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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Alonso weathers the storm to win Nurburgring thriller

Double world champion Fernando Alonso brilliantly won the European Grand Prix as confusion reigned at the Nurburgring.

Alonso's third win of the season leaves him just two points behind McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton in the overall drivers' standings.

The Spaniard made the most of his opportunity when torrential rain and car failures combined to leave him in a straight fight with Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

Alonso passed Massa superbly in the closing stages to win by eight seconds from the Brazilian, Australian Mark Webber was third for Red Bull Racing.

Massa's teammate Kimi Raikkonen started from pole position but his poor record on the German circuit continued as he was forced to retire after 34 laps.

It was also a tough weekend for leader Hamilton who finished ninth.

A bad crash in qualifying left Hamilton starting from tenth on the grid and his record run of nine podium finishes in nine races was always likely to end after he spun off the track early on.

Hamilton's Mclaren was eventually lifted back onto the track by a crane but the rookie rejoined the race at the back of the field, a lap behind and with too much ground to make up.

Alex Wurz of Williams was fourth ahead of Red Bull's David Coulthard in fifth with Nick Heidfeld sixth for BMW.

The final point-scorers were Heidfeld's teammate Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen of Renault who were seventh and eighth respectively.

The race started in a sprinkling of rain, Massa darted past Alonso into second place while Kubica and Heidfeld collided just behind.

Heidfeld, the German racing in front of his home crowd, came off worse and had to go into the pits for extensive repairs.

Then the heavens opened. Track conditions quickly became treacherous and the need for wet weather tyres became obvious.

All the cars had to crowd into the pitlane except for debutant Markus Winkelhock of the Spyker team.

The 27-year-old German had made an instant decision when the rain began and headed into the pits as the race started.

Incredibly, as all kinds of havoc broke out around him, Winkelhock found himself in the lead by over 30 seconds.

The deluge was so torrential that even the wet tyres could not provide sufficient grip.

Hamilton, Scott Speed of Torro Rosso, Nico Rosberg of Williams, Adrian Sutil of Spyker, Jenson Button of Honda and Speed's teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi each slid off the track, the first four all at the opening corner.

Sutil, Rosberg, Speed, Liuzzi and Button were all out of the race, the Briton later describing the first section of the circuit as a "lake".

As the complete chaos threatened to turn into farce the race was stopped for twenty minutes so order could be restored.

Twenty minutes later bright sunshine had broken out as the race resumed behind the safety car.

Winkelhock led from Massa and Alonso as the cars went round the track in a procession for four laps but when the racing began the Spyker man soon began to slip back.

The cars began to change back to dry tyres after 12 laps as the race reverted to some kind of normality. Winkelhock's big day ended in misery after he was forced to retire by an engine failure.

Raikkonen had restarted in seventh place but he was soon tucked in behind Massa and Alonso as the three leaders began to open up a gap from Mark Webber in fourth place.

Further back, Heidfeld, perhaps smarting from his earlier troubles, made an aggressive move to overtake Ralf Schumacher.

The two cars touched sending Schumacher's Toyota into the gravel and out of the race.

Raikkonen was the next man to go, his Ferrari letting him down on lap 34 and leaving Massa and Alonso to fight for the victory.

The rain returned with eight laps remaining and after the cars changed back to wet tyres Alonso began a relentless attack on Massa's lead. Again and again the Spaniard tried to pass and Massa had to defend desperately.

Eventually Alonso squeezed through around the outside of the Ferrari, the two cars briefly making contact before Massa was forced to yield and settle for second place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Winkelhock favourite for Spyker drive

Markus Winkelhock has emerged as the clear favourite to make his Formula One debut with Spyker on home ground at the Nurburgring this weekend, with a final decision from the team expected within the next 24 hours.

Spyker have been in talks with several drivers about stepping into the seat vacated by Christijan Albers, who was dropped by the outfit following sponsorship problems after the British Grand Prix.

Honda Racing test driver Christian Klien tested for Spyker at Spa-Francorchamps last week, while Williams test driver Narain Karthikeyan has also been looking for sponsorship backing that would help him secure the seat.

GP2 racer Roldan Rodriguez has also been mentioned in connection with the drive.

However, it is understood that Winkelhock is looking increasingly likely to be given a one-race deal for the Nurburgring, in a move that would prove very popular in Germany. It is believed that a final decision about who gets the ride may not be made until Wednesday afternoon though.

Should Winkelhock get the drive then he will be the fifth German on the grid - after Nick Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and teammate Adrian Sutil.

Winkelhock's father Manfred raced in 47 grands prix between 1982 and 1985 for the ATS, Brabham and RAM teams. His best result was fifth in the 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix. He was killed in a sportscar accident at Mosport in Canada in 1985.

European Grand Prix - Preview(From Toyota)

Panasonic Toyota Racing is on home ground this weekend for the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, which is located only around an hour’s drive away from the team’s factory in Cologne, . The team is determined to reward its home fans with more points after another promising, but ultimately frustrating, race weekend at Silverstone. Ralf Schumacher showed the potential of the TF107 by qualifying a season-best sixth but neither he nor team-mate Jarno Trulli finished the race. After the high-speed corners of Magny-Cours and Silverstone, the Nürburgring represents a return to medium downforce specification. As with most races this season, the team brings an upgraded car to the Nürburgring, with small aerodynamic improvements since the British Grand Prix. Jarno celebrated his 33rd birthday on 13 July with a visit to the factory to give his technical input prior to this weekend’s race, when the team aims to return to the points.

Ralf Schumacher (Car 11)

“The Nürburgring is not only the home track for the team but also for me because I was born and grew up quite close by. I have always really enjoyed racing there because I get a lot of support from my home fans and I also have good memories of winning my first Formula Junior race there, and of course winning the European Grand Prix in 2003 which was a very special moment. I hope to have another good result to celebrate this weekend and I am confident we are making progress, even though the result at Silverstone was disappointing. On the positive side, you could see from my sixth place in qualifying and my lap times during the race that our car has improved and we are able to compete higher up the grid. The team is pushing hard to continue this improvement and it would be great to see the results of that work with a points finish at one of our home tracks this weekend.”

Jarno Trulli (Car 12)

“Silverstone was a weekend to forget to be honest. We had a good opportunity to score points because the car was quick, as you can see from Ralf’s great performance in qualifying. It was a shame that on my car I had no grip and was sliding a lot in the race. Formula 1 is about many little things so we have analysed the data from Silverstone and we will work on improving the set-up when practice starts on Friday. I am still optimistic for this weekend because I think the car definitely has potential and everyone is working very hard to get the best out of it. I know the Nürburgring circuit very well, not just from my 10 years in Formula 1 but also from my time in German Formula 3. The most important thing at this track is to find a good rhythm because the corners come at you very quickly. This is a home race for the team because our factory is based in Cologne so I will be pushing to get a positive result for everyone in the team.”

Pascal Vasselon – Senior General Manager Chassis

“At Silverstone our level of performance was good, the best so far this season. Obviously we struggled to deliver a race result which corresponded to our level of our performance and that was disappointing. We definitely hope to show the same level of performance at the Nürburgring. The track character is different because Silverstone is an extreme track in terms of tyre severity and average cornering speed. Nürburgring is more average in all aspects - in terms of downforce, as we will run medium downforce, in terms of braking stability and tyre usage. You have a bit of everything - you can be traction limited and front end limited. It is an average track but it doesn’t mean that average is not interesting - it’s a challenging track but without the special character of Silverstone for example. It’s always nice to have our home race, we can feel the pressure and encouragement from our supporters in the grandstands and this is an additional motivation for the race team. Our goal for this weekend has to be to score points and see our drivers fight for the top six again.”

Monday, July 16, 2007

Renault confident of catching BMW

Giancarlo Fisichella is confident that Renault can take third place off BMW in this year's Constructors' Championship.

Although Renault entered the 2007 season intent on retaining both World titles, a tough first half of the season has seen the team's goal revised to catching BMW for third place.

However, in the last two races Renault have done the opposite, losing ground to BMW, with the gap sitting at 25 points ahead of the tenth race of the season, the European GP.

"It is fair to say that the last two races were a bit disappointing, all the more so because they were our home races," said Fisichella.

"We knew that it would be a tough battle with BMW: all of the teams are making progress, and our challenge is to do so faster than them in order to get ahead and try to close the gap in the Championship."

The Roman is, however, confident that Renault are heading the right way and that it's just a matter of time before they take third place off their German rivals.

"We are going in the right direction, and everybody is doing their maximum," he added. "I am convinced that if we carry on like this, our hard work will pay off."

The team's technical director Bob Bell agrees that Fisi that clawing back to the deficit to BMW is Renault's revised target for the second half of this year's Championship.

"The target is clear: to continue closing the gap to BMW on track, and to begin doing so in the Championship," he said.

"If you look back to the opening races of the year, it was as if we were in a different race to them. Now, we are regularly qualifying in the top ten, and according to the type of circuit, racing with our direct rivals.

"Giancarlo and Heikki are both pushing very hard and getting the maximum from the car. They now need more performance to fight on equal terms with BMW.

"That is what we are focused on providing them throughout the second half of the year, beginning this weekend at the Nurburgring."

Stepney hits back against Ferrari

Former Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney has turned the legal spotlight on the Italian team after he was forced to flee the country earlier this month.

Stepney, formerly head of performance development, was sacked after being accused of leaking secrets to McLaren.

But lawyers are investigating whether Ferrari were involved in the high-speed car chases that dogged the Briton.

Ferrari could be the subject of criminal proceedings if evidence suggests they have been spying on him.

Stepney told the Observer newspaper that he had been followed by more than one car, with Italian plates, and when he cornered one of them, the men inside refused to speak to him.

His lawyer Sonia Bartolini told Italian newspaper La Repubblica: "At the right time we'll draw our conclusions. At the moment we're trying to trace the car plates to the subjects that followed Stepney, and then we'll file a complaint.

"Obviously, if it is confirmed that Ferrari are behind this, it would be very serious. It's one thing to keep an employee under control at the workplace, but it's quite another to spy on him at his home and to follow him at night.

"If that was the case, the Maranello [Ferrari] people will be called to answer for it in court."

Ferrari's legal representatives have launched an investigation into alleged espionage and sabotage involving Stepney and McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.

McLaren have been summoned by the FIA, Formula One's governing body, to an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council to explain how Coughlan came to be in possession of a 780-page document relating to Ferrari's 2007 car.

An FIA spokesman would not comment when asked by the BBC to confirm a report in La Repubblica that McLaren chief Coughlan had shown the documents to several colleagues at McLaren.

The newspaper quoted from what it claimed to be the affidavit Coughlan had submitted to Ferrari as part of legal proceedings brought by the team against him in the UK.

According to the newspaper, Coughlan said in the affidavit that all his McLaren colleagues distanced themselves from the documents and advised him to destroy them.

La Repubblica said Coughlan had not confirmed that his source for the documents was Stepney, who has denied supplying them. The report said Coughlan had only said he had received them via a courier service.

McLaren could be docked points or even disqualified from the world championship this year if they are found guilty under article 151c of F1's International Sporting Code.

This deals with "any fraudulent conduct, or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition, or to the interests of motor sport generally".

McLaren issued a statement last week expressing their "extreme disappointment" at being charged and denying all the allegations.

They say the dossier at the centre of the controversy was solely Coughlan's responsibility.

"The documents and confidential information were only in the possession of one currently suspended employee on an unauthorised basis and no element of it has been used in relation to McLaren's Formula One cars," the statement said.

But Ferrari lawyer Massimiliano Maestretti told RAI television there was still some uncertainty over who knew abouyt the documents and when some were delivered to Coughlan.

"The McLaren statement mentioned the documents were received at the end of April," he was quoted as saying, "but we have proof that there were more later than that with a May date."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

BMW-Sauber prepare for Euro GP

BMW and Nick Heidfeld are looking forward to their home race on the Nürburgring, and Robert Kubica is also confident of a good result for the BMW Sauber F1 Team in the Eifel next weekend.

“I am very much looking forward to the race on the Nürburgring. That’s where the greatest number of my fans have always turned up, and thanks to this year’s good results there will probably be a few more,” revealed Heidfeld.

“When I drove the Formula One car round the Nordschleife at the end of April, the atmosphere there was fantastic. It’s a good feeling having that kind of support, and one or other family members will also be coming along to the Ring.

“As a young kid I already had a lot of outings to the Nürburgring with my father and my two brothers as it isn’t far away from Mönchengladbach. Later on there were race wins in various classes to add to those pleasant childhood memories.

“I think we’re pretty well prepared for the Ring. Our performance potential is a great motivator. Naturally it’s a lot more fun when you know you’re essentially in contention for points and good placings. If qualifying turns out better for me than at the last race in Silverstone, I should also be back in the running for the race.”

Robert Kubica doesn’t share his team-mates enthusiasm for the Nürburgring saying:: “Obviously when we go to the Nürburgring this will be the only grand prix in Germany this year.

“I am sure there will be a big crowd and a lot of people who will be fans of our team. I have to be honest and say I don’t find the track spectacular. This will be my first grand prix on this track, but I have driven on the old track, when the first corner was a chicane, and practically every year since 2001 I have been racing on this track.

“Because of this I know the track pretty well and I also know the shorter version that the touring cars are using with the short cut after turns 6 and 7. I think it will be a good weekend and maybe after that my feelings for the track will change.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

New designer for struggling Honda

The Honda team have signed BMW Sauber's chief designer Jorg Zander as they attempt to improve their poor form.

Honda, who won their first race of the modern era last year, have slumped this season and scored only one point in the first nine Grands Prix.

Their fortunes contrast with BMW Sauber, who have progressively improved and have this year's third fastest car.

Named deputy technical director, Zander is part of a recruitment drive aimed at improving Honda's performances.

Honda's senior technical director, Shuhei Nakamoto, said: "This is the latest in a series of key appointments that we have made in order to bolster our team.

"With the steady performance improvements we have made over the past few races and a strengthened technical team, I am sure the difficulties we have seen in the first half of 2007 are now behind us."

Zander is the second of those major appointments. The first was Frenchman Loic Bigois, who joined as head of aerodynamics last month. Bigois and Zander previously worked together at the Williams team.

Jenson Button won last year's Hungarian Grand Prix for Honda - but the victory came in an unpredictable wet-dry race and only after Fernando Alonso's leading Renault retired.

The win came towards the end of what had been a troubled season, and only after a major development programme aimed at improving a struggling car.

This year, Honda's form was even worse than at the beginning of last year, and so far they are showing scant evidence of being able to repeat the improvements they made in 2006.

F1 drops US GP

Formula One has turned its back on the United States after Bernie Ecclestone revealed that Indianapolis would not be hosting the grand prix next year.

The F1 supremo and race organiser Tony George have been locked into negotiations for several weeks but failed to reach an agreement.

"We didn't reach an agreement. Let's see if we miss America," said Ecclestone, who had already issued his intent after describing America as "not vital" for F1 saying, "there are bigger markets for us to be in other parts of the world."
Indianapolis chief executive Tony George expressed his dismay at the decision, but remained confident that F1 could return to the circuit in the future.

"After several discussions, Bernie Ecclestone and I were unable to agree how to keep F1 in Indianapolis for the near term," he said. "However, we have agreed to leave the door open for a potential future date."

Eccelstone’s decision to abandon Indianapolis is a dramatic U-Turn after years of talking up the prospect of staging a second grand prix in America possibly in Las Vegas.

However, diminishing crowd numbers and an apathetic regard for Formula One by the fans that have a feast of other motor racing series at their disposal, has prompted Ecclestone to look east and concentrate on breaking new markets in Asia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Karthikeyan linked to Spyker

Narain Karthikeyan said he is very keen to secure the seat vacated by Christijan Albers at Spyker.

The Williams test driver is one of several drivers currently being linked to replace the Dutch driver, who Spyker dropped due to non-payment by one of his main sponsors.

Spyker Team boss Colin Kolles revealed that India’s Karthikeyan was on his list of options.

"Colin had a chat with me at Silverstone," the 30-year-old driver told the news agency Reuters.

"I'll be delighted to get back to racing, but I'm definitely enjoying my time at Williams."

Karthikeyan made his Formula 1 debut two years ago when he drove for the former Jordan team, who were bought out by the Midland Group and subsequently by Spyker.

His manager Mark Perkins expects a decision in the next few days: "Spyker hope Narain can do a better job than Albers is doing at the moment. We will know by the end of the week."

Hamilton back in the groove

Lewis Hamilton's British Grand Prix disappointment was short-lived as the McLaren ace topped the testing times at Spa-Francorchamps on Tuesday.

On the first day of the first official Formula One test at the Belgian circuit, McLaren star Hamilton finished 0.4 seconds quicker than Robert Kubica in his BMW Sauber.

With the 7.004-kilometre circuit revamped in preparation for the grand prix in September after last year's absence from the calendar, all 11 teams took to the track.

Championship leader Hamilton, who finished third in Sunday's race at Silverstone, completed the most laps - 83 - with his best a time of one minute 46.613secs.

The Ferrari of Felipe Massa was third-quickest, but just over 0.8secs slower than Hamilton, who will make way for Fernando Alonso on Wednesday.

The Toyota of Ralf Schumacher was over a second down, followed by Renault test driver Nelson Piquet Jnr, with David Coulthard sixth for Red Bull Racing, although technical gremlins blighted his day.

The remaining drivers comprised Nico Rosberg (Williams), Tonio Liuzzi (Toro Rosso), James Rossiter (Super Aguri), Christian Klien (Honda) and Spyker's Guido van der Garde, who brought up the rear three seconds off the pace.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Albers dumped by Spyker

Formula One minnows Spyker have sacked their Dutch driver Christijan Albers.

The Silverstone-based outfit claimed that due to a non-payment by one of his main sponsors, the Ferrari-powered team were left with no alternative but to terminate his contract with immediate effect.

"This has been a very difficult decision," said team principal Colin Kolles in a statement released on Tuesday.

"Christijan has started to find some form in the car but the team's ambitious development programme has been seriously compromised by non-payment of one of his sponsors and we are faced with no other option."

Spyker's director of Formula One, Michiel Mol, added that the decision to replace Albers was one of the toughest he had had to make since arriving at the team last year.

But insisted the team’s future funding had not been compromised and that the possibility of entering into a new contract with another driver would safeguard the team's financial position.

"We do not expect this will have any adverse effect on Spyker F1's financial result this year," said Mol.

"We would also like to stress this decision has nothing to do with Christijan's recent performances - we still have faith in his contribution as a driver - but the long term future of the team is of paramount importance."

However, as reported in last week’s Inside Paddock, Albers’ days appeared to be numbered after having been outperformed by rookie team-mate Adrian Sutil for most of the season and his mistake in Magny-Cours two weeks ago after driving off with the fuel hose still attached to the car incurred him a five thousand Euro fine.

Räikkönen very happy

Kimi Räikkönen’s back-to-back victories in France and England have rejuvenated the Finn’s hunger for further success.

The Ferrari driver was blisteringly quick all weekend but knows his pace will be hard to maintain.

"It was a great race for me. After my mistake in qualifying I was very disappointed, but today I was able to make up for it,” he said.

“If I had managed to start from pole though, things would have been much easier. The car worked very well both on the soft and harder tyres. We were strong all weekend and I hope this trend continues over the coming races, but I know how difficult that will be.”

Räikkönen who closed the gap to 18 points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton, stressed the team were pushing in the right direction.

“I am very happy. We have made up ground in the Drivers' Championship and there is plenty of the season still to go,” he said. “We must continue to push on the development of the car and we are working in the right direction."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Raikkonen gatecrashes Hamilton party

Kimi Raikkonen spectacularly gatecrashed Lewis Hamilton's hoped-for British Grand Prix party by claiming his first Silverstone victory.

All the hype had surrounded Hamilton in the build-up to the race, in particular after the world championship leader put his McLaren on pole.

But it was Ferrari star Raikkonen who stole his thunder, claiming back-to-back victories for the first time in almost two years.

Hamilton was forced to settle for third - extending his run of podium finishes to nine - as a combination of one bad pit stop and seemingly poor tyre choice allowed team-mate Fernando Alonso to take second.

But with eight grands prix remaining, Hamilton still has a 12-point lead over Alonso, with Raikkonen now third in the title race and 18 points adrift.

Felipe Massa has dropped to fourth in the standings as he could only take fifth after an aborted start led to him beginning the race from the pit lane instead of from fourth on the grid.

The Brazilian, though, still managed to blitz his way through the field to claim four precious points.

As such, if he had managed a clean getaway, he would almost certainly have knocked Hamilton off the podium for the first time.

But what a shame for Hamilton, in particular after making the start he would have dreamed about overnight.

McLaren, though, gambled by preferring the harder compound tyre from the off, compared to the soft option for the Ferraris, so giving them extra grip.

Once the five red lights disappeared at least there was no repeat of Hamilton's poor start in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours a week ago.

On that occasion Hamilton was overtaken - for the first time in his Formula One career - by Raikkonen, helping the Finn to his second win for the Maranello marque.

This time around Hamilton was clean away, cutting from left to right across the track to defend the inside line heading into the first corner at Copse.

It was perfect, but at no stage over the following 16 laps was Hamilton able to open any kind of gap on Raikkonen, who remained within a second as he hounded the young Briton.

At one stage on lap 14 'The Iceman' was virtually alongside his McLaren rival, whose first stop two laps later did not go to plan.

Hamilton went to pull away as the lollipop man flicked the sign telling him to engage first gear, despite the fact his car was still being refuelled.

With clean air for two laps Raikkonen put his foot to the floor, and it proved crucial as he emerged from the pit lane ahead of Hamilton.

That battle, though, had deflected the attention off Alonso, who had managed to stay on the coat-tails of the leading duo over the first third of the race.

When he pitted on lap 20 for a 6.3secs stop, it came as a major surprise when he grabbed the lead, with Raikkonen and Hamilton in his wing mirrors.

From that moment hopes of a win on home soil disappeared for the 22-year-old because as the laps ebbed away, so he dropped further and further behind Alonso.

It then became a battle between Alonso and Raikkonen, who held a gap of around five seconds to the Spaniard throughout the middle stint until the second round of pit stops.

Raikkonen stayed out six laps longer than Alonso, providing the second turning point of the race as the Ferrari star reversed the positions, and with it ultimately taking the victory by 2.4secs.

Robert Kubica was fourth for the second successive race for BMW Sauber, holding off Massa in the final third of the race in an enthralling battle.

The remaining points places were taken by the second BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld, followed by the Renaults of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella.

In the constructors' battle, McLaren hold their 25-point cushion to Ferrari.

British Grand Prix Results

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 6 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 59 Winner 2 10
2 1 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Mercedes 59 +2.4 secs 3 8
3 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 59 +39.3 secs 1 6
4 10 Robert Kubica BMW 59 +53.3 secs 5 5
5 5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 59 +54.0 secs 4 4
6 9 Nick Heidfeld BMW 59 +56.3 secs 9 3
7 4 Heikki Kovalainen Renault 58 +1 Lap 7 2
8 3 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault 58 +1 Lap 8 1
9 8 Rubens Barrichello Honda 58 +1 Lap 14
10 7 Jenson Button Honda 58 +1 Lap 18
11 14 David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 58 +1 Lap 12
12 16 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 58 +1 Lap 17
13 17 Alexander Wurz Williams-Toyota 58 +1 Lap 13
14 22 Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda 57 +2 Laps 21
15 21 Christijan Albers Spyker-Ferrari 57 +2 Laps 22
16 18 Vitantonio Liuzzi STR-Ferrari 53 +6 Laps 16
Ret 12 Jarno Trulli Toyota 43 +16 Laps 10
Ret 23 Anthony Davidson Super Aguri-Honda 35 +24 Laps 19
Ret 19 Scott Speed STR-Ferrari 29 +30 Laps 15
Ret 11 Ralf Schumacher Toyota 22 +37 Laps 6
Ret 20 Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari 16 +43 Laps 20
Ret 15 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 8 +51 Laps 11

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Silverstone bosses hold course

Silverstone's owners are determined to plough ahead with their own redevelopment plans for the Formula One circuit.

Plans are continuing despite the receipt of a joint venture proposal from two prominent businessman.

The British Racing Drivers Club, who own the Northamptonshire circuit, believe they are equipped to carry out the improvements required by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone in order to secure the future of the British Grand Prix beyond the current contract, which ends in 2009.

The principal businessmen behind the partnership, Mike Rockall and Bill Archer, have promised "immediate funds" to redevelop the circuit and secure the independence of the BRDC.

But BRDC chairman Robert Brooks believes his organisation do not need any outside financial backing at this stage.

He said: "We, the BRDC, are very flattered to receive such a substantial offer, but it's one of many and we would reiterate that Silverstone is not for sale.

"We are pressing ahead for the redevelopment of Silverstone which is well down the line in the planning process.

"We are delighted with the help and assistance we are receiving from the local government authorities and the local community.

"Obviously, we will review any joint venture proposal but much further down the road as they may help us fulfil our future objectives."

The BRDC have plans for a £25million overhaul, which go before an EGM at the end of July for approval.

A planning application has already been submitted to the local council and the BRDC are hopeful of approval before the end of the year.

This year's British Grand Prix takes place on Sunday, with rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton carrying home hopes in the race having already established a 14-point lead in the drivers' championship.

The British Grand Prix Preview

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton firmly believes that he can win this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone - the first time he will ever race a Formula One car in front of his fellow countrymen.

That is despite Ferrari’s speed here in recent testing and sudden return to form in Magny-Cours - and in spite of all the scandal that has blown up following allegations that a senior McLaren engineer received stolen intellectual property from Ferrari and the ensuing suspension of that engineer.

Both of these factors will add to any pressure Hamilton feels racing at home, but he is convinced that he can join a long list of Britons who have won the British Grand Prix: Sir Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks, Peter Collins, Jim Clark, David Coulthard, Sir Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, John Watson, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert.

“You can’t win every race, and the most important thing is to be consistent, which I think we are,” he said after finishing third at Magny-Cours. “Both the Ferrari drivers said they made a good step forward, but when you are behind people, as we were in Magny-Cours, it’s a lot harder to show your true pace. I don’t think they were as quick, as much faster than us, as it looked today. Traffic and strategy had a lot to do with that, so I still think we can bounce back at Silverstone, without a doubt.

“I don’t think Ferrari’s sudden speed is worrying. It just shows they’ve made a great step forward and had a slightly better strategy than us. We were always on a three-stop strategy but what happened at the start affected that. After I had made my third pit stop I was a long way behind Felipe so there was no point in me wrenching the neck out of the engine trying to catch him. Throughout the race we were quite consistent on speed, but we need a little more. I am sure that we will make another improvement before Silverstone.

“To be honest, in France I was not disappointed. I don’t like to be overtaken, but that’s the same for everyone. But I was on the podium again and we are the most consistent team and I think we are doing a better job. I have extended my lead in the World Championship, so I couldn’t be happier.

“It is a great feeling to go to Silverstone as the World Championship leader. To do so certainly seemed unimaginable at the start of the season. I’m very, very happy with the job I’ve done and the team have done and I go into my first British GP with the team I always wanted to drive for, and that’s one of the greatest feelings a driver can have.”

After scoring his (and Honda’s) first point of the season, Jenson Button is also feeling a little more upbeat ahead of his home race. “Silverstone will be fun because I have a lot of friends and family coming and the fans treat you the same way even when things are tough. The fans at Silverstone have always been fantastic and there are four Brits to cheer on, so the lead-up will be hectic.”

David Coulthard and Anthony Davidson (in his first British Grand Prix) are both seeking points finishes for Red Bull and Super Aguri respectively, while BMW Sauber and Renault will re-engage their battle for third place overall as Williams look to do well on home ground, Toyota hope to reproduce the speed Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher displaced in the test here in June, and Toro Rosso hope their seamless shift gearbox will translate into Red Bull-matching lap times. With their factory just over the road from the circuit, Spyker would also like to take something good home from this one.

On paper, however, Ferrari are looking very strong. “We are back where we expect to be. You could feel the improvement in the car everywhere, really. In every corner,” Raikkonen said after his second win of the season, which brought the score to two apiece for the four leading contenders.

One thing that may well bring in a degree of uncertainty to the overall equation is the weather, with rain forecast for each day.

Ferrari accuse McLaren of espionage

Ferrari have accused rivals McLaren of espionage after they confirmed that former technical manager Nigel Stepney had passed secrets to a senior McLaren employee in England.

The announcement which comes on the eve of the British Grand Prix, will send shockwaves through the Formula One community as the British team prepare for their home race on Sunday.

"Ferrari confirm that we have brought an action against Nigel Stepney and a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes technical engineer in a court in Modena regarding the theft of technical information," said a spokesman for the Italian team.

Stepney, who has denied any wrongdoings and is currently on gardening leave in the Philippines, accused Ferrari of a dirty tricks campaign against him.

However, McLaren confirmed that an unidentified employee had been suspended pending an investigation into the receipt of classified information, but insisted they only found out on Tuesday of the involvement of their employee.

"McLaren became aware on July 3, 2007 that a senior member of its technical organisation was the subject of a Ferrari investigation regarding the receipt of technical information," they said in a statement.

"The team has learnt that this individual had personally received a package of technical information from a Ferrari employee at the end of April.

"Whilst McLaren has no involvement in the matter and condemns such actions, it will fully co-operate with any investigation."

The McLaren employee was suspended after Ferrari announced that they had dismissed Stepney and that they had taken legal action in England and obtained a search warrant.

"A search was carried out of the (McLaren) engineer's house, where we found this information," the Ferrari spokesman confirmed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

McLaren suspends high-ranking employee

McLaren-Mercedes said on Tuesday they have suspended a high-ranking technical employee accused by Ferrari of spying on the Italian constructor.

"McLaren became aware on the 3rd July 2007 that a senior member of its technical organisation was the subject of a Ferrari investigation regarding the receipt of technical information," said a statement on the team's website.

"The team has learnt that this individual had personally received a package of technical information from a Ferrari employee at the end of April.

"Whilst McLaren has no involvement in the matter and condemns such actions it will fully co-operate with any investigation. The individual has in the meanwhile been suspended by the company pending a full and proper investigation of the matter."

Ferrari confirmed to AFP on Tuesday that it has sacked a member of its technical staff, Nigel Stepney, who it accused of attempting to sabotage its cars.

Ferrari also said they have presented a case against Stepney and a McLaren engineer to the court in Modena, concerning the theft of technical information.

At the end of April a judge in Modena found two ex-Ferrari employees guilty of industrial espionage.

Mauro Iacconi and Angelo Santini had passed on information to Japanese outfit Toyota, although they fired the pair before the matter became public.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Sunday quotes: Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen(P1):
"Finally! Everything went the right way in my race. It was vital that I managed to get past Hamilton at the start and then I always tried to stay with Felipe. I knew I had a few laps in hand but, at my first pit stop, I had a bit of traffic and I was unable to get in the lead. Then at the second stop, the situation was turned around and I came out in front. Right from the start of the weekend we have been strong and this win is the reward for all the hard work carried out over the past few weeks. Now we must continue to improve the car because there is still room to do so, starting with the next race which we should tackle with the same approach that we used here in Magny-Cours."

Felipe Massa(P2):
"First of all I want to say I am happy for the team, as it needed this sort of result after a difficult spell. Of course, I would have wanted to win but I was delayed by traffic in the decisive phase of the race, when I knew I had to build up a bit of a lead over Kimi to stay ahead of him during the pit stops. The way the cars are today, you start to get some turbulence from the cars that are a certain distance ahead of you and so it is difficult to overtake even the slower cars if they don't really move over for you. My car was almost perfect and when I had a clear track ahead of me I was quickest on track. In any case, we have made up ground in both championships and we must continue down this path, starting already in Silverstone."

Jean Todt (Team Principal):
"What a great one-two! I could not have a nicer present to celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of my arrival at the helm of the Scuderia. Today, everything went perfectly, which is what is needed to get a result like this. Both drivers got great starts, then they drove exceptionally well and fought it out between themselves for the win. Only traffic and strategy finally decided which one got the upper hand. In any case, what matters is that two red Ferrari cars finished ahead of the rest. The team did an impeccable job and the F2007s were up to the job in hand. We fought a very strong opponent and this one-two is crucial for the rest of both championships. There are still nine races to go and everything is still possible. We should try and repeat this result already next week in Silverstone, at the home of our main rivals."

Luca Baldisserri (Head of Track Operations):
"A really great victory! After a strong showing in qualifying, today we had further confirmation that we are competitive in race trim, with the F2007 running completely trouble free. Both drivers fought it out on equal terms, only the traffic making the difference. We have worked so hard these past few weeks, both in the factory and on track. This one-two shows how much Formula 1 is a sport where every detail is important if one is to be the best. We did not die in Indianapolis, so it is not a miracle that we are back today. We worked on all areas and we managed to put together all the pieces of the jigsaw to produce a perfect weekend."

Raikkonen hailed in Italy

The notorious Italian press heralded the apparent return to form of Kimi Raikkonen and his Ferrari team after the French grand prix on Sunday.

Corriere dello Sport said the famous outfit from Maranello "awoke from its slumber" at Magny Cours following three recent defeats.

And Finland's Raikkonen "drove like Schumi. After Ferrari's one-two victory the world championship is open again".

"Kimi's slump has come to an end. Now the Finn has a real chance for the title."

Tuttosport agreed: "Raikkonen is back, and with the double (one two) victory a crisis is over."

La Gazzetta dello Sport added: "Raikkonen did not have a simple task to take Schumacher's place. But in Magny Cours he proved again that he also has the talent of the German."

La Repubblica also focused on 27-year-old Raikkonen, after he struggled in recent races to match the pace of his previously less-rated teammate Felipe Massa.

"The difficult phase for him is over," the newspaper observed. "He struck a large blow at his critics and can now go on to prove that he is a worthy successor for Schumi".

Spain's Diario As turned to Fernando Alonso's continuing problems, remarking that the reigning world champion "tried everything" to rise above his seventh place.

But at least "Ferrari's success reduced the damage with regards to (Lewis) Hamilton," the newspaper wrote.

"Alonso continues to lose ground in the championship while Ferrari dominated the race from A to Z", 'Sport' added, while Marca agreed: "Thanks, Ferrari! Your double victory prevented Hamilton from extending his lead too much more".

Ferrari dismiss Stepney

Ferrari has dismissed Nigel Stepney, the engineer at the centre of an as yet undisclosed legal investigation currently underway.

Following an internal investigation and disciplinary procedure, the team confirmed that the Englishman – currently on holiday in the Philippines – is ‘no longer an employee’ of Ferrari

Details of the charge against Stepney are unknown, but rumours range from attempted sabotage of the Ferrari cars around the time of the Monaco Grand Prix, to concerns that he was about to leave to join Honda, taking a number of Ferrari employees with him.

Stepney – through his lawyer – has denied any wrong-doing, and expressed confidence that he will be cleared while claiming the affair is part of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign on behalf of Ferrari

He is due to return to Italy later this week, and is expected to hold a press conference soon after.

Monday, July 2, 2007

We made Ferrari look good says McLaren boss

McLaren boss Ron Dennis believes that a poor weekend from his team at Magny-Cours made Ferrari appear faster than they actually were.

Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa finished first and second respectively in Sunday's French Grand Prix and the Italian team have welcomed the result as a sign that recent technical upgrades have significantly improved their pace.

However, Dennis does not believe that Ferrari have gained a speed advantage over his team who will now look to reassert themselves in next weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

"We flattered them [Ferrari] this weekend," said Dennis. "They did a good job, and probably improved the car a little bit. But we made them look a lot better than they were. Hopefully, we will demonstrate that at Silverstone."

McLaren never found the ideal set-up for the idiosyncrasies of the Magny-Cours circuit and were also hindered by Spaniard Fernando Alonso starting tenth on the grid after suffering a gearbox problem in qualifying.

Alonso could only recover to finish seventh and his British rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton finished third, half a minute behind the Ferraris.

But as Hamilton remains top of the driver's championship and McLaren are 25 points clear in the constructor's standings, Dennis is not too disheartened by Ferrari's French dominance.

"Overall, it was damage limitation from beginning to end," he said, reflecting on the weekend's events.

"Obviously we're delighted that Kimi won over Massa. It means he is only a couple of points closer to Lewis, and didn't close the gap that much, even on Fernando.

"If this is going to be our worst race then we'll be comfortable with that. And if we hadn't had such good races before, we wouldn't be where we are in the world championship. So we've got to put it down to the fact you can't win every race, and this is one we didn't win.

"But we've won here previously, and there is no reason that we can't win at Silverstone. You know, as history has shown, when you have got a good lead in the world championship, you have got to be pragmatic about your races.

"Lewis did a really solid job at finishing third. It's his eighth podium position, and there is no luck that gives you that sort of result. For me, I loved Fernando's fight; I think he was fighting from beginning to end, and he got the most out of a difficult situation. And that's motor racing."

Hamilton remains confident

Lewis Hamilton remains confident for next weekend’s British Grand Prix despite losing out to the two Ferraris in France on Sunday.

The McLaren driver who finished over 30 seconds behind race winner Kimi Räikkönen insisted his result at Magny-Cours was not a cause for any concern.

“I think you can’t win every race and the most important thing is that you are consistent which I think we are,” he told reporters after the race.

“I think here they (Ferrari) made a good improvement, a good step forward at Silverstone, and even we made a step forward, but this weekend when you are behind people it is a lot harder to show true pace.

However, Hamilton who still leads the Drivers’ Championship, stressed traffic had also played a significant role in Sunday’s race.

“I don’t think they were as quick as they looked, not that much faster; I don’t know what times they were doing, but there was obviously a big gap and traffic and strategy had a lot to do with that. I am sure we can bounce back at the next race, without a doubt.”

The 22-year-old rookie reiterated that his eight consecutive podium finishes was still way beyond his wildest expectations.

“I think and I keep saying that I didn’t even expect to finish on the podium in my first race let alone eight races in the season so I am very happy with the job that I have done and the job that the team have done.

He added: “I think that going into my first Silverstone Grand Prix in the team that I have always wanted to drive for and leading the world championship is one of the greatest feelings that a driver can have.”

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Raikkonen wins as Ferrari dominate in France

Kimi Raikkonen returned to form in style when he claimed an emphatic victory in the French Grand Prix as Ferrari delivered a dominant one-two triumph.

Finn Raikkonen, 27, came home two seconds ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa as the Italian team ended rivals McLaren's three race sequence of victories.

It was Raikkonen's first win since the season-opening Australian race in Melbourne on March 18, his second of the season and the 11th of his career and a memorable way of saying 'adieu' to the remote Magny-Cours circuit, hosting the French race for the final time.

It meant also that after eight races this year four drivers have shared the victories with two apiece and, for Raikkonen, it was a powerful response to doubters who have suggested he lacked the discipline and resolve to become a successful Ferrari driver after his move from McLaren.

Massa, who led for more than half of the race, finished second ahead of 22-year-old British rookie Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren Mercedes-Benz, a result that meant the young Englishman extended his lead in the drivers' championship.

His team-mate and chief rival defending double drivers' champion Fernando Alonso of Spain, who started from 10th position on the grid, was unable to fight his way through the field and finished seventh.