Davidson back for Le Mans

In the news today…

Le Mans
Former Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi, and former Super Aguri driver (and current Sky commentator) Anthony Davidson have been signed up for Toyota’s second LMP1 team at Le Mans this year. Davidson was left without a drive this season when Peugeot announced their departure from the WEC, and the skilled British driver thoroughly deserves a place at Le Mans. Buemi remains a Red Bull and Toro Rosso tester, but it’s good to see him in a race seat at least once this year. This will be the Swiss driver’s first endurance race.
Ant Davidson’s former Peugeot teammate Alex Wurz, along with Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima, have already been signed to complete a full WEC season with Toyota in the LMP1 hybrid car.

GP2
Fabio Leimer, who has twice won the Barcelona GP2 sprint race and came second in the Italian sprint last season with Rapax, has signed with Racing Engineering for 2012. The Swiss driver also took second with Rapax at Imola for GP2 Asia. Leimer and Racing Engineering seem to be a good combination, as the GP2 final proved this year. He took pole in qualifying at Abu Dhabi, going on to win the feature race and take the fastest lap. This was enough to give him victory in the non-championship event, and already he is one of the favourites for the championship this year.

F1
Lots more testing going on today, with Jarno Trulli and Nico Hulkenberg both out with their teams for the first time in 2012. Alonso for Ferrari has been fastest so far, while Red Bull have had electrical issues so Vettel has not yet set a time. More to come later…

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Dominant win for Leimer

The GP2 final race proved today that it is definitely possible to overtake without DRS at Yas Marina. Polesitter Fabio Leimer had a good start while Dani Clos fell between Josef Kral and Luiz Razia. They went three-wide into the first corner – Luiz Razia came out on top while Clos caused Kral to spin and soon retired himself. Behind, Jolyon Palmer found himself in third place, with a few other drivers behind including GP3’s Tom Dillmann.
Max Chilton was another early retiree, as his brakes stopped working and he hit the barrier at turn one. Esteban Gutierrez had technical problems and finished a lap behind along with Stephane Richelmi.
During the race there were scraps up and down the field. Marcus Ericsson overtook his teammate and eventually finished fourth, but he was battling closely with Palmer through the final laps. Fifth was Kevin Ceccon, much improved since his first stint in GP2 earlier in the season. Then came three GP3 drivers – Tom Dillmann, Antonio Felix da Costa, and James Calado. But in my opinion Tom Dillmann has been the best of the rookies so far, displaying great pace throughout the weekend.
Fabio Leimer took the fastest lap on the way to victory, and Luiz Razia did not let him escape too far ahead. Jolyon Palmer also showed himself well with Addax as he took his first ever points finish and podium.

Tomorrow, the first three grid positions will be taken by Calado, da Costa and Dillmann. Good luck GP3 grads!

Leimer takes debut pole at Abu Dhabi

F1
First, the news. GP2’s Johnny Cecotto, Jr. will be joining Max Chilton in driving the VJM04 at the young drivers’ test next week. For Virgin there will be Robert Wickens (who is also driving for Renault), Charles Pic (who is likely to be driving for them in F1 next year) and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs.

Today was free practice, and three drivers were being replaced for the first session – Romain Grosjean replaced Bruno Senna, Jean-Eric Vergne replaced Sebastien Buemi, and Robert Wickens replaced Jerome d’Ambrosio. Plenty of cars were spinning – both Ferraris, Kovalainen and Glock amongst others. Fastest overall was Jenson Button, with Webber second and Hamilton third. Rubens Barrichello finally wore out his engine, and will bring his eighth into service for the remainder of the weekend. Pastor Maldonado is on his ninth engine, and will incur a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday.
The second session had no real incidents until about 30 minutes from the end. Sebastian Vettel locked up into turn one, and about ten minutes later Fernando Alonso went into the same turn too quickly. Both drivers slid into the barrier. Vettel has always taken pole when he crashes on Friday (Canada, Turkey and Japan), though only once has he converted that into a victory. The Red Bull wasn’t really damaged, and the car was returned quickly so Vettel was able to get back on track. Meanwhile, Ferrari weren’t able to get their car back on time to complete the session. Fastest in the end was Hamilton, second Button, and third Alonso.

GP2
The GP2 cars are also on track this weekend for their non-championship race. The last time GP2 cars came to Yas Marina was for the first round of the GP2 Asia championship. Jules Bianchi, who is not racing this weekend, won the feature race. Stefano Coletti, who is racing this weekend, won the sprint.
But in this morning’s practice session it was Esteban Gutierrez who went fastest, with Fabio Leimer second and Tom Dillmann third, and the only GP3 driver in the top ten. Nathanael Berthon in seventh was the fastest of the Formula Renault drivers. Meanwhile, Giacomo Ricci and Nicholas Marroc both received 10-place grid penalties for the feature race after ignoring yellow flags.
Qualifying saw Dani Clos, Josef Kral and Fabio Leimer fight over pole. It was Leimer who eventually took it after a red flag was caused by Esteban Gutierrez. It is the Swiss driver’s first pole in GP2. Clos took second with Kral third, Razia fourth. The first GP2 newbie was Tom Dillmann, still showing incredible pace and starting ninth tomorrow ahead of his iSport teammate Marcus Ericsson. James Calado qualified 12th but will start 11th after Ricci’s penalty, with Nigel Melker right behind him. The fastest Formula Renault driver is Alex Rossi, who will start 14th.

GP2 testing day one

Jerez de la Frontera was filled with the sound of GP2 cars today, as they took to the former Grand Prix track for testing. Local team Racing Engineering did themselves proud, with Fabio Leimer topping the timesheets in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
In the morning, he just beat Luca Filippi’s time by nine thousandths of a second. The Italian was driving for Coloni in the morning before handing over to Auto GP under-21 winner (and possibly champion) Kevin Ceccon in the afternoon.
Third in the morning was Britain’s Sam Bird, driving for Rapax, who just beat times from Johnny Cecotto (who caused a red flag late in the morning session) and Fabio Onidi.
In the afternoon, the second-best driver was Dutchman Yelmer Buurman, for AirAsia. Dani Clos was third for Addax, with GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas enjoying the GP2 car as he set the fourth-fastest afternoon time for ART.

Testing isn’t all about times of course. For the teams, it’s a chance to see how well young drivers can do, but it’s also a chance to experiment with different car set-ups that they couldn’t really try during the season. For the young Carlin Racing GP2 team, that was what Max Chilton and Alvaro Parente were up to.

Tomorrow’s lineup can be found on the GP2 website.

GP2 race and season summary

In the GP2 race, it was a hectic first couple of laps which saw Charles Pic find himself in a tangle of cars and he took himself out of the race with Romain Grosjean’s rear wing. Grosjean rejoined the race two laps down with a replacement wing. Meanwhile Jules Bianchi found himself in third after cutting the chicane at the start and then being overtaken by Fabio Leimer. He had Sam Bird on his tail, and Luca Filippi overtook to fifth before sticking behind them. In their current positions, unless Bianchi got the fastest lap, Luca would be second in the championship.
They processed around their track, a rather quiet race with not much overtaking. Esteban Gutierrez the former GP3 champion found himself sixth for his final point of the season. Meanwhile, after going straight on at one of the chicanes and finding himself a short way behind third and fourth, Luca set the fastest lap as he was getting himself back with Bianchi and Bird. This sealed his second place finish in the championship, a position previously held by Heikki Kovalainen, Nelson Piquet Jr, Lucas di Grassi, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez. Bianchi finished third, where he also finished last season.
Luca Filippi has been in GP2 since 2006. This year he finally beat his previous-best of fourth with Super Nova in 2007. He has competed 107 races in the series with five wins, seven seconds, four thirds. He has had two pole positions and nine fastest laps – five of which he achieved in the last eight races.
What’s next for Luca? Well, it could be F1 although the Italian has expressed interest in IndyCar. Championship winner Romain Grosjean will almost certainly be racing next year, and will definitely be racing in 2013. It’s gonna be good.

Charles Pic ended up fourth in the championship with Giedo van der Garde fifth. Sam Bird came sixth with today’s winner Christian Vietoris seventh. AirAsia’s Davide Valsecchi finishes eighth despite a troubled second half to the season, followed by Dani Clos and Marcus Ericsson. Stefano Coletti’s accident means he finishes eleventh as he had no chance to make up the three points to the Swede.
Teams champion was Addax with 101 points, followed by DAMS with 89 – all supplied by Romain Grosjean. In third, the mighty Racing Engineering with 75 points, and five points behind them are iSport. Lotus ART are only two behind iSport on 68, and in their first season AirAsia finish with 49 points.
Scuderia Coloni finish seventh – Luca Filippi’s amazing end of season not able to help them enough but shooting them well off the bottom of the table where they were for most of the season. They had 46 points. Trident in eighth only managed 22 points thanks to two wins in sprint races. Super Nova managed ninth with 20 points, and Rapax were 10th with 15 but equal to Arden International apart from their sprint race win from Fabio Leimer. Ocean came in 12th with four points – the same as Carlin who finish their first season in last place.

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.

Afternoon practice and GP2 qualifying

F1
In the second practice this afternoon, the track was damp to start with and everyone went out on inters. Eventually it dried enough for slicks and the times tumbled before the rain came down again. Amidst those conditions, it was Mark Webber who went fastest, with Alonso in second and rain master Button third. Webber’s teammate Vettel only went tenth fastest. The Force Indias always get on well at Spa, and came in eight and ninth with Nico Hulkenberg replacing Adrian Sutil for the session. Sergio Perez did even better with the seventh-fastest time, and Rosberg was sixth-fastest. Massa found himself a familiar fifth, and Hamilton fourth.
The Renaults were also struggling, and a steering problem for Petrov left him unable to set a competitive time. His new teammate came in 17th, a few tenths off Barrichello but still well ahead of the backmarkers. But Senna had been doing well earlier in the session as the track dried. Maybe he has some of his uncle’s talent in the rain.
The times aren’t really representative, and we may not find out where everyone lies this weekend until race day, with heavy rain expected tomorrow.

GP2
A wet qualifying session saw Sam Bird become the first casualty. Later, Charles Pic ended up going off the track at turn 17, which caused final sector problems. Fastest was Christian Vietoris, with Luca Filippi second and Pic third. Bianchi took fourth before one of two top-ten surprises – Michael Herck, who has picked up just one point so far this season. Romain Grosjean only managed eighth, while Johnny Ceccotto Jr became the second surprise. He currently starts 9th. I expect that we will see some penalties being issued, including to Vietoris who set his fastest final sector under yellow flags.

F2
In the afternoon practice session at a hot Red Bull Ring, the fastest driver was once again Mirko Bortolotti. Benjamin Lariche did well to finish third, while Sunghak Mun got in a hot lap less than a second off the leader to finish sixth. If he can do that in qualifying he’ll probably turn into a moving traffic island, unfortunately. He was nine hundredths ahead of Alex Brundle in seventh. Eighth was Christopher Zanella. Again Julian Theobald has managed to beat his brother, and seems to be getting on better with the track. Thiemo Storz was a disappointing 18th while Mikkel Mac and Armaan Ebrahim will have been surprised to be slowest.