Teams look ahead to novel Mugello test

Like Ferrari, Red Bull is another team looking keenly ahead to this week’s test at Mugello.

“Not only do we have many new parts in the luggage,” promised team advisor Dr Helmut Marko, according to Auto Motor und Sport on Monday. “For the first time in a long time, we are also going to give much more attention to the car setup. There are still gaps in our understanding,” he said, a week after Sebastian Vettel’s breakthrough first win of 2012 in Bahrain.

This week’s three-day test in Tuscany – the first such event for several years – is timely, given the way the pecking order has been shuffled and reshuffled, mainly due to the Pirelli tyre situation.

McLaren, however, will be there only with test drivers Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey, despite Lewis Hamilton suggesting recently that the race drivers should be on the bill. Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ race drivers will, in contrast, be running.

Expectations that Ferrari is running an all-new ‘B’ car, however, have been shot.

“No, there will be no new chassis,” journalist Michael Schmidt, citing information from the Maranello based team, wrote. “No, the car remains with pullrod (front) suspension.

“What is certain is that Ferrari has completely changed its exhaust system. The sidepods will also be more extreme, additionally there is a new nose — it is rumoured Ferrari is one of the teams that recently completed a nose crash test,” he added.

Mercedes has reportedly also been working on its exhaust layout, but is not convinced about the apparently-leading McLaren solution.

“We still see a risk that heat from the exhaust gets onto the rear tyres,” team boss Ross Brawn is quoted as saying.

Lotus is also in two minds.

“We are conservative at the moment with our exhaust,” technical director James Allison said. “Of course, we have tested the Red Bull and McLaren solutions in the wind tunnel.”


Sauber confirms Chelsea sponsor rumour

Rumours that a top English premier league football club is entering Formula One as a sponsor have proved correct.

Ever since Sauber has been running teaser ‘Out of the blue’ and ‘True blue’ graphics on its engine cover livery in China and Bahrain, speculation about the identity of the forthcoming sponsor have been swirling in the F1 paddock. We reported the rumour that the deal could be with the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, to promote his football club Chelsea.

Swiss F1 team Sauber confirmed the “new and innovative partnership” on Monday.

“The C31 sporting the blue logo of Chelsea FC will be seen for the first time at the Spanish grand prix,” the Hinwil based team announced in a media statement.

“A partnership like this between Formula One and football has never existed before in this form, yet there are numerous commonalities and possible synergies,” said Sauber chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn.

The statement said Chelsea will in turn display Sauber’s logo on its advertising boards and interview walls, ensuring one another “a significant market presence outside their original sport”.


Raikkonen: F1 a job, ‘not my life’

Kimi Raikkonen insists he is “not interested” in Formula One — except the cars, and winning.

Asked by the reporter for Bild am Sonntag newspaper if the famous Finnish character might remove his sunglasses for an interview, 2007 world champion Raikkonen replied simply: “No.”

At the end of his fourth race since returning to F1 from rallying, the 32-year-old was back on the podium in Bahrain.

“It’s not going too bad,” he said. “I like what I’m doing, that’s enough. I don’t care if someone says whether I’m doing it well or not. Still, it’s disappointing when you’re only second. Who knows what’s going to happen at the next race,” the Lotus driver added.

Just after leaving F1 at the end of 2009, Raikkonen said he disliked everything about the sport — except the cars. Nothing has changed.

“No. I’m only here for racing,” said Raikkonen.

“All the other bulls**t I can do without. If you took away the cars from Formula One, I would not be there. Formula One plays no role in my personal life. I have a real life!

“I think for many people, their life is Formula One. For me it’s not.”

Politics still threatening French GP return

Politics are still in play, as France pushes to return to the F1 calendar.

According to Bernie Ecclestone, a financial deal is in place that will see Paul Ricard join the 2013 calendar, alternating annually thereafter with the fabled Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. But Francois Hollande, the socialist frontrunner in France’s presidential election this weekend, has now revealed that the issue of the grand prix will be assessed “in the aftermath of the election”.

“We will review it if we are elected,” he is quoted by Auto Hebdo in France. “I don’t think the state should spend anything on a grand prix.”

But it is reported that Prime minister Francois Fillon has set up a public interest group that means the government is not a direct contributor to the 2013 race. Nicolas Sarkozy, the presidential incumbent, reiterated his support.

“We cannot have a narrow vision,” he is quoted by the L’Equipe sports daily. “We are a country with two global carmakers in Renault and PSA, and now three young promising French drivers in F1.

“It should be that we have a grand prix,” insisted Sarkozy.


Sponsorship ‘only problem’ for di Grassi

Lucas di Grassi has admitted that even his continuing role at Pirelli is not a ticket back onto the F1 grid.

“I’m in the best possible position technically, as the driver with knowledge of the tyres – almost choosing them for next season – it puts me in a very comfortable position. Of course I want to race again with a team and I’m working on it,” said the 2010 Virgin driver, who was replaced by the now Marussia team with Jerome d’Ambrosio at the end of his only season in F1.

“The only problem is the lack of sponsorship,” di Grassi is quoted by Globo. “Let’s hope some Brazilian companies want to come in to support.”

Martin Brundle, a former F1 veteran whose son Alex now competes in the lower-tier GP3 series, admitted sponsorship is a problem for aspiring racers.

“Drivers are paying as much as $10 million to be a reserve at some teams,” the British commentator told the Daily Mail. “Nine men who raced in F1 last year don’t have a drive any more. As soon as the money runs out, they’re replaced by someone who does have money.”


Di Grassi: Pirelli situation good for F1

Pirelli test driver Lucas di Grassi has defended the F1 tyre supplier following Michael Schumacher’s criticism.

Schumacher attacked the Italian marque’s 2012 product after the Bahrain grand prix, complaining that the tyres wear so fast that drivers often have to take corners at half-pace like the safety car.

“In some ways he’s right,” Brazilian di Grassi, who along with Jaime Alguersuari tests tyres for Pirelli, is quoted by Globo. “You can’t go at 100 per cent all the time because the current tyres are designed to highlight the strategy during the races.

“Drivers have to think more about what part of the race to make best use of the tyres,” said the former Virgin driver.

Di Grassi, 27, credited Pirelli for the exciting races seen so far in 2012.

“The championship is very balanced, which is good for everyone, especially the public,” he said. “It’s partly because Pirelli has been able to use the data it collected last year and make good decisions for this year,” added di Grassi.

Also with a view contrary to Schumacher’s is the seven time world champion’s own teammate, Nico Rosberg.

“F1 has become more interesting,” said the Shanghai winner, “as everything has been shaken up — it’s much better than the same cars and drivers always driving away from the front,” he is quoted by German media. “Due to the tyre situation, the races have been very varied, which is an extraordinary challenge but also very exciting. And we have to get used to it,” added Rosberg.


Ralf Schumacher not planning F1 comeback

Ralf Schumacher has ruled out following his older brother Michael’s lead and returning to F1. Last weekend, the 36 year old German driver began his fifth consecutive season at the wheel of a Mercedes in the German touring car series DTM.

He was a respected winner of 6 grands prix, driving most recently for Toyota in 2007, but despite his famous brother’s return to F1 with Mercedes, Ralf told Germany’s Der Westen that his own grand prix career “is over”.

“Formula One is exciting and beautiful, but the DTM is much more friendly, we don’t have to travel all around the world, everything is familiar. I like that,” the German said.


Webber linked with Ferrari?

Mark Webber might have signed a pre-contractual agreement with Ferrari, one of Spain’s leading F1 correspondents has revealed.

Raymond Blancafort, writing for El Mundo Deportivo, referred to widespread speculation in the paddock about Sergio Perez’s likely future alongside Fernando Alonso.

“There may be a pre-contract,” he said, “but between Ferrari and Webber.”

Australian Webber was also linked with Ferrari last year, before Red Bull decided to sign him up for another single season. The 35-year-old was overshadowed by his teammate Sebastian Vettel last year, but he has begun the 2012 season more strongly.

And Webber warned before the 2012 season began that if Red Bull didn’t re-sign him for 2013, “I’d need something (else) competitive (to drive)”.

“Being at the front, is certainly a big, big factor of me staying very hungry and motivated.”

Ferrari may be looking to replace Alonso’s current teammate, the struggling team veteran Felipe Massa, for 2013.

“They (Ferrari) would be able to take advantage of his (Webber’s) experience, the consistency of his results and the fact that he gets along with Alonso. Interestingly, Webber is also still involved with Flavio Briatore”, as is Alonso, Blancafort noted.


Manager Panis happy with Pic so far

Olivier Panis is happy with the early progress of French rookie Charles Pic’s 2012 season.

Panis, the 1996 Monaco grand prix winner and veteran of over 150 F1 races, now manages the career of 22-year-old Pic on behalf of the Lagardere group.

“I had the chance to talk with Ron Dennis on the grid,” the former Toyota racer and McLaren test driver Panis told RMC, “as he had come to see him (Pic). It shows that nobody is indifferent to what he is doing so far.”

Panis, 45, revealed that Pic is also spending “a lot of time” in McLaren’s driver simulator, thanks to the technical agreement between Marussia and McLaren.

“He is building an image slowly, which is positive. He has earned the respect of the paddock, and now we have to continue,” Panis added.


Grosjean told ‘Kimi faster than you’

Romain Grosjean was given a familiar instruction by his team during the recent Bahrain grand prix.

The Finnish broadcaster MTV3 reports that the Frenchman was told that his teammate “Kimi (Raikkonen) is faster than you”. Do not hold him up,” the radio message reportedly ended.

In 2010, when team orders were still illegal, Felipe Massa was famously told “Fernando (Alonso) is faster than you” shortly before the Brazilian gave up the lead of the race to Alonso. Ferrari was fined $100,000.

Today, team orders are allowed, but Lotus denied it instructed Grosjean to let 2007 world champion Raikkonen pass before the Finn finished second in Bahrain.

“We don’t want to play team orders,” Lotus team principal Eric Boullier insisted in Bahrain, “so we let them race normally and what happened, happened.”