Are Ferrari contemplating a Vettel protest?

If the rumours are true, Ferrari are currently investigating whether or not they can lodge a protest that could overturn the 2012 world championship results.

Ferrari are said to be looking at on-board footage from Sebastian Vettel’s car which appears to show the German driver passing the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne under a yellow flag during the Brazilian Grand Prix. Should Ferrari protest and be successful, 20 seconds would be added to Vettel’s time. This would demote him to eighth place and mean Fernando Alonso would end up being world champion by a single point.

At present, the FIA have refused to confirm whether they are investigating the issue or not.

Alonso has posted a crpytic message on his Twitter account which implies that Ferrari will possibly be protesting. Writing in Spanish he said, “I do not believe in miracles, I make my miracles through the right rules.”

The incident footage was not shown on the main F1 feed however it was shown on extra channels which show in-car footage of the race. Several eagle-eyed viewers recorded the footage and uploaded it to YouTube where it has garnered much interest.

The footage cleared shows Vettel passing a flashing yellow light at Turns 2 and 3, after which he overtakes Vergne before a green flag is shown just before Turn 4. During this manoeveur, Vettel’s yellow flag indicator is on in the cockpit. However this does not automatically mean that Vettel has done anything wrong – if the marshal was waving a green flag at the start of the yellow zone – and the marshal cannot be seen from the in-car footage – the pass on Vergne would be legal.

According to the international sporting code, the FIA have until 30 November to resolve the situation.

Victorious Vettel in Brazilian epic

Sebastian Vettel yesterday became the youngest ever triple world champion in one of the most dramatic grands prix ever seen. In wet-dry conditions at the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo, the Red Bull man survived an early scare, damage and further attrition to finish sixth – and with rival Fernando Alonso only managing second to McLaren’s Jenson Button, Vettel took the world championship.

The talk prior to the race was all of what might come to pass in this final instalment of a wonderful season. As was written in this column, many had a premonition that drama would be on the menu – and it was. A great start from the McLarens saw them leading into the Senna S, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India up there with Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. Vettel, having been rather uncharitably squeezed by his team mate into the first turn, was in the pack.

This boded ill for the German’s aspirations. Worse was to come. Turning into the left hander at the end of the next straight, with Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus spearing right to avoid the Red Bull’s overcautious braking, Vettel found a typically banzai Bruno Senna, who broadsided him hard. Vettel spun round to face the oncoming traffic – a terrifying scenario to behold, and made no better for him by another clump by Senna for good measure.

How damaged was the Red Bull? The left exhaust covering, previously tapering to an elegant Red Bull rear end, had a gaping hole. Bodywork flapped. Vettel was last. His team radioed him to tell him they could not fix the damage. It all looked dire.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton led, and Jenson Button nicked second from Felipe Massa. Mark Webber was shadowing the Ferrari but behind him Fernando Alonso showed no reticence to get stuck in and took them both in an audacious move into the first corner. If they had finished where they now stood, Alonso would have been champion.

But that was about to change. Vettel was now producing some vintage driving, in so doing repudiating strongly the myth that he cannot engage in man-to-man, wheel-to-wheel combat. By lap 8 he was incredibly up to seventh position on track – almost entirely by his own hand. The pendulum was swinging; Alonso had had his own ‘fans hide behind the sofa’ moment, taking to the astroturf at the Senna ‘S’, losing a position to the competitive Hulkenberg, but managing to defend from Mark Webber.

It all made for frantic viewing. It had started, by this point, to drizzle intently, and the increasingly greasy track was claiming victims, notably in the shape of Romain Grosjean, who clouted the wall at the bottom of the hill. Jenson Button, ever the master of such conditions, nailed Lewis Hamilton for the lead. The question was on everybody’s lips over whether, and if so when, to opt for intermediate tyres. Mark Webber was the first of the big guns to dive in, Red Bull hoping his times would provide the answer for their title contender.

Hamilton went in for inters, though Button stayed out, on the dry tyres that seemingly only he and Hulkenberg could make work on the treacherous track. Then, on lap 11, the two championship men came in, Alonso leading his rival, and so out into clear air. Vettel emerged behind Webber, who promptly let him by – this was no time to be playing games. Meanwhile, in the pits, Adrian Newey was intently studying a smartly-taken photo of the damage to Vettel’s car, trying to figure out if and how his driver’s race would be affected. Fortunately for them, the rain was definitely in play – any material disadvantage Vettel had was tempered by the conditions. In fact, he was the fastest car on track.

The battle for the lead was hotting up, too, with Hulkenberg making a nuisance of himself with the leader Button. On lap 19 he got by, using his KERS to pass the Englishman. Sometimes overlooked next to his more illustrious compatriots on the grid and his inexplicably more highly-rated team mate, Hulkenberg was showing his quality at a circuit he loves. But the sky was lightening and the track was drying; at this point Vettel would be champion, but more twists were in store.

Mercedes’ dire form of late did not abate – Nico Rosberg picked up a puncture on lap 21. Alonso, who needed another card dealt, was immediately on the radio asking for a Safety Car because the track was littered with debris from various incidents. Charlie Whiting responded and Bernd Maylander came out. At this point it was Hulkenberg, Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi, Webber and di Resta. Everybody was still doing the sums – yes, Vettel still champion as it stood at this moment.

As the Safety Car came in, it looked like it was going to rain some more. Kobayashi, in perhaps the last chance F1 saloon in this brave new world, was emphasising his credentials by harrying Alonso, who he got past on lap 32. Felipe Massa was not far behind and doing his best for the team by attacking Vettel. It momentarily came right for Ferrari – Alonso re-passing the Japanese a lap later, and Massa sweeping past a careful Vettel. Hamilton, more comfortable on his new rubber, was also going forward, nicking second from Button. He then set about hunting down Hulkenberg, who was reporting some difficulties with his downshifting.

On lap 49 it came, the pressure telling on the German. He made a mistake at Turn Six and Hamilton was past in a flash, though Hulkenberg’s recovery was swift. The rain was still waxing and waning and few teams or drivers knew what the best strategy would be. A gamble could win it all, but also lose it all, and in that situation the best thing, it seems, is to do nothing – to wait for the optimum choice to become the obvious one.

Vettel, sitting pretty still, then had his next dollop of bad luck. Radio problems. Vettel sounded as though he was in a submarine, though his engineer could still be heard loud and clear. Despite the rain, he now pitted for slicks, rather rapidly deciding a couple of laps later than that had been the wrong choice. His second pit stop was fraught – Red Bull did not have the right tyres available, and it looked like a complete hash. How would it affect the German’s position – and his precarious title? The answer was, not so badly. Schumacher almost let him go freely, refusing to fight his successor-elect; and then Nico Hulkenberg lost it into turn one and slammed into Lewis Hamilton, ruining both their races. Hamilton was now out, and Hulkenberg shortly to be landed with a penalty for his misdemeanour.

The rain was now heavier, and Alonso was struggling to keep the Ferrari pointing in the right direction. Vettel pitted yet again. Talk came of the full wet – would it be necessary? The Spaniard had a very slow lap as he slithered round on slicks, but came out just behind Felipe Massa, who would of course prove no difficulty for his team mate. They swapped, and the race started to enter its denouement.

So Button led from Alonso and Massa, from Webber, Hulkenberg and Vettel. It looked like the end, unless more rain or unreliability from anyone entered the picture. But there was to be one last twist – Paul di Resta losing it going up the hill and forcing the Safety Car out for the second time.

And so Button won, with the championship the real issue unfolding behind him. Alonso secured second but Vettel had got sixth, more than enough – a three point margin – to help him win an amazing third title. The only caveat, which sat in Sky Sports viewers’ minds, was whether he might incur a penalty for overtaking Kobayashi under yellows. But from the stewards came nothing, which meant we were free to bask in Vettel’s reflected glory.

Plaudits will come thick and fast for the man who has swept all before him in this most complex of sports. All talk of how good the car is defeats the point – Vettel has been supreme, particularly in the latter part of the year. He has shot up the all-time great list in so doing, as has his rival – the wonderful Alonso, who had absolutely no right to be this close to this championship. An incredible finale to an incredible year, and two truly incredible men.

*I was a little surprised to see the following as an editorial in today’s Independent: ‘Yesterday’s Brazilian Grand Prix crowns a season that has revived Formula One after years in which it seemed doomed to decline’. Sorry, what? Just for reference, the Independent’s daily circulation figures are in the region of 105 000 copies, down drastically over the last few years. The average F1 race attracts a TV audience of around 500 million people, and has done for many years. So why is the Independent, for whom writes the excellent David Tremayne, indulging in this pot-calling-the kettle?

Red Bull opted not to use new alternator at US GP

It has emerged that Red Bull chose not to use a new spec alternator for the US Grand Prix. Red Bull have had issues with Renault’s Magneti Marelli untis culminating in Mark Webber having to retire from last weekend’s race.

At the Circuit of the Americas, designer Adrian Newey referred to the alternator as a “ticking time bomb”.

“It has been on the Renault engine since about 2005 and it has been failing since 2005 as well,” he said.

But as far as Renault is concerned, the solution for the crucial season finale in Brazil this weekend was simple.

“We go for the new spec,” said the French marque’s F1 track boss Remi Taffin. “It has passed all the tests.”

Indeed, it had already passed those tests prior to Austin, when other Renault-powered teams on the grid began to use the new, improved alternator. But why didn’t Red Bull choose to fit the new units in Austin?

“Because they are human beings and at some point as humans they have some feelings,” Taffin is quoted by Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. “Sometimes you go into a shop and there are two different things and your head says you should buy this one but your heart says you should buy the other one,” he explained.


Pic confirmed at Caterham for 2013 and beyond

Caterham have confirmed that they have signed Charles Pic on a multi year contract for the 2013 season onwards.

“It is clear that he is a special talent,” said Caterham’s new team boss Cyril Abiteboul.

At present, it is unclear as to who will be partnering Pic at Caterham next season. Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov currently drive for the team however it is rumoured that Dutchman Giedo van der Garde will be given the drive.

Pic’s replacement at Marussia has yet to be confirmed however the F1 rumour mill strongly favours British driver Max Chilton.

Sauber confirms Gutierrez for 2013 season

Sauber have confirmed that Nico Hulkenberg’s teammate for 2013 will be Esteban Gutierrez, who will replace Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi.

“This has not been an easy decision for us to take,” team boss Monisha Kaltenborn explained, “but we have committed ourselves to a new beginning.”

21-year-old Mexican Gutierrez, who is backed by Sauber’s major sponsor Telmex, also succeeds the similarly Telmex-sponsored Sergio Perez, who has been signed by McLaren.

“We are in no doubt we have a strong driver pairing in place for the 2013 season,” said team boss Monisha Kaltenborn.

Replacing Gutierrez as Sauber’s reserve driver is the impressive Dutchman Robin Frijns, who like Gutierrez is 21.

Referring to Frijns, who won the Formula Renault 3.5 series this year as a rookie, Kaltenborn said: “We will now carefully guide him to Formula One.”


Brazil GP could be last race for HRT

According to strong paddock rumours, Sunday’s Brazilian grand prix will be the last lap for ailing backmarkers HRT. Publicly looking for a buyer, it is reported that staff have actually already been served with pending redundancy notices that will come into effect after the chequered flag waves on Sunday.

“None of us know what will happen,” team driver Pedro de la Rosa, who was expected to stay at the Spanish team in 2013, admitted to reporters in Brazil.

When asked about the redundancy notices, he answered: “All I know is that we are here and that everyone here has not received anything.

“What happens after is unknown,” added de la Rosa. “I hope the team continues but at this moment in time I cannot say any more.”


Raikkonen skips Thursday for longer LA holiday

Kimi Raikkonen, undoubtedly F1’s most laid back driver, reportedly skipped Thursday’s proceedings at Interlagos.

Normally, drivers attend media and sponsor functions, meet with their engineers and walk the circuit at grand prix venues on the day before the official practice action kicks off.

But according to the Finnish MTV3 broadcaster, 2007 world champion Raikkonen was on Thursday still holidaying in Los Angeles, in the wake of last weekend’s US grand prix in Austin, Texas.

Meanwhile, Lotus team boss Eric Boullier denied reports the 33-year-old has not been paid all the points bonus money he is contractually entitled to.

“Kimi has got all the money which he has earned so far,” the Frenchman insisted.


Kovalainen: Caterham to use 2012 chassis next season

Heikki Kovalainen claims Caterham is planning to use its current chassis as the basis for the 2013 car.

It is expected the salaried Finn will be pushed out of the team for 2013 by ‘pay drivers’ Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.

Asked by the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat how he expects Caterham to go next season, Kovalainen said: “It’s hard to say.

“But when the team has decided to continue with the same chassis for the new car, it may not be a good sign,” said the 31-year-old, who as Caterham’s lead driver has failed to score a single point since the team’s inception in 2010.

Caterham hints Pic in team’s plans for future

Caterham’s new boss Cyril Abiteboul has all but confirmed paddock speculation Charles Pic is set to arrive at the team from Marussia for 2013.

And he said that would be part of the Tony Fernandes-owned team’s new “three year plan”.

On the issue of Frenchman Pic joining Caterham, France’s quoted Abiteboul as saying: “This is a three year plan that we are working on, and there are still many factors that need to come together so that it is a reality.

“But this project seems interesting for everyone,” said the Frenchman.

It appears that highly rated Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen is being pushed out by ‘pay drivers’ due to Caterham potentially losing lucrative Concorde Agreement income to Marussia.

Kovalainen admitted on Thursday that Brazil could be his last grand prix.

It is believed that the main contender for the seat alongside Pic next year is the sponsored Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde.

“There is at least one more seat open,” said Kovalainen in Brazil. “It is still possible that I will get it.

“From my experience, I only know that when things drag on for this long, it’s never a good sign,” he admitted.

Ecclestone: Interlagos needs ‘some plastic surgery’

Bernie Ecclestone is pushing organisers of the Brazilian grand prix to improve the ageing facilities at Interlagos.

The circuit is regarded as one of the most outdated on the entire F1 calendar, and Speed Week reports that the sport’s chief executive will meet with track officials on Saturday. Interlagos’ existing grand prix contract runs only to 2014.

Brazil’s Globo reports that Ecclestone recently travelled to Santa Catarina, a state in southern Brazil, to hear about plans for a proposed new formula one venue designed by Hermann Tilke. Ecclestone, however, denied he is seriously considering dumping Interlagos.

“We do not have that intention,” he said. “We like Sao Paulo. It’s an old race track, a bit tired, but with a good update and some plastic surgery, it’ll be alright,” added Ecclestone.

“I know it will happen soon.”