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Lotterer debut a refreshing tonic for F1, Caterham

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It used to be in Formula One that in-season replacements were more common, and occasionally, surprising in their choice. But they’ve become less frequent in recent years, and more predictable.

Each of the last two years, the only team that’s required an in-season replacement driver has been Lotus. Jerome d’Ambrosio, then Lotus reserve driver, got the call to replace the suspended Romain Grosjean at the 2012 Italian Grand Prix. “JDA” had been in F1 with Virgin, now Marussia, the year previous but wasn’t able to make the most of a difficult situation in that cameo.

Meanwhile a year ago, following Kimi Raikkonen’s injury that cost him the last two races of the season, Lotus went for a trusted veteran in Heikki Kovalainen rather than shaking up the status quo by bringing in its actual reserve, Davide Valsecchi. While Kovalainen brought experience to the table, he wasn’t able to deliver in his assigned task for the United States and Brazilian Grands Prix: delivering additional points.

You’d have to go back to 2011 to see the last real, major, raft of in-season replacements and what they brought in terms of unpredictability to F1.

There were several changes. Lotus, then Renault, was at it again: Bruno Senna replaced Nick Heidfeld the second half of the year, in a season where both were in essence, injury replacements for Robert Kubica. Pedro de la Rosa deputized for an injured Sergio Perez at Canada. And then, there was a then-unheralded Australian rookie named Daniel Ricciardo who was quietly drafted in at HRT to replace Narain Karthikeyan the second half of that year. Karthikeyan’s Indian countryman, Karun Chandhok, also made a one-off cameo at the Nurburgring in for Jarno Trulli at Lotus, now Caterham.

All of this preamble brings us to Andre Lotterer, who will make a surprise but welcome F1 debut this weekend with Caterham in place of Kamui Kobayashi at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Lotterer, while he has been one of the world’s top sports car drivers for five seasons, still has a tall task in front of him with Caterham. He can’t embarrass himself and he also has to have the realistic goal of beating his teammate Marcus Ericsson, who has a year’s worth of running with the CT05 chassis.

But his is a refreshing appointment compared to the usual reserve driver, retread, or prodigy-in-waiting that has been the general call in recent years.

Ferrari, for instance, had a golden opportunity to promote someone outside the realm of normality in 2009 following Felipe Massa’s injury in the Hungarian Grand Prix. But veterans Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella failed to take advantage of the lifelong dream the pair had, struggling with a geriatric chassis and earning a wealth of criticism from onlookers.

Renault seized an opportunity to promote Grosjean in the same season, to replace Nelson Piquet Jr., but as reserve and with the cloud of controversy that hung over the squad in the wake of Piquet’s “Crashgate” scandal at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, Grosjean was nothing more than a stopgap measure for the time being and really wasn’t able to prove himself.

Jaime Alguersuari at Toro Rosso, also in 2009? He entered F1 with nothing but question marks surrounding his readiness as the then-youngest driver in history, a mark that will be beaten in 2015, in the same team, by Max Verstappen.

And then whether it’s been de la Rosa, Kovalainen, Chandhok, d’Ambrosio or Vitantonio Liuzzi as the pop-up, replacement driver, you’ve had guys who are devoid of any real “star” value and with the mystery and mystique surrounding them as to how well they’ll do. Basically, you knew what you’re getting as all these guys have been solid but never superstar-worthy in their F1 careers.

For Lotterer, he may well be a colossal flop or he won’t be able to outperform his machinery, but his presence as a three-time Le Mans winner, a driver in the peak of his powers in a different discipline, adds a level of intrigue not present for some of the other in-season replacements in recent years.

He makes Caterham an interesting team to watch, instead of merely the also-ran at the back of the grid it’s been for most, if not all, this season.

He has track experience (he raced at Spa earlier this year in the FIA WEC) and has still actively maintained a single seater career in Japan, so he’s as fresh as a daisy.

For F1, it can claim for the first time in 20 years it has the active 24 Hours of Le Mans winner in its field – and a guy who’s adept at handling some of racing’s newest technology with aplomb.

In short, Lotterer’s one of the most intriguing in-season replacements, and for that matter, debutantes, F1 has seen in years. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how he goes.

Russian Grand Prix extended through 2025

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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The Russian Grand Prix at Sochi will continue to feature on future Formula 1 calendars, with event organizers confirming a long-term extension.

With the race already secure through 2020 following a past deal between then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and then-F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, that end date has now been extended by five years through to 2025, according to Russia’s deputy prime minister Dimitry Kozak.

“We held negotiations and the contract for holding FIA Formula One racing Grand Prix in Russia has been extended till 2025,” Kozak told Russian news outlet TASS.

Sochi first appeared on the F1 calendar in 2014 and will hold its fourth race this year from April 28 to 30.

Hamilton fastest midway through day two of F1 testing

during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton recorded the fastest time and the most laps through Tuesday’s morning session of preseason testing.

Hamilton’s lap of 1 minute, 20.983 seconds was 0.782 seconds faster than the leading time he set during the opening day of Formula One testing at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

As expected from the new regulations intended to boost speeds, Hamilton’s pace through two days is more than a second faster than the top time set on the same track through eight days of preseason testing in 2016.

The three-time world champion will hand over the wheel of the Mercedes to new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the afternoon session.

Just like Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel from Day 1, Kimi Raikkonen was the nearest challenger to Hamilton’s top speed, albeit almost two seconds slower.

Hamilton and Raikkonen also got in the most laps with 66 and 47, respectively, as Mercedes or Ferrari have yet to report any mechanical problems so far.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen could only muster the fifth fastest time.

While world champion Mercedes and Ferrari continue to outperform rival Red Bull, a pair of the more modest teams struggled to get their cars rolling.

Antonio Giovinazzi, who has substituted for Pascal Wehrlein while he recovers from a back injury, spent most of the morning waiting for Sauber to replace his car’s engine. Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, meanwhile, only emerged from the garage in the final minutes of the four-hour morning session.

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

Sauber confirms Tatiana Calderon as development driver

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Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon, who’s worked to further her racing career since moving from to Europe prior to 2012, has been named a development driver for Sauber F1 Team.

Calderon turns 24 in March. Her best result thus far is second in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and she’s also raced in GP3 and Formula 3 over the last five years. Her results haven’t necessarily matched her ability level, as she’s shown some promise enough to be scouted out by Sauber for this F1 role.

With Sauber, she’ll be heavily involved in simulator work and also attend some Grands Prix on site, but there’s been no timetable yet for her on-track debut.

“I am extremely happy to join the Sauber F1 Team as a development driver,” Calderon said. “I want to thank Monisha Kaltenborn and the whole team for giving me this opportunity, and also Escuderia Telmex for their support. I am grateful to be working with such an established Formula 1 team and to benefit from its long experience. I look forward to working with the team and learning as much as I can. It is a step closer to my dream – one day competing in Formula 1!”

Team principal Kaltenborn added, “We are very pleased to welcome Tatiana onboard to the Sauber family. We have the opportunities and facilities to provide Tatiana a professional platform on which she can further develop her knowledge and skills in racing. I am convinced that we can provide her lots of in-depth motorsport know-how for her future career in racing.”

Calderon’s been confirmed for her race program in GP3 this year with the DAMS team, alongside fellow F1 development driver, American Santino Ferrucci of Haas, and 19-year-old Bruno Baptista.

She’s not the first female driver Sauber has had – Simona de Silvestro was on board for a similar development plan three years ago – but it didn’t end well, so here’s hoping the F1 future is brighter for Calderon.

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”