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Dillmann’s GP2 pole time almost quick enough for F1

The top of this time sheet is almost quick enough for F1

The top of this time sheet is almost quick enough for F1

This afternoon, Tom Dillmann took his first GP2 pole position in Hungary with a lap time of 1:28.219. That’s about seven tenths of a second quicker than last year’s GP2 pole time, although the comparison is not particularly significant.

What is significant is how close Dillmann’s pole position lap time came to the back of the Formula One field in their second Free Practice session. Max Chilton rounded out the field in FP2 with a time of 1:26.647, just under 1.6 seconds quicker than Dillmann’s GP2 time. That’s really not very much at all considering that F1 and GP2 are different series that are not supposed to be comparable in terms of performance.

Furthermore, Dillmann’s time would have put him not too far off a theoretical 107% qualifying time in Formula 1, assuming the calculation is made from Vettel’s leading FP2 time. Just to clarify, the 107% rule requires an F1 driver to set a time within 107% of the fastest time set in Q1 in order to be allowed to start the Grand Prix. Based on Vettel’s FP2 time of 1:21.264, the theoretical 107% time would be 1:26.952, just 1.3 seconds faster than Dillmann’s time.

The small gap between Dillmann and Max Chilton is startling. F1 cars are vastly more powerful and have greatly superior braking and aerodynamics to GP2 cars. For a GP2 car to be so close in lap time to an F1 car, as impressive as the GP2 driver’s performance may be, is more an indication of a lack of performance in the F1 car. In this case, it shows that Chilton’s Marussia team is struggling heavily for pace around the Hungaroring. But more than that, it highlights just how far Marussia have to go before they can hope to be properly competitive in Formula One.

Incidentally, pole position for last year’s GP2 race was taken by the very same Max Chilton.

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Pirelli tyres: Enough is enough

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Pirelli’s 2013 tyres turned the Monaco Grand Prix into a slow procession (Daimler AG)

Yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix is being hailed as a triumph for Nico Rosberg and Mercedes. But the reality is that it was a demonstration of how ridiculous the tyre situation has become in Formula One.

It’s always been difficult to overtake in Monaco. There’s simply not enough space. The track is too narrow to get alongside another car without the door being left open by the driver in front. So it was no surprise that Rosberg was able to win the race from pole position. He and Mercedes just had to make sure their pit stops were neat and tidy, so that he could come out of the pits in the lead every time. They managed to do so comfortably.

Rosberg won the race because he did not, at any stage of the race, push his tyres at all. He therefore ensured that he was on the same tyre strategy as his challengers, and that meant they all pitted at similar times and no-one had a chance to make up any time on the leader while running in clean air. He was there, blocking the road, slowing them all down, for the entire race. All through the field, in fact, the drivers were just looking after their tyres in an attempt to make as few pit stops as possible. They all knew that overtaking was all but impossible, which meant it would be better to be slow at the front than blisteringly fast in the middle of the pack after a pit stop.

An indication of the difficulty of overtaking was provided by Felipe Massa, who started 21st and had only made it up to 15th when he crashed out. Massa drives a Ferrari, one of the quickest cars in the field, but he spent a great deal of time stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez, who has yet to score a point this season in his Sauber.

This year’s F1 cars are fast. So fast, in fact, that Nico Rosberg’s pole position time in Monaco was over half a second faster than the lap record, set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 when Formula One cars still used V10 engines with no rev limits. Rosberg’s pole lap was just under half a second faster than the fastest time set in last year’s qualifying session (also by Michael Schumacher, although he did not start on pole due to a grid penalty). In the history of the Monaco Grand Prix, only in 2005, 2010 and 2011 have faster qualifying laps been recorded than that of Nico Rosberg at this year’s event. (It should be noted that lap records are always set in race conditions, and are therefore not affected by qualifying or practice times).

Considering the speed that is clearly available in this year’s F1 cars, the slow pace of the race itself was appalling. Nico Rosberg’s fastest lap in the race was over three seconds slower than his pole position time. But even that does not tell the full story. In the early part of the race, the leaders were lapping in around 1 minute 23 seconds. Compare that to the fastest lap in a GP2 race on the same weekend – Sergio Canamasas set a time of 1:22.169 in the 42-lap GP2 feature race – and Formula One starts to look a little bit pathetic.

GP2 is supposed to be a feeder series for Formula One. The GP2 cars, although very quick, are not designed to compete with Formula One cars. On most circuits, GP2 cars should be somewhere in the region of 10 seconds per lap slower than F1 cars. But at Monaco, that gap was substantially smaller, despite F1 cars having significantly more power, far greater braking ability and vastly superior aerodynamics.

All of the F1 drivers who finished Sunday’s race set personal best lap times that were quicker than Canamasas’s fastest GP2 time. But during the race, there were prolonged periods that could have seen a GP2 car compete with a Formula One car for the minor places. The mere existence of such a situation puts the lie to the idea that Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport. Formula One has instead become the world’s most expensive leisurely group Sunday drive.

Throughout the F1 race, the drivers were visibly and audibly taking it easy. Through the swimming pool section, which includes a very fast left-right chicane and then a slower right-left chicane, the drivers looked bored. They were simply not prepared to put any lateral load through their tyres. When there was onboard footage from any car coming out of a slow corner and putting the power down, it was obvious from the sound that the drivers were short-shifting and not using full throttle until they were going quickly enough to avoid spinning up the rear tyres which would cause them to overheat and fall apart. That’s not how racing cars are meant to be driven. What happened to the days when Schumacher and Alonso rang the necks of their cars around Monaco, brushing the walls with their tyres in the pursuit of victory? With Pirelli involved, those days are gone.

The slow pace of the race was not due to the limits of the cars or the drivers It was all down to the fragility of the tyres. It is entirely Pirelli’s fault that the 22 best drivers in the world, driving the 22 fastest cars in the world, around arguably the most iconic race track in the world, turned a Formula One race into 78 laps of slow procession.

Lotus appoints Valsecchi as third driver

Davide Valsecchi has been announced as the Lotus team’s third driver for the 2013 season. The 26 year old Italian was Team Lotus (now Caterham) test driver in 2011, and made his F1 weekend debut at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix when he replaced Heikki Kovalainen for the first Friday practice session. He then went on to win the GP2 championship in 2012 and tested for Lotus at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, impressing the management and engineers sufficiently to secure a more permanent role with the team.

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Valsecchi driving for Team Lotus (now Caterham) during FP1 in Malaysia 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said, “… we have tested Davide during our Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi, so we could have a clear picture about what he is capable of and what he is doing… I think he did perform well, but not only performing, he did the job the engineer was expecting him to do, so that was a clear tick in the box.”

“I’m really happy that the team want me on board and I’m excited about the future,” Valsecchi said. “I hope that this is a really good start to a career in Formula 1.

“Every day I will do the very best job that I can to give Lotus F1 Team the same passion and commitment that I showed last year. My last season in GP2 in 2012 was something I really focussed on, and in the end I succeeded. Now in Formula 1 my target will be a little different, but my focus to do the very best is still the same.

“I very much hope, step by step, to get into Formula 1 as a race driver, and being here as third driver is as near as you can get. It’s a great opportunity here – If I do the best job I can this year then it will open up my chances for the future, and we’ll see if I’m good enough.”

The Lotus driver line-up seems to be continually expanding – Valsecchi is now the team’s third driver, joining current reserve driver Jerome d’Ambrosio, development driver Nicolas Prost and race drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to bring the number of drivers at the team to five. With testing limited to just 12 days in the pre-season and only some limited straight-line testing during the season, the three non-race drivers are unlikely to spend much time in the E21 that was unveiled yesterday.

GP2 Silverstone – Calado’s harsh penalty

James Calado goes into this coming weekend’s German round of the GP2 series with a ten-place grid penalty for the Feature Race after being found guilty of causing a collision with Max Chilton at the last round in Great Britain.

In the Sprint Race at Silverstone, Calado and Chilton spent the race moving towards each other from opposite ends of the starting grid.While running tenth on the penultimate lap, Calado had a much better run than Chilton out of Copse corner and drew partly alongside on the way into Maggotts. On the exit of the corner, the cars touched, causing both to spin out of the race.

It was an ambitious move from Calado, which almost succeeded due to the awareness of Chilton, who allowed Calado just enough room make it through the corner on track. The contact was unfortunate, but was it really enough to earn a grid penalty for Calado?

GP2 is the primary feeder series for Formula One, which means that these drivers could find themselves at the pinnacle of motorsport a year or two from now. With that in mind, it seems logical that they should be encouraged to race each other to the limit, in order to provide the most entertaining and competitive racing possible. In this case, the move was unlikely to succeed, but it displayed opportunism and good aggression. Those are desirable qualities in a racing driver. Calado would have done better to stay as close as possible to Chilton through Chapel corner and attempt a pass into Stowe, but it is easy to come to that conclusion with the benefit of hindsight. In the race, he saw an opportunity and went for it, and it didn’t work out.

If anyone is to blame, it is Calado, simply because of how little chance he had of making the move work, but a ten-place grid penalty seems rather harsh for what is really just a racing incident.

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