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Geoff Willis, the technical director of Red Bull Racing has left the team, with barely half of the season gone.

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The exact reasons for his departure are not known as yet but Sebastian Vettel confirmed it in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live’s Holly Samos this afternoon. Vettel added that the team would not be destabilised by the departure.

“Geoff did a lot of work and thanks to him we are where we are now. It’s always very difficult if someone leaves but we have a very good harmony in the team and it shouldn’t affect our performance at all. We know what we have to do and where we want to go.”

After being sacked by Honda a few years ago, Willis was reunited at Red Bull with Adrian Newey, with whom he had formed a strong relationship at Williams in the winning years of the 1990s. Willis was hired to make the car reliable and he has certainly achieved that, but there are suggestions that he and Newey may not have seen eye to eye over the technical direction of the team this time.

Whether he jumped or was pushed, the speculation this evening was that he may be on his way to Ferrari. Willis is a fluent Italian speaker and his wife is Italian. He apparently offered his services to Ferrari but the word I’m hearing tonight is that he is not going there.

Meanwhile my Italian colleagues are telling me that Sunday will be the last Grand Prix for Sebastien Bourdais at Toro Rosso. There have been persistent rumours that the Frenchman is on thin ice, but Bourdais denied them today,

“What can I say? I haven’t received any notice from the team that this is my last race so as far as I am concerned it is still a rumour,” he said.

Apparently it is not a rumour, it is a fact and he will be replaced by the recently installed reserve driver Jaime Alguersuari.

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It took Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier several high profile bouts to settle their differences and it seems that we are in for a rematch of Max Mosley’s FIA vs Luca di Montezemolo’s FOTA; a heavyweight showdown, just when we all thought things had been sorted out.

There may not be a catchy title to this bout, such as the “Thriller in Manilla”, but you certainly wouldn’t call this weekend’s scrap, set for the Nurburgring, “A mere trifle in the Eiffel”.

This is serious and FOTA have responded to being informed that its eight teams are not entered in next year’s championship with the line that this could put the future of F1 in jeopardy.

It’s been an odd week in F1, with the Bernie Ecclestone/Hitler stuff and now this. Non-F1 people I speak to in the media and public consider the sport as a bit of a pantomime. But I think it’s deadly serious and it has to do with money.

I noted that CVC were ‘shocked’ by Bernie’s comments but supportive of his apology, but I cannot imagine they are very happy about today’s development.

The document offering the debt on F1 to interested parties suggested that the new Concorde Agreement had been agreed and that the teams would all sign up during 2007. Here we are two years later and it has not been signed. That has to be creating some real pressure.

Part of the ‘peace deal’ agreed on June 24th was for the FOTA teams to commit to FOM until 2012. If the FIA considers them not to be entered in the championship, then one wonders where this commitment stands and the absence of eight key teams, including Ferrari, must threaten F1′s business model.

CVC is the venture capital company who hold 75% of the equity in F1′s commercial rights holder, which is subject to a debt of over $2 billion. It is felt that pressure from them led to the ‘peace agreement’ between FOTA and the FIA a few days after the British Grand Prix.

But almost immediately that deal started to unravel. First we had FOTA’s hubris at ‘beating’ Mosley, delight that he was quitting in October, accusations that he was a ‘dictator’, suggestions that the next FIA president should be ‘independent’. Since then there has been a steady drip of insinuation about the FIA’s Alan Donnelly and his role in the approval of new teams. We have also had suggestions that the new teams were obliged to sign up for Cosworth engines, as the Northampton firm had indicated that they needed three teams to make their F1 engine programme viable.

The FIA acted last night with a warning that unanimity would be required when finalising the 2010 rules and that would mean the non-FOTA teams, including the three new teams, seeing eye to eye with the existing teams.

I’m travelling at the moment to Germany, so I’m going to have to do some digging around tomorrow to find out what has motivated this latest move. But it looks set to push the FOTA teams back towards their previously suggested plan of a breakaway. If they are not entered in next year’s F1 championship then presumably they are free agents, unless they are now caught by commercial contracts obliging them to find a solution with the FIA.

FOTA believe that the deal struck in Paris on June 24th meant that they were entered in the championship (an entry list was published with their names on it) and that they had carte blanche to agree the 2010 rules themselves, which would then be rubber stamped by the FIA.

The shock of today’s news is that this appears not to be the case. I can’t wait to find out what this turn-around is based on.

The FOTA teams walked out of technical working group meeting at the Nurburgring today and a statement this afternoon shows their exasperation,

“As endorsed by the WMSC and clearly stated in the FIA press statement of 24 June ‘the rules for 2010 onwards will be the 2009 regulations as well as further regulations agreed prior to 29 April 2009′. At no point in the Paris discussions was any requirement for unanimous agreement on regulations change expressed. To subsequently go against the will of the WMSC and the detail of the Paris agreement puts the future of Formula 1 in jeopardy.”

Off to the Eiffel mountains we go then, into another weekend of great uncertainty.

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I have posted before about Jenson Button and his openness this season. Despite his reputation as a bit of a playboy, he is very serious about his racing and always has been. Now he’s at the sharp end and very focussed, he analyses situations very clearly and is good enough to share them with us in the media, on and off the record.
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After the British Grand Prix he did his usual media debrief and I have picked out a few comments which enhance our understanding of his situation and how the season is unfolding for him.

Silverstone wasn’t a great weekend; he failed to win the British Grand Prix, which is a major disappointment and he failed to make the podium for the first time this season.

Jenson’s trademark this season has been calmness and he maintained that throughout the weekend, apart from one rather frantic radio call complaining that the car was not handling well in the fast corners. It wasn’t desperation, but there was a strong note of anxiety there.

He believes that Silverstone was a blip, caused by a combination of circuit characteristics and cool weather. His team mate managed a podium and there wasn’t another car which looked like seriously challenging Rubens’ Brawn, so Button will be reassured that on hotter tracks with fewer fast corners he will be able to compete with Red Bull and manage the points gap he has to Vettel, which is currently 25.

“I would love to win the British GP, but it didn’t happen,” said Button. “I came away with three points, which is not great. But, I am not massively disappointed. I go to the Nurburgring positive and thinking that we can take the fight to Red Bull there.”

Button highlights the braking capability of the Brawn as a key weapon, something we have heard before and as Silverstone doesn’t feature too many important braking zones, it was a weapon they couldn’t use there.

“The braking on our car is the strongest point at the moment, ” he said. “We are stronger than the Red Bulls under braking, but there is no braking here. You never hit the pedal that hard here, and that is another reason why we cannot get tyre temperature.”

He then explains how the pecking order is worked out at Brawn. Both drivers are given an equal shot at the pole by carrying the same fuel load. That has happened quite a few times this season. It’s then down to how is in front after the start to come in on the appointed lap, while the slower car has tom pit a lap early.

“I was fuelled to lap 19, as was Rubens, and obviously he was in front and he, as he should, got lap 19. I stopped a lap early, as did Trulli.

“We knew we wouldn’t get him in the stops so we fuelled it long. I had a lot of fuel on board, the most I’ve had all year, on the prime tyre. That tyre just did not work at all. I had such little grip, and Rubens struggled with it as well even though he can work the tyre more.”

Other sites have published the whole debrief as a Q & A and it’s worth having a read, but the above are the most interesting points for me.

Silverstone was a wake up call for Brawn and Button but they are still on course. Red Bull will fight them at the remaining races, but Vettel has already lost a couple of his 8 allocated engines for the season so that might count against him later on and the Red Bull car he and Webber use is still a bit heavy on tyres at some venues, which is another weakness.

Everything still points towards Button and he is staying calm, but we could be in for some competitive weekends.

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Sebastian Vettel put in a peerless performance today to win the British Grand Prix, his second victory of the season and the third of his brief career. He turns 22 next week.

"We're on our way, son"
Red Bull Racing have made a big improvement to their car, but there is no doubt that the circuit and the conditions played to their strengths and Brawn’s weaknesses. The Brawn drivers were struggling, relatively speaking, Button had a tougher time than Barrichello, but it was interesting that none of the other cars was fast enough to beat the Brawn to the podium.

The question then is, will Red Bull be ahead in the second half of the season and make a championship of it? They were faster in Istanbul, but Vettel made a mistake on the opening lap.

Webber was unlucky this weekend. He looked to have the measure of Vettel in the run up to qualifying, there was nothing in it. Red Bull gave Webber the lighter fuel load for qualifying which meant he was supposed to get the pole, but they gave Vettel the better race strategy. They were meticulously fair with the drivers, who were told that they could race each other. People are suggesting that they should now favour Vettel and give him the best of everything as he has closed the gap on Button to 23 points, which is the kind of gap Kimi Raikkonen was able to close up on Lewis Hamilton in 2007.

So will Webber be the number two from now on? Given that the gap between them is only 4.5 points that would be harsh. It certainly looks like the Red Bull drivers will close the gap, whether they can make a championship of it we will know after the next two races.

Ferrari and Williams both had good days. Ferrari took Felipe Massa from 11th on the grid to fourth, while Williams converted a good qualifying performance by both cars into a solid four points for Nico Rosberg in fifth place. Their respective team mates both had days which started promisingly but ended in disappointment, Raikkonen running fifth in the early stages but finishing eighth and Nakajima a very positive fourth in the opening stint, but his early stop pit strategy dropped him down to 11th.

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FIA president Max Mosley said today that he was ready to start negotiations with FOTA to try to get F1 back on track after the teams opted to start a breakaway series.

“We are talking to people all the time,” he told BBC’s F1 programme. “It will all be back to normal, it’s just a question of when. We are very close. What divides us and the teams is minimal and really is something we could sit down and iron out very quickly.”

Mosley was very active with the media in the run up to the race. He was clarifying comments made yesterday by Bernie Ecclestone yesterday that if the teams signed up for five years the budget cap idea would go out of the window. Mosley said that what Bernie meant to say was that if the manufacturers, not the teams, sign up for five years then the budget cap idea will be dropped.

This is their way of putting the manufacturers on the spot, getting them to commit, implying that they doubt the manufacturers’ long term commitment, which

The FOTA team principals I spoke to said that there hadn’t been much talking since Friday and that they feel they have the upper hand now and the FIA is ‘backtracking’. It’s still quite finely balanced and it will be interesting to see if anything happens on Wednesday at the world council meeting.

The commercial people in F1, the sponsors and TV execs all say that they desperately want a solution to this quickly. So too do the new teams because it is hard enough to put a new team together and raise money, without doing so with instability all around.

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There is a fantastic atmosphere here at Silverstone today, with over 100,000 people looking forward to a great day’s racing. We had 85,000 here on Friday, which is more than most Grands Prix get on raceday.

Bernie Ecclestone’s comments yesterday that we will be back at Silverstone next year if Donington isn’t ready have been well received by the F1 fraternity and the public and it has given some reassurance in a weekend of instability.

The weather is not as warm as predicted, it’s currently only 15 degrees, which is not going to help Jenson Button very much. He needs the track to be warmer to get the tyres working properly on his Brawn Mercedes car.

The crowd knows that Button is up against it today. Vettel and Red Bull are in such a strong position. That said, there is a 50% chance of a safety car here, based on the last 6 years, so if we were to get one of those at the wrong time it might make things interesting and give Button a chance to get on the podium. I think that is his best hope today.

Media scrum waits for Mosley

Media scrum waits for Mosley

The paddock is abuzz, as it has been all weekend. Mid morning Max Mosley arrived in a Mercedes van with Bernie Ecclestone. Notwithstanding Max calling the FOTA breakaway members ‘loonies’, the pair have been engaged in a lot of behind the scenes dialogue with the teams to try to find a solution.

Mosley is convinced that Flavio Briatore wants to become the Bernie of the new series. Time will tell. It’s probably not going to be sorted quickly, although the sponsors and TV companies desperately want it to be. I notice that the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson is here today, casting an eye over his corporation’s huge investment.

Personally I still believe that the key to it is Ferrari’s contract with the FIA and FOM. That is being looked at in a civil court in Switzerland at the moment. If it decides that Ferrari are free agents then a deal will surely be done.

FOTA is serious about a breakaway, but they would prefer to race in F1 if they can get the right circumstances.

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A bit of light relief from Silverstone this evening.

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I was passing the Force India motorhome when I spied a crowd inside all cheering. On closer inspection I found team boss Vijay Mallya with three darts in his hands taking on Bobby George, twice runner up in the Darts World Championships.

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The pair were warming up because tonight Force India are hosting a darts evening for the media and guests. I would imagine that this is an evening on which Radio 5 Live commentator David Croft will come into his own as the ‘seven sausage a day’ Croft is an experienced darts commentator and has been known to chuck the odd ‘arra’ himself.

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The fuel weights have been published for the British Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel is in even better shape than he looked after qualifying. The Red Bull has taken a huge step forward this weekend and Vettel took the pole with four laps more fuel in the car than Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn. Vettel will stop on lap 23.

For once the luck was with him too, because his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber had set the fastest time after the first runs in qualifying, but hit traffic on his decisive lap in the form of Kimi Raikkonen, so the threat from him was neutralised.

Red Bull had two equally matched cars and drivers so they had to give one an advantage in qualifying and the other an advantage in the race. They have told the drivers that there are no orders at this stage, they are free to race. Webber was given the qualifying advantage by running three laps less fuel than Vettel, but he wasn’t able to convert that into his first F1 pole. This surely was his best chance of making that breakthrough, so no wonder he as so annoyed with Raikkonen.

Meanwhile Vettel’s main rival, Jenson Button suffered badly from not being able to get his tyres warmed up. Barrichello is more aggressive on the tyres and this hurts him relative to Button in the race (as we saw in Monaco) but is an advantage on cold days like today. Meanwhile it is clear that the Red Bull is able to warm its tyres up very quickly. We will see what that does to their longevity in the race tomorrow,

Vettel is in a position to dominate the race, from pole. The main areas of interest will whether Webber can get past Barrichello. He should do, he has the crucial extra lap advantage on the first stint which means if he is behind on the first stint, he can take on more fuel to leap Barrichello at the second round of stops. Button will be aiming for a podium, but might have to settle for fourth place, while the battle for points between Trulli, Nakajima and Rosberg, Glock and Raikkonen will be interesting. Nakajima looks the most vulnerable with only 17 laps of fuel in the car.

Pos Driver Weight (kg)
1. Sebastian Vettel 666.5 Lap 23
2. Rubens Barrichello 657.5 Lap 19
3. Mark Webber 659.5 Lap 20
4. Jarno Trulli 658.0 Lap 19/20
5. Kazuki Nakajima 652.5 Lap 17
6. Jenson Button 657.5 Lap 19
7. Nico Rosberg 661.5 Lap 21
8. Timo Glock 660.0 Lap 21
9. Kimi Raikkonen 654.0 Lap 18
10. Fernando Alonso 654.0 Lap 18
11. Felipe Massa 675.0 * Lap 27
12. Robert Kubica 689.5 * Lap 33
13. Heikki Kovalainen 695.5 * Lap 35
14. Nelson Piquet 682.5 * Lap 30
15. Nick Heidfeld 665.5 * Lap 23
16. Giancarlo Fisichella 668.0 * Lap 24
17. Sebastien Bourdais 687.5 * Lap 32
18. Adrian Sutil 692.0 * Lap 34
19. Lewis Hamilton 666.0 * Lap 23
20. Sebastien Buemi 672.5 * Lap 26

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Sebastian Vettel took his third pole position of the 2009 season today with a stunning lap on his final qualifying run at Silverstone.
Vett

He and Red Bull team mate Mark Webber had been trading fastest laps all weekend, indicating that the Red Bull is now clearly the fastest car in F1. What is impressive about the latest round of developments on this car is that it is now clearly faster in the high speed corners, but also in the low speed corners, like the complex here in Silverstone.

Brawn did a good job in Turkey of improving their car in high speed corners, but here they have not been able to compete with the Red Bulls in that area.

Team insiders believe that this could be a turning point of the season, albeit tempered by the fact that Jenson Button enjoys a huge advantage over Vettel of 32 points.

Nevertheless some of them feel that Red Bull is now around half a second per lap faster than the Brawn, possibly the biggest margin between the fastest and second fastest car we have seen all year. Red Bull could be in for a second half of the season like Brawn’s first half. If Jenson were to suffer a DNF at any stage, it could turn it from a formality into a sporting competition.

Toyota were quick in the qualifying session today, with Jarno Trulli trading times with the Williams of Nakajima and Rosberg.

Nakajima had one of his best days in an F1 car today, with 5th fastest time ahead of Rosberg. He was fastest in Q1, although no-one really noticed because of Adrian Sutil’s accident which caused the red flags.

British fans at Silverstone were left disappointed with Button in 6th place and Lewis Hamilton a career worst 19th on the grid. The McLaren looked very unstable in the fast corners here and Lewis, as last year, was not able to match team mate Kovalainen in qualifying.

Adrian Sutil is fine and has been released from the hospital after a heavy accident, caused by a brake failure.

Meanwhile Bernie Ecclestone has said that Silverstone could well still be the home of the race next season if Donington is not ready in time. It makes sense for him to speak on this now because it will play well with the fans, who are feeling bruised by the breakaway talk this week and also because any venue needs to be able to start selling tickets in the week following a race. Amazingly that is when a great deal of the sales are made. It will also keep Silverstone on side and less likely to side with an FOTA breakaway, if it gets that far.

Ecclestone is also reported to have suggested that he is working on brokering a solution ot the breakaway crisis, proposing that the budget cap be dropped completely if the teams sign up until 2014. He told reporters, “I say, provided they commit for at least five years, they can spend what they like.”

More will no doubt come out on this later.

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The row between the FIA and FOTA entered a new phase this afternoon as the FIA put out a statement saying that they were preparing legal action,

“The FIA’s lawyers have now examined the FOTA threat to begin a breakaway series. The actions of FOTA as a whole, and Ferrari in particular, amount to serious violations of law including wilful interference with contractual relations, direct breaches of Ferrari’s legal obligations and a grave violation of competition law. The FIA will be issuing legal proceedings without delay.

“Preparations for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship continue but publication of the final 2010 entry list will be put on hold while the FIA asserts its legal rights. “

The FIA is meeting fire with fire. Part of the reason for the delay is that some of the potential new teams have withdrawn, leaving a potential entry list looking thin.

The legal threat is serious, but it does allow a period of reflection and dialogue, if a way can be found to restart the talks. The next major stage is Wednesday’s FIA world council meeting. I still think that the FOTA strategy is to try to effect change, but Mosley seems to be very sure of his ground and his support.

Ferrari are singled out in the FIA statement and their contract with the FIA remains the single most important aspect of this.

They responded this evening by saying that they have already launched an arbitration process at a civil court in Lausanne, this was done on Monday. This will establish the validity of the contract.

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