Ferrari boss Luca Di Montezemolo is under no allusions that last year’s title battle with McLaren has put his team on the back foot in 2009, but he is confident the Scuderia will bounce back soon.
Ferrari had a disastrous start to the new season on Sunday with both their drivers failing to finish the Australian Grand Prix.
Felipe Massa retired from the race with a mechanical problem while Kimi Raikkonen dropped his car into the wall in the closing laps.
Di Montezemolo brushed off the result as a “strange” race and said he expects the team to fair better in Malaysia this weekend.
“I expect to see the real strengths of the teams on a less strange circuit than Melbourne, as is the Malaysian track,” the Italian told the Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I think the first race has gone a lot worse than what we and I had expected.”
Ferrari were forced to develop last year’s car deep into the season as they battled with McLaren for the championship. Di Montezemolo says this is the main reason his team are so far behind.
“There’s no doubt we’re paying the price for the 2008 championship, which ended at the last turn of the last lap of the last race,” he said.
“We, like McLaren, had to develop the car to the end, while the others were already able, for several months, to work on a completely new project. Let’s not forget that this year’s car isn’t an evolution. So, those who had the time has been able to gain an even bigger advantage.”
“I think we made a few mistakes too many in Australia, and most of all I expect to see the real strengths of the teams in Malaysia. I’m convinced, in fact I’m totally sure, that there will be a strong reaction, even though the cars are the same.”
Three months ago, Jenson Button s luck looked to be out no girlfriend and no Formula 1 race seat for the 2009 season. However the 29 year old s fortunes look to have turned around with a race win under his belt and a new girlfriend waiting in the wings.
At the opening race of the season in Melbourne, Button was supported from the pits by his new girlfriend, Jessica Michibata. Michibata is a Japanese lingerie model and the pair have been dating for the past two months. The pair are said to be inseparable with Michibata being one of the first people that Button looked to celebrate his race win with. It is also rumoured that Button spent 15 minutes along with his new girlfriend in a locked room before emerging to face the waiting media and stating, “Things got a bit steamy in there!â€
Michibata is not the first glamorous girlfriend Button has had in 2005, he was engaged to singer Louise Griffiths before the broke up over his alleged affairs with athlete Emma Davis and socialite Beverley Bloom.
Michibata, 24, was born in Fukui and has a mixed heritage her mother is Japanese whilst her father is Argentinian with a Spanish and Italian background. Her younger sister Angelica is also a lingerie model. As well as being a beautiful face, Michibata also writes a monthly column on cinema in the Japanese press.
Australian Grand Prix race winner Jenson Button has said that his Brawn team can and will improve over the course of the season.
The Englishman was speaking after the team´s maiden outing resulted in a one-two finish, the first for a team debut since 1954. But Button warned rivals there was more to come.
“There are a few areas we are weak in, and that was always going to be the case because we barely did any testing. It’s been very difficult for everyone to be perfect, but there’s room for improvement, and that’s what I’m looking forward to achieving. For now, we need to get the best out of everything, which we haven’t done,” he said.
There is much speculation in the press at the moment about whether Brawn will be able to maintain the speed they showed in Australia, and about how superior their BGP 001 car really is.
The paddock is divided between those who think Ferrari and Toyota in particular will soon catch the Brackley team up, and those who believe Brawn to be further ahead. Button said the team would not be resting on its laurels.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in the car and building it into something even more special because we’re not there yet,” maintained the Frome-born 29-year-old.
He added that other teams would be working against the clock to reduce the gap to the Brawn cars, and that in time his team would have real competition.
“I don’t know if its going to be at the away races [Malaysia, China and Bahrain], but when we return to Europe I think a lot of people are going to have [new] aero packages and they’ll be on our tail.”
Ferrari have admitted that they made mistakes in yesterday’s season opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
The Maranello team, whose drivers Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen both retired from the race, said that tyres were the cause behind their failure to pick up any points.
Felipe Massa was threatening to challenge the front at the start, but was one of the drivers who had opted to start on the super-soft tyres, which faded very quickly.
”The start was great, but after five or six laps we ran into trouble with the soft tyres, to such an extent that we had to pit early,” explained the Brazilian.
He then fell back as he changed strategy to cover for his early stop, but ended up retiring with mechanical gremlins.
“We then switched to a very aggressive strategy, which with hindsight turned out to be the wrong one, as shortly after the pit-stop the safety car came out on-track. I found myself third, but after the re-start I had less than ten laps to try and make up ground on those who were behind me, but with more fuel. At the second stop we filled it to the finish, but then I was very slow and finally I had the problem which forced me to retire,” said Massa.
His team-mate Kimi Raikkonen continued the race and was looking like a candidate for second place until a mistake put his Ferrari into the wall.
“When I ended up in the wall it was my mistake,â€ the 29-year-old admitted. “A shame as, given what happened later, I could have finished second. We lost valuable points, but we will try and make up for it starting right away in Malaysia. There, we will get a clearer picture of the situation, because this circuit is not very indicative of performance,” he added.
Raikkonen defended Ferrari’s decision to use KERS even though some observers noted that the running of the system made little difference to the cars.
“The KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) worked well at the start, but there was not much room to go anywhere. If we did not think it gave an advantage, we would not use it. Definitely the main problem was in managing the tyres, but we also need to improve our overall performance.â€
Felipe Massa promised that the squad would be burning the midnight oil to find more speed before next weekend.
”The solution for Malaysia? Work and work hard.â€ said Massa.
Seven-time world champion and Ferrari consultant Michael Schumacher has said he believes countryman Sebastian Vettel to be blameless for the accident the 21-year-old had with BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica yesterday.
Vettel’s tyres were dropping off rapidly towards the end of the race and he defended his second place position a little too resolutely, which resulted in the Red Bull and the BMW coming together and both their retirements. Vettel subsequently apologised to his team and to Kubica, and received a grid penalty for the next race.
But Schumacher – no stranger to on-track incidents in his own career – told German newspaper Bild that Vettel was not at fault.
“He (Vettel) was on the inside — he couldn’t make his car dissolve into thin air,” the legend said.
Schumacher’s comments follow those of a number of pundits, more or less of the same opinion. Vettel’s tyres, in the condition that they were, yielded little grip so that by the time Kubica turned in the young German could not prevent his Red Bull from making heavy contact.
However, the penalty is probably a reflection of the fact that Kubica’s outstanding race was ruined through no fault of his own, and that he was on far superior rubber at that time in the race and could have passed the Red Bull prodigy at any point.
Jenson Button described his sensational charge to victory in Melbourne today as a “fairytale” result after months of uncertainty about his future in Formula One.
The British driver, who has spent the past couple of years battling with uncompetitive machinery, only had his drive with Brawn GP confirmed five weeks ago following Ross Brawn’s takeover of Honda Racing.
But he showed he had lost none of his speed or motivation on Sunday as he translated Brawn GP’s searing pre-season pace into hard results with a flawless pole-to-flag victory in Australia.
“This is just a fairytale ending to the first race of our career together at Brawn GP,” he said afterwards.
“It may have looked like an easy victory but it really wasn’t easy at all out there today but we brought the car home and that’s all that matters. This win is for me, my family and my team.”
“It’s been a traumatic few months and I want to say a massive thank you to them all for being so strong and never losing belief. This weekend we have achieved everything that we deserve for all of our hard work over the past few months.”
“And what’s so exciting is that there is so much more to come from myself and from this team. I can’t wait to get to Malaysia!”
Brawn GP quotes:
“Well you could say that I had an eventful afternoon! I had a lot of mixed emotions during the race and honestly I am so delighted to have achieved second. It was really tough for me at the start as the anti-stall kicked in which cost me a few places off the line and then I was hit heavily from behind going into the first corner and thought my race was over.
Thankfully the car survived and I was able to battle my way up to fourth and be in the position to take advantage of the accident between Vettel and Kubica. It just goes to show that you should never give up! Congratulations to Jenson for a fantastic win today and my heartfelt thanks to the team for providing us with such a good car. This is the start of a very exciting journey for us.”
ROSS BRAWN “We have worked incredibly hard for this victory today and to see the dedication, commitment and sheer hard work come to fruition with Jenson and Rubens bringing home a one-two finish for Brawn GP at the first race of the season is immensely rewarding. After everything that our team has been through over the past four months, this is quite simply a sensational result.”
“It is just the beginning for us and it wasn’t a perfect race by any means so we will learn from today and continue to improve. We have to keep developing the car throughout the season if we want to challenge for further wins and the championship. I would like to express our sincere thanks to Norbert Haug and Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines who have been so supportive over the past few months and have worked closely with the team to ensure we were in a position to go racing this year.
“Thanks also to Virgin, Henri Lloyd and all our team partners for having the vision to see what the team could do before today and wanting to be a part of it. It’s difficult to put into words what this win means to our team but I’m sure that I speak for every single one of them, here at the track and back at the factory in Brackley, when I say it has been a wonderful weekend.”
Jenson Button carried Brawn GP to a 1-2 finish in the Australian Grand Prix which concluded under the safety car after a frantic final few laps.
The British driver, who only five weeks ago faced the possibility of being without a drive this year, led from pole position to clinch his second career victory in Melbourne ahead of teammate Rubens Barrichello – but Brawn GP were unable to dominate the race as many people had expected.
Button led the field through the first corner and appeared to have the legs on his rivals, but the deployment of the safety car on lap 19 bunched the field up and disrupted the teams’ race strategies.
In the closing stages Button was on the softer tyres and found himself coming under intense pressure from Sebastien Vettel and Robert Kubica, while his teammate Rubens Barrichello was closing in on all three after recovering from an incident at the start.
But when Vettel and Kubica collided with just two laps to go – the latter driver subsequently crashing his car as a result of the damage he sustained in the incident – Button was left free to cruise to his second career victory, albeit under safety car conditions.
Update: Vettel has been docked with 10 place grid penalty at next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix as a result of the clash .
Barrichello was promoted to second place gifting Brawn GP a 1-2 finish on their debut, while Jarno Trulli, and astonishingly, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, vaulted up to third and fourth respectively.
Update: Hamilton has been promoted to third after Trulli was docked with a 25-second time penaltyfor overtaking Hamilton under the safety conditions.
“It always looks easier than it is,” Button said after the race. “The first few laps were great and I settled into a good pace, but when the safety car came out I struggled to get heat into the tyres. I was struggling with degradation and poor light. Being at the front should be easy but its not.”
“It’s been an amazing day. Some people may say that it was a pity that I finished under the safety car but I don’t care. And it’s been a traumatic few months for us so a massive thank you to the whole team.”
Button almost lost the lead of the race in the closing stages after a slow final pit stop.
“I made a mistake in my pitstop,” he explained. It was stuck in second gear when I came into the box and neutral didn’t work. I was just confused with Massa in front. It cost me five or six seconds but we were able to come out in front. I made it difficult for the team but we got there.”
Rubens Barrichello was delighted to finish in second place after a disastrous start to the race. The Brazilian was lucky to get off the start line at all as he struggled to select first gear and almost stalled.
He found himself out of place at the first corner and, attempting to make up ground, ran into the side of the Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who in turn bashed wheels with Nick Heidfeld. The incident collected McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen who was forced to retire as a result of the damage he sustained.
“The car was very strong,” Barrichello quipped afterwards. “I hit people from the side, in front, and it still stood up. It wasn’t an easy race but I never thought I could finish on the podium after the start I had.”
“I stalled the car and it went into neutral. I lost a lot of ground to other people. I was hit behind by the McLaren which put me sideways.”
Barrichello added: “I had a lot of mixed emotions today, but the result is really fantastic and I’m delighted to be here.”
Such was the pace of the new Brawn GP car that Barrichello was able to catch up to Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica who were running in fourth and fifth in the early stages behind the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.
Barrichello was running a slightly heavier fuel load than his immediate rivals leapfrogged Massa, Rosberg and Kubica at the first round of pit stops but was caught out by the safety car which was deployed on lap 19 after Kazuki Nakajima dropped his Williams into the barrier at Turn 4.
Nico Rosberg and the Ferraris lost out to the safety car while Toyota’s Jarno Trulli was a notable beneficiary.
The Italian started in the pit lane due to Toyota being excluded from qualifying for a technical infringement, but a heavy fuel load allied to the raw pace of the TF109 saw him climb to sixth place in the closing stages, before being gifted third as a result of the collision between Vettel and Kubica.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton had a low key race up untill the final few laps. The Defending world champion started from the back of the grid after taking a grid penalty for changing his gearbox unit. He quickly made up ground and was running as high as tenth, but his light fuel load compromised his race strategy.
Some impressive passes in the closing stages, tallied to other drivers’ mistakes and reliability problems – most notably that of t – saw the Briton claim a position he never thought was possible on Saturday.
“We did the best just we could,” he told the BBC afterwards. “We did the best job we could – an incredible job by the team throughout the weekend. We kept our spirits up even though we were off the pace. I’m very happy and proud.”
But he conceded that McLaren still have a lot of work to do before they can challenge at the front of the grid.
“We haven’t really improved the car. The car is what it is. We’ve got a good programme going on back at the factory and we need to score points and catch people up.”
It was a frustrating day for another world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Using his KERS device to devastating effect the Finn made a lightening start and vaulted up to fourth place from ninth. But contact with Rubens Barrichello damaged his Ferrari and an early pitstop to counter problems with the super soft tyres saw him drop down the grid after the safety car.
Raikkonen’s race came to an end on lap 44 when the Ferrari driver dropped his F60 into the wall. He limped home to sixteenth place, while teammate Felipe Massa, who showed strong pace throughout the race, retired ten laps earlier with a mechanical problem.
Timo Glock finished fifth putting smiles on the faces of the Toyota mechanics after their exclusion from qualifying yesterday, while Fernando Alonso did has he promised and clawed his way into the points after starting twelfth.
Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for seventh at the chequered flag ahead of Sebastien Buemi in eighth.
Sebastian Vettel has apologised to Robert Kubica for colliding with him in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
Updated: The Red Bull driver has been reprimanded with a 10-place grid penalty for next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix as a result of the clash.
Vettel, who set a searing pace in qualifying to line up in third place, was struggling with the softer compound tyres in the closing stages of the race and the Red Bull driver found himself being hunted down by Kubica’s BMW Sauber.
When Kubica attempted to pass him around the outside of Turn 3 the pair collided and both crashed their cars at the following corners.
Kubica accused Vettel of being “too optimistic” in his defence of the corner and the German accepts that with hindsight he probably should have conceded the position and settled for third.
“We were in second and a strong position, but then, a couple of laps from the end, I had a stupid racing accident with Robert (Kubica),” recounts Vettel.
“At the time I turned in I was ahead, but I couldn’t keep up speed in the corner and Robert was on a harder tyre, so was much quicker. At the time we collided he was in front, but I had no where to go, I couldn’t stop the car, or turn to the right and my tyres were gone. It’s a shame as it meant the end of the race for both of us.”
“Should I have let him go? You always want to fight. Maybe I should have said let him go and bring third back home, but that’s life. I tried to defend and, up to the mid-corner, I had reason, but then I had no grip to avoid a collision. I’m sorry to the team and also to Robert, as it didn’t just mean the end of my race, but also his.”
“The team did a good job, we were working very hard over the winter and the car seems to be very good. We had good pace today, so overall we have a reason to smile.”
With home favourite Mark Webber also failing to finish as a result of a tangle at the first corner, Red Bull Racing leave Melbourne empty handed despite demonstrating a strong underlying pace.
“A totally gutting finish to what had been a superb race for Sebastian. He had good pace throughout and was trying to take the fight to (Jenson) Button,” said Team Principal Christian Horner.
“He drove an immaculate race, but I guess a racing accident with Kubica at the end on the soft tyre was always going to be marginal and we came within two laps of a great finish. Looking on the positive side, the pace of the car was very good.”
“It backed up our qualifying performance and we can take confidence into the next race in Malaysia in only a week’s time. Mark was unfortunately involved in an incident on the first lap which effectively destroyed his home race.”
“We elected to keep him running in order to put more mileage on the car. It was a great shame after such strong team work here and in Milton Keynes, the team didn’t deserve the finish we had today, but we’ll fight back next weekend.”