Signings galore!

Formula Renault 3.5
Champions Carlin have become the first team to complete their 2012 lineup with the addition of Brit Will Stevens. Stevens competed in two rounds of Formula Renault UK this season, and in two of the four races he finished second. He also competed in the Eurocup, driving for Fortec, taking three pole positions and winning the second race at Aragon. Overall he finished fourth in the championship.

GP2
Ocean Racing Technology have signed GP3 race winner Nigel Melker for 2012. Melker finished third in the championship despite not scoring points in the final rounds, and led after the first two races. He competed with DAMS in the GP2 final at Abu Dhabi.
More GP2 news is expected later today.

F1
Former Minardi driver Luis Perez-Sala has been signed by HRT as their Team Principal. Scoring just one point in his career (at a time when points only went down to sixth place) in the slow, unreliable Minardi, he had better success in the days before he became an F1 driver. The Spaniard continued racing up until 2008, when he finished second in the Spanish GT Championship.

Here’s a video of Sala driving in the rain at the 1986 Birmingam Superprix in F3000.

2011 review part 5 – Spain

After the traditional short break for Easter, the European season began in Turkey. Joining the F1 circus were the GP2 and GP3 teams, beginning their own championship races.
The Friday morning was soaking wet, which meant Team Lotus’s Karun Chandhok was once again denied any decent practice time (he had crashed the car at the start of FP1 in Australia). The biggest event of the session, however, was caused by Sebastian Vettel. Pushing the RB7 to its limits, he got onto the wet kerbs just after turn eight and spun, skidding through the grass and hitting the wall.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/player.swf

The rest of practice was dry and uneventful, with Vettel failing to run in the second session. In the third, he set the fastest time by a thousandth of a second from Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. On Saturday afternoon, it was time for qualifying.

Kamui Kobayashi became the fall guy, not even setting a time after his Sauber broke down. D’Ambrosio received a penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice and started 23rd, with Kobayashi at the back as he did not meet the 107% rule but was granted permission to race. (The penalties would not always be applied in this order for future races) In Q2, Barrichello was narrowly squeezed out of the top ten by Nick Heidfeld, and the two Force Indias would start behind the Brazilian but ahead of Maldonado. Perez and the Toro Rossos were next. In Q3, Felipe Massa failed to set a time after mechanical problems and would line up tenth on the grid for race day. Nico Rosberg trounced his teammate for Mercedes’ best qualifying thus far, starting third behind the Red Bulls. Vettel, as ever, was on pole.

Race day came, and DRS was to play a major part in the action. In the opinion of many, it was just too easy at Istanbul Park, especially after the zone had been extended. The Pirellis wore quickly and winner Sebastian Vettel stopped four times on his way to the third win of the season. Pit stops, however, were all he had to worry about. Mark Webber took second while Fernando Alonso claimed third for Ferrari having been overtaken by the Aussie close to the end of the race. Both Buemi and Kobayashi would put in great drives, finishing in the points despite bad qualifying.
Retirements were few, coming only from Paul di Resta whose car broke down late in the race. Timo Glock failed to start the race. Kovalainen would have beaten his teammate had his Lotus not suffered mechanical issues which slowed him down.

Vettel dominated the championship. But with Barcelona traditionally the location for major car upgrades, there was still a chance to beat him despite the huge lead on Hamilton.

In GP2, Romain Grosjean won the feature race from pole, and took fastest lap in the sprint. This put him at the top of the championship, on equal points with Sam Bird and just three ahead of GP3 graduate Stefano Coletti who won the sprint race.
In GP3 it was Nigel Melker who had the best start, winning the feature race and coming third in the sprint for fourteen points. Andrea Caldarelli was closest behind, on ten points. Sprint winner Alex Sims had eight points – the same as fourth-placed Tom Dillmann.

[To be continued]

Formula Renault UK winter series

Formula Renault UK
The Formula Renault Finals Series (formerly the winter series) hits the tarmac at Snetterton this weekend, and unlike the summer series has a packed field. As well as the usual British teams, there are a few international teams and the drivers are truly international – though several of the summer series drivers return. Not, however, Alice Powell, who is missing out. Six of the cars will be BARC entries (running older Formula Renault cars), and those drivers will be in bold.
So who isn’t missing out? Korainen (FIN) are fielding six drivers in cars 2-7: Daniil Kvyat (RUS), Esteban Ocon (FRA), Hans Villemi (EST), John Bryant-Meisner (SWE), Martin Rump (EST) and Stefan Wackerbauer (GER). There will be two drivers for Atech Reid (GBR) in cars 8 and 16 – Geoff Uhrhane (AUS) and Dan Wells (GBR) respectively. Interwetten (AST) will be supporting just Melville McKee (GBR), and Van Amersfoort (NED) will field cars 11 and 12 – Dennis van der Laar (NED) and Joao Sergio Camara (BRA).
Next Fortec (GBR), the summer series champions, whose eight drivers include several series regulars and a few who are new to racing. Josh Hill (GBR) son of Damon and formerly of Manor is in car 14. Dan De Zille (GBR) is in car 19, Felix Serrales (PR) who took part in a few races as a guest driver is in car 24. Archie Hamilton (GBR) is in car 26; Ed Jones (UAE) another guest driver is in car 29; Thomas Jager (AST) is in car 34, and Shahaan Engineer (IND) is car 39. Jake Dennis is in car 41, and summer’s runner-up Oli Rowland is in car 44.
Manor Competition are entering three drivers, and retain just one of their summer lineup. With Alice not driving and Josh off to Fortec, it has to be the incredible Jordan King (GBR), who took a win and a second place in Indian GP support races. As usual he is in car 42. Nick McBridge (AUS) and Hector Hurst (GBR) are in cars 17 and 18 respectively.
Hillspeed (GBR) are also putting out three cars, with Victor Jiminez (ESP) in car 25, Joe Kibbler (GBR) in car 31, and Sean Walkinshaw (GBR) in car 33. Mark Burdett (GBR) have cars 21 and 22: Josh Webster (GBR) and Tomasz Krzeminski (POL). Antel Motorsport (GBR) have Ivan Taranov (RUS) and Chirag Marhotra (IND) in cars 27 and 28. Finally, MGR (GBR) have cars 66 and 99. James Fletcher (GBR) is in car 66, while 99 is TBC.
The drivers to look out for are probably Oliver Rowland, Daniil Kvyat, Josh Hill and Jordan King. The British drivers will have experience of Snetterton, and Daniil is simply a good driver.

Live timing will be at http://www.tsl-timing.co.uk

GP2 Final
Watch out James Calado and Tom Dillmann! GP3 double race winner Rio Haryanto and one-time winner (but consistent) Nigel Melker will be driving for DAMS in the GP2 final! Rio will be the first ever Indonesian GP2 driver.

F1
Sam Michael has begun working for McLaren after Williams gave him permission. He would originally have had to take ‘gardening leave’ until March before working for his new team, but the teams have recently made an arrangement that will see McLaren’s new sporting director present at Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

Indycar
Despite being sponsored by the Lotus car company, KV Racing will be using Chevrolet engines in 2012. I don’t usually report on Indycar, but with Lotus always a hot topic in F1 circles, I thought this merited a mention. Lotus engines will be available to Indy teams next season along with Chevvy and Honda, but so far only one team has committed to running them. It will be interesting to see whether this affects the relationship between KV and Lotus.

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 25 – Nigel Melker

Nigel Melker – 3
There’s no better way to start your GP3 season than by winning a race, and that was what Nigel Melker did. In the first two rounds he qualified well, but after that he had a severe drop in performance. After winning the Istanbul feature race he came third in the sprint, then came sixth in the feature at Barcelona and second in the sprint. After that, however, Nigel was on a points drought. He had retirements in both Valencia and Silverstone, though he came eighth from starting 27th in the Silverstone sprint. Finally he returned to form at the Nurburgring, coming tenth in the feature before sailing to third with the fastest lap in the sprint. At Hungary, he came eighth in the feature but dropped back in the next race to finish fourth with the fastest lap. Despite his struggle, however, he only dropped to fifth because of the close field, and is only eight points below championship leader Valtteri Bottas.

Points: 32
Best qualifying: 2
Worst qualifing: 27
Best finish: 1 (Istanbul feature)
Worst finish: 19 (Valencia sprint)
Retirements: 2

Post-Valencia penalties

The incident-strewn GP2 and GP3 races have resulted in the following 10-place grid penalties at the next round at Silverstone:

Romain Grosjean for the first-lap collision of the GP2 sprint.
Rio Haryanto, Nigel Melker and Thomas Hylkema for causing collisions in the second GP3 race.

The incident-free F1 race resulted in no penalties being applied. Zzzzzz…

GP2 and GP3 race 2

GP3
Well that was exciting. A crash off the start line took out a stalled Muller, Sims and Stockinger, and so we had a safety car out, and they had to go through the pit lane to avoid the accident. Three drivers were given drive-through penalties for jumping the start: Vainio (from P4!), Calado and Quaife-Hobbs. Towards the end of the race there were more incidents, with Storey putting himself out after a fight with Trummer, then Nunes taking out himself and Trummer.
The race ran to time, and Tamas Pal Kiss for Tech 1 won the race with Mucke’s Nigel Melker second and Dean Smith third for Addax. Caldarelli (who got fastest lap), Evans and Chaves made up the rest of points scorers, but Chaves was given a penalty to promote Valtteri Bottas into sixth. It is Tech 1’s first GP3 victory, just as yesterday was Arden’s.

So this means Nigel Melker (leading the championship) and Andrea Caldarelli (2nd) have finished in the points for every race. Third-placed Mitch Evans has finished in the points for three races, just missing out in the Turkey sprint, and Dean Smith (9th) just missing out in the Turkey feature race.

GP2
A smash off the start line, this time caused by Bianchi’s ART collecting van der Garde’s Addax, causing a safety car. They won’t be getting any points today. Coletti got himself up to sixth, while Sam Bird got up to fourth and Dani Clos up to second. Romain Grosjean reached P22 after his disqualification from yesterday’s race, and Fauzy got up to P9.
Feature race winner Charles Pic was shown the black and orange flag for damage on his car, and relegated to the back of the grid. Lap 13, and Esteban Gutierrez managed to take out Michael Herck again. This time he kept going. Romain Grosjean never managed to get anywhere high at the start, but he pushed through a lot of cars towards the end of the race and finished a brilliant 9th.
Towards the end, Razia and Filippi took each other out, Filippi stopping on track and Razia retiring. Valsecchi overtook Sam Bird for fourth place as Bird’s tyres faded, and Coletti and Kral – fighting for sixth – took each other out and let Fairuz Fauzy in to the final points position.
In general, the start of the race was rather processional – as to be expected in Barcelona – but at the end it was very exciting with cars crashing all over the place. Fabio Leimer led from pole, gaining a good lead on Dani Clos and setting some very fast laps at the end. Clos in turn was well ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who took the final podium slot. Sam Bird spent most of the race in fourth but finished fifth behind AirAsia’s Davide Valsecchi. Fairuz Fauzy was gifted the final point for his third main series GP2 point (all three coming this season).
Sam Bird is the only GP2 driver to have scored points in every race.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so all these results are unofficial until penalties have been applied. And if the rest of this season is anything to go by, there will be a lot of them. Driver steward Mark Blundell was expressing his frustration at the drivers on his Twitter @markblundellf1.