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Formula Two is ‘go’, but British hopes face stern reality check at Silverstone opener.
The opening rounds of the FIA Formula Two Championship were played out over Silverstone’s new ‘Arena’ Grand Prix circuit on the weekend of April 16th/17th. In marked contrast to last year when Comma-sponsored Jolyon Palmer scooped the lion’s share of the points on offer at the Northants circuit, it was overseas drivers who laid down emphatic markers that - despite their promising showing in pre-season testing - the Brits are not going to have it entirely their own way in 2011.
The prize of a Williams F1 test drive for the winner of the FIA Formula Two Championship has lured a crop of talented and hungry ‘wannabes’ to this year’s intensely competitive World Championship feeder series. Among them are two drivers with particularly eye-catching credentials - 21 year old Austro-Italian Mirko Bortolotti and 19 year old Spaniard Miki Monras.
Bortolotti, a previous winner in Formula Two at Brno 2009, returns to the series following a season in GP3 as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy scheme, no less. He has both Toro Rosso and Ferrari test drives under his belt. Monras, talent spotted at an early age by his Toro Rosso F1 mentor Jaime Alguesuari, came up through karting where he won the Spanish and European championships before going single seater racing in Formula Renault and GP3.
Unsurprisingly, both drivers showed prominently in Silverstone free practice and were immediately on the pace when it came to qualifying for Race 1 on Saturday, with Bortolotti pipping Monras to pole position by a fraction over a tenth of a second. Will Bratt and Alex Brundle occupied the second row to keep the flag flying for the ‘home team’, although Jack Clarke could only manage a disappointing eighth place on the grid after being fastest of all in free practice.
After Bratt got the jump on Monras off the line, the race unfolded at the head of the field pretty much to form and without much incident, save for Brundle having to pit from sixth place with a slow puncture and dropping completely out of contention.
Qualifying for Race 2 on Sunday saw both front row positions reversed, with Monras this time taking just over two tenths of second out of Bortolotti for pole, and Brundle turning the tables on Bratt by a similar margin on row two. Clarke was again out of sorts on row four in seventh spot.
Brundle was struck a second devastating blow of the weekend when clutch problems left him helplessly rooted to the spot on the grid with the rest of the field screaming past him……. possibly the most terrifying moment a racing driver can experience. Monras made the most of pole and was quickly away, gradually building a comfortable cushion over Bratt who had again stolen a position off the grid and was just holding off a determined Bortolotti. Bratt’s efforts in doing so led him at one stage to breach the rules by having all four wheels off the track, an offence which earned him a drive-through penalty. For whatever reason, Will repeatedly failed to respond to his pit signals, so he was eventually black flagged and disqualified from the results despite finishing second ‘on the road’. Bratt currently has sponsorship only for one more race – scheduled to be Brands Hatch – so it is tempting to conclude that his ‘blindness’ to his pit signals was cover for staying in the race to demonstrate his undoubted value to any potential backer. Whatever the circumstances, he was the stand-out Brit during the meeting, and it would be a shame if he didn’t have the continued opportunity to challenge for the F2 title. He certainly deserves it.
James Cole, Comma’s 2011 Formula Two standard bearer following in the wheeltracks of GP2 graduate Jolyon Palmer, had a rather downbeat introduction on his debut. Pre-season testing had pointed to the McLaren Autosport Awards finalist being firmly ‘there or thereabouts’ in the points-scoring top ten reckonings, but he was frustratingly unable to find a competitive set-up in either qualifying or race conditions. “We tried two different approaches, but the times just weren’t there this weekend,” said a rather puzzled James. “We’re going to have a day at Bedford (Formula Two’s home-based test circuit at Bedford Autodrome) to sort things out before the French round at Magny-Cours in May, and hopefully that will put us on the right course. I want to get in amongst the top action as soon as possible.”
Certainly, James wants quickly to put his first two results – fifteenth in Race 1 and thirteenth in Race 2 - firmly behind him. In no way do they reflect his credentials, his promise or his ambitions.
Comma has been Technical Partner to FIA Formula Two, and the exclusive supplier of engine oils, coolants and maintenance chemicals to the championship since it was launched in 2009. All 24 of the identical 500bhp Williams F1 designed Formula Two race cars – including James Cole’s Comma sponsored No. 2 car - is lubricated, cooled and serviced with products supplied by Comma.
You can read full race reports, view the complete championship standings and keep up with all the other latest FIA Formula Two news at the excellent official Formula Two website.
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