Worrying times in Bahrain

Bahrain
A car carrying four members of the Force India team was involved in a car bombing incident in Bahrain yesterday. While none of them were injured, it is believed that tear gas and Molotov Cocktails were thrown near the car. The action was sparked by protestors with petrol bombs, and the tear gas was the natural retaliation of the police. One team member not involved has asked for and been given permission to go home, while I have also heard from Twitter that one of those in the car has also asked to go home.
This may have been an isolated incident, but unlike the media who are bravely taking on extra responsibilities to seek out the protestors and find out what is really going on, the Force India guys were just there to do their job. Protests are expected to increase over the weekend, with one scheduled for tomorrow after FP2, and others over the remainder of the weekend.
Force India will still race on Sunday, though Nico Hulkenberg has expressed reservations. The team have put in additional security measures to make sure everything goes well.
This race will be overshadowed by the political situation, but I am going to watch it. Not to support the government, but because if the F1 and GP2 guys are going out there despite fears for safety, how can I – in the safety of Britain – not support them? I hope that they all stay safe and that no more incidents happen. F1 people are not a target, but they could get caught up in things.

Meanwhile many members of the press who were expecting to report on the race have been forbidden from entering the country, being turned back at the airport, while it’s rumoured that tourists are being forced to buy F1 tickets in order to enter the country.

GP2
In a very last-minute change, Brendon Hartley will be replacing Jon Lancaster at Ocean this weekend. Even the Ocean website has quotes from Lancaster, as well as his teammate Nigel Melker, about Bahrain. The British driver did tweet last Friday: “All that media attention in Bahrain, hope nobody tries to prove the decision wrong to race in Bahrain. #risky” (@Lancaster4F1)
Hartley drove two rounds for Ocean in the 2011 championship, picking up four points for the team in the feature race in Belgium. Shockingly, these were the team’s only points of the season. The Kiwi also picked up several podiums to finish fifth in the FR 3.5 series, but had not been given a drive this year.
I hope that Lancaster is OK. I recall last year that he had been hoping to drive in the Spa-Francorchamps round of F2 but had been unable to compete, leaving him without a drive for the rest of 2012 after budget problems. He’s a good driver and definitely deserves a seat in GP2.

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Ceccon gets Oceans of chance in GP3

F2
There’s just one week until the 2012 season kicks off, and it looks like a number of talented drivers will be on track. Swiss driver Mauro Calamia is the latest to be officially announced, but there are also a number of drivers listed on the website who are yet to be confirmed, including 2010 champion Dean Stoneman. With the new faster, better cars, this year looks set to produce some good racing. We can only hope that there aren’t too many regulars at the back of the field.
Mauro Calamia joins F2 from Formula Renault Alps, where he finished 10th of 25 drivers. He picked up a reasonable 125 points. He tended to be in the bottom half of the timesheets during testing, but hopefully the 20-year-old rookie will catch up as the season progresses.

GP3
As well as Tamas Pal Kiss, two other drivers have been announced this week. Status Grand Prix have a second driver in Kotaro Sakurai, a Japanese driver who was British F3 national class champion last season. The youngster has tested GP3 before, but this will be his first season in the series.
Meanwhile, Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon will be joining Carmen Jorda and Robert Cregan at Ocean Racing Technology. Ceccon participated in GP2 for Scuderia Coloni last season after Davide Rigon was injured, but it was a premature step up for the Italian. Ceccon should do well in GP3, and I expect him to be a frontrunner from the first race.

F1
If you thought the Lotus saga was over, think again! Group Lotus, who were title sponsors of Renault last season, have pulled out of that role by mutual consent with the team. Group Lotus have been struggling, and their owners Proton have been cutting back. Lotus F1 Team will still keep the name, however, until 2017. So there will be a Lotus with no connection to either the original team or the car manufacturer for the next few years in F1. In fact, Caterham probably have more connection to the original Team Lotus than Lotus F1 now!
All you need to know is, Lotus are still called Lotus. They have no connection to Lotus but they still have the name. Ow my head!

Meanwhile, news out of South America suggests that Argentina are likely to be hosting an F1 race from 2013 and replacing South Korea, despite the Asian venue arranging a lower hosting fee. This will be confirmed (or not) within the next few weeks. If it does go ahead, this means there will be two new races for 2013: Argentina and New Jersey. The question is, which races will be set aside?

Things are hotting up once again in Bahrain, with the F1 race looking set to be the focal point of protests. While F1 should be careful not to take sides, I think that the situation merits a cancellation. I fear that the protesters would target the media and team personnel, to make sure that their voices are heard. It would be awful if anyone were injured or killed just because Bernie Ecclestone insisted the race go ahead. The protesters might see it as a victory, but it would be a hollow one. The government might be in the wrong, but I doubt they would target anyone connected to F1. I fear the protesters would have no such qualms.

British F3
The new season starts this weekend at Oulton Park. At the time of writing, only free practice has happened so far. Alex Lynn was fastest by almost 0.5s from Felix Serralles, which is a good start from the Formula Renault UK graduates who are both at Fortec. Jack Harvey was Carlin’s fastest, only 0.04s slower than Serralles, and his teammate Harry Tincknell was fourth-fastest.

Other
Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens is setting his single seater career aside to join Mercedes’s DTM team this year. There are a lot of drivers taking part in the series, from a wide variety of nations. Most of them are talented, and if you can watch it then it should be good fun! The season starts on April 29th at Hockenheim.

Quaife-Hobbs takes Auto GP victory

Auto GP
The first race of the season began with 16-year-old Sergey Sirotkin stalling on the grid. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs maintained his lead, but was closely folowed by Sergio Campana. Despite being held up by the delayed Sirotkin after his pit stop, Quaife-Hobbs was still able to hold position over Campana to take a close win. Behind them, Pal Varhaug found himself in third where the Norwegian maintained a decent gap between himself and those on either side. Chris van der Drift began well for Manor MP, but a mistake coming out of Parabolica saw him lose places. Though he fought back, taking as late a pit stop as possible, he was only able to finish sixth. His teammate Daniel de Jong gained several positions to finish fourth on the road.
However, the MLR71 team were discovered after the race to have changed the front tyres instead of the rear tyres. All teams had been instructed to change the rear tyres at Monza. This meant Campana and Michele La Rosa both received 1-minute penalties, promoting Varhaug to second and de Jong to third. Campana was demoted to tenth.
Sirotkin took the point for fastest lap, which doesn’t really make up for his stall but it’s forgivable with the Russian’s limited experience. Quaife-Hobbs leads the championship with 26 points – 25 for his win, and one for pole. While we don’t know if he will be driving in the next round, it seems highly likely considering his brilliant performance today. Incredibly, the Brit had never done a standing start in the car before today, and it was also his first ever pit stop.
The second race is at 10:45 GMT tomorrow, where Antonio Spavone starts from pole having finished eighth after Campana’s penalty. Former F2 driver Max Snegirev starts next to him.

GP3
Ocean Racing Technology announced their first GP3 drivers today. Spanish driver Carmen Jorda, who participated in some of the 2010 Indy Lights series and has taken podiums in the F3 Open Copa F306/300, will join Irish driver Robert Cregan. Cregan was driving in V8 supercars last year, and he came second in the UAE GT Championship for the GTC classification. He last drove in single-seaters back in 2006 for the FFord 1600 Walter Hayes Trophy.

FR 3.5
Giovanni Venturini will take the final space on the grid in the series, partnering Nicolay Martsenko. Initially Daniel Zampieri had been suggsted at the team. Venturini comes from Auto GP, where he finished ninth with two wins and one pole position.

New test driver for Marussia

F1
Marussia have announced their new test driver for the 2012 season: Maria de Villota. Maria had initially tried for the Renault team, but the Spanish driver has ended up at the Sheffield-based team instead. Since she does not qualify for a super license yet (she needs more test mileage), the team will probably have to find another reserve driver.
Maria participated in the first round of the truncated 2011 Superleague Formula series, finishing 12th in both races to take home Spain’s only points in the series. She also participated in the 2010 season for Athletico Madrid, picking up several top-ten finishes in her races (though she was also excluded from one round for crashing into Sebastien Bourdais).

Pirelli also had news today, with the team gaining a new test car from Renault. The R30 – two-year-old predecessor to the Lotus E20 – will be in their hands for tyre tests throughout 2012. This is the car that was driven by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, gaining three podium positions.

GP2
Today was the second of three testing days for the series, and 2010 GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez at Lotus GP set the pace in the morning. He was unbeaten by the afternoon times. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde was only four thousandths slower, and Carlin’s Max Chilton was four thousandths slower than the Dutchman. Davide Valsecchi was 15 thousandths slower than Gutierrez for DAMS, before a slightly bigger gap to Stefano Coletti. Those top four were the only ones who made it into the 1:28 lap times, and look set to be title contenders this year. Fabrizio Crestani put Lazarus into the top ten as well. Race simulations were the order of the afternoon, which saw some rookie faces in the top ten – notably Jon Lancaster and Ricardo Teixeira who have not typically been high on the timesheets.

GP3
Tiago Monteiro’s Ocean Racing Technology have replaced Tech 1 in the bottom tier of F1’s support races. Ocean, who have signed GP3 graduate Nigel Melker and Jon Lancaster in their GP2 squad, have been showing interest in the series. Tech 1 began the 2011 season of GP3 well, with a win in the second sprint from Tamas Pal Kiss, but the loss of Andrea Caldarelli didn’t help and they struggled for the remainder of the races. They have a better record in Formula Renault 3.5, where they will be running Jules Bianchi alongside Kevin Korjus this year.

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Alguersuari joins the BBC

F1
Dumped Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has a new job. His voice will soon be broadcast throughout the UK on BBC Radio 5 Live as he becomes the station’s expert F1 analyst – a role previously held by Sky’s Anthony Davidson. Alguersuari has a clear desire to return to F1, and this will give him every opportunity to stay around the paddock; he will be karting throughout the year to help keep up his physical training, and no doubt he will also do some DJing.
Whilst it’s not the best place to be in, it could be much worse for the Spaniard – who became the youngest ever to start an F1 race in 2009. Hopefully he will adapt well to radio, and soon be back on track. He was regarded by fans as a great prospect, and at only 21 he has a good chance of a return. Meanwhile, I will look forward to hearing him for the first race of the season.

Marussia also presented good news today, as their car passed the final crash test. It’s been a hard winter, but now they are ready for Melbourne.

GP2
It was a choppy 2011 for new Ocean Racing signing Jon Lancaster. The Brit participated in the F2 round at Magny-Cours, finishing both times in the points, but dropped out of the series. He then moved to Auto GP, participating in four races. He scored in all four of them, including a win and fastest lap at Donnington Park. But it’s hard to find sponsorship, and Lancaster was struggling. However, the Brit now has an opportunity to shine with what will hopefully be a full season at GP2.

The GP2s were testing in Barcelona today, and Fabrizio Crestani surprised everyone by going fastest for new team Lazarus. Carlin’s Max Chilton was fastest in the afternoon – a great improvement on 2011, as the team get used to the series. Second was Julian Leal, with Marcus Ericsson third. James Calado continued to be the best of the GP3 graduates, and he has a good chance of being a rookie champion.

Auto GP
This series gets under way in just a few days at Monza, supporting the WTCC. A few drivers have been confirmed, including Max Snegirev, Pal Varhaug and Daniel de Jong. The strange make-up of the calendar may be somewhat off-putting to drivers, but more should be revealed in the next few days.

IndyCar
2011 GP2 runner-up Luca Filippi has confirmed that he will be participating in the IndyCar championship this year from the Indy 500. He will be driving at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which have Honda engines, alongside former F1 star Takuma Sato.

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.

Four seats TBA in GP2 final

GP2
Addax have confirmed that Jolyon Palmer, who drove for Arden this season, will be one of their two drivers for the GP2 final in Abu Dhabi. The second will be American Jake Rosenzweig from Formula Renault. At Ocean Racing, French driver Nicolas Marroc will be joining Antonio Felix da Costa. Marroc currently drives in the International GT Open, but last year took part in the F3 Euroseries. He is the third Frenchman currently signed up for the final.
The remaining seats to be announced are at Arden and Super Nova.

F1
In the young drivers’ test, Dani Clos (GP2) will be driving for HRT; Renault/Lotus will have Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robert Wickens, Estonian Kevin Korjus, and their reserve driver Jan Charouz; and Max Chilton will be driving for Force India.
Korjus will be only the second Estonian to drive an F1 car, and along with Kevin Ceccon will be one of the first drivers called ‘Kevin’ in an F1 car since 1981.

Race of Champions
Marussia Virgin’s Timo Glock will be competing in the ROC alongside Timo Scheider, the German touring car star. They will make up a second German team, with the first being Schumacher and Vettel.

In other news, former F1 driver for Williams and Team Lotus and American CART champion Alex Zanardi, who was injured in a CART accident in 2001, has won the New York Marathon handcycling class. Good work!