Piquet backs Massa

Nelson Piquet has stated he thinks Felipe Massa has an excellent chance of winning the driver’s championship this season. The three-time World Champion believes the Brazilian driver will take the honours ahead of his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, despite Raikkonen’s early lead over Massa.

Massa has made a couple of basic errors this season, but Piquet believes that Massa will have the edge in future races because of his incredible pace when qualifying. “Before the start of the season, I didn’t know who would be faster out of Felipe Massa or Kimi Raikkonen,” Piquet explained. “Now there is no doubt – despite having fewer points, Felipe Massa is the favourite for a very logical reason.

It is simply that Massa is always faster in qualifying than Raikkonen, and these days, Grand Prixs are won at the first corner. The tyres are the same, you don’t have times when the Michelins will be better any more; cars will not break down, and overtaking is almost impossible. So when does a driver secure a win and already have 90% of the job done? It’s at the start and at the first corner.

“Because Massa is more efficient in qualifying, I don’t see how Raikkonen can beat him. If Ferrari maintain the current technical advantage, obviously the battle will be between Massa and Raikkonen. The Grand Prixs and the championship will be won on Saturdays and Raikkonen at the moment has proven incapable of achieving Massa’s levels of speed. It looks to me like a rather simple situation.”

Will Ralf move?

Just three races in to the new season and Ralf Schumacher’s comments which have opened up speculation that he is looking for a new race-seat for next season. Speculative rumours state he may have problems finding a new seat due to his poor form so far this season, however Schumacher has brushed these rumours away by suggesting that there may be several options for him next season.

“I am absolutely sure that I will be in F1 next year,” he stated categorically. “BMW has a free spot and so have Renault. There are always other good seats.”

Schumacher is currently applying a little pressure on Toyota to re-sign him for next season, and has shown his loyalty by protecting the teams from the suggestions that team principal Tsutomu Tomita was fired after failing to deliver a winning car. “With Japanese enterprises, it is completely normal for this to happen every three, four years,” Schumacher explained. “He has not been fired. Actually, it is completely the opposite. He is moving upwards in the Toyota hierarchy.”

Kovalainen in Poland

At the invitation of Renault’s sponsor, ING, Heikki Kovalainen made a trip to Warsaw in Poland last week. Kovalainen spoke to ING employees, and also inspected the streets of Warsaw where he will be racing in just over a month’s time.

Kovalainen’s trip proves the ING Renault F1’s commitment to bringing the excitement and passion of Formula 1 to Poland. In an attempt to make the sport accessible to Polish F1 fans, a city demonstration event is planned for early June.

“I am delighted to be making my first visit to Warsaw,” said Kovalainend. “I have had a fantastic welcome from our sponsors at ING and I can really feel the enthusiasim for F1 in Poland. It has been exciting to learn about the Polish fans’ view of our spor, and to answer the questions about life as an F1 driver.

“Of course, today’s visit is also a preparation for our ING Renault F1 Team Roadshow in June. It’s going to be a real thrill to drive the Formula 1 car on the streets of Warsaw and, thanks to Renault and ING, it will help the fans in this country get closer than ever before to F1. I’m certainly looking forward to it, and I hope they are too!”

Klien believes in Honda

Honda haven’t started off the 2007 season in the way that they had expected. Both drivers have had a poor run of results. Rumours say that both drivers are looking for way out of the team, although in public, they are fully supportive. Test driver Christian Klien has now joined Button and Barrichello and added his public vote of confidence in his team.

Writing on his official website, Klien explained that he visited the team’s HQ for two days and saw that progress was being made on addressing the current problems with the car. Klien feels that the current issues will soon be resolved and that Button and Barrichello will soon be fighting with the top end of the pack for podiums and victories.

“In many ways the current problems affecting the car have shown me just how strong Honda is,” Klien said. “The entire team is working so hard and really doing a fantastic job to solve these problems and ensure that we will be a contender in the future. There has been a lot of negative talk about the car and team in the media, but everyone seems to forget that this team won a race last season and as recently as 2004 finished 2nd in the World Championship.

“People make a team, and I can see that the people in our team are very talented, determined and working flat out to make us competitive again. Honda is not going to remain in this situation for very long. The team is focussing on finding all the problems with the car, and everyone is pulling together very well.

“Of course it has been a difficult start to the season but it is at these times that we have to support everyone in the team, whether at the factory or in the race or test team or at Tochigi in Japan. And of course the race drivers. Jenson and Rubens have a tough job to do at the moment, and they need support too.”

Although he hasn’t spent a lot of time in the RA107, Klien will be in the driving seat at the Paul Ricard track in France, testing out some of the new changes. “We have some updates for the car coming in Barcelona for the test,” Klien explained. “When we go to Paul Ricard after the race in Spain, I will have 2 days in the car during which I hope we can make further progress.

“Even though the new regulations mean that I have been very limited in terms of testing this season, doing only 1000kms in the new car, I am doing everything I can to help the team and contribute in every way possible. In previous years, test drivers would do perhaps 10,000 or 15,000 km of testing, but that is no longer possible.

“It is frustrating, but my jov is to support Honda whenever required and work towards my personal objective of racing and winning for the team in the future. In the meantime, I have been using the great weather we have been enjoying in Austrai to do a lot of cycling in the mountains so that I am as fit as possible.”

Red Bull never offered Schumacher a job

During last season, rumours flew that Michael Schumacher was torn between retiring from Formula 1 and joining another team. Many believed that Red Bull had offered the F1-great a job, however at the time, Ferrari boss Jean Todt dismissed the claims as a ‘fantasy’.

This has now been backed up by Dietrich Mateschitz. “Schumacher never received an offer from us,” he stated. “It would have been wrong both for him and for us.”

Mateschitz also agrees with Todt about Schumacher’s future, should he return to the Formula 1 scene – he would only return to one of the sport’s big names. “Schumacher is the biggest name in F1,” Mateschitz explained. “If he comes back, surely it would be with Ferrari or one of the other top teams. It would, of course, be fantastic for Formula 1 but I think it is too premature a topic for the moment.”

F1 Car Returns to Nurburgring’s Famous Nordschleife

Yesterday, Germany s Nick Heidfeld accomplished a childhood dream, completing three laps of the famous Nordschleife in a modified BMW F1.06. A crowd of over forty-five thousand lined the 20.8 kilometre racetrack to watch a F1 car take part in an organised event at the circuit for the first time in 31 years.

“I’ll never forget today as long as I live”, said a jubilant Heidfeld. “This drive was simply incredible. I thought it would be great to drive on the Nordschleife before I started out. But it was even better than I had expected. This racing track is the best in the world.”

Heidfeld felt frustrated that he couldn t stay out on the circuit, which connects both the existing Nurburgring F1 track, with the old Nordschleife, a managed public road popular amongst track day drivers.

“I’d really like to have emptied the tank. It was a very special moment when I left the grand prix circuit in the direction of the Nordschleife. I was really shaken up at the Bergwerk section and on the Döttinger Höhe. I’ll never forget today as long as I live. Another particularly special experience has now joined the many fantastic childhood memories and racing successes.”

Speaking on the BMW event, Motorsport Director Mario Theissen said “we wanted to give fans a special treat. And I believe we have done this with the entire BMW motor sport programme. The BMW M3 GTR that Olaf Manthey presented today was welcomed like an old friend. The car is actually much too athletic for the museum. Naturally, the high point was Nick’s drive with the F1.06. We had implored him to be careful. The day paid homage to the fans and to this unique circuit in the world of racing. For once, the lap times were a secondary consideration.”

A BMW F1.06 was especially modified for the event due to the older circuit s bumpy and undulating surface. Front ride height was set to a massive four centimetres with eight at the rear, in addition, a short ratio box and unusually hard compound tyres were fitted. Above, Team Manager Beat Zehnder travelled in a helicopter, keeping the team in contact with the car through a specialised wireless link.

Despite the unusual setup, Heidfeld took the BMW to over 275 km/h on “Döttinger Höhe” and set a fastest lap of 8:34 minutes. A more representative time could have been set had the German had not to slow for photo calls and a camera car.

Earlier in the day Heidfeld took to the track in a Formula BMW, using the 140hp car to perform an inspection lap. The event was organised as part of the VLN endurance championship taking part at the circuit this weekend.

Test driver Sebastian Vettel also completed laps in a BMW M3 GTR, a car that has set many a record at the old circuit. A BMW 320si WTCC and BMW Z4 M Coupé also took part.

A video of the event can be found here:

Wurz on McLaren

Alex Wurz has stated that he believes Alonso will bounce back from his current clump in form in the next few grands prix. Alonso has had a tough few races, being beaten by not only Ferrari, but also his teammate, Lewis Hamilton. With the spotlight firmly on the youngster rather than himself, Alonso is believed to be slightly irked.

However, Williams driver Alex Wurz has said that Alonso is strong enough not to be rattled. “When you are a double world chamption and you have beaten Schumacher, I do not believe that you are afraid of anyone,” Wurz explained.

Wurz believes that Alonso’s current form and the fact Hamilton looks more settled is probably down to the fact Alonso is the ‘new boy’ whereas Lewis has been at McLaren for most of his racing career. “Lewis is new, but he has been with McLaren for many, many years, while Alonso has just joined the team.

“Honestly, I don’t think Alonso sees himself in a difficult situation. He knows that while Hamilton has arrived in a very strong way, honestly, he still has a long way to go before he is winning championships like Fernando.”

Wurz went on to add that the McLaren situation is probably partially mirrored at Ferrari where Massa appears to have a slight upper-hand over Kimi Raikkonen – again, this could be down to Massa’s history with the team, with Raikkonen being the newcomer.

Massa – this is a key moment

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa has said that the team is entering a critical phase in the championship battle, and that it is important that Ferrari need to continue to work hard to stay ahead of their rivals.

“Looking at the last two races, it was clear that Malaysia did not go well for us,” Massa said. “But in Bahrain, we had an excellent race pace. The win there was really great. But now, Bahrain is in the past and all I am really thinking about is the next round of the championship.”

BMW on Friday Policy and Clipping Wings

BMW SauberThe BMW Sauber team have admitted that they are reviewing the policy of running test drivers on Friday practice on race weekends. At the first two race weekends of the season, Sebastien Vettel was seen at the wheel of the car during the opening practice sessions, however drivers Heidfeld and Kubica felt the loss of mileage was harmful to their race preparations.

Despite their change of plan, team boss Mario Theissen is keen to keep the team’s youth programme. At the Bahrain Grand Prix, both test drivers, Vettel and Glock, had their own race programmes to follow, allowing both Heidfeld and Kubica a full day’s practice. Theissen said that in future, both drivers would be following this pattern and having a full day’s practice. He added that he wished the young drivers would have a chance at a taste of F1 without compromising the weekend’s of the race drivers, and that the team were looking closely at the Friday plans for the future.

“I think it’s a pity that the Friday sessions aren’t held as pure test sessions where you could use, for instance, three cars,” Theissen explained. “To date, we have been the only big team to offer a test driver the chance of contesting the Friday sessions. Prior to the Spanish Grand Prix, we will meet to discuss our future approach.”

Polish driver Robert Kubica got his F1 break when he impressed the team during Friday practice sessions. His speed convinced BMW-Sauber to give him a chance during a race, and he eventually won a full-time race seat when Jacques Villeneuve left the team mid-season.

Meanwhile, the BMW team have been hard at work on Nick Heidfeld’s car. Heidfeld will have his wings clipped as he tackles the Nirburgring’s famous Nordschleife layout in his BMW this weekend.

Heidfeld is driving in a special BMW event on a layout known as the ‘Green Hell’. The 21km layout almost claimed Niki Lauda’s life in 1976. The team have clipped the wings on Heidfeld’s car as well as only allowing him to go out on ‘demonstration’ Bridgestone tyres – both changes will make the car slower than normal.

Heidfeld is unimpressed and has been quoted as saying he is ‘disappointed’ with the news. It has also emerged that the German will not be taking on the Nordschleife’s famous, banked ‘Karussell’ section.

Team boss, Mario Theissen, has said that even though the car will have a very high ride-height and will therefore be further compromised, he still believes Heidfeld may reach speeds of over 300 kph.

Gene – Ferrari has been legal all season

Ferrari’s test driver Marc Gene has played down the FIA’s clamp-down on flexible floors and said that the Ferrari car has been legal all season. Gene stated that the Ferrari engineers did slightly modify the under-body of the F2007 after the rule was clarified early on in the season however the changes were not because the car was illegal.

“Our car has been legal all season,” Gene said. “We made some adjustments to pass the test and it made no difference to our lap times. I see this as an issue that affects all team, not just us. Our floor moves only so it doesn’t break in the event of an impact.”

Meanwhile, Ferrari are aiming to improve their lap times by two or three tenths per second to ensure that they stay in touch with McLaren.

“We will race in Barcelona with important aerodynamic modifications,” Gene explained.  “It will be our first major update of the year and we want it to deliver between two and three tenths.”