Valencia surprised as Barcelona scraps alternation plans

Barcelona’s decision to abandon plans to alternate its annual grand prix hosting rights has caught Valencia by surprise.

It was believed Barcelona, the regular host of the annual Spanish grand prix, had agreed with European GP venue Valencia to annually alternate a single spot on the schedule from now on. Valencia is duly absent from next year’s calendar.

But Circuit de Catalunya chief Vincente Aguilera said on Wednesday: “We have no desire to alternate. We cannot speak for Valencia, who have agreements with (Bernie) Ecclestone about which we have nothing to say.” That has caught Valencia by surprise.

A Valencian government source is quoted by Marca sports newspaper: “There was an agreement between the (Valencia and Barcelona) presidents over the alternation.

“With the formation of the current Catalan government there may have been a change, we do not know.

“Understand that for our part we have worked for the continuity of F1 in Valencia through the alternation, which for us gives the grand prix rationality through increasing revenue and reducing costs,” the source added.


Spanish hosts agree GP share scheme through 2019

Spain’s Formula One race hosts have finally agreed to annually alternate a single grand prix date.

Spanish sports newspapers Marca and Diario Sport said the respective organisers and supporting governments of the Barcelona and Valencia races have now agreed that the country should host only one grand prix per year. Presidents Artur Mas (Catalonia) and Alberto Fabra (Valencia) have agreed the arrangement should remain in place through 2019.

But they must now await the “approval” of F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who has previously said that an alternating scheme is the best solution for the calendar and for crisis-struck Spain.

Marca said the idea is that Barcelona will host the Spanish grand prix in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, with Valencia’s street circuit returning to the calendar in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

A clause in Valencia’s existing contract, for the annual European grand prix, allows the race to be called the Spanish grand prix if Barcelona is not hosting F1 on the same calendar.


Sauber unhappy with Grosjean

Romain Grosjean would not be the most welcome face in the Sauber motor home. Recently after the Spanish grand prix, Swiss newspaper Blick quoted Sergio Perez as cursing “f***ing French!” after a collision with Lotus’ Grosjean.

Then, at Monaco, Kamui Kobayashi had to retire with suspension damage after his spectacular high-flying crash at the first corner.

“Unfortunately it was Grosjean again,” Peter Sauber thundered. “First Perez was the victim, now Kobayashi.”

And those tangles were not reigning GP2 champion Grosjean’s only mistakes so far in 2012, despite demonstrating otherwise strong pace in his second season since his abortive 2009 debut. Team boss Eric Boullier insists he is being patient with the 26-year-old.

“He is still early in his career and therefore has the right to make mistakes,” the Frenchman is quoted by L’Equipe sports newspaper. “This is no excuse, but all the drivers around him have done thousands of kilometres of testing and many races. He is still in his first year and I think has done a pretty amazing job for a rookie.”


Williams to thank rivals after Barcelona garage fire

Sir Frank Williams has vowed to visit every rival team this weekend in Monaco to thank them personally for their response to the garage fire two weeks ago in Spain. The Oxfordshire based team’s founder and boss revealed not only that every fire extinguisher in the Barcelona paddock was willingly discharged, but that the other team principals had stepped forward with offers to help Williams recover from the loss of nearly everything in the pits.

“The reaction was extraordinary,” he told the Telegraph. “Overwhelming. “My main job when I get to Monaco is to go around all the team principals and thank them, and try to pay them back for whatever they gave us.”

Chief engineer Mark Gillan is quoted by Spain’s El Pais newspaper as putting a figure on how much of the team’s travelling equipment was destroyed in Spain — 90 per cent.

“That includes every metal component on Bruno (Senna)’s car through corrosion,” he said.

Senna confirmed to El Mundo newspaper: “I think that from the car I raced in Barcelona the only thing that is the same now is the tub.”

Williams is still missing some things, but Gillan insisted that the fire will not affect the team’s Monaco grand prix.

“In fact, you can run an F1 car with one laptop if you have to. You don’t want to, but we are fully operational,” he insisted.


Brawn missed Spanish GP for heart checks

Ross Brawn revealed on Wednesday he missed the recent Spanish grand prix to have checks on his heart.

After handing over to his Mercedes deputy Nick Fry in Barcelona, fellow Briton Brawn is back in action as the team boss in Monte Carlo. Rumours hinted there was more to the story, but Brawn insisted to a German newspaper earlier on Wednesday that he was simply advised by doctors to take the weekend off after a night in hospital for checks.

He then told reporters in Monaco his symptoms had been “arrhythmia”, or an irregular heartbeat, insisting he is “back to normal now”. Brawn, 57, joked the heart problem was triggered by watching an exciting football game on television.


Static electricity may be cause of Williams fire

It is believed static electricity could have sparked Williams’ garage fire two weeks ago in Barcelona.

Even in the Monte Carlo paddock, the huge Spanish blaze was still a hot topic. The British team and the FIA conducted investigations, but there has been no definite finding about the cause of the fire.

Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reported suggestions simple static electricity, caused by the specific weather conditions and the fact a container was not grounded at the time, was the culprit.

Williams has scrambled to be ready for Monaco, but the only obvious sign of the fire on Wednesday was one missing mechanic, who is still recovering from burns.

“He’s on the road to recovery,” said co-owner Toto Wolff.

It is believed the mechanic was pumping fuel from one container to another when the fire started. Wolff confirmed the static electricity theory.

“This is extremely rare. The weather may have played a role, as we had low pressure over Barcelona that day,” he explained.

Auto Motor und Sport said Williams lost mainly computers in the fire, but the crucial data survived. Of the team’s 150 radios, only 40 were intact.

Wolff said Bruno Senna’s chassis survived because of the partitions at the back of the main pit area.

“They are flame retardant,” he confirmed. “This meant the fire did not come beyond the back (area). The walls melted in the heat, but they didn’t burn.”

And financially, the Oxfordshire based team is completely undamaged, due to insurance.


Barcelona fire car to be used by Senna at Monaco

The F1 car photographed amid the charred remains of Williams’ burnt-out garage in Barcelona will be back in action this weekend at Monaco.

We reported last week that an initial inspection of Bruno Senna’s Renault-powered FW34, which was sitting in the pits when the fire broke out during the team’s celebrations for Pastor Maldonado’s victory last Sunday, showed it had emerged with minimal damage. A spokesman has now confirmed that Senna will race the very same chassis on the streets of Monaco this week.

Otherwise, the garage fire “somewhat hampered” Williams’ preparations for the famous race in the Principality, chief engineer Mark Gillan admitted.

“But the impact has been mitigated by what can only be described as a herculean effort by the factory and our suppliers to restock both the damaged equipment and car parts,” he said.

Gillan also said rival teams made “generous offers” of help.

Maldonado’s chassis was safely in parc ferme at the time of the fire.


Valencia pushing ahead with F1 alternation idea

Valencia is pushing ahead with the idea it will from now on annually alternate a single grand prix race date with Barcelona.

Bernie Ecclestone recently confirmed speculation that a deal has been reached so that the sport’s Spanish hosts, whose country is struggling amid an economic crisis, will host their respective races only once every two years.

That deal was set to begin with Barcelona’s race next year, but the Circuit de Catalunya organisers said there remained some doubt, and the city authorities even pledged EUR 5 million to help the track keep its annual race date.

Valencia, however, says it remains ready to alternate.

According to Europa Press, a spokesman for the Generalitat Valenciana confirmed there has been “no modification” to the new alternating deal, which has been reached in the form of a “verbal agreement”.

“There is no modification, despite some statements we have heard,” he insisted.


Whiting defends Hamilton’s Spanish GP penalty

Charlie Whiting has defended the decision in Spain to move Lewis Hamilton from pole to the very rear of the grid after the Brit stopped on track at the end of the final qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix. Although McLaren was widely criticised for making a serious error, many people felt that the penalty given to Hamilton was overly severe.

“Quite frankly I did not expect the penalty that we received,” said McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh.

Indeed, given that McLaren’s fuel indiscretion occurred only in the decisive Q3, why not simply delete Hamilton’s Q3 laptimes, thereby putting the Briton mid-grid for the race?

“We had no room to move,” Whiting, the FIA’s race director, responded to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport when told that Hamilton’s penalty seemed too severe. “If there is a violation, it applies to the whole session, not just part of it,” he insisted. “Qualifying begins with Q1.”

Whiting explained that if Hamilton had only lost his Q3 time, a precedent would have been set tempting teams to risk not being checked for the mandatory 1 litre fuel sample in post-qualifying scrutineering.

Auto Motor und Sport said only one or two fuel samples are actually checked after qualifying at grands prix. Competitors could, therefore, genuinely “run the risk” of using less fuel than is allowed in Q3, if the penalty for being caught is relatively light, Whiting argued.

He recalled last year’s German grand prix, when Sebastien Buemi was sent to the back of the grid because his fuel sample showed irregularities. As it was not possible to check if the illegal fuel had also been used in Q1 and Q2, the Toro Rosso driver had to be disqualified from qualifying, Whiting argued.


Vettel defends Schumacher after Senna crash at Spanish GP

Sebastian Vettel has defended his former mentor Michael Schumacher.

The seven time world champion has been roundly criticised since last Sunday’s Spanish grand prix, after crashing into Williams’ Bruno Senna at the end of the Barcelona straight. He called the Brazilian driver an “idiot” on the radio and later defended the outburst, but the FIA did not agree, imposing a five-place qualifying penalty for Monte Carlo for causing a collision.

“For us, that manoeuvre of Michael’s cost us a lot,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Austrian Servus TV.

He said the debris from the crash not only damaged Vettel’s front wing, but led to the reigning world champion having to serve a drive-through penalty due to activating his DRS wing in the yellow-flag zone. German Vettel, however, defended Schumacher.

“In those situations we don’t have much time of course,” he said, “and you can get very great speed differences (between the cars) on the straights. I think it should be classified simply in the category of racing accidents. Unfortunately it happens,” said the reigning world champion.

“Of course you can always say what is what afterwards,” added Vettel, “just as you can say that it always takes two to tango.”

Mercedes’ Norbert Haug was less eager to comment, although he did tell Germany’s Sport1 that the team “accepts the verdict of the race stewards”.