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“F1: Rosberg tops opening session”

Nico Rosberg headed Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton come the end of the first practice session of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

Rosberg’s quickest – a 1:51.577s – came just under one hour into the session, piping Hamilton’s best by 0.097s which had been set only moments earlier.

Beyond a single brief off at the final chicane at the half hour mark, it had been a reasonably quiet session for Rosberg, as he settles back into the groove following the four-week break.

There was some more excitement for Hamilton, who – like Rosberg – had an off at the final chicane, but more significantly, came close to losing the car through Eau Rouge; however the skilled Briton held his machine.

Fernando Alonso ended the session 3rd fastest and initially traded quickest times with Rosberg during the opening thirty minutes, before the Mercedes man set recorded a lap at 1:51.724s, taking him beyond the Ferrari’s means. Alonso’s fastest run of 1:51.805 gave the Spaniard an advantage of six-tenths over next man Jenson Button (McLaren).

Button was alone in 4th – four-tenths clear of Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), although the former World Champion suffered a brief issue with his DRS, when it locked open. Raikkonen endured a tough time with his Ferrari as he continues to struggle with the feel of the F14T machine. The Finn also spun at La Source.

Next up was Sergio Perez (6th, Force India), while Kevin Magnussen (McLaren), Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) ran the Mexican close. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten for Williams.

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull, 11th) lost a significant amount of time due to burnt exhaust, while at the Red Bull junior team – Toro Rosso – Daniil Kvyat (12th) suffered from braking issues.
Both Lotus’s of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado suffered poor rear tyre wear. At Sauber, Giedo van de Garde was complaining of a loss of power, limiting his run.

What will now be Alexander Rossi’s only session this weekend saw him end the morning 1.4s shy of teammate Jules Bianchi.
Caterham new boy André Lotterer outpaced teammate Marcus Ericsson during their first session together. The German WEC and Super Formula racer registered a lap one-tenth quicker than the Swedish rookie, although as ever in Free Practice One, it is unknown what programmes were being run in relation to each other.

“F1: Chilton returns to Marussia seat”

Chilton returns to F1 seat. © Marrusia F1 Team.

Chilton returns to F1 seat. © Marrusia F1 Team.

Max Chilton has retained his Marussia F1 drive, less than one day after he “volunteered to step aside.”

According to Chris Medland from motorsport website, the 23-year-old will now retake his position with the Anglo-Russian team from Free Practice 2 after being replaced by Alexander Rossi yesterday.

See also:
“Chilton returns after Marussia u-turn” (; August 22nd, 2014)

Chilton had initially been dropped by the team due to “contractual issues”, a point later disputed by Chilton’s press group, The Sports PR Company.

See also:
“F1: Rossi replaces Chilton at Marussia”

The development adds another layer of confusion to the Marussia story, which began when Rossi was signed as development as reserve driver prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.

“F1: Rossi replaces Chilton at Marussia”

Rossi will race in Belgium. © Marussia F1 Team

Rossi will race in Belgium. © Marussia F1 Team

Formula One backmarkers Marussia announced a very late driver change earlier today, when Alexander Rossi was brought in in place of Max Chilton.

In a press release, the Anglo-Russian team commented that Chilton has been replaced while “contractual issues are resolved.” Rossi will now partner points scorer Jules Bianchi.

A statement from The Sports PR Company, who represent Chilton, later countered that by revealing he had “volunteered to step out of his race seat for this weekend’s race in Spa, Belgium to allow the team to attract much needed funds by selling his seat.”

While Marussia’s statement may be as transparent as reasonably well-manufactured glass, it is unlikely the team will be enamoured by The Sport PR Company’s rather frank response.
It also appears as if the change came very late, as just over twenty-four hours ago, the Briton tweeted that he had arrived in Spa for the race weekend. Chilton will be on site for media commitments and technical briefings.

It is no secret that the team have faced ongoing financial difficulties since their debut in 2010; however it is thought their current position may be particularly perilous at this time. In a statement, Marussia team principal John Booth commented that, “Naturally we hope to resume normal service with respect to our established race driver line-up as soon as possible.”
Rossi was signed as Marussia’s reserve and development driver last month, following his split from the Caterham F1 team. Booth added, “Although it was not our intention to offer Alexander the possibility to race this season, in light of the circumstances we are pleased to be providing him with the opportunity to make his Grand Prix début at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Franchorchamps.”

Naturally Rossi was delighted with the news. “It goes without saying that I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to race in Formula 1 for the first time and I cannot thank the Marussia F1 Team enough for the faith they are demonstrating in me,” said the American.
It will also represent a marked step-up for Rossi, who until the weekend of the German Grand Prix had been competing in the GP2 Series with first Caterham and later Campos. “It’s a very big moment for me and there’s a lot to prepare in a short space of time, but on the other hand I have felt ready for this for quite a while now. It is also exciting to be given this opportunity at such a fantastic and historical circuit as Spa-Francorchamps. I can’t wait to drive the MR03 from tomorrow and I hope to reward the team with a solid race weekend.”

Whether Chilton returns for Monza may depend upon whether investors move in quickly.

...while Chilton is on the sidelines. © Marussia F1 Team

…while Chilton is on the sidelines. © Marussia F1 Team

“British F3: Cao ramps up title bid”

Cao (centre) celebrates with Rao (left) and Cong (right). © Jacob Ebrey Photography / SRO.

Cao (centre) celebrates with Rao (left) and Cong (right). © Jacob Ebrey Photography / SRO.

Matt Rao took a victory and two 2nd places at the fifth British Formula 3 round at Thruxton at the weekend, to keep ahead of title challenger and Fortec teammate Martin Cao.

In what can only be described as a desperately poor turnout – only five cars entered the round – Cao registered his first wins of the season, but Rao did enough in the final race to keep a four point lead.

Despite securing pole, Rao was unable to convert Race One into a victory after he bogged down on the line, allowing fellow front row man Cao to slips into the lead. An early safety car period for the crashed Camren Kaminsky and Max Marshall allowed Rao to catch up and quickly pass Cao; however the Chinese national made a move on the 15th lap, although clattered Rao in the process. Li Zhi Cong took 3rd for Carlin in the ageing F308 chassis.

Cao added a second victory on Sunday morning when he conquered the damp, but drying Hampshire circuit. A scare on the warm-up lap when he nearly stalled his engine heightened Cao’s senses to a degree and from there; the Fortec man romped into an early lad from 4th on the grid. With a dry set-up, Rao took time to settle in, but finished 2nd – again ahead of Cong, while Marshall and Kaminsky rounded out the quintet.

Rao took one back on Sunday evening to regain the series lead. Another poor start dropped Rao behind Cao, but the former was back ahead by the end of lap one and soon pulled out a strong lead to win by 6.58s. Kaminsky took his first F3 podium ahead of Marshall (4th), while a delayed Cong closed the field.

The series will move to Brands Hatch for its penultimate round in two weeks.

“Caterham confirm Lotterer for Spa”

The Caterham F1 team confirmed today that Andre Lotterer is to replace Kamui Kobayashi for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

A three-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours and former World Endurance Champion, Lotterer has been drafted into the backmarker squad in an effort to diagnose some of the performance issues with the CT05.

“I am delighted to be given the opportunity to take part in a Formula One race weekend,” said Lotterer. He added, “I’m ready for this challenge and I cannot wait to jump in the car and make the most out of the weekend ahead.”

It is believed that while Kobayashi has driven well this year, his abilities to translate performance details of the car have been a marked weak point.

On the other hand, recent developments on the business side of the Caterham F1 team have raised questions as to validity of Lotterer’s appearance. A regular in Super Formula, Lotterer is reportedly backed by the HYPE drinks manufacturer.

Most notably, Lotterer is also a competitor with Audi’s LMP1 effort in the FIA World Endurance Championship and he currently 2nd in the championship alongside his Joest teammates Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer.

This will not be Lotterer’s first taste of Formula One. The 32-year-old was a test driver with Jaguar in the early part of the last decade and was in line for a seat with the manufacturer in 2003, only to be dropped in favour of Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia.

It would not be unreasonable to assume that Lotterer may struggle to get fully up to speed of temporary teammate Marcus Ericsson this weekend. The lack of any seat-time and the last minute draft may render the German somewhat unprepared; however he will be race fit.

Lotterer is in no doubt of the scale of the task ahead of him. “I will need to get settled and used to the car quickly,” admitted the Audi factory man. “The team has worked on a number of updates and we will need to have as much time as possible out on track to optimise the car’s performance.”

There is certainly no worries as to Lotterer’s knowledge of the famed Belgian circuit, for the German is well acquainted with the track and last raced there in the 2nd round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in May. “I really enjoy racing at the legendary circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, it’s one of my favourite tracks and it’s very close to where I grew up, so this makes the weekend even more special and one to remember.”

According to the team, Kobayashi is to remain part of the Caterham squad, but there is no indication if he will be racing again this year.

“Ceccon rejoins GP3 Series”

© Malcolm Griffiths/GP2 Series Media Service.

© Malcolm Griffiths/GP2 Series Media Service.

Former Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon is to rejoin the GP3 Series with Jenzer Motorsport this weekend and will remain with the Swiss squad for the rest of the season.

The Italian, who has not raced in as of yet in 2014, announced the move via his Twitter account earlier today.

Racing alongside new Jenzer teammates Pål Varhaug and Mathéo Tuscher, Ceccon will replace Christopher Höher, who had originally replaced Adderly Fong.

For the 20-year-old, an opportunity opens to reinvigorate a stalled career. “It has been a difficult year but Stefano [Zuech, manager] told me every time don‘t give up and to continue to be focussed and ready even if I was spending my time in the gym.” Ceccon continued: “I will be definitely focused to give the best of myself and I am very pleased to join the Jenzer Motorsport team. Once again thank you to all of the people that help me to make it happen.”

Ceccon has endured something of a topsy-turvy relationship with the GP2 and GP3 Series, having moved back and forth between them on several occasions over the past four years.

The 20-year made his GP2 debut with Coloni alongside his Auto GP commitments in 2011, but his campaign came to a premature end before the halfway mark after he scored no points.
In 2012, Ceccon completed a year in GP3 Series with Ocean Racing Technology and eventually finished 9th in the standings, which included a podium in the chaotic opening race at Monaco.
A return to GP2 last meant another half season, but the now Trident racer did take one podium – again at Monaco – however he year came to an end following the Silverstone round in July.

Ceccon’s last race of any kind came at the International GT Open Series at Barcelona last November in the GTS Class, when he took a 16th and 17th place finishes overall alongside teammate Stefano Constanini in the Ombra team.

“From Safety to Where?”

© Leigh O’Gorman

© Leigh O’Gorman

Race weekends can often feel shaped like odd animals for those at work in paddocks, especially when one has “additional commitments”.

Securing a hotel close to either the circuit or the local train station is a no brainer. The first port of call must always be a reasonable mattress and an easy way to get in and out.

There are annoying little sacrifices to be made here and there though. Not that I am complaining of course – this aspect of my life is great, but arranging this existence around ‘real life’ occasionally means odd flights at unusual hours and cross country traveling in empty train coaches.

The recent trip from German Grand Prix was a case in point. Although the flight in to Frankfurt was managed at a reasonable hour, the return leg of the journey was a touch more challenging. Leaving Mannheim via national rail toward Frankfurt Main just after midnight on Sunday night was an adventure.

In what seemed like an old metal bucket held together by blutac, the train trundled along at what felt like two miles per hour for a time and then a quarter of that speed once we had ventured out into the real German countryside.
At one point, the train ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere. There were no lights out, no signs, no sound, no indications of progress and as 2am had long since passed, any plans of catching the original connecting bus to their airport had long since evaporated.

Eventually the bucket made it to a remote station on the outskirts of Frankfurt, dropping me to the middle of nowhere. Thereafter began a search for a bus stop, which was eventually located under a bridge by the side of a sad, long empty road.

By 3.45am, the journey was done – almost.

There followed a nap on a bench and eventually a 6.30am flight to London and then a series of DLR and underground trains, which would link me to my office for ‘real life’ work at 8.30 on Monday morning.

The adventure continues at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend and then Monza, when late flights will get me to Brussels and Milan after midnight on both occasions, to be followed by 5.30am train and bus trips.

Sexy, no? Maybe not, but interesting and exhausting nonetheless.

“Thoughts about Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso and Formula One”

Max Verstappen. © Philip Platzer / Red Bull Media House.

Max Verstappen. © Philip Platzer / Red Bull Media House.

Teenage racer Max Verstappen is set to become the youngest driver in Formula One World Championship history next season.

The Dutch driver is to join the Scuderia Toro Rosso squad alongside Daniil Kvyat next year, replacing Jean-Éric Vergne.

The move represents a remarkable jump for the 16-year-old Red Bull Junior, who only made his car racing début in January in the inaugural Florida Winter Series.

In a statement released this evening, Verstappen commented, “I would like to thank Dr. Helmut Marko and Red Bull for all their trust and giving me the chance to make my Formula debut in 2015 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. Ever since I was seven years old, Formula 1 has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true.”
He added, “We’ve all worked tremendously hard to reach Formula 1 and I will give my absolute best to be successful in the pinnacle of motorsport. With the return of the Verstappen name to Formula 1, I hope we can relive old memories and I’m hoping to see many fans at all the Grand Prix circuits.”

Verstappen – who turns 17 at the end of next month – also made his prowess behind the wheel of a Formula 3 car apparent this year when he entered the FIA European Formula 3 Championship with van Amersfoort Racing. He currently resides 2nd in the standings, 77 points behind the Lotus-backed Frenchman Esteban Ocon.

But make no mistake – Max Verstappen is bloody fast.

Where other remain idle between sessions, Verstappen has worked hard with his engineers and has learned quickly. Under the guiding hand of his father Jos, Max is clever and the wide-eyed stare that was once quite common has become serious and confident.
Emerging from an often-crowded van Amersfoort awning at races (his father Jos is still a big draw in paddocks everywhere), Verstappen has amassed a good deal of maturity in recent months, but the Dutch driver had to live through numerous unforced errors and mechanical woes during the early part of the season.
Following a victory at the Hockenheimring in May, the Volkswagen-powered racer secured seven straight Formula 3 class victories through June and early July, including a dominant victory at the Zandvoort Masters.

According to Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost, it was during this period that Verstappen’s potential really began to shine. “At the Norisring and Nürburgring, he showed extraordinary determination and the ability to withstand pressure before going on to win.” Tost, whose Toro Rosso team gave the the teenage Kvyat his F1 début earlier this year, was also keen to emphasise the reasoning for the team’s existence. “Scuderia Toro Rosso was created with the aim of bringing young talent from the Red Bull Junior Team into Formula 1 and to educate them, it will now be up to us to provide Max with a competitive car, which will enable him to have the best possible start to his Formula 1 career.”

Since Zandvoort, the teenager has taken a further victory and three podiums; however with six races remaining, Verstappen may be too far distant to take a realistic shot at the European F3 title. Meanwhile, he also has a narrow lead over Carlin’s Tom Blomqvist – a former Red Bull Junior – who closed in on Verstappen at the Nürburgring over the course of last weekend.

With all this, Vergne’s career at the top level is left hanging in the air. There had been growing feeling that his time with the Red Bull Junior squad may have been coming to an end at the close of this season, but whether he has been in talks with other teams is not known. It marks an unfortunate end game for Vergne whose season has been dogged by an unreliable Toro Rosso machine.

There is little doubt that Verstappen can handle a Formula One car – in fact, I would contest that a majority of drivers at GP2/3, Formula Renault 3.5 or Formula 3 level could.
However one has the maturity to handle the baggage that comes with Formula One is a different story completely and that is where Max’s real challenge lies.

© Philip Platzer / Red Bull Media House.

© Philip Platzer / Red Bull Media House.

“I May Take a Holiday…”

…and so I did.

After a couple of weeks of taking a step back, kicks back into action today.

So without further ado, news and other words before I hit Spa-Francorchamps for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix are on their way.

Joe Strummer; The Clash. © Unknown.

Joe Strummer; The Clash. © Unknown.

“GP2 Series: ‘2nd in points possible’ says Evans”

© Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

© Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

Despite a tough opening portion of the season, New Zealand’s Mitch Evans claims some good prizes are still possible, but also that the title may be beyond him.

Evans, who has taken two wins and a podium this season, has suffered from bouts of unreliability and a RUSSIAN TIME car that has occasionally proved a handful to drive.

However the Kiwi believes the outlook for the rest of the year is reasonably good. “At the start of the season, we were quick, but we didn’t have enough to be challenging for race wins,” said the 20-year-old at a recent race meet in Hockenheim.

While it might be tempting to think a title challenge is on the cards following Evans’ two Feature Race victories at Silverstone and Hockenheim, the Auckland native is a somewhat more grounded. “Maybe Jolyon [Palmer, points leader] is too far ahead, but we will give it everything we’ve got until it is not possible.”

Over the opening two weekend’s in Bahrain and Spain, Evans had only scored two points; however a podium at the next round in Monaco proved a turning point.
“We had a car to get to the podium if we had a good race,” says Evans of his runner-up finish behind Palmer, adding, “the car still had a lot of room for improvement, but I seem to go well around there, so I could still drive around it.”

Following a difficult round in Hungary last weekend, the affable Kiwi lays 100 points adrift of Palmer as the GP2 Series enters it summer break. Considering the gap, Evans believes more humble goals are workable. “We have to be realistic. Obviously 2nd and 3rd [in points] are still realistic.”
With four race weekends remaining, Evans is 6th in the standings with 92 points, but remains within close proximity to the Stoffel Vandoorne / Johnny Cecotto Jr / Stefano Coletti battle.

Current 2nd place man Felipe Nasr may be a tougher fight, but the 2012 GP3 Series Champion thinks there is more to come from his Mechachrome-powered Dallara.
The long break between Monaco and Austria offered the RUSSIAN TIME team an opportunity to consider their issues and there appears to have been some success. “In Austria we made improvements and then we really made a step forward in Silverstone.”

Yet, it is not inconceivable that the lost weekend in Hungary could cost Evans come the finale in November; however despite that the RUSSIAN TIME racer and Mark Webber protégé has still outscored Nasr by 52-44 points since Silverstone.
Meanwhile, Evans remains positive as the series enters yet another four-week gap, as he looks to his RUSSIAN TIME team to continue to eat into the gap ahead. “We will see what happens. Hopefully we can keep that up for the rest of the championship.”

Evans was a winner in Hockenheim. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.

Evans was a winner in Hockenheim. © Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.


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