Archive for the ‘F1 News’ Category

Two weeks ago Felipe Massa’s hopes of a podium in Spain were wrecked by a strange situation with the refuelling of his Ferrari, which meant that the team believed he was running out of fuel and was telling him to slow down in the closing stages of the race. He lost places to Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

Massa track.
When we spoke to him after the race he and the team had not worked out the reason, but yesterday he explained what happened,

“What happened to my car especially in the last race was something that I never saw before. We had the fuel in the car but the car was reading wrong numbers, so the refuelling machine was putting the right fuel in, it was reading the right numbers of the amount of fuel that went inside but the car was saying to the engineers, to the telemetry, that all the fuel was not inside.

“Then we changed the refuelling machine, we did exactly the same thing, and we again had the wrong numbers, so maybe I saved fuel for nothing.”

A very frustrating situation, unusual too.

This weekend the Ferrari should be pretty competitive, so Massa has another good chance to get that first podium of the season.

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On the official Ferrari website there is an extraordinary piece, posted today, which has a major dig at the calibre of teams lining up to join Formula 1 next season under the new budget cap rules. The tone is very disparaging.

Under the headline “Formula 1 or GP3?” the following piece appears,

“Maranello, 20th May – They couldn’t almost believe their eyes, the men at women (sic) working at Ferrari, when they read the papers this morning and found the names of the teams, declaring that they have the intention to race in Formula 1 in the next year.

Looking at the list, which leaked yesterday from Paris, you can’t find a very famous name, one of those one has to spend 400 Euros per person for a place on the grandstand at a GP (plus the expenses for the journey and the stay..). Wirth Research, Lola, USF1, Epsilon Euskadi, RML, Formtech, Campos, iSport: these are the names of the teams, which should compete in the two-tier Formula 1 wanted by Mosley. Can a World Championship with teams like them – with due respect – can have the same value as today’s Formula 1, where Ferrari, the big car manufacturers and teams, who created the history of this sport, compete? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call it Formula GP3?”

This was posted before the Paris court rejected Ferrari’s application for an injunction against the 2010 rules, but it has certainly upped the ante. Ferrari is deliberately provoking the debate, remember on their site last week was a long piece about how “Ferrari made F1 great.”

The FIA’s statement today is as much a response to this latest posting on the Ferrari site as it is to the verdict of the Paris court,

“No competitor should place their interests above those of the sport in which they compete. The FIA, the teams and our commercial partners will now continue to work to ensure the wellbeing of Formula One in 2010 and beyond.”

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The first encouraging noises for a while about the chances of Donington hosting a Grand Prix have come from Bernie Ecclestone. Speaking in the Times, his preferred medium, he says that following a meeting with Donington promoter Simon Gillett, he feels that the financial problems Gillett has experienced with unpaid rent will be sorted out and that financing the construction will be achieved.

Picture 43
On that basis, he appears to be willing to give Gillett a 12 month extension, if required. This would almost certainly mean the British Grand Prix being absent from the calendar for a year in 2010. Ecclestone ruled out the possibility of Silverstone staging the race for another year to bridge the gap.

“I think they are getting their act together, I think they are getting things up and running,” he said. “The debt will be sorted out. It’s not a problem and raising money from the banks is looking positive.”

“If the work at Donington is not finished in time, we would be happy to skip a year,” Ecclestone told The Times. “I don’t want to lose the British Grand Prix — that’s the last thing we want to do, but we aren’t going to Silverstone for sure.”

Sitting out a year is by no means unprecedented. Spa missed a season recently and this year the French Grand Prix is not on the calendar. Next season there will be a new race in South Korea, with India set to join the calendar in 2011.

In the FIA’s sporting regulations published on May 6th, it says that the maximum number of races in a season is 20. We are heading towards that number.

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Vijay Mallya is bobbing in the harbour on his motor yacht, Flavio Briatore will have zoomed off in his private jet, like most of the drivers but the winner of today’s Grand Prix, was on the Easyjet flight to Luton with his team, Red Bull, Force India, me and a load of sunburned, happy fans.

Most of them couldn’t believe their eyes that Ross was on the same flight and he had to pose for photos with many of them. His only token bit of elitism – he paid €12 for Speedy Boarding!

Ross has always been a team player when it comes to travel. A number of times in the past when my family has been on holiday in Italy in summer I’ve cadged a lift on the Ferrari charter and Ross and Jean Todt always used to travel with the engineers and mechanics on the same plane. It’s part of the team building ethic, which also includes sending different members of the team up onto the podium, to allow them to feel that buzz and to motivate them to work hard to achieve it again.

Anyway, on the way out on Thursday morning the Easyjet plane was half full of hungover Barcelona fans on their way home after beating Chelsea in the Champions league. Ross got sat next to a guy who must have been 20 stone and who had clearly been in a bar all night.

Tonight he was on good form, relieved to have won another race and to have negotiated through all the potential little problems, surprised that Red Bull hadn’t done more with pit strategy to try to get Vettel away from Massa.

On the plane the atmosphere was good. The captain in his welcome speech congratulated the team for its success and wished them many more. Red Bull guys rolled their eyes..

Brawn has now won 11 trophies in the five races so far and Jenson Button has dropped only four points from a possible 45.

They are making it look Easy.

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The latest development in the stand-off over the budget cap and new regulations for 2010 is that Toyota’s John Howett has told the Italian media that if the conditions for competing in 2010 do not change, then “Toyota will not sign up for the world championship.”

Howett went on to say that the company was evaluating a return to Le Mans 24 hours among other possible alternatives.

Howett is the number two in FOTA, the team’s organisation. He is vice-president working underneath Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo. It would appear that Howett is articulating what all the other manufacturers are thinking. Is is also dangerous because it gives Toyota and other manufacturers the option, should they wish to take it, of leaving the sport and blaming these new rules.

They are certainly weighing up the possibility of a block move to not enter the 2010 championship. I can’t see how they could possibly take McLaren, Williams and Brawn with them on that, however.

Things are coming to a head very quickly and a meeting has been organised between Montezemolo and FIA president Max Mosley for this week. Things need calming down and it appears that Bernie Ecclestone has been extremely proactive this weekend, working the motorhomes, looking for a compromise. The manufacturers are united, but it is difficult for them to pull all the independent teams with them, many of whom depend on the budget cap for survival.

Ferrari are vehemently opposed to the budget cap concept. FIA president Max Mosley said last weekend that Formula 1 could survive without Ferrari, but not too many people in the sport agree with that view, including Bernie Ecclestone. And Ferrari do have ‘special rights’, as Montezemolo alluded to in his letter to Mosley of 28th April. We may be about to find out how they might be exercised.

Basically what Montezemolo was referring to is that Ferrari has a say in the rule making process until 2012. This is why the FIA rules for 2010 contain a ‘second tier’ alongside the budget cap, allowing teams like Ferrari, should they wish to, to run the same rules as currently.

The problem, as Patrick Head said this weekend, is that the budget capped teams cars would be faster because of the technical freedoms they would enjoy. This must be a key area of negotiation.

There was a team principals’ meeting on the situation today and negotiations are set to continue with Mosley this week and next. It is not in anyone’s interest for this to get legal, it could cause huge damage and would delay planning for next year which would cause chaos. It needs to be sorted out between principals.

One thing is for sure, Ferrari will not do what they did in 2005, when they caved in and signed up with Ecclestone and Mosley, thereby ending the threatened GPMA manufacturer breakaway series.

If the teams can come up quickly with a serious proposal for cutting costs down to a sustainable level in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how the FIA reacts.

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Apologies to readers for late posting of this regular piece of content. I had an engagement in town and then another out of town and no wifi to be had in either place!

Anyway, the Spanish Grand Prix is going to be very close and the teams involved in fighting for the win are very excited about that. I spoke with Ross Brawn after qualifying and he was really pumped up about the way his car had performed, but also by how close and intense the competition is.

Judging from the fuel weights, I would say that Jenson Button will pit two laps earlier than Sebastian Vettel, who did the best job today, fuel corrected. Button did the second best job ahead of Massa and Barrichello. I have Button coming in on lap 14, Vettel on 16. That is based on fuel consumption of 2.4kg per lap. Some use slightly more and some slightly less, so there will be a discrepancy of a lap there either side.

However Vettel is hopeful that with the lower Renault fuel consumption, he can squeeze an extra lap out and get three extra laps on Button.

Massa’s fourth place with four laps more fuel in the car than Button has woken everyone up! This means that Ferrari are definitely back in business. And Massa is a big threat at the start as he has the KERS system, which Jenson said tonight is worth 10 metres on the run down to turn 1.

Against that, Massa is starting on the dirty side of the track and he has no new tyres left. The three in front of him all do. I reckon that he will definitely pass Barrichello, has a good chance of getting Vettel and an outside chance of leading into turn 1. My bet is he’ll be P2 or P3 on the first lap. This means the teams have to have a plan B in case Massa gets the dream start.

The Ferrari doesn’t yet quite have the legs of the Brawn and the Red Bull, but it‘s getting close.

I’d say its probably between Button and Vettel again for the win, with Barrichello, Webber and Massa fighting for the other podium slot. Toyota has slipped back a little bit compared to Bahrain. I’m a little surprised by that, I thought they would be good here, but the update they brought is not as significant as some of the others, most especially Ferrari who are the big movers.

The Red Bull car is a better qualifying car than the Brawn, we have seen that already this season and the updates Brawn have brought here have not changed that.

Rain is a possibility for the race and here the Brawn has raised its game. Unlike China where the Red Bull was a far superior on the wet weather tyre, Brawn has taken steps to fix thos problems and it should be a more even fight. I’d still slightly favour Vettel in a wet race. In the dry it’s all about staying close to Button in the first stint. If he’s within 3 or 4 seconds at the end of the stint he will have a chance, particularly if he can get three extra laps before his stop.

1. Jenson Button Brawn Mercedes 646.0 – will pit lap 14
2. Sebastian Vettel RBR Renault 651.5 – Pit lap 16
3. Rubens Barrichello Brawn Mercedes 649.5 – pit lap 15
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 655.0 – pit lap 18
5. Mark Webber RBR Renault 651.5 – Pit lap 16
6. Timo Glock Toyota 646.5 – pit lap 14
7. Jarno Trulli Toyota 655.5 – pit lap 18
8. Fernando Alonso Renault 645.0 – pit lap 14
9. Nico Rosberg Williams Toyota 668.0 – pit lap 23
10. Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 660.0 – pit lap 20
11. Kazuki Nakajima Williams Toyota 676.6*
12. Nelson Piquet Renault 677.4*
13. Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 676.3*
14. Lewis Hamilton McLaren Mercedes 683.0*
15. Sébastien Buemi STR Ferrari 678.0*
16. Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 673.0*
17. Sébastien Bourdais STR Ferrari 669.0*
18. Heikki Kovalainen McLaren Mercedes 657.0*
19. Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes 675.0*
20. Giancarlo Fisichella Force India Mercedes 656.0*

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Jenson Button described his pole position here in Barcelona as ’the best pole I have ever had’ and it’s hard to argue.

He crossed the line to start the lap with only two seconds to spare after a mix up with his team over track position, which caused him to find BMW’s Robert Kubica in his path in the build up to the lap. He thought Kubica was on a hot lap and let him through, but he wasn’t and he then had to drop back to find a space. But he onlt had four seconds to spare on the lap, so he had to judge it carefully. “It could have gone horribly wrong, “ as he said.

But he mentally parked the stress of that and then he delivered a perfect lap, finding just under a second from his previous run.

His two main rivals for pole position, team mate Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel both improved by seven tenths of a second from their first runs, but the 29 year old championship leader showed he has the greater hunger. Vettel had used new tyres for both runs, whereas both Brawn drivers had used tyres on the first run and new ones on the second. New tyres are worth probably half a second, so actually Vettel did a great job.

I’m so impressed with his consistency. He has been in the top three in qualifying at every race. Here the Red Bull has less updates than the Brawn, so for him to split them in qualifying is a great effort.

Ferrari had a mixed day, with a real confidence boosting fourth place for Felipe Massa tempered by a shocking mistake with Kimi Raikkonen’s car for which both he and the team must take the blame. Raikkonen did just five laps in Q1 and set a time of 1m21.291.

I was in the McLaren garage for the first part of qualifying, standing in a new pod, smack in the middle of the garage, which is for VIP guests and sponsors, designed to get them really close to the action. It certainly does that and I will write a post on that another time, with images.

Anyway, part of the experience is listening to Lewis Hamilton’s team radio. With five minutes to go before the final runs, he asked his engineer, Phil Prue, what the cut off for making it into the top 15 would be. Prue looked at the computer and said, “1m 20.8, somewhere around there.”

Raikkonen was already four tenths off that so once again, as in Malaysia, the team was overconfident and paid the price. If Button wins again tomorrow, Kimi could be 38 points behind him and his chances of getting anything out of the championship ruined.

Everyone has brought some kind of updates here, but Ferrari is the team which has made the biggest gain, as you would expect really. Massa in fourth place with KERS has a great chance of leading on the first lap as he will gain 10 metres on the rest on the run down to the first corner. From there he has a chance because the long run pace of his car is good. It’s not as quick as Brawn, but it’s quick enough if he’s leading on lap one for him to score Ferrari\s first podium of the season.

Soon the KERS on the Ferrarin is going to be the thing which gets them ahead of Brawn and I asked Mercedes’ Norbert Haug whether he will sell his class leading system to Brawn if they represent Mercedes’ best chance of winning the chanpionship. He didn’t rule it out, but said that it would be hard to integrate into the Brawn car. Discussions are ongoing apparently.

Today was another example of how Button is growing into the role of F1 front –runner. He had a number of things to contend with and yet he mastered the situation and pulled out the performance when he most needed it.

Brawn have brought an updated package to this race with a new floor and new bodywork designed to give the car an extra 3/10ths of a second of performance. Buttton struggled in practice with the new parts and admitted that he had to copy some elements of Barrichello’s set up to get the car balanced in qualifying.

There’s no shame in that, Michael Schumacher use to do it regularly when he was team mates with the Brazilian at Ferrari.

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There was quite a bit of chatter last week about the inclusion of the ‘winner takes all’ clause in the 2010 sporting regulations, whereby the driver who had the most wins would become world champion.

The FIA had tried in March to introduce it for the 2009 season, but needed the teams’ agreement, which wasn’t forthcoming. It was assumed by most people, including teams and by me, that the system would be introduced in 2010 instead. After the World Council Meeting on 29th April, the rules were published with the winner takes all system in place.

Now it’s gone again.

Two days ago, May 6th, the sporting regulations for 2010 were published again, but with the original system back in place, instead of winner takes all, it says the following,

“The Formula One World Championship driver’s title will be awarded to the driver who has scored the highest number of points, taking into consideration all the results obtained during the Events which have actually taken place. ”

In other words back to the way it has been in recent years.

It turns out that it was not something slipped in to the rules on April 29th, but there was simply a mistake made in the version published after the April 29th meeting. When the teams brought it to FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting’s attention it was quickly rectified in the version published on Wednesday.

There is so much else going on at the moment with the row over the budget cap, that it seems winner takes all will be taking a back seat for the time being.

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Who’s the F1 heavyweight?

Picking up on the story yesterday about Fernando Alonso losing 5.5 kilos in bodyweight during the Bahrain GP, I mentioned that Nico Rosberg was telling us yesterday that he feels the rapid weight loss the drivers have undergone over the winter is contributing to them not having the reserves of energy and strength at the end of races.

I spoke to one of the leading driver trainers and he agrees with Rosberg’s point. Apparently, though, the important thing is how you lose the weight. If it’s too sudden then you lose the reserves and your energy patterns go all over the place. If it’s controlled and planned then it’s no problem.

Out of interest here are the weights of some of the leading drivers in F1, as compiled by one of my Italian colleagues,

Webber 75kg – he gained 2kg over the winter while nursing his broken leg
Kubica 70kg – he has lost 8 kilos since the 2007 season
Raikkonen – 69kg
Alonso – 66kg
Rosberg 66 kg – he has lost around 5 kilos over the winter, I’m told
Trulli – 64kg
Vettel 62kg
Heidfeld/ Massa 59kg

One of my readers posted a question the other day, could I imagine Juan Pablo Montoya coming back to F1?

Looking at the above table and what is required from drivers today in terms of weight control, I think we all know the answer to that..

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F1 teams in race against time

The FOTA teams met yesterday in London to discuss developments in the 2010 rules and to co-ordinate a response to the FIA’s introduction of a £40 million budget cap for next season.

The statement, as usual, was fairly bland and uninformative, but did hint at the seriousness of the situation, as it sees it,

“FOTA held a positive and constructive meeting and agreed to continue working together in a methodical manner for the definition of further cost-reduction in 2010 and 2011, progressing along the path begun in 2008. FOTA has concerns with the decisions taken at the last WMSC meeting regarding the 2010 regulations and therefore asks to begin urgent consultations with the FIA.”

The statement was issued yesterday evening and made no reference to the death of FIA president Max Mosley’s 39 year old son Alexander, announced earlier in the day. Mosley has cancelled a planned visit to Spain this weekend for the Grand Prix, where he was due to hold a press conference. His son’s death is bound to dominate his thoughts and his agenda for a period of time.

The teams have been given a one week window later this month in which they have to enter the 2010 championship. So it is a matter of urgency for them to decide on a co-ordinated negotiating position and see if they can get the FIA around the table to smooth out the plans for 2010 to make them work for more of the teams. Mosley said on Friday however, in an interview I did with him for the Financial Times,

“We may have a very damaging conflict, it’s possible, but we are prepared for that. We’d tough it out. We’ve got very little room to negotiate.”

Basically the teams are all agreed that you cannot have two tier F1, with some cars running budget capped and others running outside it with fewer technical freedoms. But beyond that there is a split, with half the teams, the independents, in favour of a budget cap at around £40 million and the other half with a range of objections.

The rules for 2010 also include the winner takes all points system, which had been voted through for this season, but the teams objected that their unanimous vote was needed to bring it through at such short notice and the FIA backed down, declaring that it would be deferred to 2010.

It is now enshrined in the rules as follows, “The Formula One World Championship Driver’s Title will be awarded to the driver who has been classified first in the greatest number of races, all official results from the Championship season being taken into account.

“Points will be awarded to all drivers in accordance with Article 6.4 below and, in the event that two or more drivers win an equal number of races, the driver with the greatest number of points will be awarded the Driver’s title.”

There is no mention of medals being awarded, but in all other respects it is the same as the plan put forward by Bernie Ecclestone late last year.

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