Flavio Briatore


This is most disturbing. I know I’ve been in hibernation for a year or so, but really, who would have thunk?!  The Iceman has gone rallying, our very own super assistant has gone behind our back and signed for Mercedes (just when the general audience was beginning to understand what a super assistant really does), and we have good old Nando in Ferrari red proudly displaying the Santander logo. Todt is the new president of FIA (I bet Nando won’t call it Ferrari International Assistance any longer), Ron Dennis is finally gone, and Flavio…well, dear Flavio is always getting into some trouble or the other. This time apparently he thought it would be funny to tell Nelson Piquet Jr to crash (it’s a bit like asking Nick Heidfeld to look like Chewbacca) and Nelson was so thrilled on being asked to do what he does so well for a change that he executed it in perfection. It’s good that indignant Flavio got the lifetime ban overturned, a pure case of witch-hunting,  this! As if Nelson wouldn’t have crashed if Flavio hadn’t asked him to! Oh, and did I mention Jenson won the world championship? You can easily understand why my head’s reeling a bit as I type.

I am already missing Kimi a bit. Agreed he had about as much animation in his eyes as that of a dead fish, but the Iceman was still a bit special. Who can forget the gorilla costumes and James Hunt pseudonyms? And now we have to change the website logo, which is a darned nuisance  by the way. Oh well, at least we still have dear Felipe, a fighter as always. Talking of which, what has come over Michael Schumacher (Or his evil twin, as Luca di Montezemolo would have us believe)? So he got the racing itch, and there was a small logistical problem at Ferrari (2 Ferrari cars is not divisible by 3 drivers), but if he had been a bit patient, I am sure Bernie would have found the way. Yes, Bernie Ecclestone. Clearly a man who can reveal he would like short-cuts at every circuit with a straight face is capable of thinking up some creative solution to this problem. I attribute this whole fiasco to inviting Michael to every other race by the way. No good racing driver can sit on the pit wall and watch his erstwhile colleagues make a hash of it race after race without wanting to jump in the car and show them a pointer or two. Anyway, no use crying over spilt milk, so we resign ourselves to watching da Michael in gray overalls and red helmet, a fashion disaster as always.  

Talking of fashion disasters…I mean fashion, I must say the red sits pretty well on young Fernando. Better than blue anyway. And is it just me, or has his neck slimmed down quite a bit? No more talks of fat necks, bushy eyebrows and mental instability by the way. We have always been very fond of Fernando Alonso here at FFN, and as a grand welcoming gesture from now on, we shall only focus on the positives. Anything else is just an endearing quirk. With Fernando and Felipe at Ferrari, we are very tempted to change FFN to FFFFN, no that’s not what I was going to say…we at FFN are very excited about the 2010 season. Bring it on! Forza Ferrari, as always!

This weekend hosts the fourth round (and quarter way point already – crikes!) of the Formula 1 season at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain. Following on from the two previous races in Malaysia and China where local weather conditions played havoc, it is rumoured that a sandstorm may be on the cards for Sunday afternoon which just happens to be race day.

sandstorm-sakhir-circuitBahrain’s Meteorology Office (not to be confused with Ferrari’s sometimes errant pitwall system) has reported there is an increasing risk of “rising sand” whatever that means. We do hope it isn’t quicksand, otherwise the entire paddock could be swallowed up and never seen again.

With the current season only being four weeks old, and two thirds of that taking place in meteorological conditions of biblical proportions, here at FFN we are beginning to wonder what catastrophe we are in for next….fire and brimstone raining from the skies? plagues of locusts? incurable boils? We realise the powers that be have been trying to improve the spectacle of the sport but this is just getting ridiculous.

While the F1 teams have been unpacking and getting ready ahead of the race weekend, the F1 rumour mill has been in top gear all week, seemingly no amount of rain or sand can put a spanner in the works of the worlds motorsports media.

If you have access to the BBC, you may remember that last weekend at the Chinese GP, former Force India Technical Director Mike Gascoyne took over from the BBC’s regular pundit Eddie Jordan to bring us his unique insight into all matters F1, and did a superb job.

According to recent reports the feedback received by the BBC was so positive, that Mike Gascoyne is allegedly pushing for the job full time at the expense of the Irishman. Simultaneously it is reported that Mr. Gascoyne also has his eye on an unspecified role at Maranello and fancies himself as a bit of a Ross Brawn.

mike-gascoyneAllegedly Mike has been quoted as saying he will fit in well with the culture at Ferrari (no doubt he has his beady eye on the lunch menu already and has been practicing speaking and waving his arms around like an animated windmill at the same time) and is touting himself for a possible role in the wind tunnel or in the aerodynamics department.

Perhaps Mike is offering to fill the Maranello based windtunnel with hot air, as it seems this is what he is spouting at the moment. As far as we are concerned he is nothing like Ross Brawn, in height, girth or fashion sense, not to mention Ross Brawn hasn’t been sacked by his last two employers. But lets not split hairs. Perhaps he is referring to his facial fuzz and whether he looks jolly and round in red uniforms.

Personally we would have thought Jean Todt would have been a more accurate comparison….since they both have reputations for rollocking their employees when they get cross, not to mention the need for a few copies of the Yellow Pages so they can reach their pitwall bar stools….

Someone else who is considering their future with the Ferrari Team is Michael Schumacher, who has confirmed he will be holding talks with the team over the summer as to whether he continues on in his extremely vaguely titled role as ‘Advisor’, two years on we are still trying to ascertain what he does apart from standing around looking pretty and scaring the bejesus out of Kimi.

Although we suppose some tifosi may point out the very same thing two years on, regarding sometimes WDC Kimi Raikkonen. Not least since Team Boss Stefano Domenicali hinted after Malaysia that people would be best remembering what their responsibilities are, assuming of course that Kimi can actually remember that far back in the first place…..

michael-schumacher-mystery-advisorMichael’s announcement has led to all sorts of scurrulous speculation, that he is either looking to dethrone current F1 team boss Stefano Domenicali, or has simply got fed up of standing about like an expensive piece of furniture and taking flak for dubious strategy decisions, and wants to cut ties with the Maranello team and instead has decided to run off with the Moscow State Circus.

Is there anyone in the paddock these days not considering their future with the team? According to former Toro Rosso boss Gerhard Berger, the only man in Maranello with an assured job for next year is Fernando Alonso, quel surprise!

Allegedly the Toro Rosso ex-boss and former Ferrari encumbant himself, claims that the Spaniard already knows what team he is working for in 2010. According to reports, Fernando informed the Toro Rosso team in 2008, that he was only looking for an option for 2009 as he had already got plans in place for the following year. We can only presume he is coming to Ferrari in an advisory capacity as it seems to be all the rage these days, filling your garage up with highly paid advisors, never mind the sodding drivers.

This could leave Renault in the lurch somewhat when it comes to drivers, as already rumours have begun to emerge that Nelson Piquet Jnr (Alonso’s less illustrious teammate) has been given a 3 race deadline to show his skills or get given a close encounter with Flavio Briatore’s boot and the fire exit.

flav-and-his-boysThe Brazilian has been told that he has until Monaco to impress the Flamboyant Flav, or the team will start looking at other options, including running his car with a plastic crash test dummy. Not that we would probably notice much difference when it comes to the actual driving, but we do suppose they complain less, are a lot cheaper and have similar colours to Nelson’s helmet already which should please the sponsors.

Flav has gone on record as saying that even if Nelson Piquet Jnr does get the old heave-ho, the team are limited at trying too find a decent replacement this season (surely anything has got to be an improvement albeit slightly less entertaining…..).

One rumour currently doing the rounds is that Renault may be interested in luring away BrawnGP’s third driver Austrian Beanpole Alex Wurz, due to the fact he provides excellent technical feedback and has close working knowledge of BrawnGP’s hairdryer (I mean diffusor). Not to mention Alex has already worked for Flavio on a previous occasion at Benetton, and conveniently comes with a pair of industrial earplugs already installed. That’s if he isn’t already off to Ferrari, like the rest of the paddock.

Meanwhile the Maranello squad themselves have confirmed they will not be running the KERS system on Raikkonen’s car this weekend, but they will be running it on Felipe Massa’s.

kimi-in-bahrainApparantly the team have been hard at work back in the factory trying to get to the bottom of the system’s problems, and are hopeful that they may have fixed its reliability issues in time for the Bahrain GP. According to news reports this afternoon they will be running the system on only one car as a way of comparing performance, presumably to see the difference between very slow and VERY VERY VERY slow.

Mr. Raikkonen has spoken to the Italian Media today and in his usual understated manner has assured them there is not much chance of the Maranello outfit winning at Sakhir this weekend (just in case we were in any doubt), but that the realistic target is at most a podium place or a few points. That’s what we like to see, our drivers brimming with enthusiasm and confidence!

We can only hope that with the removal of his KERS (Kimi’s early retirement system) the Finn hasn’t got much excuse but to get on with it, and will have to wait a bit longer for his after race refreshments. Although we should point out since they don’t supply champagne on the podium in Bahrain, it’s hardly much of an incentive for him is it?

race-start-chinaI know what you are thinking. It’s Tuesday afternoon, 3 days after the Chinese Grand Prix and you were beginning to think we had flung ourselves off a Balcony in a fit of despair after what can only be described as yet another desolate and demoralising weekend for the Ferrari Team.

Do not fear, we can confirm we are alive and well, albeit wearing pairs of underpants on our heads, inserting pencils up our nostrils and taking valium like its going out of fashion. Even the FFN cat is refusing to come out from under the duvet.

Going into the race weekend, Ferrari confirmed they would be racing in China without the KERS system, which to those of you new to the sport, is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, although given all the reliability problems that Ferrari have had with it of late we do feel it should be more aptly described as Kimi’s Early Retirement System.

Allegedly, the removal of the extremely temperamental device was supposed to improve the reliability of the F60 and the chances of some much needed points, but on the downside would make it harder to overtake during the race. But at least it wouldn’t be spontaneously bursting into flames and fumigating Kimi’s underpants at any given moment.

ferrari_kersKimi as ever was pretty nonchalant about the removal of his retirement system, and was more interested in knowing when the ice hockey was on and if the Ferrari Fridge Freezer was fully stocked, but ickle Felipe was eager to insist the team work to improve the reliability and get the infernal creation reinstalled back in time for Bahrain. Heaven knows why, unless he is hell bent on removing his teammate as a rival before he has even left the garage.

At this point it is worth mentioning, that during the Chinese Grand Prix weekend only 3 cars out of 20 on the grid were using KERS, the rest of the grid including BMW who insisted on the teams developing it in the first place at FOTA, removing the device from their cars.

Renault’s Flamboyant Team Principal took a few seconds break over the weekend from haranguing Ross Brawn, to describe the KERS system as being very useful as a sailboat anchor and not much else.

flavio1Flavio then immediately went back to calling Jenson Button a concrete bollard, Rubens an old fart, and demanding that the FIA refuse to give Ross Brawn his £30 million share in TV revenues for forcing everyone to fork out for the odd new diffusor or two. We can only hope this new cashflow problem for the Renault team will mean Flavio cannot afford any more new eye-watering thongs. Every cloud has a silver lining so they say.

We can’t help feeling that if the FIA hadn’t insisted on KERS in the first place, (which thus far has proved about as much use as a chocolate teapot), then all the teams would be able to have just as many diffusors as they jolly well liked….since they are after all in fitting with the wording and spirit of the current technical regulations. We are enthusiastically waiting for the first team to come up with a triple-decker, and see how the FIA like that, presuming they actually noticed of course.

Anyway I suppose at some point we should actually mention the race, as that is why we are here, isn’t it?

Red Bull emerged as a serious contender over the course of the race weekend, being the only non-double diffusor team taking the challenge to Ross Brawn’s BrawnGP team.

Popular little German Sebastien Vettel led home a resounding 1-2 victory for Red Bull from pole position, his cryogenically frozen teammate Mark ‘Wooden Leg’ Webber not far behind, with current World Championship Leader Jenson ‘Bollard’ Button happy to secure third spot on the podium after yet another extremely difficult race thanks to precipitation.

Yes, following on from the wet weather debacle in Malaysia just a week or so ago, the weather once more intervened in proceedings thank you very much to whoever’s wise idea it is to swap the F1 calendar around to incorporate the rainy season. We won’t mention any names of vertically challenged F1 supremo’s at this point, lest he decides to sue us. Let’s hope he doesn’t come up with any more bright ideas for the future of the sport, like putting a race in tornado alley or up the side of a volcano for example.

safety-car-chinaDue to the track conditions the race began under the safety car, which while we applaud the FIA taking seriously the safety of the drivers concerned, they actually cancelled out about the only exciting bit of the race, and we were therefore deprived of Rubens Barrichello tanking his way past anyone who happened to be on the same bit of track he wanted.

Considering most stalwart fans had to get up in what can only be described as the middle of the night (well to me anyway), the last thing they want to watch is 90 odd laps of F1 cars driving around at a snails pace, behind a safety car that goes slower than my Grandmother in her FIAT 500 at a roundabout.

Once the safety car had been dispatched, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa had a storming race fighting his way up through the field with a magnificent drive from 12th to 4th, silencing some of his critics (who claim he can’t drive in the rain) in the process.

Unfortunately fate had other plans, and a software management program shut down ickle Felipe’s Engine leaving the poor Brazilian floundering on the grass verge like a fish out of water.

Had it not been for this unfortunate turn of events there was every chance the passionate little poppet would have been in with a good chance of getting on the podium, assuming Ferrari hadn’t come up with some bizarre strategy to send him out with no tires at all not to mention the obligatory white visor…..

kimi-chinaTeammate Kimi Raikkonen endured a less auspicious afternoon, the Flying Finn (or should that be Floundering Finn?) struggled throughout, apparently suffering from a lack of speed, lack of grip and intermittent issues with rain dripping into his engine. Perhaps next time he might want to take an umbrella round with him, either that or get his engine covered in sticky back plastic.

Kimi managed to bring his F60 home in 10th spot, which is quite a remarkable feat in itself considering it seemed he was overtaken by just about every driver on the grid on at least two or three occasions. Unfortunately Kimi has come in for come flak for his Sunday afternoon performance, with some fans insisting he might actually go faster if Ferrari strap choc-ices to the rear wings of all the other cars to motivate him to go faster. The Kimbot has hit back and suggested that motivation isn’t his problem, in fact he hasn’t even got a first clue what it is…..or something to that effect.

Suffice to say yet another dismal performance has incensed the Italian Media and some sections of the“Tifosi” somewhat, with yet more calls for heads to roll. We are at a loss to see how beheading Ferrari Staff is actually going to help matters, not least because they won’t be able to see the darned car to improve it.

_stefano_domenicaliAfter the Race, Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali hinted that the Maranello outfit may resort to scrapping efforts for 2009 and concentrating on 2010, if they do not see a vast improvement in the performance of the car come the Spanish Grand Prix in 3 weeks time.

According to some reports, Ferrari will be introducing a new floor on the F60 (riddled with drilled holes for more downforce) I know this because they phoned us up here at FFN HQ asking to borrow our cordless power drill in exchange for an extremely rare free official signed photo of Kimi smiling and Felipe looking vacant.

It is also thought that the Spanish GP will see the team introduce a new double diffusor at the back of the car, to help claw back some of the performance deficit to some of the top teams. Ferrari staff were unavailable for comment last night, when we tried to ascertain any truth to the rumours they would also be installing a couple of rockets (not icecreams Kimi) on the side of the car to speed it up a little.

As per usual Austria’s very own like-for-like version of Prince Phillip (due to his fondness for political incorrectness), has popped out the woodwork to impart us with his words of wisdom on the current situation. Former World Champion Niki Lauda has insisted that the loss of Ross Brawn, Michael Schumacher and Jean Todt has left the Ferrari team unravelling into chaos like a ball of spaghetti. We just hope they find the meatballs to turn the situation around, either that or find some spare socks or a block of parmesan to stuff into the piehole located on Lauda’s face.

lewis-spinmasterEven McLaren starlet Lewis Hamilton had a torrid time on Sunday afternoon, the Brit who has developed something of a reputation for his skills in wet weather driving the last two seasons, ended up spinning around more times than a ballerina in a version of Swan Lake, well we suppose he would look very pretty in a tutu. Even then he still managed to overtake Kimi on 3 seperate occasions (although don’t quote me on that I had slipped into a comatose state by this stage) and simultaneously mount a serious challenge on Felipe Massa’s all time silverstone-spin record.

The highlight of the race weekend for us, apart from listening to Flavio Briatore’s witticisms, was watching first Nelson Piquet, then Adrian Sutil aquaplaning off track to demolish the 50m and 100m polystyrene braking markers at the side of the track. Not that any of the drivers could probably see them in the first place through all the spray coming off the back of the car in front of them.

Unfortunately poor Adrian had been on course to score some points after a dogged effort up into 6th place, and even overtaking current world champion Lewis Hamilton on one of his many off track excursions. Nelson Piquet Jnr meanwhile looks like he is on course to sign his own F1 death warrant which might be preferable to walking back to the Renault garage and finding out what Flav has got to say on the matter.

sebastien-buemi1Meanwhile Torro Rosso’s Swiss Rookie Sebastien (yes another one) Buemi, yet again had a sterling race, showing up supposedly more experienced former world champions, the Torro Rosso star managing to overtake both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton at one stage, then proceeded to fight off the attentions of Fernando Alonso who was attempting to inspect his gearbox at close range for several laps. The swiss youngster eventual went onto score a valuable point for the Faenza outfit, bravo!

All in all though, despite the weather and the numerous spins, gravel trap outtings, and Robert Kubica’s car trying to mate with the back of Jarno Trulli’s, the Chinese GP was a pretty dull affair and I suppose we would say that considering our allegiances.

Still here at FFN we are finally hoping for a race when it doesn’t rain as really Ferrari have just about enough to contend with already, and have sent off one of our office staff in search of Ferrari’s famous Weather Cow which was last seen in the sand dunes in the immediate vicinity of the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain in 2008.

We have just about every appendage crossed in the hope that Ferrari finally get some points on the scoreboard this weekend….otherwise we will be in desperate need for some retail therapy, not to mention wanting to affectionately smack Ferrari staff round the back of the head with our keyboards.

One really does have to feel a little bit of sympathy these days for Rubens Barrichello, or as one of my close friends calls him ’Woobens’. It seems wherever the plucky Brazilian goes, controversy is never far behind bobbing about on the horizon like a malevolent storm cloud.

woobens2Not mentioning the four seasons he spent at Ferrari where the team seemed to spend more time in trouble than out of it, even the odd impromptu karaoke night out on the tiles reciting complimentary ditties about your past teammates’ ends up unceremoniously splashed all over the media.

Moving to Honda (now BrawnGP) it seems poor Ruben’s still can’t escape the evil cloud of controversy that dogs his every move, the moment he finally gets his mitts on a half decent car that doesn’t drive like a drunken three-legged tortoise, already his counterparts up and down the pitlane seem hell bent on getting the darn thing declared illegal for having a diffuser that exploits a loophole in the regulations, allegedly.

Really is it any wonder that ‘Woobens’ has been stamping his feet somewhat and getting slightly irked with well meaning journalists when they have innocently asked about the legality of his current mode of transport.

During an interview with Spanish Publication Marca, the Brazilian churlishy replied “Your asking are we legal? When someone is behind it is easier to say your rivals are against the rules than do better work”.

That clears things up nicely thanks ‘Woobens’, the BrawnGP challenger is clearly not illegal in any way shape or form, and evidently the rest of the paddock are like a bunch of silly jealous schoolgirls, sniping at you because they want your shiny new car.

brawngp-diffuserUnfortunately in F1 things are never quite that simple. Despite the fact the FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting has today confirmed that the diffusers on the BrawnGP, Toyota and Williams’ vehicles are considered legal and just a clever exploitation of a loophole in the sporting regulations, that doesn’t mean it won’t be illegal in two week’s time. Especially once Renault’s Team Boss Flavio Briatore has threatened to sit on him and talk him into submission of course.

Naturally Charlie might have changed his mind in the interim period, as he has demonstrated a want to do on previous occasions, most noticeably when telling the McLaren pitwall that their driver’s overtaking manoeuvre at Spa is in fact acceptable, only then to go on and report it as an infraction to the race stewards. And they say women are fickle and indecisive.

Williams’ Technical Guru Sam Michael meanwhile has expressed his surprise that more teams have not copied and adopted the controversial diffuser designs (although we understand McLaren have been having a jolly good attempt at Jerez with a bottle of green liquid dye and a sheet of sticky-back plastic), stating that it would be fairly easy to do.

What might surprise Sam Michael is the speed in which the other teams can get into race control first thing on the Friday morning prior to the Australian Grand Prix and lodge a complaint, no doubt faster than the FFN office cat can run when I get the frontline flea treatment out of it’s hiding place….. and that’s saying something.

fernando-alonsoMeanwhile while the teams are considering how they can put a kaibosh on the seemingly runaway BrawnGP express train, the drivers yesterday have been sharing their thoughts about the latest dubious turn of events courtesy of the Freakin’ Idiots Assocation.

Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli, Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg to name but a few have condemned the latest rule changes to the points system, declaring it as nonsensical, silly and confusing…..and they were just the printable comments. Even former World Champion Michael Schumacher has waded into the fray in his cowboy boots, saying he is astonished and that the change in rules make little sense, and can only be of detriment to the sport. Sufficed to say the new rules have gone down like a lead balloon at a party.

Toyota’s Jarni Trulli has gone on to suggest that the FIA are in fact trying to kill off F1 and make the drivers leave to race in another series, which we feel is a rather drastic course of action merely because they have had the odd falling out with Max Mosley in the past over the hugely inflated prices of superlicenses and so forth.

madame_tussauds_lewis_hamiltonThis being the case the FIA may want to borrow Vodaphone’s remote control Blackberry and get on to Madame Tussauds’ in London pretty sharpish, to get themselves some cheaper and less vocal replacements.

Madame Tussaud’s reportedly have a rather impressive array of Formula 1 waxwork dummies on show, including Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher. This week Lewis Hamilton has been added to the collection, with his waxwork dummy costing a cool 230,000 euros to make. Well in these times of economical difficulty, if ever there is a power cut….you know where to go to get a candle!

Day 2

rubens.jpgThe second day of testing for the Formula 1 fraternity at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, was by and large a fairly dull affair, not withstanding the fact that Honda’s Rubens Barrichello ended up topping the timesheets by the end of the day’s session. Followed on by Force 1ndia’s Giancarlo Fisichella who has been having somewhat of a barnstorming season now he has escaped the rather large shadow of Flabby-o Briatore.

Following on from the previous day’s proceedings, most teams concentrated on working with the 2009 regulation spec slick tyres and associated aerodynamic/downforce configurations, although we were treated to some rather intriguing aerodynamic pieces by a handful of teams still working on developments for this championship season.

If you follow wildlife documentaries you may have noticed that nature always seems to come up with some of the most clever and efficient designs, and it would seem many an F1 team down the paddock have cottoned onto this fact.

We certainly have witnessed Honda’s obsession with it in the past, with Ruben’s Barrichello talking about his vehicle as if it were a cat, and some of the strange appendages that appeared during 2007 looking like they were straight out of London Zoo.

honda-rabbit-ears.jpgEvidently it would seem that BMW-Sauber’s prickly porcupine has had somewhat of an influence in this area, no doubt because of their excellent and impressive performances thus far this season. Following suit on Tuesday, Honda appeared with some interesting appendages of their own…a pair of rabbit ears protruding out of the front of their nose cone.

Of course here at FFN we will willingly admit we are no ‘Adrian Newey’ when it comes to aerodynamics, but we do have to wonder how a pair of rabbit ears helps the performance of the car, wouldn’t they be better off with a rabbit’s foot? (A well known good luck charm) I suppose we should thank our lucky stars they didn’t build a tortoise instead.

renoos-shark-fins.jpgContinuing on with the wildlife theme, Renault appeared to have copied Red Bull, by adopting a similarly hideous looking ‘shark’s fin’ to the rear of the engine on their car. If nothing else it looks like it could be useful for the team to hang their coats off when the car is in the garage.

Even Ferrari were getting in on the act, with little Brazilian poppet Felipe Massa laughingly admitting that the F2008 now looks like a shark, complete with ‘hammerhead’ front wing and a gaping mouth on top of the nose cone. As long as it doesn’t inadvertently chew his gear-shifting arm off when he is least expecting it.

Incidentally the Ferrari star put in the third fastest time of the day, however, we understand that this was done on grooved tyres with the 2008 aerodynamic configuration, making Felipe the fastest man using full 2008 regulations. Forza Felipe!

Day 3

familiar-face.jpgThe third day of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya got under way with a rather familiar face at the wheel of the F2008. Yes, you guessed it sometimes Super Assistant, Car Developer, Football reality TV show and Motorbike stunt skid fiend Michael Schumacher taking over in testing from Felipe Massa. Where he finds the time amongst all his trophy polishing we’d really like to know.

The 7 times World Champion managed to finish the day second fastest on the timesheets, behind Renault’s Fernando Alonso. But due to most of the teams still tinkering about with a mixture of 2008 and 2009 regulations, slick and grooved tyres and various appendages left, right and centre it was nigh on impossible to have the slightest inkling what it all meant.

Renault’s Pat Symonds has admitted that the R28 has failed to live up to the Enstone team’s expectations, but it is apparently difficult to pinpoint one area where there is specifically a problem. It would seem in an effort to improve their midpack position, just 3 races in they have resorted to throwing just about every available aero appendage they can at the R28 and hoping for some kind of divine intervention.

fernando.jpgCurrent rumours circulating the paddock are suggesting that Renault are desperately trying to hang onto their Double World Champion, who is rumoured to have signed a two year contract with the team, albeit with a clause to leave after one year if the car is not upto scratch.

Given Fernando’s much touted car development skills (you’ll have to browse a few F1 internet forums for further information) we can’t help feeling Renault should be up at the front challenging by now, if the Spaniard spent more time concentrating on the job in hand and less time sending flirty emails off to Maranello every hour on the hour.

On track for the first time on Wednesday was the new Torro Rosso STR3, which within hours of having been unveiled, promptly found itself careering across a gravel trap into a crash barrier by former Champ Car ace Sebastien Bourdais after just 71 laps of testing.

newly-reconfigured-torro-rosso.jpgIt is understood the damage is significant enough to ensure the car will be unable to be repaired in time for the fourth and final day of testing at the Barcelona Circuit.

Still, Sebastien should take some solace from the fact his penchant for off-road excursions are probably earning him quite an army of admirers in the Rallying fraternity if things don’t work out in Formula 1….failing that he could always start a pop career…..

start-line-at-albert-park.jpgAfter much anticipation the Formula 1 season finally got underway this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix taking place in Albert Park, Melbourne. We defy even Nostradamus Lauda and his finely attuned powers of prediction to have known exactly what was to follow in what turned out to be a very exciting and dramatic action packed race (yes F1 – I know!).

The weekend started well enough for the boys from the Scuderia, with our favourite Finn the Kimster topping the timesheets in the first free practice session, but from there on in things began to go pear-shaped for the Maranello outfit and no doubt new Team Principal Stefano Domenicali will be rueing the day he forced Felipe Massa to throw away his lucky underpants.

In the afternoon’s free practice something mysteriously seemed to go wrong with the set-up of the F2008, and soon arch-rivals McLaren rivals were taking charge of proceedings led by Lucky Lewis and Happy Heikki.

On Saturday, the bad luck continued with the Kimster suffering an engine pump failure during the first of the qualifying sessions, which we take to mean as the drinking straw fell out of his rocket fuel bottle and into the footwell of the F2008, leaving the Finn limping back to the pitlane in frustration not to mention very thirsty.

Unfortunately even with a highly paid 7 times World Champion and Super Assistant on the Books, no will in the world could make the Kimsters vehicle get back to the pitlane to allow him to have the problem fixed. And thus under Parc Ferme rules the Kimster was not allowed to take any further part in qualifying proceedings relegating the World Champ to 15th spot on the grid for Sunday’s Race.

Meanwhile team mate ickle Felipe was suffering misfortunes of his own having to abandon his last flying lap in the final qualifying session due to encountering traffic, meaning that the plucky Brazilian was unable to get the temperature into his tyres for his last flying attempt. Unfortunately this meant Felipe could only manage to secure 4th spot on the grid behind Lucky Lewis, Polish Papal favourite Robert Kubica in his spiky porcupine and Happy Heikki in his first turn out for the McLaren team.

Still all was not lost. Yet.

On race day, as the grid formed it was evident that pitlane poppet and Ferrari Team Manager Luca Baldisserri had a cunning plan up his sleeve, as both Ferrari’s lined up on the grid wearing the softer of the two tyre compounds available to the teams, compared to most of their rivals who started on the harder round black things. Despite having higher degradation and wear rates than the harder compound, conventional wisdom suggests that the softer of the two would allow the drivers to make up places at the start of the race now that traction control has been banned from the sport.

felipe-heads-off-for-some-sight-seeing.jpgWhen the lights went out, true to form the Kimster rocketed up the grid from 15th into 8th place leaving rivals left, right and centre in his wake.

Things however, did not start so well for ickle Felipe, who despite managing to get into the first corner maintaining his fourth position had what can only be described as a blonde moment and immediately shot off onto the grass for an impromptu scenic diversion.

This temporary mishap meant by the time the little ray of sunshine had recovered, most of the grid had got past him and were scuttling off at a rate of knots ahead of him. Whether as a result of Felipe’s impromptu track departure or not, we can’t really say but Torro Rosso’s Sebastien Vettel and Force 1ndia’s Giancarlo Fisichella entangled on track putting a premature end to their respective races before things had even barely started. Thus bringing out the Safety car for it’s first of many tour of duty for the afternoon’s proceedings.

The fortuitous arrival of said safety car allowed our ickle Felipe to return to the pitlane to have his nose-cone replaced which had taken a bit of a scrape in his tete a tete with the barriers on the grass verge. At this point more retirements ensued with Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Ant Davidson all packing up shop early and heading off for an early shower and afternoon nap.

the-stress-caused-by-green-trousers.jpgAt least Ferrari Team Boss Stefano Domenicali could take comfort from the fact ex-Ferrari man Ross Brawn was having an equally torrid time in his first official outting as Head Honda Honcho not least because of the hideous green trews (trousers) he was forced to wear. We can only presume Honda have engaged the services of F1’s foremost fashionista and former World Champion Jackie Stewart over the winter months to design their team kit, and as a result half of Honda look like extras from Robin Hood – Men in Tights. And we thought McLaren had it bad.

At the end of the second lap the safety car peeled off into the pitlane leaving the McLaren boys to scamper off merrily into the distance, and Ferrari’s poor ickle Felipe returning yet again to the pitlane for some fuel (since some silly sausage at the FIA has banned refuelling during a SC period) and we can but hope a flea in his ear from his race engineer Rob Smedley.

While Lucky Lewis was pulling out a 2 second gap over Robert Kubica’s BMW/pineapple, our flying Finn was all over the back of Honda’s Rubens Barrichello but to no avail. The planetary themed car proved to be very fat indeed and quite difficult to overtake – hardly a surprise with all that G Force Planet Earth produces.

Finally some 16 laps later, the Kimster finally managed to overhaul the Honda putting in an audacious move, and immediately was able to set about putting in some fast laps in the race, however by this time race leader Lucky Lewis had been able to complete his first pitstop and his teammate Kovaleinen was now leading proceedings out in front.

Meanwhile ickle Felipe was struggling to get past the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato, and given the latter’s reputation for aggressive racing and happily punting off rivals into the gravel at the drop of a hat, we can’t help but sympathise with Massa’s predicament.

jarnos-retirement.jpgToyota’s Jarno Trulli at this stage came into the pits, pulled off his steering wheel in frustration and retired, presumably much to the relief of those out on track who actually wanted to spend the afternoon overtaking and falling off all over the place and not stuck in a customary Trulli tailback.

By all accounts Jarno is a lovely man, but here at FFN we do wonder how many years its going to take for him to manage to transfer his legendary single lap qualifying pace and string it together in a race type situation. Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks?

Back on track Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato made a small mistake, which allowed both Felipe Massa and Williams Star Nakajima to take advantage and steam past. Nakajima’s team mate Britney (Rosberg) meanwhile was having a very decent race and had come into the pits with BMW’s Quick-Nick-Where’s-Chewbacca-Gone Heidfeld for a little bit of facial grooming and their first pitstop of the afternoon.

On the 21st lap McLaren’s Heikki Kovaleinen came into the pitlane for his scheduled pitstop, and just managed by the skin of his teeth to get back out on track ahead of his fellow rampaging Finn the Kimster who has been charging up the field like he had a rocket in his trousers and a point to prove. At this point only Rubens Barrichello, Fernando Alonso and the Kimster had yet to make their first pitstops.

Not long after this, ickle Felipe had evidently had enough of being stuck behind the Red Bull of David Coulthard (and who can blame him – David did obviously) and stole up the inside of the RB4 causing a collision by driving into the side of David’s car which put paid to the Scotsman’s race.

felipe-and-davids-fisticuffs.jpgOn being interviewed later the Red Bull veteran blamed the Brazilian for the incident and suggested ickle Felipe should take full responsibility for the collision, which incidentally he didn’t, and DC suggested that he might have to pop along to Ferrari and give ickle Felipe a good hiding (or something along those lines but no doubt less polite). It remains to be seen if the Ferrari Star has since been on the receiving end of a good thrashing and required urgent medical attention, so we shall keep our eyes peeled next weekend at Malaysia for any tell-tale big sunglasses and bruised eyes in the paddock.

As a result of the incident between the Red Bull and the Prancing Horse the safety car yet again pulled onto the race track allowing the drivers to form up behind in close formation.

Much to the relief of the Renault team, race control ordered the reopening of the pitlane two laps later allowing Fernando Alonso amongst others to come in and refuel. According to rumours the Sparky Spaniard had been running on fumes, team Boss Flavio Briatore was having kittens on the pitwall (not literally you understand), and poor Nando was beginning to wonder if he’d have to get out and push.

kimi-visits-the-gravel-trap.jpgOnce the safety car had peeled off into the pitlane for a second time, the race was back on. Happy Heikki was giving a hard time to his team mate Lewis out front, and the Kimster for some reason known only to himself decided to try some distraction tactics at turn 3 by shooting past his fellow Finn, waving and smiling as he went and shot into the gravel trap demoting himself back down to twelfth spot in the process. By which point we can only imagine the Ferrari pitwall must have developed an epidemic of hair pulling, hand wringing and furious nail-biting of epic proportions with Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo no doubt on the verge of lobbing his television out of the window in frustration.

Just to compound Ferrari’s torrid afternoon, shortly after Kimi’s escapades in turn 3, ickle Felipe’s car limped to the end of its life with engine trouble putting paid to the Brazilians efforts for the afternoon. Much to our disappointment, but we are sure there might have been the odd Scotsman here or there who might have taken some delight in this tragic turn of events.

Finally the Kimster came in for his one and only pitstop. Back out on track the two McLaren’s were still leading proceedings ahead of Quick Nick, Britney, and ‘I’m better than Michael Schumacher honestly’ Barrichello. Torro Rosso’s Rookie Sebastien Bourdais at this point was still having a stirling drive in his maiden F1 Grand Prix despite all the chaos going off everywhere else.

Meanwhile Papal Polish Poker Player Robert Kubica struggled with the tyres on his car and was being hounded by Double World Champion Fernando Alonso, who really you don’t want breathing down your neck at the best of times especially given his propensity for throwing temperamental hissy-fits when he doesn’t get his own way.

kimsters-optimism-pays-off-again.jpgWhile Nando was lining up to put a move on the BMW, the Kimster decided to try his distraction tactics again this time on the Toyota of Timo Glock, Unfortunately the bold move by the Finn resulted in him spinning around like a milk bottle top on a doorstep while Timo carried on as usual in a straight line. By this point we were beginning to wonder if the real Kimi was still at home in bed snoring his head off and some imposter had snuck off for the afternoon with his F2008 for a spin (literally).

The second row of pitstops ensued for some of the top runners (Hamilton, Rosberg and Heidfeld) shortly followed by Timo Glock having a big accident at turn 12, the German’s car was launched off the grass into the air for an impromptu flying lesson. Luckily the only damage being done to his pride and the car.

carnage-in-the-honda-pitbox.jpgDown at Honda things went from bad to worse, with Rubens Barrichello in the pitlane carrying out an illegal attempt at refuelling under the safety car (as a response to Glock’s accident) followed by the Brazilian knocking down several of his pitcrew with the refuelling rig when the lollipop guy got a bit over-enthusiastic. Well if it’s good enough for Mr Schumacher….

A few laps later the pitlane was confirmed open by race control, which allowed Alonso and Kovaleinen to pit for fuel and tyres, it was then confirmed that Rubens would have to undergo a 10 second stop and go penalty for his illegal refuelling under the safety car period…not to mention for sending the green trouser brigade scattering like a bunch of skittles.

Once more the safety car driver pulled into the pitlane with the fervent hope of getting to actually sit down for a cup of tea and some cucumber sandwiches for a change, but before the poor mite could count all his fingers and toes and curse the demise of traction control, his blood pressure was given a thorough testing again as the BMW of Robert Kubica and the Williams of Nakajima entangled out on track leaving both drivers with damage to their noses (on the cars not their faces). Luckily for the safety car driver his services were not needed on this occasion, but poor Kubica had to retire due to the damage caused to his spiky porcupine.

Unfortunately Heikki Kovaleinen was caught out slightly by the incident between Kubica and Nakajima, giving Fernando Alonso the perfect opportunity to sneak past and steal his position on track. Meanwhile Rubens had to report to the pits to complete his ten second stop and go penalty.

kimsters-retirement.jpgElsewhere the day was going from bad to worse to even worse for the Maranello squad, with some strange sounds emitting from Kimi Raikkonen’s F2008. After a few laps it became evident to us all the strange tones pouring from the Ferrari were not a result of the Kimster singing his usual favourite Karaoke tunes in the cockpit but in fact engine trouble as he slowly limped around at the back of the field in the last points paying position. Shortly after the Kimster had to retire from the race, ending a disastrous afternoon for the team that had been touted by many as pre-season favourites and predicted to dominate in Albert Park.

At this point in the afternoon the Ferrari engine also to decided to go on the Torro Rosso of star Rookie Sebastian Bourdais (presumably in sympathy for Kimi’s), robbing the Frenchman of a better finish to his maiden Grand Prix, which up until this point had been a solid performance.

With 8 laps to go until the end of the race, McLaren’s Happy Heikki was still battling it out on track with the man he replaced in Ron Dennis’s affections, Nando Alonso. A small mistake on the main straight by the McLaren man allowed the Renault to sweep past again, wiping the smug smile firmly off the face of Retirement Ron on the pitwall.

the-happy-trio.jpgAfter what can only be described as a tense yet exciting afternoon of unpredicatable action and drama, Lucky Lewis swept home in commanding style to take the win for McLaren, shortly followed by Quick Nick and Britney to complete the top three drivers of the afternoon, while Ferrari were left to pick up the pieces.

But before all you tifosi despair, just bear in mind these words from our Presidente “I can’t wait for sunday to see the real Ferrari”. Well I expect you may remember what happened when he last uttered similar sublimal messages to the effect of wanting to see the real Kimi at the half way point in 2007.

So all is not lost, and even Ron Dennis has admitted you can never write Ferrari off and they will bounce back from this distastrous start to the season…and you know Ron….he is never wrong, allegedly.

Roll on Malaysia and Forza Ferrari.

gloomy-track-conditions-at-barcelona.jpgThis week some of the F1 fraternity has been back in action again this time in the sunny climes of Spain. Well we say sunny, unfortunately though the teams haven’t seen much of it with the first two days at Montmelo (Circuit de Catalunya) being on the receiving end of some British style weather (we do like to share).

It is rumoured that perhaps the Meteorological Office might be persuaded to pull their fingers out and get things sorted in exchange for a few Grand Prix tickets and a bit of advertising on the odd ‘Earth-themed’ car.

Yesterday, Ferrari’s Felipe or ‘Flippi’ Massa topped the time sheets during a session marred by plenty of precipitation. Despite being allegedly highly allergic to the wet stuff (according to nonsensical internet rumours anyway), Flippi only managed one small uncharacteristic off-track excursion during the days proceedings, and only then just to check to see if Team Manager Baldo had sneakily dozed off in the garage.

The diminutive Brazilian then handed over the F2008 to Luca Badoer to carry on proceedings for the afternoon. No doubt you will be glad to know our reporter on the ground there managed to get a glimpse of Flippi as he scuttled back into the garage to avoid the rain and nary a hive could be found residing on his chubby little face. Thank heavens for that.

the-poor-kimster.jpgFerrari’s Champion the Kimster is not due to attend the test until Friday, and current circulating reports are suggesting the poor Finn may have been struck down with a case of that deadly contagion the ‘Man-Flu’. According to some, the poor WDC has a runny nose and a case of the sniffles and had to take to his bed in his favourite red pyjamas (with go faster stripes of course!). It is beginning to look like the only new red shiny nose we are going to see this week is the one firmly attached to the Finn’s face.

No doubt you have probably already come across much speculation and rumour surrounding a new nose cone design concept that the Ferrari team was considering putting onto the F2008.

The concept involving a hole in the nose to increase the aerodynamic efficiency of the front of the car, has been much discussed of late on F1 forums and bulletin boards. The Italian media had also gone as far as suggesting it would be making an appearance in this weeks Barcelona test…but thus far the nose has not been forthcoming. We are beginning to wonder if the clever design engineers at Ferrari HQ have been having a great titter all along behind the legendary gates of Maranello, pulling our proverbial legs.

Yesterday arch-rivals McLaren wisely decided again sit out the rainy weather and save their testing mileage. Unnamed sources in the paddock suggest the team spent most of the rain-hit session playing I-spy Alonso, noughts and crosses on their laptops and playing about with the strange flaps attached to the wheel fairings.

strange-wheel-fairing.jpgIt is still a matter of debate whether these strange wheel attachments are indeed an aero device, a measuring device, a satelite system, or a tv signal booster, perhaps only time will tell. Personally we were hoping for some spikes out the side to shred the oppositions tyres, but you know we can’t have it all and we are prone to getting carried away with things on the odd occasion.

The Red Bull’s of Mark Webber and David Coulthard posted the second and fourth fastest times of the day on the wet Montmelo circuit, as always with testing it is nigh on impossible to know just exactly what teams are upto in their testing programmes. But we are hoping here at FFN that the team has managed to put all their technical gearbox glitches behind them and have finally found their wiiings.

Local hero Fernando Alonso posted the fifth fastest time of the day in his R28, but was reportedly none too happy with the car’s handling during the day. Ferrari’s other test driver Marc Gene (who we think must have the cushiest number in F1 since he only works about two days a year), has reportedly suggested that the Renault team and Alonso could in fact be hiding their true pace and are possibly ‘sandbagging’ during recent tests.

fernando-in-his-renooo.jpgFernando has cautiously played down his chances of being able to get race wins and podiums next year, and in one interview in the Spanish Press pointed out that even Michael Schumacher had to spend 5 seasons at Ferrari before bagging the next WDC shiny pot. Since Fernando has insisted he will retire once he has won 3 WDC, we can only presume he is no nearer to picking up his pension than we are and on a reported $46 million a year we wouldn’t be too quick to retire for a free bus pass either.

Renault’s Team Principal Flavio Briatore also went on record yesterday as suggesting that the Double World Champion and Renault resumed talks about returning to the Enstone based team as early as the opening Grand Prix in 2007 in Melbourne. This may come as a surprise to many that things seem to have turned so sour so quickly for the Spaniard at McLaren, seemingly before he even got out on track for a set-to with his illustrious team-mate the Hamster. However, we can only wonder what took him so long to come to his senses, mind you it took Kimi five years….

More to follow shortly….

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