Kaltenborn to become first female Team Principal

F1
Monisha Kaltenborn is set to become the first female Team Principal in F1 following Peter Sauber’s intention to resign at the end of this season. Kaltenborn, who has been involved in F1 and motorsport for many years, will be a great replacement for Sauber’s namesake and founder. Monisha is currently CEO, and I expect her to do a great job. She is only 40 years old and hopefully we will have plenty of years with her around the paddock. It’s nice to see Team Principals who are experienced in motorsport, rather than wealthy businessmen (ie: Mallya and Fernandes).

F2
It was confirmed today that Romanian Mihai Marinescu will return to the series for 2012. He did very well towards the second half of the season last year, and should be challenging for wins and the championship.

GP3
Pre-season testing returns with two days at Silverstone this week. Notably, the Status lineup includes British driver Alice Powell. Alice is undoubtedly one of the most talented young female drivers out there, and will be competitive – unlike the other two girls on the grid. However, you have to wonder if there are even more talented male drivers who are being left out because teams want a female driver.
If Alice is hired by Status, I expect her to pick up a few points finishes at least this year. She did reasonably well in Formula Renault UK last year, and I can’t recall her ever being a backmarker.
The unsigned Will Buller is another unsigned British face who will be at Carlin. Meanwhile RSC Mucke Motorsport have once again failed to make an appearance. Surely it would be better for them to sell the GP3 team on to somebody else who wants to participate? Unlike F1, there are no excuses for missing testing since the chassis are made by Dallara. And there must be a lot of young drivers who want to drive in the series.

Bahrain
Nobody wants to make a decision. The general feeling of fans particularly is negative though a few faces have said F1 should go. As for me, I think F1’s reputation will struggle to survive if it goes ahead, especially if something happens. All the media and team members who go out there are incredibly brave. But it should not need to come to that. I won’t re-hash arguments again; you all know where I stand.

This weekend I’m going to Silverstone for the opening round of the Formula Two. I’ll come back with loads of pictures and autographs, and hopefully an exciting story of an amazing day out.

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Malaysian Grand Prix more than Exceeds Expectations

Today, an up-and-coming young driver challenged a two-time world champion for victory… and almost made it. It was wet to start, and most were on inters, but Sergio Perez pitted on the first lap for wets. Others soon followed. After a soggy first few laps at Malaysia, the race was red-flagged until the rain grew lighter. At this point, Perez was sitting in third behind Hamilton and Button. But the race began again, and soon it became dry enough for intermediates. Perez was one of the last to pit, while Ferrari got Alonso out ahead of the McLarens. When Perez emerged, he was also ahead.
At first, Perez slowly fell away from the Ferrari – though he had a fantastic gap to Hamilton in third. Button had disappeared, having hit Narain Karthikeyan while racing for position (the HRTs had got ahead by starting on wets instead of inters). The time came to change for fresh intermediates, but as usual the Sauber was treating the Pirellis better. The Mexican led for a few laps before also changing tyres. Then the charge began.
Closer and closer, by over a second a lap at some points on the drying track. But it was getting so dry that slicks were the way to go. Ricciardo pitted first, and soon the others did too. Ferrari brought in Alonso, but Sauber kept Perez out an extra lap. This left the Mexican in second after his stop, and may have costed him the win. Still, Perez was faster. The Sauber once again closed by over a second per lap, until it got within DRS range. The first try didn’t work. The second… never got an opportunity to happen as Perez went wide, losing four seconds.
There were only a few laps to go, and Perez’s pace wasn’t as good as it had been. Still, he finished 2s behind Alonso in a fantastic drive that will go down in history. If he is not driving for Ferrari in 2013, I shall be very surprised.

Sergio Perez gained 14 places in his first race (starting from 22nd) and 7 places today, making a total of 21 places over 2 races – more than any other driver. He is the first Mexican on the podium in over 40 years, since Pedro Rodriguez.
By contrast, Romain Grosjean has had an appalling first two races. Qualifying well, he has lost 36 places over 2 races, and only completed just over 3% of the possible laps.
Sebastian Vettel has sunk to 6th in the championship, his lowest position since Australia 2010. The last time Vettel scored 0 points but finished a race was at the 2010 Belgian GP. Vettel also had an avoidable collision with Karthikeyan towards the end of the race, which shred his tyre and lost him position. Surprisingly, Karthikeyan was penalised with a drive-through, while Button had accepted the blame for his incident earlier in the race.
The leader of the WDC, contrary to all expectations, is Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is second, Button third and Webber fourth. McLaren still lead the WCC, with Red Bull second, Ferrari third and Sauber 4th.

What will happen in the rest of the season? If the first two races are anything to go by… I haven’t got a clue!

There’s a short break for Easter, and then the Chinese GP will be on April 15th.

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?

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.

Summer day 17 – Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi – 11
When he started driving for Sauber in 2010, nobody expected that Kamui Kobayashi would get on far better with the car than his much more experienced teammates. But his charm, smile and incredible overtaking have made him a firm favourite with most F1 fans. And in 2011, despite only one full season under his belt, he has taken the mantle of team leader with no problems. He scored points in his first seven races, though those in Australia were taken away due to a technical breach resulting in disqualification. But immediately it was apparent just how good the Sauber is this season, and how good the Kobayashi-Perez lineup is.
He’s had some impressive results. Making it to Q3 three times, he still picked up points in Turkey when he was unable to compete in Q1 and started at the back of the grid – though to be fair that’s normal this year as you save your tyres that way. But his best-ever F1 result came at the Monte-Carlo Grand Prix. Starting 12th on the grid after his teammate’s accident, he finished fifth. But he was running fourth at lap 76, before an unfortunate mistake saw him let Webber past.
Canada was another good race for Kamui, who found himself lining up second next to Sebastian Vettel when the red flags fell. Half of me wanted the race to end at this point, expecting that Seb would win, but though Kamui eventually had to settle for seventh, I am glad that it continued. He managed to stay in second for a long time, and got into some good fights with Felipe Massa. Indeed, the difference between Kamui in seventh and Massa in sixth was a few thousandths of a second – it came right down to a photo finish as Felipe overtook the Japanese driver on the start-finish straight.
Since Canada, Kamui has found it harder to score points. At Valencia he finished 16th, when Sauber’s tyre strategy failed. At Silverstone he retired after being spun by Schumacher. He picked up two points in Germany, but just missed out at the Hungaroring.
With 27 points, the Japanese driver is scrapping with Schumacher, Petrov (both 32) and Heidfeld (34) for a good finish in the championship. He might be able to do it, with a bit of luck!

Points: 27
Worst qualifying: 24
Best qualifying: 8
Worst finish: 16 (Valencia)
Best finish: 5 (Monaco)
Average difference: 3.10
Laps completed: 648/681 (95%)
Average race position: 10.14 (Best: 4.5 Canada; Worst: 16.5 Spain)

Summer day 16 – Esteban Gutierrez

Esteban Gutierrez – 12
Mexican Sauber reserve driver Esteban has shown in the current GP2 season that he deserved his GP3 championship last year. He certainly has been better than most other GP2 rookies, taking his first win in the Valencia sprint race after coming seventh the race before. At the Hungaroring, it was his team’s risky strategy – starting on slicks – that saw him get into the top three, and a fantastic move on Romain Grosjean on the final corner of the final lap saw him finish second, having started 24th after retiring from the feature race. It’s a shame that Esteban’s great results have all come in the sprint races, but he clearly has the potential to be a champion in the future. He has never finished outside the top twelve, but five retirements have caused him to miss out on points regularly. Apart from the first two rounds, he has always qualified in the top ten. Next year he will definitely be better. Expect Esteban in a Sauber in the next few years.

Points: 14
Best qualifying: 5
Worst qualifying: 23
Best finish: 1 (Valencia sprint)
Worst finish: 12 (Barcelona sprint, Monaco feature, Nurburgring feature)
Retirements: 5