At last year’s World Motor Sport Council in Doha, one notable order of business was the announcement that from this year former Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali would take the reins of the FIA’s Single-Seater Commission from outgoing President Gerhard Berger.
In the four years of Berger’s presidency the Federation on am ambitious plan to remodel the route to the top level of racing, creating a clear and simple pathway that would take young racers from karting all the way to Formula One.
The first fruits of that task have been delivered, through the creation of a reinvigorated Formula 3 European Championship and the establishment of the first national F4 championship, the first step beyond karting, in Italy. It is into this evolving landscape that Domenicali, who is combining his commission presidency with a role at automotive giants Audi, arrives, and he’s excited about the challenge.
“You do these things because you love motor sport and motor sport has been part of my life since I was a child,” he says. “My job is to make sure that my experience and vision of motor sport can influence the work of the commission in order to present to the World Motor Sport Council – and to the world of motor sport – ideas to make sure single-seater racing has a well-structured platform that can enable not only drivers but also young engineers and teams to develop a career and their business.
“I am enthusiastic about the task and also about the people working with me in the commission – they are very passionate guys, young professionals with a lot of motivation.”
F3 has, he says, “been a great success,” and the he is convinced the championship established by Berger is on a firm footing. “We have a very good basis with a good organiser and promoters that place the championship alongside regular large-scale events. F3’s place in that is well balanced with the other events and the visibility is good. The platform is solid and [as of February 2015] we’re working on the renewal of this agreement.”
F4, meanwhile, is at an early stage. Last year’s Italian championship was the first of a planned series of championships, run at national level by a country’s ASN, and Domencali is keen to see how the category develops in 2015 as more series are rolled out.
“This year, we will have at least seven championships, in seven nations,” he says, highlighting new championships in the UK, Japan, Australia, Germany, Spain, China and a series in the FIA’s northern European zone.
“It’s a very solid base with a good car. What is fundamental is that over the next three years we make sure that each of these championships, and the ones that follow, are good, well managed, that costs are kept under control, and if we are able to do that, that will be a fantastic starting point.”
He is also targeting the US a territory where he feels F4 might flourish. “I spoke with [US national motor sport authority] ACCUS to organise a meeting with the company that is working on the basic formula. We need to involve an engine manufacturer and a chassis manufacturer, and that’s really the starting point. That meeting is set to happen soon.”
He is also certain that the role of ASNs and the FIA in these first rungs on the ladder go beyond simple regulation.
“I believe that from a federation point of view what we want to do is make sure we create the right steps so that from an experience point of view, drivers arrive in F1 well prepared,” he says. “We need to make sure that race stewards can be considered not only as regulators but as educators, helping drivers to grow.”
Logically, the final step on the ladder is Formula 2 – the creation of which was approved at the most recent meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in March.
It is a huge project and one Domenicali says must involve as many of the sports existing stakeholders as possible.
“We need to make sure that everyone who is interested in these new projects has the freedom to come and discuss them with us,” he says. “There is no agenda for us beyond building what we believe to be the best, most competitive, affordable series possible to allow drivers to make the final step and to create a clearly understandable path.”
The track ahead is clearly complex but Domenicali remains excited by the task. “We know that the context is not easy but this is what we stand for. So when the FIA President, Jean Todt, asked me I said OK, thank you very much, let’s go. Now I’m starting to work towards presenting something that can be good for the benefit of motor sport.”
Read the full interview in AUTO #10 (to be published soon) and watch our exclusive video below.
Sebastian Vettel scored a sensational first win of his Ferrari career at the Malaysian Grand Prix, ambushing the dominant Mercedes team by expertly converting a two-stop strategy to relegate championship leader Lewis Hamilton to second place and Nico Rosberg to third.
Across the weekend, Ferrari’s SF15-T was kinder on tyres than its rivals and Vettel capitalised on the advantage in the race, electing not to stop during an early safety car period and then getting the best out of his starting medium tyres to hold the lead during the race’s opening phase.
The German made his first visit to the pit lane on lap 17, taking on more medium tyres and rejoining in third place behind the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who had both pitted during the safety car period brought about by Sauber’s Marcus Ericcson beaching his car on the edge of the gravel trap in turn one.
A strong second stint saw Vettel maintain his challenge but when Hamilton took on medium tyres for his next stint the gap closed as the Mercedes driver closed in on the German by upwards of a lap per second.
Vettel then took on hard tyres in his second stop on lap 37, but when Hamilton then made his third stop with 18 laps to go – having to take on hard tyres with only heavily used mediums as the alternative - Mercedes’ challenge evaporated.
Vettel controlled the gap with ease and eventually took the chequered flag with eight seconds in hand to claim his first victory since Brazil 2013 and Ferrari’s first win since Spain of the same season.
“A phenomenal day. It feels incredible,” said Vettel afterwards. “To see the guys when I was on the podium, to look down, it was an incredible atmosphere. I can only recall from the victories Fernando had with Ferrari and recall especially the victories Michael celebrated with the team – I think there were one or two – it’s incredible.
“The strategy today was also ace,” he added. “Mercedes pulled in [during the safety car period], which I think we were a bit surprised by, but we saw on Friday that they weren’t too happy on the medium compound and Lewis was struggling in the first stint and I was able to keep up with him, which I enjoyed a lot.
“And then I knew I had to deliver, trying to make those tyres last and trying to go as fast as I can. Second stint he was chasing me down, which was tough, so he had a string second stint. In the end I think I was able to rebalance the car a little more and I was able to, yeah, have a solid gap the last couple of laps.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, admitted that he had struggled with the balance of his car all afternoon.
"All day I was struggling with the balance," he said. "It was very, very uncomfortable, a lot of understeer, I couldn't look after tyres. When I went to option tyre the car was better I was able to be a bit more consistent. I was able to close the gap. We went on the other tyres at the end, which weren’t good for me. I tried my best and the team made best choice they could."
There was plenty of action behind the podium finishers. Kimi Raikkonen recovered from a first-lap puncture to finish fourth. The Finn used a three-stop strategy and hustled his way through the field to close in on the leaders but the time lost early couldn’t be recovered and he finished 41 seconds behind Vettel.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas finishing fifth, winning a late-race tussle with team-mate Felipe Massa. It was a curiously uncompetitive weekend for the Grove team, however, and they certainly now look to have ceded ‘best of the rest’ status behind Mercedes to Ferrari.
Behind Massa was the other hero of Sepang, the sport's youngest ever points scorer Max Verstappen. The 17-year-old passed his team-mate Carlos Sainz in the late stages having recovered from a fraught run through the early laps.
Daniil Kvyat led home Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo after a difficult day for the Milton Keynes squad. Kvyat was lucky to see the flag having been pitched in the air while passing Nico Hulkenberg's Force India. Both cars suffered with excessive brake wear and Ricciardo hung on for the final point.
Behind the points scorers, Romain Grosjean finished 11th for Lotus, with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr 12th ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. Manor’s Roberto Mehri was the final finisher in 15th place.
The McLaren’s of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso failed to finish, with Alonso told by his team to retire his car after 21 laps and Button cruising back to the garage having reported a loss of power after 41 laps.
Malaysian GP, Sepang, 29th March 1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1h41m05.793s 2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +8.569s 3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 12.310s 4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53.822s 5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:10.409s 6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:13.586s 7 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:39.085s 8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1 Lap 9 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1 Lap 10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1 Lap 11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1 Lap 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1 Lap 13 Sergio Perez Force India 1 Lap 14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1 Lap 15 Roberto Merhi Marussia 3 Laps - Pastor Maldonado Lotus R - Jenson Button McLaren R - Fernando Alonso McLaren R - Marcus Ericsson Sauber R - Will Stevens Marussia DNS
The next time the WEC field will be in action will be at Silverstone in two weeks’ time where the true pace and performance hierarchy will be seen for the first time.
Today’s running began with a four-hour session held in cool, sunny and thankfully less windy conditions than yesterday.
Timo Bernhard set the fastest time with a 1m39.157s lap as the teams elected for longer runs this morning. The German slightly outpaced Audi Sport Team Joest’s André Lotterer by 0.356s.
In LMP2 it was the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan at the top of the times, as Julien Canal turned in a 1m47.760s lap. Canal’s time just beat reigning ELMS champion Nelson Panciatici’s 1m47. 950s time in the Signatech Alpine-Nissan.
Fernando Rees claimed the top spot in LMGTE Pro, taking the Aston Martin Vantage he shares with Alex MacDowell and Richie Stanaway this season to P1 in class with a 1m57.331s.
The LMGTE Am best was set by Stuart Hall in the #96 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8. The British racer peaked on a 1m57.116, which was his best lap of the test so far.
After ‘The Avener’s’ beat-thumping lunchtime festivities concluded most the cars returned to the track.
Porsche Team again enjoyed a 1-2 at the top of the screens with the #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani outpacing the #17 sister car, with Timo Bernhard in the cockpit, by just 0.041s.
The two new-look Audi R18 e-tron quattros again placed third and fourth with Marcel Fässler setting a time just 0.407s adrift of the leading Porsche. Lucas Di Grassi set the fourth best time – 1m40.153s - for the #8 Audi Sport Team Joest entry.
The session was shortened by 15 minutes after Mike Conway stopped the #2 Toyota TS 040 HYBRID out on the track after an incident with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Toni Vilander.
G-Drive again led the way in LMP2 but this time it was the #28 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan which was quickest. Colombian driver Gustavo Yacaman, who shares the cockpit with Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez, set the time of 1m48.588 to lead the # 43 Team SARD Morand car, driven by Tristan Vautier, by just under 0.3s.
Aston Martin Racing again claimed the best time in the LMGTE class with Marco Sørensen continuing to accrue valuable testing miles as he gets ready for his endurance racing debut. The Dane set a best time of 1m57.675 in the #95 car.
Dempsey-Proton Racing finished a very encouraging test at Circuit Paul Ricard to lead the field in LMGTE Am. A 1m58.473 set by Klaus Bachler was just under a second quicker than the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia.
The appetites of WEC drivers, teams, media and fans alike has been well and truly whetted by two days of track action. All that is left to be said are three very special words. Bring on Silverstone!