Nick Tombazis


oz-gp-go-go-goNo doubt as you are probably aware by now (given the inordinate length of time it has taken me to dispose of the FFN cat off my laptop keyboard to sit down to write) that this weekend past was the opening round of the 2009 F1 season in Melbourne Australia.

Albert Park located just a few kilometres south of the city of Melbourne, had the auspicious task of hosting what turned out to be a fairytale and nightmare all rolled into one.

The BrawnGP team (formerly Honda), who once were on the receiving end of more than their fair share of stick for building cars that made wayward supermarket trolleys seem a drivers dream, got off to a dream start by not only securing pole position during Qualifying but then going on to dominate the race with a fairytale 1-2 result. Englishman Jenson Button securing only his second ever race win ahead of teammate Rubens ‘Did I tell you I hate Ferrari’ Barrichello.

Sufficed to say, the team couldn’t quite believe it, and neither could the rest of the paddock who immediately shot off to their garages to think up imaginary complaints to the FIA. Not that there were many left to make after the deluge that poured through the FIA’s letterbox by the end of Qualifying.

In fact the governing body taking the strange action of only announcing the official starting grid for the race 1 hour before it was due to take place, presumably it taking them that long to wade through the neverending and increasingly ridiculous retaliatory complaints submitted by teams.

sam-michael-williamsIn fact by the end some teams were submitting then retracting complaints, because they couldn’t even remember what they were protesting in the first place. We understand though that Williams strongly objected to Ferrari for eating Pepperoni Pizza on Friday night, and objected to Red Bull for putting too much taurine in their popular soft drink. But in the interests of the sport they retracted the complaint, although they hoped the FIA would pop over to Ferrari and investigate what Pasta they would be serving Sunday Lunchtime.

The race result itself for BrawnGP was particularly remarkable when you consider they had a semi-bungled pitstop in the dying laps of the race, Rubens Barrichello taking an impromptu nap off the startline and letting half the field past, followed by his penchant for spending the rest of the afternoon trying to drive through other F1 cars and not around them.

a-victim-of-the-barrichello-brawlThe BrawnGP driver took out an impressive four rivals cars in the first corner alone, leaving Mark Webber, Happy Kovaleinen, Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil all scuttling back to the pitlane for repairs or retirement and all without incurring the slightest penalty from the Stewards. Even Maestro Michael Schumacher himself would have been in awe of that one.

We can only presume Rubens who is now the oldest member of the F1 driver fraternity, has taken over the mantle from its previous encumbant David Crash-Magnet Coulthard. The little Brazilian it would seem is firmly intent on winning a title now that he has a decent car, in fact any title, and from what we have seen thus far we can only presume he is gunning for the world record in dodgem racing.

Ferrari were unfortunately handed a masterclass on a plate by their previous Technical Director Bananaman Brawn, the Maranello squad were left with red faces (blending in seamlessly with their red shirts of course), after a disastrous start to their Championship challenge.

Things all started out well enough, with both of the Ferrari driving duo getting off the start grid well and gaining places on their rivals thanks to the KERS system and the soft tyres. Initially all went well, and it looked like Ferrari had pulled off a strategic masterstroke with Felipe Massa up into 3rd place and Kimi chasing down BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica from 5th place.

felipe2However, within a few laps it all went horribly wrong, the degradation on the tyres on the Ferrari’s being such, that the Scarlet clad chargers became strongly reminiscent of an ambling tortoise. The Ferrari pitwall were embarrassingly forced to pit both drivers way to early to change the troublesome rubber rings located on the corners of the car.

Williams Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima even selflessly attempted to even things up a bit in Ferrari’s favour, by unexpectedly parking his car at high speed into a barrier at turn 3, eventually tempting the safety car out once it’s designated driver had finished the crossword in the Times and enjoyed a round of Ham and Cheese Deltoids (sandwiches).

The emergence of the safety car allowed the field to close up behind Jenson Button who had reportedly been not far off finishing the championship, enjoying his champagne and buying himself a yacht with his winnings.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa meanwhile was evidently sick to the back teeth of his tyres misbehaving, the usually sunny little Brazilian doing his darnedest to flat spot them and get another 4, unfortunately more of the same awaited him back in the Ferrari Garage. Mores the pity.

piquetAfter the safety car had peeled off and the race was back on, Renault’s Nelson Piquet improved his pitlane reputation no end by tussling with Williams Nico Rosberg and unceremoniously sliding straight off track into the nearest gravel trap. According to the Brazilian his brakes failed at a vital moment leaving him floundering in the kitty litter (hope there were no unmentionables), although here at FFN we strongly suspect you could replace brakes with the word ‘brain’ and you’d not be far wrong.

As if the lack of performance and tyre degradation issues were not enough to be going on with at Ferrari, a rather baffling 3 stop strategy which we can only presume was to trim Felipe’s ferocious facial fuzz, pretty much put paid to the afternoon’s proceedings. Adding insult to injury, a broken suspension in the dying laps of the race meaning Felipe was out of the race and out of the points in Australia for the second year in a row.

Rumour has it Ferrari’s team boss Stefano Domenicali had to keep frantically double checking the date on the pitwall calendar to reassure himself it wasn’t 2008 all over again, either that or Groundhog day. Still Stefano should thank his lucky stars his alarm clock didn’t get rather confused over British Summertime and drag him out of bed to watch the Grand Prix at 4am instead of 6am really.

By the end of it all, really was it any wonder the usually unperturbable Kimbot had enough and decided to try and retire himself from proceedings, clipping the barrier and damaging his differentials, which I can’t help thinking sounds a tad on the painful side. Unfortunately for Kimi, even that didn’t go according to plan leaving the Finn doing his best impression of Mark Webber (sorry, bad joke) and limping around at the back of the pack for the remainder of the race.

the-semiautomatic-machine-gun-goes-hereWe understand that Ferrari chief car designer, Nick Tombazis was last spotted storming at high speed into the Ferrari Motorhome, allegedly the talented Greek was overheard muttering about incorporating Challenger Tank Tracks and a gun turret into the 2010 car instead of having to endure another season of being bested by those pesky round black Bridgestone affairs.

A few laps later, back on track BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica had caught up with Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel, both drivers seemingly so intent on securing 2nd position and not yielding an inch, they took each other out of the race in spectacular fashion.

Unconfirmed rumours have suggested that it wasn’t really Sebastien Vettel’s fault, despite the fact the popular little German skipped off to BMW-Sauber to politely apologise, bless his cotton socks. Was it purely coincidental that the Red Bull starlet was spotted earlier in the weekend wearing what can only be described as 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher’s shorts?

schumachers-undercrackers1All these years Ferrari Legend Michael has been on the receiving end of some particularly unfair flak from the British Media for his on track ruthlessness, win at all costs attitude and apparent arrogance, when all the time it was a pair of chequered undercrackers that were evilly masterminding the punting off of rivals willy-nilly in championship title deciding moments. Poor Michael, just goes to show you never really know a man. There is hope for Lewis Hamilton yet then.

Anyway before we start whittering away nineteen to the dozen about current paddock fads and fashions and global domination, we should conclude that predictably the BrawnGP duo led home a dominant dream 1-2 result, much to the delight of the flaxen haired and toothy new team sponsor Virgin’s Entrepreneur Richard Branston Pickle, and to the obvious relief and delight of Uncle Ross Bananaman Brawn.

Much to the dismay of everyone else of course, as subsequently the BrawnGP team have admitted there is much more to come (heavens forbid), and presumably every other team in the paddock is having to work their socks off 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to remotely keep up.

One does have to wonder though just exactly what the FIA race stewards were doing on Sunday afternoon, as we strongly suspect they weren’t actually watching the race at all.

After failing to give Ruben’s Barrichello a good rap over the knuckles for his numerous avoidable incidents, and demoting Jarno Trulli from 3rd place effectively handing the trophy to McLaren’s World Champion Lewis Hamilton (who we grudgingly admit drove a stellar race from the rear of the grid to claim a handful of points), rather puzzlingly the FIA saw fit to punish little Sebastien, but not for dispatching Robert Kubica onto the grass verges minus a wheel.

The FIA slapped the German with a 10 place grid slot penalty and a 50,000 euro fine for not getting his car off track quickly enough after the initial incident. According to the FIA regulations it was a breach of safety, which does beg the question what the one-man-demolition-darby who also goes by the moniker of Mr.Barrichello is classed as.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and the FIA are well….I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Yesterday witnessed nine out of eleven current Formula 1 teams returning to testing action at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, ahead of the opening round of the European races in Spain in two weeks time.

Usually this early season test is an opportunity for all the teams to start adding new developmental pieces to their cars, in a bid to boost their championship hopes against rival teams.

slicks1.jpg Tyre supplier Bridgestone provided the teams present with an opportunity to test out the 2009 regulation specification slick tyres.

Apparently any testing done using the new specification slicks does not count towards the teams 15,000 km testing limit, so many teams took advantage of the fact to test out some of their new components whilst pounding around the circuit relentlessly on the black round things.

The morning session rather unusually was topped by Honda’s Austrian Beanpole Alex Wurz, prompting all sorts of speculation about the emerging omnipotent powers of ‘Uncle’ Ross Brawn, Ferrari’s ex-Technical Director who took over leadership of the Brackley team at the end of last year.

Really if you consider 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher has been raised to the status of a near demi-god in the eyes of his fanbase not withstanding cowboy boots, flowery shirts and the fashion sense of someone’s slightly drippy grandmother, then it’s not so far fetched to imagine a member of Honda’s green trouser brigade could likewise imminently join the Pantheon of the Gods.

Fortunately it would seem the Brackley outfit under the tutelage of Uncle Ross are making steady progress in a forwardly direction, which must be relief to all concerned (well apart from their rivals obviously), especially if you compare this season to the previous one where the team unfortunately seemed to engage reverse mode and get permanently stuck in it.

mclaren-rear-wing1 Ferrari’s arch-rivals McLaren meanwhile, took the opportunity also to test out the 2009 spec tyres in association with a new rear wing in anticipation for the 2009 season, so their car was set up to perform aerodynamically as close to the 2009 regulations as possible.

Well that’s McLaren’s excuse for test driver Pedro ‘the Pink’ being beaten by Honda’s test driver on the first day of testing, and we presume they are sticking to it like epoxy resin.

After minimal running during the morning session where Ferrari’s Felipe Massa only completed 12 laps, in the afternoon the Maranello outfit once more came out to play.

The little Brazilian poppet completing 77 laps in total for the day, putting in a stunning fastest lap somewhere in the region of 2.4 seconds faster than any of the rival teams, which must have caused a few raised eyebrows from within the paddock.

kimi-raikkonens-drink-supply1Before you all start fretting that Felipe has taken to employing drastic measures in his championship bid and started surreptitiously consuming the Kim-bot’s rocket fuel (as pictured), we understand that the Ferrari driver’s stunning lap times were actually set on a lap utilising the 2009 spec tyres and 2008 downforce levels, alongside the introduction of Ferrari’s latest radical new gizmo….the holy nose cone.

Yes finally after many months of speculation in the media and across Internet forums, the much vaunted and discussed aerodynamic piece finally broke cover in testing.

The ‘hole’ reportedly works by utilising the high-pressure air that builds up between the front wing and the underneath of the nose cone, channelling the air over the top of the car onto the rear wing and thus improving the car’s downforce.

And is not as suggested by some pundits, actually a device used for cooling Kimi’s feet because his socks become a particularly nasty biohazard after spending an hour and a half in close proximity to the flying Finn in stifling heat in the cockpit. If this had been the case we’d expect a huge gaping hole to appear right under Felipe’s seat, for every race he rolled out his lucky underpants.

the-holy-nose.jpg Back at Maranello apparently an investigation is now under way, after the news of the ‘holy nose’ contraption as some fans have dubbed it, got mysteriously leaked to the Italian Media back in January.

Reports have suggested that Technical Director Aldo Costa was horrified to find out that despite very few people within the team actually knowing about the existence of the aerodynamic piece back then, it still somehow found it’s way into the press.

Unconfirmed scurrilous rumours have suggested that once Mr.Costa has pinned down the guilty culprit, they will be having a face to face meeting with a reel of duct tape and banned from social networking site Facebook for a year.

Unfortunately it would seem this is one such incident that Nigel Stepney cannot be blamed for…but does raise the ugly spectre that there might yet still be someone lurking inside Maranello that can’t be trusted and deserves a firm smack over the knuckles with Nick Tombazis’ trusty slide-rule.

michael-in-action Meanwhile in other news, Ferrari’s official 3rd driver Michael Schumacher (who incidentally will be testing the F2008 at Barcelona on Wednesday) was yesterday back in action on a motobike at the Eurospeed way at the Lausitzring in Germany.

Wearing yet another rather fetching outfit (this time in Orange), the former World Champion who was taking part in a bike promotion unfortunately had a small disagreement with an oil slick on track and found himself deposited on his rear end on the concrete. No doubt you will all be relieved to know the German Superstar was unhurt in the incident, although we do suspect there might be a slight dent in his ego (not to mention a few grazes on his rear end).

F1 Testing continues again today at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa once more leading proceedings for the Maranello outfit. Forza Ferrari.

According to German Publication, Auto, Motor und Sport, Ferrari CEO Jean Todt is more than a little disappointed. Apparently when Jean offered former 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher the exciting prospect of being glued to a desk in the Gestione Sportiva as ‘Director’ for 16 hours a day for the next 40 or so years, Michael politely declined the kind offer.

todt-and-his-protegee.jpg Here at FFN we can’t think why. Jean has gone on record to say that Michael really was the best candidate for the job, but was unable to accept it on account that he couldn’t commit the time.

If Jean had taken the time to avidly read FFN every day, then he would have been in the position to know that Michael suffers from a severe case of ants-in-the-pants and can barely manage to keep still for more than 20 seconds at a time. Which might explain why he is forever popping up all over the globe with more regularity than sightings of Elvis.

The only way we could see it working was if the Gestione Sportiva relocated lock, stock and barrel to a high-speed bus. Thus giving Schumi the chance to drive at high speed whilst shouting orders to his minions, all while trying to stop the bus from blowing to smithereens lest it go below 50kph. He could certainly teach that Keanu Reeves a thing or three.

Michael meanwhile, is showing no signs yet of slowing down or taking his retirement seriously. In recent months Michael has tested for Ferrari at Jerez to advise the team on the way forward without traction control, given some other top drivers a run for their money in the Race of Champions at Wembley, and taken up a new hobby to add to his countless other talents – becoming a taxi driver.

The role of ‘Director of the Gestione’ and Team Principal has now gone to Stefano Domenicali, and good luck to him. Here at FFN we are quite pleased about that, if only for the fact Stefano is a damn sight better looking than some of the trolls that pass as F1 team bosses nowadays.

While the Ferrari team have been locked away inside Maranello, building a shiny new car, reorganising themselves, and playing chess (if Nick Tombazis is anything to go by) their new champion has been busy coming up with a very clever idea.

The Finn has gone out and got himself another tattoo. This time though, he has not opted for another swirly tribally meaningless thingey-me-bob, oh no. It is rumoured that Kimi has had his nickname ‘iceman’ tattooed on his lower left arm. Not only will this serve as a useful reminder to Kimi when he has had one too many vodka’s and can’t remember his own name, but he can also flash it off to any barmen in his vicinity as a useful reminder of what he likes in his favourite tipple. Who said he wasn’t a smart cookie?

kimis-tattoo.jpg

In other news, it appears that some F1 drivers are none to happy about the prospect of driving in the rain next season without the use traction control. F1 veteran David Coulthard has been leading the call by the drivers to FIA delegate Charlie Whiting to open a discourse about the best course of action should another ‘Fuji’ occur.

This has inevitably lead to a few armchair experts in chatrooms and forums using a few choice expressions regarding the current crop of F1 drivers, and much laughter at their fear of getting wet unless they dissolve.

Thinking back to 2007, we are at a loss to understand the big deal regarding the traction control anyway, considering it didn’t do much good for at least five drivers who ended up beached in the gravel trap at Nurburgring.

mad-max-and-charlie-whiting.jpgFIA supremo Max Mosley has apparently downplayed the importance of the issue declaring that it is dangerous to drive in the wet with or without the use of traction control, and goes on to suggest that even the least competent F1 driver should have no problem. We can’t for the life of us think who he is referring to, but we are pretty sure its not Jackie Stewart since he is known as the half-wit. Answers on a postcard please.

Our last thought for the day lingers on what CD Max must have playing in his car audio system, is it perhaps Rihanna’s “Shut up and Drive”?

After enduring a torrid season in 2007, struggling with a car that was as temperamental as a 14 year old and a stomach wrenching complexion to match, it would seem the Honda team have gone just slightly giddy.

we-are-going-to-win-arent-we-ross.jpgIf rumours are true, the Brackley based team is cock-a-hoop over the fact they have managed to snatch former Ferrari technical Director Ross Brawn from the clutches of Ferrari. (Let’s ignore for one moment the fact Ross has mentioned on more than one occasion he planned his escape from Maranello as far back as 2004 – perhaps he should have asked Nigel Stepney to smuggle him out it would have been quicker) Meanwhile Honda has now gone back to their old ways of counting chickens before they have hatched. 1,2, 3…

Honda CEO Nick Fry has gone on record recently as saying he sees no reason why the team will not be able to start off their 2008 campaign pretty much on a level with their performance at the end of the 2006 season. Theoretically there is nothing wrong with making such assumptions, but we can’t help wondering if Honda are putting foot firmly in mouth yet again by making the statements publicly before they have even got their new challenger out on the tarmac. After all at the beginning of 2007, they were predicting challenging for the championship…and look how that turned out. With Honda only managing to win one prize, that of most ridiculous paint job on a shopping trolley. If in doubt it’s best to stop crowing to all and sundry from the rooftops, as Ron Integrity Dennis will be able to tell you, lest you have to make a grovelling apology later on and really do look like a prize turkey (albeit a very bald one).

Here at FFN we can partially understand Honda’s enthusiasm at having Uncle-Cuddly-Bear-Banana-Man-Brawn whip them into shape, after all he did a decent job of sorting out those “irrational screaming hysterical Italians” down at Ferrari. But really we feel they would be better off concentrating on shaving off that alarming ginger bird’s nest that seems to have firmly ensconced itself on Jenson’s chin. After all that thing has got to have some negative effect not only on the car’s handling performance, but on the morale of the poor Mechanics that have to look at it weekend in and out. (At least Alonso’s raised a few giggles).

It remains to be seen if the Brackley team have finally got to grips with their wind tunnel gremlins and produced a better car for the 2008. One thing we can’t help pondering here at FFN, is whether some of Honda’s new found enthusiasm and cheery attitude could be a result of passing on their lame dog of a car for 2007 to the poor Super Aguri team, who will have to pay for the dubious pleasure. In which case we fully endorse Sato taking out just about every passing car he can in a destruction derby. We can only hope in the following days we may here some good news on behalf of the Super Aguri team, and hopefully find out if Ant Davidson has kept his race seat.

tadashi.jpgMeanwhile Ross Brawn apparently has a two-year plan for turning Honda’s fortunes around, which coincidentally is the same time limit Toyota’s Team Principal Tadashi Yamashina has been given before Toyota pull the plug and see their F1 plans go swirling down the toilet.

Despite the biggest budget of all F1 teams (most of which was presumably paid to the other Schumacher brother by mistake) the Toyota team have failed to impress in the 6 year history in F1.

Yamashina has confirmed that their efforts will be concentrated on improving in two areas: aerodynamics and operationally. According to recent reports, Toyota officials are claiming that their 2008 car will be 2.2 seconds faster – but they didn’t confirm if they meant faster than last years vehicle or faster than the warp speed in which the FIA slapped a libel law suit on an ill advised journalist for voicing his opinion. If FFN suddenly goes off air, please come and storm the basement of FIA headquarters in Paris – otherwise I could be forced to eat my own arm off.

Meanwhile Toyota’s Jarno Trulli has been quoted as saying that is he looking forward to driving against a challenging team mate for a change (Timo Glock). When asked if he was making a snide remark regarding his previous team mate Ralf Schumacher, the Italian refused to elaborate lest he incriminated himself. Rumours in the Schumacher camp are suggesing Ralfie is plotting a return to F1 in 2009 after a sabbatical (it didn’t harm Ross did it?) although we cannot ascertain if there is any truth in suggestions that Ralfie has petitioned big brother to buy him an F1 team just in case he can’t get in at Force 1 India.

Going back somewhat to the subject of toilets, Ferrari’s Nick Tombazis has recently moved to deny there has been any dissent in the Ferrari camp regarding their new Champ Kimi Raikkonen. According to Tombazis, there has never been any question marks over Kimi’s head (apart from when can he leave to get to the bar) and that Kimi although very quiet, when he does pipe up apparently says “significant things”. We only hope the significant things he is talking about include excellent technical feedback on the car and do not include detailed descriptions of his bowel habits, as mentioned some time ago at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2006.

a-vision-in-grey.jpgWorryingly, we have just heard some disturbing news regarding McLaren’s new charge Heikki Kovaleinen. The chirpy Finn has reportedly been seen with a pair of grey underpants on his head, walking around in circles in Woking, claiming that it was his “childhood dream to drive for McLaren”.

Additionally the poor mite is reported to be muttering about staying with the team long term and the possiblity of enjoying equal treatment to Lamppost Lewis. We really do hope this strange malaise lifts soon, otherwise we may be forced to send Professor Sid Watkins in to investigate…assuming he can fit inside McLaren’s tiny garages at the end of the pitlane of course.

Stayed Tuned….Part 3 coming soon.