‘Impossible’ to keep HRT going – boss Sala

Team boss Luis Perez-Sala has admitted the HRT dream is over.

After three seasons at the back of the F1 grid, the Spanish backmarker has folded, even though official confirmation has been lacking so far.

“It was impossible to go on,” Sala, a former Minardi driver who was brought in by new owners Thesan Capital to run the team this year, told El Mundo Deportivo newspaper.

“When we decided to take charge of the team, we were promised aid that never arrived,” he added.

HRT, founded as Campos Meta 1 and also known as Hispania, never scored a point.

Brabham name could return to F1

The famous Brabham name could return to F1.

Former triple world champion Sir Jack Brabham, an Australian who is now 86, founded his eponymous team in 1960 and it later raced under Bernie Ecclestone’s stewardship. In 2009, a German automotive supply company, Formtech, claimed it now controls the Brabham team name and filed an official entry for the 2010 F1 season. But the Brabham family hit back, launching legal action to “protect the family name”.

Jack Brabham’s son David, a sports car racing specialist who contested 30 grands prix in the 90s, said: “Right now this is a very sensitive issue.

“But, yes, there is the possibility to bring the team back (to F1),” he told Brazil’s Totalrace.

The Brabham team won two constructors’ and 4 drivers’ titles in the 60s and 80s, last racing with Damon Hill at the wheel in 1992.

David Brabham continued: “For now, we have a predicament behind the scenes, involving the rights of the name.

“It’s 98 per cent resolved, and when it is 100 per cent we’ll see what we can do.”


Ecclestone admits scandal could cost him F1 job

Bernie Ecclestone has admitted his bosses at F1 owners CVC would probably oust him if he is pursued by German prosecutors.

With convicted bribe recipient and ex F1 banker Gerhard Gribkowsky already in jail, it is reported F1’s 82-year-old chief executive could be next in the firing line.

Last month, German reports said “detailed preparations” were being made to potentially replace Briton Ecclestone, if prosecutors decide “as expected” to charge him.

And Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said more recently: “If Bernie is accused under process, I think he will be the first to give a step back in the interests of formula one.”

Now, Ecclestone has told F1 business journalist Christian Sylt that CVC “will probably be forced to get rid of me if the Germans come after me”.

“It’s pretty obvious, if I’m locked up,” he is quoted by the Sunday Telegraph.


No official penalties for Alonso in 2012

If Pastor Maldonado was the penalty king, then Fernando Alonso is the master of fair play in 2012.

That is the finding of Brazil’s Globo Esporte, having compiled a list of the official FIA penalties attracted by F1’s 24 drivers this year.

Williams’ Maldonado tops the list with 15 penalties; almost double the tally of the penalty runner-up Sergio Perez, whose 8 penalties was also matched by world champion Sebastian Vettel’s official infractions.

At the other extreme is Ferrari’s Alonso, whose tally of zero penalties is matched only by German backmarker Timo Glock.

“I have no miracles, I make my miracles the correct rules,” the Spaniard tweeted shortly after the conclusion of this year’s 20-race calendar.


Two more 2013 cars pass FIA crash tests

The monocoque of two more F1 teams’ 2013 cars have passed the mandatory FIA crash tests.

According to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, one of them is Mercedes’ W04, to be raced next year by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The report said the silver single seater will have a new and smaller gearbox, totally different sidepods for the Coanda exhaust, and rear suspension designed to be flexible to geometry changes if required to suit Pirelli’s new tyres.

Meanwhile, Spain’s El Mundo Deportivo said the successor to Ferrari’s 2012 car has also passed the FIA’s monocoque crash tests.

Earlier this month, Sauber became the first team to announce that its new car, the C32, had passed the FIA crash tests and was therefore clear to begin winter testing in February.


Sources say Petrov to keep Caterham seat

‘Russian sources’ report that Vitaly Petrov is set to keep his Caterham seat for 2013, the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat claims.

Already this week, the 28-year-old’s manager Oksana Kosachenko revealed that “all the necessary work on our part is done — and it’s for Caterham to decide”.

Petrov’s teammate in 2012 was Finn Heikki Kovalainen, but Caterham has already announced that Charles Pic will be driving one of the green-liveried cars next year.

Among the other candidates to be Pic’s 2013 teammate are Giedo van der Garde, Bruno Senna and Luiz Razia.

Turun Sanomat quotes Kosachenko as saying: “I believe Vitaly’s race in Brazil securing tenth place in the manufacturers’ championship helps us to stay where we were.”

Also playing in Petrov’s favour is a recent visit to Caterham’s headquarters of his sponsor Russian Helicopters, and Bernie Ecclestone’s desire to have a local driver on the grid when Russia hosts its inaugural grand prix in 2014.

Organisers of the 2014 race in Sochi said this week that construction of the track is now in “high gear”.


2012 season review

In the current era, every year in F1 seems to surpass itself in terms of entertainment and brilliance. The oft-repeated assertion that, say, 2009 to at least 2012 represents a ‘golden era’ is no less true for its clichedness. And 2012 was the best yet – a season made wildly unpredictable by the KERS, DRS and principally by the wonderful Pirelli tyres. No one knew what to make of the rubber at first, which must have contributed to the seven different winners in the first seven races, In a season like that, the men in the shadows often get the chance to shine, to show their skill on a day when others are lost. But finally, inevitably, the cream rises to the top. Here, we salute that cream, and analyse milk, cheese and curd too.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel: As has been noted, superlatives are nowadays in short supply for this man. A new dictionary will need to be written for his plaudits this year, though, because he demonstrated very clearly that what had been perceived as his Achilles heels (inability to fight his way through the field, and some susceptibility to pressure) were absolutely not fragile points at all. Abu Dhabi and Brazil stand as glorious testaments to the falsity of both those charges. The old Vettel was there too, though, all dominance and finger-in-the-air. A legend of our times. 10/10
Mark Webber: Although it seemed that the topsy-turvy early-mid season might play into Webber’s hands, and wins in Monaco and Silverstone were well-taken and seemed to promise a title challenge. It did not come together, and towards the end of the season the Australian relapsed into his familiar role as bridesmaid. History will affirm that. 6/10
Car and team: Adrian Newey’s baby might not have started the class as far ahead of the rest as in previous years, but by God did she reclaim her superiority. The team’s continued professionalism and excellence are recognised justly by their third consecutive constructors’ title, a very considerable feat. 10/10

Fernando Alonso: In any reasonable poll, the Spaniard’s 2012 season might well have catapulted him into the top five greatest drivers ever. Alonso was superb throughout – consistent, devastating on occasion, opportunistic, fearless and peerless in the cockpit. All with one hand tied behind his back, because the Ferrari wasn’t nearly fast enough. Or so he would have it. But what is the problem with a little carping about the car? It serves to motivate a team that perhaps do need it, and to take the pressure off oneself (and thus put it on others). As such, whatever psychology Alonso employed this season was another facet of his magnificence. (And the car was actually not that good). A legend for all times. 10/10
Felipe Massa: After a couple of seasons of increasingly deteriorating performances, Massa’s 2012 will hopefully be his nadir. Rumours about the sack were not dispelled even by the bovinely loyal Ferrari and by mid-season the calls for Perez were deafening. Massa picked up his game in the final few races, but be assured he is there for no other reason than Alonso. 4/10
Car and team: The F2012 was not a great car, but it was a very good one by Ferrari’s recent standards. It enabled Alonso to compete for the title, even if it was not the quickest. The team with Alonso at the spiritual helm are more than capable of running with the pack – he provides leadership and motivation, and they follow him like disciples. As they should. Not a bad season for il Cavallino Rampante. 6/10

Kimi Raikkonen: What a credit to the sport this man is! He is such a performer – adored by the fans, respected by the paddock, and feared by his competitors. This year the Kimster produced some excellent drives reminiscent of his 2003 pomp – not least his win in Abu Dhabi where he was hilarious on the team radio to boot. Flighty maverick that he is, we may not have his company for that long, so treasure every moment. 9/10
Romain Grosjean: Regular readers of this column will know that it supports young Grosjean with the blind faith of a French team boss. Grosjean is good, somewhere, as his early season matching of Raikkonen demonstrates; but his first lap shenanigans this season, principally in Belgium, were infuriating and dangerous. He has been confirmed for 2013 but do not expect him to last if the errors persist. 5/10
Car and team: James Allinson and his team should be proud of the E20, a car that was as good as the rest for most of the season. The elusive win came towards the back end of the season, and there is a sense of determination about Eric Boullier’s leadership that seems to suggest a consistent title challenge in the next few years. That consistency is the key though – Enstone must match and better its machinery for 2013 at the very least. 7/10

Lewis Hamilton: Hamilton could have been a lot closer to the title than he was this season, and it is accurate to say that he was not at fault. Errors and prima donna behaviour have not been prominent this year and he has driven, by his own (never immodest) assertion, the best he has ever done. Particular highlights were Italy and the USA, especially when the furore surrounding his future threatened to distract. On the evidence of this year, Alonso and Vettel still know that he is the third arm of their triumvirate at the top of the sport. 9/10
Jenson Button: Button confounds. On his day, in Australia and Belgium in particular, he is masterful – the racing brain and the soft hands conducting the conditions wonderfully. On other days, he can look very ordinary. Qualifying is still his vulnerability – until he sorts that out a title challenge looks a way off. 7/10
Car and team: As above. Car and team can take a sizeable portion of the blame for Lewis Hamilton’s inability to fight for the championship. Pitstop mistakes were common and reliability left much to be desired. A pity, really, considering the car was basically the second best in the field – quick and malleable. 5/10

Nico Rosberg: Despite flattering to deceive on occasion, Rosberg did not have a great season. He won his first race in China, sure, but thereafter faded, and very much looked like a man adrift in a team focused on the future. He has done well to dispose of the Schumacher threat, at which many would have quailed, but there isn’t much in Nico Rosberg’s 2012 driving that will scare his old karting mate Lewis Hamilton. 6/10
Michael Schumacher: 2012 was very much the old man’s last chance saloon and…he showed that despite a very large percentage of his old talent, he wasn’t quite as fast as he used to be. As the mid-season report testifies, a pole position in Monaco and other signs of improvement were not quite enough to signify a real comeback; and so Schumacher’s return diminishes, rather than enhances, his reputation. But still. There are quite a few among us who believe anyone else would have been far more lost than he was. Thus, he retains his dignity and his honour. 6/10
Car and team: Not much to say about this offering from the grand German marque, whose win justifies their continued involvement. Never been so obvious that a team has given up on a year, however.

Sergio Perez: One of the drivers of the year. A strong rookie showing belied his real talent – for grabbing races by the scruff of their necks and making a real fist of them. Outstanding in Malaysia, Canada and Italy, he nevertheless appeared to be cocky once a McLaren contract was in his pocket. One to manage, Ron and Martin; to nurture, unlike both Fernando and Juan Pablo. 8/10
Kamui Kobayashi: As has been remarked, Kamui’s special skill – for banzai overtakes – has rather been negated by this year’s variables. He has nonetheless done much as expected; that is, better than any other Japanese driver to sit behind the wheel of an F1 car. He is quick, and it would be a tragedy to lose him. Spain, Japan and Abu Dhabi the highlights. 6/10
Car and team: Stars of the show – a truly spartan performance from a little but brave team. What a car, and what punches dealt blows far above their weight? Nothing but admiration for the team at Hinwil.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg: A driver with real talent, Hulkenberg had to sit out the indignity of his own dismissal from Williams and subsequently the di Resta fanfare – and as such has emerged with the greater credit. Consistency early on was matched by points finishes in each of the last six races bar Abu Dhabi, and his sterling effort in Brazil was only dampened by inexperience. 7/10
Paul di Resta: One sometimes wonders if a driver’s nationality has anything to do with his burgeoning reputation. For di Resta, many thought so – the heir to Clark, Stewart…cousin of Franchitti, anyone? Di Resta did not do enough to justify that billing in 2012. Spoken of as Schumacher’s replacement at Mercedes by the British Grand Prix, the Scot managed only four more points finishes out of the final twelve races. 6/10

Pastor Maldonado: This man is a race winner. This man is a race winner. This man is a race winner. Something worth writing three times before one evaluates the Venezuelan hero. Here’s the alternative: otherwise, he’s dross. Not so. One does not keep Fernando Alonso at bay in front of a Spanish crowd without good reason and talent. A flickering talent that the oil will keep burning. 6/10
Bruno Senna: There must have been few more disappointing seasons in motorsport. He had a third chance, this Senna, and he blew it with a series of distinctly underwhelming performances. For once, the great man was wrong; Ayrton, your nephew is decidedly not quicker than you. Will be very lucky to find a seat for next year. 3/10

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne: A rookie season in which no one expected much…but Vergne delivered a performance or two against the odds. Since his Formula Renault days he has been someone to watch, and Malaysia, Belgium, Korea and Brazil were timely reminders of his talent. Mark Webber, watch out. 7/10
Daniel Ricciardo: Post mid-season, you’d have put your money on a half-decent end of year showing from the Aussie. However, although he was usually line-astern with his French team-mate, the Frenchman was usually in front of him. This does not look good to the Red Bull hierarchy, and they have itchy trigger fingers. There isn’t much between him and his team mate, though, mark it – both show a youthful ambition their predecessors had lost. 6/10

Vitaly Petrov: A good year for the Russian, who did better than most expected. As a Caterham driver, one gets little exposure and every time Petrov came to light, it was usually for the right reasons. Disposing of Kovalainen is not done lightly, and this bodes well for his future. 5/10
Heikki Kovalainen: Widely thought of as the top man without a top drive at the start of the season, Kovalainen has very nearly become the bottom man without any drive. Quite how he has let Marussia encroach so far upon his territory and Petrov trounce him ten times in races is anyone’s guess. Enough remains for his residual stock to be high, though. 5/10

Timo Glock: The German plugs away, without realistic hope of points finishes or even a nice Sunday drive without having to glance frantically in the mirror every thirty seconds. Frippery aside, Glock has done an honourable job this season to help take this team extremely close to the seemingly better-run Caterham. 4/10
Charles Pic: As the back marker that he is, Pic’s talent, or lack thereof, is hard to measure. He seems alright – he ran Glock close. 4/10

Pedro de la Rosa: It was always, I suppose, a forlorn hope that a team called Hormone Replacement Therapy would have a 40-year-old Spaniard lead an Iberian charge to the points. He comes across very well, nonetheless, and I should like to have a cup of tea with him one day. 5/10
Narain Karthikeyan: I’m glad he didn’t get hurt when Nico Rosberg didn’t see him in Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m much fatter than Narain. And I’m quite fat. 4/10

Ecclestone’s Christmas Cards show Hamilton chasing Mercedes Cash

Bernie Ecclestone has this week delighted his Christmas card recipients with his latest humorous handiwork.

Every year, the F1 chief executive commissions an original cartoon for his annual card, depicting a contemporary F1 issue with a mischievous tilt. For the 2012 holiday season, the 82-year-old’s card shows Lewis Hamilton abandoning his broken-down McLaren and leaping into a Mercedes saloon.

The silver road car is being driven by the red-capped Niki Lauda, and in the passenger seat is a big golden bag of cash for Briton Hamilton. They are bound for Stuttgart, which according to the roadside sign is “Not far”.

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg also amused his fans this week with his own Christmas message.

The German posted a Youtube video depicting him riding a rodeo bull. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4vvmA4_ER8


Hulkenberg: Inexperience no problem for Sauber

Sauber’s inexperienced driver lineup will not hold the Swiss team back in 2013, Nico Hulkenberg insists.

25-year-old Hulkenberg, who is moving from Force India after returning to F1 this year, will be joined at the Hinwil based team by Mexican rookie Esteban Gutierrez. Compared to Sauber’s 2012 lineup, Hulkenberg and 21-year-old Gutierrez have 60 grands prix less experience than departing team drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez.

“No — I am bringing my bag of experience,” said German Hulkenberg, who sat out the 2011 season after debuting for Williams the previous year. “Sure, it’s a new car for me, but every other team will have a new car as well that you have to get used to.

“So I don’t think it’s going to be a severe handicap,” he told Blick newspaper on a visit to Sauber’s Swiss headquarters.

However, with only two seasons under his belt, Hulkenberg finds himself the de-facto ‘team leader’ at Sauber for 2013. He doesn’t really agree.

“I don’t see the difference. It is a fact I have more experience (than Gutierrez) on paper, but I don’t see myself in a different role than in Force India. At the end of the day I’m here to collect as many points as possible. Whether you are team leader or not doesn’t make much difference.”

Hulkenberg said he doesn’t know who is going to replace him at Force India, amid reports Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi are the hot favourites.

“I have no idea, really,” said the German. “I thought it was Sutil, but now the wait is taking so long, maybe logic suggests otherwise. But I have heard nothing. My concentration is here (Sauber) now,” added Hulkenberg.

Amid perceptions he is making a ‘sideways step’ in the midfield, he defends his decision to swap Force India for Sauber.

“Yes, there were some races where Sauber fared poorly,” said Hulkenberg, “but they proved this year that they have a fast car. Often I was overtaken by a Sauber this year and I saw for two or three corners how good the car is before it was gone. Naturally I sometimes wished that I was sitting in it,” he smiled.

It has been rumoured Hulkenberg is being groomed by Ferrari-powered Sauber for a switch to the Maranello based team in 2014. Asked how long he will be a Sauber driver, Hulkenberg laughed: “I don’t know yet. We will see next year.

“The team (Sauber) basically does the contracts for one year only.”


Boullier: Continuity helped Grosjean keep F1 seat

Lotus’ need for “continuity” helped Romain Grosjean keep his job after the Frenchman’s tumultuous return to F1 in 2012.

That is the admission of team boss Eric Boullier, who along with team owner Gerard Lopez took his time in deciding whether the 26-year-old – derided as F1’s “crash pilot” by many sections of the media – should be replaced.

Asked by Switzerland’s Speed Week why Geneva-born Grosjean ultimately got the nod, Frenchman Boullier answered: “Continuity is a significant factor in a racing team.

“Driver changes bring unrest. Take a look at how stable the driver pairings at the top teams have been in recent years — Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren. This is no accident.

“It takes time and energy to fuse the working methods of drivers and teams,” he said.

As for why Grosjean, who for the second year in succession will be Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus teammate, is the right man for the job, Boullier stated: “Cohesion, courage, speed, freshness.

“And if he develops properly, he can be made not only a grand prix winner, but also a world champion. If he develops the way we want, then soon he will be one of the top five formula one drivers.”

Grosjean made many mistakes in 2012, including the Spa start-line crash that saw him serve an ultra-rare FIA race ban at Monza.

“World champions make mistakes,” Boullier acknowledged, “even if that happens rarely. I just want Romain to be competitive from the first race of the season.”