Third F2 season for Kralev

39-year-old Bulgarian motorsport ambassador Plamen Kralev returns to the FIA Formula Two championship for a third season, continuing in his number 8 car. Kralev has scored two points in his F2 career – one in each season – and honestly I cannot think there is much hope of him doing better this season. He is the sixth driver to be announced for F2 so far, and more will come over the next weeks.

It was Antonio Felix da Costa who, despite not being signed for the coming GP3 season, set the fastest time in today’s test. He set a 1:37.934 around the Circuit de Catalunya, beating Arden’s Matias Laine and Mitch Evans – Laine was the only other driver to dip into the 1:37s.
In the afternoon, Daniel Abt went fastest after a troubled morning session. Maxim Zimin – driving for Jenzer as he did last season – showed considerable improvement by going second-fastest. Tio Ellinas was third-fastest with Tamas Pal Kiss fourth.

I have to say, some of the drivers who had a tough season last year in GP3 – Laine, Zimin, and Pal Kiss despite his win – look set to be much better this year. Let’s hope they get signed!

The premier Formula Renault series got its pre-season testing under way today. Fastest was Fortec’s Robin Frijns, setting a 1:47.006 around Paul Ricard in the afternoon. That’s impressive considering his rookie status – the Dutch driver was Eurocup champion last year. Lotus (formerly Gravity-Charouz) went second with a 1:47.125 from Richie Stanaway, another rookie, while Force India’s Jules Bianchi was third-fastest. Alex Rossi was fourth-fastest for Arden-Caterham, and the second Fortec driver of Carlos Huertas was fifth.

New test driver for Marussia

Marussia have announced their new test driver for the 2012 season: Maria de Villota. Maria had initially tried for the Renault team, but the Spanish driver has ended up at the Sheffield-based team instead. Since she does not qualify for a super license yet (she needs more test mileage), the team will probably have to find another reserve driver.
Maria participated in the first round of the truncated 2011 Superleague Formula series, finishing 12th in both races to take home Spain’s only points in the series. She also participated in the 2010 season for Athletico Madrid, picking up several top-ten finishes in her races (though she was also excluded from one round for crashing into Sebastien Bourdais).

Pirelli also had news today, with the team gaining a new test car from Renault. The R30 – two-year-old predecessor to the Lotus E20 – will be in their hands for tyre tests throughout 2012. This is the car that was driven by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov, gaining three podium positions.

Today was the second of three testing days for the series, and 2010 GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez at Lotus GP set the pace in the morning. He was unbeaten by the afternoon times. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde was only four thousandths slower, and Carlin’s Max Chilton was four thousandths slower than the Dutchman. Davide Valsecchi was 15 thousandths slower than Gutierrez for DAMS, before a slightly bigger gap to Stefano Coletti. Those top four were the only ones who made it into the 1:28 lap times, and look set to be title contenders this year. Fabrizio Crestani put Lazarus into the top ten as well. Race simulations were the order of the afternoon, which saw some rookie faces in the top ten – notably Jon Lancaster and Ricardo Teixeira who have not typically been high on the timesheets.

Tiago Monteiro’s Ocean Racing Technology have replaced Tech 1 in the bottom tier of F1’s support races. Ocean, who have signed GP3 graduate Nigel Melker and Jon Lancaster in their GP2 squad, have been showing interest in the series. Tech 1 began the 2011 season of GP3 well, with a win in the second sprint from Tamas Pal Kiss, but the loss of Andrea Caldarelli didn’t help and they struggled for the remainder of the races. They have a better record in Formula Renault 3.5, where they will be running Jules Bianchi alongside Kevin Korjus this year.

(Part 1/2)

GP3 loosens three-car rules

It was revealed in this week’s Autosport magazine that the strictly-imposed GP3 three-car limit will be loosened from the coming season, with only two cars being a requirement and the third being optional. In the past, teams have struggled to find a third driver for their team, but in order to avoid fines have had to operate over a race weekend at a loss. Hopefully many of the ten teams will still run three cars, and there are certainly enough drivers out there who are willing to get into GP3. This should help, however, to prevent some drivers trailing a long way behind the others.
The Tech 1 team, who last year had to find a replacement for Italian driver Andrea Caldarelli (he left to race in Japan), welcomed the announcement. GP3 CEO Bruno Michel said that the reason for the change was to help make sure the teams could continue in the series.

In other news, Kevin Korjus has re-signed with Tech 1 in Formula Renault 3.5. The Estonian won three races last season and finished sixth in the championship.
The GP3 branch of Lotus GP (formerly known as ART) has signed German racing driver Daniel Abt for 2012. Abt was consistently quick in post-season testing, and the team can clearly see the potential for their third successive champion in him.

F1 teams have been announcing their launch dates, which I will put in a separate post and stick to the front of this blog so you can check it.

Summer day 19 – Andrea Caldarelli

Andrea Caldarelli – 9
After two rounds of the GP3 2011 season, Andrea Caldarelli was second in the championship and just two points away from Nigel Melker’s lead. This season has been so close that the 20 points he scored then are not far off the lead. If he came back for the final two rounds, he could still win. But instead, he has gone to drive in Formula Nippon where he is doing a lot worse. Well, that was his own choice.
The Italian driver picked up points in all four of his races, taking two fastest laps, and came second in the Istanbul feature race as well. He probably won’t finish in the top ten, but he could have done really well if he’d stayed in GP3. He’d qualified second in both rounds, only missing out on pole in Barcelona due to having his fastest lap deleted. A great driver. But even if he gets more money in Japan, I still think he made a serious mistake.

Points: 20
Best qualifying: 2
Worst qualifing: 2
Best finish: 2 (Istanbul feature)
Worst finish: 5 (Istanbul sprint)
Retirements: 0

Summer day 14 – Aaro Vainio

Aaro Vainio – 14
Finnish driver Aaro has been doing well this season. Apart from the first qualifying session, when he started at the back of the grid, his worst start has been 12th and usually he starts within the points. When it comes to the race, however, he can be hit by bad luck. Perhaps he’s just better at qualifying. That said, he has had a podium – at Barcelona in the feature race when he came third – and two other points finishes – all in the feature race. At Hungary, he barely missed out on the sprint points as he finished 7th. He has improved in consistency and ability through the season as his results have got better. Expect more from this driver in the future.

Points: 12
Best qualifying: 3
Worst qualifing: 30
Best finish: 3 (Barcelona feature)
Worst finish: 20 (Barcelona sprint)
Retirements: 3

Summer day 13 – Tamas Pal Kiss

Tamas Pal Kiss – 15
One of the ten race winners in GP3 this season, Tamas emulated Fabio Leimer by coming eighth then first at Barcelona. But unlike Fabio, his results haven’t been as consistent – he has finished 20th twice and also picked up some other low scores. And also unlike Fabio, he has picked up points at another round. Tamas came eighth then fourth at the Nurburgring.
Hungarian Tamas had a reasonable first race at his home track, finishing tenth, but the second race was not so good and he finished 20th. His best qualifying of the year was at Barcelona when he started 7th, but mostly he has been in the middle-bottom of the back.

Points: 11
Best qualifying: 7
Worst qualifing: 24
Best finish: 1 (Barcelona sprint)
Worst finish: 20 (Silverstone and Hungaroring sprints)
Retirements: 1

Summer day 2 – Thomas Hylkema and Daniel Morad

Thomas Hylkema – 31
Thomas replaced Andrea Caldarelli at Tech 1 when the Italian driver went to drive in Formula Nippon. The Dutch driver has, frankly, had a difficult season. He retired from both races in his first round, and has since had two more retirements. He has never qualified outside the bottom two.
His best race came at the Nurburgring, when his team made some excellent strategy calls. Light rain began to fall at the start of the race, and a few drivers gambled on wets. But the rain stopped and those on slicks were proved right. Towards the end of the race, the rain began hammering down. A few drivers pitted for wets, and other struggled, but Hylkema stayed out and finished ahead of pole man Mitch Evans, who had received a drive-through penalty for his team putting the tyres on late. Hylkema finished 18th.

Best qualifying: 29
Worst qualifing: 30
Best finish: 18 (Nurburgring feature)
Worst finish: 27 (Hungaroring feature)
Retirements: 4 (1 classified)

Daniel Morad – 30
Canadian driver Daniel Morad joined Carlin at Barcelona. He had reasonable results in the two rounds he competed in, but received an injury during qualifying at Silverstone and did not race. He was replaced by Callum MacLeod.

Best qualifying: 18
Worst qualifing: 25
Best finish: 14
Worst finish: 24
Retirements: 1