BARC graduates join F2

F2
With the first round coming up fast, more names have been confirmed on the roster. Others seem to have vanished. Iranian Kourosh Khani is one of those confirmed. Last year Khani drove in the Formula Renault BARC Championship, taking one win and three podiums on his way to fourth. He also finished third in the MRF Formula 1600 Delhi Championship supporting the F1 in |India. He picked up a podium in one of the two races.
One of Khani’s BARC opponents was Dino Zamparelli, a British-Italian driver who won the championship with 4 wins, 6 poles, 8 podiums and 1 fastest lap. Zamparelli was nominated for the McLaren Autosport BDRC Award. In previous years he has also won the Ginetta Jr Championship, where a lot of young British drivers start out before progressing to single seaters. In 2012, Zamparelli will also be in F2, at least for the opening round at Silverstone and hopefully longer.

GP3
Dry for most of the day, Silverstone turned wet in the final hour of testing. This gave plenty of time for the nine teams present at the test to get some work in, and for Mitch Evans to go fastest just ahead of his MW Arden teammate Matias Laine. On the face of it, Arden are most likely to provide the champion for GP3 this season. However, they will need more consistency than in 2011 when two of their three drivers could have taken the championship.
The names at the top of the timing screen today were much as expected: Tio Ellinas, Antonio Felix da Costa and Conor Daly. Will Buller and Alex Brundle were both doing well for Carlin, and Romania’s Robert Visoiu has been shining for Status.
Alice Powell was fastest of the three ladies, though she had caused a red flag in the morning. Most of her day has been spent getting used to the car, and she didn’t put on fresh tyres in the afternoon, so we can surely expect improved times from the British driver tomorrow.
Maxim Zimin will be in the car for Jenzer tomorrow.

F1
Suzie Wolff has become the latest female development driver in F1, taking on the role for Williams. Wolff is married to Toto Wolff, a Director at the team, though he did not take part in the decision to give her the position. Wolff drives in the DTM, and you may know her better as Suzie Stoddart.

F1 – the sponsorship ‘problem’

There is a perception that these days it is impossible for a young driver going on talent – as opposed to sponsorship – to get into Formula One. If you’re returning from retirement, or you have bags of cash, then it’s easy to get in. But is this really the case?

Today, companies don’t have money they can throw at racing teams – whether in F1 or other series – to sponsor them. Most of the companies who do sponsor teams seem to be out of reach for the average fan, or they are companies belonging to the team owner. The other sponsors on cars tend to come from drivers, who carry the names with them as they change teams and series. Racing is horribly expensive, and with a cost of several hundred thousand pounds even for Formula Renault UK, most drivers have no choice but to seek sponsorship in order to get into the series. Drivers who struggle to find sponsors may be left without a seat, and in recent days – starting with Dan Wells – we have seen many turn to the public via Twitter to get funding.

But is there really a dilemma between sponsorship and talent? Is it really true that good drivers miss out while worse drivers get all the funding?

The truth is, companies aren’t going to sponsor bad drivers. They want to sponsor good drivers so that they will get noticed! Some drivers can use their name to get sponsorship – Bruno Senna, for example – yet nobody thinks of him as a ‘pay driver’. There was great delight when Senna got into Williams, though at Barrichello’s expense. And though Vitaly Petrov brings in Russian sponsorship, his ability has also been proven. His displacement of Trulli might cause disgruntlement, but in truth he will be good competition for Kovalainen.

The list goes on: Jerome d’Ambrosio, replaced at Virgin/Marussia by Charles Pic, but he also brought in sponsorship which now features on Lotus’s cars. Di Resta has help from Mercedes, Perez has help from Escuderia Telmex. These are all fantastic drivers. And though Hulkenberg isn’t regarded as a pay driver, it doesn’t say ‘Katjes’ on his cap for no reason. As for drivers in the top teams, they have had some help to get to where they are – Hamilton through his young bravery with Ron Dennis, Alonso indirectly brings in Santander sponsorship to Ferrari (and it stayed at McLaren though the Abbey connection). There are very few, if any, drivers on the grid now who are there purely by talent.

As for the age of F1 drivers, 11 on the grid this year are 25 or younger. Four of those are GP2 champions (Rosberg, Maldonado, Hulkenberg and Grosjean); one is DTM champion (Di Resta); one is a world champion (Vettel) and the others all have good records in Formula Renault or GP2. All but six drivers are 30 or younger. So F1 does not have an age problem.

I believe F1 has one of the most talented lineups of all time. If we put them in equally-matched cars, we would have some incredible racing. I think the few drivers regarded as ‘bad’ are severely underrated (Maldonado might be good at disobeying rules but you need talent to win in GP2; Karthikeyan has done brilliantly outside F1). Yes, some talented drivers have been left out of F1 – Luca Filippi is a prime example – but many others who are just as talented have made it. So stop complaining and enjoy the racing. And hope that somewhere out there is a team to match Red Bull!

Cassidy joins Fortec in Eurocup

As the second F1 and first GP3 tests get going today, it’s time to talk about the news that’s been released over the last few days.

FR Eurocup
British team Fortect have announced that Nick Cassidy – deserved winner of the Toyota Racing Series – will be driving for them in Eurocup Formula Renault this year. There are a strong team of drivers in this year’s Eurocup, including several FRUK graduates, so it will be a great challenge for Cassidy.

GP3
Testing today saw strong performances from Mitch Evans (MW Arden) and Nico Muller (testing for Trident) in Estoril. Other drivers who did well included Antonio Felix da Costa (testing for Carlin), Aaro Vainio (Lotus GP) and Tio Ellinas (Manor). In total 25 drivers took part in the test, with Mucke Motorsport absent, while Tech 1 and Atech only fielded two drivers each.

F1
After a few laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, Romain Grosjean was uncomfortable with the feel of the E20 chassis that had been upgraded from the one used in Jerez. Lotus believe this to be an issue with the chassis, and have pulled out of this week’s test.
Fastest today was Sebastian Vettel, but Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was close behind. Times, of course, mean nothing, but Nico has been making positive noises about the car. Caterham had a problem with a broken track rod that left the CT-01 stranded on the final corner, but got just under an hour of running at the end of the test with Heikki Kovalainen. Daniel Ricciardo also caused a red flag in the STR7.
The new Mercedes was put through its paces by Michael Schumacher, whilst Charles Pic put in 121 laps as he got used to driving an F1 car. Marussia are still using the MVR02. Lewis Hamilton also put in over 100 laps, coming third-fastest in the McLaren.

Williams have hired former F1 and current WEC driver Alex Wurz as a driver coach for their team. They have a young duo in terms of races, as well as the inexperienced Valtteri Bottas as reserve driver. It is not common for teams to hire driver coaches, but hopefully this will have a positive effect on Maldonado and Senna.

Nasr gets GP2 chance with DAMS

GP2
DAMS have confirmed the second half of their team today, with British F3 champion Felipe Nasr set to partner Davide Valsecchi. After Romain Grosjean’s championship last season, there are high expectations on Nasr and Valsecchi.
Brazilian Nazr, who will be 20 in August, won seven races and took 17 podiums in the British F3 championship despite only taking four pole positions, and finished far ahead of his teammate Kevin Magnussen who was second. It seems likely that he will be the next Brazilian to reach Formula One, and certainly the media has shown interest in this young man. Nasr also came second in last year’s Macau GP, and was on the podium in the Daytona 24 hours.

F1
Videos taken at Silverstone today show the Mercedes W03 on its shakedown before it is launched. Stills suggest the silver car will share the stepped nose that all but McLaren have gone for in 2012.

Mike Gascoyne has been promoted to Caterham CTO, which means he will oversee all of the Caterham programs – not just F1. He will naturally have a reduced role in the F1 team, but has tweeted that he will be present at races as he wants to be there for the first points and the first podium.

Williams have announced that their test driver Valtteri Bottas will be taking a turn in the FW34 at Barcelona. He will be driving on the second day of the test.

Finally, after failing some crash tests, HRT will not be present at the first Barcelona test. Marussia will be there, but with their 2011 car.

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.

Another F1 hope for Senna

Williams were proud to announce today that they have signed Bruno Senna to partner Pastor Maldonado in 2012. The Brazilian has not had a lot of luck with F1 thus far.
At the end of 2008, the GP2 runner-up was denied a place in F1 beside Jenson Button as Honda collapsed. Instead, when Ross Brawn rescued the team he kept the experinced Rubens Barrichello. This was probably a good move for Brawn, as their experienced drivers probably did much better than a rookie. But who knows what Bruno would have done in that car?
In 2010, he signed with former GP2 teammate Karun Chandhok to the brand new Hispania Racing Team. The team struggled, and Bruno did his best amidst a changing roster of teammates. He missed out at Silverstone, but returned for the rest of the season. After that year, it looked like his F1 chance was gone again.
At the start of 2011, Renault signed him up as one of their many test drivers. After Kubica’s accident, Nick Heidfeld partnered Vitaly Petrov. But as Heidfeld failed to deliver the Brazilian arrived for the second half of the season. He did his best in a car that could not match its early-season ability, and picked up two points.
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were brought to the new Lotus team for the coming season, and it once again seemed like Bruno’s hopes were over. But he negotiated hard, and with the blessing of all his family has joined Williams for 2012. Naturally this brings back memories of the last time a Senna was in a Williams-Renault. I am sure that Bruno will do his family name proud, and give the team its first points from a Senna.

Rubens Barrichello – F1 legend

For the past nineteen years, one name has been found on the entry list for every single Formula One race: Rubens Barrichello. On March 14th in South Africa, the Brazilian began his career with Jordan. He qualified fourteenth, a long way begind polesitter Prost and second-place Ayrton Senna. Even Schumacher for Benneton was 1.5s behind those two. All but seven drivers were unclassified, and two of the classified drivers were non-finishers. His first points came at the Japanese Grand Prix that year, as he took fifth ahead of Eddie Irvine – the British driver taking part in his first race.
The next year began well, and he took points at his home race before his first podium at the Pacific Grand Prix behind Berger and Schumacher. Then came the San Marino Grand Prix, and the Brazilian was injured in practice. We all know the events of that tragic weekend. He picked up some more fourth places and came sixth in the championship.
The Braziliam would drive for Jordan for two more years, taking second place at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix behind Jean Alesi. Then in 1997, he became one of Stewart’s first drivers alongside Jan Magnussen. The car was fragile, but Barrichello brought it home in Monaco for second place and their first points thanks to the Bridgestone tyres’ quality in the wet.
He continued with the team for the remaining two years of its existence, and got three podiums in 1999 as well as pole position in France.
The Brazilian impressed Ferrari and the team brought him in to partner (and follow) Michael Schumacher the next year. Schumacher won the first race, with Barrichello second and taking the fastest lap. He took his first win at the Hockenheimring, and finished fourth in the championship.
Ferrari favouritism kept Barrichello from winning the championship, but he stuck with the team until 2005. His next move was to Honda, who in 2007 would struggle – even losing to their junior team Super Aguri. At the end of 2008, Honda decided to pull out of F1, and it seemed Barrichello’s career was over after sixteen seasons. Ross Brawn, however, gave the Brazilian a chance as he bought the team very cheaply from its owners. Brawn’s genius gave Rubens two more wins, and the team a championship. Then, Brawn was bought by Mercedes.
Three new teams were formed in 2010, and there was a lot of movement in the driver market. Rubens moved to Williams, where he did a great job for a struggling team. But at the start of 2012 it seems his time is over. Youth and potential (not to mention money) are what they need now.

Nineteen years, 326 entries, 322 starts, 11 wins, 68 podiums, and not forgetting over 1 million Twitter followers. Sadly, we probably won’t see more of Rubens Barrichello in F1. He may not have won a championship, but he will be sorely missed.