Friday, 13 September 2013

Raikkonen, GP2 & GP3

Formula One's worst kept secret has unravelled itself this week, with Kimi Raikkonen joining Ferrari in place of Felipe Massa, and alongside Fernando Alonso. It proves to raise some major talking points throughout 2014, chief among which is the atmosphere within the team raised by two such high profile drivers. It is ironic that Ferrari paid Kimi Raikkonen to stay at home in 2010 so that they could bring in Fernando Alonso to lead the team, and in 2014 have paid Kimi Raikkonen to return as equal. Fernando Alonso has claimed he is happy with the decision by Ferrari, but I wonder how long for. Head to head, the majority favour Fernando Alonso to be faster, and they have both shown consistency in nearly always claiming high points tallies at every race. The true acid test will be the first time Kimi Raikkonen is ahead on the road. As we saw in Italy, Fernando is used to his team mate braking some 50 metres early for a corner when he approaches. That will not happen now that he has an equal, the first time since 2007. Eddie Jordan thinks that things will get so bad for Fernando Alonso that he will leave the team at the end of 2014, despite stating his intention to run out his contract to 2016. Eddie Jordan's prediction for which team he will join ahead of 2015? "McLaren - Honda". It has been 6 years since he so visually fell out with the McLaren team, after claims that Ron Dennis assured him of number 1 status within the team before he signed the contract. The world of Formula 1 changes a lot over a year though, especially with the new engine regulations coming in next season, so there may be much better options for Fernando Alonso available should he wish to leave.

With the news of the Formula 1 world this week, the feeder series have somewhat been forgotten about despite both championships seeing changes in the championship order. Both Fabio Leimer and Sam Bird have taken a grip of the championship in the last couple of races, with a string of pole positions for the latter and Leimer coming back strong from his 2 weekends of not scoring points. The pair drove away at the front with only Tom Dillmann able to match their pace. The win ultimately came down to strategy, with a difference at the top of 0.8 seconds at the end. Looking back on the result, Sam Bird may have taken top spot had he pitted a couple of laps earlier and changed only 2 tyres or at least stayed on primes. Again using hindsight Bird probably had eyes on Sunday's sprint race and getting the options used, and can't be faulted for coming so close to stealing the victory at the end. Their championship rivals had a shocking weekend, with Nasr's worst qualifying result on a weekend he needed to regain the consistency from pre Belgium. Coletti has not scored any points since the feature race in Germany, and so it will be gutting for him to throw a good position away due to a penalty for speeding in the pitlane. His only saving grace would be in the form of Nasr's transmission failure later in the race and again from within the points paying positions. It capped a difficult race for Carlin in the teams championship, as Jolyon Palmer also retired from a points position because his left rear tyre was not fitted properly at his pitstop. Sergio Canamassas and Johnny Cecotto Jnr had a scrappy duel in an otherwise calm GP2 feature race.

The sprint race largely fell the same way, with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs jumping to the lead immediately and controlling his gap back to second to victory. The combination of the slow starting Alexander Rossi and James Calado stalling from third bunched the field up into turn 1, but it all stayed relatively clean in the field. Sam Bird got a fantastic start to challenge for third at turn 1, but at the cost of Stephane Richelmi who took front wing damage when he ran out of space. Though much better than the GP3 drivers, the field still seem to squeeze each other too much and not allow the space for one another to race. Coletti and Nasr again struggled but gave the spectators good entertainment fighting through the field and swapping positions throughout the race. There are 2 weekends remaining in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and my prediction is that Sam Bird will take the championship. He is in tune with the GP2 car again after racing in Formula Renault 3.5 last season. He is scoring highly and consistently, so should secure the 7 extra points other Fabio Leimer to take the title. Stefano Coletti has relied heavily on his early season form, and recently hasn't looked like a championship contender. Davide Valsechhi similarly scored a majority of his points tally in the early races, but was consistent enough over the second part to win the championship. Felipe Nasr has had that consistency up to Belgium, but without winning races it was also going to be a tall order to win the championship itself. His hands are now tied and he will need to get aggressive if he wants to fight back from 29 points back.

The GP3 racing was far more chaotic, with a number of large collisions and incidents throughout the weekend. Race 1 started in hectic fashion, with Dino Zamperelli experiencing suspected brake knock and running into team mate Tio Ellinas. In the aftermath, Ellinas and championship contender Connor Daly retired on the spot along with Dino Zamperelli and Robert Visoiu. The fast starting Carlos Sainz Jnr was also spun to the tail of the field, providing the crowd and fans to a spectacular recovery drive to claim 2 points. His drive was second only to Daniil Kyvat, who took maximum points for pole, the win and fastest race lap, and never looked in doubt throughout. Facu Regalia gave himself a decent 3rd to keep his consistent run going, and Alexander Sims has really impressed since joining Carlin in Belgium. He may have only raced 3 weekends in GP3 this season, but he is already 10th in the standings and looks likely to finish higher after the races in Abu Dhabi.

In the second race, the accidents and collisions once again took centrefold as a few drivers misjudged the space required for a GP3 car. It began on the grid, with Patric Niederhauser stalling in pole position. Niederhauser has failed to match the performance he showed at the very first round in Spain, and the pressure showed when provided the perfect opportunity to capitalise on a decent Saturday performance. Alex Fontana was the unlucky driver who ran into him after being blindsighted by an opponent, who avoided Niederhauser at the last moment. There were more first corner retirements, this time the Marussia Manor car of Ryan Cullen missed his braking point and collected Giovanni Venturini, removing both from the race on the spot. The tussling at the front was spectacular racing once again however and showed the best of what GP3 has to offer. Jack Harvey won the race in similar fashion to Daniil Kyvat's race 1 victory. It was Kyvat himself that put Harvey under pressure across the line, completing a scintilating drive from 8th on the grid to a very close run second place. There is a long break before the final races in Abu Dhabi, but Kyvat may have hoped there were a lot sooner given his run of momentum. He needs 8 points more than the consistent Facu Regalia and it looks like the championship will go right to the wire as it did last season. The teams championship however has been sealed by ART Grand Prix, some consolation after expecting to be front runners in GP2. Other noteworthy performances came from Kevin Korjus and Lewis Williamson, moving to 3rd and 11th in the drivers championship respectively.