Toyota aims for the top

Toyota have promised that their 2008 car  – the TF108 will be very different to 2007 s car and it is hoped that it will propel them to amongst Formula 1 s front runners.

Toyota have been entrenched in F1 s midfield since 2002 and have finished in sixth place in both 2007 and 2006. Talking to F1 Racing, general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon explained, “Our 2008 car will be very different. I wouldn t say revolutionary because nature is continuous for instance, you don t go from being stupid to intelligent, or back again, from one day to the next.

“So, although our car will be very different, it will be a normal evolution according to what we’ve learned through experience and where we are in terms of understanding our performances.

“We re working on a schedule that s probably similar to the other teams – We started on the 2008 car very early in January. Fuji was the last major upgrade for 2007.”

Chandhok to test for Red Bull

Indian driver Karun Chandhok has been given a two-day test with Red Bull next week in Barcelona. Chandhok currently races in GP2 and won his first race in the series at Spa in 2007.

Chandhok is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Indian racer Narain Karthikeyan who currently tests for Williams and who raced for Jordan in 2005.

With the news that India will probably be hosting a Formula One race in 2010, and with Indian businessman Vijay Mallya firstly sponsoring Toyota, and having recently taken over the Spyker team, there has been a surge of interest in F1 in India.

Driver market still wide open

With the news that Fernando Alonso has left the team, it seems McLaren are in no hurry to replace the Spanish driver. The second McLaren seat is one of the most highly sought after in Formula 1 so McLaren know that there will be few problems in filling it.

Lewis Hamilton has made his own predictions about who he thinks might be his team-mate next season. “I have no clue who it is going to be we can only guess,” he said. “I think Nick Heidfeld has already been signed to BMW so I think there s Nico, Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen so one of those three and I haven t really guessed which of those three.

“I think they are all fantastic drivers and I know all of them quite well. If I could choose, honestly, I don t know who I would. We need a team player. But they all have contracts, so that s what makes it so hard to guess.”

However, Hamilton s pick of Nico Rosberg is definitely not on the cards according to Williams Patrick Head has revealed that a swap between Rosberg and Alonso is not a possibility.

“Nico is contracted to our team for 2008 and we have an option for his services for 2009,” he explained. “We are planning to go into next season with Nico as out lead driver and we would not entertain any approach from McLaren for Nico. McLaren are a team I a position to offer very large salaries but our aim is to be looking to strengthen Williams.”

Meanwhile, Williams are still looking for a driver to fill their second race-seat after the retirement of Alexander Wurz from Formula 1 late last season. Drivers tipped to sign to Williams are Vinantonio Liuzzi, Adrian Sutil or their current test driver Kazuki Nakajima.

For McLaren, Heikki Kovalainen seems to be the strongest option, particularly as Briatore has made it clear that Alonso is welcome back to the Renault team. However, the swap depends on whether Alonso does return to Renault and whether Ron Dennis and Flavio Briatore can agree terms.

Adrian Sutil is already good friends with Hamilton a friendship that would be beneficial to the team as it would ensure little in-fighting, something which was commonly witnessed during the 2007 season. However the German appears to be central to Vijay Mallya s new team and it is therefore unlikely that Sutil will make it to McLaren.

An outside shot is Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren s current test driver. McLaren s Spanish sponsors would be happy at another Spaniard being given a race-seat however with de la Rosa being central to the espionage saga which marred McLaren s 2007 season, it is doubtful whether the team would give him a race-seat. 

And so it seems that the driver market is still wide open with a number of excellent drivers still unclear as to their future. It appears that until Fernando Alonso makes up his mind as to his future in the sport, the race-seat speculation will continue.

Briatore offers Alonso a drive

Flavio Briatore has confirmed that Renault has offered Fernando Alonso a race-seat for the 2008 season however the Spaniard has yet to accept or decline the offer.

There have been many rumours over where Alonso will be next season, with the strongest link being to Renault. With yesterday s news that Alonso has parted company with McLaren, many are expecting Alonso to return to the team which took him to two World titles.

“Let s see what happens from here to Tuesday,” Briatore said. “I have presented a project for the future to Fernando. If his desires coincide with ours, it can happen. I know how much he can still give Renault but an agreement for one year would have no sense with an outlook projected for a period of time.”

Should Alonso not wish to return to Renault, there are a number of other teams with which he has been linked Red Bull, Williams and Toyota are all said to be interested in signing the driver. Jarno Trulli formerly a team-mate of Alonso and a current Toyota driver has revealed that Alonso has been in touch with the Toyota team although nothing has been confirmed by the team.

“I was immediately informed by phone of the split between Alonso and McLaren,” Trulli explained. “I know he has spoken to Toyota and has asked for more technicians it would be great by me!”

Alonso leaves McLaren

The driver shuffle is about to begin with the news that Fernando Alonso will be leaving McLaren. In a statement released by McLaren-Mercedes, the team has confirmed that they came to a mutual agreement to end Alonso s three year contract early.

“Following a meeting between Fernando Alonso and McLaren, it was agreed that it would be in the best interests of both parties to bring the relationship to an end,” said the team in a statement.

“The mutual parting of ways has not been discussed until now, since it was felt that any such discussion could have seriously disrupted the team’s and Fernando’s 2007 Formula One World Championship challenge.

“Both parties believe that this was the right decision.”

The news will not come as a surprise to many with the tensions within the team well-known. In particular, there have been battles between the Spanish driver and his boss, Ron Dennis, although it appears that peace has been made between the pair.

“Since I was a boy I had always wanted to drive for McLaren, but sometimes in life things do not work out,” Alonso explained. “I continue to believe that McLaren is a great team. Yes, we have had our ups and downs during the season, which has made it extra-challenging for all of us, and it is not a secret that I never really felt at home.
“I know there have been suggestions of favouritism within the team and people say a lot of things in the heat of battle, but in the end I was always provided with an equal opportunity to win. Today’s decision allows all of us to focus on 2008, and I wish the team, Vodafone, Banco Santander, Mutua Madrilena and all the other team Partners who I have worked closely with during the year, the best for the future.”

Meanwhile Dennis has praised the Spaniard and said that he feels the decision to go their separate ways was the right one. “Everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, especially McLaren’s Spanish Partners Banco Santander and Mutua Madrilena and the team’s title partner Vodafone, want to wish Fernando all the best for the future,” Dennis said.

“He is a great driver but for some reason the combination of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Fernando has not really worked out, and in the end we reached a stage where none of us could find a way to move forward. We all believe that our joint decision to part company is for the best, and we will now continue to focus on our 2008 World Championship challenge.”

As yet there is no news on where Alonso is headed, nor who will partner Lewis Hamilton next season.

Jordan against customer cars

Eddie Jordan has spoken out over the controversial customer car issue and revealed that he believes that all teams should make their own cars.

Prodrive are hoping to join the Formula One field in 2008 using a 2008 McLaren chassis. However, the rules on the Concorde Agreement have not yet been signed off and Williams are challenging the legality of the Prodrive entry. Talks have now stalled between Prodrive and McLaren meaning there are now question marks over whether Prodrive will be racing at the first race of the season, or if they will be allowed to race at all.

Eddie Jordan s team raced in F1 for 14 years and built all their own cars. Jordan believes that the customer car concept is against the spirit of the sport and that teams should be obliged to build their own cars.

“This is becoming a disaster,” he revealed in his column in F1 Racing. “It must be a requirement that each F1 team design their own car.

“It would have been so easy in 1991 for Jordan to buy Lotus technology, but the joy of winning with your own car can t be matched. How can people go racing in the knowledge that they are not allowed to beat the supplier team? We can never let teams sell off technology so newcomers can pass themselves off as part of the elite. It s just not F1.

“What is disappointing is that several teams some of proven F1 calibre applied for this extra slot and the FIA, after careful deliberation, chose Prodrive. David Richards is my friend and mustn t take this personally, but I d like to ask questions.

“Once, when Toyota told the FIA they were unable to compete in the agreed year, there was a hefty fine. Will Prodrive be fined if they don t enter in 08? And what of the other, rejected, teams? Surely the FIA must now allow them to reapply?”

Hamilton thrills at MTV’s EMAs

Lewis Hamilton attended last night s star-studded MTV European Music Awards in Munich. Hamilton travelled to Germany to present the award for Solo Artist of 2007 an award won by Canadian singer Avril Lavigne.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters gave a swift interview with the Formula 1 driver, who revealed that the song he most would have liked to have written was Thriller by Michael Jackson. Whilst sat next to the REM front-man Michael Stipe, Grohl also asked the McLaren driver whether he could offer him a lift, to which Lewis replied “sure, if you like speed.”

The MTV Europe Music Awards is the biggest music event in Europe and was this year hosted by Hip Hop legend Snoop Dogg. The awards, established in 1994, are largely voted for by the viewers of MTV’s network of channels.

Mosley undecided on retirement

Max Mosley s position as president of the FIA is up for re-election in 2009 however Mosley has not yet decided whether or not to run for the job again.

Mosley was elected as president in 1993 and in 2005, was re-elected for a fourth time.

“I shouldn t speculate on it at the moment,” he replied when asked about whether he would retire or not. “In 2004 I did actually say I had had enough and various people insisted on my staying a little bit longer.

“I think the day that you start to think this can t operate without me that s the moment you have to stop. And also, you should not go on too long. When I started, I was old enough to be the father of some of the drivers. Now, there are drivers that could be my grandchildren, and that starts to be on the limit. But as to what happens in 2009? I ll decide in a year s time.”