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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Rain falls in Barcelona

F1
Testing has continued at Barcelona, with one more day left to run. Today (Saturday) saw the first rain. After silly rumours about Ferrari sacking Massa flooded Twitter yesterday, the team cancelled all media interviews with the drivers. This may also be connected to the poor performance of the F2012 so far – how bad a season will it be for the Scuderia? Grosjean went fastest for the second day of the test, while Perez was fastest in the dry today.
HRT will not be present tomorrow, but hope to launch their car at a filming day on Monday. While poor, this is still progress for the Spanish team compared to previous years.

GP3
Jenzer have announced Formula Arbath Italia champion Patric Niederhauser as the second of their drivers for 2012. He also came second in the European season.

FR 3.5
Lotus continue their ‘invasion’ into every single seater category with Gravity-Charouz. The Lotus team will have a Czech nationality, and run with Danish driver Marco Sorensen (2nd last year in German F3) and Richie Stanaway (winner of German F3, as well as the Belgian GP3 sprint race).

Valsecchi dominates at Jerez

GP2
After the final day of GP2 testing, new DAMS signing Davide Valsecchi has proved to be the most consistent and fastest driver – leading on all three days. The question is, can DAMS win a second driver’s championship with the Italian? If he wins, he could well become the next Italian in F1 – though Italians have a bad record when it comes to transferring between the series.
Of the GP3 graduates taking part, James Calado was one of the most impressive. Van der Garde was doing well for Caterham, while Stefano Coletti shone for Coloni. Max Chilton showed much improvement on 2011, and Carlin also have improved as they come to their second year (with a little help from Marussia). I expect we will see a good showing from all 2010 and 2011 GP3 graduates, but also from F2 runner-up Jolyon Palmer who is doing well with iSport.
There’s another GP2 test at Barcelona next week before they all head out to Malaysia for the first round of the season.

IndyCar
Rubens Barrichello’s CV boasts Jordan, Stewart, Ferrari, Honda, Brawn and Williams. Now, F1’s most experienced driver can add KV Racing to that list. The Brazilian today announced that he would be racing a full season for the IndyCar team, taking to ovals for the first time. Barrichello admitted to a little help from his kids in persuading their Mum that he could race. He will be partnering his close friend Tony Kanaan and Venezuelan EJ Viso. The team also drove with three drivers last year – Kanaan, Viso and another ex-F1 driver in Takuma Sato. Mika Salo also drove for the team in four races in 2003, back in the days of Champ Car.
KV were supported by Lotus in 2011, but will use Chevrolet engines this season despite the British marque supplying engines to the series. According to the IndyCar website, Barrichello will take number 8 on his car.

F1
The first day of testing, and Heikki Kovalainen was unable to take part due to food poisoning (apparently from one of the team’s sponsor’s!). The mechanics got the car sorted for Vitaly Petrov and he did a full day of running, taking the second-highest lap tally. It was Rosberg who did the most laps, with nearly 130. Fastest of all was Grosjean, with Button second. Williams only managed a small number of laps with Maldonado for unspecified reasons.
HRT hope to get on track by Sunday, while Kovalainen will be back tomorrow (Friday). Kamui Kobayashi was also ill today, but hopefully he will be well by the time he’s needed.

FR 3.5
Andre Negrao and Nico Muller have been confirmed at Draco for 2012. Muller is a GP3 graduate, winning three races in the series and coming 3rd in 2010 (4th in 2011). He won the Silverstone feature race where unexpected rain caused a mass pit stop at the start of the race – all seven other drivers who scored points were British. Brazilian Negrao enters his second year of the series, and with Draco, having graduated from the Eurocup at the end of 2010.

2011 review part 5 – Spain

After the traditional short break for Easter, the European season began in Turkey. Joining the F1 circus were the GP2 and GP3 teams, beginning their own championship races.
The Friday morning was soaking wet, which meant Team Lotus’s Karun Chandhok was once again denied any decent practice time (he had crashed the car at the start of FP1 in Australia). The biggest event of the session, however, was caused by Sebastian Vettel. Pushing the RB7 to its limits, he got onto the wet kerbs just after turn eight and spun, skidding through the grass and hitting the wall.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/player.swf

The rest of practice was dry and uneventful, with Vettel failing to run in the second session. In the third, he set the fastest time by a thousandth of a second from Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher. On Saturday afternoon, it was time for qualifying.

Kamui Kobayashi became the fall guy, not even setting a time after his Sauber broke down. D’Ambrosio received a penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice and started 23rd, with Kobayashi at the back as he did not meet the 107% rule but was granted permission to race. (The penalties would not always be applied in this order for future races) In Q2, Barrichello was narrowly squeezed out of the top ten by Nick Heidfeld, and the two Force Indias would start behind the Brazilian but ahead of Maldonado. Perez and the Toro Rossos were next. In Q3, Felipe Massa failed to set a time after mechanical problems and would line up tenth on the grid for race day. Nico Rosberg trounced his teammate for Mercedes’ best qualifying thus far, starting third behind the Red Bulls. Vettel, as ever, was on pole.

Race day came, and DRS was to play a major part in the action. In the opinion of many, it was just too easy at Istanbul Park, especially after the zone had been extended. The Pirellis wore quickly and winner Sebastian Vettel stopped four times on his way to the third win of the season. Pit stops, however, were all he had to worry about. Mark Webber took second while Fernando Alonso claimed third for Ferrari having been overtaken by the Aussie close to the end of the race. Both Buemi and Kobayashi would put in great drives, finishing in the points despite bad qualifying.
Retirements were few, coming only from Paul di Resta whose car broke down late in the race. Timo Glock failed to start the race. Kovalainen would have beaten his teammate had his Lotus not suffered mechanical issues which slowed him down.

Vettel dominated the championship. But with Barcelona traditionally the location for major car upgrades, there was still a chance to beat him despite the huge lead on Hamilton.

In GP2, Romain Grosjean won the feature race from pole, and took fastest lap in the sprint. This put him at the top of the championship, on equal points with Sam Bird and just three ahead of GP3 graduate Stefano Coletti who won the sprint race.
In GP3 it was Nigel Melker who had the best start, winning the feature race and coming third in the sprint for fourteen points. Andrea Caldarelli was closest behind, on ten points. Sprint winner Alex Sims had eight points – the same as fourth-placed Tom Dillmann.

[To be continued]

Romain Grosjean’s F1 Return

Romain Grosjean is back! The reigning GP2 champion, who was previously thrown in the deep end at Renault for 2009 after Nelson Piquet jr left, will be driving alongside Kimi Raikkonen in 2012 at Lotus F1 Team.
The second French driver to make the grid for the next season, Grosjean has had a dominating year in GP2. By himself, he gave DAMS enough points to finish second behind Addax and their two top-five finishing drivers Giedo van der Garde and Marussia newbie Charles Pic.
Having won the short GP2 Asia championship, as he did with the longer one in 2008, he moved into the 2011 championship as a lead contender. At Turkey he took pole position, then won the race. But did he have it in him to win? He only got one point in the sprint – for securing fastest lap – and no points in Spain. Then came Monaco, and he really began to show his ability. Mastering pit stop strategy brilliantly he was able to come from the back of the field after failing to set a good lap time and getting a penalty as well. He finished fourth, and came third in the sprint the next day. At Silverstone he did it again, starting 13th but finishing fourth before winning the sprint, and taking fastest lap both times. The Frenchman’s worst race came after he had sealed the championship, finishing 21st in the sprint at Monza having been run into by Charles Pic at the start and requiring a new rear wing.

(You know you’re good when your overtakes video is nearly eight minutes long)
Many people had doubts about Romain Grosjean after 2009, but his impressive GP2 season and maturer attitude – alongside his coming in at the start of the season instead of the middle – tells me that he has a good chance on his return. Even alongside Kimi Raikkonen.

Other series
Aaro Vainio is set to continue in GP3 with ART, while Kevin Ceccon be driving for Coloni in GP2. Zoel Amberg (0 points in GP3 this year) has signed for Pons for Formula Renault 3.5.

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.