Pirelli signs Alguersuari as test driver

F1 tyre supplier Pirelli on Friday announced that Jaime Alguersuari has been signed as a test driver.

The former Toro Rosso driver was left without a role for the 2012 season, so he signed on as a co-commentator for British radio as a means of staying in the paddock full-time. The 22-year-old Spaniard will join Pirelli’s existing test driver Lucas di Grassi, the former Virgin driver, and the pair will also develop tyres for GP2.

Pirelli said Alguersuari will “bring his knowledge of the most current generation of Formula One machinery”.

He and di Grassi will test Pirelli’s newly-acquired 2010 Renault car at Jerez, Spa, Monza and Barcelona between May and September.

“I have a huge desire to get behind the wheel of a formula one car again and return to competition, so this is a brilliant chance for me,” said Alguersuari.


No French GP return announcement – yet

New media reports have contradicted claims French PM Francois Fillon will on Friday announce the country’s 2013 return to the F1 calendar.

Le Parisien newspaper on Thursday said Fillon’s visit to the Paul Ricard circuit on Friday is to confirm the successful end to long negotiations to revive the French grand prix. Those negotiations were for Paul Ricard to annually alternate a race date with Belgium’s fabled Spa Francorchamps. But the French-language RMC insists that Belgium is “not ready for the alternation”.

“If France has received a contract to organise a grand prix every other year, this is not the case for the Belgian promoters, who are still waiting for the document to send to the government of Wallonia,” the report read.

RMC said the hold-up could be because Spa is having trouble paying its sanctioning fee for this year’s race date in September. The French magazine Sport-Auto agrees, insisting that Fillon “will not announce the return of the grand prix de France on Friday”.

“The prime minister will travel to the (Paul Ricard) circuit,” an official close to Fillon is quoted as saying by AFP news agency, but Fillon “will not announce the return of the grand prix to the calendar in 2013”.

The official, however, said Bernie Ecclestone as approved “in principle” France’s presence on the calendar every other year, beginning in 2013.

But “It (the alternation) will not necessarily be with Belgium,” the report added.

In an interview to be published by the Nice-Matin newspaper on Friday, Fillon is quoted as saying a grand prix is crucial to France.

“Bernie Ecclestone has just sent us a draft contract,” said the prime minister, “which is the result of negotiations that began several months ago. We now have a concrete basis for discussions.”


Sauber undecided on copying Mercedes F-duct

Sauber has revealed it cannot afford to simply jump in and copy Mercedes’ innovative F-duct solution. The small Swiss team had almost winning race pace in Malaysia last weekend even without the extra straight-line speed that would be provided by a system along the lines of Mercedes’ DRS-complimenting concept.

Despite their complaints about the legality of the system, there is little doubt the big-budget teams will be working frantically to emulate the Mercedes’ concept, which to date has the blessing of the FIA. According to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, however, it will be a different story for the smaller teams.

“If we started now with a blank sheet of paper, we would be ready in two months,” said Sauber’s chief designer Matt Morris. “But it would really add up. We have to ask ourselves whether it’s worth it for us, or whether we would be better off chasing the laptime with more conventional steps.

“On the other hand the big teams can handle a development like that in parallel to their normal programmes.”

Also on the technical front, Auto Motor und Sport reveals that rival teams are closer to getting to the bottom of Red Bull’s ever-flexible front wings. After the last day of testing in Barcelona, detailed photographs emerged of Sebastian Vettel’s stricken RB8 that appeared to show a sort of torsion bar inside the damaged front wing. The report said the torsion bar may be pre-loaded in order to pass the FIA’s static load tests, but then bend at speed.

An FIA insider suggested the system, although permitted in private testing, “would not be allowed” at the actual grands prix.


Haug dismisses Hamilton rumours

Norbert Haug has dismissed reports linking Lewis Hamilton with a switch to Mercedes for the 2013 Formula one season. Hamilton’s contract expires with McLaren at the end of this season and there has been some speculation that the 2008 F1 world champion could move to Mercedes to replace Michael Schumacher.

“I can dismiss that speculation out of hand, as it was only ever conjured by putting two and two together,” Haug told Sport Bild. “Lewis was and is a Mercedes man but there are no agreements or conversations in that direction.

“At the moment we have one interest only – making our car as fast and reliable as possible, and then we’ll see where we stand. Only then will we talk to Michael about a possible extension.”


Sutil withdraws appeal against assault conviction

Adrian Sutil’s dispute with Eric Lux is now formally over, after the former Force India driver withdrew the appeal against his assault conviction.

In late January, the German was found guilty of grievous bodily harm following a Shanghai nightclub incident that occurred early last year, and was handed a suspended 18-month jail term and EUR 200,000 fine. Sutil’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal against the Munich court’s penalty, prompting the prosecution to do the same. But Bild-Zeitung reports that the 29-year-old has now withdrawn that appeal, the German newspaper adding that the prosecution followed suit.

“I am very happy that I have been able to express myself to Eric Lux and don’t have to go to court again,” Sutil explained. “I don’t want to have to go through another year like the one past. The topic is finished and I want to resume doing what I do best as quickly as possible — racing in Formula One.”

Bild said Sutil’s FIA superlicense is not affected by his criminal conviction or his accepting of the sentence.

“We are very pleased that Eric Lux and Adrian have spoken and the topic is now closed,” said his manager Manfred Zimmermann. “From now on we will concentrate only on the sport and do everything to get Adrian back in Formula One.”


Teams ready in case of last-minute Bahrain axe

Teams are making preparations just in case the Bahrain Grand Prix is called off at the last minute according to Auto Motor und Sport, who are reporting that the teams could put their back-up plans into action even as late as the Sunday in China – mere days before they are expected to be at Sakhir.

In London this week, F1 chief executive and team bosses stood side by side with Bahrain circuit officials, insisting the race will go ahead despite defiant speculation to the contrary. But Auto Motor und Sport reveals that the teams will also be ready if the plug is indeed pulled at the last minute – for example, their freight would go not from Shanghai to Bahrain, but back to Europe via Dubai. And the report also said tickets have been reserved for the teams’ travelling staff, in the event they do not have to hop directly to the island Kingdom.

Michael Schumacher, however, insists he is not worried about going to Bahrain.

“I’m pretty relaxed, honestly,” said the seven time world champion. “From our perspective, we’re going to be very well looked after, because they (the race organisers) might foresee whatever and be prepared. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be ok.”


Vettel not in trouble, Marko insists

Dr Helmut Marko has denied reports Sebastian Vettel was summoned to Red Bull’s headquarters this week to explain his behaviour at the recent Malaysian grand prix.

The Narain Karthikeyan-saga aside, reports suggested the German deliberately ignored his bosses’ instruction that he retire his RB8 – ostensibly due to a brake issue – so that he could fit a new gearbox without penalty in China. The reports suggested Vettel had confessed immediately after the race that he heard the instruction but chose to ignore it.

“That is all nonsense,” Red Bull’s motor racing consultant Marko told Sport Bild. “Sebastian did nothing – absolutely nothing – that was against our wishes.”

Marko said Vettel’s visit to Milton Keynes this week was scheduled long ago, adding that he will be working inside the driver simulator amongst other things. He also hit back at claims the 24-year-old could be penalised by the FIA for breaching the code of conduct when he showed the ‘middle finger’ to Karthikeyan.

“The matter was resolved during the meeting with the stewards (in Malaysia). For me, the case is closed.”

Speaking to Kolner Express newspaper, however, an FIA spokesman confirmed that the code of conduct forbids superlicense holders from insulting their rivals.

But he added: “I imagine the application of this paragraph was considered by the stewards in Malaysia.”

And Sebastian Vettel’s spokeswoman said: “We know of no investigation.”


French PM to announce French GP return on Friday?

French prime minister Francois Fillon will on Friday travel to the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet. According to Le Parisien newspaper in an exclusive report, he could announce the deal is finally done to revive the French Grand Prix for 2013.

A source said Fillon will provide an update and indicate that France is “ready” to host F1 again for the first time since 2008 at Magny Cours.

It has been widely reported for some time that negotiations are taking place to annually alternate F1 races between France at Paul Ricard and Belgium’s legendary Spa Francorchamps circuit. Friday’s media report said Spa is “probably” the circuit that will alternate with France “but it could possibly be another”.

It is claimed that Bernie Ecclestone originally demanded a EUR 29 million race fee, but eventually the deal was done for 20m.


FIA ‘not aware’ of penalty risk for obscene Vettel gesture

F1’s governing body has played down claims Sebastian Vettel faces a penalty for his behaviour during the Malaysian grand prix. After the race, the reigning world champion dismissed HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan as an “idiot” following their on-track collision.

On-board footage subsequently proved that Red Bull driver Vettel, 24, twice showed his Indian driver a ‘middle finger’ salute.

Reports in Germany suggested the behaviour was a breach of the stricter code of conduct under FIA president Jean Todt, with the German theoretically facing anything from a warning to the revocation of his superlicense.

“My understanding is these matters are dealt with by stewards at each grand prix,” an FIA spokesman told us. “I am not aware of any other action being contemplated.”

Karthikeyan, who was penalised after the clash, told the Hindustan Times newspaper that the stewards favoured world champion Vettel’s explanation.

“They (the stewards) didn’t care about what I had to say because Mr Vettel told them god knows what when he went and talked to them,” he said.

But Red Bull team boss Christian Horner defended Vettel, telling the Mirror that it is “Karthikeyan’s responsibility to get out of the way for the leaders”.

Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg, meanwhile, partly excused Vettel’s outbursts.

“I think Vettel was just emotional at that point of time. At the end of the day, he is just human and sometimes you get emotional,” the German is quoted by the Times of India.

Former driver Adrian Sutil goes even further.

“I can understand him (Vettel),” he told Die Welt newspaper in Germany. “I was often angry when I was lapping people, when they make no room for you while they are fighting for places that have almost no significance. Karthikeyan ended up influencing not only Vettel’s race, but also Jenson Button’s. They (backmarkers) have to understand that as well.”


Montezemolo: We have great confidence in Massa

Luca di Montezemolo has offered Felipe Massa some cautious backing. The struggling driver was summoned to Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters this week rather than travel home to Brazil to see his young family. But team boss Stefano Domenicali said the 30-year-old retains Ferrari’s full backing, despite two sub-standard performances in Australia and Malaysia and widespread calls within the media for his dismissal.

Germany’s SID news agency quotes Ferrari president Montezemolo as saying: “We have great confidence in Massa. And at the moment I don’t see many outstanding drivers out there.”

The implication could be that an “outstanding” driver might be a candidate to replace Massa either now or in the future. The cream of Ferrari’s own driver development academy, Sergio Perez, sensationally finished second behind Fernando Alonso last weekend in Malaysia, with Massa fifteenth.

Brazilian former driver and now commentator Luciano Burti traces Massa’s decline all the way back to Hockenheim 2010, when on the one-year anniversary of his near-fatal crash he was told by his engineer: “Fernando is faster than you”.

“When that order came, his house fell around him,” Burti told Brazil’s Globo.

Soon after that, Alonso was – and still is – the darling of Ferrari, while one of Massa’s strongest supporters, the O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, now believes the Brazilian is little more than the “test driver” for new components.