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.

Autosport Awards round-up

Last night the Autosport Awards took place in London. These awards give recognition to the best British drivers, and the best drivers around the world. Jenson Button won the award for the best British Competition Driver, while Sebastian Vettel unsurprisingly won best International Driver after his spectacular performance this year. Vettel had a great acceptance speech/chat with Steve Rider (presenting the awards).

A special award was given to Dan Wheldon, collected by his father, for his outstanding achievements over his career. He was due to collect the Gregor Grant award after his second Indianapolis win, and after his death the decision was made to still present the award in his honour.

Rookie of the year went to Paul di Resta, for his outstanding deubt season in Formula One. The Senna film won the Pioneering and Innovation award, for the incredible way it worked with the F1 archives and created such a moving and honest documentary of the legendary driver.

Lots of other awards were given, but the biggest award of the night was the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award, to a young driver who has incredible potential. With so many big names having earned this award, and with the McLaren test included in the prize, whichever driver won it would be one to watch out for in the future. In the end, the award went to Formula Renault UK runner-up Oliver Rowland. Rowland will be entering the Formula Renault Eurocup next year. Keep an eye out for him!

d’Ambrosio gets Pic-axe

(I stole the title from someone else!)

It was an emotional Brazilian Grand Prix. For Jerome d’Ambrosio, it will most likely be his final F1 race unless he can go somewhere next season. He has been replaced at Marussia by excellent French GP2 driver Charles Pic. D’Ambrosio competed well against his German teammate, helped a bit by the car being more reliable. He finished 14th twice, with Glock’s best being 15th.

The race today was full of tension, but despite attempts by Jessica Michibata to perform the McLaren Rain Dance, none fell. Taking the lead from the start was polesitter Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber close behind. Alonso got between the two McLarens, but nobody could keep up with the Red Bulls. Early on, Vettel had gearbox problems, and though he held on, he lost some time to Webber. The Aussie took the lead, making it the first time both Red Bulls have led in the same race for the entirety of 2011.
Behind, Alonso overtook Button with a daring move arund the outside that will definitely go down as one of the best overtakes of the season. Towards the end of the race, the situation reversed itself as DRS and KERS brought Button back to third. The gap to Vettel was too far for the Brit to catch up in the remaining laps, and he settled for the bottom step of the podium.
In fifth came Felipe Massa. He had been having an okay race, not getting into trouble. Stopping later than most other drivers, he even led for a lap or two. Towards the final laps, the out-of-position McLarens came to overtaken the Brazilian. Jenson Button succeeded easily, but Lewis was struggling with gearbox problems. He tried hard to get past, and tension was in the air. But it was the McLaren gearbox that gave way first and Lewis parked up by the side of the track. At the end of the race, Felipe did some spectacular doughnuts before entering the pit lane. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap.
Coming home sixth was a special treat for Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Despite driving well this season, the German seems likely to be replaced at the team by test driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sutil brilliantly overtook Nico Rosberg mid-race, and was definitely the driver of the race. In eighth was Sutil’s teammate Paul di Resta. The Scottish rookie has had a great first season, racking up 27 points to beat Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Sutil finishes with 42 points, placing him 9th in the championship.
In ninth was Kamui Kobayashi, making sure Sauber beat Toro Rosso, and in tenth was Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen made sure Team Lotus secured 10th in the championship by finishing 16th and best of the new teams, ahead of Bruno Senna. Retirements came from Tonio Liuzzi, Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado and Timo Glock.

Maldonado has retired from seven races this season – more than any other driver – yet looks set to secure a drive for next season. By contrast, rookie Paul di Resta has led more laps than any other driver; the Scot has completed seven more than Fernando Alonso despite retiring in Turkey and Canada. He had late retirements in both races, however, whereas Alonso’s came earlier in the Canadian race.

From tomorrow, I will be figuring out season statistics and posting the most interesting ones here and on Twitter. I hope you have a great winter break!

Summer day 12 – Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta – 16
Scottish rookie Paul di Resta has had a good first season in F1. Having won the DTM championship, many people hoped he would be a more competitive teammate for Adrian Sutil, and so far they haven’t been proven wrong. Having beaten the German in seven of eleven qualifying sessions, he’s clearly got it in single-seaters as well as tin tops. In fact, he put the VJM04 into Q3 first of the two drivers, taking eighth on the grid in China.
He’s also one of that rare breed to score points on their debut, though they were received thanks to the disqualification of the two Saubers. In Malaysia, however, he finished 10th again, receiving points much more fairly. But until the most recent race, Paul went through a dry spell. In Hungary, however, he achieved his best-ever finish coming in 7th ahead of Rosberg’s works Mercedes. It’s rather worrying when the works car is struggling to compete with the teams they supply engines too. McLaren is one thing, but Force India…?
Paul has only been in Q3 once since China, when a brilliant push got him into sixth at his home race of Silverstone, again ahead of both works Mercedes. The Force India is doing well this year, and with both drivers putting in good performances, beating Sauber could be on the cards. But there is always the threat from Toro Rosso.
People are already speaking about Paul replacing Schumacher at Mercedes in 2012, or in 2013 if the seven-time world champion completes his contract. He is Mercedes’ golden boy, so a promotion is very likely. Meanwhile, he’ll definitely be around next season for more racing.

Points: 8
Worst qualifying: 16
Best qualifying: 6
Worst finish: 15 (Britain; classified non-finish 18th in Canada)
Best finish: 7 (Hungary)
Average difference: -1.36
Laps completed: 656/681 (96%)
Average race position: 11.56 (Best: 8.5 Hungary; Worst: 14.5 Monaco)

Rookie analysis

Australia saw four drivers come to F1 for the first time: Pastor Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta and Jerome d’Ambrosio. So how did they do? I’m a biased reporter, so I’m going to compare them more fairly with statistics:

Driver

P1 time

P2 time

P3 time

Q1 time

Race

Rubens Barrichello

1:28.430 (5th)

1:27.280 (9th)

1:28.068 (16th)

1:26.270 (qual 17th)

Ret lap 48

Pastor Maldonado

1:29.403 (15th)

1:29.386 (18th)

1:30.496 (21st)

1:26.298 (qual 15th)

Ret lap 9

Difference

0.967s (10)

2.106s (9)

2.428s (5)

0.028s

N/A

Pastor Maldonado crashed out of P3, but the P2 times didn’t have the same problems and should have been closer. The qualifying times were much more respectable, and the race itself had both Williams losing out to mechanical problems. While Maldonado started ahead of Barrichello, he fell behind by lap three despite the Brazilian driver going off the track. However, it was a bad race for Williams in general. I think it will take a few more races before we can start blasting Maldonado too much.

Driver

P1 time

P2 time

P3 time

Q1 time

Race

Adrian Sutil

1:29.314 (13th)

1:28.583 (17th)

1:27.180 (15th)

1:26.245 (qual 16th)

9 (finish 11)

Paul di Resta

N/A

1:28.376 (16th)

1:27.087 (14th)

1:27.222 (qual 14th)

10 (finish 12)

Difference

N/A

0.207s (1)

0.093s (1)

0.977s

1

In every practice session for which the two competed, they finished next to each other, with di Resta only slightly ahead. Sutil didn’t get to set a really competitive lap thanks to a mishap with the DRS just before the line, which is why his time was so far behind di Resta’s. Despite this, they both drove well and finished in the points after the Sauber disqualification. So not too bad for the pair, and a very good start for di Resta, though no more than I expected from him.

Driver

P1 time

P2 time

P3 time

Q1 time

Race

Kamui Kobayashi

1:28.725 (9th)

1:28.095 (17th)

1:26.417 (7th)

1:25.717 (qual 9th)

8 (DSQ)

Sergio Perez

1:29.643 (17th)

1:27.101 (8th)

1:28.077 (17th)

1:25.812 (qual 13th)

7 (DSQ)

Difference

0.918s (8)

0.994s (9)

1.660s (10)

0.095

1

Kobayashi and Perez set dramatically different times in practice, but both took turns at being the much faster driver. It all paid off for qualifying, when their Q1 times differed by less than a tenth. Perez of course finished ahead of Kobayashi after managing the tyres exceptionally well, and should have scored points on his debut. Fantastic from the second-youngest driver on the grid.

Driver

P1 time

P2 time

P3 time

Q1 time

Race

Timo Glock

1:35.289 (21st)

1:32.106 (21st)

1:30.261 (20th)

1:29.858 (qual 21st)

17 (NC, finish 15)

Jerome d’Ambrosio

1:25.282 (20th)

1:32.135 (22nd)

1:30.704 (22nd)

1:30.978 (qual 22nd)

16 (finish 14)

Difference

0.007s

0.029s (1)

0.443s (2)

1.120s

1

Just getting into the race was a miracle for the Virgins who had been outside the 107% mark for the three practice sessions. Incredibly, d’Ambrosio even managed to be a few thousandths off Glock’s time for P1 and P2, so he can compete on the same level as his fellow driver. His finish ahead was not only caused by problems with the German’s car, since he overtook Glock for the first 7 laps (though it was an exceptionally close thing).

In conclusion: all four rookies did well, and normally Maldonado’s performance would be acceptable. But di Resta, Perez and d’Ambrosio are exceptional as rookies, so he’s going to look bad in comparison with them. I’ll do this again for the next few races. Right now, I’d rate the rookies 1 – Perez, 2 – di resta, 3 – d’Ambrosio, 4 – Maldonado.

Jerez 2011 day four

The test in Jerez is over after four days. The next one starts on Friday in Barcelona, and will see the return of HRT after their trip to Monza to film for Pirelli. Today’s test allowed Bruno Senna a chance in the Renault, and he has done reasonably well, managing 68 laps.
Rubens Barrichello proved the ability of the Williams by becoming the only driver to dip below 1:20s, which was set fairly early in the day. He managed 103 laps despite causing a red flag. Kamui Kobayashi also set a lot of laps, taking long runs on the track while everyone else was at lunch, but he also caused a red flag. Third-fastest Fernando Alonso didn’t manage to make it up to his teammate’s faster time from earlier sessions, but once again the Ferrari was consistent and set 115 laps.
Other notable times include Kovalainen’s 1:21.632 – the fastest Lotus time all week, and exactly 1.8s off Barrichello’s time. It’s a vast improvement for the year-old team. He even managed to go faster than the Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Force India, although you can’t tell anything from lap times.

Times:
1 – Rubens Barrichello 1:19.832
2 – Kamui Kobayashi 1:20.601
3 – Fernando Alonso 1:21.074
4 – Sebastien Buemi 1:21.213
5 – Bruno Senna 1:21.400
6 – Heikki Kovalainen 1:21.632
7 – Nico Rosberg 1:22.103
8 – Sebastian Vettel 1:22.222
9 – Jenson Button 1:22.278
10 – Jerome d’Ambrosio 1:22.985
11 – Paul di Resta 1:23.111

The next test starts in Barcelona on Friday, which is a current race track. Last year’s pole qualifying time, set by Webber, was 1:19.995; the fastest lap in the race was set by Hamilton, at 1:24.357. A slower race lap was Pedro De La Rosa’s 1:30.411, set in lap 9 before he crashed out.