Bahrain needs healing? F1 needs to rethink

This evening it has been confirmed that Bahrain will not now play host to the opening race of the 2011 calendar, due to ongoing political strife in the island kingdom.

The F1 circus, led by Bernie Ecclestone, had the decision made for them by the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, who issued the following statement:

“At the present time the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain.”

“Although Bernie Ecclestone had graciously made clear that a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain’s to make and was not yet required, we felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain’s Formula 1 race to a later date.

“I would like to extend my personal gratitude to Bernie Ecclestone for his support and understanding.

“After the events of the past week, our nation’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together; reminding the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.”

Bernie Ecclestone then provided his own statement:

“It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race, we wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country.

“The hospitality and warmth of the people of Bahrain is a hallmark of the race there, as anyone who has been at a Bahrain Grand Prix will testify. We look forward to being back in Bahrain soon.”

And finally, Renault team boss Eric Boullier said he supported the decision too.

“The recent situation in Bahrain has been very difficult for the country. We feel the decision taken by the Crown Prince is wise and we fully support it,” he said.

“The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been welcomed with enthusiasm from the Bahraini people, and we’re looking forward to going back there when they have healed their country.”

There can be absolutely no doubt that going to Bahrain would have been the wrong decision at this pivotal point in the country’s history. But it doesn’t seem altogether clear that Ecclestone and Boullier understand why. Going there would not be bad because of the need for Bahrain to be ‘healed’, as they both parroted from the Crown Prince’s statement. Nor would it be unthinkable because of the prospect of terrorist attack, which, although doubtless a horrific possibility, is one that might unfortunately be envisaged in many places that F1 visits.

No, going to Bahrain would have been terrible in 2011 because it would have lent credibility to a government that is now an unwanted relic of the old way of doing things in the Middle East. It is said repeatedly that the majority Shia population of the tiny kingdom is discriminated against when it comes to all manner of things, not least jobs. It is certainly true that the Sunni minority, which rule the country, are the richer. And what is worst of all, six people were killed by the government’s forces last week, and ten more have mysteriously disappeared.

This is a time of great change in the Middle East. Pro-democracy movements are rising and running riot from North West Africa across. Sport’s significance pales when compared to the struggle the people of the region are undertaking. And it is high time F1’s powers-that-be acknowledged that the parlour games they play with the old, rich elite are an anachronism. Their patronising, flaccid agreement that a ‘healing’ process is probably best sounds wet at best. At worst, it sits very uncomfortably compared to the magnitude of events.

Bahrain GP Postponed

Bahrain will not be hosting the opening race of the 2011 F1 season.

Following unrest in the country the Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have announced that the country will not be hosting the Formula One race in March. As yet, it is unclear as to what date the race will be moved to.

“We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest,” Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa said.

“Bahrain’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together to remind the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.”

This news means that Australia will now be opening the 2011 Formula One season on the 27th March.

Heidfeld confirmed as Kubica stand-in

GP Lotus-Renault have today confirmed that veteran German Nick Heidfeld will stand in for the injured Robert Kubica, starting from next week’s test session at the Circuit de Catalunya. He will race alongside Vitaly Petrov when the season gets underway in Bahrain on 13th March.

“I would have liked to come back to Formula One in different circumstances,” said the German. “But I’m proud to have been given this chance. Everything has happened so quickly, but I’ve been very impressed by what I have seen so far in terms of the facilities and the dedication of the people at Enstone.”

Heidfeld enjoyed an impressive first test session with the team last week, edging out Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari to record the fastest time for the session, whilst still coming to grips with the car. He could not have asked for a better way to stake his claim for the seat, with his rival and for the seat, Lotus-Renault third driver Bruno Senna putting in an underwhelming performance the following day.

Heidfeld quickly got used to working with the team with Team Principal Eric Boullier impressed at Heidfeld’s ability to clearly communicate and provide feedback. This is perhaps what ultimately landed the deal for Heidfeld, with Boullier today adding, “We gave Nick a chance in Jerez last week and he really impressed us. He’s quick, experienced and is strong technically with his feedback and understanding of the car. We always said that the priority was to have an experienced driver in the car and we feel he is the ideal man for the job. We are pleased to welcome Nick to the team and look forward to a strong start to the season with him and Vitaly in Bahrain.”

The team also took the opportunity to announce their plans for the upcoming Barcelona test session, posting the driving schedule on their website. On Friday Morning Petrov and Heidfeld will both man the cockpit for pit-stop practice. In the afternoon Petrov will return to cock-pit. He will also drive for the team on Sunday, with Heidfeld in the car for the whole of Saturday and Monday.

I’m sure all of us at congratulate Heidfeld on his new position, and we’ll be keenly discussing his progress on our forums!

Ecclestone: Fears over Bahrain GP

Following anti-government protests in Bahrain, Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that he is concerned that protesters may target the first race of the 2011 F1 season.

“He (The Crown Prince of Bahrain) is a bit busy, as you can imagine, so I don’t know yet exactly what is going on,” Ecclestone told The Telegraph newspaper.

“The danger is obvious isn’t it? If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition it would be bloody easy, wouldn’t it?”

“You start making a problem on the start grid in Bahrain and it would get worldwide coverage.”

Ecclestone was then asked if he thought there was any possibility that the race would have to be cancelled. “I have no idea,” he replied. “It’s hard to establish exactly what is going on. We’re watching events closely. We’ll rely on what they think the right thing to do is.”

F1 Owners CVC Investigate Bribe Claims

Sky News is reporting that Formula One owners CVC have launched a probe into allegedly corrupt payments relating to their sale five years ago.

Accountants Ernst & Young and the law firm Frshfields Bruckhaus Deringer are said to have been appointed to investigate CVC’s F1 takeover in 2006.

This news follows the arrest of Gerhard Gribhowsky on January 5th over an alleged payment of $50 million for undervaluing shares in Delta Topco subsidiary SLEC which were sold by BayernLB to CVC Capital Partners. It is understood that Gribhowsky remains in jail in Munich awaiting trial.

Pirelli Confirms Tyre Compounds

Tyre manufacturer Pirelli has confirmed the tyre compounds that will be used for the first four races of the F1 season.

“The hard tyre will be the prime tyre, whereas the soft will be the option,” a Pirelli statement read. “This decision has been made in accordance with the track characteristics in the Middle and Far East, which offer high grip and a wide variety of speeds and corners, as well as ambient and track temperatures that are likely to be high.

“The hard tyre offers an excellent balance between performance and durability in the tough conditions of the first four flyaway races. However, the soft tyre will give extra speed at the expense of resistance, which will make for some fascinating strategies as the teams compete with their new cars for the first time. Pirelli’s aim is to have two pit stops at every race, helping to increase the spectacle.”

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented, “The valuable data that we’ve collected from both official and private testing has shown us that our nomination of hard and soft tyres is the best way forward for both the drivers and the spectators, so we look forward now to a successful Grand Prix debut and a great show in the Middle and Far East over the next four races.

“We’ve enjoyed great collaboration with the teams so far, and with the nominated compounds for the next four races now known, I am sure that this will help to focus their development for the start of the season.”

It is believed that Pirelli will be modifying their super-soft and soft tyre compounds ahead of this week’s test in Barcelona to address concerns over tyre degradation.

Williams F1 Appoints Pelham Bell Pottinger

Williams F1 has appointed Pelham Bell Pottinger to handle financial and corporate communications around the launch of its initial public offering and listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

Williams Grand Prix Holdings, owner of the AT&T Williams team, revealed on the 4th February that they will be floating on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

Pelham Bell Pottinger have been appointed to help advise the company and oversee the initial transaction. They will also be handling investor relations and corporate communications.

No new capital needs to be raised. However the move will enable shareholders to monetise part of their shareholdings. The offering and listing are part of a plan which will hopefully help the group with development as well as raising its profile and providing it with a more flexible structure.

Chandhok Secures Lotus Tests

Karun Chandhok will be testing for Team Lotus this week. Chandhok was present at the Valencia test sessions last week and will now be spending time in the car at the Jerez test session which begins tomorrow. It is understood that Chandhok will also be behind the wheel of the Lotus at the third round of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

“We would like him to be reserve driver but we’ve got to see whether it all works out, that’s the plan,” team principal Tony Fernandes explained to Reuters.

“He is going to get a couple of slots in the testing now in Jerez and Barcelona, and then we’ll decide after that.

“Mike [Gascoyne] and Riad [Asmat] and everyone else feel he’s the right guy to add value to the team.”

So who should replace Robert Kubica this season?

“Bruno Senna could not really be expected to shine last season in the HRT, but he did not really even glow a bit”’s Hugh Podmore analyses the state of play at Renault

After his terrible crash and hand injury sustained in a rally last Sunday, Robert Kubica will not race in the upcoming F1 season. It is a possibility, albeit a pessimistic prognosis, that he will never race an F1 car again, which is sincerely to be prayed against. But how will Renault miss the Pole, then, and who could possibly replace him?

It is a true tragedy that F1 2011 will be deprived of the presence of Robert Kubica. He is a gentleman and a star, and further to that a true racer. He finds himself in the exalted company of Jim Clark in that they both were struck down while racing something other than an F1 car: Kubica a rally car, and Clark when he was tragically killed in an F2 race at Hockenheim in 1968. The comparison is not drawn flippantly, but rather to illustrate that both loved the essence of racing: a machine pushed to its limits and the rush of competition. Whenever, and wherever.

Moreover, Kubica took that Renault team places last year. When he arrived they were rudderless; not only had they lost their talisman Fernando Alonso, but morale was hardly bolstered by the umming and ahhing of their parent car company over its continued involvement in the sport. Once Genii had arrived, Kubica was the icing on the cake, the new star on the block. Although James Allison and the technical team must take their share of the credit for what was a nice runner in the R30, there are precious few other hands in which it would have achieved what it did. Take, for example, the podium in Monaco, or the seven consecutive races early-mid season when he never finished lower than eighth. Consistency towards the end of the season showed that Renault had what it took to develop a car, too. You’d have to be a brave man to bet that it was Vitaly Petrov doing the developing.

What is tremendously sad is that the R31, which topped the timesheets on the last day of the test in Valencia last week and (whisper it softly) is rumoured to be actually pretty good, is partly the product of all Kubica’s hard work, and he will probably not now get to race it.

So despite what should be an improved Russian on the other side of the garage, there still remains the thorny
issue of who should occupy the Pole’s seat for what we all hope should be just this season. The contenders, as writes, are as follows. Within the team already there is Bruno Senna, Romain Grosjean, Fairuz Fauzy, Jan Charouz or Ho Pin Tung. Fauzy, Charouz and Tung can readily be discarded as realistic possibilities, given their relative lack of experience. This leaves Senna or Grosjean.

Bruno Senna could not really be expected to shine last season in the HRT, but he did not really even glow a bit. He was outdone by most of his team mates (Chandhok, Klien). He also does not have much experience of developing a car, which it would be too much to ask Petrov to do on his own. But Senna has two big positives: good GP2 speed which might indicate he deserves half a chance in a decent car, and a name that would look fantastic on that black and gold livery that his uncle helped make so famous. That is perhaps not the first concern of Eric Boullier, the man who will make the call, but it’s a good bet a thousand fans would like to see it for sentimental reasons.

Romain Grosjean also has some detractors, not least those who watched him crash into Jenson Button at Spa in 2009. He didn’t look that competent, frankly, even though he was replacing Nelson Piquet Jr. But on the other hand, he was very young, then, and…he did look exciting in the lower formulae, so it may be that he deserves another chance.

On balance, Senna would have to be the better option from those two, simply because he drove an F1 car last year rather than two years ago. But hang on! There’s another two in the mix, as reported tonight by Autosport. Force India refugee Tonio Liuzzi and Nick Heidfeld are the names thought to be on Boullier’s lips. Liuzzi has never excelled himself in any car and there is no particular reason to believe why he would now. The same goes for Nick Heidfeld. Both could be assigned the unfortunate soubriquet of ‘journeyman’. If the car’s as competitive as it is rumoured to be, though, either of them could make their critics look very silly.

So in sum, it is a highly unsatisfactory situation for all concerned. If I were Boullier, Senna would get the call, but there may be an un-team principal-like sentimentality in my decision. Whoever gets the nod, there can be no doubt that they will have to go about their work twice as well as they would have done before. Why? Because it’s a tragedy for everyone that Robert Kubica is not in that car, and on the grid in 2011. We have been deprived.

Kubica accident ‘horrifying’ – rally competitor

A competitor of Robert Kubica’s on the Ronde di Andora rally on which the Pole was severely injured has described the ‘horrifying’ scene when he arrived at the crash.

Mauro Moreno, who was next down the stage and a minute behind Kubica, was first to arrive on the scene and told Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport of his emotions.

“It was a horrifying view. I called him [Kubica] by name a couple of times, but he didn’t reply,” he said.

“The steel blade was coming out of the hatchback. His co-driver signalled to me he had no problems so I asked Robert if he was ok too. But that was useless because he was in a state of semi-unconsciousness and he wouldn’t talk.”

Kubica was eventually cut out of the wreckage by a fire crew, but his co-driver Jakub Gerber also told of the delay before the ailing Pole could be rescued.

“The ambulance arrived immediately and then came the firemen. They took over half an hour to pull him out,” said Gerber.

“The first crew didn’t have the shears so they had to wait for another crew. Then the helicopter couldn’t land in that spot, so Robert had to be moved and more time was lost.”

Gerber also hinted that the crash had been down to driver error rather than a mechanical failure.

Asked whether he ascribed the crash to human error, Gerber replied: “In a competition you try to go as quickly as possible. Robert is the type of person that thinks hard, always looks a step ahead, he’s precise, fast and clean. A complete driver.”