Heidfeld confirmed as Kubica stand-in

GP Lotus-Renault have today confirmed that veteran German Nick Heidfeld will stand in for the injured Robert Kubica, starting from next week’s test session at the Circuit de Catalunya. He will race alongside Vitaly Petrov when the season gets underway in Bahrain on 13th March.

“I would have liked to come back to Formula One in different circumstances,” said the German. “But I’m proud to have been given this chance. Everything has happened so quickly, but I’ve been very impressed by what I have seen so far in terms of the facilities and the dedication of the people at Enstone.”

Heidfeld enjoyed an impressive first test session with the team last week, edging out Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari to record the fastest time for the session, whilst still coming to grips with the car. He could not have asked for a better way to stake his claim for the seat, with his rival and for the seat, Lotus-Renault third driver Bruno Senna putting in an underwhelming performance the following day.

Heidfeld quickly got used to working with the team with Team Principal Eric Boullier impressed at Heidfeld’s ability to clearly communicate and provide feedback. This is perhaps what ultimately landed the deal for Heidfeld, with Boullier today adding, “We gave Nick a chance in Jerez last week and he really impressed us. He’s quick, experienced and is strong technically with his feedback and understanding of the car. We always said that the priority was to have an experienced driver in the car and we feel he is the ideal man for the job. We are pleased to welcome Nick to the team and look forward to a strong start to the season with him and Vitaly in Bahrain.”

The team also took the opportunity to announce their plans for the upcoming Barcelona test session, posting the driving schedule on their website. On Friday Morning Petrov and Heidfeld will both man the cockpit for pit-stop practice. In the afternoon Petrov will return to cock-pit. He will also drive for the team on Sunday, with Heidfeld in the car for the whole of Saturday and Monday.

I’m sure all of us at Forumula1.com congratulate Heidfeld on his new position, and we’ll be keenly discussing his progress on our forums!

Maldonado Confirmed at Williams for the 2011 Season

Williams have announced that 25 year-old Pastor Maldonado will race for them in the 2011 Season, filling the race seat of outgoing German Nico Hulkenberg.

The announcement comes at the tail-end of an incredibly successful season for the Venezuelan driver, after clinching the 2010 GP2 Series title in fourth season in the category. During the season he notched an impressive 6 Feature Race wins in a row a feat that has never been done in that category before.

The other highlight of Maldonado’s career came in 2004, when he won the Italian Formula Renault Championship, with eight wins and six pole positions from seventeen starts.

Maldonado is also fresh off the back of over 2,000 miles of testing in 2009-spec Formula One cars, after testing for both Williams and HRT in Young Driver’s test and the Pirelli tyre testing at Abu Dhabi last month. He turned heads at these tests, particularly in the HRT car, in which he set times seconds ahead of that team’s driver’s qualification times at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Forumula1.com wishes him all the best with his Formula One career and we’re sure there will be plenty of discussion about him on our forums!

Red Bull Junior Academy – Paving the way for future champions

Sebastian Vettel is the new world champion at the age of 23, with an immense 10 pole positions, but only 5 race wins this year. While it was not a perfect season for the young German, he has proven that he has raw speed and also the determination and maturity to turn around a poor season. Vettel has been touted to be a future great of the sport, and he surely has the capacity to win many more championships as he is still only very early into his career.

With Vettel’s title, and Hamilton’s a few years earlier, we can see that drivers who have been nurtured and mentored from a young age can become a force to be reckoned with in the top flight.

While this has drawn a few critics, the fact is that this is the best way to develop future World Champions and should be encouraged.

We all know Hamilton’s story, but where did Vettel come from? The answer is the energy drinks-backed young driver academy that has produced, not only some of the big names in the sport, but is also likely to produce many World Champions in the future. That is, of course, the Red Bull Junior Team, founded in 2001. We look into success story of what has been hailed as the greatest young driver academy, which has now produced it’s very first champion. We’ll also look at the future of the academy and who the next big names of the sport will be.

The Premise Winning from the Beginning

A media statement from the team at the end of 2009 reflected on the successes of the academy since 2003. It also provided insight into the objective of the academy, which explains their winning Formula.

The objectives were clear: “Hand-picked international talents receive professional and continuous training in all relevant areas of motorsports in the Red Bull Junior Team under the premise of competition from the beginning.

“All drivers of the Red Bull Junior Team are under compulsion to work hard from the start and should also learn to reach their big goal Formula 1 in the long term this way, under permanent pressure to perform. That is why the premise was expanded to winning from the beginning.”

Therefore, this premise suggests that the drivers, even at a young age, bear the responsibility upon themselves to perform. In fact, so much is this pressure, that they are expected to win from the very beginning. Sebastian Vettel, did just that winning an unprecedented 18 races out of 20 in the 2004 Formula BMW ADAC Championship. The other two races? Oh, just a measly second and third placed finish! Other drivers who have won this championship cannot really manage more than 10 wins in the season.

The media release states in large bold letters the seriousness of their academy: “Only those drivers who have the implicit talent for a sustainable Formula One career will be supported.”

Drivers of the Past and Future Prospects

Other than Sebastian Vettel, there are many previous and current drivers who’ve graced the Formula One grid have been part of the academy at some point in their career. Christian Klien became the first driver of the Red Bull junior team to enter Formula One when raced for Jaguar in 2004. Other drivers who made it include Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari, Karun Chandhok, Robert Doornbos, Narain Karthikeyan, Patrick Friesacher, and Enrique Benoldi. Once drivers make it to Formula One, they graduate from the academy.

At the end of 2009, the academy had nine drivers, which was at the time the lowest since the academy’s inception. At the time, the reason they gave for this that quality comes before quantity. At present, the academy only has four drivers, Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), Jean-Eric Vergne (France), Daniil Kvyat (Russia), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spain); this suggests that they have further refined the academy to only include the crème de la crème.

Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) was the most recent driver to be dropped from the academy this year, after going one-and-a-half seasons without a win in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, proving that the academy can be ruthless, if required.

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo and Vergne were seen at this week’s 2010 Young Driver’s Test at the Abu Dhabi race track. Ricciardo once again proved his ability to be fast and consistent, topping the times on both days by quite a significant margin. Only a year earlier had Ricciardo topped final session in a three-day test at Jerez, in a less-competitive RB5 (although it was still a very fast car).

Earlier this year the young Australian narrowly missed out on winning the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship to Russian Mikhail Aleshin. Aleshin, who ironically was backed by the academy until last year, overtook Ricciardo with two laps to go in the final race, thus securing the taking the championship by two points. It was still a rather impressive season for Australian on his debut in the championship, with eight pole-positions and four wins.

In 2009, Ricciardo had notched seven wins on his way to win the British Formula Three Championship, and in 2008 Ricciardo won eight races on his way to win Formula Renault 2.0 WEC. He also finished second in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 of that year, where he notched six race wins.

With his performances at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver’s test this year, one can be confident that Daniel Ricciardo is indeed ready to step up to a race seat. However, he has also conceded that a year in the GP2 Feeder series into Formula One would not hurt him. Either way, the young Australian has attracted many fans, and surely will be a name to follow in the not-too-distant future.

Jean-Eric Vergne

The young Frenchman might not have been too noticeable at this week’s driver test, but 20-year old Vergne is another exciting prospect from the Red Bull Junior Academy, perhaps the most exciting. He is the reigning British Formula Three champion, succeeding Daniel Ricciardo as the third driver from the academy in a row to win the championship.

(The 2008 winner was a certain Jamie Alguersuari his story is also quite impressive, but we won’t go there today.)

Vergne’s route to the championship title from 30 races included 13 wins and 11 pole positions. He finished on the podium 20 times. More recently this year, he replaced the under-performing Brendon Hartley at Tech1 Racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series.

Astoundingly, after racing only the final 6 races of the season, he finished 8th in the championship. Vergne had also achieved what Hartley failed to do in one and half seasons he won in only his third outing with the team at Silverstone, when original race winner Esteban Guerrieri was disqualified for a technical infringement.

In Vergne’s 6 races, he scored 53 points, finishing on the podium a further three times after his win. This was 3 points more than what Hartley was able to achieve in his 13 races that season!

On day one of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Young Driver’s test, Vergne notched the seventh-fastest time, in the STR-5 with a lap-time of 1:42.489. He completed 93 laps in the process. On the second day of the test, Vergne finished with the ninth fastest time, of 1:40.974, just 0.030 seconds behind 2010 GP2 Champion Pastor Maldonado in the faster Williams.

While Jean-Vergne is not ready just yet to step up into Formula One, we can be sure he will do it soon, and will likely turn heads in the process.

Academy Highlights
The success of the academy can be demonstrated by looking at their driver’s achievements to date.

2003
– Christian Klien (AUT) becomes the first Red Bull Junior to sign a Formula One contract.

2004
– Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) wins 7 out of 10 races in the F3000 Championship
– Sebastian Vettel (GER) wins 18 out of 20 races in the Formula BMW ADAC Championship
– Christian Klien records first ever F1 point.

2005
– Michael Ammermuller (GER) wins five races in a row in Formula Renault
– Neel Jani (SUI) becomes the first Red Bull Junior to win a GP2 series race (Budapest)
– Scott Speed (USA) and Neel Jani move up to Formula One
– Sebastien Buemi (SUI) wins seven races in Formula BMW

2006
– Michael Ammermuller wins a race on the first GP2 weekend in Valencia
– Filipe Albuquerque (POR) wins the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Eurocup Formula Renault

2007
– Red Bull Juniors Mika Maki (FIN), Jaime Alguersuari (ESP) and Brendon Hartley (NZL), take the top three championship classification ranking in the Formula Renault Italia.

2008
– Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) wins Formula Renault 2.0 WEC, and comes second in EC.
– September 14th Sebastian Vettel becomes the first driver from the Academy to win a Formula One Grand Prix at Monza.

2009
– Daniel Ricciardo wins the British F3 Championship
– Robert Wickens (CAN) runner up FIA Formula 2 Championship
– Daniel Juncadella (ESP) in Formula BMW Europe
– Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) in both the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and West European Cup

2010
– Jean-Eric Vergne wins the British F3 Championship with 14 wins from 12 Pole Positions
– Daniel Ricciardo runner-up in Renault 3.5 Series
– Vergne wins a race in Renault 3.5 Series and secures 8th Place in the championship from only 6 races.
– Sebastian Vettel is the first driver from the academy to become Formula One World Champion

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel’s World Championship now proves that the academy is successful. While Vettel remains the only driver from the academy to have won a Formula One race, we can be sure that there will be more to follow, particularly with the likes of Ricciardo and Vergne coming through the ranks.

Vettel started racing karts in 1995, winning various titles such as the Junior Monaco Kart Cup in 2001, around the time the Red Bull Junior Team was founded.

It was not long after Helmut Marko started the junior team that he was soon watching the 12-year-old Vettel training at Schumacher’s Kerpen kart track, just outside Cologne. Only a few years later at fifteen, Vettel was now the star of the junior squad, ordering mechanics around and pushing them for yet more victories.

After Vettel’s domination of the 2004 German Formula BMW ADAC Championship, he drove in the Formula Three Euroseries. He was fifth in the final standings, therefore finishing as the best-placed rookie, in a championship that was dominated by one Lewis Hamilton.

As a result of his success, he was rewarded with a test for the Williams F1 Team, and later for BMW Sauber in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. It was at BMW Sauber where Vettel really made a name for himself, continually setting fastest laps at Friday practice sessions from the moment he stepped into the cockpit.

At the United States Grand Prix, Vettel received his lucky break in Formula One, and we all know the story since then…

Former F1 Drivers call for Red Bull to back Mark Webber in Brazil

Former three-time World Champion Niki Lauda believes Red Bull must throw all their support behind Webber if they want to walk away with the World Driver’s Championship this year. “Red Bull needs to establish the team hierarchy now. If they don’t get behind Mark Webber, they may have to go without the title,” said the Austrian to the Daily Telegraph.

Niki Lauda’s only concern is that the spectators do not feel cheated by such an occurrence. Lauda was disgusted with Ferrari for their use of team orders at the German Grand Prix, and publicly slammed the Italian outfit, via the media because of this.

Jos Verstappen, a Dutch driver who supported Schumacher on his way to the 1994 World Driver’s Championship, also shares a similar viewpoint to Lauda. “Purely mathematically, [Vettel] has a chance to be champion,” he said. “But as a team they really have to put everything behind Webber. He has a better chance of winning the title.”

Verstappen’s observation is that Red Bull would prefer Vettel to win over Webber when he stated, “Of course it’s a difficult position for Red Bull, as the whole world knows who they would prefer to be in the best position. It’s unfortunate for Vettel, but with his engine failure in Korea his championship did literally go up in smoke.”

After the Korean Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger, another Austrian and former Formula One Driver insists that Red Bull’s moral is different. “Some of the teams, like Williams or McLaren, operate as a business. In this way it makes sense for them to have a team strategy in order to maximise their championship position,” he told Austrian television Servus TV.

“But Red Bull has a different approach using Formula One as a sporting platform to boost its product. And from the sporting approach, the best man wins.”

He continues, citing his apparent close relationship with the Red Bull team owner Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz. “Forget grey areas we’re thinking of morality.

“If I know Dietrich Mateschitz, there is no question about the approach. And I think the fans will be grateful; it’s sport. It’s not sport however if all year you’re just making tactical moves.”

The man himself Mateschitz whom many people believe would prefer Vettel winning the World Championship over, went on record before the Korean Grand Prix to state this was not the case. “There will be no team order from our side. The driver who makes the least mistakes and is faster should, or will, win,” he said. “If we win the drivers’ title we would be happy for both in the same way because each one would deserve it.”

Vettel boasts awesome speed he has been on pole position an astonishing 9 times, compared to Webber’s 4. However, Vettel has only won three Grand Prix’s this season partly due to his own hot-headedness, such as in Turkey and Belgium. At the Hungarian Grand Prix he looked set to win, but made a mistake behind the safety car. His engine has failed twice while he was in the lead, at Bahrain and Korea. It is unfortunately a combination of rotten luck and inexperience. But one could argue that he clearly should have the championship wrapped up by now. Almost every race he has looked set to win, but yet he finds himself in the position where now sits fourth in the championship.

Webber, has won 4 races, and when he’s not winning he lurks either on the podium or just off it. In fact, his accident at Korea was arguably his first mistake of the season. But his poor starts, slight lack of pace, and generally conservative approach would beg one to ask is he a reliable option to win the championship?

This is all to be decided upon by the man in the hot seat, Team Principal Christian Horner. Rumours have it his job is on the line…

HRT looking forward to a stronger 2011

Team Principal Colin Kolles believes the HRT-Cosworth have “made a huge step forward” in producing a technically stronger car for the 2011 Formula One Season, because of a new technical partnership with WilliamsF1. Williams, who also are running with Cosworth Engines this year, will supply gearboxes to the HRT Team from the 2011 Season.

Said Alex Burns, Williams CEO, of the agreement: “Our gearbox technology has consistently proven itself as both competitive and reliable, and hence this agreement will be a positive development for both organizations.”

Kolles added, “This technical partnership is a significant step forward for Hispania Racing HRT F1 Team to improve its performance. We are very happy to do this with an engineering company and race team like Williams F1 which has an impressive track record and astonishing heritage.”

Just a few days earlier SPEED and Auto Motor und Sport reported the Spanish outfit had bought Toyota’s former Formula One team, including “the expertise, equipment and facilities” of Toyota’s Cologne-based team. It was for this reason, according to some, that Toyota only released its 2009-spec car to the new sole tyre supplier to F1 for 2011, Pirelli.

Whilst there have also been rumors that HRT are behind in payments to Cosworth, spectators can be assured that HRT appear committed to Grand Prix Racing in 2011.