Hamleys Increase Sponsorship of Williams F1

It has been announced that Hamleys, one of the oldest international toy retailers, is to continue their sponsorship of the AT&T Williams team. Hamleys will see their logo adorn the sidepods of the FW30 car this season, after the company, once the largest toy company in the World, increased their commitment with the team. Hamleys have partnered Williams F1 since 2004, and the revised deal will also see their branding appear within the team environment.

“Our Formula One sponsorship has provided a novel and successful international marketing platform for Hamleys. Based on this success, we are delighted to be renewing the sponsorship and taking up more prominent positions on the car,” said Nick Mather, Chief Executive of Hamleys.

Team Principal, Frank Williams added, “Hamleys has been an enduring partner for AT&T Williams and we are genuinely delighted that today s increased sponsorship commitment has been prompted by our successful relationship to date. Increased support from premium brands such as Hamleys will give our partner portfolio an invaluable international retail presence.”

Head: Williams could have had Hamilton

Williams F1According to Frank Williams, the team feared that they would lose Nico Rosberg to rivals McLaren. Rosberg originally had a contract with Williams until 2008, but at the end of last season, he chose to extend his contract for another season. In doing so, Rosberg also made it clear that he hopes to stay with the team beyond 2009 if the team can build a quick enough car.

“I was a little surprised that he was happy to sign to stay,” Frank Williams explained. “I feared he would go to McLaren and I was a bit surprised he didn t. He could not have gone there this year he had a fixed contract but 2009 was going to be the worry.

“We had an option for 2009 but it was very tough terms based on the constructors championship. It was by no means guaranteed we would achieve it.”

Frank Williams also confirmed that McLaren had approached the Williams F1 team about buying Rosberg out of his contract, but confirmed that the team were not looking to sell the youngster.

“It was never a thought we entertained,” Williams continued. “We had an offer from you know who, of majestic proportions, but it was never, ever discussed. Why would we give away crown jewels?! Why bother improving the car by one second if we then give away half a second with the driver?”

Meanwhile Williams co-founder Patrick Head revealed that the team would have signed Lewis Hamilton in 2004 but they passed up the opportunity. Head explained that Hamilton and his father had visited the Williams factory in 2004 while Hamilton was still in the Formula Three Euroseries.

“They rang up and said can we come and see you? ,” Head began. “And they came in and said Ron Dennis had dropped us. We were with BMWat the time and I think Frank rang Mario Theissen and said look, this guy looks as if he could be pretty good and whatever, and he has come to us saying can we help him.

“And I think Mario said they weren t prepared t provide any support and we weren t in a position financially where we could finance his racing. So much to Frank s annoyance, he could have had Lewis in a Williams.”

Aus GP attendance row brews down under

Preparations for the season opener at Melbourne in a few weeks time are well underway but behind the scenes a row is brewing over the Grand Prix’s attendance figures.

Operators of the Australian Grand Prix have admitted that they don’t know how many people attend the race, and that tickets they give away free are included in their total attendance count whether or not they are actually used.

A Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) instigated by a freedom of information request from Save Albert Park, a pressure group opposed to the grand prix heard that attendance figures were inflated by thousands of free tickets. One organiser even described the figures as “rubbery”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation said attendance at last year’s race was 301,000 but acknowledged that a physical count of attendees was never made. The corporation admitted that this figure was an estimate which took into account gross ticket sales and included free give-away tickets.

Visual estimates of crowd numbers were also included in the calculation as were drivers, car mechanics, grid girls, hospitality staff, and even race bosses.

The Save Albert Park group, who do count the number of attendees, have accused the organisers of inflating attendance figures by as much as 45% or 100,000 people.

“What we discovered was a classic ‘smoke and mirrors’ trick, designed to mask the real attendance numbers,” said Keith Wiltshire, the Save Albert Park member who led the VCAT application, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The real numbers show the Grand Prix is not nearly as popular as its organisers would have us believe,” he added.

Event organisers justified their decision to include free tickets in the attendance with the following statement:

“If the gross number of free tickets was to be released, this would give the impression that the event was being artificially enhanced by giveaway tickets, and so reduce the value of tickets sold and the likelihood of sponsorship.”

Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Drew Ward also went on record saying that the precise attendance figure needed to remain confidential for commercial reasons.

“This information, if it is provided in the public domain, could be used by our competitors,” he told ABC News citing other cities that are biding against Melbourne to host a Grand Prix. “We would obviously therefore suffer commercial disadvantage,” he added.

Tribunal Judge Marilyn Harbison, who was privately shown the GP’s attendance calculations, eventually ruled in the Grand Prix Corporation’s favour.

“Different considerations may have arisen if the evidence (about the method of calculating GP attendances) revealed the likelihood of a fraudulent difference between the (Grand Prix’s) published and actual figures. However, I do not make such a finding,” she said.

“All I can conclude from the evidence is that (Grand Prix’s) figures are different from (Save Albert Park’s).

“I conclude there is a strong public interest in allowing the (Grand Prix Corporation) to compete effectively in the marketplace.”

The revelations over attendance figures follow increasing pressure on the Victorian State Government to justify the use of taxpayers money to fund an event which continues to run at a loss. The grand prix cost the state about $35 million last year and is expected to cost around $40 million this year.

The government’s license to hold the race expires in 2010 and doubt has been cast over the event’s future beyond that. Earlier in the year F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that the only chance Melbourne had of hanging onto the race was if organisers agreed to televise the event at night to tie in with European time slots.

Dennis could quit as early as this week

Mclaren Mercedes boss Ron Dennis, who has faced increasesing pressure to step down from his position as Team Principal in the last month, could leave as early as this week according to reports.

According to the Sunday Times, sources close to Dennis have said that the 61-year-old is looking to achieve a better balance between his family life and his commitments to the McLaren business and Grand Prix Team.

Dennis split with his wife Lisa earlier in the year and is believed to feel that he has been spending disproportionate amounts of time with his family the couple have been married for 22 years and have three children.

According to the report, Dennis would have stepped down back in 2007 had it not been for the spy row.

The Schumacher Effect: Hamilton finally shows his hand

Michael Schumacher is still the man F1 s young guns most want to beat if this week s test at Barcelona is anything to go by.

The seven-times world champion turned up at the Circuit de Catalunya on Monday with his consultancy hat on as he set about reliability and set-up testing. But his presence was to have a far more significant impact on proceedings as Lewis Hamilton and Mclaren finally showed their true pace.

Hamilton, unlike chief rival Alonso, has never done battle with Schumacher, let alone beaten him to a world championship. So, the Mclaren driver was never going to turn down the opportunity to show the most successful F1 driver of all time what he is made of. The “Schumacher-Hamilton” debate being whipped up off the track by Willi Webber, Schumacher s manager, only ensured this further.

Raikkonen too had something of a point to prove against the 39-year-old German. The Finn has consistently had to put up with predictions that Schumacher would have had a performance edge over him without ever having the opportunity to prove otherwise. He was also harshly accused mid way though 2007 of lacking commitment and large factions of the tifosi were calling for Schumacher s return. Not that any of this mattered of course, the Finn needed no such excuse to go hammer-and-tongs at his old rival.

In the context of these egos and rivalries, it was unlikely that the front-runners would give the Ferrari driver an easy ride. Great news for the sport s commentators: we finally had an opportunity to benchmark Mclaren against Ferrari, and far more importantly, Hamilton against Raikkonen.

The overcast conditions did little to rob of us the spectacle: Schumacher lured the sandbaggers out of hiding faster than the lap-times themselves.

Hamilton, who until this week had had a relatively quiet time in pre-season testing, was the driver to come out victorious. He topped the time-sheets with a 1m 22.276 edging out second place man Kimi Raikkonen by just four thousands of a second and going over a tenth of a second faster than Michael Schumacher in third. Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg underlined Williams pace by going fourth and sixth quickest.

In going fastest Hamilton quashed several pre-season theories swinging around the paddock. First, that he has been struggling to get to grips with the ban on driver aids. No problems here.

“Falling back into my old style of driving has been pretty easily. I drove without traction control for many years, so it is what I am used to – there is nothing new,” the ever confident Hamilton declared.

If anything it is his hotly tipped team-mate Heikki Kovalainen who seems to be finding it harder to adapt. When asked if he had fully adapted to driving without traction control he responded with considerably less certainty than Hamilton: “Probably not fully as there is always room for improvement and I must improve all the time, but I think I have found a consistent level now.”

There has been talk of the very impressive Kovalainen out-doing the Briton this year. Although the Finn has been consistently faster than Hamilton throughout testing on this particular test day the best he could manage was fifth place some half a second a drift of Hamilton. It will be close for certain but one can t help but feel it is Hamilton that will have the edge given his familiarity with the team. Some strange and twisted logic. Hamilton was very evenly matched with Alonso in 2007. When Alonso was at Renault he was anywhere between seven tenths to a full second faster than Gincarlo Fissichella. Yet Kovalainen was rarely ever more than half a second quicker than the Italian when he was at Renault last year. Therefore, Hamilton will be quicker than Kovalainen

The other rumour that Lewis Hamilton and Mclaren put an end to on Monday was the expected Ferrari white-wash in 2008 following supreme pace from the F2008 at testing in Bahrain. Hamilton and Mclaren have shown that they are well equipped to take the fight to the Italian team which is excellent news for F1 fans.

A word of thanks must go to Michael Schumacher then. Long may his hunger for racing continue. He may have just given the F1 community the clearest indication yet of what to expect at Melbourne in a few weeks time. Expect a close fight between Mclaren and Ferrari with Hamilton and Raikkonen leading the charge.

Briatore: Piquet no threat to Alonso

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore has insisted that that Alonso will not have any difficulty getting along with his team-mate Nelsinho Piquet.

The double world champion left Mclaren last year to join Renault after he accused the team of favouring team-mate Lewis Hamitlon.

But Briatore believes that Nelsinho will pose less of a threat to Alonso and is confident that the two drivers will be better managed under his leadership.

“I think Nelsinho doesn t want to commit suicide in his rookie year,” Briatore told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“When McLaren hire a world champion in Fernando and have a rookie in Hamilton, they must know how to manage them.

“Piquet and Alonso, they both work for Renault. It s up to me to manage them for the good of the team. I must consider that, besides the two drivers, I have one thousand other people working for me.”

Ecclestone hints at Paris Grand prix

Bernie Ecclestone is keen to hold a Grand Prix around the streets of Paris it is reported.

France was stripped of its Grand Prix in 2008 due to low attendance and poor infrastructure at the Circuit de Nevers, Magny Cours.

But the F1 supremo is eager to find an alternative venue for the French Grand Prix.

"I hope we will be able to put something in place in Paris. We need a site for the French Grand Prix as we won’t go back to Magny-Cours," he told German sports news agency SID.

"The government has understood. We had originally decided not to go back to Magny-Cours this year.

"A grand prix in London or Paris would be better for spectators and for television. But I hope an agreement with Paris for 2009 is possible."

Alonso: Aero problems are behind us

Fernando Alonso is confident that Renault have resolved the aerodynamic problems that plagued last year’s car in time for the new season.

The double world champion has been impressed with the development that Renault have made with the new car particularly in the aerodynamic department.

“It is well known that the team had problems with the wind tunnel at the beginning of 2007, but those difficulties have been solved now,” he told Formula1.com.

“I would say that the biggest improvement with the R28 is with the aerodynamics, which is a key area to improve performance,” he added.

The arrival of standard electronic control units and the loss of driver aids such as traction control and engine braking systems (EBS) will put a much greater onus on front-end stability. Alonso is optimistic about the changes the team have made to this end.

“The team has also worked hard to improve the front of the car, using a new design philosophy for the front wing and suspension, and so we are still learning about that, but this is normal for a new car.”

However, the Spaniard has downplayed talk of challenging for race wins immediately.

“I hope that we can fight for podiums and be part of the top teams, but there is a big gap that we still need to close.

You have to be realistic, and sometimes you cannot always win; sometimes you have to be happy with knowing that you have given your best and done the maximum with the car.

“But at the moment we are not thinking like this – the team is working hard, pushing the development of the car and I hope that we will be able to fight for many podiums and even race wins.”

Trulli expects Toyota to surprise rivals

Jarno Trulli is expecting the Toyota team to make a significant breakthrough this year following positive performances in pre-season testing.

The Japanese squad has one of the biggest budgets in Formula One but has yet to breakthrough to the sharp end of the grid after six years in F1. In 2007 Toyota scored just 13 points and finished sixth in the championship.

However, the new TF108 is a vast improvement on last year’s car according to Trulli. "The TF108 is a completely different car,” he told Autosport.com.

“I said at the first test that it was clearly a different animal [from last year’s car]. Last year straightaway I knew we had a huge problem, but this year I am much more confident.

"I am still cautious, but I must say the team understands this car more and we have gone in a direction that we understand much better.

"It’s a shame that there are some things that showed good performance internally but then didn’t translate well to the track but still it has been a good step forward. The aero package is working well but we expected it to be slightly better."

The new car has shown strong potential in testing. On the final day of testing at Barcelona Trulli topped the time-sheets leading some to think Toyota had been sand-bagging. However, the lap was set at optimal track conditions and it is widely believed Trulli was simulating qualifying runs.

Trulli remains optimistic about the team’s chances in 2008. While he does not expect the team to be able to mount a challenge on Mclaren and Ferrari, he is hopeful that the car will be competitive against the mid-field teams.

“I think we are very close to being at the top if you forget about Ferrari and McLaren, because they are really very strong. But we are very close to the rest.

"I am moderately optimistic. I am sure we can raise some eyebrows this year and cause problems for some teams. We can be competitive. Forget Ferrari and McLaren for the moment, they are a couple of steps ahead, but the rest are within reach."