Wirth Research takes responsibility for Virgin fuel glitch

Nick Wirth’s company Wirth Research has taken full responsibility for the fuel tank error that has caused the Virgin Racing team to re-design their chassis.

Technical director Wirth, speaking to Autosport, acknowledged that his concern would pay for the fuel tank to be increased in size, after the team discovered in Australia that the tank might not be of sufficient capacity to allow the cars to finish the race.

“The chassis supplier is us. Nothing to do with engine supplier or fuel supplier. What that means is that we are fixing it for the team. We are not charging the team,” Wirth said.

“It’s our responsibility to provide cars that can finish a grand prix. It’s down to us.”

Wirth also shed light on the rumours that the cars were having trouble with their fuel pick-up, after the team were forced to run heavy during Australia qualifying.

“We are not doing a very good job at the moment, particularly in qualifying, of picking up all the fuel.

“We are at liberty to carry on doing that [using heavy fuel loads]. That doesn’t affect the volume of fuel. But what we are saying is that even if we could pick up every last drop, which we can’t at the moment, we’ve got an issue.”

Brawn: we need clarity over Red Bull suspension legality

Ross Brawn has added his voice to the chorus of Red Bull Racing’s rivals, who believe there may be something suspect about the team’s suspension arrangement.

In recent days teams such as McLaren have been voicing concerns that Red Bull’s undertray structure may incorporare some kind of gas suspension, which would be lowered for qualifying to decrease ride height and raised for the race to allow for the extra weight of race fuel.

Ross Brawn today told Autosport that he would like to see the matter cleared up for everyone’s sake, because he believes adapting the suspension height between qualifying and the race would be illegal.

“I think we do need to tidy it up, in fairness to Red Bull because there are accusations being thrown around. It is very unfair,” he said.

“They have a very good car, and there is no evidence they are unnecessarily doing anything untoward. You can do things with tyre pressures between qualifying and the race which is a simple way of helping the situation but it is necessary for the FIA to just clarify where we stand.

“Our understanding I can’t remember the article exactly, but you are not allowed to make any suspension changes between qualifying and the race. Anything that influences the suspension, be it gas pressure, be it the intentional manipulation of temperature, would have that affect. I think we need Charlie [Whiting, FIA delegate]
to clarify that to get rid of the controversy.”

Coulthard: Hamilton road incident blown out of proportion

David Coulthard has sent a message of support in Lewis Hamilton’s direction, saying that the seriousness of the Englishman’s road incident in Australia was exaggerated.

The ex-McLaren driver and now BBC pundit sympathised with Hamilton’s plight, implying that Hamilton’s alleged spinning of the rear wheels of his Mercedes road car was not as serious as has been made out.

“I know I’ll get accused of being irresponsible here, but I really don’t see the big deal about Lewis indulging in a little burnout for the fans,” Coulthard wrote in his column for the Daily Telegraph.

“In my view, the reaction to what was essentially a minor incident was completely over the top.

“I understand the road-safety issue, but Lewis is one of the best drivers on this planet. There is no one I would trust more to burn a bit of rubber and keep the car under perfect control.

“A minor slap on the wrist would have sufficed, although it would have been even more constructive to commit him to some sort of road safety project in Melbourne schools for next year. Impounding his car and releasing statements as to his poor character helped no one.”

Schumacher: I took positives from Australia

Michael Schumacher has said that he took positives from the Australian Grand Prix, despite fighting with minnows and only taking one point for his tenth place.

Observers watching Schumacher were saddened to see the legend somewhat emasculated, but the man himself looked at the positive aspects of the second race in his comeback.

“I know that might sound awkward but I take a lot of good aspects from the race weekend in Melbourne,” Schumacher said on his personal website.

“Of course that does not show at first sight but looking into our weekend more deeply, I find we did improve quite well and have a good reason to be quite satisfied – just not from the pure result obviously.”

“Analysing qualifying I think both Nico [Rosberg] and me could have been ranked two or three positions better,” said Schumacher.

“I had a too conservative set-up in the end which was too much concentrated towards the race, plus I had a tear-off strip stuck in my front wing which too cost me some time. And going into the race from those better positions would have meant fighting for the podium.”

Schumacher insisted that the development of his car put him in good shape for this weekend’s Malaysian race.

“All that means that we are not too far away, and I am quite confident there will be more to come. So going to Malaysia we know that clearly we improved our pace since Bahrain, which is a good feeling.

“It was a lot of fun fighting in Melbourne even if it was just for one point, and I will enjoy fighting again in Sepang.”

Hamilton still the pick of McLaren drivers despite Button’s win

The blogosphere has been bubbling in the last 24 hours with a special kind of anti-Lewis Hamilton article. Some glory in a ”dickhead” quote from a minor Australian politician (see Marca, the Guardian); some still find tabloid inches from his minuscule motoring indiscretion; even respected commentators like James Allen are at the very least calling him “less mature” than Jenson Button. It seems the passion for knocking down those you have built up is not diminished. But Hamilton is still the pick of McLaren’s drivers following Australia, and here’s why.

The decision to pit for slick tyres that Button made, while with hindsight extremely advantageous, was essentially a risky one. His crew were not ready when he made the decision, and this is anathema to an ultra-prepared team like McLaren. When he returned to the track, let us not forget, he immediately fell off the road and was lucky to avoid the quicksand-like gravel trap. It all could have ended so soon and in such ignominy for Button, but fortunately for him his luck was in. His luck was in that it didn’t rain again; his luck was in that Alonso was mystifyingly prevented from further attack; his luck was in that Vettel broke down. He was under no threat, and as such could drive in that silky way he does, and take the win.

Hamilton’s only failing was that he, in contrast to Button and again to his own detriment, played the team game. He obeyed the team’s instruction to pit for a second set of dries, under the completely understandable misapprehension that the Ferraris and Kubica would have to pit again. Meanwhile, he had driven his heart out. He overtook Button in the early stages, fairly and beautifully, as well as Massa. He took Rosberg on, and passed him incredibly bravely at 150mph on the outside on the back straight. He chased the Ferraris down, lap after blistering lap, and would surely have disposed of Alonso and Massa in the final few laps. Many, not least Martin Brundle in his BBC column, agreed with the 25-year-old’s post race assertion that it had been one of his “best drives”.

The belief that Hamilton would have destroyed his tyres because of a more ragged driving style is popular (and may have informed McLaren’s call), but unprovable. Hamilton has a reputation for being hard on tyres, but he did not suffer unduly in Bahrain. How tough the McLaren MP4-25 really is on its tyres, compared to its 2007 incarnation when shot tyres caused Hamilton championship woe in China, is yet to be seen, and could well be a 2010 weakness for the Stevenage man. But suffice it to say that some at Autosport actually believed after pre-season testing that it was Button who struggled to work heat into his Bridgestones, and wore them at a quicker rate, than Hamilton. All we know after Australia is that Lewis’ raw pace was enough to bring him to the back of the one-stoppers, despite he himself having made two. That means he made up a deficit of something approaching 30 seconds, an achievement that ranks with the very best. Surely that pace would have meant competition in the midst of the Ferraris at the very least had he not stopped again.

The idea that Hamilton is somehow losing his cool, or that he is fazed by having Button in the team, is ludicrous. The mid-race transmission that Hamilton broadcast to his team and the world, about the second pitstop being a “fricking terrible idea”, was inadvisable but completely justifiable, especially in the heat of the moment. Further to that, it is impossible to say his judgement was at fault when the team made the decision and he, in faith, followed it. McLaren also today ascribed Hamilton’s radio message to his desire to win. His adherence to the team line would seem to be much preferable to disregarding strategy, falling into the pits and falling off the road at Turn One, as Button did. Some have called Button’s win leadership from the cockpit; it could be called the luck of the gambler.

Moreover, there is no justification for equating Button’s risky decision-making with maturity. Had Hamilton stayed out and it had turned out to be the wrong decision, he might also now be the target of jibes about cockiness and arrogance. In general, Hamilton as a man has come on leaps and bounds in the last year, particularly as he suffered the terrible MP4-24 and the Liegate scandal. The Australian weekend, even coupled with the road indiscretion, is in no way demonstrative of immaturity. There is something to be said for the idea, too, that it is Hamilton’s burning ambition that makes him such an exciting driver to watch. If (and it is a big if) it is an immature Hamilton that sparks such joy in the spectator, may he never grow up.

With the exception of Australia qualifying, Hamilton has generally outpaced his fellow Brit up to now. Many consider him to be the fastest natural driver on the grid, with due deference to Fernando Alonso’s being the all-round best. Button is, as Mark Hughes has said, excellent when the car and the conditions play to his strengths. He has received the credit for the Australian win, as he should. But Hamilton is his superior in talent and speed, and Australia did not go any way to disproving that. Particularly as Button’s win owed nearly as much to chance as it did to his undoubted talent for tyre conservation.

We are working on reliability, says Horner

Red Bull Racing chief Christian Horner has said that his team will soon get to grips with their reliability issues, after a faulty brake disc cost Sebastian Vettel a chance of victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

The Milton Keynes squad monopolised the front row in Melbourne but were unable to convert it into anything more than ninth place for Mark Webber, after Vettel’s mishap. Horner said that despite this, his team had the fundamentals to go far.

“Starting first and second on the grid, the whole team is pretty pissed off to have only come away with two points,” he said. “But we will brush ourselves down. We take away from here the confidence that again we have a very fast car, and we will work hard on whatever the problem is that caused this issue. We will be stronger in a week’s time.”

“Don’t panic it is a long season. We know we have got a fast car and I would far rather have a fast car than a slow car. We’ve had two pole positions. We should have been sitting on 50 points and Sebastian is sitting on 12. But there is still a long way to go and the season will have many different twists and turns.

“I think he [Vettel] has got complete trust and confidence in the car. He has been massively fast all weekend. Unfortunately a reliability issue has cost him a race win this weekend, but he will be back very strong in a week’s time.”

Horner, talking to Autosport, dismissed the idea that the brake failure was a recurrence of Red Bull’s vulnerability from last year, where unreliability arguably cost Sebastian Vettel the world championship.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen this failure before. We need to understand it first,” he said. “The pit stop execution was strong and other teams will have other issues at different points of the year. We haven’t had one driver go out and dominate, the dominant car so far is ours and it is important that in one race’s time we score some big points.”

Whitmarsh: calling Lewis in was a wrong but fair decision

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has issued a further mea culpa for having called Lewis Hamilton into the pits for a second time during yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix, but added that it had been a fair decision to make.

The team projected that Hamilton’s tyres would be shot by the end of the race, and after looking at the pace of Mark Webber on new tyres, decided to order the 2008 champion in. The decision, described by Hamilton during the race as ‘fricking terrible’, ultimately saw him stuck behind two Ferraris and ruined the team’s chances of a one-two.

Whitmarsh said that the state of Lewis’ first set of tyres, and Webber’s pace, had been a factor.

“Lewis was losing time behind [Robert] Kubica, you could see he had graining of his rear left tyre and you could see that Michael [Schumacher] had stopped and was going purple, Webber had stopped and was going purple and more than one second per lap quicker,” said Whitmarsh.

“With the information we had at the time, given where Lewis was, we felt that it was the right call. I think in retrospect and hindsight, if we look at how the race played out – if Lewis could have made those tyres last then he could have finished at least second today and we would have a 1-2.”

Whitmarsh, quoted by Autosport, said that the team would never truly be happy with anything less than a one-two, and congratulated Hamilton on his efforts.

“Inimitably in McLaren style, you look at a win and say – ‘damn, it could have been a one-two’. It was disappointing because it was a fantastic drive by Lewis. We as a team made that decision, I have to be accountable for that and I am disappointed with the outcome, but I am not disappointed by the process because I thought it was the right decision at the time.”

Button head and shoulders above the rest in Oz

Jenson Button took a fantastic win today in the Australian Grand Prix, thanks almost exclusively to his smooth driving and correct strategy. The man from Frome was peerless at maintaining his tyres, after a mid-race gamble to move onto slicks fortuitously paid off.

Button has long been renowned for the care with which he drives an F1 car and in Australia today it paid off in abundance. The McLaren man was effortlessly seamless into all the corners of an Albert Park track that had developed a dry line after the early rain held off. It was consequently a choice for all the teams and drivers between stopping once or twice, one which some got very wrong. Button got it right and early on, and, once the Red Bull of Vettel had departed, was a cert for the win if he could only manage his rubber. It was a task which could not have been more suited to the smoothest of them all, and Button duly did the job with aplomb.

Another star was Robert Kubica, apparently more at home on this parkland racetrack than any other. The Pole was second, his pace not to be sniffed at despite the errors of others which played into his hands. A great result for the Renault team, it nevertheless remains to be seen whether the form can be replicated at other tracks.

More gutsy performances came from Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Vettel was again in the unenviable position of mechanical unreliability, but his driving all weekend up to that point had been flawless. Although it is frustrating for the young German, his time will come because when he is hooked up no-one on the grid can live with him at the moment.

Hamilton, meanwhile, drove a characteristically determined and ruthless race. His overtaking was second to none before he got to Fernando Alonso, and his raw pace would have threatened the front if the cards had fallen differently. This is not to say that he would have beaten Button, for Hamilton is notoriously hard on his rubber and he would have probably been driving on his rims had he not stopped the second time. In that sense he has little to complain about to his team. But although he may have to come to turns with Button’s superiority in the area of tyres, Hamilton probably has the edge over his compatriot overall, and he only has to show that on track.

Nico Rosberg, although hampered by machinery that was not the equal of that of any of the other big three teams, was harrying and chasing right til the end. He is making his demolition of Michael Schumacher slow and deliberate, and all the more painful for it. The seven-time champion, supposedly in the same race, made a great start but was caught up in the carnage at the first turn and thereafter was a shadow of his former self. To watch the great man toiling to pass Alguersuari in a Toro Rosso was grating, and there is nothing yet seen in his comeback which indicates he is the fearsome Schumi of old.

The Ferraris must also take their fair share of criticism. Despite their agreeable third and fourth result, which leaves them sitting pretty in the championship, the Maranello squad made some odd decisions which might have prevented a better result. After a mishap at the first corner, Alonso’s dynamic pace as he carved the field up was a sight to behold and contrasted sharply with Schumacher’s failure to do the same. That same pace would surely have seen him pass a floundering Massa with ease, chase down Kubica and even threaten Button before his tyres went off. So why was he stuck behind Massa, a man whose engineer has to remind him how to drive effectively? It was a bizarre conservative decision from Ferrari, even if it has won them points.

Lastly, Mark Webber received a reprimand from the stewards for his ridiculous attempt to pass Hamilton as the Englishman was in full battle royale with Alonso. The resulting crash prevented Hamilton from taking a probable fourth or even third, prevented the viewer from seeing a wonderful dogfight and deprived the Australian of some credit for an afternoon in which he had played a big part.

The biggest victor this morning, Button aside, was surely the sport. After vilification in the media, the Australian race was a cracker, thanks to a sprinkling of rain and some out of position racing cars. Although the wider problem of loss of mechanical grip when following has not been addressed, the spectacle was much improved, and who is to say that the wonderful Albert Park did not play a part? Armchair supporters should be able to pick which races to watch this season on the basis of track reputation. But diehard fans were on an emotional rollercoaster this morning, excited, elated and entranced. Those fans will have no trouble tuning in for the next instalment of what could well be a fantastic season.

Australian Grand Prix: Sunday News Round-Up

Mark Webber has been reprimanded by the Australian Grand Prix race stewards for his part in a collision with the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.

The Australian driver had been locked in a battle with Hamilton and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, during the closing stages of the race, only to run into the back of the McLaren under breaking for turn 13.

Although Hamilton and Webber managed to finish the race in sixth and ninth respectively, the former was not happy with the incident and, after the race, visited the stewards to explain how he saw the accident.

More to Follow…

Button makes the right strategy calls; Hamilton left bemused

Jenson Button was in ecstasy as the reigning world champion recorded his first ever victory for McLaren-Mercedes.

Button took advantage of an ambitious strategy call, early in the race, to rocket up the order – allowing him to swoop into the lead, following Sebastian Vettel’s retirement.

Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton described his race performance as one of the “drives of his life” as the British driver carved through the field from his lowly eleventh place grid slot. Despite this, the 25-year-old’s race was severely compromised by McLaren’s decision to change his tyres in the middle of the race and, secondly, his collision with Mark Webber.

Jenson Button – 1st: “What a fantastic weekend! From the first lap here, I felt comfortable in the car. Qualifying was good – we weren’t on the pace of the front guys, we were five or six tenths off but our race pace was better. And in these tricky conditions, I think we made some very good calls and we came away with a victory. You might say we were lucky in some ways, but I think we just made the right calls and that’s so important nowadays. It’s not just about speed, it’s about making the right calls, being consistent and conserving the car.

“It was a necessary move to pit for slicks. I was struggling for grip on the Inters, and the rears were destroying themselves very quickly, so we figured it must be time for dries. As I drove down the pitlane, I could see it was soaking wet and I feared it was a massive mistake on my part. When I left the pits, I went off the circuit and just thought, ‘Oh no!’

“But I got to grips with it pretty quickly, and soon started to feel really good in the car. I caught up behind Sebastian [Vettel], I conserved the tyres, I built a useful gap and I want to say a massive thank-you to the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team: they’ve done a brilliant job.

“To not only be on the podium, but to be on the top step, after just two races, is amazing. It’s crucial to get the big points when perhaps we don’t have the out-and-out pace: these are really important points to us. Now we’ve really got to get our heads down and hopefully turn up in Malaysia next week with an even better car.

“This victory means so much to me. A Grand Prix win in a McLaren. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Right now, I just want to run around and scream. It’s just the most amazing experience.”

Lewis Hamilton – 6th: “This was probably one of the drives of my life. Okay, it’s possible that the decision to make a second tyre stop wasn’t the right one, but my team are a brilliant bunch of guys and they usually get it spot-on. I guess things can’t always pan out right every time, but that’s motor racing.

“It was disappointing to taken out by Mark Webber, but I hear he apologised for it after the race so I appreciate that. I’m happy with the job I did I drove my heart out today and the car felt good.

“Could Jenson and I have had a one-two today? Maybe, yes, but you can’t say for sure. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that he drove a great race. Congratulations to him for an excellent first win for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes it’s a good feeling!

“As for me, I’ll just keep fighting. It’s the only way I know.”

Martin Whitmarsh- Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: “This afternoon’s race was an absolutely perfect showcase for Formula 1, and amply demonstrates that this sport will always surprise, thrill and enthral us in many, many ways.

“For the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, it was an afternoon of two fantastic, albeit contrasting, performances. Jenson’s was a drive truly worthy of a world champion. First, he showed extreme tactical acuity and supreme strategic responsibility by personally electing to make the early call from intermediate to dry tyres, a move that moved him ahead of the pack and laid the foundation for this victory.

“Second, he drove with incredible intelligence and impressive maturity to maintain a consistent gap at the front, altering his car’s settings in order to best look after the tyres during the extremely long second stint. It was, in all ways, a faultless victory.

“Lewis’s race was in real contrast to Jenson’s, but no less brilliant for it. After starting 11th, he once again showed the grit, determination, passion and bravery that has made him one of the most exciting racing drivers in the world.

“In less than an hour this afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that he almost single-handedly debunked the much-touted recent theory that Formula 1 has become boring. On the contrary, he entertained millions of people around the world with a series of audacious and thrilling overtaking manoeuvres.

“While we concede that, with hindsight, it’s possible that we may have been better served by calling Lewis’s tyre strategy differently, we’re enormously encouraged by his never-give-up attitude and his ever-exciting talent.

“So we leave Albert Park hugely encouraged by the pace we were able to demonstrate, and we head to Malaysia keen to maintain that momentum.

“Finally, I also think it’s worth praising the extremely valuable contribution of ExxonMobil in this race: their engineers and chemists have done a fantastic job over the winter to provide us with a set of fuel and lubricants that really set the standard in Formula 1; their performance, efficiency and reliability played a crucial role in our victory today.”