Niki Lauda


Just when we thought the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F1 team had plenty issues of concern to be going on with (what with malfunctioning driver’s software, engines packing up left, right and centre, and the pitwall staff reportedly suffering from a case of the sleeping sickness) along comes another one to compound their problems.

sepang_circuit.jpgAccording to recent meteorological reports on the area, we can expect some rain and thunderstorms during the race on Sunday at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia.

Barely having recovered from the excitement of last weekend race in Oz, our blood pressure could be thoroughly tested again this weekend, as the current crop of F1 stars prove their mettle for the first time in wet conditions without that useful little gizmo known as traction control.

Although if the opening round of the season was anything to go by, we could end up just watching rain lashing down on the concrete and the poor bedraggled local spectators, with the entire grid parked up neatly in a gravel trap if we aren’t too careful.

We can only hope if the bad weather does come to pass (and we don’t know for certain since Niki Lauda has been remarkably quiet these last few days) that the FIA have it all under control. Here at FFN we will be making calls to the governing body at regular intervals to ensure they have prepped all the teams with any last minute rule changes – and in particular insist they dispatch Charlie Whiting off to Ferrari for good measure.

not-concerned-at-all.jpgMeanwhile the Maranello boys are hopeful they can banish the memory of their nightmare start to the season and kick start their championship campaign in Malaysia. Both Kimi and Felipe in recent days have suggested that they are not concerned about the reliability of the car and are confident the issues that blighted the team in Oz can be quickly resolved.

Although to be fair, we can’t recall Kimi ever being overly concerned about anything, but we expect the Kim-bot’s ECU has yet to realise its full potential in that department. Just imagine the hulabaloo that would ensue though in the unlikely eventuality someone snatched his champagne off him on the podium.

We understand the offending engines from last weekend have been sent back to Maranello for further analysis, in the hope the team can discover the cause of the mystery ailment that sent both drivers out of the race. Two new engines are rumoured to be on route to Malaysia as we speak and should arrive in time for the first free practice on Friday. And if they don’t, we can expect to see the Kimster’s and ickle Felipe’s legs going round faster than roadrunner while they peddle like the clappers.

macca-steering-wheel.jpgOver at arch-rivals McLaren, the Woking based team are currently planning to make changes to the pitlane limiter button on the MP4-23 steering wheel, after new starlet Heikki Kovaleinen accidentally pushed the darned thing during the Australian Grand Prix gifting a place in proceedings to Fernando Alonso.

Following on from rumours of a similar event happening at the Brazilian Grand Prix last season, presumably McLaren have come to the realisation that drivers just cannot be trusted when it comes to a big red button with the wording “Do not push!” stamped all over it.

It is unclear whether the team will remove the offending button completely or simply place it out of the reach of the driving duo’s sticky mitts. Cue lots of unexpected speeding in the pitlane and monetary fines from the FIA, then.

In other news, we are sad to report that Jean Todt (or Toad as some rival team fans like to call him) has stepped down from his position as Ferrari CEO.

todt-and-domenicali.jpgThe feisty little Frenchman who led the Ferrari F1 team through one of it’s greatest periods of success during his 15 year reign, is thought to want to spend more time dedicated to pursuing other interests and not being permanently glued to a desk in Ferrari HQ. Who can blame him. It is understood he will remain on the board of directors at Ferrari.

Here at FFN we wish him lots of luck for the future and hope he still pops by at the occasional Grand Prix from time to time. He will be sadly missed, especially the sight of him boiling his socks off in that bloody red sweater, randomly ripping off journalists heads and chewing his fingernails off in anger every time he sees Ron Dennis. As much as we dearly love new team Boss Stefano Domenicali, he just doesn’t provide the same entertainment value.

We are very sad. Roll on Malaysia.

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Amidst the aftermath of the Australian Grand Prix, where the Ferrari team endured a dismal weekend with both drivers retiring from the race due to technical problems, rumours have already begun circulating concerning the causes of the double engine failures that put an end to the Ferrari drivers respective races.

Although going by the driving on display at some points during the race, it was a closely run toss up between whether technical gremlins or a meeting with a barrier was going to come first for the pair.

ecu.jpgThis morning in an article on Autosport.com in which Ferrari have vowed to work on their reliability issues, it has emerged that there are possible question marks over whether the move to the standard ECU supplied by MES (McLaren Electronic Systems) may have been a contributory factor.

Amongst other issues Team Boss Stefano Domenicali was quoted as saying “Today we had engine trouble, but with this rule-book the gearbox is another element to keep in check. Let’s not forget that with MES (the standard ECU) we can have some problems in understanding the system, and how to integrate it with the car. We must still discover it in full.”

Current circulating rumours are thought to suggest that a conflict between the SECU and Ferrari’s own software may also have been responsible for Kimi’s fuel pump problem on Saturday during the qualifying session.

Here at FFN we knew the Kim-bot had undergone some basic software programming since his arrival at Maranello in 2007 particularly in relation to smiling 24/7, spouting forth garrulous comments to the media that appear to all intents and purposes to be straight out the mouth of Luca Colajanni (without the italian accent of course), and efficiently consuming Shell V-tech fuel instead of Vodka….but we hadn’t realised things had gotten so darned complicated.

malfunction-in-the-kim-bot-software.jpgIt is thought the Maranello-based clever bods may be eagerly beavering away right this minute in order to upgrade the Kim-bot software in time for Malaysia, to ensure he doesn’t blow up any more engines and doesn’t lose his drinks straw at inopportune moments.

That still leaves us with ickle Felipe. Could the Standard ECU be responsible for making the little Brazilian veer off track into the shrubbery and crash into the side of other unwitting race drivers at random intervals during the race weekend?

All these years we had been under the illusion that Felipe’s endearing special talents were entirely his. So it comes as somewhat of a shock to discover some devious bod at McLaren is sat somewhere in the paddock pressing buttons merrily on a remote control device and causing mayhem inside the Italian outfit. What next we wonder, will the wheels shoot off the F2008 during qualifying in Malaysia?

Meanwhile, Former World Champion Niki Lauda has already popped out of the woodwork to tell it like it is. According to the Austrian, the weakest link for the team during the opening round of the F1 season in Australia, was without a doubt it’s two drivers. (presumably he isn’t taking into account the ECU’s role in affairs then).

“Everything they could do wrong, they did do wrong” Niki pointed out during his post race analysis, before moving on to his more usual run of the mill predictions about the end of the known universe, what Alonso should do next and so forth.

stefano12.jpgTeam Boss Stefano stopped short of criticising anyone specifically for the dismal turn of events, but is rumoured to have commented “the whole team has not performed to our usual standard.”

Which we take as an impending sign of the mild mannered and pleasant Mr.Domenicali about to read the riot act behind closed doors, if ranting rabble-rouser Luca di Montezemolo doesn’t get in there first.

Meanwhile in other “news”, you may remember over the winter period there was much discussion across internet forums and the like, concerning a radical new nose Ferrari were rumoured to be testing in relation to the F2008. Today again the rumours re-emerged, and are suggesting that the new nose could be brought into play as early as the Bahrain Grand Prix.

We can’t help feeling though, that it would be wise for Ferrari to sort it’s driving duo out first, otherwise a new nose cone isn’t going to do much good instantly parked into the side of another car or lodged deep in a gravel trap.

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.

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 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher will finally get his hands on the F2008 in a much publicised test session at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona.

the-return-of-the-schu1.jpgAs is always the case with the Schu, the prospect has created quite a stir amongst the F1 fanbase, as the German Superstar will be testing alongside Ferrari’s current WDC Kimbot ‘Flu-riddled’ Raikkonen for the first time in the same car.

The Ferrari team have been quick to point out that the duo will actually be completing different parts of the F2008 program as to avoid the prospect of anyone making direct and possibly unflattering comparisons between the two champions (and to save any blushes for the loser). Like that is actually going to stop anyone!

Suffice to say F1 internet buffs everywhere are already rubbing their hands together in delight at the prospect of pouring over the timesheets like a bunch of complete anoraks to ascertain who is actually the fastest of the two.

We can only wonder which WDC will be going home with a rather large dent in their ego tonight, and which will be going home in another hideous fashion statement. Just kidding (about the ego not the shirts) and we haven’t honestly the faintest notion who will come out as the cream of the crop.

Meanwhile another WDC who has been in the beady eye of public scrutiny just recently is Renault’s Double World Champion Fernando Alonso. The reclusive Spaniard (who barely speaks two words together during the course of a season if we are lucky, according to Ron Dennis) has this week spoken out about his forthright opinions on the ongoing ‘race row’ that has dominated the sport in recent weeks.

nando.jpgWe can only presume that we are not talking about the same man as Mr. Dennis, as the one that comes to our minds is the one that spews forth with greater alacrity and garrulousness than Mount Etna the minute he is within 3 square feet of a microphone.

The ‘race row’ in question should not be confused with the usual ‘race rows’ that envelope Formula 1, whereby a lot of brake-testing, impeding rivals, red flags, spats across the garage, dodgy parking and ending up in the gravel trap go on during the course of the average weekend in the sport, much to our delight.

Indeed Nando has been speaking out in defence of his countrymen in response to allegations thrown at them by the British Media. According to the King of Spanish Public Relations, the Spanish are not racist and the whole incident at Barcelona a few weeks back whereby a few individuals took it upon themselves to lob objects and vocalise their appreciation for Lewis Hamilton was a one-off incident. We can only presume then the other incident in China mentioned by Max Mosley, was a figment of someone’s overactive imagination.

Nando went on to dismiss the need for the FIA to involve themselves in the whole affair and suggested that an anti-racism campaign was not desirous. According to the Renault Star, he too has been on the receiving end of some verbal abuse on occasion, with Niki Lauda reportedly calling him a “dog” during the course of the 2007 season. Nando quite rightly pointing out that the FIA didn’t rush and launch an anti-canine campaign on his behalf.

Just for future reference we think someone should point out one minor trivial and inconsequential detail to the Double World Champion, that our four legged furry friends are actually considered a ‘species’ and not a ‘race’. Otherwise he could end up not doing so well at the ‘Science and Nature’ questions when he plays that board game Trivial Pursuit.

smiling-stepney.jpgOver in Italy this week disgraced former glorified Mechanic Nigel Stepney was seen putting in an appearance at the public abode of the Modena Magistrate, Giuseppe Tibis.

Steppers spent around 3 hours having a “discussion” with the Italian magistrate regarding the ongoing legal action being brought against the Brit by the Ferrari team.

Judging by the photos of the Brit smiling as he left the Magistrates Office, we can only conclude it was a civilised affair with glasses of champagne and some rather tasty hors d’ouvres thrown in for good measure…and disappointingly no apparent toenail extraction to expediate matters.

Either that or Steppers is rather masochistic in nature and enjoys a good interrogation as well as the notoriety gained from being Public Enemy No.1.

Meanwhile, just in case any of us were in danger of being completely overshadowed by the size of McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton’s ego (which is not likely unless you happen to live in Switzerland) Willi Weber has benevolently stepped into the fray to save us all, how kind of him.

willi-weber.jpgThe German best known for being Michael Schumacher’s Manager, and for spending 15 years constantly printing out World Champion T-shirts whether his man won or not, has commented in the Media that he sees no current replacement in the sport for the majesty of his former Star.

According to Willi (which we think is an apt name for him if ever there was one) F1’s latest golden boy Hamilton is good but not that good. The German went on to suggest that if Michael Schumacher were still driving today (well he is, isn’t he?) he would easily knock the British sensation into a cocked hat, or something similar.

We can only hope that Michael manages to pull out a good qualifying performance today in Barcelona and beats the Brit, otherwise Mr Weber could be going home embarrassingly with egg all over his face, Although that would be a vast aesthetic improvement to our minds.

Of course we can only come to the rather startling and cynical conclusion that the real reason behind such comments is that Mr.Weber isn’t making a single Euro out of the British Star, Bah Humbug.

Here at FFN we are extremely concerned. Has someone been slipping something into the drinking water in the F1 paddock? Or is it merely the mysterious effects of the mountain air?

This week it seems the glossy PR, carefully worded press statements and ‘more slippery than an eel in a politician’s pocket’ approaches have gone out the window. Nearly everyone has descended into that age-old bastion of forthright opinions, spouting nonsense and name calling that is usually reserved for the likes of Niki Nostradamus Lauda.

certified-half-wit.JPGThus far this week we have had the FIA’s president Max Mosley no less shooting straight from the hip and telling us that former World Champion Jackie Stewart is a certified half-wit. We wonder if that certificate is courtesy of the FIA and mounted in a silver-gilded frame at Sir Jackie’s Mansion.

According to Mr Mosley, Jackie should shut his trap and stop spewing forth rubbish concerning the Spygate Scandal when he wasn’t in fact there or actually have the first darned clue what the evidence in the case was. Mind you after reading the lengthy transcript from the said same hearing on September 13th we’d be entirely surprised if anyone else who attended did, as Ferrari’s Lawyer Nigel Tozzi did seem to be able to talk the hind legs off a donkey.

And really what else are former forgotten F1 heroes of days gone past supposed to do when a microphone is shoved towards their left nostril? Start talking about the latest trend in knitted cardigans, slippers and the price of chewing tobacco?

The forthright expression of opinions does not stop there either (although we are perplexed at how quiet old Nostradamus has been this week). Indeed this week Ferrari’s President Luca Di Whatisname has popped out of the Maranello woodwork with a controversial statement or three. According to the tractor driving axe-wielding Italian, it matters little whoever shall win the World Drivers Championship this year out of the current contenders (Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen or Massa) as it will be done in a car that has a made in Maranello sticker firmly on it. Despite the fact McLaren insist most vehemently that no part of their current car comes from Ferrari…it just rather coincidentally has red paint on parts of it.

ickle-felipe.JPGEven the odd Ferrari driver has jumped into the fray this week. Usually ickle Felipe leaves the politics to the mudslinging old farts from the paddock, but he couldn’t quite resist the urge to get a dig in at rival team McLaren. Ickle Felipe apparently declaring that Ferrari’s 15th Constructors Title is in no way tainted by what has happened this year, because his team have won it by working very hand and sticking to playing by the rules. (Instead of nipping out back and borrowing one of Stepney’s illicit instruction manuals we assume).

When asked to comment on why he felt McLaren did not appeal their punishment at the hands of the FIA, ickle Felipe is reported to have said something along the lines of “Usually, in any sport, if you do something wrong you have to pay the penalty and I think the decision that they did do something wrong is reinforced as being correct exactly by the fact they did not appeal”.

Given that McLaren’s own witnesses seemed to have done a thorough job of shooting themselves firmly in the foot at the last attempt, is it any wonder they aren’t too keen at going back for round two? As one casual observer quipped “McLaren’s Paddy Lowe couldn’t lie straight in bed” whatever that means!

kimbot.JPGThe only man who seems immune to all the handbags flying overhead is Ferrari’s Kimbot. As ever his usual serene self, the Kimster has been concerning himself only with the on track action, what time the ice hockey is on TV, wheeling around Fuji on a motorbike with some bald headed chap and if he is getting meatballs for his evening meal. Despite only having 10 mumbled words to his vocabulary and disappearing off at a moments notice from Grand Prix, here at FFN we are beginning to really appreciate Kimi’s simple approach in contrast to some of the screaming fishwives that inhabit the paddock.

Despite earlier in the season declaring a media truce, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have come out at Fuji with feathers flying in just about every direction. Still smarting from their on track set-to at Spa, Lewis has commented that Alonso just isn’t who he thought he was. Presumably Lewis wasn’t expecting a reclusive, non-talkative (unless there is a reporter in front of him) histrionic drama queen with a penchant for driving you up the wall for a team mate then when the Double World Champion joined the Woking outfit. Leading us to wonder if he had been watching cartoons previously while the rest of us watched F1.

Lewis has decided to spark a psychological war via the tabloids, by claiming that the team now know who to back in the drivers title challenge, given the events of the last few weeks. Lewis has intimated that Nando has not been loyal to the team (given that he dumped them right in it with the FIA presumably) and therefore the team will now rally around Lewis’s cause.

is-this-roy-orbison-or-fernando.JPGNando has apparently countered this statement saying he now feels very happy within the team and can’t see any reason why he won’t stay, and he will do his talking on track thank you very much. Followed quickly by half a dozen press releases saying that he can’t quite believe all the garbage being written in the press about him, he is on speaking terms with Ron Dennis and has always been (much to our chagrin) and that he doesn’t expect any first corner accidents involving him and that annoying Englishman, because they are both intelligent human beings. Presumably to be followed shortly after on Sunday, by giving Lewis a good brake-testing just to remind him who he is dealing with.

Phew! So with all these harsh words being bandied about we can only hope we are in for a very exciting weekend of racing, that’s if the drivers and team bosses remember to put their handbags away and get on with the business in hand of course!

The Maranello team is back – clearly the chap who mended the carpet in the Ferrari wind tunnel knew what he was doing. A Ferrari 1-3 on the starting grid is not quite the same as a Ferrari 1-2, but then one can’t have everything. Now all we need is for Kubica, Fisichella and Kovalainen to all make really bad starts tomorrow, and Kimi might even hold his position through the first corner. It’s all looking pretty good you have to agree – provided rain doesn’t intervene and reverse the grid, what with our silly safety car rules and all that…plus Felipe’s on pole, and we all know he isn’t too fond of driving in the rain.

schumiandzidane.jpgBut first things first. The day started off with Michael Schumacher driving Zidane around in his FXX for a couple of laps around the Magny-Cours ciruit, and according to reports – “Both Schumacher and Zidane were requested by Ferrari chief Jean Todt not to answer any questions on their sports during a news conference following their demonstration laps” – which is a bit strange. I don’t see why the deuce Todt should object to poor Zidane talking about football, and Michael’s been acting like a particularly reticent trappist monk of late anyway. Speaking of the latter, Niki Lauda is most displeased with Schumi for this self-enforced code of silence. “It is sad that Michael is not willing to speak about formula one” says Lauda, “For many years he brought much joy to a lot of people and helped to shape the sport. To then come back and say nothing (and provide no entertainment), I think, does not quite fit”. Clearly the strain of being the only one around jabbering on and on to the media is getting to Lauda (plus he is running out of doomsday prophecies), and he is on the lookout for another former world champion to share the burden. This non-cooperation from Schumi must be most annoying.

McLaren has not been having the best of weekends thus far, with two reliability issues in two practice sessions, and a gearbox failure in Q3 to boot. Now this is more like the McLaren we all know and love, but Fernando Alonso doesn’t seem too thrilled with the emergence of this happy familiarity. He will be starting from tenth position in the grid tomorrow, being the victim of the above-mentioned gearbox failure, and it is never pleasant to lose one’s gears unless you are Michael Schumacher and can finish on the podium despite being stuck in fifth gear for most of the race. Nando says he will “pray all night that for the race it will be raining”…and in case you were wondering about this rather sudden love for precipitation, he clarifies – “When you are quicker in the dry, you are maybe two-tenths quicker than the guys in front. When you are quicker in the wet, it can be maybe two seconds. So you can gain a lot of places. I really hope it is wet”. Uh oh…we really hope it is not.

With a resurgent Renault and BMW holding most other grid positions in the top 10, it might not be too foolish to hope for a good, competitive race tomorrow. Will Felipe be able to keep Lewis behind him? Will Kimi spring to life and continue his Indy form? Will it finally be the darned Ferrari 1-2 that we have been hoping for since I don’t know when? Keeping fingers crossed for the race tomorrow. Forza Ferrari.

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