Scuderia Coloni have announced their lineup for the 2012 GP2 season. Contrary to earlier resports, Kevin Ceccon has not signed with the team. Instead, it will be partnering Stefano Coletti with Febio Onidi. Coletti is entering his second full year of GP2, having won two races last season – the sprints in Turkey and Hungary – as well as the sprint in Abu Dhabi in GP2 Asia. Having come from a rookie year in GP3 where he only finished 9th, this was particularly impressive. The Monegasque driver looks like he will be the fourth driver from that country to reach F1 after Louis Chiron (1950-58), Andre Testut (1958-9) and Olivier Beretta (1994). Though injured in the GP2 feature race in Belgium, he returned for Coloni at the GP2 final where he finished 10th in the feature race.
Italian Fabio Onidi comes to GP2 from Auto GP, where he finished 5th overall. He won the second race at Monza, picking up two more podiums later in the season and gaining just 31 points less than Kevin Ceccon. In 2009 he came third in Euroseries 3000 and Italian F3000 for Coloni, though he came second in the same series the year before. Clearly a driver of potential, it will be interesting to see what the Italian team can do with their signings. Though they only came 7th last season, their fortunes were boosted by Luca Filippi, and he brought them up from the bottom of the table to take three wins and five fastest laps. Admittedly they were hampered by the loss of Davide Rigon, who was injured in the sprint race at the first round of the season.
Hopefully they will be spared injuries this year, and go on to do well in the championship.
Meanwhile, Max Chilton – who drove for Carlin in GP2 for 2011 – has tweeted “Already looking forward to the #GP2 season opener in Sepang, Malaysia in 72 days!” There are connections between Carlin and the team his brother Tom drives for in touring cars, and it is likely Max will stay with the British team for this season.
The first day of the F1 young drivers’ test is over. Of the 23 taking part in the three-day test, fourteen were driving today. So far as I’m aware, nothing significant happened and the young drivers generally did well.
In the morning, Jean-Eric Vergne topped the times for Red Bull with Jules Bianchi about two seconds behind in the Ferrari. McLaren ran Oliver Turvey, who was 0.9s behind the French driver. Finn Valtteri Bottas was getting the most out of the Williams and set the fourth-fastest time.
In the afternoon, Charles Pic took over from Adrian Quaife-Hobbs in the Virgin, while Gary Paffett took over in the McLaren. The British team have been using the time to work on 2012 modifications, since Paffett has no race experience despite testing for a long time with them. Vergne was again fastest, with Bianchi around 0.9s slower in the Ferrari. Robert Wickens in the Renault set the third-fastest time. Williams had a few gearbox troubles, but Bottas still managed some good running.
Team Lotus and Red Bull, Virgin and McLaren, HRT and Williams. Each of the three ‘baby teams’ has a collaboration with one of the more experienced teams on track. HRT have renewed their deal with Williams for 2012, which includes the use of Williams KERS. Now that the British outfit have had a year to work on their KERS, it should be much more reliable. Hopefully it will help the Spanish outfit to boost their performance next year. Virgin/Marussia might have more trouble than the other two teams, as unlike Team Lotus/Caterham and HRT it does not share the same engine supplier as its partner. They will have to get KERS from somewhere if they are to be competitive, otherwise they will once again finish 12th overall.
Speaking of ‘Finnish’, Williams are rumoured to be announcing at Abu Dhabi that they have signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2012. The Finn quit F1 after 2009 in order to pursue rallying. He has also had a go at NASCAR. At the start of this year, it seemed unlikely he would ever return. Now, however, the Iceman could be back. A great racer, he will be an additional boost for the struggling team. It could provide a good challenge for him in a less competitive car.
After a meeting of the Formula One Committee today, it has been confirmed that from 2012 Team Lotus will be known as ‘Caterham’, Renault will be known as ‘Lotus’, and Virgin will become ‘Marussia’. It remains to be seen what team names they will adopt.
Meanwhile, Stefano Coletti returns to racing in Abu Dhabi alongside Kevin Ceccon at Scuderia Coloni for the GP2 final. Afterwards, he will be taking part in the F1 young driver test for Toro Rosso. Stefano injured his back in the Spa-Francorchamps GP2 feature race. He won two races this season – the Turkey and Hungary sprints – despite being a rookie. He has a lot of potential, and should do well.
Another driver taking part is, unsurprisingly, Alexander Rossi. The young American will be driving for Team AirAsia, as well as taking part in the young drivers’ test for Team Lotus.
The start of 2010 was very confusing for me, as Mercedes came into F1 as a constructor as opposed to just an engine supplier. Before that time, McLaren was the de facto Mercedes team, as evidenced by, for example, the 2007 Alonso v Hamilton advert. So it was a little confusing for me. There was also the confusing ‘BMW Sauber’ situation, fortunately resolved for 2011.
2012, however, looks set to be even more confusing. Renault will become Lotus, Lotus will become Caterham, and Virgin will become Marussia. Marussia are the title sponsors and majority owners of Virgin, and as a Russian car company it makes sense for them to be the constructors, especially with the Russian license. Richard Branson will still be a title sponsor. This also improves the ties to the Marussia Manor teams in the junior series.
We all know the Lotus Renault GP vs Team Lotus has caused many headaches over the past year, and it will be good to have a resolution even if it means the Lotus name changes hands. Hopefully, this will not cause too many problems in the future. The change will not leave Team Lotus/Caterham out of pocket, however, since it will be agreed by at least 2/3 majority of the Formula One Commission (18 of the 26 members). They will still have the money that comes from finishing tenth in 2010 and 2011 unless something crazy happens in the next two races.
In other news, Jean-Eric Vergne will be driving the RB7 in the young drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi after the race weekend wheree he will be in a Toro Rosso. Fabio Leimer and Esteban Gutierrez of GP2 will be driving Sauber’s car the C30 (that’s old news, but I hadn’t mentioned it before). It also appears that Stefano Coletti will be driving for Toro Rosso, Kevin Korjus and Christian Vietoris will be driving for Renault, and Charles Pic will be in Force India’s VJM04, though these are yet to be confirmed.
There are a couple of changes to the GP2 lineup this weekend. Alvaro Parente returns for Carlin now that his McLaren commitments are over, so no Mikhail Aleshin. After his injury at Spa, Stefano Coletti’s place is taken by fellow Monagesque driver Stephane Richelmi. Richelmi currently drives in Formula Renault 3.5, and has taken six points so far in his debut season. Those six all came at Monza, which is encouraging.
Renault has signed a number of sponsorship deals recently, including with a Brazilian oil company and Gillette. Cue jokes about how they couldn’t sign with Gillette before because of Nick Heidfeld’s beard. After the amicable parting of Heidfeld and Renault, Bruno Senna will be driving for the remainder of the season.
At Toro Rosso, there’s also a sponsor coming on board in the form of Spanish company Cepsa. This might be good news for Jaime Alguersuari who of course is looking for a race seat next season. If Jaime doesn’t get the seat, he does have an alternative income as he moonlights as DJ Squire. The Spaniard is launching his debut album next week.
Virgin have got a sponsorship deal with Belgian company Soleco, who are renewable power company mainly dealing in solar panels and other forms of environmentally friendly power generation.
Finally, it is Vitaly Petrov’s birthday today. The Russian is 27 years old.
Stefano Coletti – 10
In the history of Formula One, Monaco hasn’t turned up many F1 drivers. But Stefano Coletti looks like he could be the next. Young Stefano has usually qualified poorly, but had two good qualifying sessions in Barcelona and on his home turf where he started fourth. Coming into GP2 from GP3 last year when he finished 9th (taking a couple of podiums along the way), he immediately did much better in GP2 Asia, winning the sprint race at Abu Dhabi after starting on pole when he finished 8th in the feature. He also took fifth in the feature at Monza, and came fourth overall.
In the main series, he has done even better. He came fifth in the Istanbul feature before charging to victory in the sprint. How fantastic must it be to win your second main series GP2 race? Since then, he’s had a dip in form though he picked up points at Monaco and Silverstone. Usually, however, he’s finished low. In the Hungarian feature race he finished 21st. His team made a brave decision to start on slicks on a damp track. Well, it paid off big time. Soon near the front, the two safety cars came at the perfect time as he switched to wets in the second half of the race. And then he was in the lead, with Grosjean and Gutierrez scrapping behind him. So the rookie took his second win. Fantastic! He’s tenth though, mainly thanks to his poor finishes in other races. But once he gets better in the GP2 car, he has a good chance to win championships.
After two tame races yesterday, GP2 and GP3 needed some added spice today. GP3’s came in the form of a wet race, and GP2’s was in a race with mixed conditions where one strategy proved better – though it was a close thing.
Nigel Melker was given pole for this morning’s earlier-than-usual GP3 race after Sims was excluded from the feature race for technical infringements. It was a wet track and raining lightly; GP3 has been afflicted by wet races this season. Immediately there were spins, and Williamson was taken off in an ambulance though it didn’t appear to be serious. Evans also registered another DNF.
There were spins all over the place, with cars regularly having to cut the chicane. Those who did manage to avoid spinning managed to get good finishes, and particularly Maxim Zimin registering his best-ever finish of 9th.
After a safety car towards the end of the race, Rio Haryanto managed to overtake a struggling Melker, as did the ART cars of Valtteri Bottas and James Calado – Calado in particular impressing as he had started 25th on the grid. Bottas leads the championship with 40 points, but just 12 points behind is seventh place: Antonio Felix da Costa has 28 points, equal with Mitch Evans in 6th. This is still anyone’s to call with two rounds left.
At the start it wasn’t raining but the track was damp. A few drivers started on slicks, including Coletti, Gutierrez and Luca Filippi. Filippi was the strangest choice, as he was starting from near the front of the grid. And immediately he slid down to the back of the field. He ended up having to retire from the race.
Wets seemed the way to go until the track began to dry, and as drivers started to pit for slicks the safety car came out as Max Chilton’s stricken Carlin car needed moving off the track. Coletti, not needing to pit, found himself at the front, and once the safety car came in he was battling against Romain Grosjean.
The DAMS and Trident cars scrapped until the rain began to fall again. Some teams pitted, but Charles Pic stayed out as a second safety car period began. This was not the way to go, with Stefano Coletti, Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez all up at the front on wet tyres. They soon got past Pic, and Gutierrez hounded a more-cautious Grosjean as Coletti zoomed into the lead. The Monagesque driver won, and as they rounded the final corner Grosjean went wide and Gutierrez took second by 0.2s.