Archive for April, 2009

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McLaren Receive Suspended 3-Race Ban

April 29, 2009

McLaren have been issued a three-race ban by the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) today over the liar-gate controversy in the opening round of the 2009 world championship.

The sentence issued in Paris was suspended due to the ‘open and honest way’ in which McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh addressed the Council.

So long as the team do not break the International Sporting Code again, and bring the sport into more disrepute, the team should not have to take their ban. However, if more evidence comes to light over liar-gate, the team may then have the ban imposed upon them.

Team principle Martin Whitmarsh said after the meeting: “I would like to thank the FIA World Motor Sport Council members for affording me the opportunity to answer their questions this morning. We are aware that we made serious mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, and I was therefore very glad to be able to apologise for those mistakes once again.” He told the WMSC that there had been a ‘change of culture’ and the team had taken appropriate action to ensure the mistakes did not happen again.

The suspended sentence follows Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix where, along with the then McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan, had lied to stewards over an overtaking manoeuvre behind the safety car, in which Toyota’s Jarno Trulli had overtaken him after going off-track. Hamilton had said he had not deliberately let the Toyota past, however, radio transmissions between the driver and team showed otherwise, subsequently disqualifying the world champion from the race, and bringing the team before the WMSC.

As it was, he did not need to hand back the place to the Toyota, as Trulli was already off the track. Acting on the side of caution, McLaren had told Lewis to allow the Toyota through, and Hamilton was told by Dave Ryan after the race to lie to the stewards over what had happened, as the team were wary of receiving more penalties.

A statement issued by McLaren after the hearing said: “We now look forward with enthusiasm to continuing our efforts to develop a closer and more cooperative relationship between ourselves and the FIA.” They also said they are now looking forward to playing a more competitive part in the rest of the season, following their improvement in Bahrain.

After an eventful and rather colourful start to the 2009 season, McLaren can now put liar-gate behind them and continue their campaign in chasing down their rivals and defending the world championship, with the European part of the season starting next weekend in Spain.

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Button Takes Victory in Bahrain

April 26, 2009

Jenson Button has claimed his third, and arguably most satisfying, Formula One victory of 2009 in the heat and humidity of Bahrain.

Button, who is currently leading the 2009 driver’s championship, started from fourth on the grid at the Sakhir International Circuit and brought home his Brawn-Mercedes ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Jarno Trulli. Having passed the Red Bull of Vettel in the first corner, he leap-frogged the Toyotas of Trulli and Timo Glock in the first round of pitstops and dominated the remainder of the race. 

Lewis Hamilton produced his best drive and finish of the season so-far, finishing in fourth behind Trulli’s Toyota.

The reigning champ got off to a charging start, taking both Button and third-place starter Vettel in the first corner. He narrowly missed out on gaining second, and having run wide, was passed by Button into turn five –  a pass that would later help secure Button the win. Vettel got held-up by Hamilton in the first part of the race, costing the Red Bull a lot of time, and eventually robbing him of back-to-back victories. Vettel managed to pass Hamilton in the first round of pitstops.

Ferrari managed to score their first points of the season, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in sixth and taking away three world championship points for the Italian team. Felipe Massa was less lucky in the sister car, only managing 14th after KERS problems saw him take an early pitstop.

Whilst the first three races of the 2009 season were action-packed, withhigh speed collisions and safety car appearances, and a lot of heavy rain, round four in Bahrain was somewhat subdued and quiet. Threat of a sandstorm, along withthe hot, humid temperatures, were the only problems with the weather, and the race saw only one retirement by Kazuki Nakajima, and that wasn’t even through a high speed crash, but a scrap with Robert Kubica. As far as collisions go, as well as Nakajima and Kubica’s scrap, the hairiest moment saw slight contact between Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella whilst jostling for position.

Despite over-heating problems with the Brawn car in the heat of the Sakhir circuit, Button managed to pass the chequered flag 7.1 secs clear of second place Vettel. Prior to the race, team principle Ross Brawn, said that it would be tough to keep up with the front-row sitters Trulli and Glock, and third place Vettel. Lewis Hamilton, and his KERS-assisted car also posed as a threat to the team, particularly if he had managed to make his first corner move on Jenson stick. With the track temperature at 36 degrees at the start of the race, and the ideal temperature of the Brawn car being 33 degrees or below, Button’s performance and victory appear all the more satisfactory for the British driver and team.

Button said after the race that the car hasn’t had the pace of the first three races. He added: “It was a tough race and very enjoyable.” Hamilton said he was delighted with fourth place.

For Button, his third victory out of four races so far in 2009 puts him twelve points clear of teammate Barrichello, with current champion Hamilton trailing on nine and struggling to defend his title. Brawn are now 12.5 points clear of Red Bull in the constructor’s standings.

 

Round five takes place in two weeks time, with qualifying on Saturday 9th May and the race live on BBC One on the Sunday at 1pm.

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McLaren Back on Track?

April 25, 2009

After three races with an under-performing car, McLaren are hot on the pace and chasing down this season’s front-runners in Bahrain, this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the first practice session at the Sakhir circuit on Friday, proving the new aero parts added to the car are certainly helping the team on their quest back to the top. Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren had managed sixth fastest in the first session, but only managed 19th in the second, whilst Hamilton peaked 11th.

In qualifying, Kovalainen just missed out on making it through to quali three, in 11th, and Hamilton put his Number 1 car fifth on the grid ahead of Sunday’s race. During quali one the current champion managed to go fastest at one point.

Hamilton said he was pleased that the team’s hard work had been paid off and that they were able to battle out in the top ten in quali three. “We’ve got a similar pace to some of the guys in the top five; as long as everything goes smoothly we should be able to get a top five finish tomorrow. I can almost see pole position now – and I’m really looking forward to getting there soon!”

Kovalainen said: “I am now looking forward to the race, where my target is to achieve a solid points result.”

The team are stepping up their game after the first three races, in which the highest grid slot they managed was ninth by Hamilton, and the highest race finish was fifth by Kovalainen, both in China last weekend. After the FIA ruled the diffusers of the Brawn, Toyota and Williams teams legal, McLaren have been working on their own double-decker design, introducing it for the first time at the Chinese Grand Prix.

With ‘liar-gate’ being heard before the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) next week, it remains to be seen whether McLaren will be let-off and allowed to move on and continue to race. Speculation over whether the team will receive a ban from part of this season is rife, with the added threat of losing sponsorship, after they brought the sport into disrepute when Hamilton and team manager Dave Ryan lied to officials at the Australian Grand Prix.

The team’s determination to get back on track in the early stages of the 2009 season, hasn’t been dampened by their forthcoming court appearance. However, if the team were to receive a suspension or a ‘disproportionately large’ fine, their sponsors such as Vodafone and Diageo, the owners of the Johnny Walker label, could find a way to pull out of their sponsorship deals, leaving the team in hot water, particularly in the current economic crisis.

For now it seems McLaren are still fighting to both improve the car and to earn valueable points, and their speed on the track yesterday and today in Bahrain has shown they are not about to give up on another world championship this year.

As with the previous two seasons where McLaren have fought with Ferrari for the world title, things can easily change, and teams such as Brawn-Mercedes and Red Bull who so far have had impressive successes this year, could find themselves fighting to stay ahead.

Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s race from fifth on the grid, with Heikki Kovalainen in 11th, having got the best from the car. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli will start the race from pole position, having lapped the Sakhir circuit in 1:33.431. Trulli said: “I’m thrilled to be back on pole again. This weekend has gone well and it’s great to be starting at the front tomorrow.” His teammate Timo Glock will start alongside him in second, with Sebastian Vettel in third. Jenson Button starts ahead of Hamilton in fourth, with the Ferrari’s of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen starting eighth and tenth respectively. Force India’s Adrian Sutil, who qualified 16th, has been issued a three-place grid drop after getting in the way of Red Bull’s Mark Webber at the end of quali one, preventing him from obtaining a faster lap-time and getting him through to quali two. Webber will start in P18.

 

Coverage starts on BBC One tomorrow at 12pm, with the race due to start at 1pm.

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Vettel Clinches Red Bull 1-2 in Soggy China

April 19, 2009

He gave us a taste of  his talent in the wet, with his first victory with Toro Rosso at Monza, last season, and now Sebastian Vettel has proved it wasn’t just a one off, after bringing his Red Bull home in first place at a rain-dampened Chinese Grand Prix. Teammate, Mark Webber scored his highest finish yet, following the young German home in second, to put Red Bull Racing on the top of the podium for the first time ever.

Despite the race starting behind the safety car at the soggy Shanghai circuit, Vettel drove faultlessly and with sheer determination to give the British team their first Grand Prix win. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the team though, who had to fight off stiff competition from Brawn-Mercedes throughout the race. Jenson Button, who qualified fifth behind teammate Rubens Barrichello in fourth, wasn’t giving up on the chance of a hat-trick of wins for the Brackley-based team, and led a fair proportion of the race, after passing Barrichello on lap 11.

When the Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel pitted on laps 14 and 15 respectively, the Brawn driver took over the lead. Whilst Button enjoyed clear air and clearer visability, BMW’s Robert Kubica rammed into the back of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli on lap 18, lifting himself off the track, and causing the Toyota to retire a lap later. Following the shunt, the safety car was once again deployed, during which the Ferrari of Felipe Massa gave up the will to live and came to a stand-still on lap 21. The race resumed on lap 23, and with Button and Barrichello having both pitted behind the safety car, Vettel took over the lead of the race from Jenson.

The following laps saw Button, who had exited the pits in second, and Webber in third, jostling for position, with Webber eventually passing and pulling away from the Brit. Following the second round of pitstops, Vettel was leading Webber, with Button and Barrichello behind. The standings stayed as they were with Button finishing third for Brawn, with Barrichello following in fourth.

Current champ, Lewis Hamilton, who started nineth on the grid, finished in sixth, behind teammate Heikki Kovalainen, who not only got through his first full lap of the 2009 season, but also secured his first points-scoring finish with a faultless drive.

Unlike Kovalainen’s impressive mistake-free comeback to the 2009 season, Hamilton had his fair share of spins in the newly-improved McLaren, spinning on two separate occasions in turn ten, and once in the final corner of the circuit in the closing stages of the race. McLaren brought their new diffusers to Shanghai following the FIA’s ruling on Wednesday that the diffusers of the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars were legal.

Fernando Alonso, who also sported the new-design diffuser, had put in a hot lap in qualifiying and started second on the grid. Having pitted in the early laps in the Renault, he rejoined the back of the pack in time for when the safety car came in, but all the Spaniard could manage was nineth in the race.

As for Ferrari? Once again, the Italian team failed to score any points, with Felipe Massa retiring through mechanical problems early on in the race, and Kimi Raikkonen only managing to finish in tenth, despite his earlier battle with Hamilton for the points-paying positions. Raikkonen pitted on lap 28, and the team heavily fuelled the Finn to the end of the race, meaning the Ferrari driver was somewhat slower than his rivals. For a team who were unbeatable in the constructors standings in 2008, and who nearly won the driver’s championship, it is their worst start to a season since 1981.

For Red Bull, they leave the Shanghai circuit and head to round four in Bahrain with their heads held high. The Milton Keynes-based team have given Brawn a run for their money, and look set to continue their pace in the future races. Red Bull still need to adapt their car to incorporate the double-decker design diffuser since the FIA’s ruling this week, making their win all the more impressive. So far, with the McLarens and Renault’s Alonso being the only cars who have changed their diffusers, the other teams still have work to do ahead of Bahrain next weekend, with it looking likely that Ferrari won’t be introducing the part until the Spanish Grand Prix in three weeks time.

Despite having not finished in either of the first two races, and his ten place grid drop in Malaysia, Vettel’s victory puts him on ten world championship points and third in the overall standings. Button still leads the driver’s championship with 21 points, to Barrichello’s 15. Brawn continue to lead the contsructor’s championship after just three races as a team, with 36 points. Red Bull move to second in the contructor’s standings with 19.5 points.

 

The Bahrain Grand Prix takes place in a week’s time, with qualifying on Saturday at 12pm, and the race on BBC One on Sunday at one o’clock.

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FIA Rules Double-Decker Diffusers Legal

April 15, 2009

Jenson Button will race in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, knowing the car he drives is legal, after the FIA rejected the appeals of four Formula One teams.

Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull and BMW Sauber all appealed the legality of the diffusers of Brawn-Mercedes, Toyota and Williams following the stewards findings in the opening round in Australia that the teams had complied with 2009 regulations.

The FIA issued a statement saying: “The FIA International Court of Appeal has decided to deny the appeals submitted against decisions numbered 16 to 24 taken by the Panel of the Stewards on 26 March at the 2009 Grand Prix of Australia and counting towards the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship.

“Based on the arguments heard and evidence before it, the Court has concluded that the Stewards were correct to find that the cars in question comply with the applicable regulations.

“Full reasons for this decision will be provided in due course.”

Whatever way the FIA could have ruled, one thing was inevitable, that the ruling will have a big effect on this year’s championship.

Prior to the appeal being heard, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen told the Italian team’s official website: “This decision will have an enormous impact on the championship. You just need to analyse the performance in the three sectors at Malaysia to understand that we are losing a lot compared to the best cars. You can see that especially in the middle section, where downforce is really crucial.” So far this season Ferrari have yet to score any points, and with the FIA’s ruling, it may be a while before they are catching up with Brawn.

Renault’s Fernando Alonso had also said previously: “The championship could more or less be decided. If the diffusers are legal, then the Brawns are going to be nearly unreachable for any other team.”

Although the appealing teams produced a strong argument against the diffuser design, the judges at the International Court of Appeal have sided with the FIA and the stewards who originally deemed the part legal.

Ross Brawn, team principle for Brawn-Mercedes, said after the ruling that he was pleased that the team would be allowed to put the issue behind them and carry on racing. He said: “The decision of the International Court of Appeal brings this matter to its conclusion and we look forward to continuing on the track the challenge of what has been a very exciting start to the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship.”

One thing is now for certain, for the seven remaining F1 teams who are currently not using the double-decker designed diffusers, it is time to play catch-up. With Sunday’s race looming ever closer, and testing banned during the season, the remaining teams are going to find it very hard to adapt their diffusers and get them up to standard, particularly before Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix. The earliest we can expect to see these changes is likely to be in Bahrain in a week’s time.

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Diffuser Row to be Heard by FIA

April 13, 2009

The FIA are due to hear eight Formula One teams at the International Court of Appeal tomorrow over an appeal into the legality of some of the teams’ diffusers. Here I explain what a diffuser is, and what the current interpretations used by Brawn, Toyota and Williams means for last year’s winning constructors Ferrari…

Imagine you are Kimi Raikkonen and you are driving a Ferrari. Your F60 is lacking that special something and so far, in two races your team have failed to score a single point. You’re stuck on the grid behind three teams, one of which didn’t exist last year, and two who had previously posed no championship threat. Those teams, Brawn-Mercedes, Toyota and Williams all have something you don’t, and as you are sitting behind them, you stare into the back of it, a diffuser at the rear of their car that you know has that added something yours doesn’t.

Ok, so what is a diffuser? It is the extension on the back of a racing car which is situated between the rear wheels, where high-speed air gets sucked beneath the car and gathered to reduce drag and increase downforce to make it go faster.

Ok, so what is the problem? The 2009 regulations stated what the diffuser should be like, and many of the teams conformed to these rules. Brawn, Toyota and Williams adapted their own versions of the diffuser meaning their cars go faster as they have more downforce, particularly through high-speed corners. The more downforce you have, the more grip you have, something both Ferrari and McLaren are struggling with this year.

On the Brawn-Mercedes car, the other teams argue that a simple hole is increasing the flow of air, and consequently more downforce. Their argument has been since the Australian Grand Prix that the presence of this hole is against the new regulations, even though it was passed on inspection prior to the start of the championship.

So far, it is legal, and if it continues to be legal, the other teams have got their work cut out to adapt their cars quick enough to be in with a chance to score vital points in the coming races. With testing having been banned since the start of the season, it may take the likes of last years front-runners Ferrari and McLaren even longer to catch up.

The appeal into the legality of the diffusers is due to take place tomorrow at the International Court of Appeal, where Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull, who all appealed against the initial stewards decision that the diffusers were legal, along with BMW and McLaren, will all appear to have their say. Brawn, Toyota and Williams will also appear. If the diffusers are ruled illegal, the championship as it stands will be shaken up prior to Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

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Button Rains Again

April 6, 2009

Jenson Button managed to secure his second victory in succession for Brawn-Mercedes at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday when torrential rain cut the race short.

Rain flooded the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur forcing race director Charlie Whiting to red-flag the event 24 laps early. The treacherous driving conditions caused many of the drivers to spin off the track as their extreme weather tyres drowned in rivers of monsoon rain.

Despite his poor get-away, Button put in an outstanding drive to secure his second race victory of 2009 after just 32 laps.

The race started out dry, with Nico Rosberg making a quick get-away from fourth on the grid to take an early lead, which was short-lived when Button leap-frogged both first-place Rosberg and second-place Jarno Trulli in the first round of pitstops on lap 19. Then the rain came on the 22nd lap creating an early second stop.

Perhaps the team who gambled the most were Ferrari, who put Kimi Raikkonen on full wet tyres when he pitted on lap 18, even though the track was not wet enough. The Finn lost pace and was soon being passed by the rest of the field as his tyres crumbled. Raikkonen, who had started seventh on the grid, lined up 14th behind the safety car as the race was red flagged. He soon bailed from a potential re-start and his F60 was wheeled into his garage with KERS problems. He was later seen in a pair of shorts with an ice cream, even before race control called time on the race. 

Timo Glock gained the most from the heavy downpour. Having started third on the grid he had soon found himself further down the pack. When the rest of the field came in for their full wet tyres, the Toyota driver took a gamble and opted for the intermediate tyres. The gamble paid off and soon saw him jostling with Button for the lead. The rest of the pack were soon forced to change their full wets to intermediates as the track was still too dry, just minutes before the rain got really heavy forcing them to come back in and get back on the full wets. Glock’s gamble meant he finished back where he started in third.

With blots of lightning hitting the grandstands, and cars swimming through rivers of water, the safety car was deployed and within a lap race control had suspended the race, with the drivers once again lining up on the grid to await any kind of re-start. At one point it looked like race control were going to give the go-ahead to allow the race to continue behind the safety car, allowing for the race to reach its three-quarter distance and full points to be awarded. However, failing light and poor visability meant the drivers would be unable to see to continue, and the race was abandoned.

Defending world champion, Lewis Hamilton, who started from 12th on the grid in the MP4-24, finished in seventh, scoring one world championship point. Hamilton, who had received the most media attention throughout the weekend – for all the wrong reasons – struggled for grip on the full wet tyres and had to go defensive on more than one occasion. He was one of several drivers who spun in the extreme conditions behind the safety car. The Briton’s teammate Heikki Kovalainnen once again finished his race on the first lap, after driver error saw him beached in gravel. Another early retirement came from Robert Kubica. Having barely got off the grid, he ground to a hault on the second lap.

Because the race had not reached three-quarter distance, the points scorers only received half of the points normally awarded. Button scored five points, extending his lead in the championship from 10 to 15. Nick Heidfeld, who finished lap 31 in second received 4 points, whilst Glock in third received 3. Trulli finished in fourth with 2.5 points. Button’s teammate, Rubens Barrichello who qualified fourth and received a five place grid-drop for changing his gearbox, finished in fifth with 2 points. Mark Webber was next in sixth with 1.5 points, followed by Hamilton in seventh on 1 point. Rosberg, the last of the points scorers in eighth place received 0.5 points.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who only managed to qualify in 16th, failed to score again in Malaysia, finishing in ninth. With both of the Ferraris having retired in Australia and failing to finish in the points in the second round, the Italian team have yet to start their championship campaign. Only one point better is McLaren despite finishing third in the season opener last weekend.

For Button and Brawn-Mercedes, who would’ve thought they would be on top so early on in the season. For the British team, getting both of their drivers in points-scoring positions in Malaysia is somewhat of a big success story, for the car has never been driven in the wet before. As for last year’s frontrunners, two rounds in, they have a fair bit of catching up to do if they want to be fighting for the title this season.

 

The next race is in China in two weeks time, with qualifying at 7am and the race live on BBC One at 8am on Sunday 19 April.