Caterham

Robin Frijns: A Talent Missed By F1

October 11th 2015: The Formula One paddock is eagerly anticipating the second ever Russian Grand Prix. 24 year old Dutchman Robin Frijns is eagerly anticipating race day. But whereas Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez steal the headlines in Sochi, Frijns is racing hundreds of miles away from the F1 paddock at the Zandvoort track in his native Holland. Now, you may ask what is surprising about this seemingly innocuous fact.  A look at his junior single seater racing CV will tell all as to why this is a very strange occurrence indeed.

Frijns was a regular go-karter in both France and Belgium, finishing his final year of karting in 2008 coming third in the highly competitive KF2 European championship and second in the French KF2 series. Having shown his talent on the highest level of junior karting, logically the next step was a move into cars.

Before Max Verstappen blazed a trail last year by jumping straight from karting to the phenomenally difficult FIA European F3 championship, Frijns raised eyebrows in 2009 by making a similarly difficult step up to the Formula BMW Europe series. The series list of champions reads like a printout of the 2015 Formula One grid.

Despite being a rookie Frijns made his mark on the series, finishing the year third in the points with one win and five further podiums. At age 18 Frijns had marked himself out as a young driver to watch in the motorsport universe. 2010 saw Frijns return to the series with the same Josef Kaufmann Racing team that propelled him to third the year before.

Frijns was considered the pre-season title favourite, but he found himself in a close title battle all year with British driver Jack Harvey. Six wins and a penultimate race retirement for Harvey meant Frijns was crowned the 2010 Formula BMW Europe series champion by a scant margin of 11 points.

Frijns tops the podium at the Hungaroring round of his victorious 2010 Formula BMW Europe campaign. Photo credit is unknown.



Having taken the title in front of the Formula One paddock, Frijns was moving up to the next rung of the single seater ladder. Frijns had shown further proof of his talent with a guest appearance in the equally competitive Formula Renault 2.0 category. In a one-off outing for Kaufmann in the offshoot Northern European Cup series at Spa, Frijns made up for his lack of experience by claiming a second,fifth and a win in the three races.

It was time for Frijns to move into the Formula Renault category full time in 2011, sticking with Josef Kaufmann racing to compete in the super competitive Formula Renault Eurocup.  As a rookie Frijns once again left the motorsport community drooling, claiming the title in his first year with five wins and four other podiums. It’s notable that he beat current F1 drivers Carlos Sainz Jr, Daniil Kvyat and Will Stevens along with the F1 bound Stoffel Vandoorne to win the title, with all of them being Eurocup rookie’s.

With Renault providing significant support through a scholarship scheme it was a obvious Frijns would be stepping up to the Renault World Series for 2012. With 3.5 litre engines and tons of downforce the series is seen as a rival of the GP2 series, the predominant F1 feeder series.

The established Fortec motorsport team were the one’s to sign Frijns, with a top five in the championship the target for the talented rookie. Whilst the Eurocup title success had been a surprise, winning the Renault World Series title as a rookie shocked the single seater community. A third and a win on his debut weekend was a statement of intent, something he followed up with two further wins and four podiums.

The final round at the Circuit de Catalunya was a three way title showdown between Frijns and the more experienced duo of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird. His two rivals were both vastly more experienced and were closely affiliated with F1 teams. With the title coming down to the final race of the season, fireworks were predicted.

Late on, the race exploded into life. On lap 21 Bianchi found his way past Frijns at the first portion of the lap, with Kevin Magnussen close behind. Several corners later Magnussen attempted to also pass Frijns, who moved to block him passing. This quick change of direction left him nowhere to go as it then appeared he pushed title rival Bianchi into the gravel trap as he attempted to stay on the track.

Frijns celebrating with his Fortec team after a contentious final round incident sealed the Renault World Series title for him. F1 beckoned. Photo sourced from automobilsport.com .



This highly contentious collision led to a 25 second time penalty for Frijns, dropping him out of the points. In the end this penalty had no effect as Frijns was still able to claim the title over a disappointed Bird and furious Bianchi. Allegations were made by Bianchi post-race that Frijns deliberately made contact with Bianchi to push him off the track, allegations were were not investigated and furiously denied by Frijns himself.

Despite the contentious nature of the victory, it was nevertheless a huge achievement for Frijns to win the Renault World Series title in his first season. This title win propelled Frijns into Formula One community. After a stellar junior racing career with little financial support, it at last appeared that Frijns was destined for F1.

Frijns took part in the post-season F1 young driver test for the small Swiss Sauber team in Abu Dhabi, impressing enough on his day in the car to be announced at the team’s reserve driver soon after. Whilst it was not a race drive, it was a way to impress the F1 paddock with his time in the car throughout 2013.

Frijns driving the title winning Red Bull RB9-Renault at the post-season young driver test in Abu Dhabi. The test is a prize for winning the Renault World Series. Photo credit thanks to Motorsport.com



Both Frijns and Sauber were keen for him to continue racing in 2013, but with little financial support it was tough for him to progress into GP2. Impressive pre-season tests for the Trident and new Russian Time team showed Frijns deserved to be on the grid, but a lack of funding kept him off it for the opening round in Malaysia.

For the second weekend of the season in Bahrain it was announced that Frijns would join the new Hilmer Motorsport team for a number of rounds. He qualified a respectable 10th on his debut, but an accident and his struggles adapting to the Pirelli tyres prevented him from attaining a good result.

With a race by race shoestring budget Frijns was confirmed for the next round in Spain, and he showed his talent by claiming the feature race victory, cementing his status with a second in the shorter sprint race on Sunday morning. With the weekend supporting the Spanish Grand Prix, Frijns had once again shown the F1 paddock his talents as a driver.

Frijns on his way to his only GP2 win of 2013 for the new Hilmer Motorsport team at Catalunya. Photo sourced from Formule1.nl .



Alas, budget concerns and the lack of experience from the new team hindered Frijns for the rest of the season. He was only able to produce two more points scoring finishes as he completed only six of the eleven rounds in the championship.

2013 can be seen as the year his career momentum stalled, with a part GP2 season not offering much and his opportunities at Sauber were severely limited thanks to their grave financial concerns. He was not in the car much and at the end of the season was dropped because of his lack of funds he could bring to the team.

Despite his turbulent 2013 season Frijns was allowed a glimmer of hope going into 2014. His F1 career was rescued thanks to the back marker Caterham team, who appointed him their reserve driver. Whilst it must of been frustrating to have Swede Marcus Ericsson ahead of him in a race drive, considering he’d beaten him on occasion in GP2 the year despite his lack of budget, he could at least say he remained in F1.

One of the rare occasions Frijns was behind the wheel of a Sauber in 2013. Here he is at the mid-season young driver test at Silverstone. Photo sourced from Worldcarfans.com .

Sadly for Frijns his bad luck from Sauber followed him to Caterham, as he only drove in two practice sessions for the team. He drove in Bahrain and Britain, yet the team were taken over mid-season with chronic financial issues. This left Frijns washed up and seemingly out of F1 for good now.

Whilst the future in single seaters looked bleak for Frijns at the ripe old age of 23, his talent would take him in a different direction. He was handed a lifeline by the Belgian WRT GT racing team, who offered him a test at the end of 2014. His impressive showing was enough for WRT team principal Vincent Vosse, a former GT driver, to offer him a drive with his Audi works supported team.

Partnering fellow single seater convert Laurens Vanthoor for the Blancpain Sprint Series and Jean Karl Vernay supporting them in the Blancpain Endurance Series, he was for the first time in his career a professional racing driver. After a small hiccup at the opening round of the Sprint series, Frijns took to GT racing and his Audi R8 LMS like a duck to water.

An even rarer occurrence. Frijns behind the wheel of a Caterham in 2014. Here he is in Bahrain free practice. Photo sourced from F1fanatic.co.uk . Copyright Caterham and F1.

Ably led by Audi GT superstar Vanthoor, Frijns was able to secure the combined Blancpain GT series title at Zandvoort last Sunday, despite missing Vanthoor thanks to an injury several weeks ago which prevented him from claiming the title with Frijns.

Now is where we go full circle, as I mentioned at the start of the article. Whilst Frijns was claiming the Blancpain GT title last Sunday, his talents should have propelled him to a place on the Russian Grand Prix grid last Sunday. Thanks to extreme bad luck and a lack of funding it hasn’t happened for Frijns in F1 yet. For now his story joins a long list of very talented young drivers who should reach F1, but don’t for whatever reason.

For now Frijns must be content with a growing reputation in GT racing with WRT and Audi, along with a recently announced drive for Andretti Autosport for the second season of the Formula E championship. This new electric series is growing and could offer Frijns a chance to showcase his talents to the single seater community. One thing is for sure though. Motorsport fans will hear a lot more about Robin Frijns for the duration of his career.

Frijns on his way to the Blancpain GT series title last weekend at Zandvoort to complete a great first season in GT racing. Sourced from RaceXpress.nl copyright Miguel Bosch .

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to comment below and thank you for reading.

Max Chilton rumblings leave Alex Rossi in the cold

After the announcement last night that Marussia driver Max Chilton would move aside at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, allegedly for non-payment from Chilton’s sponsors, therefore allowing Alex Rossi to make his Grand Prix debut. Whilst this seemed like a dream for Rossi, who only recently joined Marussia after leaving Caterham.

Sadly for Rossi, the reality quickly became something much different because as swiftly as he was announced it subsequently became common knowledge that Chilton would in fact be driving for Marussia this weekend after all. For the seemingly happy go-lucky American Alex Rossi this must be a huge blow to gear yourself up for a Grand Prix debut, only to have it snatched away so soon.

This bizarre soap opera began last night when it was announced by the team that Chilton was being replaced for this weekend because of “contractual issues.” The waters were muddied further in the aftermath of this as Chilton himself released a press statement which said that he was “stepping aside” to allow the team to sell his seat for much needed financial benefit. This seemed strange that the team and the driver were giving different explanations for Chilton stepping aside.

It seems that if the rumours are true this was the wake up call for Chilton to start leaning on his sponsors to pay up the promised funds, as whilst Free Practice 1 was taking place this morning, whilst Rossi was probably on track, it was announced by the team that Chilton would indeed by racing this weekend after all leaving Rossi with only the Free Practice 1 session for the weekend.

Whilst this will hugely disappointing for Rossi he can take some solace from the experience gained for the future, especially as this was his first time driving the Marussia MR03-Ferrari car. It seems likely Rossi will get more chances during Free practice sessions this year, most likely at his home race in Austin. With nothing confirmed in terms of driver line-up for next year an impressive showing from Rossi in any further running for the team could persuade them to take him on for the 2015 season.

Whilst it’s hard to read too much into Rossi’s display this morning as it was his first time in the car, therefore it was no surprise that he was 1.5 seconds behind highly rated team mate Jules Bianchi. This seems a good starting point for Rossi, let’s hope he gets a proper chance at F1 from here.

Why Andre Lotterer deserves F1 chance

Immediately following the shock announcement of Max Verstappen joining Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2015 F1 season on Monday night, rumours began circulating that for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix Caterham would replace Kamui Kobayashi with stand-out Audi sportscar driver Andre Lotterer. By Tuesday afternoon it appeared almost certainly a done deal, with the final confirmation being announced by Caterham in a press release this morning, Wednesday 20th August. For the insular world of Formula One many have started scrambling around for information and analysis on this very quick German, with the results they’ll find on him being enough to show his F1 debut this weekend is long overdue.

Andre Lotterer has already been amongst the F1 circus once before, with early titles in German Formula BMW Junior and ADAC Formula BMW in 1998 and 1999 brought him to the attention of the new Jaguar team for 2000, who offered him several tests during the 2000 season to complement his 4th in the German Formula Three Championship campaign. The link to the Jaguar F1 team was made stronger in 2001 as he raced in British F3 for the Jaguar junior racing team, before stepping up to become the official test driver for the Jaguar F1 team for the 2002 season.


Lotterer testing for Jaguar in 2002.

Whilst it initially looked likely that Lotterer would be promoted to a race seat in 2003 after it was announced that both Eddie Irvine was retiring and Pedro De La Rosa was to also leave. Sadly for Lotterer the team chose 2002 Minardi stand-out Mark Webber alongside promising young Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia for the 2003 season, leaving Lotterer looking to re-build his career momentum.

Lotterer subsequently shunned Europe and went to Japan to race in their premier Formula Nippon series, now called Super Formula, and Japanese Super GT series for 2003. Impressive results in both cemented his reputation in Japan as a very fast young driver as he was a frequent title contender in Formula Nippon for the works TOM’S Toyota team, alongside two Super GT titles in 2006 and 2009.


Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima driving for Lexus in Super GT at Okayama in 2011.

These impressive results in Japan led to some well deserved attention from Europe, although it does seem surprising looking back that despite consistently impressive Super GT results it took until 2009 for Lotterer to make his Le Mans 24 Hours. The call came from the Kolles team racing their privateer LMP1 Audi R10 TDI. After a herculean effort from Lotterer and co-driver Charles Zwolsman to complete the race without third driver Narain Karthikeyan to injury, the car came home an impressive 7th overall after completing 369 laps.

The impressive debut with the Kolles Audi in 2009 led the highly successful works Audi team to offer him a deal for the 2010 season, where his Audi R15 TDI+ came home 2nd. From here things would get very busy for Lotterer as from 2011 onwards he would have to dovetail his Japanese Formula Nippon and Super GT commitments with a full schedule in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, morphing into the World Endurance Series for 2012.

The full time schedule has not affected Lotterer’s pace however as he finally claimed a first Formula Nippon title in 2011 after 8 years of trying, with a perfect 2011 being completed with a heroic first Le Mans 24 Hours victory for him, after fighting off an onslaught of Peugeot’s to claim the win. Things improved in 2012 as the Lotterer/Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer partnership swept to a second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory and the inaugural World Endurance Championship title also.

2013 and 2014 so far have seen a continuation of is stellar results as the Audi trio claimed a third Le Mans 24 Hours victory and currently sit 2nd in the World Endurance Championship with 5 rounds remaining. During his sportscar and single seater career so far Lotterer has regularly proven himself to be a master of wet conditions, which maybe gives some indication of why Caterham chose to give him debut in the notoriously wet Belgian GP at Spa. Another reason may be his experience of the Spa circuit this year as he’s already raced there for Audi both in the WEC and the recent Spa 24 Hours.


Lotterer at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours for Audi.

Whatever Caterham chose they have made a bold yet good decision in my opinion to take a chance on the always quick Andre Lotterer for this weekend, as a sportscar fan I’ve seen plenty of impressive drives from him over the last few years for Audi. He has a chance to improve things for the Caterham team although despite circuit knowledge the Caterham car has proved very difficult all season. I sincerely hope he gets the chance to give a good account of himself this weekend despite the troublesome Caterham car, which I think is only fair after the wait he’s had to make his F1 debut.

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