Toyota Racing Series (Rd 1 & 2)
Ferrari Driver Academy member Lance Stroll leads the Toyota Racing Series following the opening two rounds at Ruapuna Park and Teretonga.
The Canadian teenager collected another win at Teretonga at the weekend, having previously claimed two victories in Ruapuna. Stroll’s Race One success came at the expense of original victor Arjun Maini, who received a 10s post-race penalty, dropping the Indian to 9th, promoting Stroll.
Whereas Stroll secured two further podiums, Maini could only manage a 7th and 4th, while Brendon Leitch and Jamie Conroy took a win each, ensuring Stroll emerged with an 88-point lead.
Leitch’s win in the final race of the Teretonga for Victory Motor Racing round broke a run of victories for M2 Competition, who had claimed the opening five races at the hands of Stroll, Conroy and Brandon Maïsano.
MRF Challenge (Rd 3, Chennai, India)
Toby Sowery claimed the MRF Challenge F2000 Championship in some style this weekend, by taking two wins and a podium to finish well ahead of series runner-up Ryan Cullen.
The 2014 MSV F3 Cup champion claimed four wins over the three-round series and only finished off of the podium three times in the twelve-race season.
Although reasonably close to Sowery before the start of the weekend, Cullen fell behind following a late, late retirement in Race One and then only finishing 5th in Race Two. Cullen did win Race Three, but Sowery came home 2nd – enough to secure the title.
Raj Bharath endured a rather anonymous weekend, but with South Africa’s Kyle Mitchell absent, Bharath sailed to 3rd in the points – the highest finish for an Indian driver in the championship’s brief history. Guest driver Oscar King won the season finale after taking two other podiums, allowing the Briton to finish 7th in points overall.
Admittedly the field size and quality of the MRF Challenge was hardly the most startling, but the series was still able to claim at least fifteen runners for its final weekend.
Yet with the opening pair of weekend’s taking place in Qatar and Bahrain, one wonders if more could be done – cost and logistics wise – to further promote home grown talent.
British racer Struan Moore is to move to All-Japan Formula 3 Championship this year with the KCMG team.
The 19-year-old Moore has become the first driver to announce a seat in the Championship Class, which was won by HFDP Racing man Nobuharu Matsushita.
Moore took a race victory and seven podiums on his way to 5th in last year’s BRDC F4 Championship with Lanan Racing, followed by a win in the MRF Challenge in Bahrain.
According to the excitable Moore, “After a successful 2014, I’m so pleased to be joining such a well-established and growing team. I’m looking forward to the challenge and testing my skills against some top class drivers.”
Since their creation eight years ago, KCMG have carved out a road in numerous categories, including the LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Moore added, “With KCMG, we’ve mapped out a clear development path with opportunities in WEC alongside my Japanese F3 commitments. I can’t wait to get my F3 testing underway.”
Meanwhile KCMG will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season, where their sole driver, Shohei Yuzawa, ran scoreless for the duration.
The 2015 All-Japan F3 Series kicks off in April at Suzuka.
In some ways, this past week has been a relatively busy one in the press office for Italian Formula One-giant Ferrari.
Although that might not necessarily be saying too much in the midst of a cold January.
Truth be told, this is normally the week when someone finally remembers to plug in the fax machine, so that strong words and confident declarations, designed to get people fist pumping in the aisles, are declared.
Around about now launch dates emerge, while drivers and managers talk about their hopes and goals for the coming year – and for the most part in the past, the iconic Maranello team have delivered impressive sounding noise in a move to strike fear – or something – in the hearts of their rivals.
Yet for 2015, a more somber Scuderia have entered stage left come 2015.
Amidst the upheaval process that began at Ferrari last September with the ousting of former-president Luca di Montezemolo, the scarlet squad have been busy playing down their expectations.
Indeed, new president Sergio Marchionne began the process before 2014 had even drawn, declaring prior to Christmas that, “2015 will be a year of reconstruction. We have made some sharp decisions on the make-up of the team and we know exactly who the key people are for development. We have taken away all the baggage of uncertainty which harmed the start of the work on the 2015 project.”
The winter months have indeed given Ferrari ample time to rearrange the furniture following the departures of double-world champion Fernando Alonso, director of engineering Pat Fry and chief designer Nicholas Tombazis.
As revealed during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel has replaced Alonso with the German racer taking time out to enjoy his first full tour of the facilities at the Maranello factory recently as preparation continues.
Kimi Raikkonen has one further season in red, although it is unclear whether he will be retained beyond the end of this season. Commenting in Abu Dhabi last month, the Finn was relatively open when speaking of the challenges ahead. “It’s not been an easy year for me or the team. Ferrari is always expected to win races and fight at the front. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, but for the next season we laid down the basis for Scuderia Ferrari to come back to the level it should be at.”
Raikkonen, who won the world championship in 2007 with Ferrari, is well aware that much is still to be done behind the scenes. “There’s a lot of work to do but we know which areas we need to improve on. This job has already started and in the factory, we have everything we need, in terms of personnel and the means to make the necessary progress. All we need to do is work as a team, in the unified way that typified this team in past years.”
Yet, there is little doubt that Raikkonen – hampered by difficulties adapting to the new brake-by-wire system – appeared to racing below par on too many occasions last year. Should the Finn endures another year like the last one, his retirement note from Formula One may be drafted sooner rather than later.
In the wings are a trio of young stars. Former Sauber pilot Esteban Gutierrez joined last month as third and reserve driver following what can only described as a horror year with the Swiss squad.
The Mexican is confident the move to Italy will reinvigorate his career. “The important thing for me is to adapt and to settle in to this new environment as quickly as possible,” said the 23-year-old recently. Having used the Ferrari engine and power unit while at Sauber, Gutierrez is by no means a stranger to the tech lying beneath his left foot; however he understands there is still plenty to learn. “I need to get to know the people I will be working with and I hope that my experience with the Ferrari engine will mean I can contribute to the development of the new power unit.”
Alongside Gutierrez is Red Bull-expatriate Jean-Éric Vergne who will work at the team as simulator and test pilot. The 24-year-old Vergne commented, “The objective is a unanimous one and that is to help the Scuderia get back to the top step of the podium. Having had two years working in the simulator for a top F1 team and three years racing with Toro Rosso, my experience will add to the great efforts that are currently being made in order to get the team back to its winning ways.”
On the fringes, Ferrari Driver Academy racer Raffaele Marciello has been appointed as Sauber’s test and reserve driver and will enjoy an unspecified number of Friday Free Practice One sessions. The impressive Swiss-Italian racer will also continue in the GP2 Series with the Racing Engineering squad.
Both Marc Genè and Davide Rigon also continue in their roles as test drivers, with the latter believed to be remaining with the factory AF Corse squad in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
On the engineering side, Ferrari continue their preparation ahead of what may be a very difficult year in the chase behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
A restructure announced prior to Christmas sees Allison in the Technical Director position, while also taking up track engineering duties. The Briton will be supported by Chief Designer Simone Resta and Power Unit Director Mattia Binotto, with latter assisted by Power Unit designer Lorenzo Sassi.
As with last year, the Mercedes-powered Williams F1 team may be in the mix, but a reported smaller budget for the Didcot team could potentially hinder their progress later in the season, inviting the Scuderia back to 3rd in the Constructors – should they be in a position to take advantage.
The as-yet-unnamed 2015 car is due to be launched online on January 30th, with the first day of testing commencing at Jerez the following day. But this is Ferrari and 3rd place is not their desire; for Allison, the medium term gains will need to be significant.
Happy New Year everybody,
I hope you had a great 2014 and will have another top year over the coming twelve months.
The Motorsport Archive
If Esteban Ocon surprised all-comers with his rookie form in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, then Max Verstappen’s debut in car racing positively stunned.
With only the short Florida Winter Series and several Formula Renault 2.0 tests sessions behind him, the Dutch racer immediately looked at home at Van Amersfoort Racing in the Dallara F312 machine, with the then 16-year-old scoring his first win at the second round at Hockenheim.
Verstappen hit a brilliant patch of form over the Spa-Francorchamps and Norisring rounds, which saw him score two perfect weekends, followed by victory at the Zandvoort Masters.
That Verstappen showed such form in such a short space of time over a fast, flowing monster track (Spa), an astonishingly tight, wall-lined street circuit (Norisring) and quick, but twisty old favourite (Zandvoort) only served to signpost the teenager’s ability to adapt quickly and be quick.
Within a month, Verstappen was part of the Red Bull driver programme and the shock announcement of his graduation to the Toro Rosso Formula One team came shortly thereafter. Admittedly, Verstappen’s form tailed off slightly once his Formula One commitments began in earnest, but that was to be expected.
Verstappen’s aggressiveness and his continued promise that ‘Overtaking is an Art’ was a joy to watch and one can only hope it is not neutered by Formula One, although there is no doubt that he will find the top level a far tougher prospect than anything Formula 3 presented.
Meanwhile, amongst al his other challenges, Verstappen still has to finish school as he is not due to graduate until next summer and with the young man coming of age, it will be interesting to see how he handles this.
In the end, Verstappen did not finish runner-up to Ocon in the points – that honour went to Tom Blomqvist; however the teenager had made his mark and done so in epic style.
Following a season long battle with eventual GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer, in the end Felipe Nasr couldn’t hold onto the runner-up spot.
In his stead, the super impressive and quick Stoffel Vandoorne piped the Brazilian at the last and considering the Belgian’s natural speed and rate of improvement during what was his first GP2 season, this was a deserved position.
Realistically though, it is something of a stretch to call the McLaren Development driver a rookie at this level, considering his run in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2013. He was impressive then and he remained impressive in GP2.
Vandoorne starred from the off. Victory in the season opener at Bahrain appeared to set the ART Grand Prix man for a powerful campaign, but the season returned to Europe, they hit a stumbling block.
Early season changes in the management and engineering departments began to take effect, while Vandoorne began to suffer difficulties with the Pirelli tyres, just as both Palmer and Nasr hit their stride.
Following a four-week break after Monaco, the season came back together for Vandoorne, starting with a podium in Austria, before repeating that feat in Germany and Britain.
A win in the Sprint Race at the Hungaroring signposted the latter third of the season, where Vandoorne launched into a run of two victories, two podiums, four pole positions and a fastest lap.
Unfortunately for Vandoorne, Palmer was at this point long past the point of being caught; however the Belgian focused on his new charge of catching and passing Nasr with determination and authority.
Yet, it appears the Brazilian has had the last laugh. Whereas Nasr moves up to Formula One with Sauber, a significant change in driver line-up at McLaren for the 2015 Formula One season means that the ART Grand Prix man is now fourth in line at the Woking team. Another year in GP2 looms and it is a campaign that Vandoorne must stamp upon.
Vandoorne could easily slot into Formula One now, but it seems apparent that one of the brightest young stars of recent years is now on the verge of being locked out of the sport’s top level.
And that’s sad.
During what was, at times, a disjointed season for the GP3 Series, only Dean Stoneman became a reasonably persistent threat to eventual champions Alex Lynn.
Managed this upon his full-time return to single-seater racing caught the attention. That he did so despite changing team with two rounds remaining made his run even more impressive.
Initially driving for the Marussia Manor squad, Stoneman won the opening round’s reverse grid race; however fortunes went somewhat south for the 24-year-old, as he only picked up a point over the next two weekends.
Thereafter visits to Germany and Hungary merely dropped him further behind Lynn, while others around him – notably Marvin Kirchhöfer, Jimmy Eriksson and Richie Stanaway – built their own short-lived title fights.
Yet once the series returned after the summer break, Stoneman turned it on. Victories at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza just kept him in the championship hunt, but as the finish line drew into sight, the early season dry spell really began to hurt.
Amidst his late season charge, Marussia Manor closed their doors after Monza and Stoneman switched to Koiranen GP, replacing the hapless Carmen Jorda from Sochi onward.
In a car that not qualified in the top twenty or even scored a point, Stoneman took two wins, a 2nd place, a pole position and a fastest lap. Alas, such was the gap to Lynn, that Stoneman’s inability to pick up the bonus points for pole in Abu Dhabi dropped him out of contention, deciding the title in Lynn’s favour, but the point had been made.
As per usual Stoneman displayed his fighting spirit to the last and one can only hope the Briton gets a proper chance to display his talents in a top tier series soon.
If one thinks about it seriously for a moment, it is quite incredible that the discussion about Carlos Sainz Jr’s Formula One future was ever up in the air.
Yet despite the Spaniard becoming the youngest Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion, the driver who had taken the most race wins in a FR3.5 season and indeed the first Red Bull junior driver to take the crown, that was exactly the up until earlier this month.
One might argue that under normal circumstances, Sainz Jr may have taken the title earlier than the final round at Jerez, but as with most times within the Red Bull junior programme, things are rarely “normal”.
Driving for the all conquering DAMS team, Sainz Jr’s unfortunate retirement from pole position in the season opener at Monza merely delayed his charge and gave some false hope to Will Stevens.
Where Stevens’ championship challenge fell south from the first race onwards, Sainz Jr gathered himself up to take three victories in the opening seven races, before collecting a fourth at the Nürburgring in July.
Yet the signing of Max Verstappen to the 2015 Toro Rosso drive during the FR3.5 summer break threatened to derail all of that and the shell-shocked Sainz Jr notably went through a blip at the Hungaroring, as he collected himself back together.
That this “blip” coincided with title rival Roberto Merhi and his Zeta Corse team hitting form was doubly unfortunate. In the space of a few rounds, Merhi closed from over 60 points behind to just 16 adrift with two rounds remaining cast alarm bells in the DAMS camp; however Sainz Jr’s two victories in the penultimate round did much to seal the deal.
Penalties in qualifying at the final round in Jerez cast a low-key over his title success, but when Merhi was taken out at the start of race one, it mattered little.
Meanwhile after much anticipation, Sainz Jr has been promoted to the Toro Rosso team for the 2015 season and after four years of covering Carlos’ racing efforts in Formula 3, GP3 and FR3.5, I feel I can now reasonably drop the “Jr” and just call him “Sainz”.
If nothing else, Nico Rosberg convincingly answered many of his critics through 2014. Those who claimed that the 29-year-old was not tough enough or decisive enough to be true championship material were made to eat their words – for the most part.
Rosberg is tough and he is decisive – we have seen plenty of examples of this throughout his career – but whether German had enough to keep delivering over the course of a nineteen-race campaign was still questioned.
Where Rosberg was uncompromising in qualifying in Monaco, he was beaten squarely on track by teammate and eventual champion Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain. Where he was dominant and defiant in Germany, he was clumsy when he clashed early with Hamilton in Spa-Francorchamps.
He had certainly done an excellent job during the opening portion of the season. Three wins and five runner-up classifications in the eight Grand Prix kept Rosberg in good stead, until he finally suffered a mechanical failure while leading at Silverstone.
There was a consummate victory at an under-attended Hockenheim in July, but from there on Rosberg’s campaign began to stutter somewhat. Although he still recovered to take 2nd in Belgium, Rosberg received a tough talking to from Mercedes bosses amidst the fall-out that appeared to leave him deflated.
When the championship reconvened in Monza, the German seemed like a shadow of his former self and Hamilton twice forced an error from Rosberg – assuming the win in the process – it began a run of five consecutive victories for Hamilton that for all intents and purposes buried Rosberg’s championship chances.
In this time, Rosberg still notched up a handsome batch of 2nd place finishes; however the real damage was inflicted when his W05 machine stalled on the line in Singapore.
There was a brief, but spirited fight back to win the penultimate Grand Prix in Brazil, but with Hamilton on such fine form, it was going to be almost impossible to Rosberg to overturn the Briton’s points advantage, unless outside influences struck. That it was Rosberg who suffered an ERS failure in Abu Dhabi was almost typical of the nature of the latter third of the season.
Irrespective, Rosberg fought a good fight and one can only hope that he can keep the momentum and aggression alive in 2015.
To say that Daniel Ricciardo came of age this year would be one thing. Truth be told, the Australian was exceptional for most of the season.
More often than not, Ricciardo was the leading man behind the Mercedes onslaught and his victories in Montreal, Hungary and Spa-Francorchamps were all well deserved – if a touch fortunate in some regards.
That those wins came off the back of mechanical issues or incidents affecting both Mercedes duo should not be something used to detract from Ricciardo. If anything, he should take some praise for being in the right place at the right time.
After all, race wins are harder to come by if one does not put one’s self into a position to gain an advantage on track.
However it is not just the successes that marked 2014 as a special year for Riccardo, but also the way in which he handled the pre-season mechanical woes.
An unfortunate disqualification from 2nd place in Melbourne was a blip, but it set a benchmark for the season. Two more podiums behind the Mercedes’ came before winning in Canada, with an addition three 3rd place finishes coming prior to season’s end.
There were blips, of course. Both Red Bull’s endured nightmare race’s at their home race at the renamed Red Bull Ring in June, while the red and blue cars were occasionally made to feel invisible behind the resurgent Williams team.
The key to Ricciardo’s season was woven by the reigning champion on the other side of the garage. Many commentators – this one included – expected Ricciardo to manage reasonably well against reigning world champion and teammate Sebastian Vettel, but it doubtful that a great number thought Ricciardo would trounce Vettel in the way he did.
Through the opening two-thirds of the year, Ricciardo consistently made Vettel appear ordinary and it was only when the German wunderkind finally started to get to grips with the RB10 late in the year that their respective performances came close to leveling.
In the end, Vettel has decided to head to the door and out to Maranello, leaving Ricciardo to face the very impressive Daniil Kvyat next year.