Its a Lotterery Win at Caterham

Not happy with the announcement that 16 year old Verstappen will drive at Toro Rosso, Caterham have raced out of the summer break announcing that 32 year old German Andre Lotterer will make his F1 race debut for the team this weekend in place of Kamui Kobayashi. The team have hinted this is a one time team as Lotterer has WEC events left this year that clash with F1 and announced that Kamui remains with the team.

The German has had little recent top flight open wheel experience (His last taste of F1 was in 2002!!) but is a 3 time LeMans winner (Including the current champion) so it will be interesting to see how a driver does going the opposite way to many deposed F1 drivers.

The challenge facing the German shouldn’t be under estimated with these complex new cars, no testing time and racing on one of F1’s toughest tracks – Spa. Many drivers have stated that Eau Rouge will be a huge challenge this year with these new cars and is unlikely to be taken flat.

Its another bizarre decision from the team who were recently bought out by an Arab led consortium and proceeded to lay off 1/3 of the staff. Furthermore if the new owners were unsatisfied with Kobayashi’s work there are many experienced F1 drivers around who do not currently have drives, although recent history shows that swapping drivers mid-season usually does little to improve performance.

Andre Lotterer

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Not Verstappen for Anyone

This morning Toro Rosso have announced that 16 year old Max Verstappen will drive for the team next year in place of Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman has raced for 3 season with STR but has struggled in qualifying but has shown himself to be a master in wet conditions, however last season saw him passed over for his team mate for a drive in the main team.

It again is a surprise pick from STR who promoted GP3 champion Danil Kyvatt to its ranks this year over Carlos Sainz Jr who remains a reserve driver at Caterham (and a junior Red Bull driver). Furthermore Verstappen wil lbe one of the least experienced drivers ever to take the grid and the youngest at 17 years old when the 2015 season kicks off. Max has claimed the Euro F3 title but in this day and age the series sits behind GP3,GP2 and Renualt World Series 3.5 in pedigree so he will have a lot of learning to do.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Jean-Eric but the Frenchman might struggle to obtain much in the way of a budget. He has been hurt by his lack of qualifying speed but his ability come Sunday might make him a viable option for some of the seams. He joins Alguersuari (the current youngest driver), Sebastian Buemi, Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Speed on the Toro Rosso scrap heap. (Antonio Luizzi also drove for the team but continued his F1 career afterwards with Force India and HRT completing another 42 races)

Outside of F1 Jean-Eric may look to other series which I will detail in an upcoming post.

Max Verstappen

The Girl who Cried Wolff

With F1 at the back end of its summer break many of the teams are winding back up again for the second half of the season which resumes at Spa this coming bank holiday weekend. During this enforced break (which I’m all for but its now mandated in the rules) various peoples P.R teams use the resulting news lull to pepper the pages with their propaganda.

This week it was the turn of Suzie Wolff, wife of former Williams share-holder Toto and Williams Development/Test driver. Regular readers will know I’m not a big fan of Ms Wolff, mostly for the reason she harps on about gender inequality in motorsport but constantly finds herself given advantages because of said gender. Now in this day and age any team would hire a female driver where she to be mildly competitive – just think of a sponsorships and press inches!!! But lets have a look at poor old Suzies attempt to justify her place on the grid:

Susie Wolff is adamant she’s with Williams based on her talent and not as part of a “marketing scheme” by the F1 team. – She continues to add the following evidence:

“Many people said that this is just a marketing scheme,” she told the official F1 website. “but Sir Frank Williams would never put someone in his car if he didn’t believe that they are good enough. – Kazuki Nakajima might beg to differ, along with various other pay drivers throughout barren spells. Furthermore shes just done a few practices hardly top line stuff.

The 31-year-old, though, says it is unlikely that she will find a place on the 2015 Formula 1 grid with Williams. “At Williams we have two good drivers, so it would be difficult,” she said. – So it is a marketing opportunity then surely? To being in more sponsors to a team your husband still has shares in?

“I am very proud to be with the Williams team. They’ve given me the chance to test an F1 car when nobody else was interested because I didn’t show enough performance in DTM.
– So no other team would touch you due to your poor (very poor) results in DTM, previous champion Paul Di Resta found himself without a drive this year! But its a staggering admission that Williams was her only option for these runs because of her poor junior career.

All in all Williams would do well to stop this farce, with Simona Di Silvestro looking possible for actually having what it takes to compete can we please stop promoting woman who have had little to no success in the junior categories for marketing purposes. And Suzie stop trying to claim your there on talent, while I have no doubt you can run the car around the track for good testing data, you’ve yet to prove you can race at any level. (Suzie Wolff has only managed 3 podiums at any level of professional motorsport – all in Formula Renault UK – She only managed to score 4 points over 7 seasons in DTM and has taken no poles or fastest laps at any level)

Sauber Going Giedo and DTM Reunions

With the Caterham drivers line-up expected to be announced today (They announced it while I was writing this!) Giedo Van Der Garde has popped up at Sauber as the test and reserve driver for 2014. A surprise considering after hiring Adrian Sutil from Force India to partner Esteban Gutierrez for a second season, the team was widely expected to name Sergy Sirotkin for the majority of the In-season testing and Friday practice runs. Instead the 2013 Caterham pilot will fill this role and has confirmed that he will get Friday running in the new improved FP1’s (where there is an extra set of tires for the first 30 mins and driver swaps are allowed) alongside driving some of the 8 days of in-season testing permitted in 2014. While Van Der Garde does bring with him fashion brand McGregor with him Sirotkin is backed by a lot of Russian investment in the team, so maybe the new pay masters have either not paid up or have been talked down.

Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi have completed the field in F1 alongside Robert Frijns swapping from Hinwil to Leafield to be the test and reserve driver.

In the spirit of reunion’s the DTM roster has been filling up now F1 has slotted into place and Paul Di Resta has announced his return to the series he won in 2010 with the works HWA Mercedes team. He could yet drive F1 machinery this year as he could have landed a Mercedes test/reserve role alongside his drive. He will be joined in DTM by stalwart Gary Paffet, Timo Glock and Red Bull outcast Felix Da Costa, who missed out on the Toro Rosso drive to GP3 Champion Danill Kyvatt.

Expect a lot more movement this week with test/reserve roles now looking slightly worthwhile in F1 and a few spots left to fill in DTM, WEC and Indy Car.

Austin doing the Buisness

Its 5pm UK time and Free Practice has been delayed and shortened to 40 minutes after fog stopped the medical chopper from taking off (familiar Moto GP fans?) but in the build up to the second Grand Prix of the United States at the Circuit of the Americas its all been about business.

As expected McLaren announced that Kevin Magnussen will drive for the team in 2014, using the build up to the penultimate race of the season to dish out this news in the closest Sergio Perez comes to a home Grand Prix (for now) has been tough. The Mexican has also admitted that the timing has left him few oppertunities to find a seat for next year.

Lotus have revealed that Heikki Kovalienen will race for the team as the replacement for injured countryman Kimi Raikkonen in the last two races of the year. The rumblings from Joe Saward have been that Caterham have loaned their reserve driver in exchange for letting some engineering staff they poached leave without serving their Gardening leave. The Finn who last raced in Brazil 2012 but has had a few FP1 outings this year revealed that he is close to signing with Caterham next year.

Pastor Maldonado seems very up beat after leaving Williams revealing that he probably “gave the team more than they gave me” – an interesting one as there have been many a late night for a Williams engineer over Pastors career fixing his wrecked car. But the up beat mood appears linked to the fact that the Quantum money that has supposed to be arriving at Lotus all year may now not arrive at all meaning the Enstone team will plonk for Maldonado alongside Grosjean and the PVDSA money to prop up the balance sheet.

This is leaving one heck of a queue at the door of Force India with Paul Di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado all in talks with the Silverstone based squad. It remains to be seen if anyone from GP2 will graduate into the premier class of open wheel racing this year with Danill Kyvat coming from GP3 and Magnussen from Renault 3.5. No word on Fabio Leimer, Sam Bird or James Calado (P1,2 and 3 respectivily in the GP2 championship this year) are in talks with any teams but James Calado is doing some FP1 outings for Force India and will look to secure that role next year I believe.

Finally we all wait with baited breather for the Austin crowd figures after last years 120,000 turn out, the hope is that many of that number will be retained for a second year after a stormer of a race. However this years event looks set to be duller with no title on the line and Sebastian Vettel romping home come rain, shine, hard tyre, soft tyre, classic track or Tilke track.

Magnussen Poised for McLaren in Silly Season Shock

This years “silly season” where drivers shuffle around has moved from its usual summer slot to the end of the year with this morning Sergio Perez confiming that he is to leave the Woking team at the end of the year. The 23 year old Mexican struggled to match Jenson Button this season in an uncompetitive car (By McLaren’s standard). The team are set to promote Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen in his place which will be a big jump for the 21 year old driver who won the Formula Renault 3.5 series this season. Most of the noise coming out of the team this year had been that Perez hadn’t been given the equipment to fight properly and would be given another season but the team believes that Magnussen is World Champion material. It is likely the team made the move to give the Dane a year before the big push in 2015 when the team will become the works Honda powered team and have high expectations.

Personally it appears as though Magnussen will give McLaren a different type of driver who will deliver in qualifying in the same mould of departed Champion Lewis Hamilton did to balance Jenson’s more methodical wiley race craft approach. It is still a risk as the 21 year old has had very little F1 mileage and will step into a team who expect victories and championships rather than scrapping for points.

Finally Lotus are still to announce who will replace the injured Kimi Raikkonen for the last two races of the season with it looking like either Heikki Kovalienen or reserve driver Davide Valsecci looking likely. Nico Hulkenberg reportedly turned down the offer to remain at Sauber another season and Michael Schumacher rejected another comeback. The issue with Heikki is that he is in the frame for a drive with Caterham next season and a move away from the team to Lotus could complicate the issue of his 2014 seat.

The Driver Queue

This weekend saw the excess spectacle that is the Abu Dhabi grand prix take place on the man made Yas Marina Island. The facility is spectacular and the feature hotel looks fantastic on TV, the location seems perfect for a sport that is so money driven. Abu Dhabi is currently at the centre of the world with it being an international airport hub and is attracting more and more tourists each year out of the airport and into the hotels. Unfortunately while the track is in the right place with a huge amount of finance behind it, it is terrible for lack of a better word.

The track configuration is a bit of a head scratcher with slow speed hair pins followed by straights into chicanes etc. Furthermore with the huge amount of money spent on the circuit and the climate it is built in the grandstands are all permanent meaning any track changes would either be limited or hugely expensive.

But at least there was some excitement in the desert this weekend which also hosted the climax of the GP2 and GP3 seasons.

First up Daniil Kvyat wrapped up the GP3 title as was expected of him after his confirmation next year of driving for Toro Rosso. The 200,000 Euro prize from Pirelli however went to Facu Regalia to support him in securing a drive next season in GP2 which leaves him only needing a couple of million to find right?

In GP2 James Calado managed to win the final race of the season to secure 3rd in the standings despite a tough year at ART where they failed to get the best out of the tires. The Swiss driver Fabio Leimer lead home Mercedes test and reserve driver Sam Bird in the standings but it does raise a question, where are they going to next?

Last years champion Davide Valsecci failed to find a grid spot and has spent all year on the bench at Lotus and is looking like being passed over for Nico Hulkenberg and appears to have not even been considered for the drive despite an impressive championship in GP2 last year. Runner up Luiz Razia also failed to find a birth in F1 after his backing failed to materialise and he lost his spot at Marussia. However the drivers who finished 3rd (Gutierrez), 4th (Chilton) and 6th (Van Der Garde) found spots on the grid.

Fabio Leimer now has to find a spot on the grid as he does not have an option of returning to the series, a bizarre unnecessary rule that excludes drivers who have won the championship from returning. GP2 and GP3 are a bit of a mess, the series costs too much money for what it is and is primarily there to fill CVC’s pockets with more gold and extract more money from TV companies. This has lead World Series to be a popular choice of feeder category which has been favoured by Red Bull as they view GP2 as too expensive and the back half of the grid is filled with pay drivers with no hope of moving forward.

Sam Bird has had a strange career thus far after completing two lack luster years in GP2 the Briton went to World Series where he finished 3rd behind Robert Frijns and Jules Bianchi. This lead him back to another year in GP2 but the chances of him getting a drive in F1 are slim with Mercedes having a very stable line up and looking unlikely to cut him a deal to go elsewhere.

James Calado could either do another year in GP2 or become reserve driver at Force India and take up the expanded testing next season alongside FP1 at select Grand Prix’s following in the footsteps of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta.

But with Pastor Maldonado, Heikki Kovalinen, Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, Paul Di Resta, Adrain Sutil, Valterri Bottas, Charles Pic, Giedo Van Der Garde, Max Chilton, Esteban Guiterrez and a long list of others looking to finalise spots there are very few opportunities for drivers to move up to the category. The best hope for these rookies is to grab a testing role, which could be more useful than years gone by with in addition to the pre-season tests there will be 4 lots of two day tests after European Grand Prix’s alongside an expanded FP1 with extra tyres in the first 30 minutes which could see teams running rookie or test drivers each weekend. However with the huge price hike in engines next season the pay driver factor is coming into play with Sergy Sirotkin being considered at Sauber (either this year or next year) and expect teams at the rear of the grid to find drivers who bring lots of money to go testing for the team. Pastor Maldonado has a rumoured 14 Million from PVDSA and Felipe Massa has secured money from Petrobras to drive next season. Max Chilton is also being looked at for Force India as he provides sizeable backing from Aon, Guiterrez has some Telmex backing and Sutil, Pic and Van De Garde all provide sponsors. There is a lot of talent and a lot of money for not many seats – if we exclude McLaren and Lotus it leaves Sauber, Force India, Williams (who want to continue with Bottas), Caterham and one seat at Marussia.