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“GP2 Series: Palmer, Leal and Vandoorne make waves in Bahrain”

GP2 Series.

GP2 Series.

GP2 veterans Jolyon Palmer and Julián Leal and McLaren young driver Stoffel Vandoorne stamped their authority on the series after the opening round of the championship at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.

Feature Race
“I had a really good start,” opened the race winner coolly. “I took the lead and leading the opening lap was a key I think because it’s always the best position to manage the tyres.”

Starting brilliantly from the front row, Vandoorne became the first GP2 débutante winner since Álvaro Parente with Super Nova at the beginning of the 2008 season {note 1}.

There is a reason why Vandoorne is so highly regarded. The McLaren junior driver has been champion in both the Eurocup Formula Renault and French Formula 4 categories and was runner in last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series to Kevin Magnussen.
In a sense, it almost feels wrong to refer to Vandoorne as a rookie when considering his FR3.5 experience – the cars and relative championship statuses are reasonably matched.
The Renault-backed category has also produced its fair share of top quality drivers for Formula One in recent years, mostly due to its connection with Red Bull, but at this stage in 2014, one wonders if GP2 may have nicked an edge.

With competition in the shape of Mitch Evans, Raffaele Marciello, Jolyon Palmer, Felipe Nasr and Alexander Rossi, GP2 has collected of hot pot of top young talent.
This championship may eventually come down to the driver who really wants it the most. Following the opening test at Abu Dhabi, Vandoorne lay down his claim. “I really want to win this championship. It’s going to be a massive challenge, but I’m working very hard with my team ART GP to get the best out of it. I’m looking forward to the start of the season!”

Words mean little if the actions do not fit, but for Vandoorne, words, intentions and results melded seamlessly. The Belgian romped into an early lead when polesitter Jolyon Palmer bogged down on the line, dropping to 6th as the field defined its order – for the 22-year-old, the start was a dream. With Stéphane Richelmi, Stefano Coletti, Rio Haryanto and Mitch Evans jumping ahead of the dismayed Palmer and chasing the leader, Vandoorne held firm. The gap remained small: first 0.552s, then 0.336s and then…

Bang, skid, crash, slide, semi-flip, slide, stop. Axcil Jefferies has met Kimiya Sato…

As the field drew through the back end of the circuit, Jefferies squeezed Sato wide. Unfortunately for both, Sato locked into the slipstream of Jefferies as he attempted to escape the draft, only serving to pummel the rear of Jefferies Trident machine.

Replay. Bang, skid, crash, slide, semi-flip, slide, stop.

Naturally Jefferies was out on the spot and debris littering part of the second straight – never mind the remains of a buckled Trident – the safety car was dispatched.
Sato, meanwhile, was called in for a ten-second stop / go penalty, while the retiree was less than impressed: “Through no fault of our own we were taken out of the race just after two laps. What Kimiya did, really should not happen at this level. It cost us a lot!”
One wonders if Jefferies meant money, damage or both…

Restarting on lap seven, Vandoorne pulled into another small lead; however much of the field behind simply disappeared from his mirrors as Richelmi, Coletti and Haryanto (amongst others), followed a lap later by Evans and Palmer. By now, Leal had assumed 2nd spot behind Vandoorne until they stopped on laps eight and nine respectively, dropping both well down the order – with much of the race still to play out, wise diving and tyre strategy would be key.
According to the now 9th place Vandoorne: “I was thinking to stay maybe a bit longer on the soft tyres; everything looked fine, but with these tyres, you never know: they can be fine on the next lap in the first two sectors and then in the following sector, they can drop off massively.
“I probably could have run a bit longer because tyre degradation was okay, but I decided to pit and to be sure and safe to keep the lead,” said Vandoorne. “The team did a really fantastic pit stop and from then on it was just about managing the tyres.”

Which is exactly what the Belgian did.

Palmer, on the other hand, ran aggressive – perhaps too aggressive – as his pace began to tumble before the race had run, offering an opportunity for Leal, who was playing a different game.
Running 8th prior to the safety car, the Colombian needed to make places while others were stationary. “My engineer told me to push for two laps [after the safety car]. We were able to win a lot of positions. When I went out of the pits, I think I was P4. At the end, I was able to overtake Palmer too because we were able to keep the tyres until the end.”

As the leading pack stopped, those on alternate strategies came to the fore. Both the Venezuela GP Lazarus racers – Nathanael Berthon and Conor Daly – tried their hands at long opening stints.
Daly’s pace would falter in the latter tours, dropping him to 12th at the flag, but for Berthon – who took over the lead until his stop on lap 18 – his race fell apart completely. Initially the Frenchman’s race was hampered when he was sent back on track with the rear right wheel not attached properly, resulting in another, longer stop one tour later, before pulling off to retire a few tours shy of the chequered flag. Disappointing.

Now it was Simon Trummer’s turn to lead and the Rapax man held it until lap 30. It proved an incredible return for the Swiss racer who had started the race from the pitlane following a stall on the dummy grid. “It’s the first start of the year,” said Trummer, before adding: “I tried to do [a start] like last year, but that did not work at all so I stalled… I was thinking that the weekend was going to be really tough because then I had to start from the pitlane, but our pace was so good.”

As the field around him stopped for tyres or pushed and tore through the rubbing already worn, Trummer maintained a steady pace, spending much of the race in the early 1:47s, while others started quickly only for their times to plummet. The Rapax man explains further: “What we said at the beginning of the race was that we just see what happens. We kept it open. I was thinking five laps before the end that we should stop but the team kept me going. Like this, we could gain some positions. Maybe if we had stopped earlier, we could have gained even more positions, but it also means taking more risks because you have to overtake more cars, even with fresh tyres.”
He continued: “When I was by myself, that was the key. When you’re leading the race, you have fresh air and you can really manage your tyres. You don’t have to fight or defend. We could do 30 laps like that.” When he finally did pit, Trummer emerged in 9th for two laps on new soft tyres during which he climbed back to 7th.

Meanwhile Vandoorne headed the field, while Palmer and Leal fought over what would become the final podium spot; however the McLaren man maintained his head during the final tours, taking a brilliant victory. “Jolyon looked to be pushing a little too hard behind and thus he lost a bit of pace in the end. Julian Leal looked really quick in the end so I think a couple more laps and we would have been in danger.”

Leal did eventually pass Palmer with three to go, but Vandoorne was too far distant; however the Colombian was still delighted with the podium finish. “We never thought we could ever finish second today because we were starting from P12. The car was really good in the race. We had a really good pace. In the end, we managed this result.”

Palmer assumed 3rd, but only just ahead of the charging Coletti, while a late burst of speed brought Arthur Pic up to 5th, despite running outside the top ten with less than ten laps to go.
Takuya Izawa also made an impressive debut for ART Grand Prix. Starting near the back, the Honda factory driver calmly treated his tyres, giving the Japanese racer a burst of pace toward the final laps, with the 29-year-old rising from 16th to 6th in the last ten tours.
There was a battle behind Trummer for 8th spot and the reverse grid pole and it went to Felipe Nasr, who pipped Rene Binder and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs as the race drew to a close.

A quick note for Artem Markelov. The German Formula 3 graduate came home in 15th place during his GP2 debut, scoring the fastest lap in the process – not bad for a chap who has leapt several levels in one go.

GP2 Series.

GP2 Series.

Sprint Race
Unfortunately for Nasr, the Carlin man bogged down from pole just as Palmer had the previous day. Alas, in this instance, Palmer would prove to be one of the beneficiaries; however DAMS racer had first to deal with Trummer, who took the early lead.

Admittedly, Palmer was helped slightly when Coletti stalled and Izawa made a poor start, but the Englishman still managed a top class start to bring him from the third row to 2nd place at the start. Palmer said: “The start was pretty good. That made up for yesterday’s bad start so I’m happy for that. And then I knew I had to pass Trummer straight away because he looked really strong on the tyres.”

He would not have to wait long – tracking his Swiss rival, Palmer swept through into the lead on the 2nd lap, but was made to work for the points thereafter. “Once I passed [Trummer], I was just controlling the race. Trummer and Leal were the quickest yesterday on the long runs so, it was difficult to manage with those guys behind and be under pressure. I just survived and maintained the gap.”
Trummer, meanwhile, had his own game to play. “[Palmer] was really quick at the beginning of the race. I could not hold him back. So I didn’t defend too much because I knew I had to save the tyres for the race.” Despite the clean air, Palmer could not be broken by Trummer, while Leal – who started from the fourth row – clung onto 3rd place, just shy of Trummer’s rear wing.

While he may have lost the lead to Palmer, Trummer was still happy with the runner-up spot – his first podium in the GP2 Series. “It feels really good. Obviously I knew before the race that we could achieve a good result today. I just had to make the start great. At the end of the race I thought [Palmer] would struggle more but he didn’t. It was really hard to attack him. That was a great race. I had a great pace and I’m happy with P2.”

Two podiums easily marks what is Leal’s best start to a season in GP2. For a driver heavily criticised for apparent disinterest in 2011, the Colombian’s form has enjoyed an upturn as he gains more experience. Speaking post-race, Leal noted: “My start was really normal. I don’t know what happened to the guys in front! When I got to the first corner, I was already in third. After that I was only keeping my position.”
The Carlin racer added: “It’s unbelievable to start the season like this. I’m really happy. The team is really happy as well. This feeling is amazing. We have to keep this momentum and when you do a podium, all the other podiums start coming easier. We have to keep things like this.”

Nasr climbed back to 4th, but it will be another case of what could have been for the Brazilian. If he is to prove his worth, he needs to convert pole positions to victories. Richelmi claimed a solid 5th place for DAMS, heading Quaife-Hobbs who ran in 4th for a time until his tyres fell off, while Evans (7th) rescued two points from what was an abysmal opening weekend with RUSSIAN TIME. Rene Binder collected the final point for Arden, as he finished just 0.2s ahead of Pic.
GP2 now has one month off, before reconvening at the Circuit de Catalunya just outside Barcelona as support for the Spanish Grand Prix.

{note 1}
Technically one could argue that Charles Pic also achieved the feat of winning on his GP2 Series début; however that would overlook his previous experience in GP2, albeit in the Asia Series.

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“Auto GP: Raimondo weighs up 2014 options”

Gianmarco Raimondo (Super Nova). © Auto GP World Series

Gianmarco Raimondo (Super Nova). © Auto GP World Series

Gianmarco Raimondo got his first taste of Auto GP machinery this year when he tested with Norfolk-based team Super Nova.

The Canadian racer tested alongside the already signed Michele Cerruti and Markus Pommer, the latter of whom only announced his Auto GP commitments today.

See also: “Pommer joins Super Nova for Marrakech Auto GP assault” (April 6th, 2014)

Running only on the second day, the some time GP2 Series and former European F3 Open racer commented that: “In Day 1, I only made a shake-down to verify that everything was ready. Unfortunately the weather forecast was predicting rain for Day 2′s afternoon, so we used all our new tyres in the morning and completed several tests.”

If nothing else, the situation ensured Raimondo was not merely sitting around, as he noted afterward. “I’ve been on-track for two straight hours – almost a Le Mans stint! After the skies cleared, we then proceeded to some set-up comparisons with encouraging results.”

With a measure of GP2 and Formula 3 experience behind him, Raimondo allowed himself the opportunity to make some brief comparisons of the technology. “It’s definitely an incredible car! Really fun to drive, tougher than a GP2 Series car in terms of control and physical strength, but it also require you to be sensible like on a Formula 3 car: you cannot afford to make mistakes.”
He added, “The power is amazing, you feel the 550 horsepower pushing and it’s fantastic. The Kumho tires also last longer than the GP2 ones but also enable you push harder than in Formula 3.”

Having yet to commit to programme, the 23-year-old is busy building on his options ahead of the 2014 season. According to a hopeful Raimondo, “We are working really hard on it with my management and family, also thanks to the support of Super Nova. The Auto GP championship will be the best possible choice for my career in this moment, and I hope to leave as soon as possible towards Morocco”

The opening round of the 2014 Auto GP season takes place in Marrakech over the weekend of April 11th – 13th.

“Pommer joins Super Nova for Marrakech Auto GP assault”

Markus Pommer. © Auto GP World Series

Markus Pommer. © Auto GP World Series

Markus Pommer has singed on with Super Nova for an attempt at Auto GP honours at Marrakech this weekend.

The German ran strongly at last week’s two day test at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, ending the second day 2nd in the times behind Sam DeJonghe.

See also: “Auto GP: Giovesi and Spinelli sign with Puma 3/Eurotech”

A former Formula Two and Porsche Supercup competitor, Pommer comes to the Auto GP World Series with some pedigree, having claimed promising results in both categories.

Upon his arrival with the Super Nova team, the 23-year-old said; “I felt immediately comfortable […] and very much enjoyed driving the car – it has good downforce and plenty of power and suited my driving style well.”

Pommer will not have had much preparation time leading in to this weekend’s opening round at Marrakech; however the Heilbronn native will hoping to alleviate that worry during the build-up to the race. “I am looking forward to my first time in Marrakech, a street circuit with fast corners will be a lot of fun and I am feeling confident going into the weekend. I have never been there so will be spending some time on the simulator to get to grips with it.”

With only five day until the opening practice session in Morocco, Pommer’s announcement brings the total of Auto GP drivers to just nine. Expect a number of one-off deals to be announced in the coming days.
At this point, it is still unclear just how long Pommer’s deal with Super Nova is for.

“Sleeping Beast”

Designed by Dave Wass and powered by a BMW straight-4 turbo engine, the Arrows A8 certainly knew how to growl.

Neither a world beater nor even a race winner, the A8 was still monster of a machine.

Competing through the 1985 and 1986 Formula One World Championship seasons (outlasting its disappointing successor, the A9), Arrows managed one podium (Thierry Boutsen at Imola in 1985) and numerous points finishes.

Alas as 1985 aged and development soared, neither Boutsen nor débutante teammate Gerhard Berger could hold pace with the opposition.

Come 1986, the ageing M13 engine was beginning to show some frailties. Admittedly, in the hands of Christian Danner and Marc Surer – capable ad they were – the pairing also marked something of a step down for the Arrows team.

From their podium and four points finishes in 1985 (14 pts), Arrows could manage only a single score in 1986, courtesy of Danner at the mighty and beautiful Oestereichring in Austria.

Arrows took on the Megatron customer engine for 1987 and while A10 chassis, driven by Derek Warrick and Eddie Cheever Jr, took some occasional points finishes, the season remained a struggle overall.

By 1989, the turbos were gone and Formula One became the domain of normally aspirated engines – until now. But for this moment at Goodwood, the Arrows A8 sleeps and while we look upon its technology as aged, one cannot deny the beauty inherent in its voice.

Arrows A8. © Leigh O'Gorman

Arrows A8. © Leigh O’Gorman

“Thoughts on Felipe Massa, Williams and team orders”

Since the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday, there has been some talk about the team orders delivered to Williams driver Felipe Massa toward the end of the race.

Massa, along with teammate Valtteri Bottas finished 7th and 8th; however the team believed the latter to be quicker at the time and in a better position to tackle Jenson Button for a top-six position – a position lost to the McLaren driver off the start.

While this might be considered harsh action had it been a race for the lead – à la Hockenheim 2010 – the reality is Massa and Bottas were battling over some of the more minor points paying positions.

However Williams are in a position where they need points and in a situation where points pay big money, each score at this level is critical. If the team had felt that Bottas’ progress – and the potential for further points – had been hampered by Massa, then they are right to feel aggrieved about the Brazilian’s conduct, irrespective of whether Massa believes he was right or not.

Yet at the same time, Williams should have considered this a distinct possibility. Prior to the Australian grand Prix, I noted that this could genuinely be Williams’ year or possibly another false dawn, like in 2009 when they failed to take advantage of the double diffuser.
While no team wishes to publicly (or privately) realise that they are not as far forward as they should be, Williams should have made their drivers understand prior to the race (and maybe prior to the season) that team orders were possible considering the position they were in.
Realistically, each party involved played this very poorly.

In the grand scheme of things, one could also ask if this another case of FOM picking a specific radio message in attempt to grab the attention of the viewers? The answer is quite simply “of course it was.”
Let us not forget that this is “entertainment” and Formula One as an international sporting entity is catering to millions of viewers worldwide and as such, resides very much in the aisle of sporting show business. Entertainment serves little purpose if no one is talking about it afterward and Williams’ radio message certainly did that for a time.

Meanwhile, the team have said the drivers have moved on and maybe, for now, it is time to leave things at that.

“Ravenol to partners FIA European F3 Championship”

German lubricant manufacturer, Ravenol, were today revealed as the official series partner of the FIA European Formula 3 Championship.

The company already have a history with European F3, having acted as technical supporter of Van Amersfoort Racing, while also presenting the series’ live streams every race weekend.

Ravenol’s motorsport director, Martin Huning, said, “As I see it, [FIA F3] represents an important training and education step for future Formula 1 drivers. At the same time, the fact that the 11 events on the calendar will be held in eight different European countries also represents an important aspect for us. We are a company with international orientation.”

Beginning at Silverstone over Easter weekend, the European F3 Championship runs until late October and acts as the main support category for the DTM Series. It also plays the lead in to the FIA World Endurance Championship and the World Touring Car Championship, while also hosting two standalone events at Pau and Imola.

“Auto GP: Giovesi and Spinelli sign with Puma 3/Eurotech”

Kevin Giovesi. © Auto GP World Series

Kevin Giovesi. © Auto GP World Series

Auto GP veteran Kevin Giovesi is to be joined by rookie Loris Spinelli at the Puma 3 / Eurotech team this year.

Giovesi, a former GP2 driver and Cup Class champion in European F3 Open, débuted in Auto GP with Ghinzani Motorsport last year, taking five podiums along the way, despite only entering ten races.

Now going into his second season in the category, Giovesi is eyeing the title. For Spinelli, the task is entirely different. Apart from a single race weekend in Formula Abarth {note 1}, this is set to be Spinelli’s first foray into car racing – a massive promotion for a driver emerging from karts, ensuring the 18-year-old will have a steep learning curve ahead of him.

This will also prove an intriguing début for the Puma 3 / Eurotech team, with the Sergio Rinland and Jaime Pintanel run team also set to make their Auto GP at the opening round in Marrakech.

{note 1}
One must, at the appropriate times, take the quality of experience (or lack thereof) into account. Coming from karting to star in a single round of Formula Abarth Italia was a notable effort by Spinelli, but context is also key. Yes, the 18-year-old did score a podium in the final race of the weekend, but it is important to understand the comparative weakness of Formula Abarth’s field last year – a weakness somewhat reflected by Auto GP at the moment. From a personal view, my feeling is this may be too big a jump too soon for the young Spinelli; however I do hope to be proved wrong.

“Lynn tops both GP3 Series sessions on day two of test”

Carlin Motorsport’s Alex Lynn ran quickest in both the morning and afternoon sessions on day two of the first GP3 pre-season test at Estoril.

The Red Bull junior driver settled upon a best lap of 1:28.552 in the latter part of the day, after settling upon a 1:29.2 in the morning.

A heavy downpour the previous night ensured a damp and green surface for the 24 runners, leading to a brief spin for Visoiu as the track slowly dried.

As the slick tyres emerged, some competitive times registered with Yelloly once again heading the pack, before Bernstorff and Marvin Kirchhöfer broke the 1:30s barrier. A brief red flag gave the drivers a quick breather in the lead up to lunch, but not before Lynn lowered the benchmark significantly.

Plenty of red flags interrupted the start of the afternoon session, with Eriksson, Melville McKee and Santiago Urrutia all falling off track at various points. Despite further charges from Bernstorff, Luis Sa Silva and Roman de Beer, Lynn went quicker still to end the first session on top.

The next session runs at Jerez from April 10-11.

“GP3 Series: Zamparelli fastest on day one of Estoril test”

Dino Zamparelli and Alex Lynn headed the opening two-test GP3 Series test of the season at Estoril late last week.

The returning Zamparelli proved quickest with ART Grand Prix on Thursday, while Lynn – driving for Carlin in Red Bull colours – topped the sheets on Friday.

Zamparelli’s finest tour – a 1:29.145s – came in the morning. In cool conditions, Lynn shared the peak of the timesheets with Status GP racer Nick Yelloly, before a brief spill of rain curtailed quick tours for a time.

As the sun reappeared, so did Yelloly further quickening his pace; however the Englishman was then deposed by Arden’s Robert Visoiu. Richie Stanaway and Emil Bernstorff also threatened alongside Lynn, until Zamparelli set the quickest at the death.

There was little opportunity of improvement during Thursday afternoon, however, as heavy rain slowed times significantly, but not before Koiranen GPs Jimmy Eriksson set a reasonable pace in the Renault-powered Dallara GP3/13.

“FR3.5: Visser joins Amberg at AVF”

Former ADAC Formula Masters driver Beitske Visser has graduated to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with AVF.

The 19-year-old tested for the Spanish squad at Jerez this week, setting some reasonable times at various points of the three days.

Visser, from Dronten in the Netherlands, will partner FR3.5 veteran Zoël Amberg at the team managed by former racer Adrián Vallés.

Following a tricky spell in German F3, that saw her claim three victories in 41 races over two seasons, Visser was dropped by the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme, leaving the Dutch racer unsure of her 2014 plans.

Despite these difficulties, Visser admits that she has found the current FR3.5 car a good one to drive. “I fell in love with the [Formula Renault] 3.5 car in Monza, and from then on contesting the World Series season became my only aim.”
She added: “I worked hard with the engineers to understand the car and to step-up in terms of driving, and in the meantime I used any spare time I had to work out and build the strength and the stamina needed to master such a car.”

Following her test, a happy Visser realises that there is still to be done if she wishes to progress further up the ladder. “I’m happy with the progress we made in testing and even more happy to know that there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m really looking forward to the start of the season in Monza.”
Visser will be the first female to drive in the FR3.5 Series since Pippa Mann raced for the now defunct P1 Motorsport squad in 2008.

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