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Archive for the ‘Monaco’ Category

This morning in Monaco there was plenty of activity around the ongoing discussions about the 2010 F1 rules and plenty of chat about what was going to happen next.

It seems to be becoming widely believed that Toyota will use this situation to make its exit from Formula 1. They were thinking about it towards the end of 2008, but there seems to be general belief among the other teams that they will go at the end of this year. BMW, which is having its worst season by far in F1, is also said to be reviewing it’s participation.

FIA president Max Mosley was making himself very available to the media and his message was that Ferrari will be staying in F1 “100% sure.” But the sport needs to fill the empty grid slots and that is the area a lot of work is going into.

It was being said that the teams and the FIA had kissed and made up and that it was all going to be sorted out by the May 29th deadline for entries, but team bosses I spoke to on the grid in Monaco sounded a not of caution. “Are you all loved up again?” I asked one, and he replied, “No, but we’re falling in love again.”

The teams say that they would like to start from the point of maintaining the 2009 regulations and go from there in terms of finding a communal way of regulating the costs down to a level around the £40 million Max Mosley wants the budget cap set at, perhaps by 2011. But by then the world will be out of recession, in all probability, and new opportunities will be out there to generate income for the teams.

Mosley, who is still determined to maintain the idea of a budget cap, said, “I can imagine we can take it through one year if possible [with the] higher figure and then go to the full cap in 2011, but that’s something under discussion. This is a possibility.”

“Ultimately, it’s going to have to be that sort of region,” he said. “Just imagine in today’s world, you go out to get sponsorship and you are just an ordinary team, so to raise 45 million Euros is a massive undertaking.

“Everybody can talk figures, well it ought to be this figure or that figure, but if a team cannot raise the money, then there is nothing they can do.”

Money is hard enough to find for the existing teams, look at the amount of sponsorship on the Brawn and they have won five races!!

It seems very hard to imagine new teams being able to raise the kind of money necessary to get into F1. But Mosley insists on new teams coming in, so discussions are centring around ways of helping new teams, with cheap engine and gearbox deals and a possible chassis lease package to allow them to run competitively at low cost to start with. It seems that the existing teams are saying that they would require the new teams to run rookie drivers on that basis.

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Button dominates Monaco

Jenson Button did another first class job to win the Monaco Grand Prix from pole position today. He was followed home by Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen, who gave Ferrari their first podium of the season.

Barrichello got the jump on Raikkonen at the start, which was crucial for the outcome of the race as it kept the Ferraris from challenging at the end of the first stint when their tyres were superior.

Both Brawns started on the supersoft tyre, the least attractive of the two tyres this weekend. This was quite a bold move, but it paid off for both men, particularly Button. Ironically Sebastian Vettel, who had gone for an ultra aggressive strategy with his first stop scheduled for lap 11, also selected the super soft to start on, but his tyres went off very quickly and this slowed the field up behind him. This was a gift for the Brawn drivers as it gave them a cushion of over 15 seconds over the chasing pack including the two Ferraris and Nico Rosberg’s Williams.

The key phase of the race as far as Button was concerned was the period towards the end of the first stint when Barrichello’s supersoft tyres started to lose performance. This gave Jenson a big margin over his team mate. During the second stint he was able to manage a 15 second cushion. Barrichello said afterwards that he was forced to drive with loose seat belts, which made for an uncomfortable ride.

He also said that the key to Button’s win was the pole lap on Saturday. This was pretty much the only lap all weekend to that point where Button had been faster than Rubens, but it was the crucial one.

Button seems to have a knack for stepping up in the final lap in qualifying when the race fuel goes in and the new tyres are put on. He has more confidence in the car and in his own feel for the grip level. It’s only fractional, but it’s enough to swing it his way.

Make no mistake though, Rubens is helping him by pushing him very hard. He is also helping him on set up. As with his partnership with Michael Schumacher, Rubens is extremely good at dialling in a racing car and giving his team mate cues on set up. It happened in Spain with Button and it happened again here. I’m sure this is one of the key reasons why Ross Brawn took Barrichello in preference to Bruno Senna or someone else. It has paid handsome dividends.

On Button’s side he will want an investigation into why he’s had trouble dialling the car in a the last two races, after seemingly no problems in that area in the first few events.

Ferrari have shown today that they are back in business and they will be in front of Brawn before too long. The next two races will favour Red Bull, with that car’s liking for long fast corners. So Vettel and Webber will be in great shape.

But Button is very comfortable now and can play the percentage game.

The victory gives Button a huge lead in the drivers
The supersofts started to go off after

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Monaco race day diary

It’s race day in Monaco. The weather has been fantastic all weekend and it’s perfect again for the Grand Prix.

The crowds coming in today on the train were much greater than yesterday. Tens of thousands pouring into the Principality. There are still plenty of grandstand seats left, though at Tabac, St Devote, Swimming Pool, Chicane. Not surprising really as they are between €400 and €450 each!
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The most affordable place to watch from is the Rocks area looking down on the Nogues corner which leads onto the pit straight. It’s €70 to sit up there, but you are sitting on rocks. There is normally a scouser with a megaphone up there who shouts out messages to the drivers and other well known faces. I wonder where he’s been told he’s not welcome any more, or perhaps he’s been credit crunched.
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The F1 team owners are having a meeting in the Renault motor home. They have papered over the windows, so photographers cannot see in. Max Mosley is not in the meeting, but is making himself available to the media, keeping the story moving forward. There is a story going round that Williams are planning to make an entry in the next couple of days. I’ll check that out, it may be just a rehash of something they said a week or two back, rather than something that’s come out since Friday.

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The teams want to find a solution as much as everyone else, but they are frustrated that the discussion isn’t about how they turn F1 from a £2 billion a year turnover industry into a £5 billion industry. Instead all the energy is being focussed on short term thinking and reducing the business.

There are some interesting visitors today. Google’s founder Larry Page is coming as a guest of Vodafone. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are expected on the boat next door to the one Jake Humphrey is hosting the BBC show on.

What is amazing about Monaco is always the celebs who come here without VIP passes and just hang out. Actors, musicians, sportsmen. Is saw rugby’s Jonathan Davies trying to blag his way into a Red Bull party here last year!

Race wise, the feeling is that this is Button’s to lose. Raikkonen will have to get him off the start line to have any chance. Vettel is not in great shape with only 11 or 12 laps of fuel in the car and no clear track to drive on, down in 4th place.

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Monaco is always a tough race to predict because of the 50% chance of a safety car. For this reason a lot of teams split their strategies, putting one car on quite a light fuel load and the other on a heavier one. That way, if a safety car comes out early and wrecks the lighter cars’s race, the heavier car has a chance.

Last year Sebastian Vettel went from 18th on the grid to finish fifth, thanks to safety cars and Lewis Hamilton could do something similar if fate intervenes.

Jenson Button did a sublime job today, with a decent amount of fuel in the car and he is looking good at the front. I don’t think he faces much risk from the KERS of Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the start because the KERS only kicks in after three seconds and they will be almost at St Devote corner by then. Having said that, Button’s starts haven’t been that special this season, so he will have to get the bite absolutely right in order to keep Kimi behind him.

Kimi said this evening that he has nothing to lose, he is not part of the championship, so he can afford to risk more at the start than Button. Barrichello is third with a decent amount of fuel on board and he will be resisting Vettel who is very light in fourth place. Vettel’s strategy was damaged by getting stuck behind Nakajima on his final run. Red Bull had gone for the extreme low fuel option to grab pole and try to make a break at the front. Now he has three cars in front of him and a more difficult challenge.

Here are the fuel weights and the laps each car will stop on:

1. Jenson Button 647.5 Lap 20/21
2. Kimi Raikkonen 644.0 Lap 18
3. Rubens Barrichello 648.0 Lap 22
4. Sebastian Vettel 631.5 Lap 12
5. Felipe Massa 643.5 Lap 18
6. Nico Rosberg 642.0 Lap 17/18
7. Heikki Kovalainen 644.0 Lap 18
8. Mark Webber 646.5 Lap 21
9. Fernando Alonso 654.0 Lap 25
10. Kazuki Nakajima 668.0 Lap 33
11. Sebastien Buemi 670.0* Lap 34
12. Nelson Piquet 673.1* Lap 36
13. Giancarlo Fisichella 693.0* Lap 47
14. Sebastien Bourdais 699.5* Lap 51
15. Adrian Sutil 670.0* Lap 34
16. Lewis Hamilton 645.5* Lap 20
17. Nick Heidfeld 680.0* Lap 40
18. Robert Kubica 696.0* Lap 49
19. Jarno Trulli 688.3* Lap 44
20. Timo Glock 700.8* Lap 51

* I will be doing a live text chat at 9-30am UK time Sunday on the new JA on F1 toolbar which you can download on Firefox.

In the past week, we had a successful trial with a new gadget that we hope will make following the F1 scene easier and more fun for you. It’s a toolbar that you can add to your browser, if you use Interner Explorer or Firefox on a PC (including Linux) or a Mac. Download from

http://jaf1.ourtoolbar.com

We have built in a range of news services and feeds, widgets that display our latest photo features, audio blogs and a new chat service we hope to run after the Monaco race is done and dusted.

The idea is that a bolt will not be tightened nor a contract drafted without you having a sniff of it on your desktop. It’s easy to put on and off, anyway, so we invite you to try it and let us know what you think.

[ PS: All updates on activities for the JAF1 community using the toolbar will be broadcast on that service alone and not on the blog. And any feedback about the toolbar should be posted using that service's messaging tools. It will help keep the blog clear for F1 comments alone - Moderator ]

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There is a fantastic interview with Fernando Alonso in the Gazzetta dello Sport today, in which he gently moves closer to talking about Ferrari and his possible move there.

According to Pino Allievi, the number one writer on the paper, Alonso has moved to a house on the border between Switzerland and Italy, near Lugano. He spoke about the affection he has for Italy and Italians: “As a Spaniard I feel more at ease with Italians,” he said. “We have a lot of shared culture and character. We have identical feelings.”

There is a big following for Alonso here in Monaco

There is a big following for Alonso here in Monaco

As for Ferrari he started talking about the team, when asked how he imagined life would be inside the team. “It’s difficult to imagine from the outside. I can only say that when we race in Bahrain the circuit is full of Ferrari banners. You go to China and it’s the same. I see Ferrari as a symbol. At the moment I’m driving for Renault, where we are doing a great job. I only think about winning, the rest we’ll have to wait and see.”

The word I’m hearing is that these next few races are pretty important for Kimi Raikkonen. Although he has a contract for 2010, the suggestion is that he has certain criteria to meet and that an agreement, which is in place with Alonso for 2011, has a clause which could bring it forward to 2010. The next couple of months will be decisive.

One GP driver I spoke to recently said that in the briefings and at moments when the drivers are all together, Kimi seems like he doesn’t care any more. It’s as if he’s going through the motions. It’s a shame if this is true, as Raikkonen is one of the most exciting and most talented drivers in F1.

However the Italian media has started treating him with a little less respect, calling him “Forrest Gump” earlier this weekend and today’s Gazzetta piece looks to me like a preparing of the ground for Alonso and the future, in a very Italian sort of way.

Ferrari went for Raikkonen in 2006 rather than Alonso because Jean Todt, the boss at the time, had fallen out with Alonso over a test driving agreement in 2001, which Alonso went back on. Now Todt has gone and the feeling in Ferrari is quite different.

Alonso also shed a little more light on what happened at McLaren. Asked what question he would ask Ron Dennis if he had the chance he said,
“I would ask him, ‘Why didn’t you listen to me?’ “

And on relations with Lewis Hamilton he said: “I spoke to him when we were team mates, in Turkey. I said, ‘We are fighting for the world title, one against the other, we both want to win, but we also have to find a way to work together.’ It was a frank discussion, very open. In reality, he wasn’t the problem. The team was.”

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Although nothing concrete came out of yesterday’s meetings it seems progress was made and there is something still to talk about. Everyone seems to have calmed down and there was no more talk of Ferrari leaving the sport following the meetings.

The boss of the Monaco Grand Prix, Michel Boeri, however did have something to say on the subject: “What would the Monaco Grand Prix be without Ferrari? A catastrophe. Like the Cannes Film Festival without the stars.”

Picking up more details of how things are moving, it seems that the teams are pushing to have a more gradual reduction in costs than a straight £40 million budget cap with immediate effect. For many teams it will cost tens of millions to lay off hundreds of employees and that is a major concern. But the idea is to get to that level over two years without the intrusiveness of the budget cap.

Here are some quotes from the key players that I have managed to gather,

Montezemolo: “What we want is that F1 stays F1, that we don’t keep changing things which disorientates the public. We want things to stabilise and over the next two years move to a real reduction in costs.”

Mosley: “It was a constructive meeting but the discussion goes on. The problems are still the same. We’ve made a little progress and I’m hopeful we’ll get an agreement.”

Brawn: “It’s not a situation which is going to be solved simply. But at this point I have to say I am more optimistic.”

Briatore: ” We want F1 to be the best it can be. We want it to be the pinnacle of motor sport, we can’t run GP2 with F1, we have to give the public the best cars and the best drivers. But at this moment I don’t feel a lot of energy in our sport, the public know that something isn’t right.”

Patrick Head: ” The only two teams who don’t want a budget cap are Toyota and Ferrari. But in the end they will find themselves isolated in a corner. Now that Ferrari has lost the law suit in Paris they will not be so rigid. I cannot imagine that it will move far from the £40 million. I have the impression that McLaren could be okay with the budget cap and also BMW will line up behind it.”

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Three hours waiting in the Ferrari motorhome this evening, for a press conference which was all set up for a 5pm start, but then that slipped as the meeting between the teams, the FIA and FOM rolled on.

In the end we were told that the meeting was ‘constructive’ but inconclusive so there will be more meetings in the next couple of days.

This means that there is some hope. There have clearly been some concessions on both sides. The teams and the FIA stood on the brink and stared into the abyss and Bernie Ecclestone worked hard to make sure that neither pushed the other over the edge. I think the teams, after the first meeting on the boat, presented a united front, but in order to do that Ferrari may well have had to concede some things.

The feeling behind the scenes, incidentally, is that Toyota is shaping up to leave the sport anyway and that it is pursuing the line of disasgreement with the rules to give a credible reason for its exit. Time will tell. We’ve been hearing Toyota want out for a long time and they are still here..

The concessions made this afternoon will be financial, mainly, possibly a review of Ferrari’s share of revenues, possibly a review of FOM’s share of revenues. I also get the impression that the manufacturer teams have put forward some more far reaching cost saving ideas in order to try to head off the budget cap idea.

I’m afraid I can’t say much more that that, other than to show you the latest voting on the twitter poll we’ve been running on how important Ferrari is to F1. It’s a bit spooky, I hope someone else votes soon…
Picture 3

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While we wait for the grands fromages to have their meetings and decide what kind of spectacle we are going to see next year and beyond in Formula 1, I thought a brief colour post might be in order.

For the first time in years I’m not staying in Monaco this year. I’m in Villefranche, which is 20 minutes west by train. They have a fantastic train service here with double decker trains whizzing you along the coastline. Monaco railway station is a 10 minute walk from the paddock and the media centre.

On my way in I passed a series of posters on the wall which stopped me in my tracks; they are Marlboro adverts. You get so used to not seeing any kind of tobacco advertising any more that so see these bold posters of a tattoed Kimi Raikkonen with his car really grab you. This is Monaco, a law unto itself.

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I stopped at the market this morning on the way in. Chatting to locals it seems that everything is 20% down this year; ticket sales, hotel bookings, restaurants etc. I’d say that extends to boats in the harbour. There are some nice ones out there, but not the megas we have seen in recent years. I think part of it is the ‘being seen to do the right thing’ aspect. A lot of sponsors take big boats here normally, but in the current climate they don’t want to be seen to be living it up.

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Ironically the team bosses have their boats here, like Flavio Briatore, who’s Force Blue is playing host to Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Alesi this weekend. It is available for weekly charter the rest of the year for a fee slightly north of £200,000. This afternoon it is also the venue for the FOTA team owners meeting at 2pm. They will have to cover a lot of ground quickly as they are due at the Royal Automobile Club at 4pm to meet Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone. It’s a good ten minutes from Flav’s boat to the club.

One of my Swiss colleagues has pointed out to me that Ferrari has been in F1 for 60 years, but in that time it has not taken part in every race. Apparently they have missed 27 races mostly due to strikes and industrial action in the 1960s. But the funniest bit is that they missed the first ever race, the 1950 British Grand Prix, because they weren’t happy with the start money! So in a way nothing has really changed.

Bernie Ecclestone has come out today to say that Ferrari cannot pull out before 2012 because of the binding agreement they signed in 2005, part of which was the celebrated right of veto. The French court agreed with Ferrari that this was still in place and the flip side of that is that Ferrari is committed to stay for three more seasons.

“We would always respect our contracts,” Ecclestone said. “And all the teams that have signed contracts with us would expect us to respect them, and we would expect the same from Ferrari. They are saying they are going to walk, we are saying we hope they respect their contract.”

As you know, I work now for RAI, the Italian TV station and I was interested to see that the boss of RAI sport, Massimo De Luca, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that if Ferrari wasn’t in the game they would want to review their contract with Ecclestone: “If Ferrari leaves F1, along with other major manufacturers, then I can guarantee you that RAI, along with all the main TV companies, would take legal action to review our contract.”

Meanwhile a spat has broken out between Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella. The pair got into a bit of a spat on the track yesterday and afterwards Massa criticised Fisi, comparing his unhelpful approach to a footballer who never passes the ball. Fisi replied, “He’s wrong. He ruined my lap on new tyres, he doesn’t own the circuit.”

So you can see, it’s happy families all round here in Monaco.

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