melker finished third in the championship with 38 points. Fourth was Nico Muller, who had a great comeback at the end of the second. He and fifth-placed Adrian Quaife-Hobbs both finish with 36 points. Behind them, Alex Sims came sixth with 34 points after a horrendous end to his season and no points since Germany. Behind him, Rio Haryanto came seventh with 31 points – his two wins edge him ahead of Arden’s Lewis Williamson. Incredibly, a lot of these well-placed drivers have gone through some rough races. Nobody has been particularly consistent.
Ninth in the championship is Mitch Evans, who has done terribly since he led the championship early on through no fault of his own – usually in fact due to James Calado! In tenth is Andrea Caldarelli, with his 20 points picked up in the first four races enough for that position.
Teams Champion Lotus ART finished with 124 points – well ahead of second place MW Arden with 69 points. Just behind Arden is Marussia Manor Racing on 67 points, and last year’s losers RSC Mucke got 61. Status were fourth with 50 points, followed by Tech 1 with 43, Jenzer with 37, Addax with 33, Carlin with 21 and CRS with a lowly seven.

GP2 and 3 qualifying

It’s not been a good weekend for Addax driver Giedo van der Garde. Qualifying 20th after he failed to get in a single clean lap, he and his trainer were robbed last night. Not a good way for the man currently second in GP2 to start the weekend.
The close battle for second is hotting up, and the front row is taken up by Charles Pic (VDG’s teammate and fourth in the championship) and Luca Filippi (fifth). Luca has been second for the last four races, and this has resulted in two wins and three fastest laps. Third-placed Jules Bianchi only managed to qualify nineteenth.
It was a better session for Carlin, as both their drivers made it into the top ten. Fabio Leimer starts third which is an improvement after a tough season for the Swiss. After Parente in fourth, champion Grosjean is fifth followed by the Racing Engineering drivers of Clos and Vietoris. Adam Carroll and Sam Bird start eighth and ninth respectively.
Yellow flags prevented anyone from setting a hot lap at the end of the session, but the nature of Monza should make overtaking fairly easy. With less than a second between pole and 20th, the field is as close as GP3. It should be – as ever – a cracking race this afternoon.

GP3 now, and Vittorio Ghirelli returns, albeit at Addax in place of Dean Smith who’s been struggling in the second half of the season. At Jenzer, his old seat has been taken by Christophe Hurni, a 48-year-old who is probably the oldest driver to take to the track at Monza this weekend! It’s possible that one of the Porsche drivers may be older of course.
Fifth-placed Adrian Quaife-Hobbs took pole for Manor Motorsport, while Silverstone winner Nico Muller is second. Adrian’s teammate Rio Haryanto is third, with Mitch Evans fourth. Championship leader Valtteri Bottas starts fifth with teammate James Calado in sixth. Arden’s Simon Trummer is seventh, next to Christensen. Tamas Pal Kiss and Tom Dillman make up row five. Alex Sims starts 11th and Nigel Melker 13th.
Free practice gave Lewis Williamson a ten-place grid penalty for putting himself and Quaife-Hobbs off the road, while Daniel Mancinelli was demoted three places for impeding AQH earlier in the same lap. They will start from almost the back of the grid.

Race weekend summary – GP2 and GP3

GP3
It was ART’s weekend as James Calado took pole in the first race. Beaten by championship leader Valtteri Bottas off the start, however, he could only come home second. After his early-season drought, Nigel Melker came third, with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs fourth after they had battled during the race. Fifth went to Carlin’s Conor Daly – his second points finish this year – sixth to Tom Dillmann, seventh to Nico Muller and eight to debutant Richie Stanaway. Alex Sims had been attacking Conor early in the race, but a spin caused his tyres too much wear and he fell backwards rapidly.
Stanaway led the second race from reversed pole for an impressive victory. James Calado took second again – along with the fastest lap – to put the gap between himself and Valtteri at 5 points. Valtteri had an incident during the race which must have shot his tyres as he was 19th by the end. Nico Muller came third for his second podium of 2011, and birthday boy Michael Christensen came fourth. In fifth was Arden’s Simon Trummer – his first points finish of the year and finally beating his teammates (though Lewis Williamson DNSed after mechanical problems, and Mitch Evans also retired). The final point went to Alex Fontana, another debutant.

GP2
The feature race began sanely, with only a couple of incidents – Charles Pic spinning into Luiz Razia and taking them both out – and then the rain came down. Giedo van der Garde went off at the top of Eau Rouge and the safety car came out. Then Max Chilton lost drive, Stefano Coletti went into the back of Mikhail Aleshin, and as the safety car had to slow right down behind Chilton’s stricken Carlin it caused problems for a lot of other drivers whose cars also began breaking. When things finally calmed, ten cars had retired and Brendon Hartley was on course for Ocean Racing’s first points. So was Johnny Cecotto Jr! The safety car went in and they raced for a lap. Johnny Jr sadly lost it on the final corner, allowing Fairuz Fauzy to take the final point behind Josef Kral. Later, the two positions were reversed as it emerged Fauzy had overtaken a very slow Kral under the safety car then given the position back, but it was determined that this shouldn’t have happened.
Christian Vietoris won from pole and also took the fastest lap, second was Jules Bianchi, and third Romain Grosjean, who was happy to be on the podium at the moment his championship win was secured. Luca Filippi came fourth, Hartley fifth, Dani Clos sixth and then Fauzy and Kral.
I wasn’t able to watch the sprint, but Johnny Jr had a great start to get up to second, but was overtaken during the race to finish eighth. So unlucky for the Venezuelan. It was Luca Filippi who won, the Italian driving brilliantly for Coloni, and he also took the fastest lap to go seventh in the championship. Jules Bianchi again came second, with Josef Kral on the podium for the second time this season and glad of some more points. Grosjean was fourth, Sam Bird fifth and Dani Clos sixth.

Summer day 20 – Nico Muller

Nico Muller – 8
In 2010, Swiss driver Nico finished 3rd in the championship. But with the standards so high this year, he’s struggled to pick up points. His first came with a fifth-place finish in the Barcelona feature race, which was then followed by two non-finishes. Finally, his point scoring returned in the Silverstone feature race. That race has helped a lot of the competitors this year, and when Nico qualified sixth and made the decision to start on wet tyres, his fate was sealed. Storming ahead of the rest of the field, he came home first.
The sprint race didn’t go so well, and he had another run of three races without points. But at the Hungaroring he finally got back into his point-scoring ways with an excellent fourth then fifth. Well done Nico.

Points: 21
Best qualifying: 6
Worst qualifing: 19
Best finish: 1 (Silverstone feature)
Worst finish: 15 (Istanbul sprint, Nurburgring feature)
Retirements: 2

Former Hungaroring winners

There are plenty of former winners from the Hungaroring taking place in the races this weekend. Quite a few drivers made their win debuts at this track as well, helped perhaps by the difficulty in overtaking.

First Formula One, where the track has been part of the world championship since 1986. First won by Nelson Piquet, of the current F1 crop the first winner was Michael Schumacher in 1994. He also got pole position and fastest lap for Benneton. Schumi has also won here in 1998 (pole, fastest lap), 2001 (pole) and 2004 (pole, fastest lap, led every lap), but hasn’t dominated in comparison to his usual record at tracks. Rubens Barrichello also won here in 2002 for Ferrari getting pole and barely beating Schumi to the line, and the next year it was Fernando Alonso in the Renault – unsurprisingly, he also had pole.
More recently, the race hasn’t been won by anyone in their championship year. 2006 was the debut win for Jenson Button, who took the first victory for a British driver since Australia 2003. Incredibly Jenson did not start on pole – he qualified 4th and an engine change meant he started 14th. The next year was Lewis Hamilton’s debut season; the race was hit with controversy when Alonso held up his teammate in the pits. Hamilton qualified second, but started 1st because of a five-place grid penalty given to Alonso. Another win from pole.
2008, and Heikki Kovalainen’s first season with McLaren. He took his debut (and so far only) win at the Hungaroring after Hamilton got a puncture and Massa’s engine blew up. He’d started second on the track. Kovalainen became F1’s 10th winner. The next year, Hamilton won again, incredibly qualifying ahead of both Brawns. He was assisted by problems for Alonso on pole and Vettel who’d started second.
Last year, Mark Webber won the race because of a drive-through penalty for teammate and polesitter Sebastian Vettel, who had fallen too far behind the safety car and thus broken sporting regulations.

In GP2, Sebastien Buemi won the sprint race in 2008. Pastor Maldonado won the feature race last year. Neither are likely to win this weekend, but may score some points for their teams.
Current GP2 drivers Giedo van der Garde and Adam Carroll have also both won here in the series. Carroll won the feature race in 2007, and van der Garde won the sprint in 2009.

Last year’s GP3 feature race winner Nico Muller, who has won a race this year, took the feature GP3 race last year. If things continue the way they have been going, however, we’ll get another two new winners at Hungary.

A few drivers have had victories here in Formula Renault 3.5: Daniel Ricciardo won the first race in 2010, though if he won this year it would be a miracle. GP2 driver Fairuz Fauzy won the first race in 2009, and Giedo van der Garde won the first race the year before his GP2 victory at the track.