Lotus is ready to return to the track, after a chassis flaw caused the cancellation of the new E20’s running last week.
Technical director James Allison on Wednesday finally confirmed reports that the problem was with the front suspension mounting. He said the Enstone factory has been a hive of activity as a redesign took place with just one test and less than a month to go until the 2012 season opener.
“It’s been an intense few days,” said Allison, “but I have to say that everybody has completed their tasks in tremendous fashion. “We designed the new parts, manufactured them, and fitted them to the chassis. We then completed the necessary tests satisfactorily and the chassis left for Spain.”
There had been reports the problem was caused by Lotus trying to save weight with innovative carbon techniques, but Allison said the redesigned car is only 1 kilogram heavier.
“It won’t have any significant impact on handling or performance,” he said.
Bernie Ecclestone on Wednesday warned that F1 could race away from Melbourne after 2015. The Albert Park event has a contract until then, but the F1 chief executive is pushing hard for the Australian organisers to agree to stage a night race.
“After then (2015), we really don’t know,” the 81-year-old Briton told the Melbourne newspaper The Age. “If we were to have a divorce from our friends in Melbourne we would probably be walking away from Australia. Because I can’t see how Adelaide could make it happen, or anywhere else, if Melbourne can’t.
“The race itself, from our point of view, is probably the least viable of all the races we have.”
The Australian grand prix is also controversial locally, with its millions funded mainly by state taxpayers. Ecclestone hinted he might be prepared to cut the race fee if organisers agree to stage the race at night, providing a more suitable television slot back in Europe.
“We would have a look, maybe we could help subsidise that a little bit,” he is quoted by the Herald Sun.
He also told Australian reporters he will “probably not” attend next month’s season opener.
Rubens Barrichello will announce on Thursday he has agreed a deal to switch to Indycar racing in 2012.
That is the claim of the well-connected O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, reporting that the formula one veteran has secured $3 million in sponsorship backing to secure the seat.
The report said that after 19 consecutive seasons in F1, Barrichello will drive for his close friend and countryman Tony Kanaan’s Indycar employer KV, owned by Jimmy Vasser.
Estado said 39-year-old Barrichello’s sponsor, BMC Brasil Maquinas, offered $3.5 million in backing to Williams in 2012, but the British team accepted the more lucrative sponsorship brought by Barrichello’s fellow Brazilian Bruno Senna.
Fernando Alonso has ruled out ever becoming a ‘pay-driver’ in F1. The Spaniard, a two-time world champion and now entering his third consecutive season with Ferrari, is believed to be the sport’s current highest earner.
But recent economic conditions have seen retainers become lower throughout the grid, while seasoned drivers like Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil have been left without seats as ‘pay-drivers’ gain the upper hand. Alonso, however, vows to never become one.
“My family and I made many sacrifices for me to race, from the age of three,” he is quoted by El Periodico newspaper. “When I started, I knew that either I won or I went back to school. I will never be a paying driver.
“If I had to pay to race, I wouldn’t race – it’s unthinkable.”
As for his and Ferrari’s prospects for 2012, the 30-year-old answered: “I know that some people are saying we start with a disadvantage compared to Red Bull, McLaren or Mercedes, but we will only really see in Melbourne.”
Mercedes is not targeting a real tilt at the world championship until 2014.
Germany’s DPA news agency quotes motor sport director Norbert Haug as saying that, after finishing fourth in the constructors’ standings in 2010 and 2011, the leap to first place is not possible in a single step.
“You don’t just jump from fourth to first, so we want to do the countdown: 4, 3, 2, 1,” he is quoted as saying.
By that logic, Mercedes wants to break into the top three this year, challenge for the title in 2013, and emerge with the championship trophy in 2014. Indeed, when asked if Mercedes has a winning car, team boss Ross Brawn answered: “Not yet. We have made a big step forward in the past twelve months, but still have plenty to do.”
Haug, meanwhile, was coy when asked about Mercedes’ reported ‘W-duct’ front wing innovation on its new W03 car.
“I’ve read about it in the newspaper,” he told Die Welt newspaper, “and if we had such a part, we would test it first.”
On Mercedes’ broader ambitions, Haug added: “Our engine is said to be the best, our Kers is said to be the best, and now we want to have the best car too.”
Race strategy looks set for a major shakeup in 2012, as it emerges the FIA intends to significantly reduce the pitlane speed limit.
The latest edition of Italian magazine Autosprint reports that, ahead of the forthcoming 2012 season, the in-race limit will drop from 100kph to just 60kph throughout the grand prix calendar.
The 2012 rules currently state that the race limit is 100kph, but that the speed “may be amended by the stewards following a recommendation from the FIA F1 safety delegate”.
Autosprint said FIA president Jean Todt made the decision after reviewing the pit speed limits of other series, including Le Mans, GT1 and Nascar.
The change, causing visits to the pits to take considerably longer than previously, could have a major impact on race strategy this year, the magazine concluded.
Williams shareholder Toto Wolff has clarified that Alex Wurz’s new role is not a driving one.
Austrian Wurz, a former Williams race and test driver and currently a Le Mans racer for Toyota, has been drafted in by the Oxfordshire based team to mentor 2012 drivers Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna and Valtteri Bottas. On Servus TV, fellow Austrian Wolff admitted it was his idea to bring in his countryman to Williams.
“We have three young drivers, we must not forget Valtteri,” Wolff said. “Pastor has been in F1 for a year and Bruno has not really been given the chance to show his skills.”
But that is where Wurz’s involvement will end, despite Wolff admitting that from a “purely emotional and personal” perspective, it would be nice to see the Austrian return to the grid should Maldonado and Senna be unable to race in 2012.
He clarified: “But I think in that case we would slot in Valtteri.”
Nico Rosberg has revealed that his famous father was adamant he should stick with Mercedes for the future.
Last year, amid rumours Ferrari was considering dropping Felipe Massa, paddock banter said Rosberg was the main contender to be Fernando Alonso’s next teammate. But Keke Rosberg, the 1982 world champion and the highly rated Mercedes driver’s father, was dead against the Ferrari move.
“He was just beside himself, saying that I should stay (at Mercedes) 110 per cent,” 26-year-old Rosberg is quoted by Sport Bild. “At the same time, I was also quite certain that Mercedes is the best place for me.”
But Rosberg admits that a lot of his Monaco-domiciled friends are keen Ferrari supporters.
“Some of the more patriotic of them were a little upset when I extended my contract,” he revealed, “but I really believe in this project.”
Rosberg said his goal for 2012 is more than three podiums, therefore beating his 2010 tally.
“That would be a great step on the way to the title, which is what we want to be fighting for in the coming years,” he said.
According to former F1 driver alex Wurz, Red Bull are still F1’s front runners with McLaren just behind. The Austrian driver returns to the Formula One paddock this season as a driver mentor with Williams.
The Austrian kicked off his duties at the Barcelona test recently, where he drew an initial impression of the likely pecking order for this season.
“Red Bull is still on top,” he told the Sportwoche magazine, “but not as superior as they were in 2011. That it’s McLaren just behind them is remarkable, because they’ve been too slow for the start of a season for many years,” added Wurz, predicting a close battle between the two rivals.
Le Mans driver Wurz, 38, sees Mercedes as the third force in 2012: “They’ve made a step forward,” he said, adding that Ferrari comes next.
Behind Ferrari, he says, are Williams, Lotus and Force India.
Referring to Vijay Mallya’s outfit, Wurz says: “They are really fast and, for me, they really could be the unknown quantity that could be a surprise.”
Toro Rosso and Sauber have been setting some good pre-season laptimes, but Wurz thinks both teams “have some problems”.
Formula One looks set to prevent the cars of 2013 from being as ‘ugly’ as this season’s field.
Pirelli chief Paul Hembery recently called the 2012 generation, mainly featuring an awkward ‘step’ between the front of the monocoque and the nose, as “pig ugly”. The odd look is the result of a compromise reached after the FIA decided to lower the tip of the nose in the name of safety.
It emerges that it was Red Bull – whose Adrian Newey pioneered the high chassis underside philosophy – who pushed for the monocoque height to remain the same as 2011, ostensibly so that small teams like sister squad Toro Rosso did not have to come up with entirely new monocoque and front suspension designs.
World champion Sebastian Vettel admits that the 2012 outcome “doesn’t look that nice”. But he told Britain’s Sun newspaper: “For next year’s cars, the steps will be gone.”
Former grand prix driver Christian Danner said the current solution is “ghastly”. “I think it will be fixed for next year,” he told Austrian television Servus TV.
Agreed Nick Heidfeld: “Yes, I am sure the FIA will make a few changes next year so there’s not such a huge hump. On the other hand, it’s like a few years ago when the rear and front wings were changed; it doesn’t look quite so bad once you get used to it.
“Of course, you’d always prefer something that looks nicer.”