Martin Whitmarsh


You really do have to hand it to F1 team Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes. No other team in the history of the sport have managed to repeatedly get themselves into quite so much hot water as the Woking based squad, without actually employing the nefarious talents of one Michael Schumacher (Scandalmeister) and that is quite an accomplishment in itself.

At least not in all the years I have been watching the sport, and since I’m told I have the memory of a goldfish perhaps that doesn’t really count for a whole lot.

This week McLaren have managed to embroil themselves in yet another FIA related saga, this time as a result of telling a few innocent fibs to the race stewards about events that transpired towards the end of the season opener in Melbourne.

dave-ryan-and-lewis-hamil-001If we are to believe recent media reports, McLaren’s Sporting Director Dave Ryan took it upon himself to embellish events somewhat in the Steward’s presence forcing World Champion Lewis Hamilton to corroborate his version of events against his will and better judgement, and all for the sake of one measly championship point and a peanut bowl platter. (Although we suspect half of Ferrari might sell their respective grandmothers right now for aforementioned measly point not to mention the peanuts of course).

As a result Toyota’s Jarno Trulli was demoted to fourth place with a post race 25 second penalty, handing the shiny platter to McLaren’s World Champion.

Unfortunately, it would seem McLaren didn’t reckon on the old farts of the Federation Idiots and Amateurs actually listening to any post race media interviews, let alone having a good old earwig into McLaren’s radio communications with their ear trumpets.

Evidently the governing body discovered (after plowing through hours of Happy Heikki warbling Abba’s Greatest Hits) evidence that contradicted the statements made by Lucky Linda (I mean Lewis) and his Sporting Director Dave Ryan (although we feel perhaps ‘unsporting’ is probably a more applicable job title all things considered).

Sufficed to say the hapless duo were called back before the Stewards at Malaysia and asked to account for themselves, even after listening to the contradictory evidence we are to understand they continued to pull the chain of the FIA race stewards, if recent media reports are to be believed.

McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh immediately leapt to the defence of his driver and team, declaring to anyone who would listen that no-one at McLaren had told any pork-pies and he really hadn’t got the foggiest what the FIA were whittering on about. No Honestly. Deja vu anyone?

lucky-linda-squirming24 hours later, Lucky Linda (I mean Lewis) was squirming like a maggot on a fish hook in front of the world’s media admitting to lying, but we are to understand it doesn’t count because his Sporting Director Dave Ryan made him do it, presumably under threat of stealing his penny sweets and pocket money.

Of course being the caring, sharing, no-blame culture that the modern McLaren is (as we were informed just a few short weeks ago) the team summarily sent their Sporting Director packing, although under the new caring culture they continued to happily employ 3 ex-spygate scandalists, so there is still hope for poor misunderstood Dave yet.

Yesterday events took a more serious turn, when the FIA announced it was cordially inviting Vodaphone McLaren Mercedes to a soiree in Paris on the 29th April, to enjoy a buffet lunch, some bottled fizzy water and a friendly get together for a frank and polite exchange of opinions regarding the meaning of article 151(c) of the international sporting code. RSVP.

rsvp2For those of you (unlikely I know given recent events) wanting to know what this article 151(c) is all about, let us explain.

In a nutshell it is a catch-all clause in the governing bodies regulations, that should anyone do anything to compromise the illusion that all is fair in love and F1 (barring the odd controversial race stewards decision or three and a few illegal/legal/illegal diffusors), then they shall be invited to Paris for a day or two and made to grovel cap in hand to the WMSC for a lenient punishment and pay for the pleasure.

Anyone found not to be grovelling quite as much as deemed necessary, we understand are duty bound to receive 30 lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails and whatever else the FIA hand out for punishment these days.

Some newspapers are suggesting that McLaren may at worst be excluded altogether from the world championship for 2009 for bringing the sport into disrepute, or at least receive a few race bans and even possibly a huge financial fine (as the FIA has already spent the last one on road safety campaigns, icecreams and day trips to the seaside).

Rumours have begun to emerge that Lewis and his Manager/Father/Principal Cheerleader are not best happy with how things are going at McLaren, particularly the damage done to Lewis’s reputation as a result of the ‘Liegate Scandal’ and his subsequent fall from grace in the eyes of the fickle British ‘Love Button’ Media.

hamilton-snrAlthough personally we felt floating about like a PR fairy on a highwire is as damaging as it can ever get for one’s reputation when it comes to grown men.

It is rumoured the Brit may be intent on leaving the team that has supported, financed and developed his career since he was 13, some skeptics have suggested that the latest turn or events might serve as a smokescreen to hide the fact Lewis is already bored of driving the MP4-slowathon and is hankering after a drive at BrawnGP (presumably over Rubens Barrichello’s dead body).

Good to see team loyalty is alive and thriving in Woking, but then we wouldn’t want to hang around Woking for too long either…..and not just for fear of an imminent P45 (marching orders).

At least this latest scandal to rock the sport, makes a change from the 20 times-a-yearly stories of Alonso going to Ferrari that seem to have been bandied about since the Jurassic period began, and probably still rumbling on long after I’m dead, buried and been eaten by a few garden worms.

What we really want to know is what do ‘gates’ have to do with anything? Have you ever noticed that anytime the sport is engulfed in a storm in a teacup, immediately a ‘gate’ is brought into the equation?

First we had ‘Spygate’ although we don’t actually recall any missing ‘gates’ being reported in the immediate vicinity of Maranello when Nigel Stepney was a very naughty boy, and for that matter we don’t remember anyone spying through one either.

Now we have ‘Liegate’…and not a wooden strutt, fence or beam in sight. You can see why we are somewhat baffled and bemused here at FFN.

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Well here we are again. Only five more days to go until the start of the 2009 Formula 1 season, and we are still no nearer having the first darned clue about what to expect for the opening race of the season in Melbourne.

mark-webberUnfortunately our usual pitlane clairvoyant Red Bull’s Mark Webber has been remarkably quiet of late, and we cant help fearing that whilst he was hobbling about healing his broken leg in a cryogenic chamber over the course of the winter, his crystal ball has succumbed to a fatal case of frostbite. Ouch.

One thing however is certain, that Formula 1 will continue on for the time being with the old points system. Unfortunately the governing body, the FIA, have ended up this week rather red faced after craftily trying to sneak through a controversial new points system, only to be amusingly defeated by the legality of their own small print. It would seem the old farts at the FIA didn’t reckon on anyone at FOTA actually having the first darn clue about the rules and regulations, let alone the ability to read.

Given that the teams spend every waking moment trying their darnedest to exploit the rules and regulations to gain advantage over their rivals, we suspect you couldn’t even pass off a fart in the F1 paddock without someone catching on to the fact and exploiting it.

FIA 0 – FOTA 1.

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, has however assured the world that the controversial points system will be enforced from 2010, so the reprieve is only temporary unless FOTA can find ways to permanently put a spanner in proceedings, and we wouldn’t put it past them.

melbourneAll the teams have now arrived in Melbourne ahead of the first race of the season on Sunday, and as usual all the drivers and teams have been talking about their chances for the title.

If we are to believe the vast array of news reports and articles on the matter, there is to be a 19 man/car tie for the championship, with only the ever constant Kimi Raikkonen calmly stating like clockwork he doesn’t know what his chances are, and refusing to elaborate any further.

We can only think its going to be a rather crowded podium celebration come Abu Dhabi in November, and perhaps that’s the real reason all the drivers have been desperately losing weight throughout the winter so they can all squeeze en masse into one tight spot to pick up the winners trophy.

Ferrari Team Boss Stefano Domenicali meanwhile it seems has intimated that this season is a very important one for the flying Finn, and Kimi is apparently intelligent enough to know as much.

Presumably this roughly translates as Stefano lighting a rather large petrol-fuelled Shell-branded bonfire under the Finn’s posterior regions, the real question is not whether Kimi is intelligent to know it, but whether he actually gives two figs worth of notice or actually just carries on as normal in his own inimitable way while the rest of the universe is going to rack and ruin.

icecool-kimiIf that isn’t pressure enough for the Ice-cool-cardboard-cut-out Kimi, former World Champion Michael Schumacher will be attending the opening two races of the season in his role as Ferrari team advisor (although exactly what he actually advises about we still have no idea).

Historically, this hasn’t always been a recipe for success for the Finn, as when the German Superstar has attended previously, Kimi’s car has mysteriously suffered a case of the hissy-fits on more than one occasion. Not that we are insinuating that Schumacher has been up to anything dubious or sinister of course….as if he would.…the man is virtually a saint.

But Kimi might want to insist on a few last minute checks with his race engineer prior to the start grid in Melbourne, just to check his charger has actually got four functioning wheels and has been filled up with petroleum, and an absence of bratwurst sticking out the exhaust pipe.

Team mate ickle Felipe meanwhile has been busily casting his beady eye over the bottom of the pitlane where the BrawnGP team are residing, as well as nurturing what can only be described as a smudge of dirt that has mysteriously appeared attached to his chin. It can’t possibly be a beard, surely, he can’t be old enough!?!

Kimi and Felipe Massa in Maranello to see President Napolitano at a Ferrari ceremony, 19th March 2009Anyway before I digress completely, according to the pocket-sized Brazilian poppet, Ross Brawn’s re-badged Honda Team look likely to be Ferrari’s arch–nemesis for the 2009 season. That’s if Ferrari’s KERS coolant system doesn’t beat them to that accolade first.

Arch-rivals of recent times, McLaren have been downplaying their chances for the opening rounds of the season, with Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh declaring the MP4-24 is suffering from a “performance deficit” or as the rest of us call it in layman’s terms – SLOW.

World Champion Lewis Hamilton has been attempting to put a brave face on it, and has informed us all that he will still do his utmost and race his little heart out even if he is not at the sharp end of the grid. It is rumoured that the MP4-24 is suffering for an aerodynamic problem, well here at FFN we can’t say we are surprised, has anyone actually seen those ridiculous rear wings? Of course your going to have an aerodynamic problem dragging what is akin to a child’s chair around at the back of your vehicle.

It is widely thought it may take McLaren as much as half the season to rectify the problem (unless they have a fortuitous first corner incident to remove the offending article), so they should thank their lucky stars the new points system hasn’t been introduced otherwise the championship could be wrapped up by Barcelona. Assuming that the Woking fraternity have not in fact been pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of their rivals of course, and have actually been secretly sniggering behind their hands and sandbagging all winter.

Elsewhere it seems the rest of the paddock are jockeying for position to be the one’s taking the fight to Ferrari, and to date nobody has yet admitted to being a midfield runner or backmarker. So it looks like Ferrari really have got their work cut out this season beating off the attentions of Toyota, BrawnGP, Williams, Renault, BMW and co with a large stick.

quick-nick-demonstrates-the-ejector-buttonSpare a thought however, for Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. This time, I’m not referring to their respective fashion sense and follical growthage.

It would seem this years BMW-Sauber car has somewhat of a complicated steering wheel, with more buttons and dials than the local telephone exchange can boast.

How the deuces the pair of them are expected to look where they are going, whilst twiddling all those knobs we haven’t the faintest idea. We can only hope the driving duo are a dab hand at multi-tasking, otherwise a quick twist of the differentials could end up with track marshalls flying in all directions and a BMW parked neatly into a nearby burger stand.

5 days and counting…..

This week we have seen all ten Formula 1 teams in action at the same time at the winter group test at the Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona in Spain.

By and large testing is usually a pretty dull affair, (unless your one of those armchair experts who excitedly devours all the photographs like they are going out of fashion looking for all the latest updates and gizmos) with the most exciting event being when someone’s car has a technical hissy fit and forces the poor driver to abandon it and walk back to the pitlane.

michael-inspects-mclarenThat is unless you are the World Champion at McLaren and fancy parking it in a gravel trap, immediately causing former World Champions scuttling off eagerly down the nearest escape road to oversee proceedings whilst the track marshalls recover your car using your favourite crane. However, don’t worry Lewis, at least it is giving Michael Schumacher something to do in his spare time, when he isn’t falling off motorbikes, polishing his trophies or counting his handsome Ferrari retainer for standing about like a spare part in the Ferrari Garage and distracting the media, allegedly.

This weeks group test, has been quite interesting, for more than just this reason alone though.

Firstly we should mention that the former Honda Team, which has been saved from extinction by none other than former Ferrari favourite Uncle Ross (Brawn) has surprised the pants off just about everyone connected to the sport. Given that up until a week or so ago, nobody knew if the team would even make it to the season opener in Melbourne, you can imagine the surprise, eyebrow raising and head scratching going on that the Brawn GP has spent the entire group test soundly thrashing everyone including Ferrari, McLaren and co.

brawngpBoth Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello respectively topping the timesheets on subsequent days in the BrawnGP challenger. Sufficed to say this has caused a flurry of excitement, discussion, arguments and financial bets across internet forums, as the formula 1 fanbase are trying to work out if indeed Uncle Ross has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat like never before or if the truth of the matter is that the former Honda team are in fact showboating in a desperate attempt to attract sponsors with more money than sense. Although given that Honda spent at least a year or two recently failing to attract any sponsors, we do wonder if perhaps that could be an entirely fruitless and pointless exercise if it is indeed the case as some may claim.

At this point in proceedings we should point out that controversy is already rearing its ugly head prior to the season opener in two weeks time, with several team bosses muttering furiously away nineteen to the dozen about the illegality or otherwise of several car’s difusers. According to some, the Williams, Toyota and Brawn GP teams are all running difusers which may need clarifying by the FIA. By which we take it to mean someone runs off to the FIA complains bitterly, and hey presto next week the FIA confiscates somebodies new toy and out the pram comes that rattle.

icklefelipe2Ferrari who have been consistently fast in winter testing (when their KERS system doesn’t keep breaking down) were last seen heading off for Maranello muttering that they thought they had the fastest car, and couldn’t quite believe they have had their thunder stolen by their former Technical Director. It is not all bad news however, we are to understand that ickle Felipe is pleased as punch with his new F2009 and hopes he will be go on to challenge for the World Championship with it, if only the FIA would agree to make F1 races a little bit shorter (one lap would do eh Felipe?).

We are a little less clear what the Kimblebot thinks of his new charger, aside from the fact we are still trying to decipher his mumblings, we understand he has been taking part in yet another artic event of some sort. It would seem the former Ferrari World Champion has been quite busy this winter entertaining himself at various events involving snow, but we are yet to work out how this fits into the bigger picture unless Ferrari have replaced horsepower with reindeers and skidoos, or are predicting an awful lot of snow during the season. Well you never know with this global warming malarkey or Ferrari‘s weather prediction systems.

McLaren meanwhile have been enduring a bit of a torrid time during the recent test at Barcelona, with their 2009 car consistently languishing down the timesheets leading to all sorts of speculation. Heikki Kovaleinen has informed us all that this winter he has in fact put on weight (which might account for why his car seems slower), but doesn’t really explain what has happened to the current World Champion’s, Lewis Hamilton. We can only presume McLaren spent too much time faffing about making vodaphone adverts about remote control cars and blackberry phones, and not enough time working on the damn car.

mclaren-boysAs per usual the McLaren PR department has been working like a perfectly oiled machine, with former team principal Ron Dennis declaring he is not worried about the pace of the MP4-24, but subsequently both Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug have admitted they are concerned that they aren’t fast enough. Probably a good job Norbert isn’t driving the damn thing, we reckon. However, do not fret, the team claim to know what is wrong and are working even as we speak to resolve the problem.

Unsubstantiated rumours emanating from the F1 paddock from an unnamed source, have suggested some short-sighted bod at Woking has mistakenly popped the car axles on the wrong way round leading to the MP4-24 having no rear grip and in fact going backwards instead of forwards. We couldn’t possibly comment.

ferrarieye3Meanwhile, just to make life a little bit fairer for everyone else Ferrari have announced they will reintroduce their traffic light pitstop system for the 2009 season, yes the very one that caused all sorts of manic mayhem with refuelling rigs in Singapore and near traffic halting pitlane collisions in Valencia. We are to understand from Sporting Director Luca Baldisserri, that Ferrari have implemented a solution to prevent such errors happening again, which only leads us to consider what new debacles it might unexpectedly throw up for trigger happy head mechanics and overenthusiastic Finns. Mentioning no names of course.

Testing continues from today at Jerez for McLaren, BrawnGP, Renault and Williams, while the rest of the grid have shot back to their respective factories ahead of Melbourne for two weeks of frantic head scratching, swearing under their breath and car tinkering.

Stay Tuned.

No doubt by now (unless you’ve been living on Planet Mosley) you’ll be aware that Ferrari finally secured their first 1-2 of the season in the third round of the Formula 1 Championship at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain.

start-of-the-race-bahrain.jpgEven though Felipe lost out on pole position during the dying seconds of qualifying thanks to a stunning lap by BMW-Sauber’s ‘Mr.Potatohead’ Robert Kubica, and suffered an unfortunate earphone related debacle on his way to the grid formation (where he reportedly couldn’t hear any merry mancunian chuckles from his race engineer Rob Smedley), the little Brazilian poppet still managed to outpace the Papal Polish favourite into the first corner and go on in commanding style to secure his first victory of the season. Simultaneously silencing his critics better than any familiar two-fingered salute could have done..

Ferrari’s current WDC the Kimbot, allegedly was suffering from an ear infection throughout the weekend (hopefully not inspired by Luca Di Montezemolo) and to all intents and purposed appeared a little off colour throughout proceedings (not that here at FFN we think he could get any paler, just for the record), but the Kimster bravely soldiered on and secured second place to ensure a perfect weekend and result for the Maranello Squad.

Ickle Felipe’s win coincidentally marked the 100th victory for the team under the leadership of their glorious softly spoken and media shy leader Mr Montezemolo.

Elsewhere BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica, who lost out to Felipe in the first corner and the Kimbot on the second lap due to some mysteriously invisible on-track oil spillage, was able to hang onto 3rd place and finish a not too shabby four seconds behind the Kimster.

McLaren meanwhile endured yet another torrid weekend.

Lewis Hamilton seemed to have unfortunately caught something contagious off ickle Felipe, whereby he started off the weekend losing control of his car on a kerb and spinning it through a sand trap and into a barrier demolishing one side of the car in the process. Not content to leave it there, the Brit fumbled his start to the race engaging the anti-stall on his car, slipping him back into tenth place from third and behind old arch rival Fernando Alonso. Nothing like making a hams fist of things is there?

lewis-minus-front-wing.jpgOn the first lap Lewis managed to damage his wing while driving into the back of the Renault, and then just a lap later decided to go one better and try and drive over the top of Alonso instead, knocking off his own front wing in the process.

This debacle sparking all manner of debate amongst the F1 fanbase, did Alonso brake-test him? Had Lewis lost his contact lenses? Had the Renault got a super strong magnet in it? You get the general gist.

After the race, Renault’s Pat Symonds kindly published the team’s telemetry to prove that the Sparkly Spaniard had not been willfully employing any kind of devious trickery on his old McLaren chum as had been previously suggested by ITV’s television “not quite-so-experts”.

Thus putting the spotlight firmly on the Woking based team to explain the strange incident and why Lewis seemed to have taken a rather obvious fancy to Alonso’s rear wing (apart from loving the paint scheme of course).

McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh (or Witchmarsh as we affectionately know him) suggested that the front wing of the McLaren had failed two seconds prior to Lewis climbing all over the back of the Renault like a bad rash.

This was evidently met with a fair helping of derision from F1 based internet forums, where members who quite clearly did not need to go to Specsavers (the opticians) could see from video footage for themselves that the wing had not come off two seconds before the incident but as a result of said same debacle.

But according to the Woking based fraternity they stand by their explanation, and suggest the failure of said device two seconds prior to the incident lead Lewis to lose all downforce and get sucked at high speed into the slipstream of Fernando. Which is quite scoffable really, since we all know at the speed Renault have been managing thus far in 2008, they couldn’t even suck a gobstopper in let alone a whole F1 car.

mr-talkative.jpgThis woeful performance on the part of the Enstone Massive might explain why just three races into the championship, we are being subjected to almost daily updates from the uncharacteristically loquacious Double World Champion.

This mainly consists of verbal musings in the media on what he plans to do next year, with whom, wearing which colour of his favourite underpants. That is when he isn’t too busy petitioning his fanbase to become his PR department for a year (all for the princely sum of 30000 Euro’s of course).

We can’t help feeling the Double World Champion would need a permanent army of Luca Colajanni clones to extricate him from the all trouble his mouth seems to get him into, nevermind just one poor deluded starry-eyed fan.

Before we go off completely at a tangent (and it wouldn’t be the first time) the only other point of interest in an otherwise quite dull coma-inducing race was provided courtesy of…you guessed it Mr. Magoo.

This time Red Bull’s David Coulthard tangled with Jense’s Honda on lap 17 taking off the fellow Brit’s nose cone in the process, sending Jenson scuttling back to the pitlane for another one.

Previously after similar incidents, DC has complained that the mirrors on F1 cars are about as much use as a chocolate fire guard (or something to that effect). Which goes some way to explaining his propensity for ignoring them completely and knocking rivals off track left, right and centre. Although we do feel that big square jaw might have something to do with it.

We can only assume by the end of the season there won’t be an F1 driver on the grid that hasn’t been driven into, run over in the pitlane, or been threatened with having seven shades of something knocked out of them. We’d really hate to see what carnage he could cause in a busy multi-storey carpark in a FIAT Punto.

michael.jpgNext week the teams will be returning to action at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona Spain, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in just over two weeks time.

It is rumoured Ferrari’s overqualified sometimes test driver Michael Schumacher will be putting in an appearance for the team, testing out slick tyres and some components for the 2009 amongst other things, not to mention driving the media round the bend as per usual.

It remains to be seen if McLaren can bounce back in Spain, if BMW will continue to give Stefano Domenicali sleepless nights, and who can introduce the silliest addition to their car in the F1 development race. Bring it on.

Yesterday was the final group testing day for the Formula 1 fraternity on location at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.

With just two weeks to go before the season opener in Melbourne, the paddock pecking order remains about as transparent as a bucket of dirty ditch water, with armchair experts and pundits alike speculating like wildfire whom will come out on top down under.

trulli.jpgThe final day of testing witnessed a Toyota top the timesheets, with Italian Jarno Trulli setting the fastest lap of the day on a 1.20.801 on what many have presumed to be a ‘qualifying’ run.

Ferrari’s Technical Director Aldo Costa has recently commented that the Cologne-based Toyota team appears to have upped their game on previous seasons. But it remains to be seen whether the mysteriously set fastest time yesterday had more to do with showboating in order to impress the Sponsor-like big-wigs that appeared in the Toyota Garage, than the actual true race performance of the car.

Not that we feel it would make a great deal of difference either way, because once the red lights go out it’s all systems go for the Trulli train. Team-mate Timo Glock reportedly has been suffering with set-up trouble and could not get the car to his liking, which we presume must go a long way to explain why the third fastest driver in F1 (Ralf Schumacher) struggled all those years towards the tail-end of the grid.

Ralfie has now embarked on a new stage in his career, driving in DTM. The German confessing that he lied about having other offers in F1 towards the end of last season, because he wanted to end his F1 career with as little fuss as possible. Of course that’s making an assumption there was going to be a great deal of fuss in the first place.

dc.jpgMeanwhile, the second fastest man of the day was Red Bull’s DC, who seemed to have recovered very well from the trapped nerve that kept him sidelined during Tuesday’s proceedings. Some cynics suggesting that the sight of someone nearly half his age setting a blistering pace in the RB4 the previous day was enough to put a rocket under the archaic Red Bull racer. We can think of a few people we’d like to put a rocket under….

Nico Rosberg continued to impress in the Williams, securing the third fastest time over all for the day and having completed somewhere in the region of 200 laps between himself and team mate Nakajima towards the William’s test program.

Unusually both the McLaren and Ferrari drivers failed to trouble the top of the time sheets yesterday, with Heikki Kovaleinen in 4th, the Kimster in 9th, Lewis in 10th and ickle Felipe in 13th places respectively. Before the tifosi get their undergarments all a tangle, perhaps it is worth pointing out some of the assessments of those apparently in the ‘know’.

niki-lauda.jpgOne man who can always be relied upon to divulge his considered opinion no matter how far-fetched it may be (and whether we want to know or not) is Triple World Champion Niki ‘Nostradamus’ Lauda. If you are fairly new to FFN you may wonder why he has been nicknamed Nostradamus, well ‘tis simply really…. He likes to make predictions…. And no the world hasn’t come to an end just yet…that’s next week.

This week Niki has benevolently bestowed his thoughts on us, informing us all that his tip for the top is the Maranello outfit. According to Niki, the F2008 is roughly 0-5-0.8 seconds a lap faster in race trim than the MP24-23-67 (or whatever it is called) of nearest rivals McLaren.

How exactly Niki has stumbled upon this elusive figure we are not sure, but given that most F1 insiders are touting a maximum of 0.4 seconds advantage at a push on a good day in fair weather (and those are the ones who have been furiously crunching away like a bunch of nerds on their calculators) we’ll take this with a liberal dose of sodium chloride and a Tequila, thanks.

Thinking back to last season, we are pretty sure Niki tipped Alonso to be WDC and look how that one turned out…. Of course I could be wrong I do have the memory of a goldfish. Where was I?

In other news, it has been reported that the spy scandal is still rumbling away under the surface, with Italian Magistrates reportedly paying visits to Paragon as well as the homes of several key McLaren employees yesterday, including CEO Ron Dennis.

What started out as a simple report on Pitpass and Autosport yesterday as some senior McLaren management figures being interviewed by Modena Magistrates accompanied by Surrey police, has already begun to snowball in the Media.

British Publication ‘The Daily Mail’ has reported this morning that Ron has had his home raided by order of the Italian Courts, and that his career is on the brink of collapse, not to mention the prospect of the damage this could do to Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 campaign.

ron-dennis.jpgAlthough we are completely at a loss to work out just what Ron keeps in the privacy of his own home that could be so damning for the British Driver. Answers on a Postcard if you please.

This is despite senior McLaren and Mercedes figures moving to dispel recent rumours regarding Ron’s impending retirement as ‘pure speculation’.

By this evening we are expecting to hear that Ron has been arrested on suspicion of running a drugs cartel from his garden shed, Martin Whitmarsh will have been promoted to Secretary General of the United Nations, Fernando Alonso will win the Nobel Peace Prize and Lewis will be named the Greatest F1 driver of all time.

Stranger things have happened.

Today witnessed 9 out of total of the 11 Formula One teams take to the track in the first group test in Jerez Spain, undertaking preparations in earnest for the beginning of the 2008 season.

Notable by their absence were BMW-Sauber who were busy with their official car launch in Munich Germany, and Honda who presumably were too busy building a pedestal for Uncle Ross to sit upon.

As is always the way, the rain in Spain falls mainly…when you don’t want it to. After two relatively clear days with McLaren on track, the moment Ferrari arrive and it all went pear-shaped. Honestly, what good is it paying millions of dollars to a Regenmeister (rain-master) for his services, if he hasn’t got even the most basic control over weather conditions?

However, the inclement weather conditions did not prevent the Maranello boys from taking to the track to carry out the first official test for the F2008. The Kim-bot and ickle Felipe securing the two fastest times by the end of the day with a 1.19.845 and 1.20.123 respectively.

massa-parks-it.jpgWhile the Kim-bot clearly stuck to driving round as fast as possible in circles to secure plenty of data for the team on things like speed, reliability, tyre wear and the such, ickle Felipe took it upon himself to test out the F2008’s off-road capabilities rally style. The Brazilian making a slight detour into the gravel trap and grass verge and at one point looking like he was attempting to launch the thing into the stratosphere. Not one to let new boys Piquet, Nakajima, Vettel and Co hog all the limelight, ickle Felipe also managed to bring out the red flags at one point during the course of the day (and we are not talking about the ones with prancing horses on them).

Strangely enough the third fastest man of the day was Sebastian Vettel in the 2007 Torro Rosso, coming in a tenth of a second faster than McLaren’s test driver Pedro de la Rosa. Vettel’s team mate Sebastien Bourdais also put in a strong performance on his first official outing with the STR team, coming 6th fastest of all.

McLaren spent the morning hiding from the rain in the garage, pretty much how you’d expect the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz to when faced with a bucket of water. At least we can understand where certain sections of the media have got the idea that the FIA carried out a witch-hunt against the Woking-based team from. We are just wondering when Martin “Witch”marsh is going to appear in a tall pointy hat, with a slightly green expression and a wart on his chin. Does that make Ron a flying monkey?

Day two of testing resumes tomorrow.

Meanwhile over in Munich Germany, the BMW-Sauber team was proudly launching their new charger the F1.08. While Technical Director Willy Rampf was waxing lyrical about their striking looking new car, official drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were talking about their hopes for the coming season, and what they get up to in their spare time.

bmw-launch.jpg According to Quick Nick he is rather excited about the prospect of driving the new car and hopes to be able to challenge for wins with it.

Unfortunately we will just have to take his word for it, because it’s nigh on impossible to see what facial expression he is currently wearing with something akin to a garden hedgerow firmly ensconced on his chin.

If reports on Autosport are true, both the BMW-Sauber driving duo like to live fairly quiet lives away from their day job, with Nick Heidfeld confessing to enjoying pottering about and getting right on his families nerves, and Robert Kubica’s idea of a wild night is playing poker with his friends. And here we were thinking F1 stars were all about getting roaring drunk, toppling fridge’s, donning silly outfits,wearing toilet paper around their bonces and walking into lampposts. You live and learn.

kimi-at-fiorano.jpgYesterday Kimi Raikkonen was the first man at Ferrari to get his mitts on the new F2008, putting it through its paces in an initial shakedown at Ferrari’s private racetrack Fiorano.

As is always the way with these things, the minute you plan a party or a barbecue or some such event involving plenty of people, the weather likes to come along and chip its two cents into proceedings.

And so it proved for the initial test, with the morning of the event proving to be rather cold, damp and foggy. Which is probably not so bad if your strapped into a car seat the size of a postage stamp. But probably means if your one of the many tifosi that loyally turn up to watch the inaugural performance, more likely than not you froze your brass monkeys off while trying to work out what exactly that red blob is that goes screeching past in the swirling mists.

As a result the Kim-bot could only get a feel of the F2008 on wet weather tyres, posting a best time of 1.00.897 on the longer configuration of the Fiorano racetrack. During the course of the day Kimi managed to take the car through 55 laps, and surprisingly despite the damp dreary weather, came out of the experience in a rather positive and cheery mood.

According to Kimi, first impressions of the car are positive and he doesn’t feel that there is any need to make any improvements at the moment, adding that they will see how the car behaves itself next week when the team relocates to Jerez for its first official test.

kimis-new-hat.jpgSince Kimi is not usually one for making long flowing verbal effusions about any given subject, it is always nice to know the car has made a positive impression at this stage, and it isn’t getting likened to a mangy canine with bad breath and three stumpy legs.

While the Kimster was answering a 1001 questions about the F2008, other members of Ferrari have been on hand to give us their insights and thoughts on just about every topic going, including the ECU, aerodynamics, steering wheel buttons and Lewis Hamilton’s prospects for 2008.

Usually very quiet and one to keep his thoughts to himself, Luca Baldisserri who has been freed from the constraints of being ever permanently glued to the pitwall with a colouring book and crayons and given the job of Team Manager instead, popped up yesterday.

According to the little poppet, one of Ferrari’s main rivals at McLaren, Lamppost Lewis, might not be making such a dramatic impression on the sport in his second season, due to the changes in regulations and the banning of electronic driver aids.

Apparently our Baldo thinks that although young Lewis drove in GP2 without traction control, he may struggle in F1 next season to get to grips with the loss of the driver aid in addition with trying to manage tyre degradation. Presumably not mentioning his inability at spotting obstacles in his path and walking into them, or the fact his car will be considerably heavier than everyone else’s on account of all his rapper friends permanently hanging off Lewis’s trouser legs.

jean-todt-fiorano.jpgNot keen to leave it there whilst having a pop at arch rivals McLaren, Ferrari CEO Jean Todt has popped up like clockwork to mention for the umpteenth time his concerns regarding the standard ECU.

Jean fondly mentioned that he feels the Electronic Control Unit that is supplied by MES (McLaren Electronic Systems) is providing an advantage to the Woking based team, and should be closely monitored by the sport’s governing body the FIA.

Here at FFN we can only point out that the Standard ECU didn’t do a very good job of controlling things at McLaren last year (Hungarian pitlane qualifying shenanigans spring to mind), but perhaps that is what Jean is worried about. Chaos spreading electronically like wildfire up and down the pitlane, with drivers demanding number 1 status, stamping their feet, throwing tantrums and bickering like small children.

We really don’t think Ferrari have anything to worry about on that score, especially since we can’t imagine Kimi being all that bothered to actually have an argument when there are for more important things to do like sleeping, watching ice hockey and sleeping. Although ickle Felipe does look like he could throw the odd tantrum or three if the occasion calls for it.

Meanwhile in Stuttgart, McLaren were officially unveiling their 2008 car, the MP4-23. (Does it play music videos? we would really like to know!).

Compared with the lavish production last year, this years launch at McLaren Mercedes was a rather subdued affair, even Ron Dennis not having much to say for himself for a change. Martin Whitmarsh and Norbert Haug took control of proceedings and inevitably the Motorsports Media all jumped to irrational conclusions regarding the future of the team as a result.

and-did-you-say-there-were-vol-au-vents.jpgAfter his rather tasteful Christmas Card, it was surprising to see F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone inside the Mercedes HQ for the event. Rumours have suggested that Bernie mistakenly read the invite as saying ‘McLaren Lunch’ and turned up enquiring where the free sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches were. What you didn’t think he’d part with any money did you?

Like rivals Ferrari, McLaren have confirmed their new car will undergo quite a major transformation before the first race of the season in Melbourne. According to the McLaren Management the new MP4-23 will be faster than its predecessor. The Woking team has confirmed that most of the changes prior to Melbourne will be aerodynamic improvements. It’s a shame they couldn’t do a few on Norbert Haug’s suit while they are at it.

McLaren were quick to quash any suggestion of favouritism in their camp, Martin Whitmarsh telling the waiting media that both drivers will be receiving equal treatment, carrying on McLaren’s long standing tradition of equality and fairness. This is despite Lamppost Lewis suggesting not so long ago that he is looking forward to 2008 immensely, especially the prospect of becoming the lead driver and leading the team’s championship campaign. All singing from the same hymn sheet and that’s before the season has started, marvellous.

If reports are to be believed, on one of the few occasions that McLaren CEO Ron Dennis piped up during proceedings was to inform the waiting world that the reason why the car on display had a huge number 23 emblazened on it. According to Ron it was partially as a result of the car being named the MP4-23 and also partially due to the fact that January 7th (launch date) coincided nicely with Lewis Hamilton’s 23rd birthday.

Now call me an old cynic, but I was under the misguided illusion that the reason the McLaren’s were numbered 22 and 23 was due to the position they were classified in the constructors championship in the previous F1 season. But you know what they say never let the facts get in the way of a good story! We just hope Lewis was delighted with his new birthday present, although by the time he gets to Michael Schumacher’s age he might not want reminding of it.

mclaren-mp4-23.jpgMeanwhile McLaren’s new signing Heikki Kovaleinen is chugging along merrily, saying all the right things, and not being overly concerned with the equality issue that much, but is looking forward to doing everything to beat his illustrious team mate out on track.

Heikki commented that he looks forward to working with Lamppost Lewis whom he has known since their karting days, and will be hopefully pushing Lewis and the team…forward. We were hoping he was going to say off a big cliff, but you can’t have it all. (Just in case any McLaren fans have stumbled across FFN and are about to start complaining, we are pulling your leg in a good-natured way, honestly).

McLaren this week will embark on a 3-day private test of their new challenger at Jerez, we’ll keep you posted.

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