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“Thoughts on Montezemolo and Ferrari”

When Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo arrived at Monza at last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, it quickly became clear that the endgame was being played out and Montezemolo, omnipresent during the glory years, was being readied to be cut loose.

The Ferrari team – so successful less than a decade earlier – were struggling to not just to match their Mercedes-powered counterparts, but often could not even get close to them.

At one point humbled by a lacklustre Renault engine and power unit, even Red Bull has past Ferrari by, underlined by Daniel Ricciardo’s collection of three Grand Prix victories since June.

Ferrari, meanwhile, are facing their first winless season since the dire 1993 season – the early days of Montezemolo’s reign as Ferrari chairman.
The Scuderia’s naturally flamboyant and occasionally bombastic flair still make the team a feature, but it is unlikely that Ferrari envisaged trailing Williams for 3rd in the Constructors’ standings.

On the track, there is little doubt that Ferrari are underachieving – a mere 9th place finish for Kimi Raikkonen from Monza following on from Fernando Alonso mechanical failure was the nadir.
It mattered of course, as Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was all too keen to point out at the weekend. Marchionne’s comments cut Ferrari’s 2014 F1 efforts to ribbons, with the Fiat man calling it ‘unacceptable’.

Times change and with that, so do political, business, cultural and sporting factors and it is a factor that demands constant metamorphosis.
Within the greater Fiat organisation, Montezemolo became a Tyrannosaurus-Rex. After 23 years in charge, he had become a representative of a different time and with his influence waning, the 67-year-old did not only lost much of his battle on the results sheet.
More importantly, however, was his seeming inability – or unwillingness – to fall into line with the planned future of Fiat (and Ferrari), effectively making his position untenable.

Despite the on track crumbling, Ferrari – the car company – have enjoyed a bumper year, with a strategy of promoting exclusivity (and therefore upping the price and prestige of the brand) encouraging a very healthy income stream; however Fiat are looking beyond that – far beyond that.
If anything, the decision to finally cut ties with Montezemolo was promoted by the Bologna native’s dismay with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles desire to raise an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange next month.
While Montezemolo and Marchionne have not always seen eye-to-eye on a number of matters, Montezemolo’s objection to the floatation went some way to finishing him off.

And so with Montezemolo set to leave in mid-October, the door has opened for Marco Mattiacci to move into the position of chairman – a placement far more suited to his talents.
There were some rumblings too that Bob Bell, soon to be ex-Mercedes, is a consideration for the team principal seat at Maranello, should Mattiacci move onward and upward.

For Montezemolo, one supposes there could always be another stab at politics…

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“GP2 Series Monza analysis: Palmer closes in”

© Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.

© Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.

For a time, it looked as if the Felipe Nasr of old had been pushed aside and that there would finally be a “real” championship fight between the quiet Brazilian and Britain’s Jolyon Palmer.

Come Sunday afternoon, a very different realisation swept through the paddock, where, if nothing else, Palmer had emerged very much on top of his title rival.

Over the course of fifty-one laps in two races, Nasr may have blown his best opportunity to make great strides, but on Friday evening, the story was very, very different indeed…

As qualifying closed, Palmer slotted into 4th place – three ahead of Nasr, until the stewards investigated and discovered the DAMS machine did not have the necessary amount of fuel for a sample, rendering his session null.
“It’s very disappointing to have to start last,” the Briton said as he reflected upon the decision on the stewards, adding, “the car wasn’t under weight, and we had enough fuel for a sample, but we didn’t have the mandatory one litre of fuel in the car at the end and that is the regulation. There was no performance advantage here and it was a mistake with the fuel calculations.”

Nasr, meanwhile, did not have the best of qualifying sessions either. Palmer’s disqualification promoted the Brazilian to 6th, but considering his fight, he needed to be higher.
What was initially a poor result turned to something more positive as the evening drew in and news of Palmer’s penalty spread. More than anything else, Nasr now needed to capitalise on his rival’s misfortune and decimate the points gap.

That Nasr could then only manage two 6th place finishes compared to Palmer’s 8th (Feature Race) and victory (Sprint Race) has almost typical of the Brazilian’s seeming inability to convert advantages this season.
Palmer, on the other hand, has taken his chances and when necessary has pulled some championship worthy drives out of the bag – Saturday at Monza was a case in point.

Palmer was understandably ecstatic. “Unbelievable! It’s a weekend I’ll remember for a long time,” he beamed. “Friday was obviously extremely disappointing, but we all did a really good job, put it behind us on Saturday, and planned how we were going to come back from it. The race [on Saturday] went nearly perfectly, really: the car was good, the strategy was good, and then [on Sunday] starting from the front it was a bit easier, and we just had to control the pace.”

Meanwhile, over in the Williams F1 team hospitality on Sunday, the Didcot team – of which Nasr is the reserve driver – had announced the retention of their current line-up of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
The GP2 title may not be the only thing Nasr lost grip last weekend.

Feature Race
McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne took his third GP2 Series win of the season, although the Belgian had to fend off Arthur Pic for the duration.

A poor start by Pic (Campos Racing) gave poleman Vandoorne an added advantage off the line, with Vandoorne drawing his ART Grand Prix machine just over two seconds clear by the third lap.

Thereafter Vandoorne conserved his tyres, allowing Pic to close to within one second of the leading man. Despite a concerted effort by the 22-year-old Pic, the Frenchman could not quite close enough to force and error from Vandoorne.

Vandoorne would eventually stop after twelve laps, temporarily demoting the Kortrijk-native to the outskirts of the top ten. Pic stopped one lap later, but the Campos man could not do enough to overhaul his rival. As others ahead pitted too, the pairing also drew back toward the front of the order, with road finally clearing when Marco Sørensen stopped after twenty-one laps.

Pic stayed in Vandoorne’s mirrors for the final stint, but as his tyres aged, the Frenchman’s efforts were hamstrung.
Where he would close on the long straights, Pic would inevitably lose ground through Curve Grande, the Lesmo bends and Parabolica, gifting Vandoorne a solid gap as they approached the hard breaking points. Vandoorne relaxed on the final lap to allow Pic to close to within 0.6 at the flag, but realistically, the Belgian was never going to let this slip.

Mitch Evans took the final podium position for RUSSIAN TIME. The Kiwi initially held sway with the slow-starting Pic, but fell back as the race – and his Pirelli tyres – aged. Indeed a radio failure meant Evans missed his first calls into the pits for new tyres, with the Mark Webber protégé not stopping until lap thirteen.
Emerging just ahead of an aggressive Stéphane Richelmi, Evans kept the DAMS man at bay for a few laps, before gingerly building a gap to his Monegasque rival, who – for a time – was fighting his own battle with Daniel Abt, Andre Negrão, Felipe Nasr and Julian Leal.
The quartet fell away as their own battle became more intensive and with Evans already in the distance, Richelmi had little choice but to accept a solid 4th.

Despite growing pressure late on from a pushy Nasr, Negrão secured 5th place – his highest in GP2. The key move for Negrão’s race came on the 19th lap, when the Brazilian passed a struggling Abt, only for Leal to run Abt off the road two corners later.
Abt retired on the spot, while Leal was hit with a drive through penalty, while the released Nasr chased after Negrão. Despite a series of quicker laps, Nasr could not make a move on Negrão and finished just 0.4s adrift as they crossed the finishing line.

Sørensen dropped back to 7th after his stop, but he had to work hard to stay ahead of the charging Palmer late on. Having started last, Palmer made a startling jump off the line and had claimed ten places in the opening two laps.
Palmer stayed out until lap 20, emerging 10th when strategies had played out. Following Leal’s drive through, he took Stefano Coletti for 8th and reverse grid pole for Sunday’s race.
Coletti seemed to wake up when Palmer slipped by, but would spend the final laps fending off Johnny Cecotto Jr who accepted 10th and the last point.

The race was marred by a ridiculous moment at the start of the second lap, when Kimiya Sato blasted his way through the Roggia chicane, removing the innocent Danïel de Jong from the action. As the field ricocheted lightly, Rene Binder spun Takuya Izawa around, while Raffaele Marciello went off track and retired while attempting to avoid the incident.

Sprint Race
Jolyon Palmer his third GP2 Series victory of the season at Monza on Sunday, bringing his lead over Felipe Nasr to 43 points with two rounds remaining. Palmer led from the beginning and initially held his DAMS teammate Stéphane Richelmi behind, before Stefano Coletti emerged as his chief rival.

Where Palmer made a solid start, Richelmi shot up the order jumping from 5th to 2nd by the first corner. Richelmi’s effort was helped by a sleepwalking Nasr, who dropped down the order like a rock from the second row, while Marco Sørensen lost positions by locking up into the Roggia chicane and Andre Negrão slipped to 4th.

Palmer’s lead was annulled when the safety car emerged on lap one, thanks to Sergio Canamasas. Skipping over the Ascari chicane, the Spaniard rejoined slowly amidst traffic, almost causing Adrian Quaife Hobbs to smash into him and forcing the field to bunch up. As a result Pierre Gasly and Andre Markelov collided heavily on the straight exiting Ascari, while Julian Leal picked up a puncture from debris.

Meanwhile as the field sorted itself into some order, Canamasas’ Trident teammate Johnny Cecotto Jr made an unrealistic move on Nathanaël Berthon into the Parabolica, which sidelined both.
It was a moment of unbelievable stupidity from the Trident pairing, but from Canamasas, the moment was particularly ‘special’.

From the lap seven restart, Palmer held a narrow lead over Richelmi, until Coletti slipped through four tours later. As fast as Coletti was, he could not pressure Palmer into an error, with the DAMS man earning a precious victory.

Richelmi stayed 3rd to collect his third podium of the season; however the Monaco native had to work to keep Sørensen behind in the second half of the race.
Negrão completed his best GP2 weekend by taking 5th just ahead of Jon Lancaster, while Nasr regained ground to claim 7th and just two points. The Brazilian was heading for 8th when Mitch Evans tried an unrealistic move on Negrão in the Retifilo four laps from the end, resulting in race ending damage for Evans.
Arthur Pic took 8th and the final point following a mid-race error that cost him two places to Nasr and Lancaster.

Following his brainless opening lap maneuver, Canamasas continued to cause havoc when he crashed into Rene Binder at the Roggia chicane on lap 11. While recovering from that mess, Canamasas clattered into the side of Raffaele Marciello in Lesmo, as the Italian was slipping past the sluggish Spaniard.

On a day when the series showcased some fabulous on track action, Canamasas did his best to cast a poor spell. When on lap fifteen the Spaniard was finally shown the black flag, it underlined that the series is still populated by some dreadfully undeserving talent toward the rear of the field.
Canamasas is not a child. He is not inexperienced. After two-and-half seasons of GP2 and two of Formula Renault 3.5, he is far from inexperienced and he should know far better.
It will be interesting to note whether Canamasas actually appears in Sochi in five weeks. Should he emerge with a slap on the wrist or no further sanction, then the series will suffer a dent in its reputation.

“Hamilton recovers to win Italian Grand Prix”

Lewis Hamilton recovered from a poor start to win his second Italian Grand Prix in stunning style today.

The 2008 world champion led a Mercedes 1-2, with championship leader – and rival – Nico Rosberg ending the day as runner-up.

Felipe Massa made it an all Mercedes-powered podium when he took 3rd in his Williams F1 machine.

For Hamilton however, it was all about the chase. An error with the race start mode of his W05 machine dropped the Briton to 4th off the line, as he explains: “The launch sequence didn’t engage properly for the formation lap and then again for the start. I tried to pull away as fast as possible; basically I just floored it and hoped for the best!” He continued, “There was a different sequence of lights that were on [the steering wheel] that weren’t on ever before. The RPM was all over the place and fortunately I managed to not lose too many places.”

It was inevitable that he would though. With Hamilton momentarily stricken, Rosberg sailed through into an early lead followed by Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) and Massa (Williams). Admittedly, the error did not immediately correct itself, with Hamilton briefly settling into a pace in the mid-1’30s, before the Mercedes began to fully come alive again.
Raising his pace – and the pressure – both Massa and Hamilton were able to pick off the less nimble McLaren of Magnussen on lap five before Hamilton dispatched Massa four tours later.

Now in 2nd, the 29-year-old began to zero in on his target. The fight was on. “When I closed up to Nico, I didn’t want to hold back as the car felt good.” He added: “I knew from experience that the only chance would be at the start of the stint when the tyres were fresh so I went for it.”

Having lost four seconds behind the Williams and McLaren, Hamilton pulled just under three seconds out of Rosberg’s advantage by the time his German rival stopped for the harder compound Pirelli tyres on lap 25.
Rosberg retook the front of the order when Hamilton stopped on the following lap; however the Englishman continued to press for the lead. “I was pushing to overtake him. That meant it opens up the doors for everything,” noted Hamilton.

It worked. For all intents and purposes, Rosberg appeared to crack under the intense scrutiny from behind. Having already made a mistake by running off at the Retifilo chicane on lap nine, Rosberg did it again on lap 29, only this time Hamilton was close enough to slip into the lead.
To his credit, Rosberg held his hands up for the error. “Lewis was quick, coming in from behind. I needed to up my pace and then as a result just went into the mistake. That was very bad and lost me the lead in the end.”

Thereafter Hamilton never looked back, as he extended the gap to the 2nd placed man to over four-and-a-half seconds as the race entered its final third. In taking the chequered flag, Hamilton secured his sixth victory of the season, cutting the gap to Rosberg to just 22 points. “I’m really pleased with the win, it’s feels like I have some momentum back as we go into the final races.”

Meanwhile Rosberg conceded the race, knowing that – on this occasion – Hamilton simply had the upper hand. “Lewis was quicker this weekend, so he deserved the win. That for sure is very disappointing for me.” Continuing, the championship leader added, “I need to see the positive things from today. Second place is still good and I lost only seven points to Lewis, so this could have been much worse…”

For Felipe Mass, the race could not have gone much better as he secured his first podium finish since last year’s Spanish Grand Prix. Slotting into 3rd for a time at the start, the Brazilian lost nearly four seconds to the lead, before pulling past Magnussen in the opening half dozen tours. “I had a good start and passed Magnussen at just the right time.”
Once in clear air, Massa claimed nearly two seconds out of the gap to Rosberg, but holding the resurgent Hamilton at bay was always going to be a struggle. From the moment the Silver Arrow crept into Massa’s mirror, the Brazilian knew a tough time was ahead. “I had to work hard to establish that position, sadly the Mercedes were still a bit quick, so we did the best we could.”
As soon as the position was lost to Hamilton, Massa settled into a solid pace that solidified his place between the Mercedes and Magnussen, the latter of whom was in the midst of a six-way battle for 4th.

With the McLaren man preoccupied, Massa built a thirteen second gap to the Dane, before the Woking-based team pulled Magnussen in for his one and only stop after twenty-one laps.
Massa pitted for new hard Pirelli’s two laps later and emerged into a small pool of clear air, which quickly soon cleared as strategies played out around the Williams man, bring Massa back into a podium position. “I think a one-stop was the strategy for everybody. The tyres worked pretty well. It was really pretty much OK to one-stop, at least for us.”
It marks a remarkable turn for the man who was revealed to be staying with the Didcot team for 2015.

Bottas, in the other Williams, endured a shocking opening lap that dropped the Finn to 11th. Amidst the collection, Bottas began to move up the order taking both Force India’s and both Ferrari’s prior to his stop on the 24th lap.
Thereafter Bottas had to work hard again, taking Sergio Perez, Magnussen (and in stellar wheel-to-wheel fight), and Sebastian Vettel, which promoted the hard working Finn into 4th place.
“Once the tyres were up to temperature I had a lot of work to do. It was good fun to overtake so many people and we had some good pace as well,” as Bottas revealed.
It would prove to be a critical run for Bottas as it lifted him to 4th in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of Fernando Alonso, while Williams also jumped Ferrari in the Constructor’s Championship.

Daniel Ricciardo made the best of a long first stint to finish 5th. The Australian made an error with his starting procedure, dropping him to 12th; however Ricciardo stayed out until lap 26. “I saw the cars in front of me pit and the pace was still good enough, so seeing that we didn’t have great pace when we were out of position then we thought we would try something different.”
Despite the long running stint, Ricciardo still pushed his way through a gaggle of cars, including Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Perez, Magnussen and Vettel along the way. “I was more comfortable with the prime tyre and was able to do some good moves, which kept me smiling,” beamed the Red Bull man.

Vettel held 6th, but following an aggressive strategy, the German lost nearly ten seconds on Ricciardo in the closing tours as his Pirelli’s began to age rapidly. The reigning world champion made a fantastic start, but was clearly suffering for power along Monza’s lengthy straights; however the desire to pull the German out of traffic forced the Red Bull squad to pull Vettel in at the one-third point in the event.
Magnussen was originally next across the finishing line; however the McLaren youngster was found guilty to have not given Bottas enough room and forcing him off track on lap 31, as the Finn charged up the order. With his stop already completed, Magnussen was hit with a five-second post-race penalty, which dropped the McLaren racer to 10th overall, promoting Perez, Button and Raikkonen to 7th, 8th and the respectively.

Perez assumed another points score for the Force India team; however it was quite clear that of the Mercedes-powered team’s, the Silverstone-based squad were struggling the most. With Hulkenberg well out of contention for points, it was left to the Mexican to rescue scores for the team, as they continue their battle with McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship.

Both Button and Raikkonen followed Perez over the line – indeed such was the close racing in the group, Magnussen’s penalty was multiplied more than would normally be the case. Although Button accepted the result, it is less than likely that Ferrari will be as pleased with a mere 9th at their home race.

The high speed nature of the circuit began to take its toll late on, with the Force India’s blowing clouds of black smoke from their brake ducts in the latter stages of the vent; however it was Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat who suffered the biggest scare when a failing brake pitched him into a frightening off at the Retifilo.

Behind the Russian, Hulkenberg (12th) and Jean-Eric Vergne (13th) were the last of those on the lead lap, while Pastor Maldonado (14th) led the Lotus charge, albeit a lap down. Adrian Sutil assumed another lowly 15th for Sauber ahead of Romain Grosjean in the other Lotus.
In the distance, Kamui Kobayashi took 16th for Caterham, some 13s up on his Marussia rival Jules Bianchi (17th). Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Marcus Ericsson (Caterham) rounded out the finishers, although both were lapped twice; however Gutierrez was later penalised 20s for clashing with Grosjean with two laps remaining, dropping the Mexican behind Ericsson in the classifications.

Alonso was running on the outskirts of the top ten when the ERS failed on his Ferrari on lap 28 – which was a far better effort than Max Chilton, who pummelled his Marussia by sending into the Roggia barrier on the fifth lap.

With the European season over, Hamilton now heads to Singapore with a swing in his step, both it would be ill-advised to assume that there will be another Mercedes sweep at one of the toughest street circuit on the calendar.

“Italian GP: Hamilton takes pole as Mercedes power dominates”

Lewis Hamilton claimed the 36th pole position of his Formula One career at Monza this afternoon.

The Mercedes driver also headed a dominant session for the German marque, who not only had the other Silver Arrow on the front row, but had six Mercedes-powered cars in the top six (!).

Although the 29-year-old could not improve on his final run, Hamilton’s previous effort of 1:24.109 was more than enough to stay ahead of teammate and title challenger Nico Rosberg. It also marked some relief for Hamilton, who had lost plenty of time during Friday practice with an electrical issue.

With the track markedly losing pace as the final qualifying session aged, Rosberg’s minor improvement in his second Q3 run left him over a quarter-of-a-second shy of Hamilton. The German who went ‘purple’ in the first sector of his last qualifying run, then dropped a chunk of time in the middle sector, nullifying his threat instantly.

Valtteri Bottas lines up 3rd with Williams teammate Felipe Massa alongside; however the Martini-sponsored cars were still 0.5s and 0.7s adrift of the pole time come the chequered flag.
Mercedes power completed the rout as Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button rounded out the third row.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso could do no better than 7th for an Italian crown desperate for some success. The Spaniard improved on his final run, setting a 1:25.430, some six-thousandths quicker than reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull).
Judging by the slightly lacklustre Renault –power unit, it is unlikely that the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo will repeat his famous win at Spa-Francorchamps. The Australian took 9th, just ahead of the leading Force India on Sergio Perez.

Daniil Kvyat was the first out come the end of Q2; however the Russian will start from 21st after he incurred a penalty for switching to his sixth power unit of the season.
Kimi Raikkonen and Jean-Eric Vergne therefore move up to the sixth row. Nico Hulkenberg (13th), heads both Sauber’s of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez, while Pastor Maldonado rounds out row eight.

Romain Grosjean missed much of Q1 due to a mechanical glitch. The Frenchman managed a single run which allowed him to take 17th on the grid, ahead of the returning Kamui Kobayshi (Caterham) and Marussia pairing Jules Bianchi (19th) and Max Chilton (20th).
Marcus Ericsson had qualified last, but will be required to start from the pitlane after it was adjudged he had ignored double-waved yellow flags.

“GP3 Series: Eriksson storms to pole”

© Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service.

© Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service.

Koiranen GP racer Jimmy Eriksson set a stunning lap late on to take his second GP3 Series pole position of the season.

The Swede placed ahead of Dino Zamparelli (ART Grand Prix) and Nick Yelloly (Status Grand Prix) – both of whom lapped three tenths shy of the former German F3 champion.

There was some luck for Eriksson however – championship leader Alex Lynn (Carlin) was on his way to displacing Eriksson, only to have to slow down when Alex Fontana crashed just prior to the chequered flag.
As a result, Eriksson was well clear of the pack, allowing the Koiranen man to collect four points.

Zamparelli crossed the line just seconds shy of Eriksson, having potentially lost time sitting under Eriksson’s rear wing. Yelloly, meanwhile, set his quickest lap some two minutes earlier, but lost his final fast lap due to heavy traffic.

Emil Bernstorff continued his positive run with a lap to 4th, while championship challengers Richie Stanaway and Lynn assumed the third row.

Kevin Ceccon set the pace in yesterday evening’s free practice session; however the Jenzer racer could not repeat this in qualifying and he will line up 14th as a consequence.

“GP2 Series: Vandoorne nabs late Monza pole”

_G7C9219© Leigh O’Gorman

Stoffel Vandoorne secured his second pole position in a row at Monza this afternoon, displaying once again ART Grand Prix’s return to form.

The Belgian, who topped the official times in Spa-Francorchamps two weeks ago, beat Arthur Pic’s best lap by two-tenths following a spectacular late run.

Pic had topped the opening practice session in his Campos machine, but couldn’t replicate the feat when it came to the grid setting session. Whereas Vandoorne made hay late on, Pic could not improve on his first run and was demoted to the outside of the front row for his troubles.

Mitch Evans secured 3rd on the grid, while championship leader Jolyon Palmer took 4th, only for the Briton to be disqualified after the session when it was discovered his DAMS machine was short of the fuel necessary for sampling.

The error promotes Racing Engineering’s Raffaele Marciello up to the second row, with Stéphane Richelmi alongside. Palmer’s championship rival Felipe Nasr (Carlin) will start from the 7th position and is partnered on the fourth row by teammate Julian Leal.

Series debutante Pierre Gasly could do no better than 19th in the green liveried, but Red Bull-backed Caterham entry, while the returning Sergio Campana took last on the grid for Venezuela GP Lazarus.

“Italian GP: Rosberg heads Practice Two”

Nico Rosberg topped the second free practice session of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today.

The German set a quickest tour of 1:26.225s – some six-hundredths up on Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton; however the latter lost a significant portion of the session when sidelined by an electronic failure.

Rosberg initially set the quick form on the harder Pirelli tyre – ahead of the persistent Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and continued to show his pace later on the mediums.

Kimi Raikkonen and Alonso made the best of a solid day for Ferrari, with the pair accepting 3rd and 4th, while Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Jenson Button (McLaren) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) all set times just over half-a-second slower than Rosberg,

There were a few minor offs during the session, continuing the example set during the opening session, although little significant damage was suffered.

“Italian GP: Hamilton heads FP1 at Monza”

Lewis Hamilton headed the opening free practice session at an overcast Monza this morning.

The Briton responded to made the best of the morning with a quickest tour at 1:26.187s – some eight-tenths faster than his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

McLaren’s Jenson Button split the two silver machines. He registered a quickest tour some two-tenths up on Rosberg, but still well adrift of the top-spot.

Such is Hamilton’s pace, the field will be hoping the former world champion set his time on low fuel; however it was not all clear sailing for the Mercedes man. The Briton had a brief lock-up into Ascari, as did teammate Rosberg, but was able to continue without any issues.

Despite this, Hamilton managed a healthy twenty-five laps, with Button and Rosberg completing twenty-seven and twenty-six without issue.

It was brief session for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who suffered a mechanical failure near the halfway point of the session, ensuring the Australian completed only twelve laps.
Kevin Magnussen touched the thirty-lap marker, but did lose a small chunk of time when his headrest came loose mid-run.

The Toro Rosso’s were the busiest of the day with Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Éric Vergne clocking up sixty-three laps between them.

Force India discovered the trouble with running two drivers in one car for FP1. Daniel Juncadella ran the first thirty minutes, before handing over to Sergio Perez for the final hour. It was a fruitless endeavor that only served to lose the Silverstone team plenty of time, as Perez’ engineers lost nearly a half-hour switching the seats, pedals and settings from Juncadella to Perez.

On the other hand, the money probably tasted good.

“Breathing Room”

© Leigh O'Gorman.

© Leigh O’Gorman.

One does not have to look too far into history to understand that British Formula 3 has seen better days.

That only seven drivers turned out for the sixth round of the 2014 season is indicative of the struggles the famed championship has faced in recent years.

British F3 is not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Other national series’, such as German and Australian F3, are also struggling to keep driver numbers up, while the Euroformula Open (previously the European F3 Open) is experiencing a severe dip in numbers this year.

As Peter Briggs, chairman of the Formula Three Association, commented on Sunday, “The teams are here, the cars are here, there are plenty of spares and extras – all that’s missing are the drivers.” A former F3 team boss, Briggs has been involved in motorsport for almost forty years and is determined to keep British F3 afloat.

While a merger with the German championship may not be permissible, Briggs has been in discussion with his German counterparts as they explore the possibility of sharing rounds.

Recent developments have dealt a blow to that plan; however it is not dead yet. “Ideally,” says Briggs, “there would still be British and German championships, but we would share races. I would like a situation where we shared grids for four UK and four German events, but that could be a five-to-three split if needs be.”

It’s a daunting task for both categories as they attempt to soak up drivers from the European market. “Drivers don’t come to the UK anymore from entry-level, they go to Europe and Formula Renault, where they can race of international tracks,” Briggs notes, before adding finally, “We have to capture that.”

The series has a huge job ahead if it is stay afloat and Briggs is determined to help steer the ship in the right direction.

It is not the most enviable of tasks.

“Wells British F3 début increases field to seven”

Hong Kong based British racer Dan Wells is to make his début in the beleaguered British Formula 3 Series at Brands Hatch this weekend with Double R Racing.

The 23-year-old has spent much of the last three seasons in the Far East, competing in the likes of Formula Masters China and its predecessor the Formula Pilota China Series; however budget issues cut his 2013 season short.

The Briton finished as runner-up in the Formula Pilota China Series in 2012, and currently lies 3rd in Formula Masters. Wells has set his sights on a season in Japanese F3 for the 2015 season, although his Brands outing will also qualify the Salisbury man for an F3 outing at Macau. Of the upcoming contest, he commented, “I’m looking forward to my first F3 race and it’s great for it to be on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit too.”

While he has never raced with Double R previously, it will not be the first time Wells has had a contact with the Surrey-based team. “I went to the 2009 British F3 races at the circuit as a guest of Double R before I had started my racing career, so it’s a happy coincidence that I will make my F3 debut with the team now. I anticipate a productive weekend and would like to thank Double R and DWI for this opportunity.”

Of the addition, Double R team principal Anthony ‘Boyo’ Hieatt said, “We’re delighted to be able to give Dan his Formula 3 debut at Brands, he’s a driver we’ve known since he started out in racing and has had a lot of success in Asia since he moved there three years ago. It’s going to be a big step up into the F3 car for the first time in a racing environment, but we’re confident he’ll do a very good job.”

Wells will join F4 regular Camren Kaminsky, while Max Marshall returns for a second round as he prepares for a future Formula Ford GB round at the Kent circuit.

Away from Double R Racing, it was also revealed that FIA European F3 regular Santino Ferrucci will championship challengers Matt Rao and Martin Cao at Fortec. The addition of Ferrucci, Wells and Marshall brings the entry list up to seven for the series’ penultimate round.

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