Lauda: DRS overtaking wrong for F1

Niki Lauda has admitted he is no fan of the overtaking innovation ‘DRS’ that debuted in 2011. The system, which allows a chasing driver to move a flap in the rear wing and increase top speed when he is close to his rival, is set to be retained and even ramped up for next season.

The BBC reports that in Melbourne next March, for instance, there could be two DRS zones, while other zones – like at Valencia – will be extended.

The system was designed by a working group including McLaren’s technical director Paddy Lowe, who insists DRS was a good idea amid the long debate about tweaking the cars to boost overtaking.

“What’s great (is) at least we can move on from this debate of trying to change the aerodynamic characteristics of cars to try to improve overtaking,” he said. “We’ve found something much more authoritative, much cheaper, easier and more effective, and adjustable from race to race.”

Many purists, however, are unhappy, arguing that overtaking can now be too easy, has been devalued, while the spectacle of a driver successfully holding off his charging rival is diminished.

“You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth to a certain extent,” argues the FIA’s Charlie Whiting.

F1 great Lauda, the famous triple world champion of the 70s and 80s, told Austrian newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten that DRS “bothers me”.

“To see passing at the push of a button is fundamentally the wrong direction (for F1),” he insisted.

“The front man (the driver in front) is totally defenceless. I think from the sporting point of view it is not right.”

He also thinks DRS has proved unnecessary, with new supplier Pirelli’s heavily-degrading tyres credited for much of the success of the racing in 2011.

“This (Pirelli’s approach) is okay,” said television pundit Lauda, who is reportedly arguing with the German broadcaster RTL about the size of his fee for F1’s 2011 season.

“There is enough overtaking already because of the tyres, which often have to be taken right to the limit by the drivers,” he explained.

“And they pose the engineers with the task of making tyre-friendly tyres.”


Alonso: Mercedes among 2012 favourites

Fernando Alonso has named Mercedes as a dark horse for the 2012 season. Together at the German marque’s new works team since 2010, Michael Schumacher’s return to F1 has been the subject of much criticism while it has been said teammate Nico Rosberg could go his entire career without a win.

But Alonso, the lead driver at Ferrari, insists he does not underestimate the German duo, or the Ross Brawn-led Mercedes team, even though they were soundly beaten by Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari in 2011.

“In Formula 1, the car is always the most important,” Alonso is quoted by EFE news agency. “We know that Mercedes didn’t have a great year but we have to respect them. With a car capable of winning races, Rosberg and Michael are among the favourites.”

In fact, when contemplating the field of 2012, 30-year-old Alonso insists Schumacher – 43 next month – remains the reference for his rivals.

“I say (it’s) Schumacher, because we all respect a driver who has been champion seven times.

“He has always been very fast and there is nothing left for him to prove,” he added.


Fuhr: V6 F1 engines will still sound nice

Mercedes are sure F1 engines will still sound good when the regulations change significantly in 2014.

The German marque, whose F1 engines are designed and built in Northamptonshire, is believed to be imminently ready to fire up its first 1.6 litre turbocharged V6. But after the sound of F1 changed when the sport moved from normally-aspirated V10 to its current V8 engines in 2006, there have been fears the cars could sound comparatively tame when they are powered by turbo V6s in 2014.

Thomas Fuhr, managing director of Mercedes’ HighPerformanceEngines division, doesn’t think so. “With the limit of 15,000 rpm, the engines will have a great sound,” he is quoted by Italy’s Tuttosport. “With the six pipes going into the turbocharger I think the sound will be very nice.”


Vettel insists 2012 dominance not certain

Sebastian Vettel has baulked at claims he will almost certainly stroll to an historic third consecutive drivers’ title in 2012.

Some pundits think that, given the 24-year-old’s huge 122-point championship win over McLaren’s Jenson Button this year, it is almost inconceivable his and Red Bull’s advantage will be eroded in the 80 days until Melbourne.

“We will try (to win again),” the German agreed in an interview with France’s Auto Hebdo. “But the beauty of this sport is that before a new season, all the points counters are reset.

“It is up to Red Bull to build a competitive chassis and Renault to produce a powerful and reliable engine. There is no certainty; nothing is sure about this continuing.”

He said recently that his meteoric season was the result of hard work that must now continue.

“All year long (we were) pushing to keep the car at the level that it was,” said Vettel.

“McLaren were pushing massively and I think at the end we were pretty even. I don’t think that one car really had the edge.”

Briton Button, Vettel’s title runner-up, doesn’t agree with his rival’s last comment but he does think McLaren can mount a serious challenge next year.

“It hasn’t been perfect, Red Bull have been quicker than us, more consistent than us,” he said.

“All round it’s been a reasonable season. We’ve grown as a team together and I think that we have a very good base going into 2012,” added Button.

The key for McLaren, he thinks, is to have a winter unlike pre-2011, when the team abandoned a complex exhaust system in order to hurriedly copy Red Bull’s approach.

“It’s wrong to say we could have fought them if we had a better winter,” said the 2009 world champion. “We don’t know that.

“What we do know is that we didn’t have a very good winter. The guys did a great job of turning it around for the first race but obviously you lose a lot of preparation work,” said Button.


Maldonado: Williams ‘worst’ scenario for rookie in 2011

Pastor Maldonado is confident he will have a better second season in motorsport’s top flight.

With his Venezuelan backing, the 26-year-old made his grand prix debut as the reigning GP2 champion this year, but scored only one of Williams’ 5 points. He is staying with the famous British team in 2012.

“I trust the team because it is impossible to be worse than this year,” Maldonado told Brazil’s Totalrace. “I believe that was the worst position for a rookie (to be in), when nothing works, especially in the first year (as) you have to learn many things.

“Nevertheless, I defended myself well, even against Rubens (Barrichello). It certainly was a year of learning.”

Williams, indeed, had a disastrous season, finishing 36 points behind the next-worst team Toro Rosso and ahead only of the non-points scoring three newest teams.

“I’m sure we will improve,” said Maldonado, “we have worked really hard to grow as a team.”

A fundamental change for 2012 is the new technical boss Mike Coughlan, the former McLaren chief designer who was sacked a few years ago amid the ‘liegate’ scandal.

He replaces the McLaren-bound Sam Michael, Williams’ long-time technical director.

“I hope we have a better car, one that is more competitive so that we can always fight for points and higher positions,” said Maldonado.


Liuzzi: HRT seat uncertain for 2012

Vitantonio Liuzzi has acknowledged that he is looking into an uncertain F1 future despite possessing a contract for 2012.

The 30-year-old joined HRT last year before the Spanish team was sold by Jose Ramon Carabante to its current owners, Thesan Capital, and boss Colin Kolles was replaced by the former Minardi driver Luis Perez-Sala. Sala said before Christmas that HRT is in “advanced talks with several drivers” as the team considers the identity of Pedro de la Rosa’s 2012 teammate.

Liuzzi, however, insisted recently that he inked a “long term” contract in early 2011.

“It would have made no sense to sign with a team at this level on just a one year contract; you have to make it a project for the future”, he told Australian Motorsport News.

He now acknowledges that his future is in doubt.

“I have a contract to race next season with HRT but the agreement was concluded with the previous owner and now the future is uncertain,” Liuzzi conceded to Brazil’s Totalrace.


Marko was unhappy with Alguersuari in October

Sections of the Spanish media claim to have unearthed perhaps the true reason for Red Bull’s decision to drop Jaime Alguersuari.

The young Spaniard’s Toro Rosso teammate Sebastien Buemi has also been ousted so that the Faenza camp’s lineup will feature the fresher faces of Daniel Ricciardo and French rookie Jean-Eric Vergne next year. But the Spanish reports, including the ABC newspaper, have seized on a video that was recorded in the Toro Rosso pits during Saturday practice in Korea in mid October.

It depicts Alguersuari – in the presence of his boss Franz Tost – being told off by the implacable Dr Helmut Marko, the manager of the energy drink company’s driver programme.

ABC said it was “the day Alguersuari’s wings were cut”.

Marko is telling off Alguersuari, 21, not only for holding up senior team Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel on a flying lap but also for “not accepting” the rebuke. After Alguersuari hits back by enquiring sarcastically if he is supposed to give way to the other cars “on every single lap”, Marko turns to Tost and says: “That’s not acceptable.”


Todt: Domenicali in ‘eye of the storm’ at Ferrari

The top job at Ferrari is “the eye of the storm”, the fabled Italian team’s former boss Jean Todt has admitted. Todt, 65, is now the low-profile president of F1’s governing body, succeeded at Ferrari a few years ago by Stefano Domenicali.

Ferrari – the sport’s most famous team and a symbol of Italian national pride – intends to bounce back in 2012 to win its first drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen’s four years ago.

“Stefano’s role is the eye of the storm,” Todt, referring to the immense pressure of leading Ferrari, told Corriere della Sera newspaper on Wednesday. “I was also constantly the subject of criticism and I’m proud that in the end I made the decision about how I should retire after all the risks that I would be fired.”

He gives the example of 2011, with Ferrari insisting it now needs to take an aggressive new approach to next season.

“It was claimed that they did not have a competitive car but I don’t agree,” said Todt. “The Ferrari was not as good as the Red Bull but in any case it was still a good car.”

He also commented on Felipe Massa, the Brazilian driver signed by Todt to be Michael Schumacher’s teammate in 2006.

Massa, managed by Todt’s son Nicolas, has one year left on his current contract and is under huge pressure to keep his seat for 2013.

“Felipe was unable to adapt completely to the new Pirelli tyres,” said Jean Todt. “I think he’s still a good driver who will show that again. Alonso is the point of reference not just for him (Massa) but for everyone – and Felipe was three tenths away from him, not three seconds.”


Barrichello still waiting on news from Williams

Rubens Barrichello has revealed he is still waiting to know if he will race a twentieth consecutive F1 season in 2012. The British team has already confirmed the well-backed Pastor Maldonado for next season but is looking at its options for the other seat, which has been occupied by Brazilian veteran Barrichello for the past two years.

It emerged just before Christmas that Bruno Senna visited Williams’ Oxfordshire base, amid rumours Adrian Sutil is perhaps the favourite for the second race seat.

“Just came back from England,” Barrichello, 39, said on Twitter two days before Christmas. “Now some holidays and waiting for good news from Williams.”

F1’s longest-serving driver Barrichello, with a massive 326 grand prix weekends behind him, also told Brazil’s Totalrace: “I have no plans to stop. I really want to do twenty years in Formula One. Who knows whether a great team will have me and this thing will go on.

“The passion and the desire are still there, now for the rest but one way or another, I will be competing.”


Hamilton: Brown rice for Christmas lunch

McLaren’s race drivers are on strict diets as the British team plots a course to the top step of the podium in 2012. Even on Christmas Day, when much of the world indulges, Lewis Hamilton ate a protein shake for breakfast with dates and raisins, followed by beans with brown rice for lunch and fish for dinner.

“I sit at the table and I see everyone else having the biggest pile of pancakes, waffles and eggs and bacon and I’m just dying – it’s like a punishment for me,” the 2008 world champion told the British tabloid The Sun.

It’s a similar story for his teammate, Jenson Button.

“The team want me to be lighter than I actually should be – basically, I don’t eat carbohydrates, unless I’m training hard,” said the 2011 runner-up.

McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale confirmed the team’s obsession, as every gram under the mandatory 640kg minimum weight can be better positioned for handling and performance.

“The team wanted to change the drivers’ race suits during the season and add an extra logo,” he revealed. “That would have added 37 grams to the weight and I had a heated argument about it.

“We want the drivers to be as light as they can be, because that gives us more leeway with what we can put on the car.”