Archive for the ‘Teams’ Category

Today’s verdict by the World Motor Sport Council to issue a three race ban for McLaren, but to suspend it for 12 months has received a fairly balanced reaction.

Given the original incident, where Trulli was allowed to pass Hamilton behind the safety car in Melbourne, what happened in the stewards’ room there and in Kuala Lumpur and what has transpired since with McLaren going out of its way to demonstrate that it has accepted mistakes were made and changed the governance of the team, this is a well balanced and light judgement. To go further would have been excessive.

McLaren pleaded guilty and the human cost at the team has been very high, with the departure of Ron Dennis, the architect of McLaren’s success and of Dave Ryan, one of its most dilligent and loyal employees for over 35 years. Lewis Hamilton has taken a huge blow to his prestige and integrity, which will take many years to redress. No doubt many of the team’s major sponsors have been in contact expressing concern that the team’s questionable sporting integrity might damage their brands by association.

FIA president Max Mosley saw no need to labour the point on this matter and said he was satisfied that a real and lasting change had been made at McLaren with the departure of Dennis and the appointment of a new chairman, a captain of industry, Richard Lapthorne.

Mosley said, “In the end there were decisions taken by the people who are no longer involved. That being the case, it would have been unfair to go on with the matter.

“We think it’s entirely fair. They’ve demonstrated there’s a complete culture change and under those circumstances it’s better to put the whole thing behind us.

“Unless they do something similar, that’s the end of the matter.”

Mosley suggested that the decision to lie to the stewards in Melbourne and to continue the deceit in Malaysia was down to sporting director Dave Ryan and implied that the FIA felt Dennis had been involved. Although Whitmarsh told journalists in Malaysia that no-one more senior than Ryan had been involved in the matter and Dennis strenously denied that his decision to move away from the race team had anything to do with the case, the implication in Mosley’s words is that he feels he was involved.

The press attending that conference at which Dennis made his announcement on April 16th was notably light on F1 journalists, they were either general media or media from the motoring side and those who were there were not fully aware of the facts of this case, so did not question Dennis as rigorously on the F1 side as they might have done.

Mosley added that he was impressed with the attitude of team principal Martin Whitmarsh and the way he has conducted himself since the controversy.

“Martin Whitmarsh made a very good impression,” said Mosley. “He’s straightforward and wants to work with us. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is make the championship successful. Martin fully understands that and we reacted accordingly.”

McLaren team boss Whitmarsh said, “I would like to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for affording me the opportunity to answer their questions this morning,” said Whitmarsh.

“We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.”

Compared to Dennis, Whitmarsh is a very uncomplicated man with a light touch and he has decided to go the non-confrontational route with the FIA, something Dennis could not contemplate. How that leaves him and the team in the future will be interesting to watch.

As will his reaction to the budget cap, which is likely to be announced tomorrow.

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McLaren race on as ban is suspended

The FIA World Motor Sport Council announced at lunchtime today after a brief hearing in Paris that McLaren will not be forced to miss any races this season, nor will it lose any constructors’ championship points. Instead it has decided to suspend the sentence it planned to hand down, namely a three race ban.

Interestingly, given that this is the second time in two years that McLaren has faced disrepute charges, the suspension is for a period of one year. It’s hard to imagine that they would do anything like this again – and the team was at pains to show that it has changed culture with the departure of Ron Dennis and Dave Ryan and the appointment of a new chairman, Richard Lapthorne, from industry.

The FIA statement reads,

“Having regard to the open and honest way in which McLaren Team Principal, Mr Martin Whitmarsh, addressed the WMSC and the change in culture which he made clear has taken place in his organisation, the WMSC decided to suspend the application of the penalty it deems appropriate.

“That penalty is a suspension of the team from three races of the FIA Formula One World Championship. This will only be applied if further facts emerge regarding the case or if, in the next 12 months, there is a further breach by the team of article 151c of the International Sporting Code.”

McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were disqualified from the fourth place they attained at the Australian Grand Prix, where the lying incident in the stewards’ room occured.

Whitmarsh wrote to the FIA pleading guilty to all charges last weekend. He is determined to get away from the polemics of the Dennis era and the antagonistic way the team dealt with the FIA.

In light of all that has happened between the FIA and McLaren since it first came to light that the team had a 700 page Ferrari dossier in its possession, it now feels as though things have calmed down. McLaren has a good chance of fighting for the drivers’ world championship this year. Lewis Hamilton has only 9 points to Jenson Button’s 31, but his car is improving very quickly. With the five points he lost in Melbourne, he would be on 14 with three quarters of the season to go. As it is, I think he can fight for the title this year.

As for the damage to Hamilton’s reputation, he has gone down in many people’s estimation over the incident. It was a lose-lose for him as one the one hand he looks bad because he lied to the stewards, allegedly because he was told to by the team. On the other hand, by doing what he was told, he appears to be a product of the team and not his own man. He has to just park it and move on, there’s nothing he can do about it now, but I’d expect him to act more individually in the future.

No doubt to reach this verdict there has been some horse trading behind the scenes in terms of commitments that Dennis will never return and that his influence is negated, despite retaining a 15% shareholding in the company. And I wonder if there was some dealing on the proposed budget cap as well. We are due to find out more about that at some point soon.

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There seems to be a division of opinion about what is going on between Brawn GP and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

There are stories that a deal has been done for this year and next, while there are strong suggestions coming out of the team that other parties are interested and Branson should pony up some more serious money if he wishes to go forward.

Branson was in the Bahrain paddock at the weekend, holding a press conference to announce that Rubens Barrichello and Niki Lauda had both paid €200,000 to fly into space on the Virgin Galactic spaceship. Lauda, who is on crutches after a hip replacement, is due to take a turn at flying the craft.

The Real Honda website, which has close links with the Brackley team, is reporting that a deal is done for Virgin to sponsor the car for the season at less than £1 million.

However in the Times today, Brawn CEO Nick Fry gives a very interesting quote,

“Richard has made an offer. The issue for us is whether or not it is the best offer we can get.”

Fry goes on to say that,
“We’ve got between 20 and 25 companies talking to us either about sponsorship or some wanting to buy into the team. Ross and I need to come to the correct decision, not the quick decision.”

Branson has a track record of getting the maximum exposure for the minimum spend. Already the media value to his brand of the exposure from the first four races plus his appearances in Australia and Bahrain is estimated at £10 million. That proves to him on the one hand that F1 and Brawn in particular, is a great way to get exposure, but it also shows him that he can do it very cheaply.

But this is not going down very well with the powers that be in F1 and Brawn is now coming to the point where they are asking him to invest serious money for the long term.

They have a ‘budget to impress’ in Ross Brawn’s words, from Honda to get them through the 2009 season, but they need more money to develop the car to stay ahead of the rest and win the world title and they also need money to get started on next year’s car.

The word I heard in Bahrain is that Brawn are looking for a three year commitment from any prospective partner. The discussions with Virgin have revolved around the rest of this year and a commitment to fund the development of the 2010 car.

Discussions will of course have been hanging in recent weeks, waiting for the FIA to set the level of the budget cap. Many teams are nervous about sponsors’ reactions if the budget is set at £30 -50 million, as they fear the sponsors will be asking for the price to come down proportionately.

However the price they pay is not related to the team’s needs, it is related to the media value of the exposure they get, based on camera time, press cuttings and so on, something Branson and his team will be all to aware of given their success in that area in the last month.

The budget cap will redefine the business model of F1 and if the price is low enough it may make it attractive for Virgin to consider more than a sponsorship, but to buy an equity stake in the team. F1 teams are set to become profitable under a budget cap, so as an owner/partner you still get your exposure and you make money too. Time will tell.

As Honda the team was very close to a deal with Emirates airlines, a deal which was linked to the Earthdreams concept. But it never happened. The team has not been the market leader in attracting sponsors at any time in its history. As BAR they didn’t really need sponsors as the whole thing was bankrolled by a tobacco company. When it became Honda and BAT pulled out, the same attitude continued.

Fry and his new commercial team are under pressure to deliver a full roster of sponsors to take the Brawn team forward and make sure that this year’s championship leading performance is not a flash in the pan.

An announcement about Virgin’s ongoing involvement is expected at the Spanish Grand Prix in a few weeks time.

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How Brawn has changed Button

Jenson Button took his third win of the season on Sunday in fine style. This was a victory which demanded a great deal of care, because he didn’t have the fastest car out there on the day, not even on the qualifying day, even though the Brawn had appeared to have the legs of the others in Friday practice.

He also had to be aggressive on the opening lap, to regain the place lost to Lewis Hamilton at the start. F1 fans around the world are now debating whether Button can capitalise on the superb start he has made to the first part of the season and win the world title. He will face a growing challenge from teams like McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, while Toyota and Red Bull are already on his pace.

But I sense a real difference about Jenson this year. I think that Ross Brawn has given him a greater sense of disclipline, not just in his driving, but in his life as a whole. And in that pass on Hamilton, he showed the importance of giving nothing away, something which characterised Michael Schumacher’s driving and Ross Brawn’s whole approach to racing.

Button has always had a great talent and a uniquely smooth style. And when he started, he learned the F1 ropes pretty quickly, let’s not forget that this is the man, who at the age of 20, on his first visit to Spa, pointed out to the FIA’s Charlie Whiting that the 100 metre braking board was in the wrong place on the approach to La Source hairpin. They measured it and found he was correct.

So, behind this rather laid-back facade, a sympathy for precision and discipline has always been there, but many years in bad cars had rather blunted the edge. Also the same lack of discipline and leadership in the technical department at Honda, which caused them to misfire, has been transformed under Brawn’s leadership.

I’ll give you a small example, every time Button enters the pits during practice he drives into his pit box, with the mechanics in the positions they would be in for a pit stop. He comes in and stops in position. But that is not where it ends, there is a brief pause on the radio and then Andrew Shovlin, Button’s race engineer will say, “Ten centimetres out.”

There is no further comment, no response from Jenson.

Sometimes he comes in and you will hear Brawn himself say, “Perfect position Jenson.”

It matters because it means that when he stops for real in the race, the refuellers will be able to do their job more easily and the stop will be faster. This is what you call taking care of the details and it is the hallmark of Ross Brawn, honed over many years together with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The ethos at Ferrari was that everyone had to give 100% all the time and if they each counted on each other to do that, they would be successful. It has undoubtedly sharpened up Button’s racecraft. He seems very on top of every aspect of the game at the moment.

“I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win, ” Ross said on Saturday. “The way he is driving, that part is taken care of.

“It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pit stops, the strategies, and make sure the car is reliable.”

His personal life has been rather chaotic for much of his F1 career, you recall the dithering over moves back to Williams and the odd situation where he had to buy himself out of his contract. Now after a few years under Richard Goddard’s management that side of his life seems to have settled down and become more under control. There is a unity of purpose about every aspect of his life. I’ve seen it before in racing drivers, when they get into a position to win races and championships, they get into the ‘zone’.

Button is in the zone now.

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Bahrain was a good weekend for the McLaren team. Although fourth place will not feel like win for them after the slow start to the season, the team is heading in the right direction and was only a few tenths off the pace here.

The circuit somewhat flattered their car, with its long straights and lack of high speed corners, but all teams agree that McLaren have clearly made a big step forward. As team principal Martin Whitmarsh explains below they have done this by making constant small steps at every race, whereas teams like Ferrari and BMW have put all their effort into one massive upgrade for Spain.

McLaren has another step for Spain, including the double diffuser, so it will be interesting to see if that takes them a step close to the pace of Brawn, Toyota and Red Bull. The gap is now only around 4/10ths of a second per lap, having been over two seconds before the season started…

How satisfied are you with the progress which led to this fourth place in Sakhir?
“If you had asked me in Barcelona (test) would I have accepted a strong fourth place here, competitive with all the cars and fourth in the constructors then I would have snatched your hand off, but being McLaren we want to win. It’s not good enough for us. We’ve made steps in the right direction but we need to keep pushing.”

Looking at the progress you have made and Lewis’ position in the points table, you must be thinking that Lewis has a pretty good chance of winning the world championship?

“We have to be a little bit wary about this circuit. Maybe we were a little bit flattered here anyway, Barcelona is going to be tough. I know that we have a decent step forward for Barcelona but I’m sure the others have too,

“We’ve made good progress and if we can continue that progress I think we have to be in a strong position. Certainly I’m not one of those people who was saying after two races that the championship was over.

But we’ve got to be frank about it, as a race team we have thrown everything we could at it. There are 12 performance modifications on this car from last weekend and that takes a huge amount of effort. We’ve certainly thrown a lot of effort at it compared to some of our competitors. If you do that, sometimes it can be to the detriment of longer term development, where you stand back and make bigger incremental steps.

You mean you have gone for a small gain everywhere, while the opposition is focussing on one big step for Barcelona? Why did you do it that way?
“As a race team it is not in our character not to come to a race and throw everything we can at it. I think what it does is whilst it is not the most efficient development process, it creates an environment which I think you can sense here, you don’t sense it’s a losing team, people in our garage sense that we are heading in the right direction. It gives momentum to the drivers, the team to think, ‘Right we can do this. We can overhaul these people and we can win some races this year.’ Once we’ve done that we’ll see where we are in the championship.”

Are you worried about Wednesday’s disciplinary hearing?
“To be honest I’ve been concentrating on going racing and I haven’t been worrying about that and I’m going to concentrate on things that are under my control and that hopefully we can improve.”

There have have been a lot of meetings this weekend with FIA. Is this all part of a process that has been going on in the build up to Wednesday?
“ I think it’s safe to assume that, yes. We are trying to build a relationship with the FIA and beyond that we already have. On KERS and a lot of regulation issues we have always had that relationship and I think we have to build in some other areas to that relationship to make sure that we steer this team in the right direction.

Will the relationship with the FIA improve
“I’ve been working with the FIA recently and I’m grateful for the support they have given me and this team. I think that hopefully that is the start of building a better relationship for the future.”

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Luca di Montezemolo arrived in Bahrain this morning to give encouragement to his Ferrari team, which has endured its worst start to a season for over 25 years. He talked of the team making the mistake of thinking it is the best and being caught out and called for a fresh attitude

He also talked to representatives of other teams and manufacturers about the current state of F1.

This is a huge week for the sport, It is essentially being restructured with new rules for 2010 due to be ratified on Wednesday at the FIA World Council meeting which has been called to hear the McLaren disciplinary case.

By the end of this week the budget cap will be a reality with a set value on it. The start point is £30 million, excluding drivers salary and marketing. It is likely to go up by Wednesday, but nit by as much as teams like Ferrari, McLaren and BMW would like.

Montezemolo, as president of FOTA as well as Ferrari is not happy with the way the FIA has introduced the concept of the budget cap. The teams have a meeting set for May 6th in London, but the FIA timetable is more urgent than that and it could all be done and dusted by then. A fight is in prospect, although with six teams in favour of a budget cap slightly higher than the proposed figure it will be interesting to see how unified the teams are and how much of a fight they put up

Montezemolo sat in the baking sun in a blazer and blue shirt and spoke to the media this morning.

What is your feeling about the start Ferrari has made to this championship?
“We have won eight world championships in the last 10 years, three of the last four. I want to understand why we are in the middle of a black tunnel. There are four reasons; we have seen some very badly written rules, grey rules, with different interpretations. This means polemics.

“Second was KERS. KERS represents a lot of money, something which has been introduced to have a link, between F1 and advanced research for road cars in terms of energy in terms of green, in terms innovation which I like. We have done KERS even though it means a lot of money, means problems with safety and reliability. But we have been surprised to see that KERS was a suggestion and not real rule.

“Today we face a strange an not positive situation; we have three different F1 competitions on the grid. Cars with KERS, cars with no KERS and with a different floor, and a third competitor with no KERS and no floor. This is bad and is one of the reasons why we are forced to invest time and extra money at a difficult time.

“Also we started to work on the new car late at a time when the rules are new. And the last reason, inside the teams there has been a little too much presumption in the team. Sometimes you need to be level headed.

“We are working hard and I have a big confidence in the team.”

What do you mean by presumption?
Well sometimes when you win all the time, you think you are the best and I want a different attitude. And sometimes we think that maintaining the top is easy. We have done ten years at the top, but this year if we had interpreted the rules in a different way with no KERS and with a different floor we would be talking about a different Ferrari.”

How long will your patience last?
I’m totally unhappy. But stability of the team and confidence of the team since 1992 has been my main goal and I will continue. This team is the same one which crossed the finish line on Brazil a few months ago, winning the championship. So no problem. I know the reason my people know the reason. When I don’t know the reason I’m worried, when I know the reason I’m not worried.”

What is the state of unity within FOTA at the moment after the row over diffusers?
“Unity is good, We will have a meeting in London on May 6th, because here we are and we don’t yet know the rules for next year. “

What is going on with Michael Schumacher’s role?
“Michael’s position is very clear, when he stopped I said to him, Do you want to be the manager? Do you want to be the right arm of Jean Todt for one year and then take over, yes or no? And he said no. I’m sorry because he has a very good mentality, but his life is different. So we said ‘Why don’t you come to some races?’ But his main job has been on development of the road cars, Scuderia, California he has done some very good work. He will come back to some race but he has no role inside the team because he has no time to come to Maranello. He is in good relations with Domenicali and he makes suggestions.”

How do you feel about Ross Brawn winning with his own team
“I like Ross very much because he was in our family for many important years and has mad a very important imput. Is see a Honda car with the Brawn name, of Honda which has invested a he amount of money in two wind tunnels, deciding very early to concentrate on a completely new car and decided at the end of the year to stop. This is Honda with one of the biggest budgets in F1. They had a different interpretation of the rules, due to the grey areas.”

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McLaren pleads guilty…

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has written to the FIA ahead of next Wednesday’s world council meeting, essentially pleading guilty to all five charges of bringing the sport into disrepute over the issue of lying to the stewards in Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, according to the Times.

“Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, has written to Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, informing him that his team accept that they are in breach of Article 151c of the Formula One sporting regulations, which covers bringing the sport into disrepute. The letter also contains a full apology from Whitmarsh for this latest serious transgression by the Woking-based team, ” the paper says.

By acting this way the team is essentially saying to the FIA, ‘Look, we accept that what happened with the stewards was wrong, we’ve taken steps to correct this with Lewis’ apology in Malaysia, key people leaving the team and a new chairman coming in who will provide a new style of management, just tell us what the sentence it, ‘

Whitmarsh appears to be taking a pragmatic approach to this crisis. There is now no need for the motor sport council to carry out an exhaustive investigation into what happened on April 29th, no need to call Hamilton, Dennis or Ryan into the courtroom to give evidence.

But the world council has a hard job on its hands in deciding what the punishment should be. Some experienced hands here are talking about a points deduction, which would also have a financial penalty to it as the lower they finish in the constructors’ championship, the less prize money they would take home. Others still talk about a two race ban.

I have noticed that the FIA’s Alan Donnelly has been spending a lot of time around the McLaren area this weekend and all sides realise the importance of getting it right on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Mercedes are playing down stories about their involvement in F1 being in doubt, after negative comments made by a union leader in Germany. It is however possible that the manufacturer, which has a 40% shareholding in the team, might seek to take a greater say in the overall management of the team after this second embarrassing incident.

The Telegraph, meanwhile, quotes an unnamed McLaren sponsor saying, “I can say that if a disproportionately large penalty were given to McLaren on April 29 then the sponsor that I am associated with might leave. But the punishment must fit the crime.”

It is the second time in 18 months that Whitmarsh has had to pen a letter of open and full apology to the FIA. He did so in 2007 at the conclusion of the case over the Ferrari dossier which ended up in McLaren’s possession. In both cases it came after the team had initially claimed that it had done nothing wrong.

This case has already been very costly for McLaren in human terms, it has lost Dave Ryan, the veteran team manager and Ron Dennis, the driving force behind the team for almost 30 years.

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A lot of people are confused by the performance of Lewis Hamilton in the Chinese Grand Prix.

Rain is a great leveller in Formula 1. Talented drivers who do not have the car to compete in normal conditions can shine on a wet track and we have seen plenty of that over the years.

Wet races in the last couple of years seem to have been dominated either by Sebastien Vettel or by Hamilton. Hamilton delivered his masterpiece at Silverstone last July, but in Shanghai this weekend he had a very different kind of race, which showed that having the right car is just as important in the wet as the dry, especially with these 2009 cars.

He started brightly, attacking in the opening laps and making up places. He passed Raikkonen for 6th place on the first racing lap, then Trulli for 5th, then dropped back to 10th. He passed Kovalainen, Raikkonen again and was 4th on lap 24, with pace not too far off Button’s. He pitted on lap 33 and at that time his pace was comparable with drivers who were already on new wet tyres. So the tyres held up quite well in the first stint and all was going well. Perhaps the two safety car periods had given his tyres the right treatment.

But he pushed very hard in the opening laps of the second stint, fuel adjusted he wasn’t far off Vettel’s times. On lap 35 for example, he did a 1m55.153, a second faster than Button despite being significantly heavier and only 1.3 secs slower than Vettel (who was about to pit) despite his fuel weight slowing him by 2 secs/lap.

However he had taken too much out of the tyres. His pace dropped off after lap 44 and a spin on lap 49 lost him fifth place to team mate Heikki Kovalainen.

Here Lewis frankly admits that he didn’t deliver the kind of performance he expects of himself in those conditions. Perhaps the way the tyres held up in the first stint fooled him into thinking they’d be okay in the second. He didn’t think his way through the race..

That wasn’t what people have come to expect from you in the wet
“I love racing in the wet but I would say that was one of my worst wet weather performances. I made lots of mistakes. It was tricky out there, I was pushing hard, had quite good pace early on when I had some grip, but too many mistakes.

“You know me, I generally have good wet races, this one was incredibly tough. It was almost too dangerous to drive, you saw lots of people sliding off. I don’t have enough downforce on this car anyway, so it was a struggle but as least I scored some good points for the team.”

Did you push the car harder than it wanted to be pushed?
“All weekend I’ve been pushing that car beyond its limits and beyond what it is really capable of. Today when the tyres dropped off, I wasn’t able to avoid the oversteer moments.”

Why so many spins?
“There is nothing wrong with the car except the lack of downforce. I guess the guys with more downforce had no such a problem. My tyres were finished quite early so I was struggling with them. It was fun at the beginning when I had some grip. I don’t know if it’s the car or my driving style but it seems to destroy the tyres very early on. I remember I had just come out (of the pits) and they said I had 20 laps to go and my front left tyre was gone after 5 laps.”

What do you think about the performance of Sebastien Vettel?
“Congratulations to him, he did a fantastic job today. They have been very fast all weekend, so clearly they have one of the best cars.”

How long before you have a car which will allow you to race for a win?
“It’s going to be a good four or five races, it’s going to be some time. The guys are doing a fantastic job, so we’ve got to keep pushing.”

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Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali started the weekend by sending an email to his team asking them to react to the poor start to the season “with pride”.

The team came away from Shanghai empty handed again and now only they and Force India are left without a point. It could have been worse, if Adrian Sutil had held on to his sixth place, but the German driver crashed heavily five laps from the end.

However Domenicali was able to draw some pride from the way the early part of the race unfolded. In his post race briefing he was encouraged by the performance of Felipe Massa in the early part of the race. Massa got as high as third place on lap 20 before an electrical problem forced him to stop out on track. He said that water had got into his electrics and he lost the throttle.

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa

For every success story in F1 there is always a story of what might have been and given Ferrari’s position in the table, this ‘what might have been’ tale will be particularly painful.

“It is very unfortunate because if you look at the first part of the race, Felipe did a fantastic job, ” said Domenicali. “He was really much faster than Sebastian Vettel, who was with low fuel and we had more fuel. So, honestly, in that condition it was perfect. Then unfortunately we had this problem on electronic control which made the car stop, as it was a big shame.

I am pretty sure that with that strategy, and the fact that he did fantastic laps, we would have been on the podium – no doubt.”

I’m not sure he was ever faster than Vettel, but he was certainly at times competitive with Jenson Button, who finished on the podium.

He started the race from 13th place on the grid with a one stop fuel load. His car had around 80 kilos of fuel in it, some 46 kilos more than Vettel, which equates to around 1.6 second per lap extra.

In the opening stint he drove very well, passing Kovalainen on lap 9, Raikkonen on lap 12, Trulli on lap 14, moving to fourth when Buemi pitted on lap 19 and third when Webber pitted on lap 20. At that point Felipe still had a lot of fuel on board. The safety car was out and he was right behind Jenson Button, who finished on the podium and both drivers had one more stop to make. His pace out of the slipstream of other cars was similar to Button’s so you can see what Domenicali means when he says that a podium was within his sights. He had certainly played himself into a position to beat Barrichello.

“It’s a very tough situation, “said Massa afterwards. “We are in a different position from the past but I think we can get away from this problem I’m very motivated to help the team to get away from this difficult time.

“We have two issues, we need to make the car quicker and we need to make it reliable. I feel more comfortable in Bahrain and I think we can be more competitive there and more reliable.”

Ferrari tested for a week in Bahrain in February. They put that knowledge to good use last year, let’s hope they can again this year.

Kimi Raikkonen finished 10th, despite running in front of Lewis Hamilton in the first stint. He switched from a two stop to a one stop strategy, but the timing was all wrong. His problem was that his pit stop came at a time when the field was bunched up shortly after a safety car period. He dropped right down the field and never recovered the positions.

Kimi believes that the team will start to move forward when it gets its new diffuser and floor at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
“We know that once we get to Barcelona we should take a step with the car. We probably don’t have the same downforce as the others. When we get the new floor for sure we are going to get lots of downforce and it will make the car fast.”

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3 minutes with… Ross Brawn

Ross Brawn’s team has been in the eye of the storm lately, what with the protests over the double diffuser and the criticisms of people like Flavio Briatore. Brawn is a thick skinned individual, but he will have felt the personal attacks of Ferrari’s lawyer in the appeal court hearing last week.

Of course he’s been around long enough to know that you take the heat when you are the team to beat, he’s been in that situation at Benetton and Ferrari and controversy has been in the air in those times too. He’s a big man, he can take the heat.

In Shanghai, the Brawns did not go all that well in the low fuel 2nd part of qualifying and then did not take the front row of the grid, mainly because they chose to run more fuel than their opposition.

The two Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso’s Renault opted to run a lighter fuel load and got in front of the Brawns as a result. In the race, however, the Brawn is still going to be the fastest car and should be able to hit the front by staying out 6 laps longer than Vettel and Webber at the end of the first stint. That is when we will see the mega lap times as we did from Button in Sepang. Either of the two Brawn cars could win this race as Barrichello has more than matched his team mate this weekend so far.

But Ross has to make sure his cars don’t lose track position at the start and that they are within a few seconds of Vettel when he pits around lap 12 or 13. If Webber holds them up that strategy could be tested.

What happened to your pace in the second part of qualifying?
“We had a bit of a problem with some settings on the car, it’s not quite right in some parts of the track. We have a problem with the suspension topping out and as the grip has improved it’s been getting worse because we haven’t got enough rear suspension travel. It’s a legacy of fitting the Mercedes Benz engine because we had to lift the gearbox up to fit the engine and it’s causing a few problems.

“So when we went out on low fuel with new tyres in the middle part of qualifying, we didn’t get the temperature in the tyres. It wasn’t particularly critical but I think we got a bit confused in where we really were because Red Bull were really quick and we weren’t.”

Did you underestimate the likely speed of the Red Bulls in Q3?
“No our view is that we can run a good race on a two stop strategy, a three stop has higher risks, there was no point in doing a three stop strategy in our position. The problem will come as we get caught up at the start, there’s no doubt some risks. Three stops is a little quicker than two, but you need a clean race, no safety cars at the wrong time. That’s why we were a little more conservative.”

So how do you feel your tactics will work out in the race?
“If you take fuel into consideration we still look the quickest, but the difficulty will be getting in the right place at the right time. I imagine that the light fuelled teams will start on the option [soft tyre] and the last 6 or 7 laps of that will be interesting to see what happens.

How tough is it to manage the soft tyre here?
“There is an issue to get it up to temperature and get it working, but once you do the tyre is very stressed here, there are some corners here that give the tyre a really hard time, so it seems to be a compund which is hard to warm up and then is not durable. The other one takes a couple of laps to get warm then its fine, really durable.”

What have Honda said about your success this season?
“They have been very complementary. I have had some really nice letters from Fukui-san since the start of the season. They are frustrated they can’t be part of it.”

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