Pirelli concludes November testing, What's in a name, Dutch drivers back in Indy car racing in 2011?
Pirelli concludes November testing
Formula One's new tyre supplier, the Italian Pirelli company, has concluded its November testing program. Pirelli had already completed their first real track test at Mugello, Italy, in August with Nick Heidfeld at the wheel of a Toyota 2009 Formula One car. After a drivers' swap at BMW-Sauber, Pedro de la Rosa took over Heidfeld's testing duties after the latter had been offered a drive at the Sauber team for the remaining five races of the season. Pirelli took these initial tests very serious, and had formed a dedicated Formula One test team, working closely together with Toyota, who delivered the technical know-how to run the TF109 and Toyota engineers were also responsible for retrieving and analyzing the data from the test car.
After eight private tests at different locations in Europe, Pirelli was ready for the real big test, which took place last week after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit. With ambient temperatures varying from 23 to 28 degrees Celsius, the circuit provided the ideal conditions to test the new Pirellis. Each team was supplied with eight sets of tyres, four sets for day one and four sets for day two. All twelve Formula One teams tested the soft and medium tyre compound slicks, and Pirelli assigned a tyre engineer to each team to ensure all teams would get equal opportunities to get acquainted with the new rubber. According to Pirellli, during those two days each team had on average completed 160 laps in total, or some 11,000 test kilometers.
Not just the Formula One designers and engineers were curious about the handling of their car on the Pirellis, several drivers have been looking forward to the test days as well, as they have had problems with the Bridgestone tyres this season, and hope the new tyres will suit their driving style better. Ferrari's Felipe Massa was one of those drivers, and was pleasantly surprised with the characteristics of the new tyres. "It was a positive start to begin to understand the behavior of the Pirelli tyres. I felt at ease right from the start and there were no unpleasant surprises," said the Brazilian. Although he had a few problems with the medium tyres, he was happy with the overall result, "The softs worked well both on the very first lap and also after they had done a larger number of laps."
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher also struggled with the Bridgestones this season, but was impressed with the Pirellis. "I feel that we had an interesting session. We gathered a lot of data and insights, and have positive feedback from our first impression of the new tyres. In terms of consistency, it looked quite good but we were using the 2010 car today and it will be all about how these tyres suit our 2011 car," the seven-times World Champion said. "These are not the final tyres but the ones I used seemed to suit my style a bit more, especially the fronts, " he added.
Sebastien Buemi and Rubens Barrichello were also happy with the front tyres, they have more grip than the rear tyres, but also commented Pirelli has some work to do on the hard tyres, as there were not as consistent and seemed to lose grip as a result of too much wear compared to the soft tyres. Pirelli's Paul Hembery remarked these tyres were not the final 2011 tyres, and ensured the teams Pirelli will work on the performance and rubber compounds during the winter.
"According to what we have learned in Abu Dhabi, we will change the compounds, but not the construction. The drivers especially enjoyed the performance of our front tyre, which is an area that we have worked on considerably," he said. The data which was collected on both days will not only be analyzed by Pirelli to help them to improve the compounds, the data will also provide the teams with vital information as how to develop their 2011 car.
The new Pirellis will be produced at the company's factory in Izmit, Turkey, a modern factory where all tyres for competition are manufactured. Engineers have designed new machines and production processes, and some 50,000 tyres, which are needed for the 2011 season, will be produced in Izmit. The development will take place in Milan, Italy, at the Pirelli Tyre Research and Development Center. New private tests are scheduled for December, and in February 2011 all Formula One teams will again have the opportunity to test the Pirellis during the first official pre-season testing days.
What's in a name
Three Formula one teams still have a name issue to resolve, Sauber, Lotus and Renault. Although BMW had withdrawn from the sport at the end of 2009, Sauber entered the 2010 season under the name BMW Sauber F1 Team, as they feared a change in name could mean the loss of their share of the Formula one revenues. Therefore BMW kindly agreed to let the Swiss-based team use the BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) acronym in its name.
But in June this year fellow Formula One teams and the FIA agreed team owner Peter Sauber was allowed to change the name of the team without losing their share of the revenues. Rumors are now that the team will use the official name 'Sauber F1 Team' in 2011, but a spokesman this week said 'Sauber will communicate the name in due time'. Monisha Kaltenborn, the team's managing director, confirmed Sauber has the Formula One Commission's approval to 'delete the BMW acronym after the end of the season', but refused to make any further comments. The unwillingness to speculate about the official 2011 name has a reason: the Sauber team could also incorporate the name of a new title sponsor in their new team name.
The Lotus name dispute still drags on, but there have been a few new developments. Group Lotus, owned by the Malaysian Proton car manufacturer who caused the current name dispute, has announced they will supply engines and bodywork for the 2012 Indycar Series. Group Lotus had already announced they would work together with Renault in 2012, and perhaps will use the name Lotus-Renault next season in Formula One. As Group Lotus is also involved in GP2 and GP3 next season together with the French Art team, Lotus' technical manager Mike Gascoyne is now even more puzzled by the intentions of the Lotus Group.
In a BBC interview he said, "We don't understand why Group Lotus don't want to support us. We think we brought the brand great value. The shareholders have invested something like ?80m into the brand and development of the team." And added, "I think it's a great shame for everyone in Norfolk because we're a Norfolk-based team, we brought the Lotus name back to Formula One and did it proud. We don't quite understand why we don't have the support of Group Lotus in that." He was perplexed with the recent developments, "They seem to want to do every racing series that there is. For a loss-making car company that seems to be slightly perplexing, but good luck to them." He was of course referring to the fact the Lotus Group might have bitten more off than they can chew on.
The Lotus Group has also recently shocked the sportscar industry when it introduced no less than five new concept cars, the Elite, Esprit, Elise, Elan and Evora, and the hybrid Lotus City Car during the Paris Motor Show last September, and it indeed seems the Lotus Group and mother company Proton are trying to revitalize and re-brand the legendary sportscar company originally founded by the late Colin Chapman in 1952.
Dutch drivers back in Indy car racing in 2011?
After the legendary Dutchman Arie Luyendijk, who won the Indy 500 in 1990 and 1997, had retired from Indy car racing, ex-Formula One Red Bull and Minardi driver Robert Doornbos tried his luck in the ChampCar World Series. But unfortunately for him, he lost his race seat when CCWS folded, leaving just one American premier open-wheel series, sanctioned by the Indy Racing League (IRL), and known as the IndyCar Series.
But there are two new kids on the block who are poised to make a name in IndyCar.
HVM Racing had already contracted Dutchman Junior Strous for the IRL's ladder series, Indy Lights, for the 2010 season. The team now might have plans to promote him to the IndyCar Series. HVM Racing team principal and owner Keith Wiggins at the time, "Junior is a proven talent. He's won races, so we know he has good skills behind the wheel. We will start him in a Indy Lights car and plan to do some testing with him in the IndyCar Series car at some point this season also. I have no doubt that with continued development he will be in an IndyCar Series car in the future."
Since last August there have been strong rumors Strous will compete in next year's IndyCar championship for HVM Racing. The 24-year old Strous announced his plans for an IndyCar debut during the Bavaria City Racing event in the Netherlands, where he gave a demo in a IndyCar. HVM Racing has so far not confirmed the news, Wiggin's team entered this season's IndyCar season with one car, driven by Simona de Silvestro, and would deploy a second car for Strous in 2011.
Another young Dutch driver is reportedly on his way to the IndyCar series. Ho-Pin Tung, who has a Dutch and Chinese passport, tested a Dallara-Honda of the Fazzt IndyCar Team at the Sebring International Speedway in Florida last Friday. IndyCar sponsors are interested in the enormous potential of the Chinese market, there are even plans for an IndyCar race in China, and Tung could be a good 'ambassador' for the sport if he would participate in the series.
Tung, who was a reserve and test driver for the Renault Formula One team this year, and competed in GP2 for the French Dams team, was quite happy with his test. "After familiarizing in my new environment we started car setup and develpment work quicker as the engineers expected," he said. The Dutch-Chinese driver hasn't given up his Formula One plans yet, but he knows it will be very difficult to find a seat in Formula One next year. He now instead seems to have settled for a season in IndyCar, "After this test racing in the IndyCar series is on my wish list for next year. To compete in the Indy 500 is something each race driver would like to do someday."
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track"
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 46