F1 Testing At Silverstone - Day Two

What next for Bianchi in his journey from Marussia to Maranello?

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Formula 1 can be a cruel mistress at the best of times, especially when you’re scrapping at the back of the grid. Caterham’s demise and difficulties over the past few months have been well documented, but just up the grid, Marussia appears to be only on the rise.

The Anglo-Russian team has been Caterham’s closest competitor throughout their time together in Formula 1, and hadn’t really moved above them until this season. Although Marussia finished one place ahead of Caterham last year, it had trailed behind for all but three of the races; Jules Bianchi made it count when the team had the pace to secure P13 in Malaysia.

Once again in 2014, it was Bianchi who made waves for the team, scoring its first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix after finishing ninth. It is hardly surprising that he is being linked with a move up the grid, perhaps even to parent team Ferrari.

However, it’s really a question of trying to fit in somewhere else. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a star in the making, and has his sights set on a future for the works team at Maranello. The rumors concerning the future of both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen continue to circulate, but is he really ready to make such a leap up the grid?

Maybe he is. During his test for Ferrari at Silverstone last month, he put in a very impressive display and finished the day as the quickest driver. However, as he explained to us after the run-out, he is not expecting a call-up for 2015.

“At the moment I know that it is not the plan for the next year because they have a plan for their drivers,” he said. “I will just focus on what I have to do which is Marussia at the moment and try to get good results.”

And he’s certainly been doing that. Ferrari’s ‘plan’ for 2015 is quite obvious: Alonso and Raikkonen. However, if Fernando does choose to move to McLaren, or if Kimi is given the heave-ho one year early, Bianchi would undoubtedly be in the running for a seat.

So where else could Bianchi go? He looked to be a shoe-in at Force India for the 2013 season (even in his own eyes) until engine supplier Mercedes leaned on the team to hire German driver Adrian Sutil. The only way back there may be if Nico Hulkenberg is snapped up by Ferrari as a replacement for either of its drivers, and Bianchi can secure a place alongside Sergio Perez. Of course, this is all hypothetical: Vijay Mallya has made clear that he wants to hang onto both of his drivers for 2015.

Sauber may be another option with its own Ferrari engine deal, but with five drivers already scrapping over two seats, it could prove to be a bit of an impossibility.

In reality, Bianchi’s future depends largely on how Ferrari wants to play it with Alonso and Raikkonen. The latter has already made his intention to retire after the 2015 season clear, so the long-term (well, two year) plan may be to bring Bianchi to Maranello then. You would have to feel that if either Kimi or Fernando did jump or be pushed now, it would be Hulkenberg to get the nod. He came within a signature of a seat at Ferrari last season; maybe Raikkonen wasn’t the best option after all…

Whatever his future, Bianchi looks to be on the right track to make it at Maranello. The saturation of drivers in the sport at the moment means that it can be difficult to find a seat; a happy medium for Ferrari that is a step between Marussia and Maranello.

As Marussia continues to grow and develop though, it may be the right place for him. What’s next for Bianchi? Most probably more of the same for 2015. Silly season has a knack of not being as easy to call as that, though; a surprise could yet be sprung.

Raikkonen: No secret to qualifying charge in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.

After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.

“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.

“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.

“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.

“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.

“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Porsche confirms unchanged line-up for 2016 WEC season

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
© Porsche
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Following Audi’s press conference earlier today confirming its plans for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche has followed suit by announcing it will be retaining all six of its existing LMP1 drivers for the new campaign.

Porsche enjoyed immense success in 2015 as Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ championship in dramatic fashion at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, adding to the manufacturers’ title the marque had won three weeks earlier in Shanghai.

The 919 Hybrid LMP1 car took pole position for every race in 2015, and also won Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998 with the third entry of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

However, Porsche confirmed that it will be only racing with its two regular WEC entries at Le Mans next June, reflecting Audi’s move to help cut costs.

Porsche will once again run the same two line-ups, with Webber, Hartley and Bernhard set to defend their championship together with the no. 1 car. Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas will team up for a third successive year in the second 919 Hybrid.

“The advice of ‘never change a winning team’ is spot on,” LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger said.

“Both our driver trios didn’t only perform brilliantly on track, but have also been with us since the beginning of the programme and have significantly contributed to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s development.

“We are very proud of these six top drivers, and very pleased all of them are on board for the 2016 world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The decision to not run a third car at Le Mans not only ends Hulkenberg’s already-faint hopes of defending his title, but also will leave Tandy and Bamber looking for drives elsewhere.

It also puts an end to speculation that Juan Pablo Montoya could be set to bid for the Triple Crown and race at Le Mans, having tested with Porsche in Bahrain last week.

GP2: Vandoorne breaks win record, Rossi secures P2 in championship

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9548
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Stoffel Vandoorne claimed a record-breaking 11th GP2 Series victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after seeing off challenges from Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Starting second, Vandoorne made a good start but was unable to pass Gasly on the first lap, forcing him to settle down in P2 for the opening stages of the race.

Vandoorne made his move for the lead on lap four, diving down the inside of Gasly at the turn seven hairpin before establishing an advantage over the field.

Gasly dropped down the order as the option tire runners began to lose grip, prompting an early round of pit stops and allowing Raffaele Marciello to hit the front as the lead driver on primes.

Marciello retained this advantage until stopping at the end of lap 26, but emerged from the pits behind Vandoorne. The Italian was just ahead of Mitch Evans, leaving him to battle for second place in the closing stages against the prime-shod Russian Time racer.

Vandoorne was able to ease home at the front to record his seventh win of the year and 11th in GP2, beating Pastor Maldonado’s existing record of ten to become the most successful driver in the history of the series.

Marciello fended off Evans to finish second by less than one second, while American driver Alexander Rossi closely followed them home in fourth.

The result ensures that Rossi will finish the year as GP2’s vice-champion behind Vandoorne in the final standings.

Tomorrow’s sprint race will see Alex Lynn start from pole position for DAMS after finishing eighth on Saturday. Rio Haryanto will start from P2 by virtue of his seventh-place finish, with Jordan King and Gasly filling the second row of the grid.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro unveiled; two cars only for Le Mans

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.

The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.

Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.

However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.

It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.

“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”

Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below: