F3 EURO CHAMPIONSHIP

Charles Leclerc quickest in the official tests at Silverstone

Rookie Charles Leclerc (Van Amersfoort Racing, 1:50.574 minutes) already was among the quickest in the first official FIA Formula 3 European Championship pre-season tests at Valencia. And in the final tests prior to the season kick-off, at Silverstone, the Monegasque secured the top position on the time sheets. At Silverstone’s 5.901 kilometre GP circuit, he was 0.467 seconds faster than the experienced Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, 1:51,041 minutes) who finished second. George Russell (Carlin, 1:51.054 minutes) and Callum Ilott (Carlin, 1:51.439) – both like Leclerc about to contest their first FIA Formula 3 European Championship season – came third and fourth respectively.

“A good day,” Leclerc said in the evening. “We learned a lot, both about the qualifying set-up and the one for the race. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that I automatically also will be among the front runners this weekend – as testing and racing are two different things. But it goes without saying that it’s my goal to do so.”

Antonio Giovinazzi, however, is one of those who want to prevent this. “The rookies – Charles Leclerc and also George Russell in particular – are extremely quick. In the faster morning session I changed to my fresh set of tyres slightly too late, when the conditions weren’t optimal any more. But I can live with my second position.” In the season kick-off, held at the same venue, he hopes to be able to benefit from his experience. “I don’t feel more pressure than in the previous years, I rather feel more self-confidence. I’m going to enter my third FIA Formula 3 European Championship season and I want to make use of my experience.”

Behind George Russell und Callum Ilott, Felix Rosenqvist (Prema Powerteam, 1:51.634 minutes) finished fifth. “Assessing this test correctly is difficult as we won’t see the true balance of power before the qualifying sessions on Friday,” he said. “But I can say that I feel good in the car.” Rosenqvist was just 0,033 seconds faster than Raoul Hyman (Team West-Tec F3, 1:51.667 minutes). The South African was the last driver so far to have joined the FIA Formula 3 European Championship field. Only a few days ago, he signed a deal with Team West-Tec F3. “This was only my third Formula 3 test, he said. “Last week, I tested two days at Snetterton. I’m rather happy with my sixth position.” Marvin Kirchhöfer (Eurointernational, 1:51.893 minutes), eighth behind Markus Pommer (Motopark, 1:51.860 minutes), was also happy with his achievements. “We tried a lot of things, over the course of the day, covered a lot of kilometres and learned a lot. The fact that we were among the front runners right from the start was positive. But I still see more potential, both in the driver and the car.” Like Hyman, Kirchhöfer also didn’t contest the two days of pre-season testing at Valencia and so, he covered his first kilometres for his new team, Eurointernational, today at Silverstone.

FORMULA 1

WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING CHINESE RACE PREVIEW

Aerodynamic performance is tested at the Chinese Grand Prix thanks to the circuit’s 1km back straight and its combination of sweeping turns. The back straight is a great place for overtaking, but not the only opportunity on the track, the layout’s demanding corners test the Pirelli tyre whilst fans cheer on their heroes in the 24,000 capacity grandstand. An addition to the calendar in 2004, the first sequence of corners on the track have been described as one of the hardest in Formula One as fast entry speeds are quickly discarded under heavy breaking due to a tightening track for almost 270° before quickly changing direction. The Chinese Grand Prix is host to the continuing growing fan base in Asia amongst whom there are many Valtteri Bottas supporting Finns.
Rob Smedley
On the back of a very hot race in Malaysia, we head to China where we are expecting considerably different conditions. It is often a struggle to get the temperature in to the tyres for qualifying, and you then have to manage front left tyre degradation in the race. That struggle will be even tougher this year with the improved rear Pirelli construction. It’s a challenging circuit, with a tough left hander before one of the longest straights on the calendar. The turn 1, 2, 3 complex is also very interesting and offers a good technical challenge. There are two different techniques here for a quick qualifying lap and a quick race lap, so we will work through these early in the weekend to be prepared. We have a few upgrades coming to the FW37 that we are expecting to deliver an increase in performance. There is always a high probability of rain, so we will also need to be prepared for this possible curveball.
Felipe Massa
China is a similar track to Barcelona where we have conducted most of our pre-season testing, so we have a lot of data that can assist us in setting up the car. The track is harsh on the front tyres, often resulting in graining. It’s a good circuit, and you will always see overtaking there due to the long straight, which has the added DRS effect as well.
Valtteri Bottas
China is a good fun circuit to drive. The long and high speed corners give it a good character, plus it has a very long back straight which aids overtaking and makes the races more interesting. There is a lot of support for the Finns in China which is great to see and they are passionate about Formula One too.

GP2

Alexander Rossi and Racing Engineering complete a positive final GP2 Series test programme in Bahrain

Bahrain International Circuit was the backdrop for the final pre-season GP2 Series test, with all teams attending the three day session ahead of the first race of the season. Alexander Rossi completed a strong and positive second test with Racing Engineering, and the three days showcased the strength of the series, with the top drivers just tenths of a second apart, and highlighted the calibre of teams competing in the 2015 season.

The first morning session was met with high temperatures and a dusty track, and saw most teams utilising the time to develop the set up of their cars rather than place indicative performance times. Alexander completed ten laps with a best time of 1:42.801s which placed him in P8 by lunchtime. Throughout the afternoon, temperatures continued to rise, however with a far cleaner track lap times began to tumble, becoming approximately one second faster than the morning’s session. Alexander finished his first day in Bahrain just seven tenths slower than the overall quickest time of the day with 1:42.201s and completed a tally of twenty productive laps.
Following an overnight sandstorm the start of the second day’s testing was delayed by one hour, due to the circuit and pit lane requiring cleaning before the cars were able to take to the track. Alexander immediately set the pace in the opening hour and then, as the track became quicker once again, turned his attention to developing the car with the team and looking at longer runs. Alexander was once again quickest in the early stages of the afternoon, before turning his focus to completing the run programmes set. He finished the day with a best lap time of 1:41.341s on the prime tyres, while other teams switched to the soft compound tyres in the final minutes of day two. Overall, Alexander’s time was the second quickest for prime tyres during the whole three day testing session and was a very positive result.
The weather continued to stay dry and hot for Friday’s morning session and, with the temperatures forecast to rise, most teams took the opportunity to set fast laps on the Pirelli soft compound tyre before running race simulations when it became too hot. Once again Alexander was amongst the fastest runners and finished the morning in 4th with a time of 1:39.715s – the top five of which were within eight one hundredths of each other and, with drivers representing five different teams, showcasing the closeness in competition this season. The final session of the three days saw most of the teams, including Alexander and Racing Engineering, concentrate on race simulations and exploration of the management of tyre degradation. This saw Alexander complete the day with a best lap time of 1:45.565s after no less than 58 laps, more than any other driver.
The Racing Engineering team will now concentrate on preparing their cars for the first round of the 2015 GP2 Series which will be held back in Bahrain from the 17th to the 19th of April.
Thomas Lassus, Race Engineer: “I think the three days have been very productive because we have tested a lot of things on both cars and we have learnt a lot. We now know what is working and what is not and we understand why, therefore we have been putting it all together on the last morning and we have had both drivers in the top ten and getting a lot from their option tyres. It is always difficult in Bahrain with tyre degradation but I think we have been progressing positively and we are adapting our race setups to our 2015 drivers which has been going well. It is good to see we are performing with both cars and we will be aiming to score a lot of points every weekend with both drivers which is important for the Team Championship.”
Alexander Rossi: “It has been a very positive test with different variables, including the weather! By the morning of the third day we were able to be in the top five consistently and at the sharp end of the grid, which is a great result and shows the development and progress we have made. The team did a great job with the qualifying set up and race simulation, and we were able to complete our run programmes successfully throughout the sessions, putting us in good shape for the first race back here in Bahrain. All in all, it has been a very positive and successful three days and I’m really looking forward to the first race weekend, starting on the 17th April.”

FORMULA 1

LOTUS F1 RACING CHINESE GRAND PRIX PREVIEW

FEDERICO GASTALDI

Lotus F1 Team Deputy Principal Federico Gastaldi looks to China and the economic and sporting potential it has for Formula 1, as well as the state of play for Lotus F1 Team and as the sport after the first two races of 2015.

How much does the team look forward to racing in China?

The Chinese Grand Prix is an exciting event in a country which holds tremendous potential now and for the future. Looking at the automotive manufacture, China leads the way in terms of volume by a considerable degree so it’s reasonable to expect that interest will continue to grow in the world’s premier racing series. Certainly as a team we are receiving increased interest from China. We have a new development driver, Adderly Fong, who has Chinese heritage and we are also involved with a number of other initiatives with Chinese companies. China is obviously a huge market to explore commercially so it’s very important for the business side of Formula 1 to be there. We’ve seen a growing fan base in China over the years and we have a lot of younger fans there which illustrates a great future for the sport.

What can you tell us about Adderly Fong’s role with the team?

Adderly joins us as a Development Driver and has a structured programme with the team over the course of the season. His programme is slightly different to that we’re running with Carmen to reflect that Adderly will also be racing over the course of the year in the GP3 Series and GT Asia. We’ll see Adderly at some Grands Prix and in Enstone where he will undertake simulator work to help him progress his racing as well as us develop the E23.

In China we will see Jolyon Palmer take to the wheel of the E23 in FP1, how important is this for the team?

Jolyon is a crucial part of the team for this season so it was important for us to see him in the car over the course of a Grand Prix early in the season. For the first two races, it made sense for our race drivers to get as much time as possible in the car, but now we can start exercising some of Jolyon’s talents in the FP1 session and we’ll see him out in action quite a few times over the course of the year.

How do you feel about the competitive nature of Formula 1 in 2015?

The Malaysian Grand Prix was a great race in terms of the spectacle on track and if we have races like that for the rest of the season we’re in for a pretty good time! Just like any year, we’re sure to have some races which have people on the edges of their seats as well as some which are far more tactical and appeal more to the connoisseur. That’s the nature of Formula 1. And, just as we see a variety of different natured racing over the course of a season, it’s also often the case that we hear lots of opinions about the sport as we have done already this year. No matter what people’s opinion, it’s great that people are talking about Formula 1.

What are your feelings on the calls to influence the competitive performance of teams such as pegging back performance?

We heard these calls after the first race of the season which was maybe a little early to be making such noise. Now after two races there have been two different teams who have taken race wins, so the idea that Mercedes will have it all their own way this year was a little premature. Formula 1 is always very competitive and it doesn’t matter which year you’re in or the circumstances of a team in any given year: we all want to win and will do everything we can to become as competitive as possible. Of course, we have a promoter and a regulatory body which are both very attuned to the various needs of the sport, so every aspect is always very closely scrutinised.

What’s the wish list for the team from the next races?

At the top of the list is, of course, points. We have the pace so we just need to be there in the correct position when the chequered flag falls. Both Pastor and Romain are operating at the top of their games so it’s just a question of having a race without any issues or contact from other cars. We’ve had a couple of reliability issues which we’re addressing so we expect to be out there and scoring very soon.

ROMAIN GROSJEAN

Romain Grosjean looks to the Chinese Grand Prix with a yearning to score his first points of the season.

What are your thoughts on the Shanghai circuit?

It’s quite a particular circuit where it is not always easy to find the right setup and the temperature can also be cold. You never know what to expect, except that there will be a monster traffic jam to get to the circuit! I scored my first Formula 1 points at Shanghai in 2012 and scored points again in 2013 so let’s hope that’s a good omen. Certainly, we’re better placed than when we last visited the track.

Looking back over Malaysia how was the weekend overall?

It was hot and humid, especially in the qualifying session. Generally it was a good weekend with strong performance through the qualifying session, however in the race things didn’t quite work out the way we wanted. There are still a lot of good positives we take to the next races and when it all comes together it’s going to be very nice.

How thirsty were you after the race because of your drinks system not working properly?

My drinks system wasn’t working from lap 20 onwards so I was certainly pretty thirsty by the time I got to the end of the race! I soon rehydrated and it wasn’t so much of a problem when I got back to the cold of Europe.

What did you need to be able to pass Hulkenberg?

I could have passed him, not in the first few laps of the race when his tyres were as new as mine, but later on – as we did after the first pit stop – but we didn’t have 100% performance from the engine which made it difficult to make the overtaking manoeuvre.

How did it feel and what were you thinking during the 360° spin in Sepang?

I had a few choice expressions as it was quite a high speed 360 and not quite in the place where you want it to happen. I thought it looked pretty good when I saw it afterwards – perhaps my ice racing in the winter helped me here!

Do you think the car has good potential for China?

Shanghai is always quite a particular race track so it’s quite difficult to predict. It’s often pretty cold and the front is the limitation of the car as you look to avoid understeer. I think we have a lot of tools at our disposal to try to make our car work well and I’m sure we’ll have a good race.

You’ll go from probably one of the hottest races to likely one of the coldest – does this affect you as a driver?

It’s not so much the change in temperature than the jet lag you get in the early part of the season from flying to different countries. We’ve seen that China can be pretty cold and drizzly in the past and you don’t get to see the sun there too many times. The weather’s the same for everyone and you’re not thinking about it too much when you’re in the car; you’re just thinking about how to go faster.

Do you think there’s potential to have a number of different race winners in 2015, now we’ve seen two different drivers win the first two races?

It was good to see Ferrari win in Malaysia and I think it was good for Formula 1. They worked well in Malaysia and I think they’ll be a force in the hot races. I think China should play more to the Mercedes but we’ll be fighting to do our best and present a challenge too.

China’s a back-to-back race with Bahrain – is this a tiring format / are there any special considerations with a back-to-back race combo?

With my experience, I’ve got a good flight strategy between the two events. It’s actually going to be my birthday in Bahrain; I’m getting older but I should be in a good mood!

PASTOR MALDONADO

Pastor Maldonado looks ahead to the third race of the season at China’s challenging Shanghai International Circuit where he hopes to be able to cause a surprise or two.

Looking back over Malaysia how was the weekend overall?

It was very good for the team that we are in a position to fight for points on a different track. It was very hot and in those conditions the car didn’t look bad. During the race, even with the damage we had from the floor after the contact from Valtteri Bottas in the first corner, our pace was very consistent. We had a couple of small reliability issues but the team’s working very hard on this, and we expect to have these resolved by China. I’m looking forward to getting out in action in Shanghai and hoping for a clean weekend when we should be able to get some points.

How frustrating was the race for you last time out after that first corner puncture?

It was frustrating, especially as by the time I’d caught up with the cars ahead we’d developed an issue with the brakes so it was difficult to attack! It’s racing. I’ve been a bit unlucky, especially in the first corners of the first two races but on the other hand we have a car which is more competitive and this says that we can fight for points through the season. The potential of the car is there, we just need to put everything together and the results will come soon.

What do you need to do to emerge through the first corner in Shanghai?

The first corner of a Grand Prix is always thrilling as you have to balance the opportunities to make up places with the risk of losing them. Certainly in the first two races this season I’ve been the victim of other drivers’ incidents and that’s racing sometimes. The first corners in Shanghai are quite interesting as you’ve got a decent run down to the right-hander that is turn one, but that flows straight into the tightening turn two so it can get pretty busy!

What are your thoughts on Shanghai as a circuit?

Shanghai is a very technical circuit with one of the longest straights of the season so it will be good to see how high a top speed we can get as we’ve been pretty strong through the speed traps so far this season. There is a mix of fast and medium speed corners where we need good downforce and overall it is a challenging track which I like, so I’m looking forward to racing there.

Do you think the car has good potential for China?

I think we should be in a similar position to that we’ve been in for the first and second race, so fighting for the top ten in qualifying and then in the race. Let’s see what the track conditions are like, the weather, how the car feels and how good a set-up we can get. I’m confident we should be fighting for good places.

You’ll go from probably one of the hottest races to likely one of the coldest – does this affect you as a driver?

It doesn’t affect you so much as a driver as you train to be fit and race ready no matter what the conditions. It has more of an effect on the car, especially if it’s cold as making the tyres work and getting them into their operating window can be a challenge. It’s true that we’ve struggled in this area in the past, but it’s something that the team have been focusing on so let’s see how we are when we get out on track.

China’s a back-to-back race with Bahrain – is this a tiring format and are there any special considerations with a back-to-back race combo?

Honestly, I prefer it when we have races like this as you are focused as it actually cuts down on the overall amount of travelling you have to do as you go straight from one destination to the next rather than flying home and then back out like we saw with Australia and Malaysia having a week between them. After Bahrain we get a bit of a break to recover, get some training and spend some time with the family before the European season begins.

NICK CHESTER

Technical Director Nick Chester dissects the sweet and sour from the season so far and outlines the team’s hopes for something satisfying to take away from the Chinese Grand Prix.

What are the primary performance considerations for the Shanghai International Circuit?

It’s an interesting venue. The circuit has a mix of sectors: a very long straight in the final sector and some high speed corners in the second sector. It’s a balance between setting the downforce level so that you can be fast through the turns without compromising your pace on the huge back straight. It is a technical track for the drivers and hard work physically for them, particularly in turn one as it is is very fast before it tightens up in turns two and three.

What upgrades are planned for Shanghai?

We have bodywork upgrades at the front and rear of the car. In combination, we have a reasonable upgrade package for Shanghai which mainly focusses on improving our downforce.

It could be quite a relatively chilly weekend – does this hold any fears?

The range of ambient temperatures can vary significantly in Shanghai from around 10 to 30 degrees Celsius so that’s quite significant. We can’t know for sure in advance what the weather will be like but yes it will certainly be cooler than the last race! We will put emphasis towards generating the right tyre temperatures. And we’ll certainly pack our fleeces.

Jolyon Palmer will drive in FP1 – what type of to-do list will he have for that session?

It will be good to have Jolyon out in action in FP1. His to-do list will be the same as the race drivers’, so aero evaluation work, some set-up runs and then longer runs towards the end of the session. It will help with our weekend preparations as we always look at FP1 as being the development session.

How would you evaluate the E23 Hybrid’s performance in Malaysia?

We were quite pleased with the pace of the E23 in Malaysia. The car ran well on the Friday with Romain being well up on the timesheets and our qualifying performance was pretty reasonable on Saturday. Looking at the tyre performance, I think that it was tricky for everybody in Kuala Lumpur: we had never seen track temperatures that high as they were over 60°C! This meant that it was difficult to keep the tyre surface temperatures under control however we did a reasonable job of this. In the race, balance and the handling of the car were promising and already a step forward from the first race of the season. We were compromised by traffic but that’s the nature of racing as it’s seldom you have a clear track in front of you. The E23 coped well in the extreme heat and it was the first time that it ran in the wet. Again, the handling was pretty decent in those conditions so we continue to see the potential of this package.

It wasn’t perfect running in Sepang, what’s been done to put the early-season niggles to bed?

Pastor had a puncture right at the start of the race after contact with Valtteri Bottas and then later an issue with his brakes. We are still thoroughly investigating the matter and a solution will be in place by the time the car runs in FP1 in China. There was also a quite minor issue with Romain’s car which unfortunately affected the power unit. It was a small bit of sensor mis-information which meant Romain wasn’t getting absolute maximum power. Not a big issue, but it was something which meant Romain had to fight a little harder for his overtaking moves.

Does a win from a team other than Mercedes give faith to all the other teams that they can be beaten again?

It’s a long season ahead and we’re all trying to do exactly that. We’ve seen in this year that Ferrari have improved significantly over the winter months and it seemed that the hot track in Sepang suited them well. They had an improving car, a good strategy and they put it all together to take the win. It shows that with enough development Mercedes can indeed be beaten which is good for the sport. Rest assured, we’re doing everything we can at Lotus F1 Team to challenge Mercedes, Ferrari and every other team as best we can over the course of the year.

GP2

Pierre Gasly tops Day 3

DAMS driver sets quickest laptime at Bahrain International Circuit
The final day of pre-season testing opened under clear blue skies and in hot temperatures at the Bahrain International Circuit. As the pitlane went green, the drivers fed onto the track eager to put their Soft Pirelli tyres to good use as early as possible. Stoffel Vandoorne led the way, but it was Marco Sorensen who set the early pace until his laptime was bettered first by Mitch Evans, then Nathanaël Berthon and Jordan King.
Raffaele Marciello was the first man to dip under 1m40s, the Italian driver going 0.069s faster than Pierre Gasly. During a busy session with lots of traffic, Vandoorne capitalised on a clear track to clock in a laptime of 1:39.646, but on the one hour mark, Gasly went top by 0.014s. Evans moved up to third ahead of Alexander Rossi.
The temperatures kept on rising and for the remainder of the session, teams and drivers focused more on race simulations and set ups. At the chequered flag, Marciello, Alex Lynn, King, Sergey Sirotkin, Sorensen and Arthur Pic completed the top ten.
The action resumed after a one hour break. Norman Nato set the pace during the first hour and with a laptime of 1:41.97 sat pretty at the top of the timesheet whilst teams and drivers focused again on race simulations and pit stop practice. Thirty minutes before the end of the session, a red flag halted the proceedings as Nato stopped on track after his car started to catch on fire. At the restart, Nigel Melker improved and claimed the top spot with a laptime of 1:41.566. Sirotkin also improved and moved up to P2, 0.067s slower than the Hilmer man. In the closing stages, Rio Haryanto and Gasly moved up to P3 and P4 respectively, ahead of Nato, Lynn, Robert Visoiu, Nick Yelloly, Rene Binder and André Negrao.
This concluded the pre-season testing. The 2015 GP2 Series season will kick off in two weeks time on this same track and alongside Formula One.

GP2

Nobuharu Matsushita tops Day 2

ART Grand Prix driver quickest at Bahrain International Circuit
The morning session on the second day of pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit was delayed by one hour: a sandstorm hit the track the night before leaving sands in its wake. The circuit service and the teams were hard at work to clean the pitlane and the rest of the layout. At 10.00 local time, the session went live and Jordan King was the first man to feed onto the still dusty track, followed by Arthur Pic. During the opening hour, drivers mainly focused on pitstop practice and start procedures whilst Alexander Rossi set the pace.
Alex Lynn went quickest with one hour left on the clock, but his laptime was bettered first by King, and then by Pic. As the track improved, Rio Haryanto went top, but in the dying minutes, Sergey Sirotkin dipped under 1m42s. His laptime of 1:41.797 was enough for him to top the shortened session at the chequered flag ahead of King, Lynn, Haryanto, Pic, Stoffel Vandoorne, Nobuharu Matsushita, Julian Leal, Rene Binder and Rossi.
It was Richie Stanaway who set the early afternoon pace ahead of Nick Yelloly and Marlon Stockinger, but it was Marco Sorensen who was the first man to break the 1m42s barrier. The teams’ programmes consisted of race simulations for the major part of the trouble-free session. Midway, Rossi went top with a laptime 0.004s better than Stanaway’s, but the Status man reclaimed P1 later on after having lapped the track in a 1:41.086.
The final fifteen minutes of the session saw most of the drivers switch to Soft Pirelli tyres and push hard. Raffaele Marciello clocked in a laptime of 1:40.446 whilst others also improved, but not as much as the Italian who looked pretty at the top of the standings. Matsushita however found some extra pace and with five minutes left on the clock set a laptime of 1:40.191. In the closing stages, Pic also managed to improve and moved up to P2 ahead of Marciello. At the chequered flag, and behind the top three, Sirotkin, Sorensen, Vandoorne, Daniel De Jong, Sergio Canamasas, Haryanto and Artem Markelov rounded up the top ten.

The Premiere Motorsport Podcast