Monthly Archives: September 2010

Klien to replace Yamamoto for Singapore GP

It has been announced today that Christian Klien will replace Sakon Yamamoto for the Singapore Grand Prix weekend. It appears as if Yamamoto is suffering from food poisoning, although there will be questions raised as to why Karun Chandhok was not put back in the race seat.

Team Principal Colin Kolles said:

"It looks as if Sakon Yamamoto has a food poisoning, and he 
doesn’t feel well. Because of this, Christian Klien will be 
driving the car this Friday and the rest of the Singapore 
Grand Prix. I hope Sakon gets well soon and is able to drive 
at his home Grand Prix in Japan."

Klien has previously driven for Hispania in practice sessions at the Spanish and European Grands Prix, but has not been competing in any races so far this year.

This isn’t bad news, seeing as Yamamoto is gone for one race, but it’s very disappointing to see the team continue to snub Karun Chandhok, who Bernie Ecclestone said last week needed a better car to prove his talent. Unfortunately, after this, I can’t see him driving at any time this year.

Jerome D’Ambrosio joins Virgin for Friday sessions

Jerome D'Ambrosio, also reserve driver for Renault, will now drive in FP sessions for Virgin

Jerome D'Ambrosio, also reserve driver for Renault, will now drive in FP sessions for Virgin

Virgin Racing have announced that they have signed Jerome D’Ambrosio as a test driver and as an “evaluation role” for 4 of the remaining 5 races this season. He will be replacing Lucas di Grassi in certain Friday Practice sessions for this season.

He will take part in these FP sessions in Singapore, Japan, Korea and Brazil, and the team will be continually assessing his performance. He will replace Lucas di Grassi for all of his racing time, alongside Timo Glock. At the moment, he is competing in the GP2 championship, and currently 10th.

It is also believed that he will take part in the 4-day test in Abu Dhabi after the season conclusion.

It is worth noting that while Timo Glock has 2 years left on his contract, Lucas di Grassi’s expires at the end of this year, although Virgin have the option to extend this. While D’Ambrosio may well just be being evaluated for a drive later on, the idea of him replacing Di Grassi next year can’t be ruled out.

At the moment, D’Ambrosio is part of the Gravity Sport Management, of which the CEO is Eric Boullier, team principal of the Renault team. Similarly, Jerome is a reserve driver for the Renault team, whose reserve drivers are all managed by Gravity Sports. Therefore we can’t rule out Renault using Virgin to try out the 25-year-old either.

Changes made to Singapore circuit

The Singapore Grand Prix circuit has seen several small changes to the track, ahead of its third race next weekend. These adjustments have been made primarily to improve safety and driver comfort.

The Singapore Grand Prix track has been revised for this year

The Singapore Grand Prix track has been revised for this year

One of the most famous facts about the Singapore track is its notorious bumps, which are severely demanding on the car’s suspension and the drivers. After complaints from many drivers, the track has been resurfaced in 2 places: Between Turns 3 and 7, and between Turns 14 and 19.

The Turn 10 chicane, otherwise known as the “Singapore Sling”, a series of tight left-right twists, which caught out Kimi Raikkonen in 2008, have been changed again, after the final turn of the corner was revised in 2009. This year, the kerbs have been reprofiled, to reduce the chance of the cars being speared into the barriers if they go over the corner too fast.

The pit lane has been lowered by 1 centimetre compared to last year, which should make it easier to rejoin the track. Nico Rosberg running wide of the white line last year showed the instability of the pit lane exit.

Also, the aesthetic image of the track will be improved by the track walls now being painted in bright colours, and run-off areas also changed to look better.

Overall, good changes, but I would be disappointed if the track turned out to be nearly as smooth as many of the other tracks on the calendar. The bumps (and sparks from the cars) are part of many of the spectacles of Singapore, and it would be a pity to see it go just because the drivers are uncomfortable.

Grosjean to replace Heidfeld at Pirelli

Nick Heidfeld, at the recent test for Pirelli in Jerez, will be replaced by Romain Grosjean

Nick Heidfeld, at the recent test for Pirelli in Jerez, will be replaced by Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean will take over tyre testing duties at the Pirelli squad, as next year’s Formula 1 tyre suppliers claim they don’t want to unfairly hand an advantage to teams interested in Nick Heidfeld, who has gained significant experience from testing these tyres already.

Heidfeld was announced as Pedro de la Rosa’s successor at the Sauber team on Tuesday, and many rumours claimed this was because of his testing with Pirelli. Paul Hembery, motorsport director of Pirelli, explains that they wan to avoid “favouring any individual team”:

"We’d like to thank Nick for his very valuable contribution to 
our tyre development programme and we wish him all the best for 
the future.

In order to avoid favouring any individual team, we have jointly 
decided to release Nick from his contract and now we have chosen 
Romain to test for us in Monza. He’s packed a lot of experience 
into a short space of time, including all our GP3 tyre 
development, so I’m sure he’ll be able to give us some very
useful feedback.

The tests here at Jerez have gone extremely well and we 
completed all the work that we planned over the two days. 
Now we move onto Monza, where our task will be to finalise 
the construction before we focus further on compounds."

Romain Grosjean took over from Nelson Piquet Jr after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, but, like Piquet, failed to score a single point throughout his racing time that season. Despite the fact that he only had a few races’ experience in F1, and at times was only 0.3 seconds off Fernando Alonso, he was dropped from the team for 2010.

It’s good to see Grosjean get the opportunity to return, as he never got a fair chance at Renault last year.

Forgotten Heroes: Stefan Bellof

Two weeks ago, on September 1st, marked the 25th anniversary of Stefan Bellof’s death. A quick look at his F1 career stats tell us nothing of his immense skill and speed, with only 22 starts and 4 points. But, what he did in Formula 2, and then sportscar racing, gave us a glimpse of what could have been one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.

Stefan Bellof driving for Tyrrell

Stefan Bellof driving for Tyrrell

Stefan Bellof was born on 20th November 1957, and made his entry into motorsport by following his older brother Geörg into karting. For several years, he made good results in national competitions, until he won the International Karting Championship of Luxembourg in 1976, and then the German Karting Championship two years later.

After this, he made a meteoric rise through the German formulae. In 1981, he got a chance at German Formula 3, but entered the competition having missed the first two races. No problem for Stefan though, as with one race left in the series he was 7 points ahead. However, at the Nurburgring, he finishes 13th, while his title rivals Frank Jelinski and Franz Konrad were 1st and 2nd, meaning he lost the title at the very end. He had made his mark though, having finished in the top 4 in all of the first 8 races he competed in.

While ending the year, he decided to enter the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. In his quarter final heat, he finished 6th, but was disqualified for excessive contact. Bellof famously made a promise to the meeting clerk after this, saying the official who penalised him had “better watch my career, because I’ll be back here next year and I’ll win my first Formula 2 race.”

With his pace, this was not a promise to be broken. A certain amount of backing from BMW meant Stefan made a place on the Maurer Motorsport Formula 2 team, with Willy Maurer being signed as his manager in the process. In his first race at the BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone, he only qualified 9th. However, showers and a wet track meant that Bellof stormed through the field, and won by 21 seconds to Satoru Nakajima, and was only the second driver ever to win on his Formula 2 debut. He swiftly followed this up with another win at Hockenheim, but a slump in form near the end meant he was unable to fight for the title.

After this disappointment, Stefan decided to move to sportscar racing, while staying in Formula 2, though this brought little luck. Still, he entered the World Sportscar Championship with Porsche alongside Derek Bell. This was to prove his immense talent, as their first race together meant they won the 1000km Silverstone race by an entire minute ahead of Bob Wollek and Stefan Johansson. Their next race was at the 1000km at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, where Bellof smashed one of the greatest motorsport records to pieces. His pole position time of 6 minutes, 11.13 seconds is unofficially the fastest ever time on the Nordschleife, and he was 5 seconds faster than anybody else. To prove his skill, he was travelling the “Green Hell” at an average speed of over 125mph.

In the race, his fastest lap of 6 minutes, 25.91 seconds is the official fastest lap ever for any car on the Nordschleife. Two laps after setting this time, his car flipped over and left him out of the race.

Later on in the season, he took two more victories in Kyalami and Fuji. In 1984, he continued to drive alongside Bell and also John Watson, and dominated the championship with wins at Imola, Monza, Nurburgring, Spa, Mosport and Sandown. Alongside this, he won the German DRM championship that year.

With his talent finally shining through, Bellof was signed to the Tyrrell team alongside Martin Brundle. The team were facing an uphill struggle, with their Ford engine lacking 150bhp compared to their turbo rivals. Despite a poor start to the year, Stefan scored back-to-back points finishes in Zolder and Imola. Another retirement followed at Dijon, before another masterful performance showed through. At Monaco, Stefan was 20th on the grid, but torrential rain caused a huge amount of drivers to crash out of the race. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, who made Monaco his own in his era, were leading the race, but guess who was catching both the McLaren and the Toleman? A certain Stefan Bellof. The race was red-flagged before the race end, so we will never know if he could improve even further.

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan crashed out in Detroit while Brundle finished 2nd, but worse was to come. Tyrrell, and both their drivers’, points for the 1984 season were taken away after they were found to have lead ballast in their cars. Nevertheless, he continued at Tyrrell for 1985, but missed the first race of the season. Disregarding this, his first race at Estoril was another impressive one in treacherous conditions, moving his way up from 21st to 6th place in the wet. This was to be his first ever point in F1, as last year’s points were wiped from the records.

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

Stefan Bellof in Monaco in 1984, in 3rd place

After last year’s brilliant drive, he failed to qualify for the 1985 Monaco GP, but made up for it with a 4th place in Detroit, which turned out to be his highest-finishing drive. However, the rest of his season had been ruined, as Tyrrel took until the German GP to switch to the turbo engines, meaning that Bellof was unable to challenge for podiums and even wins.

Despite only a few points in the early stint of his F1 career, he was being regarded as a potential future Formula 1 champion. However, his dreams were shattered at the 1000km of Spa race, where, driving a Porsche 956 and trying to catch Jacky Ickx, he collided with him and crashed into the guardrail, resulting in both cars catching fire and the race being halted. He was eventually extracted from the car, but declared dead an hour later.

Only three weeks earlier, compatriot Manfred Winkelhock had been killed driving a Porsche at Mosport Park, which had prompted Porsche to hurry the development of the safer 962 model, but didn’t arrive quickly enough for Stefan.

Stefan Bellof and Jacky Ickx moments before they collide at Eau Rouge

Stefan Bellof and Jacky Ickx moments before they collide at Eau Rouge

Despite a prospective career cut short, Bellof made a huge impact on motorsport. Unfortunately, his death prompted many teams to stop their drivers taking part in competitions outside of the main championship, which limited the drivers’ ability to prove themselves. Today, Michael Schumacher names Stefan Bellof as one of his childhood idols.

Mementos of Stefan Bellof can be found at the Sammler und Hobbywelt museum, including his go-kart , and his racing overalls and helmets from his time at the Porsche and Tyrrell teams. The Motorsportarena Stefan Bellof was also named after him.

In my opinion, Stefan Bellof was one of the greatest drivers of recent decades, and never really had the chance to show us his full potential. His stunning record lap at the Nurburgring, which has never been beaten, and his masterful drive in Monaco 1984 show that he had the talent to be one of the all-time racing greats.

Edit: Final picture of Bellof’s crash removed because it’s from the wrong event, correct one can’t be sourced.

Nick Heidfeld to replace de la Rosa at Sauber

Nick Heidfeld has joined Sauber for the rest of the year

Nick Heidfeld has joined Sauber for the rest of the year

It has been confirmed today that Nick Heidfeld will replace Pedro de la Rosa at the Sauber team for the final 5 races of the season. De la Rosa has been struggling for pace in comparison to team-mate Kamui Kobayashi, and Heidfeld has been freed of his reserve driver role at Mercedes because of his Pirelli tyre testing duties.

Nick returns to the team he drove for from 2001 to 2003, and 2006 to 2009, where he has made 120 race appearances. His many years of racing experience, combined with his extensive knowledge of next year’s Pirelli tyres, have encouraged the Sauber team to take him on for the rest of the year. Peter Sauber said:

"It was a hard decision for me to make as a team principal and I 
want to thank Pedro for his professionalism. By signing Nick we 
have a driver we know extremely well who will help us to further 
judge the comparative potential of our car."

Heidfeld said this on the signing:

"I’m looking forward like crazy to having the opportunity to go 
racing again in a good car in Formula One from the Singapore 
Grand Prix onwards.

After the last months I’m even more motivated than ever. For 
me it is like coming home, as I raced for seven years in total 
for the team from Hinwil. Without doubt I will be feeling at 
home straight away and this should help me to familiarise myself 
as soon as possible with the car. I want to thank Peter Sauber 
for the faith he has put in me."

While I’m very happy that one of the most under-rated drivers on the grid has got a race seat again, we have to remember that Sauber will have been influenced by Heidfeld’s knowledge of the Pirelli tyre. At the moment, Sauber seem to have some of the best tyre conservation rates on the grid, and Nick will be able to help the team exploit the extra grip available to them through next year’s tyre switch.

As for Pedro, it’s disappointing to say, but he didn’t perform well enough. You could certainly argue the retirement rate (one-third of all races this year) has severely damaged his chances, but the fact of the matter is that Kamui Kobayashi completely out-classed him, and Sauber are in need of more impreovement. Overall, a good call by the Sauber team, and good news for Heidfeld.

Italian Grand Prix stats and facts

Fernando Alonso scored his second hat-trick result at Monza in 4 years, while scoring the team’s first pole position in nearly 2 years. Here are the stats and facts from the Italian Grand Prix:

  • This is Fernando Alonso’s 24th race win of his career. He now has as many as Juan Manuel Fangio, one more than Nelson Piquet, and one less than Niki Lauda and Jim Clark.
  • He now has 19 pole positions, 1 more than Lewis Hamilton, Mario Andretti and Rene Arnoux, and one less than Damon Hill.
  • This was Ferrari’s 213th race win. However, it was their first pole position since Brazil 2008, when Felipe Massa was in the front spot.
  • Fernando Alonso has now led at least 1 lap of 58 different races, which is as many as Nelson Piquet, 3 more than Kimi Raikkonen and Nigel Mansell, but 4 less than David Coulthard.
  • Also, it was his second hat-trick (pole, win, and fastest lap) at Monza since 2007. He has 4 in total, as many as Felipe Massa, Jacky Ickx, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart.
  • He also got his 16th fastest lap, 1 less than Rubens Barrichello.
  • The last time that a Ferrari driver scored pole position in his first appearance for the team at Monza was back in 1974, with Niki Lauda. However, it is the first time in Formula 1 history that a Ferrari driver, in his first appearance at Monza for Ferrari, has scored both the pole position and the win.
  • This was the first time since the 2009 Italian GP that a Red Bull was not on the front row. Also, 6th place was Sebastian Vettel’s worst qualifying performance so far this year.
  • This is the 20th race in a row that Red Bull have scored points, a record which has been going on since the 2009 European Grand Prix.
  • This was Jenson Button’s first front-row start for McLaren.
  • Bruno Senna had his 8th retirement of the year, 1 more than Pedro de la Rosa. 7 of these have been mechanical, another record for this season.

Vettel problem revealed as sticking brake pedal

The problem which hampered Sebastian Vettel in yesterday’s Italian Grand Prix has been revealed as a sticking brake pedal, which slowed his car significantly for several laps, costing him a handful of places in the process. This was initially believed to have been caused by an engine problem, as Sebastian was complaining of a loss of power, but it has turned out that the brakes were slightly engaged while the car was on full throttle.

Sebastian Vettel's Italian GP was hampered by brake problems

Sebastian Vettel's Italian GP was hampered by brake problems

At the start of Lap 20, Vettel first noticed the problem, which occured at the Parabolica corner the lap before. He lost several seconds a lap, and was overtaken by Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher. While the Renault engine technicians tried out several different presets to solve what they thought was a loss of engine power, the brake pedal became unstuck a few laps later.

Vettel later managed to jump past Webber, Schumacher and Rosberg thanks to staying out until the last lap on his softer tyres.

Lotus to be Team Lotus, and have Renault engines in 2011?

In an announcement set to be before the Singapore Grand Prix, Lotus are to hold a press conference regarding their plans for the 2011 season, and it has almost been confirmed that they will be using Renault engines, after a split with Cosworth was confirmed today.

Lotus seem set to have Renault engines, and a different name in 2011

Lotus seem set to have Renault engines, and a different name in 2011

While the engines have been working well for Lotus this year, it is understood that they are unhappy with their current supply of gearboxes, and Renault will also sell them these units next year.

Also, they are believed to be announcing the change of their name to Team Lotus. This is because of the completion of the purchase of the name by Tony Fernandes, which should be completed soon.

Their press conference should cover different matters, such as sponsorship for next year, but it is clear that the team name and engine/gearbox supply will be the main points.

Yamamoto’s mechanic hospitalised after pit lane incident

As you may have heard, during the Italian Grand Prix today, one of Sakon Yamamoto’s mechanics was run over in the pit lane in the middle of a pit stop. He has been hospitalised, currently in the Medical Centre, but the Hispania team have confirmed that he is conscious and should be OK.

While I earlier claimed that Sakon drove straight away from the pit box, based on info from the BBC, an amateur video has shown that it was in fact the lollipop man who released the car too early, causing the incident. Hispania have also been fined $20,000 for an unsafe release.

The video below shows the incident, but viewer discretion is advised:

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