Stefan Grand Prix – Update & Championship

Yes, the Stefan Grand Prix blog is back, for the second time, after it’s brief brush with eternity. As its author has been given the all clear with five years of check-ups and scans, the Stefan Grand Prix blog can continue with it’s mind fully focused back on F1 and the future.

Quick Championship Update:

Turning our minds back a week and a half to the weary hours of last Sunday morning, sitting there wondering if the rain was to come and wash away the Red Bull white wash, we remember that in the SGP Championship podium , it was the driver débutantes claiming all three steps beneath the rising flags and anthems.

Despite having to desperately save  on fuel in the last 20 laps, Lucas Di Grassi and Virgin Racing claimed their first victory in the championship, crucially beating the reliability issues that had plagued them since the teams inception.

Coming a close 2nd and on the same lap was Karun Chandhok, once again showing he has the making of a great F1 driver and showing the critics wrong who said he would be outperformed by his team-mate Bruno Senna who came in 3rd.

Disappointingly,  at their ‘home’ Grand Prix, Lotus F1 dropped crucial points against its rivals with both cars suffering issues, putting both drivers down the pecking order in 4th & 5th place. Kovalainen picked up a point for the fastest lap of 1:42.701. Propping up the SGP field after a spin on lap 2 was Timo Glock whose over-exuberance at the start of the race got the better of him.

Championship Standings

1st: Hekki Kovalainen 25pts

2nd: Lucas Di Grassi 15pts

3nd: Karun Chandhok 13 pts

4th=: Jarno Trulli 10pts

4th=: Bruno Senna 10pts

6th: Timo Glock 8pts

Constructor Standing

1st: Lotus F1 35pts

2nd: Virgain Racing Team 25pts

3rd: Hispania Racing Team 23pts

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Malaysian Grand Prix Qualifying Report

A quick update from the Stefan Grand Prix blog due to it’s authors recovery and treatment shows an exciting Malaysian Grand Prix Qualifying session, resulting in an upside down grid and two of the débutantes making it into Q2

Hekki Kovalainen

The stand-out driver so far this season has been Hekki Kovalainen in his Lotus and he did not disappoint infront of the teams home crowd, beating nearest rival Timo Glock in the Virgin Racing. Both capitalised on mistakes by the Ferrari and McLaren drivers to make it into Q2 for the first time this year. Kovalainen lapped the Sepang circuit in 1 minute 52.270 seconds, 2 tenths faster than Glock. A result which left team boss Tony Fernandes delighted “To get 15th place in our home country, in front of our home crowd is amazing. I’m over the moon and just so excited. We gave the Toro Rossos a run for their money today and Jarno was just unfortunate to get blocked, otherwise he’d have been in Q2 as well. Tomorrow’s another day, and we’ll see what happens, but it’s a good step forward.Today we’ll enjoy it, and we’ll live for the day, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Karun Chandhok

The other stand out performance for the second weekend in a row was Karun Chandhok, who not only out qualified his team-mate Bruno Senna, but also for the first time this season, his Hispania Racing out-qualified Lucas Di Grassi in the Virgin Racing car. “I will start tomorrow’s race just behind Trulli, Alonso, Hamilton and Massa.” Chandhok said after qualifying. “The weather was not looking good in the afternoon before qualifying and I was not sure if it would hold until the qualifying session as well. It didn’t and that gave us our first wet experience driving the car for the first time in heavy rain. I made the best of it.”

For the second year in a row, the start time for the Malaysian Grand Prix has been put back for the convenience of the European audience. However, this has placed the race firmly into the grasp of the Malaysian monsoons which cleans the days events as regular as clock work. For those of us who will now watch the Grand Prix with less sleepy eyes, we will have greater clarity of the entertainment unfolding beneath the Asian cyclones.

15.  Kovalainen     Lotus-Cosworth         1:52.875  1:52.270
16.  Glock          Virgin-Cosworth        1:52.398  1:52.520
17.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1:52.211
18.  Trulli         Lotus-Cosworth         1:52.884
19.  Alonso         Ferrari                1:53.044
20.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes       1:53.050
21.  Massa          Ferrari                1:53.283
22.  Chandhok       HRT-Cosworth           1:56.299
23.  Senna          HRT-Cosworth           1:57.269
24.  di Grassi      Virgin-Cosworth        1:59.977

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Stefan Grand Prix Championship – Australian Grand Prix

Australian Grand Prix Start (c) Sutton

After all of the doom and gloom reports in the press following the disappointing Bahrain Grand Prix, today’s race at Albert Park in Melbourne did enough to silence those critics and to get them to put down their hammers and nails. A spectacular race all round with a thrilling battle up front and in the midfield. But what about our boys at the back?

Unsurprisingly, out of only two cars to finish, it was the green and yellow car of Hekki Kovalainen who led home the new teams to claim his second victory in the Stefan GP Championship, finishing 2 laps down on race leader Jenson Button.

After the race, Kovalainen said he’d had an enjoyable afternoon at the wheel of his Lotus. “I enjoyed it today and had good fun out there. Our target was to finish the race and from the start we were quite comfortably ahead of the new teams. When Timo Glock dropped out I just focused on keeping up a decent rhythm, not making any mistakes and bringing the car home.Now we go to Malaysia with a good feeling and we’re all looking forward to that.”

Team boss Tony Fernandes praised the efforts of his Finish driver. “Heikki did us proud – three places away from a point, and he was keeping pace with most of the other cars throughout the race. Maybe it would have been nice if three other cars had gone out so we could get a point, but, joking aside, it is good that at this stage of the season we’re already thinking about points. We’re in a nice position for Malaysia.”

Hekki also claimed an extra point for producing the fastest lap of the debutantes, recording 1:33.638 on lap 52.

Chandhok in the HRT garage

The biggest surprise of the race was the Hispania Racing Teams’ car of Karun Chandhok, completing the race and being only 5 laps down. Having only achieved a 9 lap consecutive run previously, today’s performance is one to be greatly admired and one that the team can take a lot of heart from and also a lot of data.

“To finish was very difficult today, and all the more satisfying because of that,” Chandhok said after finishing the race. “I dedicate this race result to all the mechanics and engineers who worked so hard since Bahrain, without any pre-season testing. This is a fantastic day for the team and a great step forward. I am proud to have ended our first race. We achieved the best result we could do today. We have to keep pushing and working and we will manage to finish even higher.”

HRT does Colin Kolles was also delighted with the cars performance in the race. “This result, having Karun ending up the race in 14th position is a great step forward,” said Kolles. “We reached the goal with one of the two cars in the finish. I’m sorry for Bruno because he did a good job all weekend. Karun drove the team’s first full race and finished in 14th position the first race for the team, what was really fantastic, especially with these difficult conditions. The team did a great job and brought two very competitive cars on the grid. Now we will keep on pushing and just focus on our preparation for Malaysia, where our season will really begin.”

Lotus  Chief Technical Officer also added his praise to Chandhok. “Congratulations to Karun Chandhok for getting a finish!”

Finishing third was Timo Glock, who must have been disappointed to retired after only 70% of the race with suspension failure. The German was very confident that he would have finished the race had the car not developed this problem.

Virgin Racing cars emerge from the pits (c) Sutton

“The start of the race was okay. After leaving the pit lane I was able to catch up Chandok and some other cars and we had a bit of fun fighting with Michael. The car felt reasonably good in the wet and dry conditions. I started to feel that there was something wrong with the way the car was feeling. I came in and we found a problem which we now know to be a camber shim having worked loose, and this was causing the suspension to move around on the left rear. Had we not had the suspension issue I think we would have been looking good for our first chequered flag.”

Up next was Lucas Di Grassi, whose Australian Grand Prix will be remembered for his great battle with Michael Schumacher in the first few laps of the race. Coming into turn 13, Schumacher over took Di Grassi only to run wide, allowing the Brazilian to muscle his way back through. Though it was inevitable that Schumacher in the Mercedes was going to overtake and pull away, it was nice to see a driver in the lower cars battling it out with the established teams, showing that the new boys are not going to be pushed over.

After the race, Di Grassi said “The early part of the race was okay for me. The car was behaving quite well at the beginning. Unfortunately, we didn’t time the strategy well to change to slicks but otherwise things were going okay. So it’s a shame that we were hit by another problem – a hydraulic problem – and we had to retire after 26 laps.”

Hydraulics were again the mice in the machinery for Bruno Senna, who could only manage 4 laps until his Australian Grand Prix was over. “I didn´t intend my second Grand Prix to end with an hydraulic failure, but that´s racing! I made a good start and was in 14th after the big crash in front. It’s fantastic for the team to make it to the finish and we have got a great deal of data to work from for Malaysia. I hope we can finish with two cars next race.”

Still, it must be heartening for Senna to see that there is potential for the Dallara Chassis to last a full race, following his team-mates excellent performance. Although he would probably wish this it was him, he must take delight in knowing that the potential is there for the coming season.

Rounding up the débutantes was Jarno Trulli who would not make it out onto the track following an unusual problem for Lotus F1 , that being the hydraulics. Mike Gascoyne explained the problem after the race. “Obviously a very disappointing start. Jarno had a hydraulic power pack fail on the grid, not something we’ve seen before and we couldn’t get it changed in time.”

Looking at the championship table, it looks like there needs to be some stellar performances to reel in the lead that Hekki Kovalainen is building up. Although the battle to decide who will do the chasing is developing very nicely, with the remain five drivers covered by just 2 points.

Lotus F1 are also stretching their legs in the constructors table while the F1 circus heads off to the teams’ home Grand Prix, Malaysia. Hispania Racing and Virgin Racing  will be hoping to close down the gap to it’s début compatriots,while the Green and Yellow cars will be dreaming of chasing the more established teams at their end of the grid.

Driver Standing

1st: Hekki Kovalainen 22pts

2nd=: Karun Chandhok 7 pts

2nd=: Jarno Trulli 7pts

2nd=: Timo Glock 7pts

5th=: Bruno Senna 6pts

6th Lucas Di Grassi 5pts

Constructor Standing

1st: Lotus F1 29pts

2nd: Hispania Racing Team 13pts

3rd: Virgain Racing Team 12pts

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The Virgin Fuel Tank Issue

Following yesterdays embarrassing admission from Virgin Racing that it’s fuel tank was not big enough to enable either car to finish a race, the team backer Sir Richard Branson said he still remains committed to the team.

Virgin Racing at speed (c) LAT

“I think all of us around this table know that Nick has managed to get a car that is the fastest of the new cars, but there is an issue here that is going to take a few races to fix. It will actually give the car some time to have some practice time – because the new cars were given so little practice time. Over the next five races we will learn more and more about the car.”

Chief designer Nick Wirth revealed earlier in the week that the issue was first noticed during pre-season testing. “It has become clear during pre-season testing and our debut race in Bahrain that our fuel tank capacity is marginal. If not addressed there is the possibility that fuel pick-up could become an issue in certain circumstances.”

Indeed, after qualifying, Timo Glock revealed fuel pick-up issues were the reason the team were lagging over a second behind rivals Lotus F1. “We were carrying more fuel than we would have liked because of a pick-up problem, otherwise I think we would have been able to have more of a fight with Lotus.”

Virgin racing have now asked the FIA for permission to submit a new chassis for inspection, although that will not be available until the 5th round of the season in Barcelona. It is understood that this permission has been granted although some teams are unhappy at the precedent that this will set. In the meantime, the team will have to run the engines very lean during the following races to stand a chance of completing a race distance. Reliability has been the main gremlin that the Virgin Racing cars have had so it is not expected that any of the cars will be able to reach the full race distance anyway.

James Allen notes how strange that this situation has come about. “The fuel cells are an outsourced component and are produced for the team by a company called Premier. Most F1 teams use cells from ATL. Teams request cells of different sizes depending on their fuel consumption figures, but Cosworth, which powers Virgin as well as three other teams, will have been very specific with all its customers about the fuel required by its engine.”

Nick Wirth has insisted that his CFD approach was not to blame for this error, however his critics will be quick to point out the team needs to change its approach if it to race competitively as the season progresses.

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Qualifying Report – Australian Grand Prix

The Melbourne Gloom

As the overcast gloom of the evening rolled over Melbourne while the dust was setting over the qualifying battle between the two Red Bulls, the interest for the Stefan Grand Prix Blog had already been settled 30 minutes earlier with Hekki Kovalainen coming on top of the 6 new boys.

The threat of rain hung over the first frantic qualifying session with traffic also a major concern due to the fact that the Melbourne track is 30-seconds slower and narrower than the Bahrain circuit.

Hydralic failures had yet again cut short Hispania Racings final practice session, once again cutting short the teams valuable track time. It was no surprise that both drivers were at the bottom of the time sheets. What was more interesting was how close Chandhok’s time was to Senna’s. With limited practice time in the previous race, we were not able to gauge the relative talent between the HRT boys. Now both drivers are getting equal, though limited, track time in their respective cars, we can see that that Karun and Bruno are very evenly matched.

Hispania Racing Team in Melbourne

“I was one of the early starters and joined track with a set of Soft tyres,” said Chandhok. “I wanted to make it through Q1 and I did. I am very pleased with this result for our second Grand Prix; we are not too far from the top runners and I haven’t made any significant errors – it’s a great way to start my F1 career!”

Meanwhile Senna was frustrated with the lack of track time in the mornings practice session. “It’s been a bit of a difficult day, stopping on the circuit this morning with a hydraulic problem after we solved yesterday’s fuel pressure problem, and then we did a good job with the team. We continue to learn how the car reacts to setup changes. We left early in the session as we were afraid that it would just start to rain. To finish where we are on the grid is okay in the circumstances and the goal is to make it through the race tomorrow.”

This will be a battle to keep our eyes on as the season develops.

Following the embarrassment that the Virgin Racing cars’ fuel tanks are no big enough for them to last a full race distance, Nick Wirth and his team were hoping to put that behind them and show that their car does have some good pace. This was not to be, as both cars have languished over a second behind Lotus F1 throughout the whole Melbourne weekend. As in Bahrain, Timo Glock was able to qualify over half a second over his rookie team make Lucas Di Grassi.

After qualifying, Glock revealed more fuel problems for his team. “We had another tough morning so all I could do is try to get the best out of the car in qualifying,” explained Glock, who starts 21st at Albert Park.” he said. “We were carrying more fuel than we would have liked because of a pick-up problem, otherwise I think we would have been able to have more of a fight with Lotus. Anyway, we’ll do what we can to prepare for tomorrow and see what the race brings.”

Lotus F1

For Lotus F1, it was a great qualifying session all round. The team are not expecting to be able to breaking into Q2 just yet, but they were pleased to be able to comprehensively out qualify it’s main rivals. Though Hekki Kovalainen was 2.2 seconds slower that Vitaly Petrov’s Renault immediately in front of him, Hekki was very pleased with his qualifying effort.

“”It was a good run this afternoon. I got a good lap out of the car and out of the tyres and in general the car feels much better than it did in Bahrain. We have progressed with the setup and as a team we are really stepping forward. Our aim for tomorrow is to make sure we stay ahead of the other new teams and finish the race with both cars. I’m so happy with Lotus and feel I have the chance to show what I can really do.”

Meanwhile, Jarno Trulli blamed problems with his seat which caused him problems throughout the session. “I had a problem with the seat which meant it wasn’t easy to drive, bouncing around in the car, so it was a difficult qualifying session. I’m pleased for the team though, as both cars are ahead of the new teams and we’re performing really well.”

With HRT’s endless hydraulic problems and Virgin Racing’s red-faced fuel tank issues, it can pretty much be guaranteed that Lotus F1 will still be leading the Stefan Grand Prix Championship after the Australian Grand Prix.

Kovalainen     Lotus-Cosworth        1:28.797
Trulli         Lotus-Cosworth        1:29.111
Glock          Virgin-Cosworth       1:29.592
Di Grassi      Virgin-Cosworth       1:30.185
Senna          HRT-Cosworth          1:30.526
Chandhok       HRT-Cosworth          1:30.613

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“We’re Here, We’re Racing…F*** You!”

Mike Gascoyne

In a fabulous interview with ESPN, the ever free talking Mike Gascoyne turned the Melbourne air blue and rounded on the critics of the news teams. The Lotus F1 Technical Director is not nicknamed “The Bulldog” for no reason, yet he does show his sympathetic side when discussing the chances of Hispania Racing catching the pack during the season.

“We always said we’d be here, be professional and reliable, and we’ve done what we said we’d do” Gascoyne said. ” Now we’ll get on and make it quick. For those who said new teams shouldn’t be here, when you saw Heikki fighting with Hulkenberg, well… we’re here, we’re racing … f*** you!”

The interview also revealed great insight into the difficulties of starting up a new team and building a car in such a short time space.

When asked if there were times if he thought the team would not make it to Bahrain, he responded “No, there were times that I worried what state it would be in, but never a worry that we wouldn’t be here. Perversely, what you might think was the difficult bit – the car – was always on target. It was the ancillary things – getting the people in time, the 25 tonnes of freight… When you’re an established team, you don’t notice it. But when everything turns up via the back door in one go, you realise there’s a lot of it. I mean, all of that turned up in the last month. At Christmas we were still only 20 people.”

He also gave his opinion if he thinks USF1 should be allowed to compete next year. “The FIA have to be fair and open a tendering process, and in that process you have to view people’s past performance. I think it could be very important for F1 to have a team based in the US and raise the sport’s profile in the States. Therefore, I think it’s a great shame [that USF1 were unable to make the grid this year], because we know better than anyone how difficult it is. But it doesn’t reflect well on the sport.”

Gascoyne also has sympathy regarding Hispania Racing Teams situation when responding to the question about the possibility of the re-introduction of the 107% rule.

“We’re well inside 107%, so we don’t give a shit!”There’s no testing. So how the hell are HRT meant to get on the pace if you say ‘no you can’t race’? It shows that the entry process needs to be longer. I mean, we got it done very professionally, but I’m sure if we’d had a year we’d be racing Sauber and Toro Rosso in the midfield.”

There are certainly many people who are disappointed that Gascoyne’s Lotus T107 is still some way off the front of the grid, however, in Gascoynes own words, “Our aim will be to finish and steadily but surely improve, race by race.” He has certain achieved that with a virtually unbreakable car. Now, he has to find the pace.

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Zoran Stefanovic Speaks…

Mr. Stefanovic speaking to Stevan Denkovski

…to Sportal.rs in a wide-ranging interview regarding the break up with Toyota, the prospect of 2011, the ‘Serbian Vulture’ comments and Mr. Stefanovic calling on all Stefan Grand Prix “brave fans” to “Arise!”

Following the recent news that Stefan Grand Prix and Toyota F1 had gone their separate ways for the time being, Mr. Stefanovic was back in Serbian, answering the critics questions, not only from abroad, but more closer to home as recent allegations of his company had enraged locals feelings that Mr. Stefanovic was dragging the nation through the mud by letting outside nations point their fingers at their country and laugh.

Explaining his idea when Stefan Grand Prix applied in mid-2009 to the FIA to race in 2010, Mr Stefanovic said the approach was different to previous times he had applied.

“This time it really was prepared with the right team of people. The idea had changed, so we wanted the team headquarters to be in Belgrade.The capital of Serbia is still our intention, as an ideal logistics centre, however we are received. In late May, early June, I saw with Ecclestone in London in which we reached agreement and were told that we have the biggest chances to get a place. And, finally, we went for it.”

He then gives details of the negotiations with Campos and USF1. “We agreed with Adrian Campos [to a buy-out] at the end of November, but the price was unreasonable. In January, another round of negotiations collapsed, and U.S. F1 changed his mind about selling.” It would appear that Chad Hurley was at the forefront of the

Ken Anderson & Peter Windsor

USF1 negotiations. “Agreement was to take the whole system and create a Serbian-American team with which we agreed. Unfortunately, others in their team were thinking to have a better output. The obstacle was the fact that we did not want to finance another’s failures.” In other words, Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor still wanted the team to be called USF1 and to still be in charge of the team.

“I think that essentially it all revolved around money. For example, when Campos said their first price, we began to laugh. They knew that the figure was not real, but  we did not have the FIA application . For the F1 application, they requested 40 million euros! It was a superb sauce. Here, they failed, because this is what it is today, Hispania team, and it has no connection with Campos, except on legal grounds. They spent a lot of money, and all they have are two cars, a few spare parts and nothing more.”

Regarding the criticism about the AMCO website and the apparent small turnover figure for the company (here, the interviewer states that the company had an annual turnover in 2008 of 310,000 euros), Mr Stefanovic responded with, “Will you tell me that the turnover of the  Virgin Racing company is sufficient to cover the costs of Formula 1? Virgin does not have any earning money,  he [Branson] just spends. Talking about what a company earns is frivolous, because the team is funded from sponsorship contracts. Several times they asked me to comment on someone’s opinion, but with due respect for all the fans, we cannot have debates with someone who leaves comments on sites, who it turns out is 14 years old!

Mr. Stefanovic calls on Brave Fans to "Arise!"

“Opinions of fans are fine. On the other hand, we have a lot more support from a few thousand people who we do not know: from South America, America, Canada, all to Japan. Arise, our brave, and the fact that we do more than others.”

Reacting to comments about the amateurish nature of AMCO’s website, Mr. Stefanovic rebutted with, “The only controversial thing was the translation into English, which we deliberately changed, because the translation may be different. For example, our fans from Brazil, which are numerous, can find themselves translated into Serbian. Even the Cyrillic alphabet! And sent to us in English and Spanish and Serbian. Second, our site is not generally done badly. We wanted fireworks and moving pictures, but we are not a company that makes films or sites, we are an engineering company that makes cars for Formula One.”

The next part of the interview becomes very interesting for those who are waiting to hear the official Stefan Grand Prix line regarding last months Ferrari editorial which called Mr. Stefanovic and his team ‘vultures”. His response makes interesting reading.

“Ferrari soon received a notice from us, although we have not sought to follow it up as it is not their official position. At our request, they explained that it is the opinion of one of their bloggers, which was published. Is it really a secondary story.

Mr. Stefanovic is passionate for Serbia to have an F1 team

“I think that nothing related to me personally. Is it objectionable to have a Serbian team? I do not know, but the fact that few people here expect that from this part of the world  and for a team ready for F1. Now it’s different. A large number of people with whom we cooperate from Formula 1, or have been in Formula 1 and I know what and how it can be done. The truth is, we found the overall welcome.”

For the team to be based in Serbia is clearly at the heart of Stefan Grand Prix. “The seat [headquarters] is of course in Belgrade. This is a company from Serbia, bearing the license of our sports federation and appearances as a Serbian team. The mechanics are divided. We strive to have more people from Serbia, but there will be some from abroad.”

To start an F1 team, you need access to a wind tunnel. In previous interviews, Mr. Stefanovic stated that Serbia has many wind tunnels which would be at his disposal. He clarified this by saying “We have the ability to use air in Serbia tunnels, and there are seven in Belgrade, and one water. Some in the Military-Technical Institute, and the rest of Mechanical Engineering. However,  it is not adjusted for F1. It is necessary to place a moving floor, and some other things. In October, Stefan GP bought a moving floor and we can install it, but for now there is only a potential. Will we use it? I do not know. Currently, if there is the need for work in a wind tunnel, we will start to abroad.”

Mr. Stefanovic has remained philosophical throughout the struggle earlier this year, regarding his critics being motivated by fear and not by pure journalistic intentions. “To understand it, critics are not bad and can be corrected. Different opinions can be a part of fear, not because of negative attitude, but because of concerns that we will indeed succeed. As life is concerned, people do not recognize me so much. The biggest surprise was when we returned from Germany. One of the customs officers asked me: “Are you Stefan Grand Prix?”. This, I did not expect, but it is quite pleasant. The reactions are generally positive, and why would  you not do the thing that contributes to a better image of Serbia …”

There are some interesting points to draw from this interview. Mr. Stefanovic does not exactly state that he is putting together another application to the FIA for the 13th grid slot but you can conclude that he is quietly working away behinds the scenes, readying the paperwork to be sent to Paris.

Mr. Stefanoic is clearly quite passionate about having a Formula One team based in Serbia to promote the engineering capacity of his country, laying down some of the points that will no doubt be in the dossier that Stefan GP will submit to Jean Todt in April. Making the point about acquiring a rolling floor which can be placed into an exciting wind tunnel in Serbia is certainly one of those.

For all of us brave Stefan Grand Prix fans, now we have arisen, we now await the FIAs’ announcement of the 13th grid slot with eager anticipation.

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