Stefano Domenicali has admitted Ferrari will probably not field the fastest car at the 2013 season opener next month.
Indeed, based on the results of the opening two tests of the pre-season, most rivals and pundits think world champion Red Bull is still in the lead. Veteran correspondent Roger Benoit, of the Swiss newspaper Blick, ranks Lotus second in his early 2013 pecking order, followed by McLaren and then last year’s runner-up Ferrari.
“The target is to be close together with the leading cars,” Maranello based Ferrari’s team boss Domenicali told Reuters. “I would be very surprised if it (the F138) was the quickest at the first race. But if we are all close together in a couple of tenths, then the season is really long and everything is possible.”
Last year, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso fought back into contention after a dire start, and both the Spanish driver and Felipe Massa have said the F138 is on “a different planet” compared to what they had early in 2012.
Still, their 2013 machine will probably not be dominant, Domenicali warns.
“In Australia it is not the end of the championship, it’s just the start. We need to be careful and stay cool,” he added.
Red Bull is still F1’s top team, according to Franz Tost.
Austrian Tost is the boss of the energy drink company’s Italian based second F1 team, Toro Rosso.
Asked to ponder the 2013 pecking order following two of the three pre-season tests in Spain, Tost answered: “The teams are close together, but by and large, not much has changed.
“Red Bull Racing will be the measure of all things in 2013,” he said in an interview with Speed Week. “Hopefully Toro Rosso will make a significant step forward,” added Tost.
Alain Prost, the quadruple world champion, is hopeful France host another Formula One race next season.
It has been five years since France last host an F1 race and both Magny Cours and Paul Ricard had been linked to hosting a 2013 Grand Prix.
“I still read in the press that there are opportunities for 2013,” Prost, who was involved in the talks, is quoted by France’s Sport24. “It is of course impossible. However, for 2014, there are possible openings (for France).
“There are a few grands prix in doubt but also many new projects considered by (Bernie) Ecclestone,” said Prost.
Danica Patrick has played down suggestions she might switch to Formula One.
Speculation the 30-year-old American could have a future on the grand prix grid was kindled by her high-profile pole position for Nascar’s premier Sprint Cup opener at Daytona. Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko was quoted by Bild newspaper as saying while Patrick is not “on the top ten” of his list of promising F1-worthy candidates for the future, he would offer her a test.
According to Austria’s Kleine Zeitung newspaper, Patrick described Marko’s offer as “nice” but insisted: “I do not need to be in formula one to have a full life.”
She said she has “never been really interested” in exploring any F1 options.
“It is speculation in the media,” she added, “but it has never been seriously discussed.”
That is despite Williams test driver Susie Wolff admitting recently that Bernie Ecclestone is “massively pushing” for a female driver to be on the F1 grid.
“At some point I think in the future we will definitely see it happen,” she said last week.
Honda may already be working on a Formula One project for 2014.
When revealing its all-new turbo V6 ‘power unit’ for next year near Paris on Monday, Renault’s Jean-Michel Jalinier said he “definitely” expects more engine makers to enter F1 under the 2014 rules.
“That’s why the number of our customers will fall in the future,” he is quoted by German website motorsport-total.com, “because there are more competitors.”
Honda, the Japanese marque that pulled out of F1 at the end of 2008 due to the global financial crisis, could be one such competitor. The German-language Speed Week reports that Frenchman Gilles Simon, Ferrari’s engine boss during the ultra-successful Jean Todt era, could already be working with Honda.
After leaving Ferrari, Simon worked for the FIA, but most recently he has been designing a turbo V6 for Craig Pollock’s intended 2014 F1 supplier Pure.
But with Pollock’s plans now collapsed, Speed Week reports that British sources suspect the newly UK-based Simon could be working on a F1 engine for Honda.
For its last F1 foray, Honda was based at Brackley, which is now the headquarters for Mercedes’ similarly Ross Brawn-led works team.
Esteban Gutierrez has denied he was given the news about his F1 debut this year straight from the mouth of Carlos Slim.
21-year-old Mexican Gutierrez is replacing Sauber’s McLaren-bound Sergio Perez, presumably to keep the Swiss team’s main backer Telmex happy. Telmex is the Mexican company headed by billionaire Carlos Slim, whose son and namesake is directly involved in the handling of Perez’s career. But it’s a slightly different situation for Gutierrez.
Asked if Slim told him he would be stepping up from the reserve role after three years to finally race for Sauber in 2013, Gutierrez said: “No. I have had a contract for four years with Sauber.
“My deal is with them,” he insisted to Spain’s El Confidential. “Obviously, the relationship with Carlos is very close because they are my sponsors, but unlike Checo (Perez) they have not been my managers.
“We have always worked with them as a sponsor, and they have been very supportive, but I have my relationship with Sauber and a programme that has been developed over time with them,” added Gutierrez.
After Williams removed its controversial solution for the ‘Coanda’-effect exhaust late last week, heads are now turning in Caterham’s direction.
Williams’ move to remove the solution reportedly followed the FIA’s Charlie Whiting telling team designer Mike Coughlan at Jerez that he deemed it illegal. But while Williams’ solution attempted to find a loophole in the regulations, Coughlan said recently he thought Caterham’s similar approach is “clearly not allowed”.
A Caterham spokesman said: “We are continuing to evaluate a range of options at the pre-season tests as per our normal programme.”
But the team’s new Dutch racer Giedo van der Garde is not so sure that means Caterham will remove the solution.
“I am told that it is legal, so I am not worried,” he is quoted by the Dutch magazine Formule1. “I expect to find the same exhaust on the car in Barcelona.”
The third and final four-day pre-season test begins on Thursday.
Paddy Lowe is no longer McLaren’s technical director. Hot on the heels of reports the 50-year-old has been placed on ‘gardening leave’, the British team announced that long-time McLaren engineer Tim Goss has replaced Lowe.
“The great mystery is no more,” Tobias Gruner, the correspondent for Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, said. “The only thing missing is the official confirmation.”
He is referring to speculation Lowe will almost certainly be joining Mercedes after his ‘gardening leave’.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said: “He’s been a good and successful F1 technical director, and we wish him well when he embarks on a fresh challenge in 2014.”
Whitmarsh’s comment will increase speculation Lowe has been drafted by Mercedes to replace team boss Ross Brawn.
“I cannot officially say anything,” Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ new shareholder and executive chairman, told Reuters. “If Paddy Lowe is coming or not, I cannot tell you now … (but) Ross is in his position and will stay in his position. Everything is under control.”
Prior to the news about Lowe’s ‘gardening leave’ breaking, Brawn told F1’s official website on Monday: “I am responsible for the sporting side; running the team on an operational level.
“If we can maintain that then there will not be a problem.”
A report in the UK newspaper Express said confidently: “Brawn feels his status has been undermined and will not hang around the new regime.”
Hot on the heels of Williams and Caterham’s dubious exhaust exit solutions for 2013, trouble could also be brewing for F1’s two other Renault-powered teams.
Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that, after Renault and ‘works’ partner Red Bull were told to cease using certain ‘engine maps’ last year, the same issue is now back on the table.
Correspondent Michael Schmidt also said the similarly Renault-powered Lotus, who according to most pundits has been the second most impressive team of the 2013 pre-season, is also in the spotlight as the latest controversy brews.
The report said that despite the FIA issuing a technical directive about engine maps last August, “it was not clear what should apply for 2013”.
Ferrari’s engine boss Luca Marmorini was quoted as insisting “Everything remains the same”.
His Renault counterpart Remi Taffin does not agree, claiming “a new benchmark” for engine mapping in 2013 will be set down by teams in Australia next month.
“The (August 2012) directive referred exclusively to last year,” said the Frenchman.
According to journalist Schmidt, however, the FIA has confirmed that the August 2012 directive still stands.
Renault was reportedly unaware of the federation’s stance until as recently as Thursday of last week, having developed new maps to optimise the exhaust-blowing effect for 2013.
Ross Brawn, Mercedes’ team boss, thinks the situation could now harm Red Bull and Lotus, as their similar exhaust solutions for 2013 were probably designed to work in conjunction with “a clever engine management system”.
Having sat out the launch of the new MP4-28, McLaren’s technical director Paddy Lowe will now not travel to Australia for the 2013 opener.
The news continues the saga of Lowe’s uncertain future, with the Guardian newspaper claiming on Monday that a move to Mercedes for the 50-year-old is “a done deal”.
“He will join the team in time to oversee the massive (rule) changes for 2014,” said journalist Paul Weaver.
Weaver explained that Lowe will remain under contract to McLaren this year, but he will be on so-called ‘gardening leave’ in order to protect the Woking based team’s technical secrets.
Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn insisted recently that his position is safe, but Weaver thinks Lowe could eventually take over “unless Mercedes make significant progress” in the near future.