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“Smooth Operator”

© Leigh O'Gorman

© Leigh O’Gorman

With his outwardly laconic nature, one might be forgiven for thinking Tom Blomqvist approach ill-suited to the higher reaches of motorsport.

Yet when properly supported, the English-born ‘Son of Stig’ is no slouch behind the wheel. Taking the runner-up spot in the FIA European F3 Championship behind Esteban Ocon and ahead of Max Verstappen was no mean feat.

Blomqvist is quick – of that, there is little doubt – but with stints in the McLaren and Red Bull junior programmes now lagging deep in his history, delivering on the future was always going to be a tough ask.

A move to Carlin with the (huge) support of Far East fast food merchants Jagonya Ayam helped a lot and after two occasionally tricky years in European F3 behind him, 2014 needed to count.

Winning the opener at Silverstone helped and Blomqvist added several more victories before the race was out. And he was leading on the opening lap at Macau until a clash with Ocon resulted in a massive shunt took them – and many others – out in spectacular fashion.

Blomqvist recently tested DTM machinery with BMW and while the German tourer series may not be immediately on the horizon, the 21-year-old has earned his shot at professional motorsport.

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“Thoughts on the 2015 GP2 Series calendar”

GP2 will end in Abu Dhabi next November. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

GP2 will end in Abu Dhabi next November. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

There were precious few surprises to be found in the GP2 Series calendar for 2015 – and to be fair, none were expected.

As per usual, the series will play support to Formula One, but that has always been the case and it cites it as one of its major selling points.

And while that is perfectly fine in itself for much of the season, it also presents its own set of problems.

In following Formula One so rigidly, there are a few unfortunately gaps in the calendar, starting with the four-week break between Monaco and Austria, which is in place as F1 visits Canada.

Later, after the summer holiday break between the Hungarian and Belgian rounds, the series and its competitors are faced with another two lengthy gaps as Formula One leaves Europe for the Far East, Americas and then back to the Middle East.

On the face of it, that might not mean much, but at the business end to a championship, five and six week gaps between the final three rounds present a break of momentum that can easily derail a campaign.
This was not as big an issue this year, as both the GP2 and GP3 series’ were as good as wrapped up come Monza, but one must not underestimate how such a break could potentially crack a run of results.

There are solutions, but few are realistic. Preventing these gaps by ending the season after Monza would drastically shorten the calendar and weaken the series in the eyes of competitors. Unfortunately the loss of some European rounds in recent years makes it almost impossible to keep the championship within the boundaries of continent, while adding the likes of Singapore back onto the schedule would merely increase the costs of competing beyond reason.

Standalone events are also out of the question, as the costs of running a single event and presenting it as a live television broadcast to FOM standards is simply prohibitive. That would merely be a last gasp measure and the series is nowhere near contemplating that.

Alas, what exists now is probably the best solution available.

“GP2 Series unveil 2015 calendar and teams”

GP2 testing begins in Abu Dhabi in March, with the season concluding there too. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

GP2 testing begins in Abu Dhabi in March, with the season concluding there too. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

The GP2 Series announced its 2015 season calendar during the week, with the Formula One support class revealing a mostly consistent schedule.

As with this year, the championship will be made up of eleven rounds, beginning in Bahrain in April and following Formula One through the European season, before drawing to a close at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next November.

The only question mark at this point lies with the eventual venue of the German Grand Prix, as ongoing financial and ownership issues at the Nürburgring continue to plague with the classic arena.

Unfortunately due to nature of the Formula One calendar, sizeable gaps remain between the Italian and Russian events (five weeks) and the Russian and Abu Dhabi finale (six weeks).

There are to be two pre-season tests – firstly at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi from March 9th-11th, followed then by three days at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain in early April.

Also, the GP2 Series formally announced the teams that will be competing in 2015; however the only change to this year is the already announced departure of Caterham Racing who have been replaced by Status Grand Prix.

2015 GP2 Series calendar
Testing
March 9-11:      Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi
April 1-3:       Sakhir, Bahrain
Race Events
April 17-19:     Sakhir, Bahrain
May 8-10:        Barcelona, Spain
May 21-23:       Monte Carlo, Monaco 
June 19-21:      Red Bull Ring, Austria
July 3-5:        Silverstone, UK
July 17-19:      (tbc venue), Germany
July 24-26:      Budapest, Hungary
August 21-23:    Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
September 4-6:   Monza, Italy
October 9-11:    Sochi, Russia
November 27-29:  Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi

“FFSA secure 2015 French F4 calendar”

This week the FFSA pulled the covers off of the 2015 French Formula 4 Championship.

Supported by the country’s Auto Sport Academy, the series will take in seven rounds, primarily as support to the FFSA GT Tour, but will also have one round supporting the European F3 Championship and another playing opening in the World Series by Renault package.

The series for the Auto Sport Academy trainees begins in April at ultra-twisty Lédenon circuit near Montpellier. Then over the opening weekend in May, the series moves to Le Mans Bugatti and then on to Pau two weeks later in support of European F3.

There will be one round in June, when French F4 supports the World Series by Renault at the Hungaroring, just outside Budapest. The weekend marks one of two rounds where the championships departs French soil, with the other journey coming at Navarra in Spain at the end of September.

Between the Hungary and Spain trips, the series moves to Magny Cours in late-August and will complete its run at Paul Ricard in Southern France over the final weekend in October.
As with other Formula 4 categories, French F4 comprises of three races over the course of a weekend, two qualifying sessions and one free practice session.

2015 French F4 Championship calendar
April 17-19:      Lédenon
May 1-3:          Bugatti Circuit, Le Mans
May 15-17:        Pau
June 12-14:       Hungaroring, Hungary
August 28-30:     Magny Cours
September 25-27:  Navarra, Spain
October 23-25:    Paul Ricard

“Automobile Club Italia solidifies 2015 Italian F4 calendar”

© ACI Sport Italia

© ACI Sport Italia

The Italian Formula 4 category has announced its calendar for the coming 2015 season.

Following on from a successful launch at the beginning of this season, the Automobile Club Italia and promoters WSK, Italian F4 maintains a seven-round run-through comprising of three races per weekend.

Beginning in early May, the series visits Vallelunga and then Monza, before making its debut at the Autodromo di Franciacorta in Brescia in June. Mugello awaits the championship in July, but then a two-month break follows with the series recommencing at Adria and then Imola in September. The season concludes at Misano over the first weekend in October.

In addition to a new calendar, the prize fund for the season has been increased to €100,000 – an increase of €50,000 over the 2014 fund. It has also been revealed that the series will broadcast races live on television in Italy and will also make events accessible through live streaming through ACI Sport Italia and the Italian F4 Championship websites.

The provisional entry list also notes an increased car count, with up to 25 cars ready to enter next year. It is believed there will be at least two-to-four entries from Antonelli Motorsport, Motorsport Diegi, Euronova Racing, F & M, Israel F.4 by Torino Racing Team, Jenzer Motorsport, Malta Formula Racing and Prema Powerteam.

2015 Italian F4 Championship
May 1-3:          Vallelunga
May 29-31:        Monza
June 12-14:       Franciacorta
July 10-12:       Mugello
September 4-6:    Adria
September 18-20:  Imola
October 2-4:      Misano
© ACI Sport Italia.

© ACI Sport Italia.

“FIA European F3 retains 11-round calendar for 2015”

Hockenheim plays a vital part of the F3 season. © FIA F3 Media Services.

Hockenheim plays a vital part of the F3 season. © FIA F3 Media Services.

The FIA European F3 Championship has elected to maintain an eleven round campaign for the 2015 season, albeit with slight modifications.

As per usual, the championship will play support to the DTM at seven rounds, while also running alongside the FIA WEC, ADAC GT Masters and Italian GT Championship at one round each.

As has often been the case in recent years, Formula 3 will headline the prestigious Pau Grand Prix.

Like last year, the season will kick off at Silverstone in April alongside the WEC, before moving onto Hockenheim in support of the DTM season opener over the May Bank Holiday weekend.
The Pau Grand Prix’ request to move to the weekend of May 15th-17th has been approved and the month will finish with the championship’s return to Monza in support of Italian GT.

Initial plans to link a visit to Spa-Francorchamps as opener for the Total Spa 24 Hours have not materialised; however the Belgian classic does appear on the calendar in mid-June, albeit on the ADAC GT Masters programme.
The end of June sees Formula 3 making its annual visit to the mad streets of Norisring and will return to Zandvoort in July and then the Red Bull Ring at the end of the month.

Formula 3 then moves to Moscow Raceway at the end of August – a round that caused much tension earlier this year, when three British teams did not travel to the Russian event due to heightened costs.
As such, in the latest version of the championship’s Sporting Regulations, the FIA has declared that ‘any competitor who fails to participate in an event will be reported to the stewards of the event in question.’

Thereafter a month break will follow, with the championship moving to the Nürburgring at the end of September, before the series returns to Hockenheim for the finale over the third weekend of October.

2015 FIA European F3 calendar
April 10-12:         Silverstone, UK (WEC)
May 1-3:             Hockenheim, Germany (DTM)
May 15-17:           Pau, France (Formula 3 Grand Prix)
May 29-31:           Monza, Italy (Italian GT)
June 19-21:          Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (ADAC GT Masters)
June 26-28:          Norisring, Germany (DTM)
July 10-12:          Zandvoort, Holland (DTM)
July 31 – August 2:  Red Bull Ring, Austria (DTM)
August 28-30:        Moscow Raceway, Russia (DTM)
September 25-27:     Nürburgring, Germany (DTM)
October 16-18:       Hockenheim, Germany (DTM)

“The Opposite of Winning”

© Leigh O'Gorman

© Leigh O’Gorman

It was far from the best of seasons at Maranello. Rather being the champions or contenders that they used to be in Formula One, Ferrari were mere bit players through 2014.

Their successes – few as though there were – amounted to little more than discarded scraps when things did not come together for the leading trio – Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams.

For Kimi Raikkonen, this was surely to have been a great annoyance, although his lot was far better than it would have been had he persevered with Lotus for another year. Yet what could have been should not act as a disguise for his season-long anonymity.

On the other side of the garage, Fernando Alonso was not finding the situation even remotely tolerable and now after five seasons with the Scuderia, Alonso’s patience had worn out.
The Spaniard had arrived in a blaze of glory in 2010; winning on his “red” debut in Bahrain, but this was a partnership destined to never deliver ultimate success. He was close in 2010 and there or thereabouts for a time in 2012, but 2011, 2013 and 2014 quickly became write offs.

And so, Alonso is on the move again and although it has not been made official, the talk is of the 33-year-old rejoining McLaren, albeit at the behest of returning engine supplier Honda.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel – the man who denied Alonso success for so long – takes Fernando’s place at Ferrari. Vettel will be hoping for some of the Ferrari of 1997-2006, but right now life with the Scuderia looks more like a mad asylum within a clown college.

Alonso performed magic at Ferrari just to claim wins and podiums on occasion. Vettel may need to do the same in order to keep his interest at Ferrari afloat.
He’s 27 now and doesn’t want to lose five years of his career.

“Nightshade”

© Leigh O'Gorman.

© Leigh O’Gorman.

Evening in Abu Dhabi and even though the sun withdraws, the cars continue to circulate.

It is the 2nd Free Practice session on Friday and the twenty Formula One drivers pull at speed, gauging the conditions ahead of Sunday’s twilight race.

It will be their only representative running in these conditions prior to qualifying, as both the first and third practices run under the burning afternoon sun.

The evening is still warm of course and the humidity ever present, but as the temperatures will change drastically during the race, it is vital that this session goes to plan.

When the lights go out, the metres will tell of an air temperature settling in at approximately 32°C, but come race end, one can count at least seven or even eight falling from that.

Combined with the changes in air pressure and lowering fuel numbers, the balance will slip and alter through significantly through the race. And for this reason – and others – Friday evening is critical.

“GP3 Series: Giotto tops post-season test”

Luca Ghiotto, Andrea Pizzitola and Mathéo Tuscher made the best of the end of year GP3 Series tests at the Yas Marina cirrcuit this week.

Although the experienced Kevin Ceccon topped the times at the end of day one in his Jenzer machine, it was Pizzitola who got the ball rolling in his ART Grand Prix machine, with Ed Jones (Carlin) and Antonio Fuoco (Koiranen GP) also setting the early pace.

There was a brief stoppage in time when Raoul Hyman (Jenzer) stopped on circuit. Thereafter Ceccon set a quickest of 1:55:501s, demoting the rest of the pack as the morning wore on, with Pizzitola dropping behind Jones and George Russell (Arden).
Pizzitola got on the pace early in the later session, although some time was lost when Alex Palou spun his Trident car. More time was lost later in the session when Fuoco stopped on track, but that was followed by an accident for Matt Rao who hit the barriers in turn three.

Tuscher made the best of the day two sessions, while Ghiotto at least headed the morning times.
The opening session was interrupted almost as early as it had started when Tatiana Calderon (ART Grand Prix), hit the barriers in turn two. Upon restart, Fuoco (now with Carlin) took to the top of the timings, only to beaten later by Palou, before Dylan Young (Hilmer) spun bringing out a second red flag. Thereafter Fuoco went faster still until Ghiotto blitzed all-comers – a status assured when Jack Aitken (Carlin) crashed at turn nineteen.

Mitch Gilbert (Arden) and Jimmy Eriksson (Koiranen GP) tangled with the top spot in the early afternoon running, before Ghiotto set a faster time, while Seb Morris improved to 2nd, impressing in his Status GP drive. Soft tyre runs ruled the roost late in the day, with many improving, including Tuscher who best of 1:55.583s proved a mere eight-thousandths faster than Morris.

Fuoco joined Ghiotto at the top of the class on the final day, but it was the latter who proved fastest of the pair. As with the GP2 tests, the final day proved the quickest by far, with the final times nearly half-a-second up on the opening two days. While Fuoco controlled the top from Palou, it was a difficult morning for Riccardo Agostini and Kourosh Khani (both Hilmer), both of whom stopped on circuit.
Fuoco was again quick after the break, but so too was Tuscher who found the peak, while Eriksson and Jones showed their form. Yet it was Ghiotto who helped himself to head of the pack with a best of 1:55.132s – setting what was easily the best-timed lap of the week.

GP3 Series; 2014 Post-season test: Combined classification
Pos Driver             Team         Time     Laps
 1. Luca Ghiotto       Trident      1:55.134s 160
 2. Antonio Fuoco      ART GP       1:55.298s  56
 3. Kevin Ceccon       Jenzer       1:55.501s  26
 4. Mathéo Tuscher     Jenzer       1:55.369s 146
 5. Ed Jones           Carlin       1:55.378s  94
 6. Alex Palou         Trident      1:55.590s  86
 7. Seb Morris         Status GP    1:55.591s 155
 8. Ralph Boschung     Jenzer       1:55.392s 153
 9. Jack Aitken        Carlin       1:55.435s 106
10. Mitch Gilbert      ART GP       1:55.452s  66
11. Matt Parry         Koiranen GP  1:55.635s  58
12. Alex Palou         ART GP       1:55.649s  53
13. Jimmy Eriksson     Koiranen GP  1:55.660s  69
14. Antonio Fuoco      Carlin       1:55.684s  59
15. Gustavo Menezes    Status GP    1:55.709s 106
16. Matt Parry         Status GP    1:55.744s 104
17. Alfonso Celis Jr   ART GP       1:55.763s 117
18. Andrea Pizzitola   Arden Int.   1:55.764s 110
19. Mitch Gilbert      Arden Int.   1:55.815s 104
20. Andrea Pizzitola   ART GP       1:55.832s  54
21. Steijn Schothorst  Koiranen GP  1:55.888s  81
22. Steijn Schothorst  Status GP    1:55.888s  54
23. Artur Janosz       Arden Int.   1:56.060s 111
24. George Russell     Arden Int.   1:56.078s  50
25. Riccardo Agostini  Hilmer       1:56.151s  60
26. Kang Ling          Jenzer       1:56.256s  17
27. Artur Janosz       ART GP       1:56.258s  43
28. Amaury Bonduel     Trident      1:56.298s 155
29. Patrick Kujala     Arden Int.   1:56.309s  44
30. Raoul Hyman        Jenzer       1:56.316s 113
31. Ryan Cullen        Koiranen GP  1:56.354s  94
32. Matt Rao           Carlin       1:56.377s 159
33. Christopher Mies   Hilmer       1:56.474s  60
34. Alfonso Celis Jr   Status GP    1:56.491s  48
35. Gustavo Menezes    Carlin       1:56.560s  49
36. Tatiana Calderon   ART GP       1:56.697s  88
37. Antonio Fuoco      Koiranen GP  1:56.783s  46
38. Zaid Ashkanani     Trident      1:57.092s  53
39. Kang Ling          Hilmer       1:57.114s 108
40. Raoul Hyman        Arden Int.   1:57.664s  56
41. Kourosh Khani      Hilmer       1:58.454s  64
42. Dylan Young        Hilmer       1:58.609s  59

“The Point of Junior Formulae”

Palmer was this year's GP2 Series champion. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

Palmer was this year’s GP2 Series champion. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

It is often forgotten that junior categories do not necessarily exist for entertainment purposes, but rather are there to deliver the next generation of drivers to the top level of motorsport – whatever that may be in each driver’s eyes.

While titles and big race wins are all well and good – and yes, that is often how the newcomers are adjudged – how a driver manages their respective situations and develops with it, while learning how best to utilise their skills is what really counts.

But in a sense, there also lies the rub. As a spec series with long stable rules, GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer has gained a large dose of knowledge from previous years running in the category. It is arguable that his four years in GP2 may work against him as his future comes up for evaluation for those young, sharp shooters who are destined for the stars showed their marks early…

Considering that, one might reasonably rate the performances of Stoffel Vandoorne and Raffaele Marciello in GP2 very highly indeed. Even moreso than Palmer..?

There is little doubt that Palmer has matured greatly in the last eighteen months – both as a driver and noticeably as a person on the occasions that I have met him. His attitude and outlook have developed significantly and while the Briton was not the fastest driver in GP2 this year – nor the best in terms of raw talent – there is little doubt that he was the driver who best utilised his experience and his abilities to construct a successful championship campaign and that is impressive.

Junior championships can be entertaining facilitators, but that is not really their purpose and so it would best to keep that in mind before judging one’s relative talents based on a Wikipedia table.

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