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“FIA F3: Norris takes Monza opener”

Lando Norris took his 2nd win of the FIA European Formula 3 Championship at Monza this morning, winning out following a frantic battle with Carlin teammate Jehan Daruvala.

Ferdinand Habsburg made it a Carlin 1-2-3 following his own tight fight with Joel Eriksson, Guan Yu Zhou, Mick Schumacher, Jake Dennis and Callum Ilott.

From the front row, Norris got a good start initially, but bogged down as he went through the gears, allowing poleman Daruvala to escape into an early lead. Norris fell to 4th, behind Dennis and Habsburg, with Ilott also pressing the Carlin man from behind.

From there, Norris scraped with Habsburg and pushed by the Austrian on lap 2, before Dennis missed the Retifilo chicane on the following tour, with Norris assuming 2nd place once Dennis rejoined the circuit.
Dennis continued to press Norris however and the pair swapped positions again on lap 5, with Habsburg also getting in ahead of Norris on the same lap. Habsburg himself then fell two positions on the sixth tour, bringing Norris to 3rd, and then 2nd when he took Dennis a lap later.

Norris then recorded three fastest laps in a row, shrinking Daruvala’s lead from 2.4s to 1.5 by the halfway point in the race. The gap continued to close in the laps afterward, with Norris closing to within half-a-second on lap 14.
Thereafter the Briton continued to push and pressure his Carlin stablemate, with Daruvala becoming more and more defensive, until Norris finally slipped through to the lead in the first chicane on lap 16.
Daruvala did not allow Norris to escape however and the Indian held close to the new leader, but was unable to get close enough, as he dropped vital time through Ascari in the remaining laps.

With Daruvala unable to close the gap, Norris took the win, but just by 0.6s, while the trailing Habsburg secured his first podium – and points – some four seconds further back.
The win gives Norris joint championship lead with Eriksson; both of whom have taken 67 points, some 22 ahead of Ilott and Maxi Günther.

For Habsburg, it seemed as if the race had gone away from him. Falling to 6th on lap six, the Austrian passed Ilott on lap seven and then did the same to Dennis two circulations later.
Thereafter Habsburg chased Eriksson close, but only lost the podium spot on lap 17, when he locked up at the Roggia chicane, allowing Habsburg through. Eriksson stayed close to the rookie, but was unable to force his way back through and trailed Habsburg by just 0.4s over the line.

There was a larger gap to Zhou, who claimed 5th after a long battle with Schumacher, Dennis, Ilott and – later – Günther. The group effectively circulated as a gap for much of the race and changed positions with each other on several occasions, but did so in a clean manner and without unnecessary contact.
As they crossed the line, Zhou headed Schumacher by just 0.6s, while Günther ended the day 7th, just 1.3s further behind. It marked a solid result for Günther, who had started the race back in 14th.

Dennis was amidst the group until a late tap from Günther forced the Carlin man to the pits and out of the race, while after a good early push and fight with Habsburg, Ilott’s pace faded, and he began to slip down the order, eventually finishing 9th.
In between Günther and Ilott, Ralf Aron sneaked up to take 8th place, while Jake Hughes climbed back to 10th, following a bad start that dropped him to the lower reaches of the pack.

David Beckmann pulled out after just seven laps with a technical issue, while Pedro Piquet also retired following a clash with Keyvan Andres Soori two laps from the end. Piquet was involved in an earlier incident with Joey Mawson, which resulted in a drive through penalty for the Australian.

© FIA.

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“Chinese GP: “Hamilton tastes success in Shanghai”

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes struck back at Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari to win the Chinese Grand Prix this morning.

Vettel did eventually take 2nd place after early-race strategy cast him adrift at the bottom of the top six early doors.

Max Vertsapen made it three manufacturers on the podium in a race partially dictated by cool and, initially, damp conditions; although the Dutch had a tough job to hold his teammate Daniel Riccairdo at bay in the closing laps.

In a race that started as damp and greasy, Hamilton led from the beginning, but the pack was close together in his mirrors, as Vettel edged out Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) around the outside of the first turn and Ricciardo slotted into 4th ahead of Kimi Raikkoenen (Ferrari).

A second lap virtual safety period was triggered when Sergio Perez (Force India) pitched Lance Stroll into the gravel early on, ending Stroll’s race as his Williams became stuck in the gravel. This prompted Vettel to pit for soft Pirelli tyres, while the rest of the front runners stayed out, dropping the Ferrari to 6th.

This proved costly, as only moments after the lap four restart, Antonio Giovinazzi crashed hard on teh pit straight, bringing out a full safety car, allowing the remaining front runners to pits for fresh tyres.
Vettel gained one position under safety car when Bottas spun while warming his tyres, dropping the Finn to 12th position and picking up some damage in the process. Amidst all this, a great start and a cool headed strategy brought Verstappen to the Dutch teen to the top four, despite starting towards the rear.

Under the lap 13 restart, Hamilton pulled away from the now 2nd Ricciardo, while Verstappen passed Raikkonen for 3rd. Verstappen quickly made the 2nd place a short while later and began to chase Hamilton for the lead.
Now 3rd, Ricciardo began to struggle for pace, leaving the leading pair to stretch away. Thereafer Riccirdo, Raikkonen and Vettel closed in for a tight fight until the latter forced his way into 4th on lap 20 with an audacious move in turn six. Vettel made that a podium spot two laps later when he and Ricciardo went wheel-to-wheel through turn six, touching momentarily, as Vettel passed.

Out front, Hamilton stepped up the pace and pulled away from Verstappen, while the now free Vettel closed in on the Dutchman. Within six laps, the Ferrari was in range to attack; however this was nullified when Verstappen ran wide in the turn 13 hairpin, allowing Vettel to slot through into 2nd spot. Vettel closed in on the lead, as Hamilton began to struggle on ageing tyres, with gap reducing from 11s to 8s in a few short tours.
Anticipating stops, Vettel was called in for softs on lap 35, with Hamilton pitting two laps later; however this briefly split the pair as Hamilton continued to lead from the yet-to-stop Raikkonen and Vettel in 3rd.

Vettel took another second out of Hamilton and soon disposed of a struggling Raikkonen, but from there Hamilton stabilised the gap to the chasing man and even extended it slightly. The Mercedes man managed the race pace after that, rubber-stamping his authority on the Grand Prix and take the win.
The result leaves both Hamilton and Vettel on 43 points as they head to Bahrain next weekend and puts Mercedes in the lead of the Constructors Championship.

The fight for 3rd was more intense toward the end. Pitting on lap 30, Verstappen took another set of super-softs, falling to 6th momentarily. That became 5th when the Red Bull man passed the struggling Bottas , which became 4th when Riccairdo pitted for new softs on lap 34.
Eventually a frustrated Raikkonen was pitted on lap 40 – an inconceivable strategy, considering the Finn was losing over 2s per lap at that stage – bringing Vettel and Verstappen to 2nd and 3rd respectively, although the gap between the pair was significant enough for Vettel to only need to concentrate on the lead.

Ricciardo’s late race pace on super-softs brought him back into the game and he closed in on Verstappen as the race drew to a close. The Australian was helped somewhat by Verstappen’s inability to catch and pass the lapped Romain Grosjean (Haas), causing the Red Bull to suffer significant understeer.
Ricciardo spent the final laps under the rear wing of Verstappen, but despite constant pressure and a late lunge from Ricciardo, Verstappen did not budge. A good result for Red Bull on one hand; however the duo still ended the day half-a-minute adrift of the leading man.

Kimi Raikkonen’s tyre struggles rendered him a bit player, as he followed the Red Bull’s behind in 5th. His late stop gave him pace in the final laps, but it was too late to make a difference to those ahead. Bottas’ race never really recovered after his early race problems and the Mercedes man took a very disappointing 6th place.

Carlos Sainz finished 7th place following a topsy-turvy race that saw him battle with Bottas and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso on occasion. Sainz endured a torrid opening lap though. Starting on super-softs in damp conditions, the Spaniard drifted off the road in turn one, spun around in turn two and the clattered the barrier slightly as he recovered to the track, but battled his way back up the order, helped by starting tyre. As the rest of the field changed from intermediates to dry tyres during the safety car period, Sainz stayed out on his super-softs, and climbed up the order as others peeled away.
Kevin Magnussen (Haas) won a tight battle for 8th place, as he nabbed Perez in the closing tours. Perez pitted with only three laps to go, fearing losing chunks of time – it worked, keeping the Mexican ahead of his teammate come the chequered flag. They bested Esteban Ocon (Force India) who took another 10th place finish, after the Frenchman passed a struggling Felipe Massa (Williams) toward the end of the race.

Romain Grosjean recovered from a post-qualifying penalty and was the first non-points finisher in 11th, after a tough move on Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) in turn six gave him sight of the top ten. Hulkenberg endured a horrid race – after a poor start, the German illegally overtook cars under both virtual safety car and safety car to garner 15s of penalties in his first stop. Jolyon Palmer came home 13th from last following a post-qualifying penalty, while Massa fell to 14th on destroyed tyres by the chequered flag. Marcus Ericsson had a quiet drive to 15th and last.

Alonso retired just after halfway with mechanical issues in his McLaren. Once again, the Spaniard was running in the points at the time in a car that probably should not have been there. Daniil Kvyat’s day ended early when the power steering system failed on his Toro Rosso, while Stoffel Vandoorne made it an awful day for McLaren, when he parked with a fuel feed usage problem.

Although it is still early, the championship is beginning to hot up at this early stage, but with the cool, damp conditions for today’s Grand Prix, we may need to wait until Bahrain next week before we see a true reflection of the order in optimum conditions.
For now, Hamilton will take in the glory in Shanghai, but expect Ferrari to respond.

“Chinese GP: Hamilton takes Shanghai pole”

Lewis Hamilton became only the 2nd driver in Formula One to take six consecutive pole positions.

The Briton matched the record by his hero Ayrton Senna to stretch his impressive run of pole positions. His time of 1:31.678s also ensured it was his sixth pole position in China.

The Mercedes racer turned it on when he needed to, after Ferrari set the pace in the opening sessions, but when it came to the ultimate fastest lap, Hamilton edged his machine ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.

Vettel fell just two-tenths short of Hamilton, but pipped the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas by one-thousandth of-a-second to secure another Mercedes-Ferrari front row. The German admitted he lost time in his first run when he was affected by a gust of wind in turn twelve. Kimi Raikkonen took 4th in the other Ferrari, as he felt he lost time due to slippiness around the rear.
The Ferrari’s were the only team to run with just softs in the opening qualifing session, whereas all other eighteen competitors set times on the Pirelli super-softs, allowing the Scuderia to save a set of super-softs for the race.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and Felipe Massa (Williams) secured the third row, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg (Renault, 7th) and Sergio Perez (Force India, 8th); the latter of whom only recorded a single Q3 run.
Daniil Kvyat claimed 9th in his Toro Rosso, with the top ten completed by Lance Stroll (Williams). Stroll also only completed a single run in Q3, with the Canadian teen appearing more at home with the FW40 this weekend.

Carlos Sainz missed out on Q3 by just six-hundredths, when a late improvement by Perez dropped him out of the top ten. The Toro Rosso man’s best lap was some 1.9s down on the fastest Q2 lap by Raikkonen and only one-tenth off of teammate Kvyat.
Kevin Magnussen (Haas) will partner Sainz on the sixth row, after his last effort was not quite quick enough, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso could only manage 13th overall, despite driving “like an animal”.
Marcus Ericsson was again the quickest of the two Sauber’s, although this was no real contest as he was only Sauber to set a time in Q2. The first qualifying session was ended prematurely when Giovinazzi crashed exiting the final corner. The Italian was on his final lap and was due to set a quicker lap when he ran over the kerb on teh approach to teh start/finish straight, pitchging the Sauber racer hard into the barrier. As Giovinazzi had done enough to qualify for Q2, the Italian’s absense from the rest of qualifying meant he would do no better than 15th.

Giovinazzi’s crash nullified last moment efforts for Stoffel Vandoorne (Mclaren, 16th), Romain Grosjean (Haas, 17th), Jolyon Palmer (Renault, 18th), Max Verstappen (Red bull, 19th) and Esteban Ocon (Force India, 20th).
Grosjean had spun earlier in the session, when he also looped it around exiting the final corner, destroying his first set of tyres. It was especially disappointing for Verstappen, who not only lost time in the final third of Q1 when he was pulled in for a weight check, but was then slowed on his final run due to an engine software issue. Ocon was course to easily progress into Q2, when the session was ended. Both Grosjean and Palmer are also under investigation for not slowing enough under yellows in the final sector.

“Chinese GP: Ferrari head FP3 in Shanghai”

Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen headed proceedings for third free practice of the Chinese Grand Prix this morning.

Following the near non-running on Friday, FP3 was proved an extremely busy session as teams aimed to compress as much weekend running as possible into sixty minutes.

Vettel’s best of 1:33.336s came late in the session and the his Finnish teammate was only five-hundredths adrift come the chequered flag, as the Scuderia let loose in the final half-hour.

Through their fast laps, the Ferrari’s looked balanced and quick and a touch more stable than their Mercedes rivals, who endured a patchy session. Although Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton secured teh 3rd and 4th best times respectively, Bottas’ best was nearly four-tenths off of vattel’s quickest; however on two of his quickest runs, the Finn dropped significant time due to errors in the final corner.

Bottas missed a chunk of the session too, when his T-wing collapsed and fell off his Mercedes in the early moments – he stayed in the garage while the team rebalanced his machine.
Hamilton also lost time on his final run, when he lost approximately four-tenths due to an error in the final sector while following another car.

Felipe Massa (Williams, 5th) was significantly adrift of the top four with a best of 1:34.773s; however it likely that drivers and teams were also focussing much of their running on race pace and Sunday set-up.
The Red Bull duo of max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were 6th and 7th respectively, with the latter running fastest in the first half hour, as he concentrated on qualifying running early on.

Jolyon Palmer took 9th, despite spinning his Renault at one point, while Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso, 15th) was the only driver to set his best time on soft tyres – all other drivers set their quickest on teh Pirelli super-softs.
It was another difficult session for McLaren. Fernando Alonso lost time in the garage, as the team investigated an issue linked to his Honda power unit. Both he and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne could do no better than 17th and 19th respectively.

“Chinese GP: Fog halts FP2 running”

The second practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix elapsed with no running this morning, due to heavy fog.

The conditions were such that it was deemed too dangerous for the medical helicopter to land at the designated Shanghai hospital, based 38km from the circuit.

As such, FP2 ended with thirteen minutes still on the clock in a session that saw no cars enter the circuit. With the first session only seeing 27 minutes of action for similar reasons, this marked a barren Friday for the fans in the grandstands.

For the teams, this will put a premium on running in Saturday morning’s one-hour final practice session.

“Chinese GP: Verstappen heads interrupted first practice”

Max Verstappen topped this morning’s highly interrupted opening Chinese Grand Prix practice at Shanghai International Circuit.

The Dutch racer set a best of 1:50.491s in damp and foggy conditions – the latter of which forced two lengthy red flags.

Such was the thickness of the fog, the medical helicopter was unable to land at the designated hospital Shanghai, rendering the session null and void.

The practice was red flagged for approximately 64 minutes of the session, but while there was some running, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg spun off in turn two and became beached in the gravel, while several other drivers endured light spins in the Pirelli intermediate tyres.

“Giovinazzi stays on for Chinese Grand Prix”

Sauber revealed last night that reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi is to stay on in place of Pascal Wehrlein for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Citing a lack of fitness following a truncated pre-season, Wehrlein withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix after Free Practice 2 – a situation born out of Race of Champions crash in January.

While disappointing for Wehrlein, his absence offers Giovinazzi another opportunity to impress the Formula One field, after the Italian quickly got up to speed and raced very well in Melbourne. Should Giovinazzi match that debut, he stock will rise again.

There were several theories floating around the web yesterday as to Wehrlein’s continued absence, with some believing there is more to the story than meets the eye. In the background, Wehrlein and Giovinazzi are backed by Mercedes and Ferrari respectively and while it is though in some circles that Sauber’s relationship with current power unit supplier Ferrari may be coming to an end, talk about linking up with Mercedes has quietened since February.

Over the weekend, rumours began to emerge that Sauber may be considering a possible relationship with Honda, as the struggling Japanese manufacturer search for a second team to work with, now that their exclusivity relationship with McLaren has passed. This is, of course, conjecture, and there is absolutely nothing to link political actions being played between teams and manufacturers, but it would not surprise if games were being actioned out in the background.

Beyond the immediate realms of Formula One, this potentially creates future problems for the Race of Champions. Following Wehrlein’s crash and eventual issues, the RoC could find it a little more difficult to attract top names in future events, especially as long as the event is held close to the beginning of pre-season testing.
This may promote a move back to an early December date, but considering the tight clauses that already bind the drivers, teams may be less likely to release their drivers for such an event.

“The glory days of Pedro Pablo Calbimonte”

Race 3 National Class Podium (l-r) Pedro Pablo Calbimonte (BOL) T-Sport Dallara Mugen, Adderly Fong (CHN) CF Racing Dallara Mugen Honda, Spike Goddard (AUS) T-Sport Dallara Mugen Honda

In the early part of this decade, one of my first jobs in motorsport was to regularly cover the British Formula 3 International Series.

By this time the fields were thinning out and while occasionally drivers would drop in and out, the true competition at the front reflected that, although the series in this period still produced a number of high quality drivers.

For example Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz (then Jr), Kevin Magnussen, Brendon Hartley, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell amongst others all graduated from British F3 in this period, but realistically, the perceived glory days had passed.

One of the driver’s to make his way to British F3 at this time was 20-year-old Pedro Pablo Calbimonte. Hailing from Sucre, a city in the south-central region of Bolivia, it is fair to say (probably) that Calbimonte was not awful; he just rarely ever raced. In his permanent rustiness, he was just a little bit slow, a lot of the time.
After a season racing in the Master Junior Formula in Spain in 2007 – a sibling to Formula BMW – Calbimonte went back to karting for a short period, before disappearing from the racing scene for about four years.

The Bolivian returned to racing with Fortec in the dying Formula Renault UK 2.0 in 2011 and in a small field, made it his business to finish either last or toward the rear at every opportunity. This lasted for about seven rounds, when once again Calbimonte duly departed from the series.

Out of nothing, Calbimonte reappeared nearly a year later in British F3, having secured a National Class drive with T-Sport until the end of the season. He did reasonably for the most part, but then again, when your opponents consist wholly of Spike Goddard, Adderly Fong and Duvashen Padayachee {note 1}, the inconvenient factor known as “relative performance” comes into play.

While his first weekend at Spa-Francorchamps was relatively unspectacular, Calbimonte’s race craft raised eyebrows at the following meeting at Snetterton. To be fair, Calbimonte was the quickest of the National Class drivers in qualifying for Race One, although it came to naught in the race. From Friday into Saturday, it had rained overnight, but by as the racing action began, the track had dried out and the running was good for slick tyres.

The first two corners at Snetterton are made of a pair of double right-handers – not too dissimilar to the opening turns at Suzuka. Seeing an opportunity for a top result, Calbimonte got off the line well – too well in fact, and forced himself onto the grass on the right hand side of the track as he approached the first corner in far too fast a manner.
Unfortunately for Calbimonte, the grass was still very wet and where the T-Sport man was too fast beforehand to make the corner, now he was merely an out-one-control mess of carbon fibre just waiting to smash something. As the field made its way through the short chute between Riches and Montreal/Sears (turns one and two), the now sideways Calbimonte rejoined the track, taking Sainz (Jr.) and Pietro Fantin clear out in a bang and damaging the unsuspecting Tincknell and Pipo Derani.
Sainz was not best pleased. “Calbimonte tried to overtake the whole grid under braking! Fantin and me were battling, braking and then suddenly […] he banged Pietro in the side, and he [Pietro] went over me – he overtook the whole grid!” Thereafter Calbimonte kept his head low – for a time at least.

At Silverstone toward the end of the season, Calbimonte showed up at Silverstone with a radio crew in tow. Consisting of a commentator, a PA/note-taker and mixing engineer, they presented the Bolivian racer’s efforts from the pressroom in a most excitable and enthusiastic manner.
Words speared at a thousand miles per second and arms flailed manically, as the commentator’s buzz reached for the sky and pulled a thriller for the watching audience.

Only it wasn’t a thriller. It was one of the most boring races that I had ever seen and in what was already an overly warm pressroom, the trail of cars dutifully following each other around could have sent even the most hardened of enthusiasts to sleep.
Thankfully Lizzie Isherwood – then a press officer with Fortec – made it her gallant mission to prod me in the arm every few moments to make sure I stayed awake and alert. One can only suspect it much to keep herself entertained.

Once the race had finished, the commentary stopped and so too did British F3’s flirtation with in-house Spanish-language broadcasting.

{note 1}
I never seen a driver so scared to line-up on pole as I did Duvashen Padayachee at Oulton Park, when the rookie found himself in the top spot for Race Two, thanks to reversed grid rules. That season, the reversed grid was decided by the winner of Race One. The victor would on the podium pull a ball out of a hat to decide which finisher would start at the front.
Despite there only being fourteen full-season entrants to British F3 in 2012, the championship declared that the pole would be given to any driver that finished between 8th and 12th, as long as their Race One finishing position was pulled out of a bag. Having won the opener, Jack Harvey pulled the number “12” out of the bag, signifying 12th placed finisher Padayachee would start from pole for Race Two.
When the race started that afternoon, Padayachee got off the line and then pulled into the end of the pitlane and allowed the entire field through, before continuing on his way.

“A new battle is afoot”

It may not have been the most dramatic of Grand Prix, but the events in Melbourne offered a sign that Formula One as a championship battle has been rejuvenated.

All it needs to do now is turn on the races and keep it up. Easy, right..?

It would not be a surprise if I was not the only one to be both delighted and disappointed to see Sebastian Vettel pass Lewis Hamilton for what would eventually be the lead, as the Ferrari exited the pits on lap 25 of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

That is not to say that I favour or am against Ferrari in any way – my role is unbiased one – but rather it was pleasant to see, for the first time in a very long time, a team other than Mercedes take victory that was not attributable to the retirements of the sport’s recent dominant team.
On a few occasions since the new power unit regulations came into play in 2014, Mercedes have managed to pull significant results together, such was their dominance on track.

This race gave Ferrari an opportunity to prove their pre-season pace in a competition setting, something that seemed a while away following Friday’s free practice running. Vettel was in buoyant mood. “The last months have been really intense, it’s been tough to get into the rhythm. It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do. It’s great to see people smiling.”
Ferrari’s success instantly invited the possibility of a multi-team championship battle – something that has been missing from Formula One for nearly five years, but while one suspects that the pass delivered some relief to the viewing public, the overtake to decide the race was reduced to action in the pits.

Watching just the laptimes, it is clear that it was a very tight contest between Vettel and Hamilton. Neither Mercedes nor Ferrari appear so absolutely strong as to drastically pull away from the other and dominate the other, but Hamilton’s early struggles on the ultrasoft did not help matters and although Hamilton performed better on the softs, traffic rendered his efforts null. Hamilton: “Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres. I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic, which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”
Mercedes’ new Technical Director, James Allison, called for caution from the Brackley team. “If it wasn’t already clear after qualifying, then it’s certainly clear now that this is going to be a season of very small margins. We got a good getaway from the flag, but credit to Ferrari today, they had a very quick car and we just weren’t quite good enough to stick with them.
“We won’t panic, though. It’s race one of a long season and we scored some very good points with both cars today.”

Vettel was close to Hamilton in the early stages, but not close enough to commit to an overtake, such was the force of the turbulent air pouring from the rear of the Mercedes. Later when Hamilton pitted on lap 19 to escape sluggish and damaged Marcus Ericsson, the Englishman would briefly emerge in clean air, only to soon find himself stuck helplessly behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, before the Dutch teenager stopped for fresh tyres on lap 26.

Between the three-tenths that Ferrari saved in the tyre stop and the (net) two seconds that Hamilton lost frozen behind Verstappen, Vettel overcame his British rival. But making the move stick on track proved too difficult a prospect for Vettel and if this is the impasse that Formula One is to face for the foreseeable future, it will make the sport an equally difficult sell for viewers. “The GP was all decided at the pit stops,” said Ferrari’s Chief Technical Officer Mattia Binotto. “At that moment, we probably had less tyre degradation than our rivals towards the end of the stint and that meant we were able to stay out on track for longer. From then on, it was a case of bringing home the car in terms of reliability.”

Going back to Hamilton, his predicament was probably more telling. Through testing, the Red Bull’s seemed well shy of Ferrari and Mercedes’ optimum pace, but when the Melbourne updates proved somewhat indecisive, Red Bull fell into the road of de facto third-quickest team – not close enough to the leaders to challenge, but still well clear of the Williams, Force India fight. Yet when Hamilton rejoined on fresh tyres just behind Verstappen, the Briton could do nothing to slice by the Red Bull, who was by now on twenty-something-lap-old ultrasofts.

If the rest of the season plays out like Melbourne, we could very well see Mercedes will do the business in the qualifying session on Saturday, while Ferrari’s strengths can be employed during the race itself. The challenge for Ferrari is whether they can consistently overcome Mercedes through strategy or improve their own qualifying performance in order to leapfrog the silver and turquoise cars. Mercedes, too, have little choice but to redouble their efforts to improve both their race pace and the treatment of their tyres.

Realistically the drawn out nature of the race was not unexpected, and Melbourne is far too small a sample upon which to judge a season, but while the cars are undoubtedly much faster, they did underline just how drastically the new technical regulations can hinder the art of overtaking.

2017 Australian Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

“Rewriting the Formula 3 Concept”

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This piece was originally written last August, but has ben updated slightly and published here to coincide with the imminent start of the 2017 European Formula 3 Championship. Further updates will come later.
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53 Callum Ilott (GBR, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F317 – Mercedes-Benz), FIA Formula 3 European Championship Test Spielberg (AUT) – 28. – 29. March 2017 *** Local Caption *** Copyright (c) FIA Formula 3 European Championship / Thomas Suer

Last July, at a small press conference at Spa-Francorchamps, the Director of Racing Activities for the FIA revealed several measures designed to tackle the increasingly thorny issue of rising costs and a perception of a lack of competitiveness in the European Formula 3 Championship.

Frederic Bertrand announced a ban on wind tunnel testing by teams, a restructuring of testing and a rewording of the engine regulations – alongside several sporting regulation changes – that aim to lower costs and increase competitiveness.

Since the introduction of the current engine package in 2014 (the current chassis technical regulations came into play in 2012), costs for a full season drive in the category have risen from approximately €600,000-650,000 to €700,000-750,000, depending on which team you ask (and how much success you may want to achieve).

Italian squad Prema Powerteam has also secured each of the drivers’ titles since 2011 (then known as the F3 Euro Series) and all of the teams’ titles since its introduction in 2013. Although each season is generally peppered with race wins from a number of outfits – including Van Amersfoort, Carlin, Mücke Motorsport and more recently, the re-launched Hitech GP – Prema Powerteam have taken the silverware over the course of seasons.

In recent years, however, Mücke Motorsport’s light has faded and the team has decided not to field entries for the 2017 season, while T-Sport are also unable to find a funded driver for this season, and have opted to run an entry in the fledgling LMP3 category in sportscars.
It follows the loss of Double R Racing, EuroInternational and Team West-Tec at the end of 2015. Hopefully some of these will eventually return to the category.

While wind tunnel work by teams will be outlawed, Bertrand revealed instead that aerodynamic work will be undertaken by existing chassis manufacturers – in this instance Dallara, the sole chassis manufacturer currently competing in European F3. The results from these tunnel sessions will take the form of an ‘aerokit’ and data package to be produced for each entrant.

All manufacturers who enter into FIA F3 will be required to produce a data package for a customer; however at the time of writing, it is believed these data packages will only be available to a team once a car has been purchased.
‘We wanted to give the feeling to the current teams, the ones this year [who are] not able to invest or to the ones who want to come into the championship to be incentivated and to think that they come with the same level,’ Bertrand said. He added that Dallara will deliver a full aero model, so that competitors get all the information necessary to do the job that needs to be done, allowing teams to focus on the development of driver. ‘This will put everybody back to zero or at least back to basics. All the teams have agreed on [this] element; this was validated in the last world council.’

According to FIA F3 Technical Delegate Robert Maas, the package will limit teams to work within the confines of the aerokit provided – placement of wing angles for example – effectively locking down a manufacturer’s aerodynamic profile for the period of homologation. Bertrand added that, ‘It is good to develop the engineers and it is still the DNA of F3, so we keep that open. We keep the possibility where the teams have areas to work on, but we limit it to where we think it is actually valuable for the drivers and the engineers.’

Expending further on what is and isn’t allowed, Maas explains, ‘On the current car, we still have some small areas where [teams] put small winglets, small gurneys. They started working on the brake ducts, which is quite a big area and this is all banned for next year, so you have the standard Dallara car.
‘The chassis manufacturer is delivering options for the rear wing – so for example high, medium and low downforce. You have certain options on the front wing to adjust the balance, you have the possibility to work with brake ducts to either put them on or leave them off, but you don’t develop something.
‘On the suspension side, you still have a lot more freedom – you can choose out of a lot of different dampers, adjust these dampers and still have the possibility to work with a third element in a very limited fashion, so the teams just work with a basic spring to keep the ride height during driving.’

It will be interesting to note whether these alterations will be enough to challenge engineers within the Formula 3 paddock, but it must be remembered that these updates came with the blessing on the teams, with Maas adding, ‘In the end, a driver can still feel what set-up or aerodynamic changes [are made], but without any development on the team’s side.’
Both Bertrand and Maas were keen to emphasise that this is not a step to Formula 3 becoming a spec category, with the former acknowledging that any additional manufacturer(s) will need to provide a similar data package to buyers.

16 Ralf Aron (EST, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F312 – Mercedes-Benz), FIA Formula 3 European Championship, round 2, race 1, Hungaroring (HUN), 22. – 24. April 2016

As I previously covered in the feature ‘Carbon Dating’ in Racecar Engineering Magazine (Vol. 26; No. 4), the current Formula 3 regulations have been extended to the end of 2019, meaning a high percentage of the chassis in use will be eight years old and will have experienced close to (and in some cases over) 100,000km of racing and testing.
While keeping costs at an optimum level was the key driver to these regulatory updates, questions were raised as to reasonable life expectancy of a carbon composite monocoque, especially when one takes into account that young and inexperienced drivers who pilot these machines have a tendency to crash from time-to-time. ‘To do this, we had to push the safety level, because we saw that we had some crashes last year and we had some inexperience and we wanted to upgrade the safety level, particularly in view of keeping the cars to 2020,’ Bertrand notes.
‘Some specific evolution will be done and Dallara will produce a kit that will be delivered by 2017 to all the teams so that they can upgrade the level of safety for the life of the car.’

Bertrand also revealed that engines will be budget capped to €65,000 for approximately 10,000km usage over the course of a season, with the current package remaining in place until the end of 2019 as well. The existing engine regulations quote a cap of €50,000; however that cap related only to the engine unit. ‘I think the main issue was there was a €50,000 budget in the regulations, but that was not the reality, because you had to add service, so we created a complete figure that everyone who reads the regulations will know what he is looking into,’ explains Maas.
The rewrite of the regulations will include servicing and it is believed this will save €20-40,000 per car. ‘The cost of the engines is still too high, so we have agreed with the manufacturer to have something where all is included. It will help the teams to be a little bit more effective on this cost management side.’

Comment
When Frederic Bertrand sat with the media and laid out the future direction for Formula 3, one could not help but feel a deep pang of disappointment.
These junior series’ exist not just to define champions, Super Licence points tallies and improve racecraft, but also to allow drivers to develop relationships with engineers and vice versa. Categories, such as Formula 3, are classes of learning. What these competitors learn here potentially shapes their outlook as they look to progress up the ladder toward Formula One.
One of the last bastions of open technical regulations in single-seater racing, the cost of competing in Formula 3 has admittedly risen to a level beyond many aspiring drivers. But a balance must be found. The slide toward regulations whereby teams no longer develop these machines and come up with intricate solutions to problems could damage our sport’s future as a battleground for engineers and drivers.

There appears to be precious little appetite in the current climate at the FIA for wind tunnel usage at Formula 3 level, with the governing body questioning the need for such testing in F3. ‘In the end, it made no big difference what they discovered there, because we don’t discover many things,’ says Bertrand. ‘In the end they go there and this puts in the system the idea that if you don’t go [wind tunnel testing], you don’t get [data]. The easy solution is to first of all say “you are not allowed to go anymore”, so this is one of the decisions validated for next season.’

Yet over the years, several drivers who had graduated from Formula 3 had often relayed to me that they had learned more in a short period of F3 than they had in season-long campaigns in the various spec categories that proliferate the single-seater ladder today due the nature of F3’s open engineering approach. Admittedly, the regulations have tightened significantly over the years, but they always provided teams the option to develop. One only needs to look at ArtLine Engineering’s efforts last season with the ArtTech P315 to understand the regulations still have plenty of scope.
On the other hand, the FIA also recognise that these teams are businesses and it can be easy to forget that plenty of jobs rely on the continued existence of these squads. By moving to ensure lower costs makes teams better equipped to survive, they could have gone some way to securing the future of these teams – whether the concept of F3 survives this to remain a significant engineering category is a different matter.

Should you have it, I would suggest a re-read of Danny Nowlan’s excellent feature from the August 2015 edition Racecar Engineering Magazine (‘Industrial Strife’; Vol 25, No. 8) to get a more nuanced view of the ‘open regs vs spec regs’ discussion.

© Mattias Persson / Motorsport Publication & Team Motopark.

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