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.

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).

2011 review part 7 – Monaco

The Monaco Grand Prix of 2011 will probably be remembered for a while. Not for any of the racing, but for the events on the day preceeding the race.

The first two practice sessions were on the Thursday, with the first session interrupted as a water leak spilled onto the pit straight. Several drivers spun, including Tonio Liuzzi and Michael Schumacher. One driver who has always done well at Monaco is Pastor Maldonado, and he was seventh-fastest. Paul di Resta, who had never raced before in Monaco due to driving it DTM not GP2, took it slowly and was nineteenth-fastest. Vettel led the times in the morning, but Alonso did in the afternoon.
Friday was left for the support races, and on the Saturday it was final practice before afternoon qualifying. The session saw Nico Rosberg lose control of his car coming out of the tunnel and go flying, just missing the barriers as he flew into the air off the sleeping policemen at the chicane. This caused Charlie Whiting to decide to remove the sleeping policemen, which in the afternoon would prove to be a wise decision.

Qualifying, and the usual suspects were joined by Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari. The Spaniard would start behind both Lotuses, with Kovalainen barely beating Trulli. Neither HRT set a time, but both were allowed to race.
In Q2, Sergio Perez shone – like Maldonado he has done well at Monaco in GP2 – and made it to the final session. Neither Renault, Barrichello, Kobayashi and the slow Force Indias did not make it, however.
The final session, and some of the drivers headed out to set times, including Sauber’s Perez. As he was coming out of the tunnel, the Sauber spun and shunted sideways into the barriers. The session was immediately red-flagged. Anxious fans watched the TV screens as an ambulance, marshalls and medical staff surrounded the car. The minutes ticked by, until the ambulance drove slowly off. Slowly, meaning he wasn’t in any serious danger. The session continued, and Vettel took pole. Hamilton’s lap was discounted as he cut the chicane, though his lap time on cold tyres had not been very good anyway.

The race was filled with mishaps, and DRS was only just effective. Hamilton had a couple of incidents with Felipe Massa, the second of which put the Ferrari driver out of the race. He also spun Maldonado, who was on target for points, and the Venezuelan was out as well – but late enough to be classified. The Brit would get a lot of penalties from this race. So would Paul di Resta, as he got in the way of a Ferrari at the hairpin and had a drive-through. Schumacher managed to ‘park’ his Mercedes at the pit lane entry with a mechanical problem; but the main bunch of retirees came as the race leaders – Vettel, Alonso and Button – met drivers one and two laps behind, all coming together at the same point in the circuit. Alguersuari and Petrov were forced to retire, and the race was red-flagged as medical help was required for Petrov. The Russian was okay, however. The red-flagged allowed repairs to Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren – whose rear wing was broken – and the three frontrunners to change tyres. This completely altered the dynamic of the race, as there had been hopes Vettel’s tyres would wear too much and Alonso or Button could win.

The evening of the Monaco Grand Prix was the Indianapolis 500, one of the greatest races in the world. Alongside the IndyCar regulars was British driver Dan Wheldon. An IndyCar champion, he had been left without a full-time drive in 2011. But he was there for the Indy 500. On the final corner of the final lap, the race leader James Hinchcliffe had a decent lead but crashed into the wall. Wheldon, running second, took the advantage and crossed the line to win the race for the second time.

The next stop for F1 was Canada. Always a good race, what would the track throw up this year? And with Vettel having won all but one race so far, could anyone stop him?

[To be continued]

2011 review part 2 – Australia

It was worryingly close to the season start when HRT announced that Tonio Liuzzi had signed a contract with them for 2011. Sebastian Vettel signed a long-term contract with Red Bull, and Karun Chandhok became a reserve driver at Team Lotus. The circus headed across the sea to Australia, for the first race of the season. Back in England, as Team Lotus and Lotus Renault GP took to the track in F1, the court case between the two outfits over the use of the ‘Team Lotus’ name was about to go ahead.
On the 25th of March we got our first look at the post-testing cars, Pirelli tyres, and DRS. The Red Bulls were fastest in the first session, with Webber ahead of Vettel on home turf. Alonso was third, Rosberg fourth, Barrichello fifth and the two McLarens following. The fastest Renault was Petrov, with Massa slower and Heidfeld slower still. It still seemed the Williams had pace. In the second session it was the two McLarens fastest, and the top seven were separated by less than a second. Sauber’s new driver, Sergio Perez, impressed with his time. He was eighth-fastest, ahead of Barrichello and Rosberg. On the Saturday, Sauber’s pace continued to impress as Kobayashi got into the top ten again, and Petrov was fifth-fastest in the Renault. This time, Williams were nowhere to be seen. And then it was qualifying…
Taking pole position was Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton second but much slower. Webber didn’t quite meet his teammate’s time and started third. Vitaly Petrov got into Q3, but teammate Nick Heidfeld had a dreadful qualifying, becoming the first ‘fall guy’ alongside the two Lotuses and Virgins. HRT, whose car was not ready in time, failed to qualify at all. It would be the only time the 107% rule would be applied in the season.

In the race, neither Williams nor Mercedes finished. The Williams both had mechanical issues, while Schumacher had a puncture and Rosberg was too damaged from an accident. Heikki Kovalainen had a water leak that caused the Team Lotus driver to retire as well.
Despite driving most of the race with damage on the floor of his car, Lewis Hamilton came home second behind Sebastian Vettel. Vitaly Petrov managed third to stun the crowd, coming ahead of Fernando Alonso. Jenson Button, however, had less luck. Stuck behind Felipe Massa, he struggled to overtake for a long time. Eventually he cut a corner, getting him in front but resulting in a drive-through penalty as he refused to give the position back. The Saubers also impressed, with rookie Perez managing a one-stop strategy to perfection and finishing just ahead of his teammate. But the car broke the FIA regulations and to the disappointment of everyone, the Saubers were disqualified. This allowed Force India rookie Paul di Resta to score points on his debut instead. Perez and di Resta looked set to be the star rookies of 2011.

With the Australian Grand Prix over, Vettel led the championship. But could he retain his title? Could Renault continue to challenge the top teams? And could Sauber come out leaders of the midfield?

[To be continued]

Qualifying in India

Five drivers will suffer grid penalties tomorow: Petrov for colliding with Schumacher in Korea (5 places), Perez and Hamilton for not being sufficiently cautious under waved yellows (3 places), Ricciardo for changing gearbox (5 places) and Karthikeyan for impeding Schumacher (5 places). Timo Glock failed to meet the 107% rule, but will be allowed to race. He will start from the back of the grid, just as Kobayashi did in Turkey – grid penalties are applied before 107% rule.

Qualifying was generally okay, though once again three drivers failed to set a timed lap in Q3. The first session saw Kovalainen once again force drivers to push to get into Q2, including the impeded Schumacher. It was the Sauber of Kobayashi who fell eventually. Suffering a gearbox problem, Glock was unable to complete a good-enough timed lap and will start 24th. The remaining HRTs both beat d’Ambrosio’s Virgin, but their penalties placed them behind him – Ricciardo first as he was penalised earlier.
In Q2, despite some determined laps, neither Senna, Petrov or Schumacher made it to the third session. Instead, both Toro Rossos and Adrian Sutil were there (they were the drivers who didn’t set a timed lap). Petrov qualified 11th so will start 16th, while Perez qualified 17th and will start 20th behind the two Lotuses and Kobayashi. Schumacher will now start 11th, with Paul di Resta beside him.
Q3 was looking close for pole, until Felipe Massa crashed right at the end. So naturally Vettel took it, giving Red Bull their sixteenth this season – a record number. It is Sebastian’s 13th of the year. Hamilton set the second-fastest time, but his penalty leaves him fifth behind Jenson Button (who was not having a good qualifying), Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Beside him on the grid is the man he always seems to end up fighting – Felipe Massa. Seventh is Rosberg. The Force India and Toro Rossos are in numerical order behind.

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)

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.

The ups and downs of Arden

GP3 tests got underway today in Hungary. In the morning session, the fastest driver was GP3’s youngest ever race winner Mitch Evans. He’s really shining for Arden, who after several years struggling in GP2 are making a comeback. Arden were the kings of Formula 3000 before it became GP2, with Tonio Liuzzi taking the title for them, and in 2005 when boss Christian Horner began moving his focus towards his new job with Red Bull, Heikki Kovalainen came second for them in the first GP2 season.
Heikki Kovalainen won five races for Arden in 2005, taking four pole positions. He also took one of the team’s two fastest laps. His teammate took the other, along with a pole position. Since then they have struggled in GP2. Last year they finished eighth. Here’s a quick summary.

Year

Wins

Poles

Podiums

F. laps

Pts

C’ship

2005

5

5

13

2

126

2nd

2006

1

0

6

1

57

4th

2007

1

0

2

0

44

7th

2008

2

0

6

0

56

6th

2009

1

0

3

3

41

8th

2010

1

1

2

0

32

7th

So far this year, Arden have no wins, no poles, no fastest laps and one podium, with second-placed Josef Kral finishing P2 in the Monaco sprint race. With nine points, the team stands eighth in the championship.
GP3 is looking better, with Mitch Evans the stand out driver. The rookie is currently third in the championship, just five points behind leader Nigel Melker. He, Andrea Caldarelli (who is being replaced) and Nigel Melker are far ahead of the other drivers. Neither of Arden’s other drivers have scored points just yet, but the team stands third in the championship.

Arden is named after the Forest of Arden, an area close to my home in England.You might also recognise the name if you know about Shakespeare. His mother was Mary Arden, and you can visit Mary Arden’s House near Stratford (Warwickshire, not London). Mary Arden’s family owned the forest. So I’m a bit of a fan, and will be supporting them. Their GP3 ability is shining through. On the GP2 record, a lot of Arden’s drivers have gone on to finish well in the series for other teams. Bruno Senna came second with iSport, Sergio Perez finished second with Addax, and Charles Pic is currently third with Addax. Sebastien Buemi moved straight from Arden to driving for Toro Rosso.

No race for okay Perez

HRT are racing tomorrow. Perez is not. This means that Karthikeyan has the rare pleasure of starting ahead of his quicker teammate. Perez ‘only’ has concussion, but with his car so smashed up and the doctors saying he can’t race, he will not be on the grid. The Mexican will return for Canada. This means everyone below him moves up a place.
Hamilton had his lap disqualified for cutting the chicane, so starts in P9, while Petrov is now P10. He has started in the top 10 for every race. Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Massa, Rosberg and Vettel are the other drivers to have done this, but Petrov is the only one of these seven to have not made it into Q3 each time.
It was Perez’s first time into Q3, as he has previously qualified 13th, 16th, 12th, 15th and 12th. Apart from the first two races, he has always qualified ahead of Kobayashi.
Vettel earned his 20th pole position today. He got 5 of them this year, 10 of them last year, four of them in 2009, and one of them at the Italian Grand Prix in 2008 for Toro Rosso. This equals the number of poles that Fernando Alonso and Damon Hill have achieved, but less than Schumacher (68), Senna (65), Clark and Prost (33 each), Mansell (32), Fangio (29), Hakkinen (26), Lauda and Piquet (24 each). Vettel is likely to beat most of these guys by the end of the season, let along the end of his career! In terms of the percentage of pole positions he has earned, that is 29.4%. Only Senna, Clark and Fangio have a better percentage of career poles (though Senna’s 40.1% is a long way off yet). At the start of this season he had 24.2%, while Schumacher had 25.3% pole positions. Now they have swapped places. Hamilton had 25.4% pole positions, but now is down at 23.4%.
Vettel will start from the front row for the 29th time, totalling 42.6%. At the start of the season it was 34.8%, and Hamilton had 40.8% while Schumacher had 42.8%. Now Schumi has 41.8% and Hamilton has 40.3%. Vettel has only overtaken Hamilton in this record for this Monaco Grand Prix. It would take a lot to beat Fangio’s record 92.3% front row starts!

There will probably be more to talk about tomorrow after the race, so see you then!

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.