Pic attempts to break into F1

Charles Pic, one of the major contenders for GP2’s runner-up spot going into the final races of the season (along with teammate Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi, and Luca Filippi), doesn’t want to be in the series any more. French and Belgian media have been reporting that he is in negotiations with three teams: Virgin, Lotus and Toro Rosso.
He won two races last season: the feature at Barcelona, and the sprint at Monaco where he started from reversed pole position. At Valencia he suffered the traditional GP2 pole position curse, when he retired from both races. He also had pole at the Nurburgring and Monza, each time finishing the feature race second, but he was disqualified from the sprint in Germany, and retired in Italy. That retirement left the battle for GP2 runner-up to Filippi and Bianchi, which the Italian eventually won.
The Frenchman has only completed two years of the series, but he had an impressive first season with Arden after winning his first race (the Spanish feature). He also had a pole at Hockenheim, which he converted into third place. Looking further back, he also has a good record from Formula Renault 3.5: four wins, seven podiums and three poles. In his debut season he finished 6th, and came third in 2009. He came third in his only season of Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup as well.

Getting into F1 is tough, but Pic has a good record. On the other hand, Virgin have interest in Robert Wickens, Lotus have Alex Rossi and Karun Chandhok as well as their GP2 team, and Toro Rosso have four drivers to decide between.

Sponsors and drivers

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.

Summer day 15 – Sebastien Buemi

Sebastien Buemi – 13
Two points separates the two Toro Rosso drivers who are battling with each other for position and a race seat in 2011. For seven out of eleven races this season, Sebastien has beaten his teammate. He had a cracking start. But whether it was using up tyres getting his car into Q2 or whether he’s just had a down patch, in the last few races he has struggled to compete against Alguersuari. In Hungary he did finish ahead, but that was mostly because he had a five-place grid penalty because of the Heidfeld incident at the Nurburgring.
Sebastien was perhaps a little careless there, but generally he has not been a bad driver. He has only had one retirement, and I believe that was because Paul di Resta shredded his tyre with his front wing. He’s had five points finishes, and with the improved car has picked up four more points than his 2010 total already.
Most of what I could say here was already said yesterday. Sebastien vs Jaime – it’s too close to call at the moment.

Points: 12
Worst qualifying: 23* (5-place grid penalty)
Best qualifying: 9
Worst finish: 15 (Germany)
Best finish: 8 (Australia and Hungary)
Average difference: 3.36
Laps completed: 647/681 (95%)
Average race position: 12.96 (Best: 10.0 Turkey; Worst: 16.5 Germany)

*In Germany he started 24th as his qualifying times were erased due to a fuel irregularity

Summer day 14 – Jaime Alguersuari

Jaime Alguersuari – 14
It’s crunch time for the two Toro Rosso drivers as they fight to defend their race seats from Daniel Ricciardo. One of them will have to go, but Alguersuari and Buemi are both putting up a strong defence. Together they are the youngest team on track, and Jaime is the younger of the pair.
His season began relatively badly, for while Buemi got the Toro Rosso into tenth in Australia, Jaime was ‘only’ 12th, which is still good for the team compared to their 2010 performance. Buemi picked up four points there (it would have been one without the Sauber disqualification) and Jaime came 11th. In Malaysia, neither driver picked up points. Then came China, and after Petrov caused Q2 to be red flagged, both Toro Rossos made it to Q3. Jaime was ahead. But a mistake by his pit crew caused him to lose his tyre and become the only non-finisher.
Turkey and Spain were also bad races for Jaime, and Buemi picked up two points in Turkey. It looked like the Spaniard was doomed to give up his place to the Aussie youngester. In Monaco, he failed to finish the race during the red-flag causing incident, while Buemi picked up another point.
But in Canada, his fortunes changed. Qualifying a seemily-bad 18th, the team made the switch to a wet set up and he started from the pit lane. Amongst all the red flags and safety cars, nobody noticed as he shot up the grid and finished 8th. In Valencia, he was about the only driver who could overtake, coming again from 18th to 8th. He now had 8 points, the same as his teammate but ahead on countback.
Both Toro Rossos had a bad qualifying in Britain, not going fast enough to beat Heikki Kovalainen before the rain came down. Starting for the fourth race in a row in the bottom seven, he finished tenth, picking up one point while Buemi had his first DNF. In Germany – Toro Rosso’s 99th race – their luck was not in. They both finished, but neither picked up points. And at the Hungarian Grand Prix – race 100 – they both picked up points. The Toro Rosso is definitely better in a race situation, and both drivers are good. One of them will have to go next year. There are eight more races until we find out who that will be…

Points: 10
Worst qualifying: 19
Best qualifying: 7
Worst finish: 16 (Turkey and Spain)
Best finish: 8 (Canada and Valencia)
Average difference: 1.64
Laps completed: 614/681 (90%)
Average race position: 13.27 (Best: 10.4 Valencia; Worst: 15.0 Australia)

Summer day 2 – Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo – 26
At the end of 2010, Toro Rosso announced that Australian Daniel Ricciardo (pronounced ‘Ricardo’) would be driving for them in Friday practices, with the aim of evaluating him. At the end of the 2011 season – or more likely the middle – he would replace one of the current members of the team.
So he began taking to the track at every venue, alternating between Buemi’s and Alguersuari’s cars, until the Valencia Grand Prix. And then Red Bull did a deal with the Hispania racing team. The team got lots of money from Red Bull and a new driver who has replaced Narain Karthikeyan. It was rather a surprise, and I could not believe it at first. However, since then Daniel has driven at Silverstone, the Nurburgring and the Hungaroring. He qualified 24th in the first race, which immediately made people call for the return of Narain. He stayed at the back and finished last of the backmarkers. In Germany, Daniel qualified 24th but was promoted to 23rd after a 5-place grid penalty for Liuzzi, and 22nd after Buemi was excluded from qualifying. He again finished 19th, ahead of Karun Chandhok.
His best race so far has come in Hungary. Qualifying 22nd after a poor showing from D’Ambrosio and a penalty from Buemi, he finished 18th in the race ahead of Liuzzi and D’Ambrosio. His finishing ahead of Liuzzi has immediately shown him in a new light. Liuzzi was one of those who had switched to inters and had to switch back again.

Worst qualifying: 24
Best qualifying: 22
Worst finish: 19
Best finish: 18
Average difference: 4
Laps completed: 172/182 (94%)
Average race position: 20.54 (Best: 20.1 Germany; Worst: 21.0 Britain)

Toro Rojo? Hispania = Red Bull Three

Autosport and Red Bull confirm that Daniel Ricciardo will be driving for Hispania for the remainder of the season. Presumably this means that he won’t be driving a Toro Rosso in Friday Practice 1 any more. Meanwhile, Colin Kolles is stepping back from his current role at the Spanish team, and either team owner Jose Ramon Carabante or his son (also called Jose) are expecteed to become Team Principal.
Tonio Liuzzi is an ex-Red Bull, ex-Toro Rosso driver. So Hispania is basically a Red Bull team as well. I wonder if they’ll get any money from the deal? It probably helped them to say yes. I bet Alguesuari and Buemi are both glad they definitely won’t be replaced this season! But they will still have to drive well to make sure they’re not the ones being kicked out next year.
Team Lotus get their gearboxes from Red Bull. Hispania get their drivers. It will be interesting to see how the standings change with Red Bull’s own driver on the team. Maybe they’ll get that 12th place finish they dream of and beat Team Lotus. Maybe not. A driver can only make the car go so far. Team Lotuses are still much better than HRTs in normal conditions.

Four races in: Season So Far

Hello everyone! How’s it going? Four grands prix into the season, and it looks like Adrian Newey is dominating again. Throughout recent F1 history, his uncompromising standards have built championship-winning cars time after time, and the 2011 Red Bull is already far in advance of the others. So long as he gets a good start, Vettel looks like he will win every race. Of course, no race yet has been affected by rain or a serious crash or a safety car. The cars this year in most teams seem incredibly reliable on race day even if they suffer in practice, with only two DNFs and one DNS in the last two races. It is looking more and more likely that we will see a car finish more than 18 races this year, and overtake Heidfeld, Massa and Tiago Monteiro’s record.

Meanwhile, at Toro Rosso it’s beginning to look like Jaime Alguersuari’s surge at the end of 2010 was a fluke, as he has not impressed so far this season. Yes, he qualified ahead of Sebastien Buemi in China, and it wasn’t his fault that he had to retire, but only Buemi has scored points for the team so far – four in Melbourne (he finished 10th then got a boost from the Saubers’ DSQ) and two in Istanbul. In Malaysia he also finished ahead of Alguersuari. After a struggle in Shanghai and finishing five positions back from where he started, he gained seven in Istanbul. Only Kobayashi managed a better improvement.

Speaking of Kobayashi, he really has done very well this year. From a dismal start for Sauber thanks to their DSQ, he’s gained them points in every race since and pushed them back up to 6th place. His skill at overtaking shows in that he’s gained at least one place on his start in every race: just one in Melbourne, though qualifying ninth meant his Sauber had to compete with really good cars; three each in Sepang and Shanghai; and of course the magnificent charge from 24th to 10th in Istanbul. That’s only one less place than Webber gained in Shanghai. Today’s birthday boy Nick Heidfeld is also proving good at overtaking, with an average of just under four places gained per race.

Only seven drivers have qualified in the top 10 for every race: Alonso (5th every time), Button (4th, 4th, 2nd, 6th), Hamilton (2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th), Massa (8th, 7th, 6th, 10th), Petrov (6th, 8th, 10th, 7th), Rosberg (7th, 9th, 4th, 3rd) and Vettel (1st every time). However, only five drivers have finished in the points in every race: Alonso (4th, 6th, 7th, 3rd), Button (6th, 2nd, 4th, 6th), Hamilton (2nd, 8th, 1st, 4th), Vettel (1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st) and Webber (5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd). If Kobayashi had not had the DSQ, it would have been six.
The seven drivers who have completed every single lap of every race are: Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa and Kobayashi. Heidfeld has completed one less, Buemi two less, Sutil three less, Petrov four less.

Finally, there’s been a lot of joking about the ‘Lotus position’ (somewhere between the backmarkers and the midfield). Taking a look at the numbers, it does seem that cars do fall into one of five positions on the track:

  1. The front – Sebastian Vettel, out on his own ahead of the rest (P1)
  2. Almost the front – McLarens, Ferraris, Renaults, Webber, Rosberg and Kobayashi (P2-P10 typically)
  3. The middle – Force Indias, Toro Rossos, Perez, Barrichello, Schumacher (P11-P17)
  4. The ‘Lotus position’ – Lotus and Maldonado (P18-P20)
  5. The back – Virgin and Hispania (P21-P24)

Agree, disagree? Please comment!