Lotus parts company with technical director James Allison

In a shock move, Lotus have announced that they will part ways with their technical director, James Allison.

Allison is one of the most highly rated engineers in the F1 paddock, and it was well known that many rival teams were trying to lure him away from Enstone. It is unclear which team – if any – have  offered him a better contract, but it is understood that Allison was the one who made the decision to leave Lotus.

His replacement has already been announced as Nick Chester, who has been at the team since 2000.

This move will only unnerve Kimi Raikkonen, who is yet to decide on his future at the Enstone squad. Key figures like Allison are absolutely crucial in constructing a winning car – as important as the driver itself – and Kimi will now begin to question if Lotus can continue to supply him with competitive machinery into 2014.

Points standings after Bahrain Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 77
2 Kimi Raikkonen 67
3 Lewis Hamilton 50
4 Fernando Alonso 47
5 Mark Webber 32
6 Felipe Massa 30
7 Romain Grosjean 26
8 Paul di Resta 20
9 Nico Rosberg 14
10 Jenson Button 13
11 Sergio Perez 10
12 Adrian Sutil 6
13 Daniel Ricciardo 6
14 Nico Hulkenberg 5
15 Jean-Eric Vergne 1
16 Valtteri Bottas 0
17 Esteban Gutierrez 0
18 Jules Bianchi 0
19 Charles Pic 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Giedo van der Garde  0
22 Max Chilton  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull 109
2 Lotus 93
3 Ferrari 77
4 Mercedes 64
5 Force India 26
6 McLaren 23
7 Toro Rosso 7
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Vettel wins in Bahrain as Alonso recovers from misfortune

Sebastian Vettel has taken a comfortable win in the Bahrain Grand Prix, while rival Fernando Alonso fought his way back up the grid after suffering mechanical issues early on.

Alonso’s DRS jammed itself open on lap 8, forcing the Spaniard to pit for quick repairs. However, the exact same thing happened on the following lap, and the Ferrari driver’s race was ruined.

Vettel took the lead from Nico Rosberg in the opening laps, after an enthralling battle with Alonso and the Mercedes. Both drivers disposed of Nico, and after Fernando’s DRS failure, Sebastian was unmatched for the rest of the afternoon. At the back, a first-lap clash between Giedo van der Garde and Jean-Eric Vergne put the Toro Rosso out of the race on the first lap.

Rosberg later slipped further down the order, being carved up by the midfield and falling to 6th place.

Paul di Resta and Kimi Raikkonen emerged at podium contenders throughout the race, utilising 2-stop strategies to slip ahead of the Mercedes cars after the first round of stops. However, Di Resta was caught by Romain Grosjean in the closing laps, and the Scot will have to wait a while longer for his first podium finish. Teammate Adrian Sutil incurred a puncture on the first lap after contact with Felipe Massa, and could only recover to 13th place.

McLaren saw a fascinating inter-team battle develop, as Sergio Perez fought bravely with Jenson Button all afternoon. They clashed wheels on more than one occasion, earning Sergio some criticism from Jenson on the radio. Nevertheless, they stayed out of the barriers, and Perez took a commendable 6th place by the end of the race.

He became embroiled in another battle near the end, between Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber, who had absolutely no pace in comparison to his teammate. Both drivers found their way past the Red Bull on the final lap, leaving Hamilton in 5th position.

A lack of pace and a puncture resulted in no points for Felipe Massa, finishing 15th. Alonso found himself almost a minute behind the leaders after his two early stops, but bravely fought his way back to 8th place by the chequered flag. He was briefly as high as 6th, but was punished by the resurgent Perez near the end.

With Vettel amassing a comfortable 10-second lead by the end, he increases his championship lead to 10 points, ahead of Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso. However, it is apparent that no one driver is a clear favourite for the title yet.

Rosberg takes surprise Bahrain pole

For the second race in a row, a Mercedes driver will start from the front spot on the grid. This time, it was Nico Rosberg who took the honours, as Lewis Hamilton struggled with less pace and a gearbox penalty.

Sebastian Vettel is in a prime position to attack from 2nd place on the grid, while the Ferraris are 3rd and 4th. Penalties for Hamilton and Mark Webber have elevated Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil to 5th and 6th places. Here is what happened in qualifying:

Q1

Thankfully, we didn’t see a repeat of what happened in China, as most drivers partook in the majority of Q1.

Fernando Alonso had noteworthy pace on the hard compound tyres, going faster than medium-clad Sebastian Vettel. It was immediately apparent that Lotus’ pace had slid away, as Kimi Raikkonen struggled to keep his car on track under braking, repeatedly locking up and going off the track.

Both Williams drivers set the exact same time to a thousandth of a second, but Maldonado set his time later, so he was demoted further down the order, and was eventually knocked out of Q1.

Charles Pic put Caterham ahead of Marussia for the first time this season, while Esteban Gutierrez will start from 22nd after a penalty from last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Pastor Maldonado – 1:34.425

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:34.730 (+ 5 positions)

19) Charles Pic – 1:35.283

20) Jules Bianchi – 1:36.178

21) Giedo van der Garde – 1:36.304

22) Max Chilton – 1:36.476

Q2

Paul di Resta put Force India firmly in the spotlight, initially leading proceedings, and eventually taking 4th place in Q2.

Romain Grosjean was all set to partake in Q3, until a mistake on his final Q2 lap put him under pressure. Jenson Button was all too willing to pounce, and was audibly delighted on the team radio afterwards.

Sergio Perez yet again failed to make the cut, while Nico Hulkenberg demonstrated Sauber’s lack of pace this weekend.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Romain Grosjean – 1:33.762

12) Sergio Perez – 1:33.914

13) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:33.974

14) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:33.976

15) Valtteri Bottas – 1:34.105

16) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:34.284

Q3

A quick lap by Rosberg at the start of Q3 was enough to state his intentions. Alonso and Hamilton duly slotted behind in the first set of lap times.

All 10 drivers went out on track for the final 5 minutes, providing a closely-fought battle for pole. Only Jenson Button ended up not setting a time, the McLaren making a mistake on his sole lap.

Alonso also aborted his final run, leaving Vettel and Hamilton to chase the second Mercedes driver. After Nico improved his lap time again, Vettel could only get within a quarter of a second, while Hamilton could only muster 4th place.

Felipe Massa qualified 6th, but has been elevated to 4th because of other drivers’ penalties. He will start on the hard tyre, interestingly, and it will be fascinating to see how he matches up to teammate Alonso tomorrow.

The Force Indias were 7th and 8th, and Kimi Raikkonen had no pace whatsoever in Q3, a full second off Rosberg’s time.

Times from Q3:

1) Nico Rosberg – 1:32.330

2) Sebastian Vettel – 1:32.584

3) Fernando Alonso – 1:32.667

4) Lewis Hamilton – 1:32.762 (+ 5 places)

5) Mark Webber – 1:33.078 (+ 5 places)

6) Felipe Massa – 1:33.207

7) Paul di Resta – 1:33.235

8) Adrian Sutil – 1:33.246

9) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:33.327

10) Jenson Button – No time set

Heikki Kovalainen to drive for Caterham in Bahrain and Spain practice sessions

After only 3 races out of the cockpit, former Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen will drive for the team in the next two race weekends in the practice sessions.

He will take the place of Alexander Rossi, who was originally set to drive in these sessions. Kovalainen will drive in Giedo van der Garde’s car for FP1 and possibly FP2 for both race weekends.

Caterham say the reason for the switch is because of Rossi’s move to the Caterham GP2 team, replacing Ma Qing Hua. However, seeing as Heikki was originally dropped because of financial reasons, rumours are growing that the Finn is preparing a comeback with his former team.

Pirelli replaces soft tyre with medium compound for Bahrain

Pirelli has made the call to drop the soft compound tyre for the Bahrain Grand Prix, after heavy degradation in last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

No driver spent more than 7 laps on the soft tyre in China, and several drivers were quick to criticise the option tyre. With this in mind, the teams will now be using the medium and hard compounds for next Sunday’s race. Last year saw the use of the soft and medium tyres at the Sakhir International Circuit.

Despite the change, Pirelli are estimating that most drivers will run 3-stop strategies next weekend.

 

Pirelli tyres don’t need changing – the rules do

This weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix saw much criticism for the way the teams held back for much of qualifying, almost afraid to put any type of wear on their tyres.

This continued through to race day, where drivers’ strategies revolved solely around getting rid of the troublesome option tyres as quickly as possible, then managing the primes for the rest of the race.

It’s a worrying scene, and only fuels many arguments that Formula 1 is only racing at 90% power, what with the increased emphasis on tyre conservation in recent years. From the teams’ points of view, there is nothing else they can do – if staying in the pits for the first 5 minutes of Q3 is the best tactical option (or all of Q3), then they must make that call, unpopular as it might be.

Pirelli have therefore come under fire for their high-degradation soft compound tyres, which only allow a handful of flat-out racing laps. However, this is exactly what they were instructed to create when they entered the sport. I feel that the adjustments necessary to fix the current tyre problem must be made by the FIA.

Obviously we can’t just revert to the days of rock-hard tyres and “cruise control” races – that would completely undermine all the improvements that have been made to the racing in recent years. However, in my opinion, changing the regulation on the Q3 tyres would encourage drivers to get out on track more. The rule that states that drivers must start on the tyre they qualified on, for example, is completely detrimental to the racing, and should be scrapped.

If this were to be removed, drivers would be more willing to push for the absolute best lap times on their Q3 laps, and it would also introduce more strategic options on race day – starting on the prime tyre would be much more feasible.

Similarly, it might also be worth having a look at the dual compound rule, which states that both the option and prime compounds must be used during a dry race. Again, this would diversify tyre strategies and reduce emphasis on conserving the option tyres.

I still think that F1 is currently in a fantastic position at the moment, with a massively talented grid of drivers, closely-fought title battles and plenty of on-track excitement, but there’s always improvements to be made. Improving the regulations behind the Pirellis would be a welcome boost to both the drivers and fans.

Points standings after Chinese Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Sebastian Vettel 52
2 Kimi Raikkonen 49
3 Fernando Alonso 43
4 Lewis Hamilton 40
5 Felipe Massa 30
6 Mark Webber 26
7 Nico Rosberg 12
8 Jenson Button 12
9 Romain Grosjean 11
10 Paul di Resta 8
11 Daniel Ricciardo 6
12 Adrian Sutil 6
13 Nico Hulkenberg 5
14 Sergio Perez 2
15 Jean-Eric Vergne 1
16 Valtteri Bottas 0
17 Esteban Gutierrez 0
18 Jules Bianchi 0
19 Charles Pic 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Giedo van der Garde  0
22 Max Chilton  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Red Bull 78
2 Ferrari 73
3 Lotus 60
4 Mercedes 52
5 McLaren 14
6 Force India 14
7 Toro Rosso 7
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Fernando Alonso takes dominant win in Chinese Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso is the third driver to win a race in the 2013 season so far, crushing his opposition to secure the win at today’s Chinese Grand Prix. He took the lead from pole sitter Lewis Hamilton in the opening laps, and utilised the Ferrari’s excellent race pace to build a gap to his rivals.

Sebastian Vettel drove a fine race, using a vastly different strategy to leap up to 4th by the chequered flag, after starting 9th. In the closing laps, he put Hamilton under extreme pressure, but was unable to steal the podium spot.

At the start, Hamilton held the lead into the first corner, while the Ferraris slotted into 2nd and 3rd easily, with Kimi Raikkonen going backwards after his front row start. However, the Mercedes clearly lacked raceday pace, and was easy prey for Alonso and Massa by lap 5.

Fernando got to work on building an unassailable lead, while disappointment was to befall Massa, who pitted one lap too late to ditch his option tyres, and fell down the order, which he never recovered from.

Nico Hulkenberg put on a fine display in the first half of the race, leading proceedings after the frontrunners had pitted. Still on the medium tyres he started on, the Sauber driver managed to hold off Vettel – who also hadn’t stopped – for an entire stint.

Mark Webber pitted on the first lap to ditch the volatile softer compound tyre, but a miserable weekend only got worse on race day. Attempting to pass Jean-Eric Vergne at turn 4, the two clashed, with Vergne’s race ruined and Webber under investigation by the stewards. A broken front wing, botched pit stop, and subsequent wheel falling off sealed his fate.

There was almost a safety car early on, as Esteban Gutierrez ploughed into the back of Adrian Sutil at the end of the back straight. Gutierrez, who misjudged his braking point with DRS engaged, put both cars out of the race, and is also to be inquired by the stewards.

While the majority of drivers opted for a 3-stop strategy, Jenson Button pulled off a clean and consistent 2-stopper en route to a commendable 5th place. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez continued to disappoint in the sister McLaren, clashing with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen early on, and finishing only 11th overall.

Raikkonen and Hamilton had no answer to Alonso’s dominative drive, and began to squabble amongst themselves for the final two podium places. After several changes of position early on, Raikkonen held off the Mercedes until the chequered flag. Lewis came under massive pressure from Vettel in the final laps – being caught at over 3 seconds per lap – but a small mistake at turn 11 ruined Sebastian’s chances of gaining 3rd on the last lap.

Nico Rosberg had lost out in qualifying, and a failure of the anti-roll bar on lap 22 ended any chances of a good finish for the 2nd Mercedes driver.

Daniel Ricciardo earned significant praise for his performances, taking a career-best 7th position. Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Hulkenberg finished off the top 10.

Alonso’s pace was completely unmatched until Vettel’s option tyre rampage in the dying laps, and he crossed the finish line with a comfortable 10 second gap to Raikkonen behind. While it’s early days yet, it seems like today’s top 4 finishers will be battling away all season long for the drivers’ championship.

Chinese Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton seals inaugural pole position for Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton has earned his first pole position of his Mercedes career in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Kimi Raikkonen will start alongside him on the front row, the first time he has done so since 2008. Fernando Alonso is 3rd, while the Red Bulls had a torrid session, struggling with fuel pressures and the option tyres. Sebastian Vettel is 9th, while Mark Webber drops all the way to 22nd after running out of fuel in Q2.

Here is what happened this morning:

Q1

Q1 saw a suspiciously slow start to the session, taking almost 10 minutes for a single car to venture out on track.

This was due to the option tyre being weaker than Pirelli had predicted, and teams feared they would only be good for one or two flying laps.

Eventually the Mercedes drivers set the pace, almost half a second faster than anybody else. Felipe Massa continued his good run of form,  finishing higher than teammate Alonso, while Webber and Vettel attempted to minimise the amount of time spent on track.

Jules Bianchi impressed again, running as high as 16th until the Toro Rosso’s final runs, but he was still within 0.7 seconds of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Valtteri Bottas – 1:37.769

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:37.990

19) Jules Bianchi – 1:38.780

20) Max Chilton – 1:39.537

21) Charles Pic – 1:39.614

22) Giedo van der Garde – 1:39.660

Q2

The second part of qualifying saw most of the focus on Red Bull. They started the session on scrubbed option tyres, landing them 5th and 8th places initially.

But disaster struck Mark Webber, who slowed to a halt at Turn 14 with a fuel pressure problem. It later emerged that Mark’s car was underfuelled, and he will drop to the back of the grid as punishment.

After a disappointing Friday, Sergio Perez was in for more bad form today, as he exited Q2 only 12th, while his teammate easily slotted into Q3.

Daniel Ricciardo impressed with 9th place, well ahead of his teammate, and the first time he has gotten into Q3 since Bahrain 2012.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Paul di Resta – 1:36.287

12) Sergio Perez – 1:36.314

13) Adrian Sutil – 1:36.405

14) Mark Webber – 1:36.679

15) Pastor Maldonado – 1:37.139

16) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:37.199

Q3

Again, it was a slow start to Q3, with only Sebastian Vettel venturing out on track in the opening minutes. However, he pitted soon after, indicating he was not about to set a fast lap in this session.

Nico Hulkenberg attempted the same strategy, while Jenson Button set a slow lap time on the primes to ensure he was to qualify ahead of the two Germans.

It was surprising to see two of the big names participate, but the other drivers weren’t so conservative. Kimi Raikkonen set the initial pace with a 1:34.7, but this was smashed by Hamilton by nearly 3 tenths of a second.

Nico Rosberg made a mistake in the final corner, and could only manage 4th, behind Fernando Alonso, who avoided being out-qualified by his teammate for the 5th time in a row. Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo went almost unnoticed in Q3, taking 6th and 7th respectively.

Obviously, Hamilton is in the best starting position for the win tomorrow, but he has some stiff competition breathing down his neck – Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg and even Vettel will also be in contention.

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