New test driver for Marussia

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.

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.

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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Arden and Caterham announce tie-up

FR 3.5
Racing teams Arden and Caterham – rivals in GP2 – have teamed up for the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 campaign. Caterham development driver Alex Rossi, who drove for Fortec last season in the series, is likely to partner Arden’s Lewis Williamson but nothing has been confirmed yet. Arden already have connections to Caterham, with their GP3 team sponsored by AirAsia (Caterham boss Tony Fernandes’s airline). There is also a Red Bull connection to Arden and to Caterham.

Lucas Foresti, who drove for Fortec in last season’s British F3 championship, has signed with DAMS for the 2012 FR 3.5 season. The Brazilian, who drove for Carlin in the 2010 BF3 season and has GP3 experience, will partner Arthur Pic at the French outfit.

Marussia Manor Racing have announced the second driver in their 2012 lineup. Fabiano Machado, who won last season’s F3 South America with 17 wins from 25 races, is older than the average GP3 driver. He will partner Dmitry Suranovich.

The series announced today that alongside the normal F2 championship there will also be a rookie championship open to all drivers who have competed in less than two F2 rounds before the start of the season. Last year many rookies did well, including Christopher Zanella and Ramon Pineiro (finishing 2nd and 3rd in the championship respectively). I’m not sure this is necessary, but perhaps the prize for winning this championship will be encouraging as no doubt it will give some extra funding to support the future of someone’s racing career.

Finally, Pirelli have announced the tyre choices for the first three races of the season:













While these may seem like strange choices, remember that the tyres are much softer this season.

Jules Bianchi becomes Force India reserve

Today it was confirmed by Force India that Jules Bianchi will be coming to the team for 2012. Bianchi, who has been a Ferrari test driver and remains in their driver training program, will take part in some of the pre-season testing and a number of Friday practice sessions.
The Frenchman is the grandnephew of Lucien Bianchi, a Belgian racing driver who drove sporadically in F1 and came third in the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix. Bianchi regularly took part in Le Mans, and died in 1969 when his Alfa Romeo T33 hit a telegraph pole during testing.
As for Jules, he has finished third in GP2 for the last two seasons, both years with ART (now Lotus). In fact, these have been his only years in the series, and include a pole position on his debut! Though he has only won one GP2 race (the 2011 British feature race), he has been incredibly consistent throughout his whole time in the series. He also finished second in the 2011 GP2 Asia series, winning the Abu Dhabi feature race. Before GP2 he was still an ART driver, and won the F3 Euroseries in 2009 having come third the year before. It is a shame that this fantastic driver isn’t in F1 yet. However, Force India have two equally good drivers in their main lineup. They will be hard to replace.

Lotus have named their new car the E20, as it is the 20th car to be built at Enstone. Though the team has changed names twice, the E20 is a direct successor of the Benetton F1 cars that were first made there.

Finally, GP3 have made some announcements over the last couple of days. First, the series will finally be racing at Monaco alongside F1, GP2 and FR 3.5. This is great news for the series, and will be a real encouragement for young drivers. As if that wasn’t enough, Pirelli will be offering a prize to the champion of the series – 200,000 Euros, plus a GP2 test drive over the winter break – providing the driver moves to a GP2 team the next season. So far, only one of the two GP3 champions has moved to GP2 the following season, though Valtteri Bottas’s plans have not yet been announced. It is a very tempting reward. Hopefully, it will attract a fantastic calibre of drivers this season and in the years to come.

As I was writing this post, Formula Renault UK made a big announcement which I will post about in a short while.

MW Arden completes Laine-up

It’s a few months until the first GP3 race of 2012, but MW Arden aren’t hanging around. The Australian team have chosen to fill all three of their driver slots, placing Finn Matias Laine alongside Mitch Evans and David Fumanelli. Laine has one year of GP3 experience, though he failed to finish higher than 14th last season. He has also participated in Formula Renault UK and the F3 Euroseries.

In other news, Pirelli have launched their 2012 F1 tyres. The colourings on the dry tyres will be similar to 2011, but the wet tyres have changed with the intermediate going from blue to green while the wet goes from orange to blue. The compounds will also be softer, with the new soft tyre closer to 2011’s super-soft. This is designed create more challenging and interesting racing, though as teams are allowed more flexibility on weight distribution this year they should overcome some wear problems.
Former Virgin (now Marussia) driver Jerome d’Ambrosio has signed with Lotus (formerly Renault, as I have to keep reminding myself) as third driver for 2012. The Belgian will be present at every Grand Prix next season, on hand in case one of them is unable to race for some reason.
It is rumoured that Rubens Barrichello will be testing the DW12 – the new Indycar chassis – in the next few days. It would be good to see the Brazilian continue his motorsport career, and if he does race then he will certainly improve IndyCar’s international viewing figures (especially from Brazil). It will be the first time in a while that an experienced and proven F1 driver has gone to the series, which has one round in Sau Paulo. Indy is not as lucrative as F1, and there is a shadow over it since the death of Dan Wheldon last season. Perhaps his wife might prefer it if he retired! You can take the driver out of racing, but you can’t take racing out of the driver. Even Stirling Moss only hung up his gloves last year. I say, keep going Rubinho!

GP3 drivers under more pressure

More big news for GP2 and GP3 today. GP3 has already proven itself to be a useful stepping stone to the GP2 series, with GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez having already taken his first victory in the harder series. The series are organised by the same group, and both support the same F1 races (aside from Monaco, where the GP3 round was unable to take place because of lack of garage space). With the merger of GP2 and GP2 Asia, and the creation of the non-championship GP2 final at Abu Dhabi, this gives young drivers an opportunity to get into the new series as well as to race at Abu Dhabi.
Pirelli announced today a special prize for GP3 drivers who take part in the race. Any GP3 driver who participates in the race and finishes in the points (top 8 in feature, top 6 in sprint) has the chance of winning a cash prize from the tyre supplier. The top GP3 finisher will get 15,000 Euros, and the second GP3 finisher will get 10,000 Euros, assuming they finish in the points.

As if GP3 weren’t close enough this season, now the drivers will want to show off their skills even more to the GP2 teams. The GP2 teams, who will be competing themselves for a cash prize, will want to chose the best drivers. Of course, the drivers don’t just have to come from GP3. It’s likely that a few good F2 drivers might have a chance – Mirko Bortolotti most likely – as well as drivers from other series. Adam Carroll who previously competed in GP2 might want to return to give himself another go at reaching F1. But I don’t doubt we’ll see GP3’s Mitch Evans and Alex Sims in GP2 cars for the big race. I can’t wait!

Knife, bread, butter, jam…

It’s an all-British lineup for Carlin this weekend as Oliver Turvey takes the place of Mikhail Aleshin. The Russian driver was looking doubtful to drive for the whole season, and Turvey had replaced him in tests. After a poor showing in Barcelona after his injury at Istanbul, it made sense for Carlin to try a more experienced driver.
In 2009, Turvey came 4th with Carlin in FR 3.5, winning the race in Monaco. Last year he competed in GP2 with iSport, finishing 6th with several finishes on the podium, and he won the second Abu Dhabi GP2 Asia feature race in 2009-10, also coming sixth with iSport. In the 2011 GP2 Asia championship he finished 16th, with a best finish of 8th.

We will be seeing the super-soft tyres come out at Monaco for the first time. They will be red. As Martin Brundle said at the first race, the tyres are coloured silver, white, yellow and red or: knife, bread, butter and jam. So far we have seen the silver hard tyres and the yellow soft tyres. We will continue to see the butter yellow softs at Monaco, but they will become ‘primes’ while the super-softs are the options.
Monaco is a slow, low-downforce track so the tyres should wear less than at a high-downforce track like Barcelona. All the same, these tyres create a risk of another massive pit-stop race where Pirelli are looking for only 2 or 3 maximum.

Pirelli’s tyre colours

Okay guys: orange, blue, red, yellow, white, silver. Six colours, which Pirelli will be using on their tyres over 2011. White and silver maybe aren’t so easy to tell apart, but it’s okay because they’re not going to be used in the same race; like Bridgestone, Pirelli will be leaving a gap between the compounds. Here’s the list:

Wet: orange
Intermediate: blue
Super-soft: red
Soft: yellow
Medium: white
Hard: grey

It’s certainly a lot more informative and interesting than the Bridgestone ‘put a green line on the softer tyre’ method. But to make it less hard to remember: yellow or red means soft, while white or silver means hard. Rain will be obvious anyway. In Melbourne, we’ll be seeing silver and yellow, as well as at Sepang and Shanghai.
I’m sure it won’t take too long to get used to this, although it may be confusing for casual fans who get stuck enough between soft and hard tyres and the difference between them. But for hard-core fans like myself, it adds another dimension, and will provide plenty of clues to who will be pitting when.