Alonso-Ferrari deal opens the floodgates

emp-5770820The announcement that Fernando Alonso will join Ferrari next season, as expected as it was, opens up a can of worms as far as the driver market is concerned…

The immediate speculation is around the destination of out-going Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen. With an estimated salary of $51 million per year, the Finn’s pay-off, which Ferrari only recently started pushing for to see him released a year early, is a big one. And it says an awful lot about how Maranello feels about his extra-curricular pursuits and laid-back approach to racing: fine when you’re winning races and championships, not so fine when you’re not.

Most have him down for a move back to his old team McLaren. All good for them, you have to say. On paper it looks like the deal out of hell with two of the biggest stars in the sport racing against each other – and the team knows all about that.

On the other hand, it will be a pretty pumped up Raikkonen that climbs into the silver cockpit; the two men that have replaced him at his respective teams, Hamilton and Alonso, will be firmly in his cross-hairs. From McLaren’s point of view a bit of competition across garage can only be good for the team. We saw Lewis Hamilton at his best when he was sparring with Fernando Alonso in 2007.

Having raced with the team from 2002 to 2006, there will be some familiar faces there to greet Raikkonen too, and unlike his Spanish predecessor, he is unlikely to go off on one over myths like driver favouritism.

The dominant interpretation of comments made by Mercedes-Benz boss Norbert Haug – that having two megastars at McLaren would not be a problem – is that the Raikkonen switch is a done deal.

That would leave Williams’ Nico Rosberg looking at other options. He is rumoured to line up alongside his close friend Hamilton next year and bring German clout to the Mercedes-Benz brand. A Raikkonen return could see the young German being poached by Brawn GP who will enjoy Mercedes-Benz engines next year.

But Haug’s comments should not exclude Rosberg – a Rosberg-Hamilton line-up would still make for one of the strongest pairings on the grid, while Raikkonen would easily fit in at Brawn. Either way, it seems likely that these two drivers will end up being powered by Merc grunt in 2010.

And what of Alonso’s vacated seat at Renault? Polish sensation Robert Kubica has been in the frame, but doubts over the French team’s future in the wake of crash-gate – allied to an investor being found for Kubica’s current team BMW Sauber – has poured cold water on the move. Heikki Kovalainen, if he is replaced at McLaren next year could find refuge in his old team.

With three new teams arriving on the grid there are opportunities too for the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella, Nick Heidfeld – and maybe even Nelson Piquet.

Overtaking in Formula One still a problem?

The Formula One technical regulations in 2009 were significantly changed in order to improve overtaking during races. Amongst the most notable of these changes were a much-welcomed return to slick tyres banned in 1998, a complete clean-up of the car bodywork with fins, winglets and other ugly pieces of aerodynamic junk to be chopped off.

Another significant change was the size of the front and rear wings with the front wing being lower, wider and the rear wing being narrower and taller. These changes were put into place by the Overtaking Working Group – a collection of engineers from some of Formula One’s top teams with the aim being to reduce the amount of dirty air that has seen overtaking opportunities severely limited for several years as when one car follows another, aerodynamic handling is compromised by the hot, dirty air. With the addition of the KERS device it was hoped that this would aid overtaking too.

 The cars overall looked a lot more attractive too, but would these changes improve the action during a Grand Prix? The Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne was exciting and seemed to show that the cars were definitely capable of following much closer and being able to overtake. The trend continued into the Malaysian Grand Prix where we also got an entertaining four-car duel for third place between Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Timo Glock and Rubens Barrichello… until the early evening monsoons came along and spoiled the race courtesy of Bernie Ecclestone’s ridiculous idea to start the race later just to cater for fans who were too lazy to get up early.

The Chinese Grand Prix was another entertaining race but this time the rain intervened as normally races at the Shanghai track are horribly dull affairs. Then when the F1 circus arrived in Bahrain we had the first dull race of the season… a blip? No… every race since then apart from Spa, Monza to an extent and the midfield action at Silverstone have seen a return to the dreaded processions we had hoped to see the last of from 2008 had returned… but why? In this article we intend to look into why we still have processions.

We are losing more and more “classic” circuits from the calendar, with Montreal falling foul of Bernie’s greedy money games. Most of the dull races this year have been on tracks designed by much-despised track designer Hermann Tilke, he has also taken some of our favourite classic tracks and butchered them to the point we no longer recognise them… Hockenheim for instance. Tilke designs his tracks to be very wide but puts in corners which he appears to be obsessed with, the most common one being a long straight leading to a pointlessly super-tight hairpin and lots of very short straights and long, unimaginative corners. The Circuit de Catalunya whilst not designed by Tilke is a track that has only ever produced two exciting races since its introduction to the calendar back in 1991, so it’s no surprise that the 2009 race was going to be another yawn-fest.

The next race sees a welcome return to the classic Suzuka circuit which was built by the late John Hugenholz who also designed Zaandvoort another classic which is still used in other forms of Motorsport, will we see a good race at Suzuka this weekend? We also have Interlagos to come, but then the season finale takes us to the new Yas Island Abu Dhabi circuit another Tilke creation and I don’t like the look of it… however we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover just yet.

An interesting aspect to look into is the driver psychology, because at this year’s Australian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel attempted to defend his second place from a very fast Robert Kubica in the closing laps. The two collided as a result and both cars retired from the race. Vettel was very apologetic but the FIA stewards took a very dim view to this and hit Vettel with a 10 place grid drop for the next race. Since then Vettel appears to get nervous when he is trying to defend or overtake now particularly at Turkey when he tried to get past Button on a very light fuel load the same way Lewis Hamilton did on Felipe Massa in 2008. This may be a result of Vettel hesitating due to the FIA being eager to dish out overly harsh penalties for drivers messing up when trying to overtake.

A lot of the key factors still also lie in the design of the cars, when the Overtaking Working Group began to design the 2009 regulations they were designing them around the principles that downforce is greatly reduced and the cars rely a lot more on the driver and mechanical grip. There is still a lot that could be done to increase mechanical grip and one good way this could be done is by re-widening the cars back to 1997 regulations. This would in turn make the car “bulkier” and would allow a bigger hole in the air to be “punched” by the car creating a bigger and more effective slipstreaming effect, thus in turn allowing for a much better overtaking opportunity.

Due to the increase of braking technology the braking distances are becoming shorter and shorter and this is one theory which forumula1.com user scotty believes is hampering overtaking. Next year sees the banning of the ugly and unsafe wheel-rim covers which are designed to improve brake-duct cooling, so drivers theoretically may either have to brake more gently or brake earlier.

Whilst on the subject of regulation changes for 2010, the front tyres will be made narrower allowing for better car balance when turning in and refuelling during a race is to be banned. This will turn the races into economy runs and the most successful drivers will be the ones able to manage their fuel load and not run out in the closing laps. Whether this improves the action remains to be seen, but we can remain hopeful because it has worked before.

We now come to what could be the biggest cause of the overtaking problems which we still see the Double Decked Diffuser. At the start of the season there was a big row over the diffusers as used by Brawn, Williams and Toyota as others claimed they were in breach of the 2009 technical regulations, although eventually the diffusers were declared legal and Ross Brawn revealed that he offered to assist the teams in identifying the “loopholes” in the regulations that allowed the manufacture of the diffuser.

In the first two races of the season the only teams to run the Double Decked Diffuser were obviously Brawn, Toyota and Williams. Now you may remember that I mentioned the first two races in the dry were very entertaining, it wasn’t until China when Renault, McLaren and BMW were adding interim diffusers to the cars, and this was a wet race, when we got to Bahrain, the action we saw in Melbourne and Sepang was gone, and now everybody is using Double Decked Diffusers. A coincidence? Maybe not… at the start of the Australian Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello got caught up in some first corner drama and his diffuser was damaged, but he was still on the pace and able to overtake other cars, and these were cars not yet using the diffuser. In that race, the only cars that struggled to overtake were the Toyotas when they came up to Fernando Alonso whose Renault started the season with KERS and he was using it to defend.

If it is the Double Decked Diffuser that is causing overtaking to still be problematic have the teams realised this yet? What else can be done to improve overtaking? We all yearn for a return to V10’s, 3.5 Litre engines or Turbos but with the current FIA in place this may never happen. What is certain is that the Overtaking Working Group need to get their thinking caps back on.

Alonso confirmed by Ferrari

Fernando Alonso has been confirmed as a Ferrari driver for next season, it was announced today. The Spaniard will join the Italian team with a three-year contract, the confirmation marking the end of the sport’s worst kept secret.

Alonso’s unveiling is expected to provoke the start of the silly season in earnest, as he moves to replace Kimi Raikkonen in red colours. Raikkonen’s probable destination is his old team McLaren, but Brawn are also thought to be interested in the Finn.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali made sure to both welcome new signing Alonso and thank outgoing champion Raikkonen in his statement.

“We are very proud to welcome to our team another winning driver [Alonso], who has demonstrated his amazing talent by winning two world championships in his career to date.

“Of course, we wish to thank Kimi for everything he has done during his time with Ferrari. In his first year with us, he managed to win the drivers’ title, thus making his contribution to Ferrari’s history and he played a vital role in our taking of the constructors’ title in 2007 and 2008.

“Even during a difficult season like this one, he has demonstrated his great talent, with several good results, including a great win in Spa and we are sure that we can share more good times together in the final three races of this season.”

Raikkonen had a contract for 2010 in his pocket from Ferrari, and it is likely that Maranello were legally obliged to pay the Finn off.

He emphasised, in his own statement, that both he and Ferrari agreed he should leave.

“With common consent, we have agreed to terminate the contract binding me to Ferrari to the end of 2010, one year ahead of schedule,” he said.

“I am very sad to be leaving a team with which I have spent three fantastic years, during which time I won plenty of races.

“Together, we have won 50 per cent of the world titles in that period and I managed to take the drivers’ title in 2007, thus achieving the target I had set myself at the start of my career. I have always felt at home with everyone here and I will have many happy memories of my time with the team.”

Button: no unusual risks to be taken at Suzuka

Jenson Button has indicated that he will continue the cautious approach he has followed recently by not taking any “unusual risks” at next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Button has widely been criticised for not being aggressive enough, but his slowly-but-surely style has meant that he has the chance of wrapping up the world championship if he finishes five points or more ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello at Suzuka.

“It’s another race. People say that if I finish five points in front of Rubens I can win the championship. I know that’s a fact, for sure. But my aim is to win the world championship and I’m not going to take any unusual risks,” the Frome flyer was quoted as saying by Autosport.

“I’m just going to drive like I have been and hopefully that will be enough.”

He defended his recent strategy in the strongest terms yet, by saying that although the car had not been the fastest recently he had still gleaned valuable points.

“The important thing is to make the most out of the good times, but also the difficult times. When it’s difficult you need to pick the points up and that’s what I have been trying to do.”

He also spoke of his love for the Suzuka circuit, to which the F1 circus returns this weekend after a lay-off in Fuji. Button has had some good results at the track, which is renowned for rewarding skill and daring, as well as providing entertaining racing.

“I love it [the track]. I think everyone loves Suzuka, and that’s the problem. I wish they didn’t. But it’s a circuit I’ve enjoyed in the past and where I’ve gone well, so it’s nice to be back there.”

Glock will not be at Toyota in 2010

Singapore GP third-placed man Timo Glock has been told that his option for 2010 will not be taken up by the Toyota team.

Glock today announced that he was a free agent for the upcoming season, despite his heroics yesterday.

“Now I have to look around,” said the German. “I have several possibilities and I am very confident. Let’s see what happens this week.”

Glock’s future could well lie with one of the new teams, as he has repeatedly impressed this season. A lack of consistency and inability comfortably to outperform the serially mediocre Jarno Trulli are his main weaknesses, however.

Toyota’s refusal to announce their two current drivers are staying on could mean one of two things: one, as the strongest sign yet that they will leave the sport; or two, that they have finally decided to hire drivers that will bring them results.

Many commentators consider that the former is more likely, citing the Williams team’s search for a new engine next year.

Haug – two “megastars” at McLaren would be no problem

Mercedes motorsport chairman Norbert Haug today issued the strongest yet signal that Kimi Raikkonen is on his way to the McLaren team – by saying that the Woking concern could cope with two top-level talents.

Haug refused to confirm Raikkonen was on his way, but word has it that Ferrari are finalising plans to pay the Finn off so he can re-join the British team. The man from Espoo is holding out for his £30m retainer to be paid in full, which Ferrari would have to do if they are to bring Fernando Alonso in for next season.

Haug said that theoretically having Raikkonen in the seat alongside Lewis Hamilton, as Alonso was in 2007 with acrimonious results, would not be an issue.

“Whatever you can do to get the best available drivers, that is what you have to do,” Haug was quoted as saying by Autosport. “It’s a question of money, it’s a question of capability, a question of the amount of talent. Managing two megastars, I don’t think that honestly it [would be] a problem.

The German went on to reflect on the collaboration between Raikkonen – who had to leave the McLaren squad to win the world championship – and the Mercedes marque.

“Reflecting on our co-operation which was five years, I think that it was positive,” explained Haug. “We should have won at least two world championships. I have to say we missed one with two points in 2003 but I think an engine failure was one of the reasons, so without that he could have done it.

“In 2005 he could have done it, in fairness. The engines at that stage were not as good and reliable as they are now. To have Kimi in our team winning two world championships would certainly have been a fair outcome for him. I have a good relationship with him and I’m sure he would say the same.”

Singapore Grand Prix: Post-race Driver Quotes

Lewis Hamilton – McLaren (1st):
“This is the perfect end to a fantastic weekend. The race was physically very tough for all the drivers, but it was actually quite straightforward for me. I made a good start and I knew I was running longer than the guys behind me, so I was able to bridge the gap back to them. It was a very nicely controlled race in that way. The team did radio me about a small problem with KERS – but I didn t have a problem in the cockpit and was able to just disable it and then re-engage it. It worked fine after that. We came here hoping for a good result – and I wanted to redeem myself after the last lap in Monza – and we got it!”

Timo Glock – Toyota (2nd):
“We have had a really good weekend and this is a great reward for the team. After a solid qualifying the pace was good in the race so I am really happy for the team and myself. It was important to get in front of Fernando (Alonso) on the first lap and I was disappointed I didn’t do it at the start. I saw he was fighting with Mark (Webber) and I just dived in and made the pass. It paid off because after that our strategy worked well; it was the key point in my race. I was just concentrating the whole race on my speed and we didn’t make any mistakes. This is a brilliant result for Toyota before the Japanese Grand Prix. It’s important for everyone in the team; the mechanics and engineers as well as the people back home in Cologne and in Japan. The car worked well today with the new package and I hope we can be competitive again in Suzuka.”

Fernando Alonso – Renault (3rd):
“This was a great result for the team allowing us to be positive and put behind us the past few weeks. I had a good start and great pace throughout the race and third place came as a result of a good strategy and a solid race. Everyone at Enstone, Viry and here at the circuit has done a great job and this has paid off today. Now we go to Suzuka in high spirits.”

Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull (4th):
“The start was not so good from the dirty side of the track, but it was pretty good race for me until we had the drive-through. There s a bit of a question mark as to why I got the penalty, I mean I had no reason to push at that point. We knew we couldn t pass Lewis at the pit-stop because he was staying out longer, so I was surprised when I got the call on the radio for it. We were on the limit with the brakes, I was lifting earlier than normal and braking a little more smoothly when I was in traffic. Sometimes I had to drop off a bit to cool them too, before I could push again – you always have to listen to your car. Regarding the championship, I think history has shown many different examples of how it can finish over the years, with it going either way. At the next races our approach will be simple: we will try to get pole position and try to win, so it s very straightforward.”

Jenson Button – Brawn GP (5th):
“It was a good race for me and I’m happy with fifth position and four more points today. Getting ahead of Kazuki off the line was key and that really made my race. The first stint was quite frustrating as I could see Rubens getting away from me whilst I was stuck behind Heikki with a heavier fuel load. The safety car then made it very difficult as I still had fuel for a few more laps and should have been able to make up two places at my first stop. I had to put in some quick laps before my second stop to close up to Rubens and then we were pushing to catch Sebastian before deciding to save the brakes and settle for the fifth position. The weekend hasn’t been quite what we expected but it’s good to come through from 11th on the grid to score points today. I’ll go to Japan tomorrow feeling very positive and looking forward to the next race.”

Rubens Barrichello – Brawn GP (6th):
“It was a pretty eventful weekend for me and a tough race today. I had a great start to make up two places and everything was going well in the first stint. It’s a shame that the safety car didn’t play into my hands but I was in a good position. Unfortunately I had a problem on my second pit stop when I couldn’t engage neutral and the engine stalled which lost me the crucial time needed to stay ahead of Jenson. After that my brakes were struggling and I couldn’t fight anymore so we came home with sixth position. It could have been a better weekend but I only lost a point to Jenson in the championship despite everything that happened so I’m staying positive.”

Heikki Kovalainen – McLaren (7th):
“I had no problems from start to finish and was feeling very comfortable, but I couldn t go quicker. I drove to the pace I could with this car. I struggle a bit to maintain the tyre s performance and the car gets out of shape if I try to increase my pace, so I can t carry more speed through the corners. My focus now is to get the car better for me, so I can achieve better results. As a team, we ll take many positives from this race. First of all, our car performance has been fantastic all weekend – and Lewis s victory shows that the performance is definitely there. But, to be honest, my weekend was ruined yesterday in qualifying, which was very unfortunate for me.”

Robert Kubica – BMW Sauber (8th):
“This was a very tough race. I was quite unlucky with the safety car period. I lost a couple of positions as I had just refuelled before the safety car went out. On top of this we had a lot of problems with my car s rear tyre degradation. As a result the final ten to fifteen laps of my stint were very slow and, especially in the final stint, I had to defend my position extremely hard. In the end I must say this was the most difficult point I have scored in my whole life.”

Kazuki Nakajima – Williams (9th):
“It was a difficult race and I think I did the best job I could, but it was disappointing not to be able to claim any points. There seemed to be a possibility in the last stint as the car in front of me was struggling with its tyres but as much as focus on the car ahead, I also had to defend from behind, so it was tough to find the balance. The car has been good here and hopefully we can carry this with us to Japan.”

Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari (10th):”I couldn t do any better. The car was sliding everywhere and I had no grip. In the final part, with the softer tyres, the situation improved a bit, but by then it was too late. I closed up to Nakajima and, a few times, I tried to risk a passing move, but here it s really difficult to overtake unless the guy in front makes a mistake. I don t expect the situation to be much different next week in Suzuka: it is a very demanding track for the car, from an aerodynamic point of view and we are lacking in this area. Having said that, I will be trying my hardest.”

Nico Rosberg – Williams (11th):
“Today s outcome was hugely disappointing. I made an unnecessary mistake by braking too late and running over the white line on the pit-lane exit. Then the safety car came out at the worst possible moment. It left me with a really horrible feeling, also for the team, knowing that I wouldn t be second when I have served my drive-through penalty and I would have to spend the rest of the race at the back. The team gave me such a good car this weekend having put more effort into development than anyone else, and I am now determined to use this to best advantage in Japan.”

Jarno Trulli – Toyota (12th):
“It was a really tough race and not much went right for me. As soon as I got out of the traffic the safety car came at the wrong moment for me; right when I was passing through the pits for my first stop. I wasn’t particularly competitive all weekend and I was struggling with traction so we have to take a look at that. But on the positive side Timo’s second place is a great result for the team, who really deserve it. Timo drove a great race and I am happy for his podium; it is also good news for us in the constructors’ championship.”

Giancarlo Fisichella – Ferrari (13th): “It was a very tough race, both physically and mentally. The pace was not up to Ferrari s standard and we have to take that on board. I was struggling to keep the car on track because of a lack of grip. At the end, on the softer tyre, the car s handling improved and I managed to do some good lap times. We brought my first pit stop forward to try and get me out of traffic, given that I was stuck behind Sutil, but then with the safety car the move didn t give the result we d hoped for. Here, KERS was less of a factor than at Monza: at the start I managed to pass a car and then it was mainly useful to defend my position. Now we go to Suzuka, a real track: given how things have gone this year, with cars being strong in one race and weak the next, it s difficult to make any predictions.”

Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India (14th):
“It has been an ultra difficult weekend and race for us. The conditions are very difficult from the beginning as we were starting on the last row and trying to get some points was always going to be tough. Also having two cars with KERS in front of me didn’t help. I couldn’t overtake Giancarlo even though I was quicker on my first two stints. On the third stint we started to have a lot of graining with the rear tyres with the soft compound and I just couldn’t catch him. In the end it was a difficult race but we are more optimistic for the next races.”

Jaime Alguersuari – Toro Rosso (DNF):
“It would have been difficult for me to do better today, as conditions in the race in terms of the track and the heat were very tough. I ran at my own pace and then I was stopped with a brake problem. Now we go to Suzuka where I hope to do better and finish the race with no technical issues.”

Sebastien Buemi – Toro Rosso (DNF):
“The start was good for me as I got past Kimi and was going well, but towards the end of the first run, I began to suffer with tyre degradation. The first pit stop went well and I rejoined in P12. After that the safety car came out, bunching up the field. I was behind Kimi again and pushing hard until my second pit stop, when we had a big problem as no fuel went in and I had to come in again. Finally, I had an issue with the gearbox which meant I had to stop. I am very disappointed that we had reliability problems in a race where we might have got a good result.”

Mark Webber – Red Bull (DNF):
“We had a suspected brake problem, so when I came in for my pit-stop, the guys made a visual check. It seemed reasonable for me to continue, but then we had the failure and I retired. The guys did everything they could – I think they were seconds away from retiring me when we had the failure, so it s disappointing. The first lap was pretty feisty, as you d expect on a street circuit and I had a bit of a fight with Fernando in Turn 7 and we both ran wide. About nine laps later I had to let Fernando back through, but unfortunately Glock was in the middle by then, so I had to let them both through. My race was heavily compromised from there. I thought the incident was fifty/fifty but the stewards decided I had to let Fernando and Glock through, so I lost the hard work I d done during my first stint. It was a hard penalty I think, Kimi did something similar in Spa and got away with it. I d like to say thanks to the guys in the garage for this weekend – they re awesome and that s why we re second in the constructor s championship. Fingers crossed we can finish this year on a high.”

Adrian Sutil – Force India (DNF):
“It was quite frustrating at the start as we knew with the one stop we were very heavy, but Jaime (Alguersuari) was very slow and really fighting with the car. He was holding me up a lot and I tried a few times to pass him but I finally saw a chance. I tried and it wasn’t enough – I was a little late on the brakes, spun and that’s it. Then Nick came around the corner and hit my front wing as I was stuck in the corner. I didn’t see him coming as I was on the move already and couldn’t react to it, but I’m sorry for it. It was a race incident. After the accident I then had a problem with the brakes and lost all the rear pressure and I had to stop as it was too dangerous to drive. We should be much better in Suzuka – I really can’t wait for it. It’s one of my favourite circuits and I have big hopes for a better result.”

Nick Heidfeld – BMW Sauber (DNF):
“For me it was clearly Adrian Sutil s fault. Obviously I saw it from the inside and later also on TV. He had spun backwards and then just drove back onto the track and straight into my car. That s something you just can t do. I had no chance to avoid this accident. I was last with a lot of fuel on board. The speed at the back of the pack was very low and, therefore, I started to save fuel very early on as overtaking was impossible anyway. Although my chances were far from promising today, it is still annoying not to finish because of such a stupid incident.”

Romain Grosjean – Renault (DNF):
“It was a disappointing weekend for me. The car just wasn’t right and we had recurring brake problems which we hoped we had solved before the race. I had a good start and a good first lap when I felt my brakes failing and so the team asked me to retire. It s too bad because I was comfortable and enjoying this track and racing at night. Now we will have to work hard and get the car back in order for Japan next week.”

Raikkonen expects Ferrari to struggle in Japan

Kimi Raikkonen reckons that Ferrari will continue to struggle next weekend in Suzuka, after a disappointing day for the Scuderia around the streets of Singapore.

The Finn could only manage tenth position in the race and later complained of a lack of grip.

Raikkonen’s team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella was also plagued by tyre-grip issues and could manage thirteenth.

Kimi Raikkonen (10th): “I couldn t do any better. The car was sliding everywhere and I had no grip. In the final part, with the softer tyres, the situation improved a bit, but by then it was too late. I closed up to Nakajima and, a few times, I tried to risk a passing move, but here it s really difficult to overtake unless the guy in front makes a mistake. I don t expect the situation to be much different next week in Suzuka: it is a very demanding track for the car, from an aerodynamic point of view and we are lacking in this area. Having said that, I will be trying my hardest.”

Giancarlo Fisichella (13th): “It was a very tough race, both physically and mentally. The pace was not up to Ferrari s standard and we have to take that on board. I was struggling to keep the car on track because of a lack of grip. At the end, on the softer tyre, the car s handling improved and I managed to do some good lap times. We brought my first pit stop forward to try and get me out of traffic, given that I was stuck behind Sutil, but then with the safety car the move didn t give the result we d hoped for. Here, KERS was less of a factor than at Monza: at the start I managed to pass a car and then it was mainly useful to defend my position. Now we go to Suzuka, a real track: given how things have gone this year, with cars being strong in one race and weak the next, it s difficult to make any predictions.”

Stefano Domenicali: “Honestly, I don t think we could have done much better. When you start this far back on a track like this, it s difficult to climb up the order. Kimi and Giancarlo did their best, trying to exploit what their cars had to offer. We have to accept the fact that many other teams have made yet another step forward in terms of performance, which makes our technical situation even more difficult, given that development on the F60 stopped a while ago now. When we took that decision, we knew we would pay for it more and more as the end of the season approached, but let s be clear on one thing, we are not giving up: there are still three races to go and we will tackle them with maximum effort because we want to do all we can to finish third in the Constructors classification. In a strange season like this one, anything can happen. Again today, for example, we saw teams that used to be a long way back, now at the front end, while others did the opposite.”

Chris Dyer: “It was a very difficult race, for both Kimi and Giancarlo. Contrary to what has happened in recent races, we were unable to make the most of the start, which has been one of our strong points this year. We were already a long way back on the grid and so our situation was immediately more complicated, especially as overtaking is virtually impossible here. Today, several cars failed to finish, or were struggling with brake problems, but we were not able to exploit that to make it at least into the points. As for the tyre performance, the softer compound, in the final part of the race proved to be better than expected in terms of consistency, but it was not clear enough to decide to use it as from the second stint, which was the longest one. It s easy to say things after the event, but I do really think we made the right choice.”

Red Bull fail to capitalise in Singapore

A series of errors robbed both Red Bull drivers of a strong finish in today’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel, who had been running in second, was penalised for speeding in the pits and was give a drive-through penalty. Meanwhile Mark Webber’s race was cut short when the Australian crashed out of the race with brake failure.

Sebastian Vettel – 4th
“The start was not so good from the dirty side of the track, but it was pretty good race for me until we had the drive-through. There s a bit of a question mark as to why I got the penalty, I mean I had no reason to push at that point. We knew we couldn t pass Lewis at the pit-stop because he was staying out longer, so I was surprised when I got the call on the radio for it. We were on the limit with the brakes, I was lifting earlier than normal and braking a little more smoothly when I was in traffic. Sometimes I had to drop off a bit to cool them too, before I could push again – you always have to listen to your car. Regarding the championship, I think history has shown many different examples of how it can finish over the years, with it going either way. At the next races our approach will be simple: we will try to get pole position and try to win, so it s very straightforward.”

Mark Webber – DNF
“We had a suspected brake problem, so when I came in for my pit-stop, the guys made a visual check. It seemed reasonable for me to continue, but then we had the failure and I retired. The guys did everything they could – I think they were seconds away from retiring me when we had the failure, so it s disappointing. The first lap was pretty feisty, as you d expect on a street circuit and I had a bit of a fight with Fernando in Turn 7 and we both ran wide. About nine laps later I had to let Fernando back through, but unfortunately Glock was in the middle by then, so I had to let them both through. My race was heavily compromised from there. I thought the incident was fifty/fifty but the stewards decided I had to let Fernando and Glock through, so I lost the hard work I d done during my first stint. It was a hard penalty I think, Kimi did something similar in Spa and got away with it. I d like to say thanks to the guys in the garage for this weekend – they re awesome and that s why we re second in the constructor s championship. Fingers crossed we can finish this year on a high.”

Christian Horner, team principal:
“A really disappointing day – and unfortunately one with too many incidents. Both drivers didn t have great starts, which was inevitable from the dirty side of the grid, and Rosberg was able to get past Sebastian. It was a shame that Mark had to drop back behind Glock and Alonso after both drivers had run wide at Turn Seven. There was a drive-through penalty for Sebastian and damage to his diffuser after running over a kerb and, with all of that, he managed to bring the car home in P4 with a really competitive drive. With Mark, we had some concern about his brake wear, so we called his pit-stop a couple of laps earlier to do a visual safety check. Visually, both the brake pads and brake discs looked fine and we cleared the cooling duct of any debris. After the stop the brake wear continued to rise and we were just in the process of calling him in, when a suspected brake disk failure occurred.”

Fabrice Lom, Renault, Principal Engineer, Track Support:
“A very, very disappointing result. One penalty per driver and one retirement, so it was a very bad Sunday compared to what we showed we could do yesterday. On the positive side we didn t have any engine problems and the performance of the car was good, so let s hope we will get a better result in Japan next week.”

Singapore Grand Prix: Post-race Press Conference

2009 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
SATURDAY POST-QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE September 26, 2009

DRIVERS:
1. Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes), 1m47.891s
2. Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull), 1m48.204s
3. Nico ROSBERG (Williams), 1m48.348s

TV UNILATERALS

Q: Lewis, as the slogan here says ‘Uniquely Singapore . Q3 ended with Rubens Barrichello bringing out the red flags, but your first run there was good enough to be on the pole.
Lewis HAMILTON:
Yes, absolutely fantastic. Very, very happy. Very pleased for the team. Obviously, we came with updates, but so did everyone else, and we really didn t know where we would be. Friday practice wasn t spectacular for me, so coming to today I came with a great positive approach and I have to say big thanks to the guys. They worked until 10am this morning rebuilding the car. We had some problems and we changed the chassis. But, nevertheless, they stayed up. They were out in the garage today in this humidity and they did a great job and I am just very pleased to have done this for them.

Q: What a lap it is here. It is bumpy, the drivers are complaining about how difficult the chicanes are. It is dusty on the last corner. Talk us through that lap.
LH:
The lap was really very relaxed. Clearly I did not get to start my second lap but the car over the weekend has just got better and better as the evolution of the circuit has got a little bit grippier. Just slow improvements and feeling more comfortable in the car. The lap was really very relaxed and I think I was able to go faster. I was quite happy. Hopefully we will see what happens with the strategies but, obviously, I am in the best position to start from the front row.

Q: It looked like your out-lap was going to be quite a rush. What do you think your second run might have been?
LH:
The out-lap was not that bad, actually. I had a 10 second window where I didn t have to push that much, so I had a little bit of time in me. I was just about to start the lap but I think I had a couple of tenths, for sure. Who knows? Maybe it wouldn t have made the lap, but fortunately it did.

Q: Sebastian, first time in the top three since Hungary. You were purple in sector one when the red light came out, so your take on perhaps what might have been.
Sebastian VETTEL:
I don t know. No-one of us can answer this question. For sure the first run was very important. Unfortunately, then the red flags came out. It was my second run on new tyres, before I was on used tyres, so it wasn t easy. My lap was maybe not as relaxed as Lewis s lap, but in the end of the day I think it is great to be back in qualifying. Especially on a street circuit where it is very important. It is so good to be back in the front. We will see with the weights now, but all weekend I think the car was very good. I was feeling very comfortable yesterday and this morning so it is a shame that the red flags came out, but, nevertheless, we kept pushing. We have brought some new stuff for here. It seems to work, so let s see tomorrow. It is a very long race, 61 laps. It is quite warm in the car, so it will be tough but I think we have all that it takes, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Q: From the outside you really seemed to be enjoying yourself around here. I don t know if you would agree with that. But there is one wall particularly where you seemed to be getting the award for being the nearest lap after lap. It looks fantastic from the outside.
SV:
Yeah, I mean after the practice yesterday and even this morning the guys came to me and said ‘that was close on the wall . I said ‘where . There was not one moment. I think there were a couple of moments I had. I like this circuit. It is really great fun to drive here. The speeds are not very high, but it is a great challenge for all the drivers. I really enjoy it. It is bumpy. You have to really push hard and use every bit of the circuit, so it is fantastic and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Q: Nico, first time in the top three in qualifying since early 2006. And quickest in Q2. The fastest lap of the weekend probably. Even this morning someone was talking to you and saying where are you going to be and you said you d be lucky to be top five, or hoping for top five, but not top three. But here you are third quickest.
Nico ROSBERG:
Yes, it has been a really good day. We started the weekend and it was a bit difficult and we really just all the engineers and the whole team together we really worked well and made some big changes on the set-up and it improved the car a lot. That has really allowed us to be just quicker and quicker all the time. Even going into qualifying we were not so sure that we would even make it into Q3 as we were having some problems with the tyres and getting the soft tyres to work properly and things like that but then eventually, in Q2, it worked out really fantastically and I got a super lap in. Then Q3 with the heavier fuels it was a bit more difficult but still it was going very well and I think P3 was fantastic for us.

Q: It is extraordinary in this Formula One season how the fortunes change and one team is competitive one weekend and then another team comes along. Thinking back to how you were in Spa and here you are a completely different race car from your point of view.
NR;
Yes, that s the way it is. For Spa and Monza we all take completely different race cars in terms of aerodynamic package. It is just a completely different race car and now we have gone back to the car we used prior to those two races. We were finishing fifth and fourth with this car in every grand prix before that. The team has been pushing well on that and we have put a whole chunk of time into the package, so the car is even faster. Comparing to other people I think we have developed again very rapidly. It is really enjoyable at the moment and I am really pleased for the whole team that we have made another small step towards podium finishes and who knows maybe we can even fight for a win very soon.

Q: Lewis, give us your thoughts of Singapore in general. What is a night race going to be like for you the heat, the demands of this circuit, the bumps?
LH:
Singapore is a fantastic place. It is a beautiful city. The people here have been so welcoming and are treating people so well. The reception I have had here has been phenomenal, so I am very appreciative of all the fans. I think they have put on an even better show here this weekend. A lot more people here. I think they have tried to improve the track. They have tried to make it a little bit less bumpy. It is not as bad as last year, but it is still bumpy. But I don t see that as such a problem. That gives it a bit of character. I think if it was too smooth, then it wouldn t be any fun. I thoroughly enjoy driving it and I am very happy for today. Hopefully this can go in to tomorrow and we will get a good result.

Q: I have just got to finish by saying what a difference two weeks make. One minute you are in the wall at Monza and now you are on the pole in Singapore.
LH:
I said I would be back to try and redeem myself, so hopefully this is the first step.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: Lewis, three poles in four races. But yesterday you weren t so happy and yet overnight all sorts of changes. Presumably not just to the handling of the car but the whole car as well?
LH:
Yeah, I wasn t actually feeling particularly great yesterday. In the car I wasn t particularly happy with the balance of the car. I was struggling a little bit. It was quite bumpy and the car wasn t riding so well and I wasn t so comfortable in the car. But as always I tried to remain optimistic and we did some work overnight. The guys also had a lot of work to do overnight. They did a great job and we made the right steps with the set-up for this morning and through P3 and also just bit by bit improving the driving. It slowly all came together and each time I was out on the track we seemed to improve a little bit more. It is the same for everyone. I think throughout the weekend probably our last few laps are potentially the most comfortable, so I am very happy.

Q: It must be remarkable having changed so much and made the car better but also changed the chassis as well. As you say the guys were working until 10 o clock this morning but to then get into the car and be fastest that session.
LH:
Yeah, there is never a doubt in my mind that I can get in the car and drive and be the quickest. You really have to try and balance the car as well as possible and you can easily go down the wrong route and be stuck driving a car which you are not comfortable with and don t have the confidence to push in corners. It is very easy to get into that position but with great help and work from the team and myself we managed to put it together. We definitely didn t expect to be on pole position today but the pace we showed was good through P3 and Q1 and Q2. In Q2, I think, the pace of Nico was quite impressive, so we will have to wait and see what strategy everyone is on but I feel quite comfortable with what we have.

Q: Obviously you finished here last year but what are 61 laps around here like with the heat and everything else?
LH:
It is a nice Sunday night drive. It is obviously quite hot here, so it is intense still. You do sweat as much as you probably do anywhere else but the track is lovely. But, obviously, being a street circuit it is very easy to put a foot wrong, so concentration is vital here.

Q: Sebastian, were you expecting to do as well as you have done with the front row of the grid? Were you expecting that before you came here?
SV:
Maybe not before I came here, but I think after yesterday s practice it looked very good. We had quite a good car initially, a good start, and we were able to improve it bit by bit. It is good to be back. Qualifying is obviously very important. It is a shame in Q3 that we did not get the last run on new tyres but it shows how important every single lap can be. Tomorrow is a long race and we will see. The car behaves well and the team back in England is pushing very hard. I arrived on Thursday but on Tuesday this week I was in England to see all of them there. They are all wishing me good luck and obviously we put on a couple of new parts which all work. Put it together and we are back in the front, so it is good. It is very nice.

Q: You are still the only driver to have got all the way through to Q3 in every single race.
SV:
That is not the most important. It would be much nicer to be in Jenson s (Button) position right now in terms of the championship ranking, not today. We will see tomorrow. It is a long race and as I say qualifying is very important, so it is good to be consistent and good to be always in the top 10 but you don t score any points on Saturday. You have to finish the race.

Q: You must be optimistic looking at the positions of your championship rivals on the grid.
SV:
As I said on Thursday, there s obviously quite a big gap. For sure, we re not giving up, we re here to attack and this is what we do, so let s see. Anything is still possible. You can see how quickly it goes up and down, just looking at which team is sometimes at the front and how quickly you can be at the back again. Force India was very quick in the last two races; now they re struggling a little bit again. Williams wasn t very competitive in the last two races; now they are back again. It s quite a mess in a way, compared to the years before, compared to what I was used to when I grew up and watched Formula One when it was pretty boring most of the time. We will see. There s still a long way to go four races so we will do all we can.

Q: Nico, second last year here on this circuit and now third on the grid, this must be becoming a favourite track.
NR:
It is a pretty cool track. It s very difficult. There are a lot of corners, very different corners, it s a very difficult track but I enjoy it. I enjoy coming here to Singapore also. It s a really great city, really cool. I had a great time last year and I think I m looking forward to an even stronger race this year.

Q: Is it a relief to be back at the sharp end again?
NR:
Relief? Yeah, a little bit. I knew that we would be coming back with this aerodynamic package which is back to the one we had in Valencia, Hungary when we were always in the top four or five in the five races before that. So I was very confident that we could be up there not this far up. I didn t expect to be quickest in the second part of qualifying, but the team has worked really well on the package in the meantime. Whilst we were struggling in Monza and Spa, I think they have been putting a lot of effort into this one and I think, again, in terms of development we just develop quicker than other teams which is very impressive and it s really nice to see.

Q: You called your Q2 lap ‘a super lap ; what constitutes ‘a super lap around here?
NR:
I guess it s getting all the corners together because it s such a long track and it s difficult to get all the corners right and I did them the way I wanted them to. The car also felt good. It was difficult with the tyres around here. The tyres would sometimes go away by the time you got to the last sector or they wouldn t quite be there at the start of the lap, so it wasn t quite so clear with the soft tyres but on that lap they worked very well, so I just got it all together.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Paulo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, you said before that you were starting to redeem yourself after the crash at Monza. What did you mean by that?
LH:
I didn t mean too much by it, just that I was very hard on myself after the last race which was well-deserved. Rather than turn up here and say it was just a mistake, I felt that I would like to lift myself back up, lift the team back up and in a way show an apology to the team by getting a good result and so that s why I m quite happy with today. It s not always possible but obviously we got pole position and when you do get that you can say thanks to the team, that was for you.

Q: (Michael Schmidt Auto Motor und Sport) Nico, in Q2 you did a 41.1s in the second sector which was 0.3s faster than anybody else and also much faster than on any other lap you did. What was so special about this lap and this sector?
LH:
He cut the chicane!
NR: No, I just really got it together. Before that there was always a little mistake here and there and I just didn t get the best out of it, and on that lap I just completely nailed every corner out there and it was just fantastic and I guess that s how it came together. I was not quite so happy with the last sector, because Sebastian was again 0.3s quicker in that part although at the end of the session when the track was better… I was struggling a little bit more in the last sector but I don t know, it just all came together really well.

Q: (Sudhir Chandran Chequered Flag) Lewis, how important is this pole in Singapore? You seem particularly pleased with yourself after this result.
LH:
I m always happy with a pole position. We ve had a very, very tough year and even though we ve got updates on the car, we re still not clearly the fastest and always right at the front easily. We re still pushing and pushing as hard as we can, so when you finally get another pole position it s a great feeling. It s the perfect position to start from for the race weekend. We really didn t expect it, so it s always a surprise, it s always a real pleasure and it s great. Like I said, it s a good boost for all the team. And what a great place here; I would love to win in Singapore. It is a great place. The second night race here, so I would love to win, but we will have to wait and see tomorrow. We re going to have to push very, very hard. It s going to be a tough race, for sure, with these guys.

Q: (Ralf Bach R&B) Lewis, if I look at the time difference between you and your team-mate, it seems that you have two totally different strategies. Is that the case?
LH:
I don t know what Heikki is on if I m honest. Sometimes we know exactly what we re on. Rather than say what we re doing in Q3 and just knowing that we re going to be in Q3, I would rather just get through Q1 and Q2 first and then when I got to Q3 I found out what lap I was going to… I didn t ask what Heikki was going to do. Usually we re quite close. I spoke to him afterwards. I don t know if he got the lap out but I don t think there is going to be a huge difference.

Q: (Heikki Kulta Turun Sanomat) Nico, would a safety car situation like last year help you onto the podium or would it be a disadvantage in tomorrow s race?
NR:
I think it would be a disadvantage, for sure, because I can definitely get a podium without a safety car and you never know what s going to happen with a safety car. So I would say it s a disadvantage, for sure.

Q: (Paolo Ianieri La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, you re the reigning World Champion. How do you see the Button situation because it looks like the car is there, and everybody was expecting him to be fighting for the pole position but he s pretty far behind. Do you think he s suffering some pressure, he s afraid of winning and he s finding the situation particularly tough?
LH:
Firstly, I wish I was up there, being able to compete with these guys for the World Championship. It s great to be up here but what I would give to be able to take this car back to earlier on this season, to at least have a fair battle with these guys but that s all in the past, we look forward. But what I can say about Jenson? You can t forget that he won six races. He has dominated for quite a lot of the season and Brawn have dominated for quite a lot of the season. It is intense. Everyone is pushing, everyone is making steps forward, so the gap that they used to have is clearly much greater a while ago, but everyone s closing the gap. The times between all us drivers, us teams, are getting closer and closer. I don t know the answer as to what s going on. I didn t see what happened to them today, but I know that they are pushing as hard as they can and without a doubt, they clearly won the last race, so it s not like that they don t have the pace and they are losing it. It s just one of those racing experiences.