GrandPrix-Cast China Review

GPCast logo, small Round 4 of the 2010 Formula One World Champion again ran in unpredictable conditions, with Jenson Button emerging the victor in a well-deserved McLaren One-Two. In this edition of the GP Cast the panel discuss the main talking points which arose from Shanghai and look towards the first European leg of the season

Alonso: Title fight begins in Barcelona

Fernando Alonso has declared that his bid for the 2010 world championship will start in Barcelona after a unpredictable start to his campaign.

Although Alonso started the season on a high, with victory in the opening round in Bahrain, he has since endured three troubled races – including a retirement in Malaysia.

However, the Spaniard believes that he can take alot of positives from the latest batch of ‘flyaway’ races and that they will help him attempt to get his title bid firmly on track.

“The championship always starts in the first race, but it’s true that it’s just a race to confirm the good sensations you’ve had during testing,” Alonso told reporters at a media event for personal sponsor Santander in Madrid.

“But it’s true that in Europe it is time to show who is going to fight for the title and who isn’t.

“The first races can be atypical races with changing weather all the time, so now in Europe it’s the moment of truth to show who is going to be in the title fight, and also for the teams to prove they can develop faster than their rivals. It’s the start of a nice fight.”

Although Alonso has admitted that he has been frustrated with some of his performances this season, he is delighted to once more have a chance to challenge for the title, after two years at Renault.

“There’s always frustration on Sunday afternoon when you don’t achieve all the points you should have scored, but from a more general perspective, after a week home, these four races have been very positive.” he said. “Being third in the championship, very few points away from the leader, I believe is a very good situation.”

“With the potential that we have, with the super team that I have, this is just the beginning and I have a real chance to fight for the world championship, something I couldn’t even think about last year after four races.

“I’m enjoying it again, and I’ve felt that bug from winning a race or winning the championship again, and that’s the most positive thing about the start to this year.”

Alonso also downplayed Ferrari’s reliability issues, adding: “The car is fine. For one reason or another we haven’t managed to score as many points as we wanted, but I think we are going to have a good car again in Barcelona. I’m not worried,”

“As for the engines, we have found the problems that we had. I know there have been things written about the valves and the air consumption system of the engine, which are completely untrue, as it usually happens.

“So we are quiet because we have found the problems and we’ll try to do the rest of the season with an engine that’s 100 per cent reliable.”

Alonso attended the media event on Monday to renew his personal sponsorship deal with Santander, where it was also announced that the Spanish financial giant has insured the his thumbs for five million euros each.

“Alonso’s thumbs are a symbol, as well as being essential for driving a Formula One car, in that they make a sign of victory and show that everything is under control and well protected,” Eurosport reports the bank as saying.

Schumacher to receive new Chassis

Michael Schumacher will be given a brand new chassis ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, as Mercedes GP attempts to do all they can to get the seven-times champion up to speed.

The German manufacturer has promised a raft of new modifications to its W01 for Barcelona, in a bid to move further towards to front and to allow Schumacher to get on to equal terms with his team-mate Nico Rosberg.

However, as well as new updates to his car, Schumacher will also enjoy a new chassis to use from Barcelona onwards, after damaging his original one.

“It’s not a new chassis per se, it’s a chassis we used in testing,” Brawn was quoted as saying by Reuters on Monday.

“The one he had got damaged during the first few races and we repaired it as best we could at the races. But now we are back at base we are going to re-introduce the test chassis and he will be using that in Barcelona.”

So far this season, Schumacher has been out outraced and outqualified by his younger team-mate, leading to many within the Formula One world to question his ability.

The new car will feature a longer wheelbase, which is hoped will be more suited to the German’s driving style.

Sutil not expecting F1 order to change

Adrian Sutil does not expect F1’s running order to change at the Spanish Grand Prix, despite a number of teams expected to introduce a wide range of new parts.

The Force India driver has made his best ever start to a Formula One campaign, as the Silverstone-based team has emerged as an established midfield runner which constantly challenges for a position in the third segment of qualifying as well as points.

However, Force India could find itself pushed back in Barcelona with a number of teams, such as Mercedes and Lotus, expected to introduce dramatic evolutions of their cars.

Despite this, Sutil remains confident that the improvements planned for the VJM03 will be enough to keep the team right on the heels of the front runners.

“We’ve got a few bits, but the car will be very good there I think, and the top 10 will be very similar to what we’ve seen in the last few races.” Sutil told the official Force India website.

“Nobody will be finding half a second in their car, because right now it’s really hard to improve the cars. Everybody is at a point where it’s hard to find every single tenth.”

Sutil also believes that the high-downforce profile of the Circuit De Catalunya will play into the hands of Red Bull Racing.

“There you just need downforce, so I think it’s a Red Bull circuit again,” he added. “You have a long straight, but if you have a quick car through the corners, it’s definitely a better way.”

Whitmarsh: Button’s start to 2010 unsurprising

Martin Whitmarsh says that he is not surprised by Jenson Button’s start to the 2010.

Following his switch to McLaren it was widely expected that Button would struggle to retain his world championship and would face an uphill struggle to get on terms with the pace of his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton.

However, the 30-year-old has defied critics so far this season and now leads the world championship, with two victories from four races.

Such a feat hasn’t surprised Whitmarsh, who is full of praise for Button’s efforts on the track and inside the team.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise – I think Jenson has done a fantastic job with the team,” the McLaren team principal told ITV F1.

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“He’s a mature world champion, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s had a lot of tough times in his career and he’s clearly learnt from it.

“How he has conducted himself in the team, how he works with Lewis, how he operates out on the track is fantastic.”

Although Button’s victories came in the midst of changeable weather conditions, Whitmarsh also moved to dismiss the claim that the British driver had been lucky.

“Here we are four races in, and he’s won two of them,” he continued.

“No one who’s watched those races could say anything other than that he thoroughly deserved to win them.

“They were ‘driver wins’ – races where the driver had to make the difference, and he did make the difference.”

Additionally, Whitmarsh heaped praise on the entire McLaren team for returning to Europe with a lead in both championships.

“To come away leading the championship after four races when not everything’s gone right shows we’ve got two great racing drivers and a strong team,” he said.

“It’s testament to the team and the drivers.

“In China in qualifying I think we had the second fastest car, I think we were still slower than Red Bull but we underperformed in qualifying and didn’t make it easy for ourselves.

“We don’t always get it right, but we make decisions and we get on with it.

“We’ve got two drivers who are great racers and they’ve made a massive contribution.”

Indianapolis eyes F1 return

The Indianapolis motor speedway may be about to make a surprise return to the Formula One calendar after former Indy chief Tony George and US promoter Zak Brown held talks with Bernie Ecclestone.

Indianapolis hosted the United States Grand Prix between 2000 and 2007, but was dropped after circuit bosses and Ecclestone failed to agree on the financial costs of holding the race.

However, it has emerged that a return could be on the cards with George and Brown having held discussions with Formula One’s teams and the commercial rights holder.

“The questions for any Formula 1 race are: Where do you have it and how do you raise the money?” Brown told the Indy Star.

“Indy’s got the venue part solved.

“If you can solve the finances, you could open the gates tomorrow and have a race.”

Speaking on the finances required to host the race, Brown also stated that the concerned parties would all have to contribute.

“It’s not a lot of money to come up with,” he added.

The news of a possible return to the Brickyard comes weeks after Bernie Ecclestone admitted that he was in talks with promoters to host a race in New York.

Schumacher’s comeback: the verdict so far

Michael Schumacher made an historic comeback to the sport of F1 this season, to race with the Silver Arrows Mercedes GP team. Here, forumula1.com assesses how he has done so far, what questions still remain, and crucially, whether the comeback will continue into the future.

Schumacher’s race and qualifying performances have been basically unsatisfactory, as he himself has admitted. He has been outqualified four times by his team-mate and a best finish of sixth, in Bahrain, would not have been what he envisaged after four races. Last weekend’s race in China was a particularly lacklustre result, as he qualified ninth and finished tenth.

There are some commentators who make the argument that he should not have come back. They look at Schumacher battling with Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso in Australia, failing to provide even token resistance to Sebastian Vettel in China and think about how the mighty are fallen. It is this more than anything else that gives Schumacher’s critics their ammunition – the Red Baron has lost his aura. Back in 2004, even up to his last year in 2006, he commanded a certain respect on the racetrack that today’s young guns simply do not show. They pay him lip service off-track, but on-track he is not what he was, and his rivals know it.

Moreover, up to the Chinese race where he admitted being frustrated by the results, he seemed bafflingly confident, as though he was working through the car issues and would suddenly become very competitive at a later date. Whether that confidence was bravado or not, the fact is that Schumacher is simply not at home in this Mercedes. The Ferrari he vacated in 2006 had been honed for years to suit his driving style and was designed with him in mind. Even if on occasion there were car balance issues or setup problems, Schumacher would drive round them. It never used to be the case that getting the power down on the exit of slow corners, as Schumi is struggling to do now, was such a problem.

Then there is the other side of the argument, that Schumacher will come good and that the detractors should have more faith. Such is most F1 fans’ memories of the great German that we still half-expect him to come charging through the field, sweeping all before him, and would not be unduly surprised if that happened next time out in Barcelona. Perhaps everyone has been underestimating him. He still has that age-old Schumacher confidence, and as much as some in the British press liked to call it arrogance, it was never misplaced before.

What’s more, there is no doubt he is still relatively close to the pace, and in the event that he was able to iron out the problems with the balance of the car, he would be on that pace. Yes, Rosberg is ahead, but not by much.

The simple fact of the matter is that Schumacher has entered a more competitive F1 environment than the one he left in 2006. Ushered out by Ferrari that year, Schumacher was beginning to have his hands full with a fully-fledged Fernando Alonso. Now, there are at least two others on the grid as talented as Alonso – Vettel and Hamilton – and a whole host of other top line drivers who are mind-numbingly quick and competitive. Button, Webber, Kubica, Rosberg, the list goes on. In terms of competition to Schumacher in his heyday, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen do not compare favourably to the modern-day chargers. Some have said that this era of F1 is a golden one in terms of driver talent, and Schumacher is finding that out to his cost.

So what will be the end product of this as yet inauspicious return to the track? It depends largely on how much effort the great man is willing and able to put in, to correct the car’s problems and find his own sweet spot. Many have little doubt that Schumacher is capable of doing that, but whether he has the stomach for it is another matter. How long it will take is another consideration – does Schumacher envisage another year, or two, or three? How much patience will Mercedes have?

The comeback is not as easy as it might have seemed, in a world championship-winning team. He will have to prove himself all over again and stamp his final claim to the mantle of all-time greatest that many believe is his. If he does not at least get the measure of Nico Rosberg, it will have been a sad and undignified end to competition, and may well besmirch his legacy.

Ferrari say F1 must be relevant to road cars

Ferrari have said that the sport of F1 must become more relevant to road car technology in order to survive in the 21st century.

Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa said he was conscious of the need for F1 to evolve, amid a continuing debate as to how to make the sport more sustainable.

“If F1 has to develop something helpful for real driving conditions, then the best solution is for an engine that is turbocharged,” Felisa told Autocar. “That is what we would support.

“It is the best solution for driving efficiency and utilisation of the engine in a positive way.”

The debate has included reference to a possible return for KERS, which, though expensive, is thought to be a positive step forward for the motoring industry as a whole.

Pirelli may yet supply tyres in 2011

Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli are rumoured to have entered the competition to supply tyres to Formula One for next season.

After Bridgestone announced their withdrawal on economic grounds, a number of potential suppliers have been mooted, including Avon-Cooper and ex-F1 tyre maker Michelin.

And following a board meeting in Milan yesterday, Pirelli are now thought to be interested, although they are reported to want an increase in tyre diameter and a clear business plan.

Pirelli’s chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera is quoted as saying by Milan daily Il Giornale that if those conditions can be met, Pirelli would “look into this [F1] world with greater attention”.

Haug says Schumacher is own biggest critic

Mercedes Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug has said that Michael Schumacher is his own biggest critic.

The German, speaking to the official F1 website, was defending his star driver after a series of underwhelming performances.

”We all know that Michael would be his first and foremost critic if he realized that this job is not for him anymore. But that’s not the case,” said Haug.

“Within the team, Michael is extremely constructive. I think at the moment he’s realizing how much he has missed all that. If you are a rock ‘n’ roll star you want to be on stage and not contemplating life from your sofa. This enthusiasm is firing up the whole team.”

F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, who joined Haug in the interview, added his views on the Mercedes team dynamic between Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. Rosberg has outqualified Schumacher in all four races so far this season.

“Nico is very talented and Michael was on holiday for three years. Ask me the same question after another two races. At the moment I would say, don’t underestimate Michael. Give him time to adapt to the new car and the new tyres. At the moment he’s something of a newbie who has to get accustomed to the trade again,” said Ecclestone.

The FOM chairman went on to say that Schumacher would win again in the future.

“Michael would have never returned had he not been convinced that he can do the job. He is not a tourist in the paddock – he’s here to win. And he will win again,” finished the Englishman.