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.

Title deciders – Formula Renault UK and F1

It was a weekend of championship deciders as the British Touring Car Championship and support races had their final weekend of 2011. This included Formula Renault UK, and with 10 wins under his belt Alex Lynn was always likely to confirm his victory today.
He did so in style, winning the first of the races and taking fastest lap. But the second race did not go so well. Though starting from pole, he had a battle with teammate Oliver Rowland which left Lynn spinning. He came back into the race further down the field. He began his comeback, but a recurring problem for all the support races came back to bite him. In almost every race, the drivers had been running wide and putting all four wheels over the white line. Race control took a hard line: three offences were okay, fourth got a warning, and the fifth got a drive-through penalty. Lynn, Alice Powell, Oscar King and Felix Serrales all had to suffer this indignity. A few others, including Jordan King, came very close.
Winner of the race was Rowland, who secured second in the championship as Tio Ellinas chose to fight for third in the race (and hence second in the championship) rather than retire. Retiring would have seen him come second under the dropped points system.
Lynn will probably be in British F3 next year, and I expect several other drivers will be looking around at their options. Alice Powell even mentioned GP3 when she was doing commentary for the Formula Renault BARC race. Some of the graduates will hopefully return to Formula Renault, and compete for the championship next season.

Another championship decided today was the Formula One constructors’ championship. Vettel was behind Hamilton at the start, but got ahead and stayed there for the rest of the race. But Hamilton had a great show of form, and his faster McLaren defended well against the Red Bull of Webber to secure second. Though Webber tried and tried, the car’s straight-line speed with DRS and KERS was not enough. At one point he overtook Hamilton just before the DRS detection point, but the McLaren had the advantage and took the place back.
In fourth was Jenson Button, who had a quiet race as Massa had held Alonso up for too long in the first half. Though Alonso had caught up to Button in the final two laps, it was too late to have a go as he was running low on fuel. Massa was sixth.
Jaime Alguersuari had a good race. Able to pit later than the other frontrunners, he was behind Nico Rosberg after his second stop. The Mercedes held on for a long time, but on the final lap his tyres fell away and the Toro Rosso driver overtook on the final corner to come home for a great seventh-place finish. This matches his best all-time finish. Rosberg took eighth. Behind, Buemi was battling with the Force Indias and won to take ninth, while Di Resta was tenth. Just outside the points, Sutil came 11th, Barrichello 12th. Senna was the first of the lapped drivers as his tyres had gone two laps before the end. A rapidly-closing Kovalainen was not quite able to beat the Renault, but took a decent fourteenth. In a strange turn of fortune, both Saubers did three stops and finished behind Kovalainen but ahead of seventeenth-placed Trulli. Ricciardo split Glock and D’Ambrosio, while Liuzzi had another torrid race.
The retirees were Maldonado (with technical problems), Petrov and Schumacher. Petrov hit Schumacher just after he had overtaken Alonso, destroying the Merc’s rear wing and causing a safety car. The Russian has a five-place grid penalty for India. HRT had a 5000 Euro fine for an unsafe release of Daniel Ricciardo.

Qualifying summary

Not much can pull me away from F1, except for Jordan King, my favourite up-and-coming driver because he’s from my home town. Jordan has been driving in the Formula Renault Northern European Cup, and was on pole for today’s race. Though overtaken, he stayed close to the winner to finish less than a second behind and taking the number two spot on the podium. It’s so far his best finish ever – matching a second place in Formula Renault UK that came after the winner was disqualified. He starts second for the next race. His 24 points have boosted him up to 12th place.
For a driver in his first full year of racing, he is doing incredibly well. He has so far had two pole positions – one in the UK series where he got taken out by Alex Lynn and today’s – and had three podium finishes. He has participated in Formula Two as well as these other series, and done himself proud there too. Jordan might not be doing brilliantly in Formula Renault UK, but he’s shown elsewhere how much talent he has.

Now F1, and qualifying today wasn’t as exciting as it could have been. Q1 began with silence before the first drivers came out on track, and the Lotuses and HRTs left it a while before making their first runs. Renault turned out to be the team on the edge, with their updates for Singapore abandoned. Heikki Kovalainen was unable to make a second good run, but still beat his teammate’s best lap. And Vitaly Petrov became the fall guy.
Q2, and a crash for Kobayashi in a bad spot caused a red flag. The Japanese will start 17th. The others dropping out were the Williams, Senna, Perez and the Toro Rosso drivers. So we had both Red Bulls, McLarens, Ferraris, Mercedes and Force Indias in Q3.
It could had been a very exciting finale, but in the end it didn’t go that way. Vettel set a hot lap quickly and Hamilton was second. The Force Indias did not attempt a lap at all. McLaren had a refuelling problem and Hamilton was unable to set another lap, while Vettel messed up on his final attempt – quite unusual for the German – but was not beaten by his nearest challenger of Webber. Button took third, while Alonso and Massa were fifth and sixth. The two Mercs were next, followed by the Force Indias in numerical order.
Hopefully the race will be better tomorrow. It’s a big challenge for the drivers to stay out of the wall and also to avoid copying Kobayashi and catching air at turn 10 – the chicane. If you get off the ground, there’s no way you’ll be able to catch yourself in time before you go into the wall. So this could be a good one, and if the backmarkers stay cautious they could be in with a chance at a good finish.

This is Red Bull’s 15th consecutive pole – they have taken every one since Abu Dhabi last year. They need ten more to beat Williams’ 1992-3 record of 24. Can they do it? Probably.

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 19 – Vitaly Petrov

Vitaly Petrov – 9
At the end of last season, all anyone could talk about was how Vitaly Petrov held up Fernando Alonso at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, thus allowing Sebastian Vettel to win the world championship. The Russian driver was coming into his own, and he proved it at the very first race of 2011. In an encouraging start for Renault, he finished third on the final lap as Alonso – on fresher tyres – was attempting to close on him. Cue the jokes.
Things didn’t go quite so well in Malaysia, as in the final few laps Vitaly went off the track while on course for another points finish. Too hard on the throttle as he returned, he literally flew into the air and crashed off. His result, however, was classified. In the next two races, however, he picked up points. At the Spanish Grand Prix, he once again missed out on points, but his teammate did get some. And in Monaco he went out again in the final laps of the race, hitting the side of the track. His condition was not serious, but an ambulance was needed and a red flag was thrown, thus deciding the race outcome.
The next track was Canada. Starting tenth, he was fifth by the time of the safety car. After the red flag, he lost a few places in pit stops, but was back up to fifth by the end of the race. A good finish for the Russian in a Renault that was proving to be less and less competitive as the season went on.
Since Monaco, Vitaly has struggled. Getting involved in an incident with Michael Schumacher lost him any chance of points in Valencia, and he only finished 12th at the British and Hungarian Grands Prix – though his teammate got points both times. At the German Grand Prix, he picked up a single point. You have to wonder if the Renault team are losing out after such a brilliant start. Without Robert Kubica to pull them towards a championship, have they not tried as hard?

Points: 32
Worst qualifying: 14
Best qualifying: 6
Worst finish: 15 (Valencia)
Best finish: 3 (Australia)
Average difference: -1.64
Laps completed: 662/681 (97%)
Average race position: 9.28 (Best: 3.6 Australia; Worst: 15.2 Valencia)

Exhausting Monaco GP with overtakes

That was… incredible! Vettel gets yet another victory in the bag. No pole to flag this time, especially after his crew messed up the pit stop. But the team’s decision to run a 1-stop strategy served him well. Vettel, Kobayashi and Liuzzi all did 1-stop races, and Petrov had only done one before his crash.
Petrov was hurt but not seriously when the front runners of Vettel, Alonso and Button got tangled up with his group of runners. Unlike last year, five of the drivers from the three youngest teams finished, with Trulli ahead of Kovalainen in his second P13 of 2011.
Williams got points for the first time, breaking their duck despite Hamilton taking out Pastor Maldonado. The McLaren driver had a scrappy race causing Massa and Maldonado’s crashes. Sutil was the driver who caused the mega crash at the end that took Petrov and Alguersuari out and resulted in the red flag. Thanks to the red flag, Vettel was able to put on fresh tyres and easily maintained his lead in the final laps. However, Webber managed to set another fastest lap: his fourth of the season with a 1:16.234. It’s still 1.8s off Schumacher’s 2004 record.
Kobayashi got up from 12th to 4th before having to give a place up to Webber in the final stages when he cut the chicane. However he stayed ahead of Hamilton. Sutil finished P7, a lap behind but ahead of Heidfeld, Barrichello and Buemi.
The other race retirees were Schumacher, whose car died on him just outside the pits, and Glock. There were two safety car periods. This race weekend has seen five red flags, two injured drivers and a lot of crashes. But it has also seen overtakes, a fierce battle for the lead, and fairly durable Pirellis.

There are bound to be penalties, with Hamilton expected to recieve one for the Maldonado incident (the Williams driver was classified as he had completed enough of the race laps), and D’Ambrosio also for not allowing the Lotuses through in the final laps despite blue flags. So we shall see…

There was a FR 3.5 race this morning. Ricciardo won. Nothing exciting though. They use fairly durable Michelin tyres, so there was less of the unpredictability. Championship table will also be updated for that series.

Friday practice in Sepang 2011

A lot of problems around the wheel area for various teams. Renault suffered from brake problems on both cars in FP1, most dramatically for Nick Heidfeld when the right front locked up and refused to unlock. He was forced to drive it back to the pits with the tyre wearing down, creating a horrendous smell and putting him out of the rest of the session. Vitaly Petrov‘s car was delayed going out, and when it did go out soon suffered itself. The left front tyre exploded because of brake problems, and he went skidding into the gravel.
Virgin suffered from suspension problems, which caused Jerome D’Ambrosio‘s front right tyre to jump over to the left of the car. Meanwhile HRT had some problems with the oil supply, causing a lot of smoke to fly out the back of Narain Karthikeyan‘s car. However, he was able to get out later in the session.

In FP2 both Renaults were able to make the track, albeit a little late. Going too far over the kerb caused Tonio Liuzzi‘s car to lose all power. At the same time, Pastor Maldonado spun on the pit lane entry to crash into the sign of Williams’ former sponsor Allianz. The Venezuelan and Italian were able to get back on track right at the end of the session.
There was some impressive driving from Karthikeyan, who managed to lap his HRT within 107% of the fastest time (by Webber). Lotus were suffering from gearbox (Kovalainen) and steering (Trulli) problems, and were unable to go on track for most of the session, but eventually Trulli returned to the track and was able to get in a reasonable time. Kovalainen, however, ended up bottom of the drivers who had set times with only four laps completed.
Jerome d’Ambrosio’s car was being sorted throughout the session, and the struggling Virgin team did their absolute best, but for whatever reason they were unable to get the car out. They should be able to do so by tomorrow.

Tomorrow is FP3, and I still have no clue who I will be choosing in my fantasy F1 predictions. However, I will say that Webber looks good, and if those HRT drivers can qualify then I might be picking up a few points from them! There is very little to choose between the top runners, however, so it could go any way.