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.

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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?

Red Bull keep hold of Buemi

Good news today as Sebastien Buemi remains in Formula One. With Red Bull lacking a junior series driver at the right level for F1, they have retained the Swiss for the next season. He will be reserve at Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
Buemi was the last of the Red Bull drivers to go through GP2, with the scheme preferring Formula Renault 3.5. He drove for ART in 2007 for half a season, taking two seventh places and a fastest lap. In 2008 he moved to Arden, run by Christian Horner’s Dad (the team originally being set up for Horner to race in) and took two wins and three other podiums on his way to sixth. So in 2009 he became a Toro Rosso driver.
In his first season, he scored six points (under the old top-8 system) with a best finish of 7th. This would end up being his best finish of his career so far, achieved on his debut in Australia and at the Brazilian GP that year.
2010 was a tough year for Toro Rosso, scoring few points and finishing ninth as they lacked an f-duct where every other team developed one. Buemi scored six points, beating his teammate Jaime Alguersuari.
Finally 2011, and Toro Rosso were improving. Despite a strong start to the season he faltered, and was overtaken in the points by his younger teammate. While Buemi’s best finish was 8th, Alguersuari finished 7th twice, both in races that Buemi also finished (Italy and Korea). The Spaniard also managed to finish in the points twice after going out in Q1.
Clearly Red Bull still think they can get something from Sebastien, and hopefully he will be able to continue improving the Toro Rosso as well as working with the RB8.

In other news, P1 Motorsport founder Roly Vincini hopes to be joining the Formula Renault UK championship this year. He has abandoned British F3 plans, and is likely to enter two cars under the GP1 Engineering name. This is good news for the championship, which had a regular field of about 12 drivers last season. Vincini aims to increase the size of the team to four eventually, and says that he is already close to signing his first driver. (via Autosport Magazine)

The first F1 cars are due to be launched next month, with McLaren first before pre-season testing begins in Jerez on February 7th. The noise coming from McLaren (and in particular Lewis Hamilton) is that the MP4-27 should be a good contender against the RB8. Of course, testing can only tell you so much. Nothing is certain until the first race in Australia.

More news will hopefully come soon regarding Williams. See you soon!

All change at Toro Rosso

In a surprising move, Toro Rosso have dumped both their 2011 drivers and replaced them with their two up-and-coming juniors Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. This will put an end to the ‘Ricciardo to Caterham’ rumours, which is good news for Jarno Trulli, but leaves Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi in the cold.
Ricciardo did as good a job as possible under the circumstances, and in the young driver test at Abu Dhabi Jean-Eric Vergne shone; the Frenchman was close runner-up to Robert Wickens in Formula Renault 3.5 this season too, and Ricciardo would have had a chance if he had not been busy with his F1 commitments.
For the dropped drivers, Alguersuari in particular had a good season, and deserves to continue in F1. Red Bull, however, have a reputation for abandoning drivers; Sebastian Vettel is the only survivor. Former Toro Rosso drivers have typically not survived in F1 – out of Speed, Bourdais and Liuzzi, only Liuzzi managed to continue and he does not look like surviving into 2012.

Meanwhile, HRT’s Team Principal Colin Kolles is leaving the team. They struggled in their first two seasons, usually losing out to Virgin in the races but getting just enough good finishes to beat the Russian team. HRT, who will be a Spanish national team next season, could well hire Jaime Alguersuari to partner Pedro de la Rosa.

F2 testing today saw many of the eighteen drivers set very similar times. The twelfth-fastest (Scott Malvern) was less than a second away from Christopher Zanella’s fastest time. Second-fastest driver and F2 rookie Markus Pommer was only 0.014s away from Zanella’s time in his fastest lap of the day, though it was set in a different session. Even fourteenth-fastest Max Snegirev was only 1.066s away from Zanella’s time.
Meanwhile Mirko Bortolotti was testing the 2012 F2 car. The new car should be able to lap around 2 seconds faster than the current car, which should make for much more exciting racing in the future.

2011 Reliability – Part 2/2

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 while in 2010 the worst team (Sauber) only completed 67% of laps, this year the worst team have completed 80%.

Yesterday we looked at the top six teams, and today we cover the bottom six.

7 – Mercedes (1963/2266 laps; 86%) A shaky start to 2011 saw both Mercedes fail to complete the first race in Melbourne. Rosberg lost a lot of laps in Italy as he was taken out by Tonio Liuzzi at the start of the race. Schumacher, however, has had more problems. The German retired from five races – three times due to mechanical issues, once when he tripped up over Perez in Singapore, and once when he was crashed into by Petrov in Korea. Last season, they were the third-most reliable team, but they have not been so lucky this year. They have also lost laps due to Schumacher getting into trouble with Renaults and other cars, and being sent to the back of the field.

8 – Toro Rosso (1957/2266 laps; 86%) In Belgium, the two Toro Rossos combined completed six laps. This was the Italian team’s worst race of the season, coming as they were finding their feet as regular points scorers. Aside from that, they were the only retirement in China as Jaime Alguersuari lost a wheel, and Sebastien Buemi had four retirements due to mechanical issues.

9 – Williams (1923/2266 laps; 84%) In Williams’ worst-ever season, the team completed four more laps than Team Lotus. They had two double-DNFs in the first two races of the season, and have been plagued by mechanical issues and Pastor Maldonado’s destructive streak (he was responsible for his retirements in Canada and Brazil). It’s a sad state of affairs for the British team, but hopefully they will be able to improve with the new exhaust regulations and Renault engines for 2012. They will need a good driver to partner Maldonado if they are to be successful. They only dropped two percentage points of reliability from 2010, but with the improvements shown in other teams it’s cost them a lot.

10 – Team Lotus (1919/2266 laps; 84%) Plagued by reliability issues in the first half of the season, the Malaysian team suffered from double-DNFs at Britain and Hungary. But in the second half of the season, they only had one DNF – for Jarno Trulli in Singapore – and thanks to good safety car timing managed to get both cars to finish on the lead lap in Japan. Now that they seem to have got their issues under control, their reliability should be improved for 2012 as Team Caterham.

11 – HRT (1844/2266 laps; 81%) Neither HRT nor Virgin managed to get a handle on their unreliability this season, but despite Liuzzi’s crash in Italy they still managed to complete more laps than their championship rivals. This is because they had fewer retirements than Team Lotus, and unlike Virgin had no non-classified finishes. They have improved their reliability on 2010 dramatically.

12 – Virgin (1824/2266 laps; 80%) They might be at the bottom of the list, but Virgin have improved since last season. Unfortunately they have struggled to get a hold of their mechanical issues, which particularly plagued Timo Glock. The German failed to even start the race in Turkey, and was not classified in Australia.

2010 Brazil GP polesitter gets to drive in FP1

2010 Brazilian Grand Prix polesitter Nico Hulkenberg hasn’t raced an F1 car since Abu Dhabi last year, when Williams booted him off the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan sponsorship. After the British team’s poor performance this season, I expect he’s glad he made the change to Force India test driver. F1 returns to Brazil next weekend, and though Nico is still in want of a race seat he will be taking part, replacing Adrian Sutil for FP1. While it’s a shame he won’t be in the car for any longer than that, hopefully next year he will be a full-blown Force India race driver.
Luiz Razia will also be driving in FP1. It will be the first time the GP2 driver has driven an F1 car at his home track, and he is looking forward to it. He took part in the young driver test for Team Lotus, and previously drove the car on-track in first practice in China. He was only able to complete twelve laps.
For Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne will be stepping into Sebastien Buemi’s car once again. The French driver did brilliantly in the young driver tests, finishing fastest every day. Also, I believe Romain Grosjean is going to be in one of the Renaults.

Renault’s lineup for 2012 seems to be coming down to three drivers: Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean. GP2 champion Grosjean is likely to get the drive, leaving a fierce battle between Senna and Petrov. According to Senna’s mother (and sister of Ayrton) Viviane, Bruno is also negotiating a deal for 2012.

Speaking of Senna, the documentary “Senna” has been passed over by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in their Oscar nominations. Despite being widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of 2011 (how many documentaries get shown in so many cinemas for such a long period of time?), it has been left out along with several other good documentaries. It is very disappointing. But Senna doesn’t need an Oscar for us to know how amazing it is. And if you haven’t already, please watch it.

Razia, Chilton and Charouz in Abu Dhabi final

F1
Formula Renault 3.5’s 2011 champion Robert Wickens takes to the track for Marussia Virgin in the first practice session at Abu Dhabi next Friday. He will replace Jerome d’Ambrosio. The Canadian has shown great form over the past three years of racing, finishing second in GP3 and F2 before this year’s victory. It is unlikely that he will be an F1 driver next year, with GP2 being the most likely option, but he has the backing of Marussia. As the FR3.5 champion, he will also be taking part in the young drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi for Renault.

GP2
Kevin Ceccon will be taking part in the test as well, and like teammate Stefano Coletti will be in the Toro Rosso STR06. It’s a big step up for Ceccon, who only turned 18 this year and was moved into a GP2 seat after Davide Rigon’s accident. Though he wasn’t able to shine in GP2, he fought well in Auto GP to emerge victor in the final race of the season.
Carlin have announced that their full-time driver Max Chilton will be driving alongside Jan Charouz the Renault reserve and FR3.5 driver in the GP2 final. AirAsia have their driver Luiz Razia alongside Alexander Rossi for the final, and Razia will also be taking part in the F1 young drivers’ test for Team Lotus. Razia also took part last year for Virgin when he was their test driver.