Great racing under a shadow

GP2
It was almost a perfect weekend for Davide Valsecchi, coming from eighth to first to win the Bahrain sprint race in the closing laps. Calado had made a good start, getting in the lead ahead of Leimer and Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Leimer scrapped, and the Racing Engineering driver eventually won. Leimer also took the Brit, who had a bit of wear of his tyres and also lost out to his teammate Esteban Gutierrez. In the lead, Leimer was judged to have gone too fast under yellow flags and had to take a drive through penalty. Gutierrez was back but not in charge as Valsecchi was right behind him. The Italian took the win in the penultimate lap.
Felipe Nasr, despite his penalty and having to start from the pitlane after stalling on the way to the grid, finished 6th. It was an excellent drive from the young Brazilian. Simon Trummer also did well and took the final point in eighth – his first in GP2. Razia finished fourth, Chilton fifth, and Jolyon Palmer also had a great race to finish seventh. For a sprint race, there were a lot of drivers coming from the back into the points. Even Ricardo Teixeira had a good race to finish 13th, van der Garde finished 9th and also took fastest lap to make sure Valsecchi didn’t have a perfect weekend. Grid staller Tom Dillmann finished 10th.

F1
Usually when Vettel starts in the lead, he’ll get miles down the road and nobody will be able to catch him. Today, however, Lotus were flying. Grosjean and Raikkonen soon found themselves second and third, and after pit stops it was the Finn in second. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to quite get close enough to Vettel, but they put pressure on the Red Bull. The team were delighted with their double podium – the first for the Enstone team since 2006. It was also the first double podium for a team called Lotus since the 1970s!
Behind, things weren’t quite so simple. McLaren were struggling with pit stops especially for Hamilton. The Brit was released late after wheel nut trouble, putting him in the path of Nico Rosberg. Rosberg squeezed Hamilton as he overtook, in an incident that was put under investigation by the stewards. He later had another, similar, incident with Alonso. Button was doing well until he had problems in the final laps, and was forced to retire two laps from the end. Senna also had to end his race early.
A two-stop strategy paid off for Force India’s Paul di Resta, and he took sixth behind Rosberg. Webber was well off Vettel’s pace, but managed his traditional fourth. In seventh was Alonso, doing well for Ferrari, and then Hamilton behind. Massa was racing well and took ninth, at times faster than his teammate during the race. Button’s retirement saw Schumacher promoted to the final points position.

Frankly, the race was fantastic and if it weren’t for the circumstances in Bahrain, I’d be delighted. I’m happy for all the guys, but I hope they stay safe as they celebrate and prepare to leave Bahrain. I also hope the GP2 boys stay safe as they remain in the country for another week. James Calado reported seeing “A lot of black smoke around the villages on way back from track. Police with stun grenades at the ready.” (@JamesCalado)

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Raikkonen goes fastest on first day back

In the world of motor racing, today has been quiet… well, as quiet as it gets on the first day of an F1 test! After Williams launched their FW34, featuring the all-familiar stepped nose, it was time to take to the track. First up, and continuing a tradition from last season, Caterham were first on the track with Heikki Kovalainen.
But the first flyer was Kimi Raikkonen, quickly getting up to speed in the E20. He went fastest overall, though not much more than Paul di Resta in the Force India. We cannot get the whole picture from testing, of course. As I am sure you have already heard, Williams were fastest at Jerez last year, but had their worst season of all time in 2011. Many teams will be sandbagging, and others will face unexpected problems – the Caterham, for example, was prevented from running by a broken starter shaft. Red Bull were also late in starting, after parts were held up by heavy fog.

First Impressions
Kovalainen’s shortened time in the CT01 today (he’ll be back tomorrow, with van der Garde in on Thursday followed by Trulli on Friday) was enough for him to get a reasonable impression of the new car. The Finn said “The steering feels slightly more precise. I have only done three laps so I can’t really tell more but, so far, positive feeling.” This will be good news for Trulli, so long as the rumours of his replacement do not come true.
Franz Tost, the Toro Rosso boss, believes Caterham have what it takes to be a midfield team in 2012, stating them as one of their main competitors in 2012. They also believe they will be up against Sauber and Force India. It is interesting to note that Williams were not mentioned here.
The smooth-nosed McLaren has pleased Button, who said that there weren’t so many downforce issues as expected after the removal of blown diffusers. The team hope to have a much better testing session than last year, where difficulties left them far behind where they had hoped to be by the start of the season.
Schumacher – who drove half a day in the 2011 Mercedes – expressed his pleasure with the new rear tyres from Pirelli, saying that they were more consistent than 2011’s.

The only team not present at the test was Marussia, who will probably be at Barcelona. HRT hope to pass the final crash tests soon, which means their car should also be ready for the next test. The most laps today were completed by Kamui Kobayashi and Paul di Resta, while Kovalainen and Maldonado completed the least. I am not sure why Williams did such little running. Unsurprisingly, Pedro de la Rosa was slowest in the 2011 HRT.

Stockinger gets a new Status

GP3
Marlon Stockinger, who drove for Atech CRS in 2011, will continue in the series but with Status GP. Filipino-Swiss driver Stockinger was consistently fast in post-season testing, and hopes to do better than the 0 points he scored last season. This wasn’t completely Marlon’s fault, as the team only scored seven points in the whole season – all of which came at the extraordinary British Grand Prix from Nick Yelloly.

Formula One
Three more cars were launched today – Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Sauber’s livery features notably more black than last season, covering the back, and the front wings. All three feature the now-familiar stepped nose, and you have to ask – if Adrian Newey’s team thought the stepped nose was the best answer to the rule changes, have McLaren made a mistake somewhere? Out of the eight cars so-far launched (Williams’ will be revealed tomorrow), only McLaren lacks the ‘step’. All will soon be revealed, with pre-season testing starting tomorrow and the Australian Grand Prix only 40 days away.

Jaime Alguersuari has revealed that he was offered a seat with a leading team before the end of last season – and no wonder, he did a brilliant job! – but turned it down because he had verbal assurance from Red Bull and Toro Rosso that he would be retained for this year. This is not how it played out, of course. While Alguersuari considered HRT, he decided not to go there as he is still a young driver, with hopes of driving for a midfield team. It seems likely that the Spaniard will find a place as a reserve driver at one of the better teams this season.

Finally, it was one year ago today that Robert Kubica was badly injured in a rallying accident. While we all hoped he would be back on the grid for 2012, it was not to be. The Pole hopes to get back in a racing car some time this year, and who knows whether we’ll see him in a Ferrari come 2013?

Red Bull keep hold of Buemi

Good news today as Sebastien Buemi remains in Formula One. With Red Bull lacking a junior series driver at the right level for F1, they have retained the Swiss for the next season. He will be reserve at Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
Buemi was the last of the Red Bull drivers to go through GP2, with the scheme preferring Formula Renault 3.5. He drove for ART in 2007 for half a season, taking two seventh places and a fastest lap. In 2008 he moved to Arden, run by Christian Horner’s Dad (the team originally being set up for Horner to race in) and took two wins and three other podiums on his way to sixth. So in 2009 he became a Toro Rosso driver.
In his first season, he scored six points (under the old top-8 system) with a best finish of 7th. This would end up being his best finish of his career so far, achieved on his debut in Australia and at the Brazilian GP that year.
2010 was a tough year for Toro Rosso, scoring few points and finishing ninth as they lacked an f-duct where every other team developed one. Buemi scored six points, beating his teammate Jaime Alguersuari.
Finally 2011, and Toro Rosso were improving. Despite a strong start to the season he faltered, and was overtaken in the points by his younger teammate. While Buemi’s best finish was 8th, Alguersuari finished 7th twice, both in races that Buemi also finished (Italy and Korea). The Spaniard also managed to finish in the points twice after going out in Q1.
Clearly Red Bull still think they can get something from Sebastien, and hopefully he will be able to continue improving the Toro Rosso as well as working with the RB8.

In other news, P1 Motorsport founder Roly Vincini hopes to be joining the Formula Renault UK championship this year. He has abandoned British F3 plans, and is likely to enter two cars under the GP1 Engineering name. This is good news for the championship, which had a regular field of about 12 drivers last season. Vincini aims to increase the size of the team to four eventually, and says that he is already close to signing his first driver. (via Autosport Magazine)

The first F1 cars are due to be launched next month, with McLaren first before pre-season testing begins in Jerez on February 7th. The noise coming from McLaren (and in particular Lewis Hamilton) is that the MP4-27 should be a good contender against the RB8. Of course, testing can only tell you so much. Nothing is certain until the first race in Australia.

More news will hopefully come soon regarding Williams. See you soon!

Honours for Newey and Mansell

2011 draws to a close, and so we must leave the season behind us. It has definitely been one of the most exciting years in F1 history, even with the championship dominated by Vettel and despite the Valencia Grand Prix. I think many races from the past year will live on, to be talked about in the future and held up to show what great drivers we have in our era.
But with six Formula One world champions on the grid next year – four for front-running teams, and two close behind – as well as many who have won the GP2 championship, the racing promises to be just as good. GP2 has definitely done a good job in helping good drivers to F1, and 2012 will provide more brilliance in that series too. Even at Valencia, GP2 and its own feeder series GP3 have provided some fantastic racing. These will be the F1 drivers of the future.

And as 2012 starts, as usual the Queen of Britain will be handing out honours to those who have done fantastic work for communities, charities, business, sports and more. While British footballers and cricketers seem to find these awards easier to come by, there is recognition for those in Formula One too. This year, two well-known British F1 faces will be awarded honours by the Queen.
First, receiving an OBE, is Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey. Newey, who recently celebrated his 53rd birthday, is the genius behind the title-winning RB6 and RB7. He also designed Williams cars in the early 1990s, including the one that brought our second honours recipient his world championship, and later he designed title-winning McLarens.
Nigel Mansell is that championship winner, and he receives a CBE as he already has an OBE. Mansell is awarded the honour for services to children and young people, since he is president of the UK Youth charity. Until this season, he held the record for the most pole positions in one season.

All 2011 championship info will be disappearing from the website tonight. Have a good new year!

2011 review part 6 – Spain

The Spanish Grand Prix marked the real start to the European season. Traditionally the place where most teams bring out major upgrades to their cars, perhaps Williams could improve on their poor start to the season. Another hope was that DRS would not be as effective as in Turkey.

Mark Webber proved to be fastest in the first sessions, while Lotus got a huge boost in pace to leave the Virgins in the dust. The McLarens – particularly Hamilton – were able to come close to the Red Bull’s practice pace. Final practice saw Vettel fastest by less than a tenth from his teammate. Renault were more concerned with their car making it to qualifying, as an issue with their exhaust set Nick Heidfeld’s car on fire. This would go on to cause a Photoshop meme, with the German leaping away from the fire.

Come qualifying, there was hope from Lotus that Kovalainen at least would make Q2, and so it proved to be. This was mainly thanks to problems with Williams (Barrichello had technical problems and would start 19th) and Renault’s injured car. Jarno Trulli was fastest of the dropouts in 18th. Q2 saw the Force Indias choose hard tyres while Kovalainen went for it on soft tyres. This placed the Lotus fifteenth on the grid ahead of di Resta and Sutil. The Saubers and Toro Rossos also failed to make the final session, but Pastor Maldonado made it for struggling Williams.
In the final session, Vettel had no KERS for his single lap, and he almost made it to pole. But Webber, who had the boost, went faster by two tenths of a second. Third was Hamilton, while on home turf Alonso got into fourth. Petrov managed sixth ahead of Rosberg, while Massa would start a disappointing eighth. Behind came Maldonado, and in tenth – saving tyres for the race – was Michael Schumacher.

Race day, and Webber did not hold his lead as Vettel snatched it straight away. But he didn’t have it all his own way as Hamilton hounded him for two-thirds of the race. Only DRS’s ineffectiveness prevented Hamilton from getting that much-needed overtake on a track that has always been notoriously difficult in this area.
Alonso struggled on the Pirelli tyres, ending up fifth and the first of the lapped drivers. Webber and Button finished third and fourth to maintain their teams’ perfect total of laps completed thus far. Schumacher beat Rosberg, while Nick Heidfeld proved tyres were everything by finishing in the points from starting 24th. Both Saubers also got points.
Team Lotus’s Kovalainen had a rare crash while pushing hard on the circuit. He had been running well in a midfield position when he lost it and went into the wall. Retirements also came from Tonio Liuzzi and Felipe Massa, the Brazilian suffering from a gearbox problem.

The teams had to leave Barcelona quickly for Monaco, where the race weekend starts a day early and you have to fit in the track walk and setting everything up. Could Lotus continue to close on the midfield? Could Red Bull hold off McLaren? And how well would DRS work on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo?

[To be continued]

FOTA loses two members

At the end of the 2010 season, HRT left the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) as they felt it was irrelevant to them as a small team, and they felt that the politics favoured the larger teams. Today, following an ongoing dispute over the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) that the FOTA teams signed up to, two of those larger teams – Ferrari and Red Bull – have both made the decision to leave the association.
Founded in 2008, FOTA was intended to give teams a united voice in discussions with the FIA and the Formula One Group. The chairman is Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren’s Team Principal. Through FOTA, the current Concorde Agreement was negotiated.

The RRA is intended to curtail spending within the teams, specifically relating to the chassis. But the rules of the RRA were apparently not clear enough, and there have been many attempts by the teams to clarify it over the past months before it is time to re-negotiate the Concorde Agreement for 2013 and beyond.
In its statement, Ferrari said that it would continue to try and improve the RRA in F1. Its main reasons for leaving were a lack of testing, and making F1 more user friendly and accesible to the public. This last point seems strange coming from a team that has banned its drivers from using Twitter.

Red Bull have not confirmed that they are the second team to leave FOTA, but they have been the constructor with the most RRA issues.

What does this entail for the future of F1? Well, it is likely that we will see more in-season testing from these three teams. Others may also chose to leave FOTA. This may also have implications for the next Concorde Agreement, which determines where the prize money goes at the end of the season. But for the day-to-day racing it should not have any major effect.