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Monday, March 31, 2008

More Massa, and Ferrari preps for Bahrain

Despite Felipe Massa’s DNF in Malaysia, Ferrari may not use the opportunity to replace his engine, opting instead to give the current unit a full run, ITV reports.

The rules allow an engine change because Massa didn’t finish the race.

This is an interesting decision based on the fact that Ferrari engines have been a little short on reliability this season.

ITV also reports that Ferrari will be using some new aero bits in Bahrain. Ferrari was one of the few teams who opted to test at the circuit over the winter.

Meanwhile, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is the latest to publicly back Felipe Massa, assuring that his seat is safe, even going as far as saying he is one of the two best drivers in the world.

Should Mosley continue?

The News of the World reported this weekend that that Max Mosley allegedly took part in a session with several hookers that had sado-masochistic, and possibly Nazi, undertones.

I hesitated to comment on this when it broke because I believe it is a private matter, and the record of the tabloid in question is a sensationalistic one.

The F1 world is keeping largely silent on the issue, and I believe that is the best course of action.

In fact, the only angle I am going to comment is that the media are speculating on whether he can continue in his role as head of the FIA.

I don’t believe it would be like Mosley to resign, even in this situation. In fact, I expect he will sue. If, by that action, he is implying he is innocent, why resign?

The only reason I could see a resignation is if the motorsports community loses confidence in him. If he made an error in judgment, or was set up, that might happen, but I think it is probably too early to determine that.

It is impossible to determine from a distance what the truth is in this case. I do believe a certain amount of discretion is called for. There is more than his position at stake, there is a family to think of. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Movin’ on.... down

Minardi's garage for the 2005 USGP. McLaren will be forced to use a smaller garage like this one at this year's Bahrain GP.

Due to it’s position last year in the standings (last), McLaren seemed slated to occupy the last garages in the pitlane this season.

That is difficult for a team used to occupying one of the first two garages in the lane, and not just for the ego.

The number of personnel and and amount of equipment McLaren bring to races are geared toward having more real estate. In the past that hasn’t been a problem, as McLaren could always count on roomy garages.

Special dispensation was made in Australia and Malaysia so the could occupy the larger facilities.

Bahrain, however, has ruled that McLaren will drop to the end of the pitlane.

McLaren? Meet Force India.

Meanwhile, Crash.net reports McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh believes it has solved the wheel nut problem which hindered Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia.

Button: Honda improving

Jenson Button has been impressed with what he has seen from Honda so far, but he isn’t letting that cloud his judgment.

Button told Sky Sports the Honda team is encouraged, but knows it has ground to make up before it will be scoring points on a regular basis.

Honda has surprised a bit this year, given that its winter testing performance seemed well off the pace, and last season’s car was so dreadful.

The team has been consistently running mid pack, and if not for Barrichello’s DQ in Austrailia, Honda would have been halfway to last season’s points haul.

It should be interesting to see what kind of improvement Honda can make once the series returns to Europe and testing can be done. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Indy to return as soon as ‘09?


Indy boss Tony George confirmed on an Indianapolis radio station that IMS has hired a marketing firm in hopes of landing a sponsor to bring F1 back to the speedway.

Indianapolis hosted the US date on the F1 calender from 1999 through 2007, but the race was put on hiatus this season when George and Bernie Ecclestone could not come to financial terms on a new contract.

In the interview, George hinted that the race could be back as early as 2009, but that any package would have to include sponsorship. He confirmed that there were interested parties.

I hope there is truth in this report. As we close in rapidly on June, I find myself missing my annual trip to the Hoosier state, and to St. Elmo Steak House in particular.

Jacques in the racing hinterlands

Where do you go when you are a former Formula 1 world champion, yet you can’t pull together the sponsorship to run in NASCAR? How about the Middle Eastern-based, NASCAR-like Speedcar series?

Jacques Villeneuve is set to join the final two rounds of the road racing series that features NASCAR inspired machines. He will join a host of F1 vets, including Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Stefan Johansson, Ukyo Katayama, JJ Lehto and Gianni Morbidelli, for the Bahrain and Dubai rounds.

I guess you race in the series you have, not necessarily in the series you want.

As the Ferrari spins...

Ferrari confirms what we already knew, Felipe Massa’s race ending spin in Malaysia was a result of driver error.

Massa’s apparently clipped a kerb, which caused the aerodynamics to “stall,” according to the Prancing Horse.

Ferrari also took the opportunity to deny that they have no deal in place with Fernando Alonso for 2009 as reports surfaced to that effect in the media.

We know what that usually means. If something in F1 is denied, then it most likely is true. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Jean-Marie Balestre dies

Former FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre died Friday. He was 86.

Balestre rose from a sketchy past in WWII occupied France to found a media empire. He was a founding member of a French national motorsport organization, and ultimately moved through the ranks of the FIA to lead the establishment faction opposed by Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley, and the team bosses in the famous FISA-FOCA war for control of Formula One.

Balestre was many things to many people. Racer? Iron-fisted dictator? Manipulator? Crusader? All are descriptions that easily could describe the man who led the FIA for13 years until he was pushed out by Mosley.

He was a complicated man, but when anyone looks at the sum total of his motorsports life, he must be recognized for his role as a safety proponent. Regardless of his past, or mistakes he may have made during his reign, his reforms made Formula One a safer sport.


Schumacher rides again!

Michael Scumacher is back on the winning track. On a bike.

The seven-time Formula 1 world champion followed up a third place in Hungary last week with a win in Spain in just his second race on two wheels. Now he's upping the ante this week in Italy, where he plans to run in a 10 lap competitive event.

Reuters reports Ducati is already denying Schumacher’s aim is MotoGP, saying it hasn’t has contact with any of Schumacher’s people.

Granted Hungary and Spain were just a pair of low level races, but still, love him or hate him, the man is unbelievable on two wheels or four. This guy is so much easier to like now that he is retired. Crazyfast. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today QPR, tomorrow the F1 world? Not so fast...

Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore may be co-owners of Championship side Queens Park Rangers, but Bernie says he hasn’t lined up the Flav as his successor as F1’s head honcho.

Speaking to FHM, Ecclestone said he doubts one man could fill his shoes, or that Briatore is even interested in the job. Regardless, the 77-year-old says he has no intention of retiring any time soon.

Honda to be successful in three seasons. Really.

Ross Brawn tells F1 Racing that he is targeting 2010 for Honda to challenge for the title, reports ITV.

Brawn says his Japanese bosses have set no timetable.

Three years to get Honda back to the success of 2004? Of course, that was the BAR days with Dave Richards and Prodrive. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can we add salt to your wound, Ron?

Schumi to help distribute fine $$$

The FIA announced Michael Schumacher has been tapped as part of a five man team to help distribute $60 million paid by McLaren for last year's spying controversy.

Schumacher joins Max Mosley, Jean Todt, Norbert Haug and Nick Craw (representing the national sporting associations). One can only assume Haug was included to drive home the point that the FIA blames McLaren, not Mercedes.

The FIA plans to spend the money on safety programs.


Get off my land!

Reuters reports Eddie Jordan has blocked the main access road to Force India’s factory at Silverstone.

Seems when EJ sold to Midland, he retained some of the land around the factory including the road. Now he wants the current tenants to buy the land.

Concrete blocks were been placed across the road while Force India was away in Malaysia. Employees were able to use another entrance.

The Irishman made a point of saying he has nothing against team owner Vijay Mallya. Still, I’m betting EJ’s band doesn’t play another Force India function for a while...

Qatar to upgrade circuit

Qatar confirmed plans to upgrade the Losail circuit, used as a bike venue, in hopes of eventually luring F1.

Mindful that two dates are already planned in the Middle East in the near future, officials are eyeing a role as a test track, with a race as a long term goal, according to a report in Gulf Times.

Thus continues F1’s expansion out of traditional markets. Races such as Silverstone, Melbourne, Magny-Cours, Indianapolis and Montreal will need to ante up big time to remain or regain places on the calendar. Many countries can’t compete with locales backed by governments with deep pockets. I love the idea of new venues, but each traditional race we lose is a shame. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The problem with a slow news day...

... or a no news day is reporters need to write to make money. And what better to write about than that which we already know -- Fernando Alonso has an escape clause in his contract to leave Renault at the end of the year if he isn’t satisfied with team progress.

Alonso mentioned to the Spanish press he holds an option to leave and...wait for it... Ferrari obviously has one of the better cars on the grid. Stunning. Who’d have thought Fernando would have negotiated such a contract? After all:

1) He was fresh off his experience at McLaren (where length of contract didn’t seem to tie him down anyway)

2) Alonso’s contract length has always coincidentally seemed tied to the length of Raikonnen’s Ferrari contract

and

3) Renault CEO Carlos Goshn, known for his cost-cutting ways, has never really been all that committed to F1 (it was doubt about the team’s future that led Alonso to leap to McLaren in the first place)

But let’s take a look at what Alonso really said.

He mentions he went to Renault to win in 2008 or 2009. Let’s also be honest, it was the only competitive drive open to him.

Now, if a Ferrari seat were to open up “unexpectedly,” meaning prior to the expiration of one of the current driver’s contracts, It is natural for Ferrari to consider the double world champion. Ferrari has been known to rate him. Why should we expect Alonso to pass this opportunity up?

Meanwhile, he points out that he wants to win at Renault, this year or next. So, even while he feels this year it will be difficult, it’s pretty obvious he’s not looking to run away just anywhere, but probably to Ferrari if a seat happens to be available. Otherwise, he is committed to Renault.

Alonso admitted speculation of this sort was inevitable following Massa’s less than stellar performances in the last two races, however, and that talk of him moving to Ferrari was “logical,” but “too early."

Never too early for the F1 press to create a “controversy” by pointing out the obvious.

Meanwhile, Flavio Briatore, in an interview that bounced between talk about Renault and recent acquisition Queens Park Rangers, told Reuters he believes Renault have what it takes to snatch a win this season.

Briatore promised a new package for Barcelona, and that “absolutely yes,” it can win. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday news

BMW targeting a win

BMW’s Dr. Mario Theissen is targeting a race win this season after accomplishing his goal of changing the top two into a top three, according to Autosport.

BMW certainly has put itself in a good position, if it can consistently put its cars in the top eight. With the points weighted as they are, BMW will continue to be a player in the championship. I have no doubt if the conditions are right, we will see a BMW driver on the top step of the podium before season’s end.

Massa's seat is safe

Ferrari are shooting down rumors that they are interested in swapping out struggling Felipe Massa for Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel. Team principal Stefano Domenicali said the team is convinced that Massa can turn things around starting in Bahrain.

ITV reports Toro Rosso boss Gerhard Berger called the rumor “bulls**t” when question by its own Louise Goodman.

Both Massa and Vettel are on multi-year contracts for their respective outfits, for what that’s worth.

Change that "dangerous" qualifying

Well, well. I wondered aloud yesterday when someone would call for a change in qualifying, and Crash.net reports several teams and drivers are already pressuring the FIA to change the “dangerous situation” created by the new third session rules before Bahrain.

McLaren’s Hamilton and Kovalainen were among a number of drivers who were tooling around after their final hot laps in Q3 to conserve fuel -- a result of the rule change that prevents the Q3 drivers from re-fuelling before the start of the race the following day.

The problem is others were still flat out on final qualifying hot laps, coming across boulevard cruisers, and having to make lightning fast adjustments to avoid contact. Not to mention the effect on their lap time.

Crash reports Robert Kubica suggested the FIA enforce a lap time for cars heading back to the pits after qualifying. There is already such a requirement in place for the formation lap.

Seems reasonable.

Malaysia becomes a night race

Finally, Bloomberg reports Bernie is getting his wish, and Malaysia will be a night race next season. China and South Korea are next on the list. Australia has been resistant, and Bernie has threatened the future of the Australian GP.

Bernie is eyeing TV ratings as later start times are better for the predominantly Europe-based TV audience. Malaysian officials apparently were receptive to the fact that cooler weather also might put more people in the seats, and a later time might allow for more support races.

While night racing is an interesting concept, I have to question the limited amount of testing that has been done leading up to this year’s inaugural race. It’s one thing to zip around an oval a couple of hundred times under the lights, that’s basically a big arena, but a road or street course under the lights presents a number of unknowns. Some of these guys are questionable drivers by daylight... Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Race reaction

Having had a chance to sleep on it, I'm still impressed with what a quality race we were given in Malaysia. Like Robert Kubica's drive, it may have lacked a lot of the bells and whistles, thrills and spills we had a week prior in Australia, but there was good action, overtaking, and a majority of the field saw the finish. Good show.

Massa, Massa, Massa

I can't help but think the prancing horse is just a little more than disappointed with young Felipe. En route to a 1-2 , gap-smashing finish, the Brazilian's race-ending off left Big Red the same 11 point deficit with which it started the weekend.

Throwing away points is something I can't see Ferrari accepting, regardless if Massa is Schumacher-schooled and managed by Jean Todt's son. With Todt stepping down from his Ferrari position last week, I'd be looking over my shoulder and cleaning up my drive if I was Felipe.

Hey hey, Peter Sauber!

Meanwhile, with workmanlike quality, BMW picked up the crumbs and maintains pace with McLaren. The current points system still rewards consistency, and BMW certainly has that. It must have been brilliant for team founder Peter Sauber to see such great results for his old crew from his birds-eye paddock view.

Finally, an F1 controversy

Some are referring to Saturday's McLaren penalties (docked for impeding at the end of qualifying) as the first controversy of the new season. 'Bout time we had some controversy in this sport.

Was it fair? Too little or too much? Myself, I don't really see much to be worked up over, except perhaps that two supposedly championship winning capable drivers could be so unaware of their surroundings not to think that maybe someone other than themselves might be trying to put in a good time during the closing seconds of the final session of qualifying. Certainly not a SpyGate quality controversy, but maybe as good as flexible wings and floors.

What might the repercussions be? Could a qualifying rethink be far behind? After all, what would an F1 season be without ripping up qualifying part way through the season? Don't worry, this is all tongue-in-cheek. I think. Really. Although I'd never put the thought past Bernie and the FIA.
Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Malaysian Grand Prix

The boys kicked off the second round of the 2008 championship with a surprisingly clean start in clear weather at Sepang. Pole sitter Felipe Massa squeezed out teammate Kimi Raikonnen at turn 1 to take the early lead.

While there were a couple of comings together in the back of the field over the course of the first lap, it was downright quiet compared to Australia a week ago. Big winners at the start included Robert Kubica and the Red Bulls.

The early stages of the race saw some excellent dicing between Heidfeld, Alonso and DC. Wide tracks make for great racing, and at one point the boys were three wide down one of the circuits long straights. I wonder what went through DC's mind as Alonso and Heidfeld pulled along either side of his Red Bull...

Kimi took advantage of the pit stops to pip Massa for the lead, and it looked as though it would come down to a battle between the two Ferraris despite Kubica staying out for a longer than expected stint. But even though Kubica pitted from the lead, a 16 second gap wouldn't be enough, and it looked as though the Pole would have to settle for a quiet third. Pit difficulties for Hamilton -- a right front tire problem -- and tire graining conspired to keep the Briton off the pace, while both he and his teammate continued to try make up ground from the pre-race penalty.

And then it all changed in an instant as Felipe Massa beached it. Reaping the reward at race end was Kubica, who slid into a comfortable 2nd, and Kovalainen, who pulled off third. A flawless race from Raikonnen gave Ferrari the win, but the team must be ruing the points lost without Massa's car at the finish, especially with McLaren and BMW picking up solid points.

Best drives: Mark Webber, who held off Fernando Alonso. Jarno Trulli, who drove a smooth race to give Toyota some major points for 4th, and Robert Kubica, who gave BMW two 2nd's in 2 weeks.

Worst weekend: Williams. A rough and tumble race that saw Nico finish 14th and Kaz 17th (2L down). And I think we'll toss Honda in with the mix. Ross Brawn recently said it may be years yet before they're fighting for anything substantial, and to prove the point Button finished 10th and Barrichello 13th after speeding in the pitlane resulted in a drive through.

All in all, an entertaining race without the rain we so often have come to expect from Malaysia. The teams get a little time before round 3 in Bahrain, and it will be interesting to see what bits and pieces they can develop in that time. Then it's on to Europe, where development kicks to the next level.

Is what we are seeing indicative of how the season will play out, or will someone deliver a major leap forward once the fly-aways are complete? SpeedRead will follow all the action on and off the track between now and the first Bahrain practice session, so stay tuned... Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Breaking...McLaren drivers penalized

Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen have each been docked five places for blocking Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso in the closing stages of qualifying.

McLaren will not appeal...

Much deserved, in my opinion. There was arrogance here. I think this reveals a little of the fear the McLaren boys have in regards to their German rivals. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Malaysian Qualy...

Q1 -- Was Australia a true representation of performance?

The threat of rain led to an exciting opening to qualifying as cars were flying to avoid the drop zone, but there were few surprises in the end as the usual host of Force Indias, Toro Rossos and Super Aguris didn't make the cut. Up at the sharp end, Toyota and Red Bull put in some shocking fliers...

Red Bull had the green light to qualify, but much was in doubt after the stewards called them in for questioning after Friday practice. Seems they expect cars to hold together and not fall to pieces at the touch of a feather. Who woulda thunk it?

The differing natures of the Sepang and Melbourne circuits are always stunning in the early stages of the season as teams try to get a grip on their performance. The long straights in Malaysia accent different aspects of the cars, and teams we see do well in Australia often struggle in Kuala Lumpur. Still, funny to see Toyota jump up and Renault on the bubble.

Q2 -- Would that rain ever come?

The same sense of urgency dominated the second session, even as the FIA weather report said no rain was expected. One wonders how much could be saved cost-wise by eliminating individual team weather instrumentation...

Regardless, the rain continued to hold off in another frenzied session that in the end saw Honda miss out on the final session along with Piquet, Coulthard, last week's podium hero Rosberg, and a Vettel (despite another spirited performance).

Q3 -- What's with the slow moving chicanes?

On with the Ferraris, McLarens, BMWs, Toyotas(!?) Alonso and Webbo...

The McLarens chose the hard compound tires while much of the competition chose softs. A lineup awaited the green light to make sure to get in that flier before the monsoon commeth.

Massa set an early mark which was briefly eclipsed by Kimi in the final minute. But Massa was not to be denied as he took pole back immediately. Despite McLaren's best efforts, they just didn't have enough to take it to Ferrari today and will start on the second row.

In the final minute, with everything decided between McLaren and Ferrari, the the drivers began to slowly creep back to the pitlane in fuel conservation mode. Slow moving cars rolling side by side certainly did nothing to help Nick Heidfeld as he took his final quick lap, and you've got to expect the stewards will be looking closely to see if he was held up. The new rules may lead to this strategy, but it created a dangerous situation on track saved only by Quick Nick's hands. Teams must be aware who is on a quick lap and get out the way. And honestly, how were they not aware?

So, Massa, Raikonnen, Kovalainen and Hamilton take P1-4 for tomorrow's race. The rain held off for an exciting session, will it stay away tomorrow? Can Ferrari and McLaren hold off the surging BMW and Jarno Trulli's surprising Toyota? Can you count out Renault and double world champion Fernando Alonso? Tune in tomorrow... Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Malaysia practice...

Hamilton on top in session 2, Ferrari shows pace

The lack of driver aides again helped contribute to exciting sessions on the track for the first day of running at the Sepang circuit.

Lewis Hamilton again showed speed, as did Ferrari, but one has to wonder at the number of Ferrari engines that have failed over the past couple of weeks, not only for Big Red, but for customers Force India and Toro Rosso.

---

The great ECU conspiracy, or how did the FIA think this was going to go down?

Just about any problem from the past two weeks has at some point been tied to the new standardized ECU -- Reubens being distracted in the pit lane before running the red light at Melbourne, the end of Kimi's Australian GP, Ferrari engine woes -- just to name a few. While I find the concept of the standardized ECU distasteful, and not in the spirit of F1, you would think someone at the FIA would have thought, "Gee, having a McLaren subsidiary build the damn thing might not be a good idea."

All with a stake will tell you that the McLaren race team and ECU builder are separate companies, but it certainly doesn't help the image when McLaren's competition suffers failures while the Silver Arrows storm off into the distance. Plus, the things run hot. Dangerous as well?

---

How is this guy worth this much money?

Another year, another delicate Adrian Newey design. Red Bull has high hopes for the Newey/Renault package this year, but it is notable that for the second week in a row David Coulthard's car has disintegrated around him after a racing incident. Last week it was a coming together with Massa. Massa drove on, DC was left with a monocoque. This time around it was a run over a kerb that led to bits flying and (most) wheels held on by their tethers. One wonders how the thing passed it crash test. Meanwhile teammate Webbo had issues of his own...
Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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