Jerez, Spain


It must be quite obvious that we, here at FFN, are rather fond of Kimi Raikkonen in that detached, indulgent manner like you are sometimes fond of a crazy cousin. Having authored several best sellers such as “The Art of Replying in Monosyllables” and “Ron Dennis: A Survival Guide”, not to mention “When and Where to Dress in a Gorilla Costume”, Kimi also drove a F1 car in his spare time, and was even a Ferrari driver briefly. However, after a career move to rallying, we are surprised by how vocal Raikkonen suddenly is, never losing an opportunity to remind everyone how boring F1 is, and how foolish millions of people are to be even following this silly sport (or non-sport as Alonso would put it). Now when he says “WRC is more open than F1, there’s a warmer feeling”, we can’t help but feel not all is well with Iceman. I mean, Kimi-Bot talking about openness, friendship and warmness is like Flavio Briatore talking about team orders…just doesn’t gel. By the way, what did you think of the new Lotus? This is what we thought…

The next test session in Jerez is promising to be a cheery affair, what with severe rain forecasts and  flood warnings. It will be interesting to watch all the F1 teams huddled up in their respective motorhomes watching the cars floating in the garages outside.  With the testing regulations and all that, we can’t help but feel half the grid is going to get the first decent run only during the Bahrain GP, adding a whole new dimension of variability to the proceedings (Can the Virgin front wing last 10 laps? Is USF1 really going to be there on the grid? Did Campos get the brake and accelerator pedals interchanged?)  So when Kimi says boring and unpredictable, he clearly doesn’t have a clue.

There was an interesting news piece on Pitpass yesterday on majority of the Mercedes former management resigning, and to be replaced by Mohamed Badawy Al Huseinny (and if that’s only one man, then a few others from Aabar Investing Fund as well). But today, a Mercedes spokesman has dismissed the reports – “”I can confirm that Nick Fry remains at the team in the position of chief executive officer”. The spokesman adds that there is no big change forthcoming, except they have fired the cook in the Mercedes motohome. “There was a lot of negative PR because Michael was always dashing off to the Ferrari motorhome for lunch” clarifies the spokesman, “Now we have a Italian chef who can make spaghetti aglio e olio pasta with garlic and olive oil  as well as the next person”. Michael was not available for comment.

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The British media have been busy the past week wondering what could possibly be the reason for Ferrari topping the charts at Valencia last week. Never mind that Ferrari has won 8 out of the last 11 world constructor championships, one would have thought Force India topped the charts judging by the reaction. One interesting theory presented was that Ferrari omitted to add 30 kgs of ballast to the car, an honest mistake any team can make, and after all the self-congratulatory pats on the back for having exceeded expectations, were chagrined to find the missing ballasts hidden behind the extra tyres. We can see that going down well with Luca di Montezemolo. Or wait, maybe it was a deliberate ‘mistake’, much like our beloved Schumster parking in Rascasse. Maybe Ferrari thought it was a wonderful idea to corner all the pre-season hype only to fail spectacularly in the first race. Well, clearly we are not the only ones in the fake news business, that’s for sure.

We hear Red Bull’s got a bit of a problem. Adrian Newey, in his quest for aerodynamic perfection has designed such a unique raised nose that it’s pretty much all the driver can see from the cockpit. Maybe they should have just stuck to the previous year’s design, much like Force India. Force India has cleverly restricted all their innovations to the steering wheel. We have already highlighted their desire to just have a car that runs, which is actually a clever strategy. This way, they will surely finish ahead of at least five other teams that seem destined to merely form immovable hurdles at the race start. And there is further action in store presented by teams such as Virgin, where you never know when the car is going to disintegrate all over the track, as it did in Jerez today, with drivers no doubt having to drive warily around to avoid the odd piece of debris. Thankfully DC has retired, I doubt our hearts could have withstood that added excitement, given his well documented stopping-in-the-rain routines and attempted decapitations.  

Ferrari is looking increasingly consistent and reliable at the Jerez tests, all positive signs leading up to the season. Bring on Bahrain! Forza! I will leave you with a bit of Ron-Speak, just so we can be grateful we are not subjected to this on a regular basis anymore. “You have one driver preceding the other and feeling that he had to catch up. You have all these very, very different chemistries, and it’s just not the case with two drivers who have got like-minded approaches, an Anglophile approach”. And this was all in reply to some unsuspecting journo asking Ron about the Hamilton-Button pairing in McLaren.

We (at FFN) have been wondering about the new point system a bit. You know, the newest 25-18-15-12-10 one, awarding the winner with a whopping 7 point lead. It feels as though the powers that be in F1 have a sudden sneaking suspicion that lack of overtaking might have little to do with the cars and tracks after all. In the recent past, the governing bodies have been throwing everything they could lay their collective hands on into making F1 a better sporting spectacle, meaning more cars overtaking and less resemblance to a ruddy procession. If this meant sweeping aerodynamic changes or the blessed KERS or even shortcuts, so be it. And then some bright chap in some Council approved a proposal from a different commission, the gist of it being to provide a bit of incentive to the drivers to actually want to overtake. We think it’s a rather bright idea, our only concern being Bernie Ecclestone agrees. “The idea was to make a much bigger gap between first and second” says Bernie, “give people the incentive to overtake, not to sit there getting points”. Uh oh, what did we miss? Jenson Button, it has to be said, is far more diplomatic than FFN when it comes to voicing opinions on anything Bernie. He thinks the ‘shortcuts’ idea is rather ridiculous of course, but seems to suggest it is an exception rather than norm. “We struggle seeing anyway out of the sides of the cars, because the cockpit comes up to here for safety reasons. So if there is a car coming at an angle, it can be very dangerous” says Jense, “It’s probably not one of Bernie’s better ideas”. Oh, we think it is one of Bernie’s better ideas, which doesn’t say much for the standard I suppose.

Meanwhile, Force India’s design director Mark Smith is not upset about skipping the Valencia test last week. “As long as we are ready to go the Jerez test with a car that will run then it’s better for us” he says, and you have to agree. Car that runs is definitely better than car that maintains its state of inertia at rest. Nico Hulkenberg is also feeling the pressure, not that he is driving for Force India. “Williams expect me to deliver a good job, to drive quickly and do well for them. They would not appoint me as a driver if they didn’t expect something from me” says the clearly inexperienced youngling. If only he had read a bit of F1 history, he would know Williams specialize in appointing drivers no one in their right mind can expect anything out of. I mean, he’s got Rubens Barrichello as teammate for heaven’s sake! I bet if Ralf Schumacher were to make a comeback, Williams would sign him up without a second thought. Speaking of Rubens, we hear he had been urging young Rosberg to bolt out of Mercedes, now that Michael Schumacher is his teammate. Acts of courage, indeed.

Bring on the Jerez test then, keep fingers crossed that Ferrari goes fastest there as well. Forza!

If recent news reports are anything to go by, it would seem that BMW-Sauber’s Team Principal Mario Theissen has been complaining somewhat about the unexpected side effects of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) that most of the Formula 1 teams have been implementing ahead of the 2009 season.

mario-brosAccording to Mario (who we should point out is actually the inspiration behind the globally recognised Nintendo character bearing the same moniker), the sporting regulations should now raise the minimum weight of Formula 1 cars to help incorporate the technology.

It is understood that the installation of such systems, which has kept most of the paddock pulling their hair out all winter, has been quite a technological challenge as engineers have had to get very clever indeed (well that is what they are paid for isn’t it?) attempting to make the cars as light as possible to offset the weight of the KERS devices.

If rumours are to be believed BMW-Sauber driver Robert Kubica feels he is at a weight disadvantage to the other F1 pilots (even though you’d find more meat on a spare rib) and feels that this may have some sort of negligible influence on his driving prospects for the forthcoming season.

This week,Team Boss Mario has said he feels it is important to increase the minimum weight of the cars or else we will be left with just a jockey or words to a similar effect. Of course here at FFN (myself and the office cat) immediately fell about laughing, imagining the current crop of F1 stars riding around Albert Park on donkeys. The mind boggles though where you would keep the KERS batteries.

electrocuted-bmw-minionStill before we get carried away at a tangent, we can’t help but point out that it was BMW-Sauber themselves that insisted on forging ahead with the introduction of KERS this year, dragging the rest of the pitlane with them kicking and screaming (literally in some cases). Let’s not forget Red Bull nearly burnt their factory to the ground, some poor mechanic ending up in the emergency room after getting to close to the BMW car, not even mentioning the meteoric explosion in winter sales of Prozac in the immediate vicinity of Maranello.

So the important lesson to be learnt here is; Karma can come back and bite you on the behind if your not too careful.

Meanwhile it seems that the Williams team, have removed the ‘skate’ fins that adorned the FW31 at the recent test in Barcelona. It in understood the team have decided not to forge ahead with the devices after a friendly chit-chat with the sports governing body the FIA.

Allegedly the devices which were located on the side of the cockpit next to the drivers head, were some sort of aerodynamic device to channel the flow of air towards the rear of the car, and were actually not a pair of blinkers to prevent the William’s drivers from seeing who they were crashing into at the first corner of each race as had been originally thought.

flappy-thingsAnyway we understand after a brief consultation with Charlie Whiting, Williams have done a U turn and whipped the devices off the car faster than Kimi can get out of a Formula 1 circuit to watch the ice hockey. Probably not half as quick as they would have done if Max Mosley had been handing out punishments though.

According to the latest reports, the FIA will be today voting on the implementation of a new points system for the sport. The proposition is to replace the current 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 points awards with a 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1 system. It is thought that the new points system will ensure that whoever wins the most races during the course of the season, might actually go on to be the world champion at the end of the day.

Now Michael ‘Trophy-Hogging’ Schumacher has left the sport, presumably the powers that be are quite happy to award a few extra points here and there on the understanding the championship titles are not done and dusted before March is over, giving plenty of scope for race stewards to controversially tinker about with proceedings to keep the show on the road right up until the season finale so to speak.

fernando-at-jerezFinally, a little snippet of news from testing at Jerez. It seems yesterday our friend from Asturias, Fernando Alonso, knocked the BrawnGP challenger off the top of the timesheets, beating Rubens Barrichello by a tenth of a second.

We can only hazard a guess at how fast dear Nando might have gone if he in fact had got his grubby mitts on the Beast from Brackley. We best not repeat the equation here though as it has a tendency to rather excite Fernando’s fanbase, and FFN HQ is not big enough to swing the cat in let alone house a riot.

michaels-fashion-statement.jpgThe penultimate day of testing at Jerez in Spain on Tuesday saw the return of Renault’s prodigal son Fernando Alonso to the fold. The Double World Champion was spotted strolling into the paddock wearing what can only be described as his grandmother’s tea-cosy on his head.

We are a little bit concerned that Fernando has been taking fashion advice from 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher, in the fervent hope the more ridiculous the outfit the more successful he will be in his chosen profession. One only has to look to Michael’s latest offering to realise all the money in the world, a vast collection of shiny pots and a giant ‘schloss’ really cant buy you fashion sense.

Rumour has it Ferrari Team Boss Stefano Domenicali has ordered the Maranello based team to scour the inside of Kimi Raikkonen’s wardrobe for any eyeball offending checked shirts, silly hats or cowboy boots lest he start following suit.

But it would seem the knitted tea cosy worked its wonders, as Fernando managed to set the fastest time of the day out on track in the 2007 Renault much to the delight of the local fans. It’s purely coincidental that the fastest lap was secured on a new set of tyres and a very light fuel load, but we won’t let that detract from Alonso’s homecoming glory in the slightest, or from the multicoloured barnet topper.

kovaleinen-in-one-of-nandos-hats.jpgPresumably Fisichella and Kovaleinen will be wondering why on earth Fernando couldn’t have left that magical 0.6 seconds he took with him to McLaren, behind for their benefit. Kovy will have to resignedly make do with accepting Nando’s unwanted cast-offs for the second season in succession. Poor Boy. Fisichella no doubt will to be too preoccupied with team mate relations and dressing up like a man servant at Force 1ndia, to worry what Nando and Renault have been doing in his absence.

Now all season long in 2007 you may have noticed a little bit of a tabloid news war (on the scale of the armada) going on between Spain and England, over their respective F1 stars. Nary a week went past without a flurry of stories being printed on either side making outlandish claims and counter claims and generally throwing insults about like a bunch of fractious five year olds at a tea party.

Suffice to say, the waiting Spanish Media at Jerez could not wait to shoot down the pitlane and demand to know from Lamppost Lewis his reaction to Nando’s fastest lap. The British Star was left looking somewhat bemused when a rather persistent journalist demanded to know on at least two separate occasions what Lewis had thought about Nando’s time.

Naturally F1 drivers are a rather egotistical bunch on the whole, only used to talking about their favourite subject – themselves. So when some sneaky F1 hacks slips a question in about someone else, its no wonder they are left floundering about like a mackerel out of water. “What do I think to Nando?” erm “Who is Nando?”.

Lewis managed to just about mask his surprise and trot out “Good for him”, whilst obviously wondering if he was going to be plagued by a thousand and one questions on Nando for the rest of his natural life. Here at FFN we are thinking perhaps Lewis might want to publish a book on the subject entitled ‘1001 interesting facts about Nando-chops, including his favourite toothpaste’ and have done with it.

gravel-trap-take-2.jpgOn the final day of testing, there was nothing much of interest to report, Toyota’s rookie Timo Glock topped the timesheets in a session mired by the inclement precipitous conditions, and Lewis was drawn in his metallic McLaren like a magnet into the gravel trap on two separate occasions.

Apparently Lewis commented that his two trips into the stony stuff were as a result of the loss of traction control and contact with a slippery surface. And honestly has nothing to do with circulating rumours that the Brit is considering purchasing himself a beach hut, windbreaker and barbeque set since it is his favourite spot on any circuit.

In other news emerging yesterday, McLaren could be in the Mire. German Publication Auto Motor und Sport is rumoured to have suggested that Mercedes Benz are looking to buy out any of Ron Dennis’s remaining shares in the team and take control of the Woking base outfit.

It is thought that the German Automotive Giants (that’s not a football team by the way), are less than happy at the management of last season’s photocopying debacle that ended in McLaren being stripped of all their constructors championship points, fined $100 million and packed off to the end of the pitlane in disgrace.

the-ronster.jpg Unconfirmed speculation suggests that the Mercedes company is aiming to seize control of McLaren before the opening race in Melbourne Australia, and will be buying their own photocopying shop to ensure nothing like this happens again.

Where this leaves the Ronster, we haven’t got the first clue…but we are desperately upset about the far reaching repercussions of such drastic action. Who would we take the mickey out of if Ron goes? And who then would be the shining beacon of integrity in the sport? troubling times are ahead indeed.

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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