GP2 testing Concludes in Jerez

With an all new season of GP2 about to get underway in 2013, it is important to get the new young drivers acclimatized to the car and operational procedures of the teams, if the driver is new to the series. For the veterans, the preseason is just an opportunity to get back into the groove and understand the tires.

The first preseason test took place in Jerez and concluded today. There were some notable participants in the test in the form of Sauber reserve driver and 2012 FR3.5 champion Robin Frijns and Ma Qing Hua, former HRT reserve driver. These two are looking to secure seats in the competitive feeder series for 2013 to keep their racing options open.

These two drivers would not feature at the top of the time sheets during the test, through Robin did impress considering this was his first taste of GP2 machinery.

The first two days were dominated by Frenchman Tom Dillmann. The young driver was a race winner in last year’s championship and is looking to secure a full time race seat for 2013.

The final day was topped by sophomore driver, James Calado. The Brit impressed in his rookie year last season by taking 5th in the championship. Staying in ART Grand Prix machinery certainly makes him a favorite for the championship in 2013, and the best poised driver to break into F1 in the near future.

GP3 graduates Daniel Abt and Mitch Evans were also present for what was their first taste of GP2 machinery as well. They will have a steep learning curve this year but are well poised to succeed in the championship. The former is lucky enough to James Calado as his teammate.

Here are today’s times:

Driver Team Laptime Laps
1. James Calado ART Grand Prix 1:24.659 54
2. Simon Trummer Rapax 1:25.045 26
3. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering 1:25.133 27
4. Stefano Coletti Rapax 1:25.138 35
5. Stéphane Richelmi DAMS 1:25.148 38
6. Marcus Ericsson DAMS 1:25.269 39
7. Jolyon Palmer Carlin 1:25.276 38
8. Mitch Evans Arden International 1:25.309 41
9. Julian Leal Racing Engineering 1:25.318 44
10. Kevin Giovesi Venezuela GP Lazarus 1:25.497 40
11. Robin Frijns Trident Racing 1:25.572 23
12. Daniel Abt ART Grand Prix 1:25.695 56
13. Johnny Cecotto Arden International 1:25.829 37
14. Sergio Canamasas Caterham Racing 1:25.833 47
15. Rene Binder Venezuela GP Lazarus 1:25.862 17
16. Felipe Nasr Carlin 1:25.883 33
17. Ma Qing Hua Caterham Racing 1:25.896 43
18. Daniel De Jong MP Motorsport` 1:25.959 31
19. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs MP Motorsport 1:26.031 39
20. Nathanaël Berthon Trident Racing 1:26.049 21
21. Jake Rosenzweig Barwa Addax Team 1:26.133 43
22. Rio Haryanto Barwa Addax Team 1:26.767 38

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Barcelona Testing: Day 5

What looked like a day to be topped by a Mercedes once again, turned around after the lunch break when times started to tumble down. The first day back to testing looked to be pointless with all the rain that fell, but this didn’t stop anyone from braving the cold all in the name of testing progress.

The morning was comparatively quiet alongside the action of the afternoon. Hamilton led the morning session with Massa close behind him.

In the afternoon, there were countless changes of fast lap as the track conditions steadily improved. Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Esteban Gutierrez, Sergio Perez and others enjoyed time at the sharp end of the time sheets. Marke Webber eventually ended the day fastest with a very impressive 1:22 after meticulously working his way down all day.

The afternoon was reminiscent of a wet qualifying session with fastest time constantly fluctuating. What the rain lacks in testing benefit, it sure makes up for with some excitement.

Rain is forecasted for tomorrow with sunshine on hand for Saturday and Sunday.

FASTEST TIMES

P Driver Team Time
1 Webber Red Bull 1m22.693s
2 Hamilton Mercedes 1m24.348s +1.655
3 Vergne Toro Rosso 1m25.017s +2.324
4 Bottas Williams 1m26.458s +3.765
5 Perez McLaren 1m26.538s +3.845
6 Gutierrez Sauber 1m26.574s +3.881
7 di Resta Force India 1m27.107s +4.414
8 Massa Ferrari 1m27.541s +4.848
9 Chilton Marussia 1m28.166s +5.473
10 Pic Caterham 1m28.644s +5.951
11 Grosjean Lotus 1m34.928s +12.235

Sutil Returns to F1 in Full Force

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What turned into a farce by mid-January has finally been out to rest on the final day of February. Adrian Sutil has officially been confirmed as Force India’s second driver.

The fight for the seat was ultimately between test driver, and Ferrari protege, Jules Bianchi and Adrian Sutil, who would be returning after a one year hiatus from the sport. The decision swung to the latter with team owner and principal citing Sutil’s experience and reliability as the factors that made him more desirable than Bianchi.

This means that the team is stable for the time being. There were talks that financial woes could potentially kill the team before too long, but with Sutil’s backing, these rumors seem to have been quelled.

Sutil will start on the back foot at the season’s start. He has missed three days of vital preseason testing and he will need all the time he can get if he is to shake off any rust accumulated on the racing sidelines. Sutil is more than capable of doing this, however. He is a reliable driver who can bring a decent midfield car home in the points on a regular basis. This may not be enough for him to grab the attention of any top teams, but he was never destined for that anyways.

2013 could prove to be a trying uear for the German. He once again will partner his 2011 teammate Paul di Resta who, in that year, he beat over the season. Now, Paul is a better driver and will pose a more serious threat to the German. Only time will tell if Force India’s decision was the right one.

A Case for Sutil

While the general consensus is that Jules Bianchi deserves the Force India drive in 2013, this doesn’t mean that Adrian Sutil is undeserving of a Formula one drive at all.

As a veteran of Formula One, Sutil has had time to give himself a reputation in the paddock. He has shown everyone that he is a very capable midfield driver, but hasn’t overly impressed. On his day, in a very competitive car, I am sure he could win a couple of races. But he isn’t championship material.

Force India, though, doesn’t have championship potential either. Their budget and potential match Sutil’s skill perfectly. This is why, while Bianchi would be perfect for the seat, Sutil is just as suited for the job. His outing in Barcelona last week also confirmed that he can still at least drive at a competitive speed still.

Force India would be the perfect team to help show off his potential. His connections with Ferrari made him a potential candidate for Massa’s seat in 2014, as well. But as it looks like Force India isn’t going to fight for the championship anytime soon, Sutil will be fine as their second driver.

While I believe Bianchi deserves the drive, Sutil has justified his place in F1. His criminal record could potentially cause some problems if he needs to travel, such as to America. Bianchi will have his chance to impress the world soon enough, and while he deserves the seat more than Sutil, this doesn’t rule out the German entirely.

The Future of Mclaren

With the confirmed departure of Paddy Lowe from Mclaren, and his immediate reduction in influence on the team, it looks as if their hope for a championship challenge in 2014 could be just a fantasy.

The nineteen years that Paddy Lowe spent at Mclaren have produced three drivers’ titles, one constructors’ championship and I one in four hit rate when it comes to wins. His time at Mclaren has undoubtedly seen some of the best times for Mclaren, but there is a lingering disappointment that they could have accomplished for example, the 2007 constructors’ and drivers’ championships were lost to foolish cheating while the 2012 championships were lost due to reliability issues and rather armature pit stop blunders. Though these problems aren’t all places on the shoulders of Lowe, his departure will at least give the team a chance to hit the reset button and start over for 2014.

Lowe’s replacement, Tim Goss comes with years of technical experience as well as Mclaren experience. This second trait is handy because as we all know, Mclaren have a unique way of operating. I am confident he will take his increased role in his stride. A lot of the success of the 2012 Mclaren can be credited to Goss; the seven wins, eight poles and several dominant performances.

The future of Mclaren With Tim Goss at the head of the technical department is certainly bright. Goss is talented, experienced and well liked by everyone in the team. While there may be some short term pitfalls in the wake of Lowe’s departure, the long term state of the team should be just as strong as ever.

New Kids on the Block

This is going to be a big year for Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas. I mean, after joining twitter, starting his F1 career will be the latter’s greatest accomplishment.

These two young drivers have a lot of hype surrounding them. They both have junior championships under their belts and at least two years of being test drivers for an established Formula One team. Along with this, they have been with their respective teams for a number of years, having both been picked up early on in their journey up the F1 ladder.

The similarities continue when you look at the teams they’re at. They both arrive on the scene against very formidable teammates, both former pole-sitters and one, a race winner. Their respective teams had much improved seasons last year, with Sauber grabbing four podiums and a several top-5 grid spots and Williams taking a pole, win and more top-5 grid spots as well. All of this points to a lot of pressure for them to improve in 2013. Indeed consistency, not usually trademarks of rookies, is all the teams really need in order to deem 2013 a success.

While he plays down the prospects of any eye-catching performances, don’t think that Esteban will just hide in the shadows in 2013. The Mexican has a very solid racing platform that will serve him well.

Esteban comes into Formula One on the back of a slightly disappointing GP2 campaign. While he finished 3rd in the championship, it was a rather distant one, with some careless accidents denting his hopes of a championship challenge mid-season. However, the performances that did come together were very impressive. He beat veterans of the series like Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton who should have done better in the championship. This relative disappointment from Gp2 doesn’t mean he hasn’t enjoyed success. He absolutely dominated the 2010 GP3 season, taking 5 wins. All this time, he was test driver for BMW Sauber, courtesy of his Formula BMW championship in 2008. Indeed, that championship 5 years ago may have secured his place in F1.

Esteban has a lot going for him. He is young, eager, talented and has financial backing in the form of Telmex. Being funded by the richest man in the world certainly has its perks, but don’t think that was the determining factor in his step up into a race seat. We must keep in mind that Telmex was staying with Sauber regardless of their driver choice. This goes to show Sauber’s decision wasn’t purely commercial.

This season, Esteban will have to call upon his experience with Sauber and their way of operating in orfer to gain any advantage over Nico Hilkenberg, his new teammate. Esteban has been with the the Swiss squad since 2009, so he has lived through the tough transition of the team from factory giant to privateer outfit. If the Mexican is to deem his debut season as a success, consistency and solid points need to be the minimum. If he can score a podium, that will be a fantastic boost for both him and the team who hope to emulate the giant killing performances from 2012.

There is a sense from a lot of people that Esteban needs to perform on the level of now Mclaren driver, Seegio Perez. His near wins in Malaysia and Italy are a testament to his immense talent, but just because he his a fellow countryman, it doesn’t mean Esteban will be directly compared to him. Of course, completely avoiding comparison will be impossible, but the rookie deserves a clean slate on which to make his mark, rather than just adding to Sergio’s already decorated CV. Who knows, maybe Esteban will surprise us all this year.

Esteban has enjoyed a very successful preseason. All of his outings in the car have been uninterrupted and consistent. He is proving to be reliable in this sense. The consensus also points to the team being quick. They won’t challenge for the title, but nothing suggests they can’t scare the big boys more often than last year. All Esteban needs to do is stay out of trouble.

The trouble is, one very determined Finn could get in his way.

Valtteri Bottas has finally stepped up to the race seat many believed was his the moment we saw him drive his first FP1 of 2012. His speed and consistency impressed throughout the paddock. Indeed, he was good enough to even beat Maldonado every once in a while in practice. For 2013, the expectations are high as everyone at Williams has dubbed the Finn the next great thing. Certainly, his goal must be to emulate the successes fellow countrymen Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen, rather then the relative disappointments of Heikki Kovalainen and Mika Salo.

Like Gutierrez, Valtteri is a champion of GP3. He won the championship the year after the Mexican and was already a part of the Williams family before that. His time with Williams exceeds that of several current F1 drivers, and he hasn’t even raced yet! Indeed, there are many similarities between the careers of Esteban and Valtteri. Perhaps this will make it easier to compare their success or failure throughout this unpredictable season.

Valtteri’s transition from test to race driver for Williams was expected early on in the 2012 season. Most expected the 2012 campaign to be a buffer year just to get the Finn ready for racing in 2013. Bottas should be well prepared, though, as he has had one of the more pleasant preseason testing experiences of any of the drivers. In Jerez, he got used to the new tires in the car he already knew very well, and in Barcelona, he added the new car variable to the tricky tire mix. This will be a very trying year for all the rookies as the tires have proven to be at least easy to warm up, but very hard to conserve. Valtteri, though, is taking the challenge in his stride.

Having a teammate like Pastor will be helpful as well. Although a bit unpredictable, the Venezuelan is undeniably quick and a proven race winner, providing the Finn the perfect performance benchmark. Having immensely talented teammates are just more of the similarities between Esteban and Valtteri.

Throughout his career, Valtteri has been supported and backed by Toto Wolff, a former stakeholder of the Williams F1 Team. Many were skeptical about the partnership and assumed that the Finn was in the team just because of this connection. When Wolff announced his departure from the team last month, though, I personally was convinced that Valtteri’s placement as a race driver was genuine and not linked explicitly to his connection with Wolff.

Williams is the perfect place for Valtteri at the moment. They are on an upward swing in terms of performance and management, and with the determination to challenge the big teams this year, Williams have provided the Finn with the perfect opportunity to prove to us all that he deserves his place in F1. If he lives up to all the hype, it won’t be long before the likes of Mclaren are knocking on the doors of Williams.

The battle between the midfield teams is set to be one for the ages, but their new drivers promise one that could be even more spectacular. Roll on the Australian Grand Prix!

Barcelona Testing: Winners and Losers

This first test in Barcelona offered up the first slight glimpse at the competitive order for the 2013 season.  We know who will most likely be fighting for the championship and who will be fighting for the final money-paying position in the Constructors’ Championship.  What we don’t know, however, is who is fastest and who will eventually end up on top.  We have 19 races for that to be decided.

The test was action-packed with four different drivers on top over the course of the four days.  We also got some heavy rain and thus an opportunity to test the wet and intermediate tires on the brand new cars.  Here are my winners and losers from Barcelona.

Winners:

Williams:

With a delayed car launch, many thought that the Grove-based outfit were in some sort of trouble.  This was proved wrong when the FW35 turned out to be one of the most reliable cars of the test, while also showing a fair turn of speed in the process. The team has made it very clear that they intend to challenge the bigger teams in the 2013 season.  Indeed, if they are to consider 2013 and improvement upon 2012, surely there need to be two wins in the book, right?  They will also have some very stiff competition in the rest of the midfield, especially Sauber, who have impressed everybody so far with their reliability, speed and consistency.  Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas will undoubtedly have more work to do to fully understand the new car before the season kicks off in Melbourne, but if the team and car keep operating at the same level as in the first Barcelona test, then they are in good shape for the upcoming season.

Sauber:

The team who enjoyed a very successful and productive test in Jerez continued the trend in Barcelona. A grand total of 308 laps over the course of the four day test ensured the Swiss team was one of the most productive of the field.  Running without reliability problems was an added bonus to a thoroughly successful test. Both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez weren’t chasing lap times for most of the test, rather they focussed more on set up work and further understanding the Pirelli tires, which have proven to be tricky to work with. Only on the final day of dry running did we see the C32 show a turn of speed in the capable hands of Nico Hulkenberg.  He went second fastest on that day and racked up a fair bit of mileage.  The small swiss team is looking like it could challenge the big teams again this year.

 

Losers:

Caterham:

Many expected Caterham to have made the step from backmarker to midfielder by now.  This is unlikely to happen if testing form proves to be the reality of their situation.  Reporting trackside, experts have observed the unstable nature of the green machine, saying that it struggles to find grip in all types of corners and that its ungainly way of changing direction makes it look even slower than it actually is.  Much of these observations could have been made while the car was on heavy fuel, as there wasn’t a lot of evidence that the team did any qualifying simulations.  Running with lots of fuel would have accentuated any bad, underlying qualities of the car, thus causing this concern.  However, if Caterham are to have a long-term future in the sport, they need to get their act together and make the step up to the midfield.  Marussia seem to have made more relative progress than Caterham, and soon, they may well overtake them in the pecking order.  Caterham have a good, if largely inexperienced, lineup in Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.  They are capable of being consistent and delivering good performances.  Now, the car needs to be up to par in order for the drivers to deliver their best.  At the moment, this is looking unlikely.

The team have also experienced some controversy with their exhaust.  The team ran with a panel in their Coanda tunnel, thus breaching the technical regulations regarding exhaust design.  The FIA have ruled it to be illegal but, since this is testing, the team aren’t required to remove it.  If the team reach Melbourne with the panel still present, there could be significant consequences for the team.

Pirelli Tires:

In Jerez, one of my losers was the circuit itself.  Many observed that the old and worn out track surface was causing the new tires to degrade at a far greater rate than expected, thus cutting runs short and potentially skewing data from the test.  We were all relieved that the remainder of the test was to be carried out at Barcelona, a tried and tested racing circuit which the teams will be racing on this season.

What was perceived to be track characteristics causing the tire concern, has now been changed to tire characteristics.  The teams found that even the surface at Barcelona was tearing up the tires within just a couple of laps.  The data that the teams were gathering was inconsistent and runs were much shorter and carried out at slower speeds.  After his pacesetting day in Barcelona, Sergio Perez said of the 2013 spec Pirelli tires, “I hope it changes, because if we are in this situation in Melbourne we are going to see something like seven or ten stops.  There is very little what the driver can do to help the degradation.”  This concern over tire life has put Pirelli in the hot seat as the potential for another “lottery” start to the season could well be upon us once again.

The problem with the tires last year was that they were very difficult to warm up and get within their working range.  Once there, the tires were fairly durable and consistent over the course of a stint.  The tires that Pirelli have on offer for the 2013 season have remedied this warming problem, but may have created another.  All the drivers are full of praise for the tires’ ability to gain heat and get within their working window. However, the time the tires are within their working range in fleeting and soon the drivers are struggling for grip.  This rapid switch from grip to slip is a bad sign for the season to come.  These facts only go to show that Romain Grosjean’s race simulation on Thursday, where he did a behemoth stint of 20 laps on the medium tire, was one of the most impressive feats of all the preseason testing so far.  It also proves that the Lotus has the potential to be the car to beat this season.

The weather may have also had an effect on the performance of the tires.  Temperatures in Barcelona were much colder to those that will be experienced throughout the season.  Perhaps the conditions experienced in testing were causing the tires to degrade at a more intense rate.

Whatever the problem is with the new tires, Pirelli need to solve it fast. Otherwise, their decision to bring the Soft and Supersoft compounds to Melbourne may prove to be disastrous.

 

With the final four days of preseason testing upon us in just two days, and the season opener just under three weeks, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Stay tuned for coverage of each day of testing and another edition of Winners and Losers from the final four days afterwards.