Heidfeld, Sutil, still hopeful for F1 future

Two well-known German drivers on Tuesday said they have not given up on F1.

2011 was Nick Heidfeld’s twelfth consecutive season on the grid, but the 34-year-old former Williams, BMW and Renault driver has been left without a seat for 2012. He will race at the fabled 24 hour Le Mans race this year but on Tuesday said he still hopes to be involved in F1.

“Of course I’ve been trying to get a seat,” Heidfeld said on Austrian television Servus TV, “but we all know that it’s not easy at the moment, with money playing a big role. I’ve been there for many years, it was a great time, but I would still like to be involved for a bit longer.”

Also forced onto the sidelines in 2012 is Adrian Sutil, the former Force India driver who has vowed to fight his new conviction for grievous bodily harm.

“The plan, very clearly, is Formula One,” he insisted on Tuesday. “This is a new situation for me, but I’m motivated. Maybe I am having to have a short break, but it could be over very quickly if any opportunities open up.

“I’m hopeful,” the 29-year-old admitted. “It’s always difficult to make plans in this business, but I would like to come back in 2013 with a very good team. It’s a shame for me that I will probably not be there at the start in Melbourne, but hopefully one way or another I will (be back) in the course of the year.”


FIA says no to top teams’ test plans

The FIA has stepped in to prevent Red Bull and Ferrari from modifying the end of their pre-season preparations for the 2012 season.

With the last Barcelona test scheduled for Thursday through Sunday this week, both top teams decided to shift their programmes by a day – meaning they would instead run between Friday and Monday. It is believed Ferrari wants more time to manufacturer new parts, while Red Bull is keen to run some components more privately.

But on Tuesday, Red Bull released its test schedule confirming it has “reverted back to its original testing dates” between Thursday and Sunday. Ferrari followed suit, explaining that the change is because of a “new clarification” of the testing rules “sent to the teams late yesterday evening”.

The FIA apparently told the teams that running on Monday 5 March is not allowed because it is too close to Melbourne.


Vergne: ‘Impossible’ to make friends in F1

Relations remain cool in the Toro Rosso garage, but rookie Jean-Eric Vergne is not expecting to be friends with any of his other rivals in 2012.

The Frenchman said recently that although he and Toro Rosso teammate Daniel Ricciardo may be fighting it out for a 2013 Red Bull seat, they need to work together to push the Faenza based team forwards this year. But outside the Toro Rosso garage, 21-year-old Vergne is not hoping to make friends in F1.

“With Daniel and I it’s going well, we’ve known each other for a long time,” he told the L’Equipe sports daily. “He is someone I get along well with and it’s a pleasure to work with (him).

“We can be friends, but otherwise it’s impossible to be friends with the F1 drivers — unless you know you will be always in first place with the best car. For me, it’s inconceivable to be friends with someone you want to beat.”


Top team or nothing for 2013 warns Webber

Mark Webber has warned he will quit F1 if he cannot find a top seat for 2013.

The 35-year-old Australian is the only prominent member of the leading Red Bull team who does not currently have a contract beyond this season. It is rumoured Dr Helmut Marko wants to replace him for 2013 with either Daniel Ricciardo or Jean-Eric Vergne, triggering rumours Webber could be a potential replacement for Felipe Massa at Ferrari.

“The only possibility is if Massa decides to leave Ferrari, or Ferrari decides to leave Massa. There could maybe be an opening there,” 1980 world champion Alan Jones told GMM.

But if Red Bull and Ferrari both pass up Webber, his options for 2013 appear limited.

“I’d need something competitive,” Webber told the Australian news agency AAP on Tuesday.

He warned that he would not consider sliding down the grid to a less competitive team.

“It’s pretty clear that I’ve earned my stripes on the way through so I won’t be doing that on the other side — going the other way,” said Webber. “Being competitive, being at the front, is certainly a big, big factor of me staying very hungry and motivated.”

And so hungry is the 2011 Brazilian grand prix winner that, according to F1’s official website, the already-lean and tall Webber has lost weight ahead of this season.

“I am no light version – I’ve just lost some kilos, that’s all,” he confirmed.


Exhausts ‘the key’ to tech success in 2012

As was the case in 2011, the exhausts look set to remain the key to technical success this season.

“I don’t know if it’s the key,” said Sauber’s Sergio Perez, “but of course the exhaust is the area of greatest potential for improvement. “That’s where we are focusing the most time in this preseason,” he is quoted by Spain’s Marca newspaper.

After the deliberate and off-throttle blowing of exhaust gases for aerodynamic effect was banned after 2011, teams are still looking for the optimum solution for the new set of rules.

“The cars this year are very difficult to drive,” Fernando Alonso is quoted as saying, amid reports Ferrari ended the recent Jerez and Barcelona tests with vastly different positions for the exhaust exits.

When asked about it, the Spaniard said it was an usual question for the media to pose.

“I can only say that we are continuing to work on the best configuration of the car for Melbourne,” he said this week.

Marca, meanwhile, said McLaren has three pre-set exhaust outlet positions for possible use in 2012, while Red Bull has also been experimenting this winter.


UK taxman taking close look at Ecclestone

The British government has reportedly launched a detailed investigation into Bernie Ecclestone’s tax affairs.

Last year, amid speculation the Gerhard Gribkowsky corruption probe had piqued the interest of the UK’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department, a spokesman said it was ensuring “everyone pays the right tax under the law”. It was reported that the government would pay particular interest to the F1 chief executive’s offshore family trust, which he insists is outside his control.

The Daily Mail newspaper now reports that, on the basis of the informal investigation, an official probe could be launched that might cost Ecclestone billions in tax.

“HMRC has put a team of investigators on Bernie Ecclestone to look into his involvement in the trust and exactly how much he has to do with it,” an official is quoted as saying. “They are now in the process of making enquiries and researching every minor detail as they look to build a case. There is movement. They have opened a book.”

Ecclestone played down the report.

“I have not received any correspondence from HMRC and don’t anticipate any. There is no reason for it. As far as I am concerned, if they write to us, we will reply, but I hope I don’t get a knock at the door in the night.

“I received a letter from HMRC in 2008 that everything was ok in relation to the trust. It would be silly to check again when they have already said everything was in good order.”

HMRC declined to officially comment.


Zetsche contemplating new Schumacher contract

Dieter Zetsche has admitted it is possible Michael Schumacher will still be a Mercedes driver in 2013.

At the end of his initial three-year F1 comeback contract, the 43-year-old’s existing deal runs out this season. There has been speculation Mercedes has offered him a new two-year contract for 2013 and 2014.

“There is no contract at the moment,” team boss Ross Brawn was quoted on Sunday by the Daily Star, “but we are open minded.”

Zetsche, the chairman of German marque Mercedes’ parent Daimler, agrees: “He is still the icon of motor racing. If his performance and his interest is still there, then a continuation would be an absolutely attractive possibility,” he told this week’s Sport Bild, to be published on Wednesday.

Schumacher has said there is no timetable for any talks, but Zetsche revealed: “We will get together during the season and see what the interest is on both sides.”

1980 world champion Alan Jones told GMM last week that, if he was running the Mercedes team, there are also purely financial reasons to re-sign Schumacher.

“If you pay him ten million then most likely he would bring in 20 million,” said the Australian, “because of who he is and what he has done in his career.”


‘Game on’ as McLaren eyes title glory in 2012

Red Bull is the obvious favourite while Ferrari scrabbles to understand its ‘complex car’ and Mercedes admits it is not yet ready to win.

The sounds emanating from the McLaren camp, in contrast, are almost entirely positive. Compared to last winter, the difference is stark, as team boss Martin Whitmarsh explains: “We were too bold and the car was neither competitive or reliable,” he is quoted by El Pais newspaper.

“What we did, turning it around, was a miracle because we changed the rear of the car completely. We almost didn’t believe it because we found a second, if not a second and a half.”

After his own tumultuous 2011, Lewis Hamilton has also been given reason to smile, recalling: “Last year we struggled to do 30 laps a day.

“Now we’re doing 120, and honestly I can’t remember the last time we did,” said the 2008 world champion. “We are much more comfortable and confident about fighting with any of the other teams,” added Hamilton. “I’m really surprised with how the car behaves in the fast corners.

“I think the base is much better than what we had last year, especially in that area.”

His teammate Jenson Button is also sounding confident, targeting at least a podium in Melbourne next month.

“If we are there or thereabouts at the start of the season then it’s 100 per cent game on for the title,” he is quoted by the Mirror.


Alonso: No reason to believe new Ferrari won’t be quick

Fernando Alonso has revealed he would be happy even if he fails to add a third world championship to his tally.

The Spaniard already has two titles in his pocket from his Renault days, and is now aiming for a third ahead of his third consecutive season with Ferrari. But the F2012 has not looked a world-beater in preseason testing, and Alonso told Spanish reporters at a sponsor event this week: “If I didn’t win another championship, I would go out (of Formula One) with my head held high.

“At least I have won already, while some others leave without winning a single race,” he is quoted by Marca sports newspaper from the Jarama circuit.

At the same time, he scolded any analysis that is already writing off Ferrari for 2012.

“There has been a tendency, especially from the media, to say that the car is bad and we are not having a good winter, but they don’t understand. We are very calm because the car is very complex and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be quick.

“The thing that is costing all of us is to get back the grip lost at the rear of the car by the blown diffusers ban, but I think it will be recovered soon,” added Alonso.

This week, in Barcelona, the last test before Melbourne will begin, but Alonso denies that the pecking-order is imminently set to emerge.

“Australia is a strange race because it’s a different circuit, so we will begin to see things from the third race I think,” he said, referring to China in April.

“What is important, if we cannot win immediately, is that no driver wins all three or four.”

But Alonso insisted that even a rough estimate of the events in Melbourne and beyond is impossible to make now.

“At the moment the conclusions are zero – super-zero,” he said. “Hopefully we will not be seventh, and everything else is guesswork. It is assumed that Red Bull will not be stuck in Q2 and that McLaren and Mercedes will not be far away, but these are only assumptions.

“Testing in Barcelona for us ended better than it started, but it’s not as though we were in a tunnel and now we see the light. Our team is working hard and well.”


Williams: It was a mistake to let Newey go

Sir Frank Williams has admitted it was a mistake to let F1’s most respected engineer Adrian Newey leave his beleaguered team more than a decade ago.

Aerodynamic specialist and Briton Newey, who has since built championship-winning cars for McLaren and Red Bull, left Williams in 1997 – the year Jacques Villeneuve won the Grove based team’s last title. Williams, a woeful ninth in the constructors’ standings last year, has not won a race since 2004.

“He (Newey) wanted some shares that I didn’t want to give to him at the time,” Williams told F1 Racing magazine. “(That) was arguably, with hindsight, a mistake.

Williams, 69, also admitted that last year’s Cosworth-powered car was not good enough, triggering a restructuring of the famous team and a switch to Renault engines.

“It (the FW33) was deficient in most of the areas that matter, but we were completely lacking in the most important one of all, which is aero,” he said. “And probably a bit of horsepower. It just wasn’t a quick car.”

But Williams admitted that there is one element his team will continue to lack in 2012.

“There’s only one of him,” he said, referring to Newey. “Adrian is quite a remarkable individual.”