Notes From the Television Screen: F1 @ Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel took his first win of the 2012 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, holding off an occasionally charging Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean made it a double Lotus podium after a lightning start while Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg completed the top five. Lewis Hamilton dropped well down the order to finish eighth through two extraordinary long pit stops from McLaren while teammate Jenson Button was forced to retire with an engine or exhaust issue just two laps from the end. Rosberg’s Mercedes was also sickly, with the team telling him of his own exhaust issue. He is under investigation after the race from the stewards for incidents involving both Hamilton and seventh-place finishing Fernando Alonso. Both Germans in the top five pulled immediately off at the pit lane exit after crossing the line to finish the race. Paul Di Resta managed a career best sixth place finish. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher managed to scrap a single point despite starting twenty-second. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Vettel (1:32.422) won pole in a thrilling post-session duel between himself, second place starter Hamilton, and third place starter Webber during Saturday’s qualifying. Button would have been the last man to cross the line, but scrapped his lap after a locking moment cost him a faster lap time. He qualified fourth. Rosberg, the weekend’s golden boy after Shanghai, managed only fifth fastest but was considerably better off than teammate Schumacher who got knocked out in Q1 by Heikki Kovalainen. In other champions’ news, Raikkonen dropped out in Q2, qualifying only eleventh, and Alonso just squeaked through to qualify ninth. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

However, Rosberg led two of the three practice sessions (both Friday afternoon [1:32.816] and Saturday morning [1:33.254]). Though Hamilton (1:33.572) led Friday morning’s session, the real consistency came from the Red Bull teammates. Vettel was amongst the top five in all three sessions and Webber in two of them. Despite dusty conditions and plenty of complaining about a lack of rear grip, there were no damaging incidents in any of the practice sessions or qualifying. Most teams seemed quite happy to throw the softer tyre on early in qualifying, both looking for pace as the track evolved and seemingly not concerned with using the compound more than absolutely necessary during the race.

Force India did sit out the second practice after an incident involving team personnel and protestors occurred on Thursday. Instead, the team used that time to switch over their cars to Saturday set up and left the circuit before darkness fell. Di Resta qualified tenth and Hulkenberg thirteenth, though there were no shots of the cars seen on the world feed during qualifying.

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Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Shanghai

Nico Rosberg took his first ever win in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, ending a dominating twenty seconds ahead of Jenson Button. The Briton had a problem in a pit stop that cost him a fight for the win. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium, having participated in a ten car fight over eight positions in the third of the race. Kimi Raikkonen looked safe to finish on the podium, but drifted back to twelfth in that fight, as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel completed the top five. It was a race of strategy, with teams using both two and three stop strategies. There was no rain, but plenty of clouds in a grand prix that saw plenty of dicing for position, and Michael Schumacher the only retirement. Read the full race report at Formula1Blog…

Rosberg (1:35.121) set the pole winning time in a remarkable fashion, retiring to the garage after one fast run early in the final Q3 part of Saturday’s qualifying session. Though Hamilton qualified second fastest, a gearbox change penalty dropped the Briton back to the seventh starting position and put Schumacher on for a Mercedes front row. Not only is it Rosberg’s first pole ever, it is also the first pole for a Mercedes factory car since 1955, when two Silver Arrows also started on the front row in Italy. Hamilton and Schumacher set the fastest practice times, but neither’s quali lap was closer than a half second to Rosberg. Kobayashi qualified fourth fastest but began the race in third, with next to him on the grid. Button and Webber completed the third row of starters. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

Webber contributed to teammate Vettel’s poor qualifying showing (he started only eleventh) by posting the fastest lap on the softer tyres in Q2 and knocking his teammate out in that session. Neither Red Bull looked to have any particular pace to match the Mercedes powered cars at the front in any of the practice sessions. Hamilton led both the Friday and Saturday morning sessions, with Schumacher taking the advantage at the end of the dry Friday afternoon session. Both Ferraris again struggled through the practices, but Alonso managed to qualify ninth and Massa twelfth. Despite the lack of grip and multitudinous slides and trips over kerbing, only Timo Glock suffered an incident during any of the sessions. He appeared to lose the front wing and nose cone entering Turn 1, leading to his skittering across the gravel and belting his Marussia into the tyre barrier. He was generally unhurt, though perplexed.

Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Sepang

Fernando Alonso won a rain stopped 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix, holding off a charging Sergio Perez in the final half of the race. Only a mistake from the young driver on a wet kerb kept him from pushing the Spaniard hard for the win, though he still ended the race barely over two seconds behind the two-time world champion. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium. The race began under a cloud and lightly falling rain that fell more heavily early on, bringing out the safety car and stopping the race just nine laps into the fifty-six lap race distance.  After fifty minutes of red flag boredom, the race restarted under the safety car with Hamilton and Button leading. Once the SC pulled back in, pit stop mayhem shook up the order and proper racing commenced. In the end, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five, while Sebastian Vettel finished outside the points in eleventh, despite odd stoppage orders from Red Bull on the final lap. Read the full Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Hamilton (1:36.219) started next to Button on the front row after the second McLaren domination of qualifying in a row. The younger Briton set his very fast lap midway through Q3 in Saturday’s qualifying session and no one could touch it during that session. Button barely managed to join his teammate on the front row, pipping third place starter Schumacher with a final, post-checkers hot lap. Next to Schumacher qualified Webber. The Australian made for some drama, as he looked set to be nearly knocked out in Q2, but a quick lap moved him smartly up the order. Raikkonen’s lap was fifth fastest, but he lined up only tenth after a gearbox change five place penalty. That put Vettel and Raikkonen’s Lotus teammate Grosjean on the third row of starters. Vettel, however, made a gamble to use the harder tyre to set his time and was the only top ten starter to line up on that compound. Read the full qualifying report at Formula1Blog…

It really was Hamilton’s weekend, as the driver led both Friday sessions. In the dry morning practice, Vettel, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Grosjean completed the fastest five, while Schumacher, Button, Rosberg, and Ricciardo did so during the dry afternoon session. Oddly, the only damp running came Saturday morning, as a drizzle coated the circuit for about twenty minutes before that session began. It stopped around the time the final practice began and allowed a dry line to form quickly. Rosberg topped Saturday morning, with Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joining him. There were no major incidents though most drivers struggled with rear grip. Many increased the heart rates of their mechanics with power slides and trips through the gravel, but the damage was relatively light all weekend. Ferrari continued to fare poorly, as Alonso managed to set only the ninth fastest qualifying lap and Massa made it only to Q2.

Notes from the Television Screen: F1 @ Albert Park, Australian Grand Prix

Editor’s note: I cover the entirety of the Formula 1 on-track action at Formula1Blog throughout each race weekend. This is just a taste of those session and race recaps. Follow the links to read the full story, as posted immediately after each session.

Jenson Button won the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in dominating fashion, having taken the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton into the first turn and only giving it up for a pit stop. Hamilton would finish third, as second place finisher Sebastian Vettel pipped him in a pit stop during a Safety Car period caused by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham stopping on the front straight. Mark Webber finished fourth, having lost positions on the start then retaking them through the race. The Australian was very close to Hamilton in the closing stages but remained unable to make a move on the Briton. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top five, having heaved his Ferrari up from a twelfth starting position. Read the entire Grand Prix Redux at Formula1Blog…

Saturday’s qualifying session added to the newly mixed-up 2012 field, as Hamilton (1:24.922) won pole with a 2011 Vettel-style lap. Only Button came close to the former world champion, making a McLaren front row on the starting grid. Grosjean showed that Lotus’ pace in testing was no fluke, though a mistake from his new teammate Raikkonen meant that the Finn qualified only eighteenth. The biggest mistake, however, came from Alonso. The Spaniard beached his recalcitrant Ferrari in the gravel halfway through Q2 and was only twelfth quickest. Still, he fared better than Massa, who went out after Alonso’s red flag and was also knocked out in Q2. Back up front, Schumacher qualified to start next to Grosjean in the mad dash to fast laps in Q3 while Webber and Vettel managed only to qualify fifth and sixth, respectively. The Australian out-qualified his reigning champion teammate, despite yet another KERS failure. Despite usually winning an appeal to the stewards despite qualifying times outside 107% last year, neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan started the race, presumably due to their extensive balking of other drivers as moving chicanes during qualifying itself. Perez also had issues with his gearbox that forced Sauber to change it and resulted in a five place gird penalty from his qualifying position of seventeenth. Read more about qualifying for the Australian GP at Formula1Blog…

Both McLarens also showed good pace in the practice sessions, with each driver posting the fast lap for a session. Button (1:27.560) led the team 1-2 on the wet Friday morning, with Schumacher, Alonso, and Webber joining them as the fastest five. Hamilton (1:25.681) had his turn on the dry and sunny Saturday morning session, leading Grosjean, Webber, Button, and Rosberg as the quickest. Both Schumacher and Vettel had trips through the gravel in the sunshine, though no driver crashed out of either wet Friday practice. Schumacher (1:29.183) was the shining driver Friday afternoon, leading Hulkenberg, Perez, Alonso, and Kobayashi in that session as the track dried quickly in the final minutes.

F1 News: No Saab for Bernie, Reserve Drivers Announced, Possible Tire Rules Changes, New Communications Head at Renault

What Happens When the News Does Not Appear Massive, but Is on a Second Look

12:02am EST —Little tidbits of news often combine to show a much larger picture.  The following stories may not make much on their own, but each provides extra insight into the 2010 Formula1 season.

Genii Capital Withdraws Bid for Saab:
Genii Capital announced that it (and FOM chief Bernie Ecclestone) has withdrawn its bid to buy Saab.  In the investment company’s press release, it explained that, after Genii entered its bid three days before the deadline closed, “Saab Automobile AB had been engaged in a partial shutdown process as a result of the length of the negotiations…unfortunately, Genii Capital believes that the timing of the next stage of the shutdown process at Saab is not compatible with its requirements for putting in place a solid business platform for the future and closing the transaction.”
This leaves Spyker Cars as the only bidder for Saab.  According to a Reuters article about the Genni withdrawal, “General Motors Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said on Monday the company has held advanced talks with Spyker Cars over the sale of Saab, but is proceeding with plans to wind down the unit.”   What does this mean for Formula1?  Likely very little, though it does negate rumors of a Bernie-owned, Saab-powered, Genii Capital-funded F1 superteam.  It also makes for interesting information about the commercial rights holder of the sport and his partnership with an investment company that recently bought out a good portion of Renault’s F1 team holding.

Reserve Drivers Named at Red Bull, Force India, and McLaren:
According to, respectively, the official Formula1 website and Reuters, New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley and Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo will be the reserve drivers for Red Bull, and Paul di Resta will be the reserve driver for Force India.  “Ricciardo and Hartley, who are both members of the Red Bull Junior team, will alternate reserve driver duties on a race-by-race basis,” and both drover for Red Bull-funded teams at the young drivers’ test in Jerez, with Ricciardo driving for Red Bull and Hartley for Toro Rosso.
di Resta has not been officially announced as the Force India reserve driver, but Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal and development partner with Force India, told Reuters, “Paul will be running I believe in the majority of the Friday sessions (at grand prix weekends) for Force India.”  Whitmarsh also confirmed that Gary “Paffett, who is racing in the German Touring Car (DTM) championship with Mercedes this season, will give the new McLaren its test debut on Feb. 1 in Valencia before champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton get their hands on it,” and will be the team’s reserve driver, replacing Pedro de la Rosa, who will race for Sauber alongside Kamui Kobayashi this season.

Possible Changes to Tire Requirements After Qualifying:
According to Autosport, “Formula 1 teams have agreed to introduce an extra strategic element to races this season by forcing leading drivers to start races on the same tyres that they qualified on.”  Apparently, the Sporting Working Group has approved changes requiring the top ten starters to begin the grand prix with those tires used at the final run in Q3.  Similar to last season’s requirement that teams qualifying in Q3 do so with their starting fuel load, one has to wonder how this change would “improve the show.”
Jonathon Noble at Autosport suggested that, “this will open up the possibility of teams gambling on sacrificing the best possible time in Q3 by running a more consistent but less quick tyre so as to have a better chance in the race. Alternatively, teams may choose a tyre that is better over a single lap to secure a good grid position, even if it runs the risk of compromising race performance.”  Since drivers will still be forced to pit and change compounds so that both the harder and softer tire will be used during the race, and they will be starting with full-race fuel loads, it still seems unclear how this will do much more than improving the drama of qualifying.

New Head of Communications at RenaultF1:
According to Joe Saward, former F1 Racing Features Editor Bradley Lord has returned to RenaultF1 and is now the Head of Communications for the team.  Hopefully his time on the journalism side of F1 will have helped give Lord perspective and more news (such as a driver announcement) will soon be forthcoming.  The car will be launched from the pit lane at Valencia Monday.

Who Is Testing for Whom at Jerez This Week in Formula1?

What Happens When It’s Time to Check Out the New Boys

12:02am EST —Tuesday begins the Formula1 three day young driver test in Jerez, Spain.  This rundown of those testing over the next few days was originally posted by the author at Formula1Blog and provides insight into those drivers likely to be headed towards F1 in the future.

All of the F1 teams who raced in the 2009 season, barring Toyota, will field rookie F1 drivers this week at a test in Jerez, Spain.  Unfortunately, only one of the young drivers gathering on the Iberian peninsula has actually signed a contract with a F1 team for next season, Nico Hulkenberg for Williams.  While this lack of testing for those rookies actually starting F1 in just over three months would usually seem sort of silly, with the ever-lengthening 2010 silly season there are still nine (or eleven) race seats available for next season.  The complete list of announced F1 drivers and teams for 2010 was announced earlier Monday by the FIA.

This is the first test session since the beginning of the 2009 season in March.  If only because of the large numbers of open seats for 2010, it is important to take a closer look at the young drivers testing this week.  None of the new teams will be in Spain, but most of the teams testing already have driver line-ups settled for 2010. Only those drivers with minimal GP race experience are allowed to test.  Technically Kamui Kobayashi would have been eligible, but for Toyota’s non-presence, and his already clever F1 driving style.  Three of the teams testing (Renault, Toro Rosso, and MercedesGP) each have one open seat for next season.  BMW will not be racing in the 2010 season, but its reincarnation Sauber-Ferrari (Sauber-Petronas?) might be.

To begin, the following are the teams participating and those drivers testing for them, in no particular order:
BMW: Alexander Rossi (USA); Esteban Gutiérrez (Mexico)
Mercedes GP: Mike Conway (UK); Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)
Ferrari: Jules Bianchi (France); Daniel Zampieri (Italy); Marco Zipoli (Italy); Pablo Sánchez López (mexico)
Force India: J.R. Hildebrand (USA); Paul di Resta (UK)
McLaren: Gary Paffett (UK); Oliver Turvey (UK)
Red Bull Racing: Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
Renault: Bertrand Baguette (Belgium); Ho-Pin Tung (China); Lucas di Grassi (Brazil)
Toro Rosso: Brendon Hartley (New Zealand); Mirko Bortolotti (Italy)
Williams: Andy Soucek (Spain); Nico Hülkenberg (Germany)

For BMW, Rossi and Gutiérrez have been offered their first F1 tests as rewards for winning the 2008 Formula BMW Americas and World Series championships (Rossi) and 2008 2008 Formula BMW Europe championship (Gutiérrez).  Both are from North America, with Rossi from California, in the United States, and Gutiérrez from Mexico.  Both also moved up in open-wheel series in 2009, as Rossi went to GP2 Asia (where he finished fourth and fifth in his first two races) and Gutiérrez went to Formula3 (where he finished ninth in the championship).

For MercedesGP (formerly BrawnGP), Conway is not as new to F1 as many of the others.  He was a test driver for the team when it was still Honda, and is currently racing in IRL, though he was the 2006 British F3 champion.  Ericsson, however, is not so experienced in terms of F1.  He was the 2007 Formula BMW UK champion and 2009 Japanese Formula Three champion and will start GP2 next season.

Ferrari has the largest stable of young talent, with four drivers testing at Jerez.  Bianchi is managed by Nicolas Todt, son of former Ferrari F1 team principal and new FIA president, and recently won the 2009 F3 Euroseries championship.  Zampieri is the recently-crowned 2009 Italian Formula3 champion, and will start his GP2 Asia career in 2010.  Zipoli finished second behind Zampieri in the Italian F3 championship this season, having driven for three separate teams during the season.  Sánchez López continued the Italian team’s reliance on Italian talent for the future, having finished third in the Italian F3 championship, a much better finish than in his Formula Renault season last year: second to last in the championship.

At Force India, Hildebrand will be looking to show off to European teams the skills he demonstrated when winning the 2009 IndyLights championship on ovals and road courses.  di Resta won the 2006 F3 Euroseries championship over Sebastian Vettel and has been driving against former F1 drivers in DTM since then, but always for Mercedes.

McLaren will use the services of regular tester Paffett, who currently races in DTM and won the championship in 2005, along with a German F3 championship in 2002.  The team also recently announced that Turvey will test because of his win as the 2006 McLaren BRDC Young Driver.

Red Bull will field only Ricciardo, who was the 2008 Formula Renault 2.0 WEC champion and 2009 British F3 champion and has personal Red Bull sponsorship.

Renault brings the most diverse group to the test in Spain, starting with the Belgian of the funny name, Baguette.  He won the 2009 World Series by Renault championship in his third season in the series.  Tung would become the first Chinese man in F1, but has not scored well in his two seasons in GP2, though he was the 2003 Formula BMW Asia champion and the 2006 German Formula Three champion.  di Grassi is the team’s regular test driver, and has raced the past four seasons in GP2, though he has never won a championship in that series.

Toro Rosso will use the services of Hartley, who raced in both the F3 Euroseries and and World Series by Renault in 2009, where he missed a total of eleven races between the two series.  Bortolotti won the 2008 Italian Formula3 championship and tested for Ferrari at the 2008 young drivers’ test.

Finally, Williams is testing one half of its drivers for 2010 (Hulkenberg) and Soucek, who dominated the F2 championship this past season.  Soucek could manage to take Hulkenberg’s position as tester for the team, but that would allow him to continue to gain racing experience with the continued in-season testing ban.

While this rookies test allows the various teams participating, and watching, a method to evaluate the young talent before they have to be put in a F1 ride, it also does little for the teams themselves.  They’ll be using the 2009 cars, and there are only three seats available for next season amongst those testing.  Still, one never knows when you’ll next see the names of those drivers getting their feet wet in F1 this week in Spain.