Ecclestone urges F1 to get behind Mosley

BernieBernie Ecclestone insists that it is time to put the Max Mosley scandal to bed and welcome the FIA president back to Formula One.

After surviving a vote of confidence and winning his privacy case against the News of the World earlier this year, FIA president Max Mosley has kept a low profile.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was among those to call for his resignation when the scandal first broke, but this appeared to be out of personal concern for Mosley’s well-being, rather than for political gain.

While Ecclestone’s Formula One Group and the FIA are still wrangling over a new commercial agreement for Formula One, the pair were united in their decision to give the British Grand Prix to Donington, and they are both in agreement that Formula One needs to be more sustainable.

And now Ecclestone has publicly urged the sport to welcome Mosley back to the paddock: “People have come to the conclusion that whatever happened with Max was Max and it has nothing to do with anything else,” he told BBC Five Live’s Sportsweek.

“I don’t think they care any more, people forget all these things. At the time it was a shock, if it had happened to other people it probably wouldn’t have been a shock.

“For a short period I said he should resign because I had so much pressure from people to say he should resign. In a lot of ways, at the time I wished he had done. Now I don’t see why he should. Max works and does the best he can for the sport, 100 per cent.”

Ecclestone will meet Mosley again at the Italian Grand Prix in September and hopes to establish a normal working relationship.

“I’ll see him in Monza,” he said. “I’ll welcome him back. He should come back and carry on like he normally carries on.”

Ecclestone also hinted that it would not be inconceivable that Mosley could be persuaded to stay on as FIA President, despite announcing his intention to stand down when his term runs out next year.

“He said he would stand down before and he hasn’t,” he added. “If we look at it selfishly and look at the sport, it’s difficult to see who would replace him and do the things he does. That is what the difficulty is.”

Lewis looking forward to Spa challenge

Spa 3Lewis Hamilton struggled to get to grips with his McLaren-Mercedes at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track last year, his explosive run-in with Fernando Alonso at Hungary still playing with his mind.

A post-race analysis back at Woking identified where he had gone wrong, and he bounced back with a stunning win in the wet at Japan.

One year on and the British hope is once again entrenched in a fierce battler for the world championship. This time though he should be better equipped for the high-speed demands of the undulating Spa Francorchamps road course.

“It s one of my all-time favourites,” enthuses the Briton. “Even before I first came here, which was back in 2002 for a Formula Renault race, I played it on my computer – it was always one of the best tracks.”

“It has probably the most exciting corner in Formula 1, Eau Rouge, and it s one of the few circuits where you really feel like you’re actually going somewhere; you blast off into the forest and get to the top of the hill and can feel the whole circuit beneath you. It s one of the best challenges in Formula 1.”

Spa

Spa Francorchamps was taken off the calendar in 2003 due to a row over tobacco sponsorship, and it is not the only ‘historic’ track to have come under threat as Formula One expands to emerging global venues.

Hamilton admits that there is an extra buzz at these classic tracks: “I prefer the more historic circuits like Monza, Silverstone and Monaco. You really feel the history of those places whenever you race there; they have real character.”

“Each time they are refurbished, they lose a little more of their individuality – but they are made safer, so we can continue to race on them – so that s a good compromise.”

SPA 2

Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen is also relishing the prospect of racing at Spa: “When you talk about Spa, everybody thinks about Eau Rouge – but the bigger challenge is Pouhon; it s a sweeping, downhill left-hander and is very fast indeed.”

“It s almost flat, but not quite, so it s quite tricky to find a balance that allows you to attack without going off. Drivers love corners like this – high-speed turns that are not quite flat: that s where the real excitement lies because it s up to the driver to make the difference.”

“Spa is a big, fast circuit and still feels a little bit dangerous. For a driver, that always gives you an added element of excitement – it s fast and narrow, almost like a street circuit between the trees. And it s long, so it s very difficult to string a good lap together.”

“The most important thing you need here is bravery: you really need to attack the corners faster than your brain is telling you to. You ve got to keep the throttle flat even if it doesn t look possible, you have to trust your instincts and just put the danger out of your mind. It s a real driver s circuit.”

Button expects another tough weekend

ButtonaHonda still have a lot of work to do to prepare for next week’s Belgian Grand Prix insists British ace Jenson Button.

The Anglo-Japanese squad arrived at Valencia last week with high hopes for their improved RA108 challenger around the high-speed street circuit.

But a wrong tyre choice in qualifying saw Jenson begin the race from sixteenth place, and with little opportunity to overtake, the Briton only managed to climb three places by the chequered flag.

Honda have been testing at Monza this week to ensure they are better prepared for the sweeping low-downforce demands of Spa-Francorchamps, but Jenson, who lapped tenth quickest on the third of running, is still not happy with the balance of his car.

“We have worked on finalising the downforce packages required for Spa and Monza along with an initial study of the tyre compounds,” he confirmed.

“Although we have made some progress, the balance of the car is not where I would like it to be, particularly for Monza, and we need to analyse the data carefully to make improvements before the race weekend.”

Team Principal Ross Brawn concurred: “We have not achieved a perfect set-up and balance this week and have further work to do in analysing the data before we return for the race in two weeks time.”

“Our drivers suffered all the classic problems that we habitually experience at Monza, and without traction control, engine driveability adds another dimension to the challenge.”

McLaren unfazed by Ferrari grunt

Dennis FranceMcLaren-Mercedes are adamant they can take the fight to rivals Ferrari at the forthcoming ‘power circuits’ of Spa and Monza, despite the Scuderia‘s ominous advantage in the speed traps at Valencia.

Formula One is currently under an engine ‘freeze’ from 2008-12 and the teams are only allowed to develop their power plants on the grounds of reliability or cost-saving, for which they must make a special public submission to the FIA.

Ferrari are widely believed to have taken advantage of this loophole better than their rivals to innovate gains in performance, and the Italian team had a significant advantage in the speed traps at Valencia with engine customers Toro Rosso and Force India also punching above their weight in the straight line race.

McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh is adamant however that Mercedes-Benz have the necessary grunt and reliability to keep championship leader Lewis Hamilton in the title hunt, and he points to Ferrari’s double engine-failure at Hungary and Valencia as a sign that consistency will be king in the decisive remaining races.

“The reality is that we have tremendous faith in our colleagues at Mercedes-Benz and feel comfortable with both our engine’s performance and reliability,” he said.

“The recent engine failures suffered by Ferrari in Hungary and Valencia clearly demonstrate that even a homologated engine can break, so we take nothing for granted.”

“There’s always an element of risk whenever you come to two fast and demanding circuits but we have the additional security of knowing both our drivers can each still suffer an engine failure without receiving a 10-place grid penalty.”

Ferrari however are confident they have overcome their engine reliability problems after it emerged that a “bad batch” of con rods triggered the failures.

“The failure will not be repeated,” Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport.

McLaren have nonetheless significantly closed the gap to Ferrari in the constructors’ championship as a result of the Italian marquee’s engine woes. A mere eight points now separates Formula One’s powerhouses and Whitmarsh is confident that new developments to the MP4-23 will enable Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen to close the gap further still.

“We’ve got a number of smaller aero developments in the pipeline – there’s nothing on the car that will be visually very startling, but there’s plenty of detail-work,” he said.

“We’re also focusing on further mistake-proofing our systems: the championship is going to be a hard-fought slog until the end of the year and we need to leave no stone unturned in our quest for additional performance and improved reliability.”

“From a human and physical perspective, these two races are also pivotal to our title challenge – it’s vital that every member of the team pulls together to make sure these races pass without undue incident and set us up nicely for the final flyaway races.”

Kimi meets the boss

Kimi HelmetReigning world champion receives Ferrari backing, but questions still hang over the Finn’s hunger for Formula One.

When the scarlet cars arrive on his patch, Luca di Montezemolo is always a notable presence. It is rare, though, for the Ferrari president to show his face at testing.

So when the boss turned up on the third and final day of running at Monza on Friday the same day that Kimi Raikkonen took charge of his team’s Italian Grand Prix preparations heads turned.

The reigning world champion, it would seem, was top on Mr Montezemolo’s to-do list, followed by Ferrari’s new fuel team which is minus the mechanic that Kimi injured in Valencia.

Only Raikkonen and his employer will know of the words exchanged but in public at least, the upshot was backing from the Ferrari President.

“Absolutely, yes,” Montezemolo affirmed when asked by reporters if Ferrari’s driver line-up would remain the same in 2009. He went on to rubbish claims that the defending world champion is lacking motivation for Formula One after a trying few races.

“All this criticism of Raikkonen reminds me of when (Filippo) Inzaghi was at Juventus,” he said. “If he did not score in three matches, everyone said he was in crisis.”

“He is motivated and we must work hard so that he is in a position to make a quick start – especially on the new circuits which I don’t like and are doing harm to Formula One. You can’t overtake and nine times out of 10 whoever takes pole position wins.”

But perhaps most significant of all was the manner in which the Ferrari chief ruled out the possibility of Fernando Alonso joining the team, at least for next year. The hint took the form of a snipe at the double world champion for failing to finish in Valencia, despite the fact that this was largely out of the Spaniard’s control: Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima punted him into retirement on the opening lap.

“I was disappointed to see a champion like him not make the top 10 in Valencia,” said Mr di Montezemolo.

Raikkonen has been consistently out-qualified by team mate Felipe Massa in the last few races and this has severely compromised the defending world champion on race day. With speculation rife about the Finn’s future with the team beyond 2009, some may take a more cynical view of the meeting with Luca di Montezemolo and see it as a reflection of the concern that Ferrari currently have with his performances.

The fact that the Italian marquee elected to mention the meeting in their testing press release at all, suggests at the very least that thought went into giving the event a positive spin.

“It was a pleasure to meet with President Montezemolo, who visited the track today,” Raikkonen was quoted as saying in the team statement.

“Now we have to try and do everything as well as possible to get back to winning again, starting with the race in Spa. The world championship? I will give it my best shot and then we can count the points at the end.”

Whatever was said, it seemed to do the trick in the short term. Raikkonen clocked a 1.23.371 around the 5.793km circuit, winding up four tenths shy of pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.

The Belgian Grand Prix in a week’s time will provide the F1 fraternity with its clearest indication yet of Raikkonen’s hunger for the title. Spa-Francorchamps is undoubtedly the jewel in the F1 calendar as far as driver satisfaction is concerned and the Finn has made no secret of the fact that he is more at home there than anywhere else.

Another lacklustre display from the Iceman here will raise serious questions about his motivation for the sport.

Johnnie Walker success soothes F1 sponsor fears

Johnnie Walker logoScottish whisky producer and McLaren-Mercedes partner Johnnie Walker has announced record operating profits for 2007, bringing welcome news to both parties admidst growing fears about the impact of the global ‘credit-crunch’ on Formula One.

The company, which has sponsored McLaren since 2005, burst through the £1 billion sales mark last year and enjoyed a 9 per cent rise in operating profits to £2.3bn, exceeding the expectations of parent company Diageo who predicted a growth of between 7 and 9 percent.

The announcement follows the news that Hotel giant Hilton, which also sponsors McLaren, is forecasted to double its revenue this year as a result of its partnership with the Woking squad.

“It’s a momentous achievement,” said Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh, who was delighted with the success of Scotland’s leading whisky producer. “We know it is the first premium drinks brand to reach this target. It has been helped by growth in emerging markets like South Africa and Asia. Johnnie Walker’s Formula One sponsorship has also helped.”

This will be an encouraging message for Formula One teams who fear that sponsors could be turned away from the sport as a result of the struggling economy.

Formula One has yet to be seriously hit by the ‘credit crunch’, but Bernie Ecclestone has acknowledged that the multi-billion dollar sport is by no means immune: “It seems that everyone is affected, but we will have to wait and see,” the 77-year-old Formula 1 chief executive said in interview with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper.

“At the moment we are not noticing it, but we are not immune to anything. We will have to be prepared,” the Briton added.

Johnnie Walker’s long-term relationship with McLaren, which includes promotional work through responsible drinking campaigns, began in 2005 and was extended two years later to run to 2012.

McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis said last year: “It is always tremendously fulfilling when a partner extends its involvement with the team.”

“Through its responsible drinking campaign, Johnnie Walker has activated a wide range of high profile and innovative programmes involving the team since our Partnership began in 2005, and we are looking forward to contributing further to the growth of the Johnnie Walker brand.”

Heidfeld quickest at Monza, Kubica the real test

heidfeldUnder pressure driver Nick Heidfeld went quickest on the second day of testing at Monza sending a stark message of intent to BMW Sauber’s senior management. But the real test will come today on the third and final day of running in the Ardenne, as team-mate Robert Kubica takes to the track.

Heidfeld has been struggling to match the pace of Kubica throughout 2008, and in Valencia the best he could muster was ninth, after Kubica took BMW Sauber back on to the podium in third place.

The Hinwil and Munich based outfit have yet to renew Heidfeld’s contract which expires at the end of the year. Kubica, on the hand, is widely believed to have inked a deal to stay at the team for 2009.

Heidfeld’s 1:22.621 around the Monza circuit yesterday which put him on the top of the timesheets will no doubt be seen as a response to BMW Sauber’s implicit hurry up call.

It remains to be seen how his time will fare up against Robert Kubica who takes to the track for BMW Sauber today, working on setup for the low downforce demands of Spa and Monza.

At the end of day two, Heidfeld wound up two tenths clear of William’s Nico Rosberg who was followed by Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel.

“Today Nick Heidfeld concentrated on setup work with regards to the upcoming Italian Grand Prix,” said BMW Sauber in a statement.

“Working on the low down force configuration for the Monza race the team tried different aerodynamic solutions.”

“Running without major technical problems Heidfeld also sampled the tyre options for the Italian Grand Prix. Again the team made good progress concluding Heidfeld s part of the Monza test.”

Monday’s pace-setter Felipe Massa ended the day fifth after spinning into the gravel at the Ascari chicane.

Ferrari pay tribute to Phil Hill

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has paid tribute to 1961 world champion Phil Hill who died on Thursday after battling with Parkinson’s disease.

Hill was the only American-born Formula One driver to have won the world championship. He did so in 1961, fittingly, for Ferrari, the team he debuted with and famously won the hearts of after letting team-mate Mike Hawthorne past at the 1958 Moroccan GP to take the world championship.

Montezemolo said in a statement after it was announced of Hill’s death: “I, as well as all employees of Ferrari, am extremely saddened by the news of the passing of Phil Hill, a man and a champion who gave so much to Ferrari and who has always greatly represented the company’s values inside and outside the racing track.

“Phil raced and won many competitions both with prototype cars, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, won three times each, as well as with F1 single seaters.

“With our car, Phil won the Formula One Championship title in 1961 as the first American-born to reach this result.

“Phil and I have always kept in touch throughout the years and I know I will miss his passion and love for Ferrari very much. My deepest sympathies are with his wife Alma and son Derek in this sad moment.”

Hill made 48 Grand Prix starts in Formula and one three. Two of those wins came at Monza, where he won the hearts of minds of the adoring Tifosi. He went on to have success in endurance racing and won the Le Mans 24 Hours three times. He remained throughout his life much loved in Maranello.

Massa gives Lewis food for thought

Massa TurkeyFelipe Massa carried the momentum from his victory at Valencia onto the Ardenne-lined straights of Monza for testing this week, the grunt of his Ferrari engine giving Lewis Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes serious food for thought ahead Formula One’s power tracks.

Lewis Hamilton may be prepared to adopt a conservative approach to the remaining six races in the championship, but sitting behind the Ferrari duo and watching them canter off into the distance isn’t going to bring him the title he so craves.

That is the scenario that could unfold at the horsepower-hungry tracks of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, after Massa lapped quickest on the opening day of testing at the latter, with Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso once again running strongly.

The Brazilian clocked a 1:23.428 around the high speed track, edging out Heikki Kovalainen and Nico Rosberg, with Sebastian Vettel three tenths shy in fourth. Monza should be a McLaren track lets not forget given the MP4-23’s superior ride over the kerbed chicanes, and it’s traction out of them.

Ferrari however had a significant advantage in the speed traps at Valencia and the running at Monza would seem to confirm this. It also adds weight to rumours that the Scuderia have been able to make small innovations within the parameters of the 2008-13 engine freeze better than their rivals. Renault meanwhile appear to have lost out in the arms race.

There are major concerns that the Ferrari 056 power-plant is still a somewhat fragile beast however after Kimi Raikkonen dropped out of the fray at Valencia with an almost identical problem to the one that put Massa into retirement at Hungary.

Nonetheless the performance advantage is good news for Massa who now heads Ferrari’s assault on Lewis Hamilton’s world championship going into the Belgian and Italian Grand Prix.

“I want to keep winning, to keep beating not just my team-mate but the others to,” he said, responding to speculation that Ferrari will have to favour him for the championship.

McLaren meanwhile reckon tyres will be the decisive factor in the forthcoming races since variable temperatures are expected. The MP4-23 has tended to be more effective at generating heat into the Bridgestone rubber over the single lap, while Ferrari – and Kimi Raikkonen in particular – seemed to have struggled in this area.

“We re now entering extremely interesting territory where we wont be entirely certain what sort of temperatures we ll be encountering at some of the future races,” said McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh.

“Monza is likely to be hot and Singapore will probably be cooler, but the races at Spa, Fuji, Shanghai and Brazil could just as easily be sweltering as torrential. Regardless, we will continue to make changes to our car right through until Brazil.”

Sato to test for Toro Rosso

Takuma Sato will reportedly be testing for Toro Rosso later this year as the team evaluates who should drive for the team next season. There is currently one confirmed spot at the team for the 2009 season with Sebastien Vettel confirmed as moving to sister team Red Bull Racing for the 2009 season, with a small chance that the team may also be looking for a replacement Sebastien Bourdais.

It is already widely known that GP2 racer and Red Bull test driver Sebastien Buemi will be testing for the team, and now German magazine Auto Motor und Sport has reported that Takuma Sato will also be given a chance to prove his mettle at a future test for the team. Toro Rosso owners Gerhard Berger and Dietrich Mateschitz are not thought to be making a decision on their 2009 line-up until at least October.