2011 review part 3 – Malaysia

Malaysia saw the first real running of HRT’s F111, though as expected they were slow. The Renault drivers shone in golden racing suits, to protect against the heat; their regular suits were black. It was expected that this would be the first wet race of the season, but despite bad weather in the days coming up to the race, it was dry.
Red Bull racing’s first goal was to get their KERS working. Right after the Australian Grand Prix it was revealed that their KERS had not been operating at all during the race, yet Vettel had still won. But the team would need to get the KERS working if they were to maintain their lead as other teams developed.
In first practice, Nick Heidfeld’s car suffered a serious problem as the front-right tyre locked up as he was negotiating the track. He struggled back to the pits, wearing a huge amount of rubber from the bottom of the tyre.

Qualifying saw Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado become the fall guy along with the two Lotuses, Virgins and HRTs. The Spanish outfit saw both cars easily beat the 107% rule to make their first Grand Prix of the season. Q2 saw Schumacher fail to make the third session for the second race in a row, but both Renaults survived. In the final session, it was Sebastian Vettel who again took pole, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him.

Race day, and the Williams cars were destined to retire once again as the team suffered their worst ever start to the season. Nick Heidfeld, however, was having a good day. He got his Renault into second at the start, and held back the other cars to give Vettel a good lead. Perez was unable to give another demonstration of his skill after his car was struck by debris. Meanwhile, Jarno Trulli suffered a clutch failure. Both HRTs were withdrawn from the race for ‘safety reasons’.
Vettel won the race with Button second. In third, Nick Heidfeld secured another podium to make him the driver with the most podiums without a win. Petrov was on course for a points finish when he went off track. Coming back on, his car jumped into the air, and when it hit the ground the steering column broke.
Alonso and Hamilton were both given 20s penalties after the race for their actions as they fought each other on track. Alonso’s was for contact while trying to pass Hamilton, while Hamilton’s was for weaving while trying to pass Alonso. This demoted Hamilton to eighth behind Kamui Kobayashi. And as we all know, it would not be the last time the Englishman came off badly after fighting for position with a Ferrari this season!

Los Mini Drivers – amazing!

[To be continued]

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2011 review part 1 – pre-season

As ever, 2011 has been a busy year in Formula One. As January began, the constructors announced when they would launch their cars. HRT, meanwhile, still had no drivers announced in their lineup. On January 7th, they shocked everyone by revealing former Jordan driver Narain Karthikeyan – India’s first F1 driver – would be part of the team.
At the end of the month the first cars were launched – Ferrari, Red Bull, Lotus and Renault amongst them. It was a surprise on the first day of testing – the 31st of January – to see so many reserve drivers at Renault: Fairuz Fauzy, Bruno Senna, Romain Grosjean, Ho-Ping Tung and Jan Charouz. Senna would be the most likely to get himself into a race seat, should he be required during the season.

On the third day of testing, Renault were shining as Robert Kubica – in the new black and gold car – topped the tables. But Renault’s high was not going to last. As we all know, the Pole was severely injured in a rallying accident between the first and second tests, leaving him badly injured and certainly unable to drive an F1 car for the forseable future.
Renault were stranded. Their best hope for 2011 was gone, and they had only a limited time to decide who would replace him. In the end they drafted in Nick Heidfeld, Kubica’s former teammate. A solid driver, he would be able to help the team develop their car.
HRT launched their new car livery on February 8th as Force India had an online launch including interviews with Sutil, di Resta and new reserve driver Hulkenberg. The FIA Academy drivers were chosen, including Alexander Rossi and Richie Stanaway. Both drivers would go on to shine in 2011.

As pre-season testing continued, things were changing across the Arab world. Beginning in Tunisia, the appetite for protesting spread to Bahrain where the second round of GP2 Asia was due to take place. With medical staff needed in the city, the race was cancelled, and as the situation refused to calm down, the F1 round was postponed. The final testing session was moved from Bahrain to Barcelona, and the first race of the season would be in Australia.
Pre-season testing ended with Red Bull looking like the championship was in the bag already, with Ferrari close behind. McLaren were struggling slightly, but things could still change before the first race. Williams also had a good turn of pace, it seemed, but they were having KERS problems. As for HRT, with the new 107% rule it was doubtful whether they’d make it past the first race, let alone complete the season…

[To be continued]

2011 Reliability – part 1/2

In general, the 2011 cars in F1 have been more reliable than those in 2010. This year each team could complete up to 2266 laps compared to 2258 last year, and only four teams completed 90% or more – Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren. In 2011, once again only four teams have managed better than 90% reliability, but while McLaren (fourth best in both years) only just managed 90% before, this year they are on 93%. On the other hand, Ferrari were the most reliable in 2010 with 97%, but the best team this year only has 95%. So all of the top four are pretty close.

Today’s post covers the top six teams. Tomorrow will be the bottom six.

1 – Red Bull (2163/2266 laps; 95%) After Vettel’s retirement in Abu Dhabi the team were one lap behind Force India, but gained two laps over the Indian team in Brazil to retake first place in the reliability standings. Neither Vettel nor Webber have ever finished a race outside of the lead lap, but their two retirements – Webber at Monza and Vettel at Yas Marina – were in the opening stages of the races. This brought their total down considerably. Luckily for Red Bull, their mechanical issues have not caused any retirements. They have a better percentage than last year (93%), avoiding crashing into each other and driving much better in the rain.

2 – Force India (2162/2266 laps; 95%) They may have had a few more retirements than Red Bull, but they have all come close to the end of races. Not as fast as the Red Bulls, they lost first place due to finishing on the lead lap fewer times. Both drivers have been on the ball in races, and it’s a shame that Sutil will probably be leaving as he has done a good job. But rookie di Resta hasn’t made many (if any) rookie mistakes. The young team only completed 81% of race laps in 2010, beating the three new teams and Sauber alone. This is a big step up for them, and hopefully 2012 will be even better.

3 – Ferrari (2148/2266 laps; 94%) The Scuderia have had a couple of reliability problems in 2011, but most of their retirements came thanks to smashes with McLaren drivers (Alonso with Button in Canada, and Massa with Hamilton on multiple occasions). Despite this they have been able to keep good pace and usually finish on the lead lap. With just 15 less than Red Bull, if they can find some more pace then they will be a dangerous threat in 2012.

4 – McLaren (2108/2266 laps; 93%) The British team have improved on their reliability since 2010, though they still had a couple of problems. Button had a hydraulics issue in Germany following a pit stop error in Britain that lost him a tyre; Hamilton had gearbox problems in Brazil as well as smashes with Kobayashi and Massa mid-season. But their pace has meant they almost never finished off the lead lap, so they are not too far behind the top teams.

5 – Renault (2025/2266 laps; 89%) The last of five teams to complete more than 2000 laps in 2011, they are a long way behind McLaren. But with Petrov improved over the previous season and Bruno Senna avoiding any retirements (the Brazilian dropped only eight laps in his eight races), they have beaten last season’s reliability score. Renault have not had many early race retirements except for the smash that saw Liuzzi put Petrov out at Monza, though they would have done better had Heidfeld not gone up in smoke at Hungary.

6 – Sauber (1975/2266 laps) In 2010, they were the least reliable car on track and completed only 67% of race laps. Kobayashi retired from six of his first eight races that year. By contrast, he was scoring points all the time at the start of 2011, and Perez had a good turn of pace at times. Due to reliability issues in the middle of the season (a double DNF at Monza, for example) they have lost several laps, and Perez’s accident in qualifying at Monaco also takes off 71 laps from their score.

Caterham does some rebranding

GP2
From next season, Caterham Team AirAsia will be renamed Caterham Racing, to match the name change of the F1 team. The two racing teams, the car company and other car-related ventures will come under the Caterham Group banner.

F1
With Kimi Raikkonen definitely not going to Williams next season, Barrichello’s seat looks set to be taken by GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas, or maybe someone else. Meanwhile, Renault are not just looking at their current lineup but also at drivers from other teams to possibly take over in place of Robert Kubica.

The details of the BBC/Sky television deal have begun to emerge over the last few days, with Martin Brundle signed up with Sky to commentate. He will not, however, be the lead commentator. The BBC will be doing ten races, with Sky doing all twenty. Sky, however, have the exclusive broadcasting rights for Bahrain and the US Grand Prix. Both of these races are under threat.
BBC Radio 5 Live will continue to provide live coverage of every practice session, qualifying and the race, so even if you cannot afford Sky then you can still enjoy F1. When I didn’t have a television, this was how I enjoyed F1. I would watch half of the races at my aunties’ house, and listen to the other half at home.
The ten BBC live races are: China, Spain, Monaco, Valencia, Britain, Belgium, Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi, Brazil.

Oh yeah, and it was qualifying yesterday and Sebastian Vettel took pole. It looks wet for the race today, so we could be in for a treat.

Kubica will not make the start of 2012

Sadly, Renault have confirmed today what we all suspected: Robert Kubica will not be returning to F1 for the start of the 2012 season. The Pole, who has kept out of the media spotlight since his accident, made an announcement via the team’s website to say that he would be unable to be drive-ready on time. Though he has 100% mobility in his hand and the rest of his body, getting back to race fitness and getting used to driving a race car again is hard work. It will take a long time to get there. Hopefully, Robert will be ready to return mid-season.
However, this does leave the future Lotus GP in a bit of a conundrum, with three drivers to fill two spaces. Romain Grosjean, the GP2 champion, is likely to take one of those seats. The remainder will be fought over by Petrov and Senna. Though Petrov has a contract for next year, Senna also brings good sponsorship and is in negotiations with the team. Having a Senna in a black and gold Lotus is obviously a very attractive option.

Meanwhile, F2 driver Alex Brundle will be taking part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next season along with his father Martin. The endurance race does not fall on an F1 weekend this year, meaning that whether or not Brundle Sr is working for Sky or the BBC, he will still be able to race that weekend.

The GP3 teams have been testing in Valencia today. At midday of day one, Daniel Abt was fastest followed by Niederhauser, Guerin, Daly, Laine, Stockinger, Ellinas, Stevens, Zimin and Blomqvist.

2010 Brazil GP polesitter gets to drive in FP1

2010 Brazilian Grand Prix polesitter Nico Hulkenberg hasn’t raced an F1 car since Abu Dhabi last year, when Williams booted him off the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan sponsorship. After the British team’s poor performance this season, I expect he’s glad he made the change to Force India test driver. F1 returns to Brazil next weekend, and though Nico is still in want of a race seat he will be taking part, replacing Adrian Sutil for FP1. While it’s a shame he won’t be in the car for any longer than that, hopefully next year he will be a full-blown Force India race driver.
Luiz Razia will also be driving in FP1. It will be the first time the GP2 driver has driven an F1 car at his home track, and he is looking forward to it. He took part in the young driver test for Team Lotus, and previously drove the car on-track in first practice in China. He was only able to complete twelve laps.
For Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne will be stepping into Sebastien Buemi’s car once again. The French driver did brilliantly in the young driver tests, finishing fastest every day. Also, I believe Romain Grosjean is going to be in one of the Renaults.

Renault’s lineup for 2012 seems to be coming down to three drivers: Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean. GP2 champion Grosjean is likely to get the drive, leaving a fierce battle between Senna and Petrov. According to Senna’s mother (and sister of Ayrton) Viviane, Bruno is also negotiating a deal for 2012.

Speaking of Senna, the documentary “Senna” has been passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in their Oscar nominations. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of 2011 (how many documentaries get shown in so many cinemas for such a long period of time?), it has been left out along with several other good documentaries. It is very disappointing. But Senna doesn’t need an Oscar for us to know how amazing it is. And if you haven’t already, please watch it.

Petrov’s career in jeopardy!

In 2010, GP2 runner-up Vitaly Petrov became the first-ever Russian F1 driver. He started slowly, retiring from his first three races before finishing seventh in China. His next points finish wasn’t until Germany, when he finished tenth, then in Hungary he managed a great fifth-place finish (helped by retirements from Hamilton and his teammate Robert Kubica). Of course, next to Kubica he was never going to look brilliant. He beat the pole in qualifying only twice: in Hungary, and at the final round in Abu Dhabi. It was on merit each time, as Kubica qualified just behind him on both occasions. Petrov’s highest moment came in Abu Dhabi, when for almost the entire Grand Prix he held off former Renault driver Fernando Alonso and prevented the Spaniard from achieving his third world championship.
Renault had high hopes for 2011, with a radical forward-facing exhaust system. After the first two races, it seemed to be a fantastic move: Petrov took his first podium in Australia (and finishing ahead of Alonso as well!), and Nick Heidfeld took third place in Malaysia. Could Renault challenge for fourth in the championship?
Petrov took Renault’s only points in China, finishing ninth, while it was another double-pointer in Turkey. Yet the Renaults had already dropped back from their initial brilliance. Canada brought the Russian ten points for fourth, but since then he has only had three points finishes. He also hasn’t been able to consistently beat Bruno Senna, who spent all of 2010 in an HRT.
What with the two big fires from Nick Heidfeld and the struggle to score over the past races (Senna was even being caught by Kovalainen at the end of both the Singapore and Abu Dhabi GPs) something has drastically gone wrong at Renault.
When interviewed by Russian media recently, Petrov decided to make it clear how he felt. He’s put his career on the line by crticising the team. It’s no surprise that he wants to do better than he has been, especially since he has been so much better as a driver in 2011. The Russian has beaten his teamate in qualifying 11 times out of 18, though only 3 out of 7 against Senna. And I wonder, with so many drivers willing to drive for Renault in 2012, whether or not this marks the curtain call for Petrov’s Renault/Lotus career, or even his F1 career…

To find out more, go to Autosport.