Summer day 13 – Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez – 15
The Australian Grand Prix was set to be a fantastic debut for the first Mexican F1 driver in three decades. Qualifying thirteenth in a car that was clearly good – Kobayashi got into ninth on the grid – he and his teammate landed a double points finish, with Checo ahead of Kamui. Even more incredibly, the Mexican had managed a one-stop race on tyres that were much less durable than the Bridgestones. After watching the race, I was buzzing with how amazing Sauber was this season as I went off to church. But when I got back, disappointment set in. Part of Sauber’s rear wing broke the technical regulations. They were disqualified.
Over the next few races, while Kamui picked up lots of points for his team, Checo struggled. Retiring from the Malaysian Grand Prix when something set his fire extinguisher off, he did miserably in China and Turkey as well. Then came the Spanish Grand Prix, and he redeemed himself admirably, picking up two points and one of the ten youngest drivers to score points. The popular driver was on the up.
Monaco. Qualifying. For the first time, Checo got his car into Q3. Hopes were high and everyone was backing the Mexican as he began his flying lap. And then as he came out of the tunnel he lost control, and went spinning side-on into the barrier. The barrier practically engulfed him. Of course the session was immediately red-flagged, and marshalls and an ambulance hurried to the scene. For a long time, the world watched in tension and prayer as we hoped for Checo’s safety.
In the end, he had nothing more than a concussion, and he even watched the GP2 race while he was in the hospital. He missed that race, and after competing in FP1 in Canada he decided not to race there. Since then, he’s had some good races and one bad one. In Valencia he finished 11th, and he picked up six points at the British Grand Prix. At the Nurburgring he again finished 11th.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was not so good for Checo. He was behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus for much of the race, and when he finally overtook the Finn it was under yellow flags. Though he was given a drive-through eventually, the speed of the Sauber meant he still came out ahead of the Lotus. He also came in for some harsh criticism from Jarno Trulli for apparently overtaking using the chicane.

Points: 8
Worst qualifying: 16
Best qualifying: 10
Worst finish: 17 (China)
Best finish: 7 (Britain)
Average difference: 0.38
Laps completed: 493/611 (81%)
Average race position: 13.58 (Best: 9.3 Britain; Worst: 18.1 Turkey)

Summer day 11 – Liuzzi, Trulli, De La Rosa, Barrichello

Sorry for the delay. My laptop wanted to get friendly with some water but the relationship didn’t work out.

Tonio Liuzzi – 20
Throughout the winter, Tonio Liuzzi was sure that despite Paul di Resta winning the DTM championship, he had a safe seat at Force India. But Mercedes – who provide Force India’s engines – backed Paul, and with Nico Hulkenberg taking the reserve seat Tonio was left teamless. Pretty swiftly, however, the Italian driver was snapped up by Hispania Racing. Despite being unable to provide any funding, he was able to provide them with help in developing the car.
The start of the season was dismal. Neither HRT driver qualified in Australia after getting hardly any time on track, and coming nowhere near the pace in the qualifying session. But Malaysia was an improvement as both HRTs squeaked under the 107% time along with the Virgins. As the car has improved, Tonio has been able to scrap for position with the Virgins in qualifying, and even started 20th in Istanbul.
But his greatest race came in Canada. The wet/dry conditions somehow played into HRT’s hands, and while nobody was paying attention he finished ahead of his teammate, both Virgins, and the sole remaining Lotus of Jarno Trulli. His thirteenth-place finish has allowed him to slot in behind Trulli in the championship, and brought his team back to 11th where they finished the championship last year. HRT have had a lot of luck to be ahead of Virgin in 2010 and 2011, but in this game luck is a big part of it. And when your next rivals have an incredibly unreliable car, you can see why HRT have hopes of getting that elusive 12th-place finish that will get them 10th in the championship.

Worst qualifying: 23
Best qualifying: 20
Worst finish: 23 (Valencia)
Best finish: 13 (Canada)
Average difference: 2.3
Laps completed: 531/681 (78%)
Average race position: 10.82 (Best: 18.9 Canada; Worst: 22.9 China)

Jarno Trulli – 19
Having been hit by most of Team Lotus’s reliability problems in 2010, Jarno seems to have the more reliable car this year. Though to be honest, three is still a huge amount. Finishing 13th in the very first race of the season has sealed Jarno’s place at 19th in the championship, and he matched that finish in Monaco when he came in ahead of Kovalainen.
For the first half of the season, however, the Italian has been having trouble with the team’s power steering, which did not meet the sensitivity he required to be able to drive the way he prefers. This has been part of the reason why he has been half a second off his teammate in most sessions, as proven in Hungary when only a last-gasp effort got Kovalainen ahead on the grid.
We can expect much closer racing between the two Team Lotus drivers in the future, which will make life a lot more interesting for them. Let’s hope they can stay out of each others’ way and keep the retirements mechanical.

Worst qualifying: 21
Best qualifying: 18
Worst finish: 20 (Valencia)
Best finish: 13 (Australia, Monaco)
Average difference: 1
Laps completed: 490/611 (79%)
Average race position: 17.73 (Best: 15.9 Monaco; Worst: 20.4 Britain)

Pedro de la Rosa – 18
Stepping in for Sergio Perez at the Canadian Grand Prix, Pedro did a reasonable job considering he’d not been in the 2011 Sauber before. He finished on the leading lap thanks to the red flag and safety cars. Nothing else to say, really.

Qualifying: 17
Finish: 12
Average race position: 13.54

Rubens Barrichello – 17
After a good 2010, this season was looking even better for Rubens Barrichello. Winter testing showed promise, and the ‘tight rear end’ was the talk of the press. Then came Australia, and the first of two consecutive double DNFs for the team. Since then, Rubens has been pushing the team to improve. Already reluctantly putting aside this season, the Renault deal should make things better for 2012. But will the Brazilian be there? Rumours abound, questioning whether he will be replaced or remain. As the most experienced driver in F1, he can retire without shame, but he is still a good driver.
Despite not making it into Q3 at all, the high attrition in Monaco and Canada was enough for Rubens to snatch a couple of ninth-place finishes and four points. Aside from that, the Williams’ best finish was 12th at Valencia. Aside from the two DNFs at the start, Rubens’ FW33 has also had a problem in Germany. Bring on 2012.

Worst qualifying: 19
Best qualifying: 11
Worst finish: 17 (Spain)
Best finish: 9 (Monaco, Canada)
Average difference: -0.09
Laps completed: 585/681 (86%)
Average race position: 13.76 (Best: 10.2 Monaco; Worst: 22.0 Malaysia)

GP2 Birthdays: 5/8/2011

GP3 champion, GP2 race winner, and Sauber reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez celebrates his 20th birthday today.

After beginning his career in karting, Esteban began his open wheel career with Formula BMW USA in 2007. He came second in the championship, winning four out of the fourteen races and taking eight podiums. The series was won by Daniel Morad who drove a couple of rounds for Carlin in GP3 this year.
So 2008, and Esteban shifted to Europe though he continued in Formula BMW. FBMW Europe came from a merger of the UK and Germany championships. The Mexican did brilliantly, winning seven races and taking five other podiums to beat everyone else to the championship. So in 2009 he was naturally a choice for F3 Euroseries.
The season was a big struggle for Esteban, at least in comparison to previous years. He still came an impressive ninth, competing well against other current GP2 drivers including Stefano Coletti and Sam Bird. Though he didn’t win any races, he came third twice.
In 2010, Esteban moved into the inaugural season of GP3. It wasn’t a walkover for the Mexican, but he could afford to have only one points finish from his final four races, taking pole, fastest lap and win in the first race at Monza. Certainly, 2010 was a lot less close than 2011 has been thus far.
And on to 2011, where Esteban has been working as Sauber’s reserve driver alongside his career in GP2. Partnering Jules Bianchi, his season began with a struggle – two retirements, a DNS and no points in the first six races. Then at Valencia his luck changed. Finishing seventh in the first race, he won the second race and also got the fastest lap. Since then his struggle has resumed, though he’s always been close to the points, and at the Hungaroring his patience was rewarded by clever strategy from Lotus ART and a lucky move on the final corner of the final lap to overtake Romain Grosjean for second.
He is a brilliant driver, and has a good chance of getting into F1. Perhaps he will even be Sergio Perez’s teammate for a Mexican duo! He just needs to learn to score points consistently.

Sauber’s last-minute swap

The Pedro de la Rosa situation is getting as confusing as Bahrain. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. First, it seems Sauber were prepared to drop Perez if he wasn’t feeling well, but they didn’t tell Esteban Gutierrez who found out about the situation over Twitter. Meanwhile, they ready prepared for de la Rosa and brought his old seat from last year for the car, and the Spaniard had brought his race kit just in case. However, Martin Whitmarsh didn’t know, and was only approached by Sauber about 15 minutes before the start of FP2. De la Rosa only found out he’d definitely be going in the Sauber 10 minutes before the start, when Monisha Kaltenborn (Sauber CEO) approached him while he was finishing lunch, so he got about as much warning as the rest of us (although well done to F1 Live Timing who got the name in the system with such short notice).
Pedro is not going to have the easiest of times in the Sauber. The steering wheel is not what he is used to from either 2010 or McLaren, and he hasn’t raced with KERS and DRS before. Right now, he says that he has to look at the wheel when he needs to press something, which will affect his lap time. I guess he is going to be spending all night practising. Meanwhile, Sauber still need to adjust the pedals in the car to something more reasonable for the long-legged Spaniard.
It’s a shame that Gutierrez did get left out. The point of reserve drivers is to take over when they’re needed. It’s not like we have a Renault situation where a driver is out for the entire season; this is just one race. It is perfectly acceptable for a new driver to come in. Drivers (Timo Glock, for example) have successfully debuted at this track. Sauber have taken risks with two young drivers this season. Why not take a risk with another one? Perez had never driven at Canada before yesterday, so Gutierrez would just be another newbie. It would be quite a leap for Gutierrez to go from GP3 to GP2 to F1 in less than a year, but he could manage it. And as for putting the car into the wall – okay, Sauber can’t see into the future so they didn’t know that Kamui would do that.
Anyway, no good complaining or wondering ‘what if’. We’ve got Pedro the McLaren test driver in a Sauber. Let’s see what happens.

Wall of Wannabes?

Not only did Sebastian Vettel make friends with the Wall of Champions this weekend, but Sergio Perez is not as well as he thought. He has been replaced by 2010 Sauber driver and current McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa for the remainder of the weekend, as Sauber test driver Esteban Gutierrez is in Mexico this weekend. Perhaps a bit stupid of Sauber not to bring their test driver with their first choice driver still recovering from a bad accident. All the same, Canada might not be the best place to make your debut though Timo Glock did make his debut at the track for Jordan in 2004.
More bad luck for Sauber came in the second practice session, when Kamui Kobayashi shoved his Sauber into a different – so-far unnamed – wall. The session was red flagged. It resumed but was red flagged again minutes later when Jerome d’Ambrosio put his Virgin in the same wall. Perhaps it needs a name too. The Wall of Wannabes ‘cos Kobayashi and d’Ambrosio aren’t champions just yet. Sauber had spent the first half of the session getting the car ready for De La Rosa, and he went out in McLaren overalls in the Sauber (his helmet, however, had Sauber sponsor stickers on) when the session resumed after Kobayashi’s accident.
The Sauber has been looking good this season. I wonder how well the Spanish driver can do in it? Better than Mercedes’ drivers, it seems. Schumacher and Rosberg were both slower than the Team Lotus cars in FP2. This is strange because they were some of the fastest cars in FP1. Only d’Ambrosio in the Wall of Wannabes was outside the 107% time, and the Hispanias were fighting with the Virgins for pace.
Fastest in FP1 was Rosberg, then Alonso and Schumacher. Fastest in FP2 was Alonso, then Vettel and Massa. Is this Ferrari’s weekend at last? Despite that, it would be funny to see three drivers in McLaren overalls on the podium (though I’m not sure the Sauber has that much pace). De La Rosa being McLaren’s tester, he doesn’t have Sauber overalls.

Scary crash for Checo Perez

The events of today have been heavily overshadowed by the dramatic incident of Sergio Perez in Q3. He did amazingly well to get to Q3, but lost control and hit the barrier between the escape road and the track. Earlier in the day, Nico Rosberg had a similar accident in the Mercedes but missed the barrier. David Coulthard had also been through a similar accident in 2008 and also missed the barrier. The session of course was immediately red flagged, and marshalls and ambulance men rushed to the scene. It of course took time to sort out. The side of the car was smashed in, but it didn’t look like the part of the chassis holding the driver was damaged. According to the BBC, it was reported that Checo was conscious and talking, and possibly that he hurt his legs.

A typical Monaco practice session saw two red flags from Nico Rosberg’s crash and Tonio Liuzzi losing control in the Hispania at Ste. Devote. The back end of his car completely fell to pieces, and there was no way the team were going to make it to qualifying. It was his second crash of the weekend, and he has already missed FP2 because of the FP1 crash.
Renault were not showing a great turn of speed, with Kovalainen’s Lotus close on their tails. This is unlike last year when Robert Kubica – who is around Monaco but staying away from the press – was P2 in qualifying and fastest in FP3, and challenged well for pole.
Fastest of all in the session was Fernando Alonso, a good distance ahead of his challengers.

But Perez’s crash meant that Q3 didn’t go the way it could have gone, and it was another Red Bull pole. Schumacher beat his teammate for the first time. Neither HRT went on track, meaning if they do get to race then Karthikeyan will be ahead of Liuzzi. Alguersuari failed to get into Q2 and qualified behind both Lotuses.
In Q2, Pastor Maldonado scraped into the top ten as did Sergio Perez. His teammate Kobayashi qualified further down the grid. For the first time, neither Renault made it to Q3. Paul di Resta once again beat his teammate.
The drivers who set times before Perez’s accident were best placed, and Vettel took pole position. Next to him will be Jenson Button, then Webber and Alonso on row 2. A good qualifying for Ferrari.
But Monaco is proving once again to be a deadly track, and drivers will need 100% concentration to make it around all 78 laps safely. The most dangerous areas of the track seem to be coming out of the tunnel and Ste. Devote. We’ve seen two crashes at each of those places this weekend. If Perez is able to start tomorrow, it will be from P10. If he cannot, Sauber may choose not to run or they may let their reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez drive. But since Perez – a rookie who won at Monaco last year – had this accident, it might not be such a wise decision.

The GP2 race has been delayed by 20 minutes and will start at 4:30pm local time, 3:30pm GMT.

F1 Race Review: Spain 2011

I’ve delayed my F1 race review for a while because I haven’t been feeling so good. Now that I’ve had time to rest and think back on the race, here’s what I think:

It was a great race. The action at the front wasn’t so hectic that we couldn’t see what was going on further down in the field, although Liuzzi’s retirement got missed completely by everyone and Heikki Kovalainen’s accident came out of nowhere.
We had multiple race leaders, with Alonso coming out of nowhere to take the lead from the start. Then Vettel came back after a well-crafted pit stop that put him on fresh tyres, so he could carve through the others and got ahead when the leaders pitted. But he was never miles in the lead, as he has usually been. Hamilton was able to stick close, with McLaren showing more speed than most thought it had, and they battled all the way to the line. Despite KERS problems and not having DRS most of the time, Vettel was able to defend because the Spanish DRS zone was less useful than the Turkish one.
Perez finally got his first points, and we saw our first retirement of a Ferrari with gearbox troubles. Maldonado raced well, finishing ahead of his teammate though still lacking points. Heidfeld managed even better than Kobayashi had done, finishing ahead of Petrov and in the points. Schumacher beat Rosberg despite being slower, proving he can still hold back an opponent. Two McLarens finished on the podium.

Vettel has lost 7 points in total in 2011, from his second-place finish in China. That means he has 94% of all possible points so far this season. He has seven consecutive podium positions: one more and he will match Ayrton Senna’s total (but still a long way from Schumacher’s 19). He also has 5 consecutive from the start of the season: the same as Alonso in 2005 and Schumacher in 2004. One more and he will match Fittipaldi in 1973 and Mansell in 1992.
Lewis Hamilton has taken his 39th podium finish, totalling 51.32% of his race finishes – almost as many as Alberto Ascari, and creeping up as Schumacher’s percentage goes down. He has also finished 3/4 of the races he has entered in the points.
Sergio Perez has squeaked into the top 10 youngest drivers to score points – finally! He is older than Massa was when he came sixth at the 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix, but younger than Kimi Raikkonen was when he came sixth at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso has now led at least one lap of a race 62 times: the same number as BBC commentator and Red Bull man David Coulthard. He has now led 1,366 laps.

Alonso, Kovalainen, Liuzzi and Rosberg have outqualified their teammate in every race. Buemi and Vettel are the only drivers to finish ahead of their teammates in every race.
Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Massa, Petrov, Rosberg and Vettel have qualified in the top 10 for every race, and Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Kobayashi (excluding Australia), Vettel and Webber have finished in the top 10 for every race.
Thanks to bad qualification in Melbourne and his car fire in Spain, Nick Heidfeld has an average improvement of 6.2 positions per race. By contrast, Maldonado has an average fall of 4.2 positions per race despite qualifying badly everywhere except Spain. These are the best and worst of the drivers. Buemi, Button, Schumacher and Vettel each have an average different of 0 positions.
The craziest stat of all is that everyone was lapped by Vettel except Hamilton, Button and Webber, but Button and Webber were 30s behind the leaders. Even Alonso in fifth was lapped. This means that only the Red Bull and McLaren drivers have completed every race lap of 2011 so far.