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Archive for June, 2012

Gary Paffett secures pole for DTM race at blazing hot Norisring


By Berthold Bouman

Briton Gary Paffett (Mercedes Team HWA) took pole position for the fifth DTM race of the season on the Norisring in Germany. Paffett is currently leading the DTM Championship with 83 points, and is followed by Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) who has 47 points, and Jamie Green (Mercedes Team HWA) is third with 44 points.

Pole for Gary Paffett, Mercedes Team HWA

“Pole position for me, the 111th for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM and Jamie starting from P2 – you don’t get many better days than this,” said Paffett. Asked about his plans for tomorrow’s race he replied, “I’ve finished on the podium in all four races so far this year, and I’d love to continue that run with a third win of the season tomorrow.”

New asphalt at several parts of the classic street circuit, as the old layer gradually crumbled due to the high ambient temperatures on Friday, around 33 degrees Celsius, and a track temperature of over 53 degrees. Last night new patches of asphalt were laid down in the fast chicane ahead of the start-finish straight and other parts of the circuit, hopefully the repairs will hold during tomorrow’s 80 lap long race.

Biggest surprise in the first qualifying session was Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) who despite all his experience did not make it into the second session, he finished in a very disappointing 21st place. The only one slower than Scheider was Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Abt), who took 22nd and last place in the first session.

Also Robert Wickens (Mercedes Team Mucke Motorsport), Roberto Merhi (Mercedes Team Persson Motorsport), Susie Wolff (Mercedes Team Persson Motorsport) and Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Phoenix Racing) did not make it into the next session. Fastest in the first session was Paffett with a time of 1m01.679s.

During the second session Bruno Spengler (BMW Team Schnitzer) was in the danger zone, but the Canadian squeezed out a last-minute fast lap to secure a place in the third session, and took sixth place. Birthday-boy Ralf Schumacher (Mercedes Team HWA) also made it into the third session, but only just as he was 0.008s faster than the number 11, Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Phoenix Racing). Fastest in the second session was Ekstrom with a time of 49.070s.

Again surprisingly, the experienced Rockenfeller didn’t make it into the third qualifying session, also Adrien Tambay (Audi Sport Team Abt), Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), David Coulthard (Mercedes Mucke Motorsport), Joey Hand (BMW Team RMG) and Dirk Werner (BMW Team Schnitzer) did not make it into the third session.

Another ten minutes of qualifying on the blazing hot circuit for the remaining ten drivers, again Ekstrom was leading the pack, followed by Augusto Farfus (BMW Team RBM) and Gary Paffett. Not the best of days for BMW at the Norisring, only Farfus was able to qualify for the final top four shoot-out.

Also not in the top four were Schumacher, Martin Tomczyk (BMW Team RMG), Spengler, Christian Vietoris (Mercedes Team HWA), Andy Priaulx (BMW Team RBM) and Italian Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg).

August Farfus, third for BMW at the Norisring

Paffett was first to go out for his flying lap during the final shoot-out, the Briton pushed hard and crossed the finish line after 49.139 seconds. Brazilian Farfus was next but locked up his wheels while braking for the hairpin which ruined his chances for the pole position, and set a time of 49.255s.

Green was faster than Paffett in the first two sectors but lost time in the last sector and finished second with a time of 49.171s. Last man who could take pole away from Paffett was Ekstrom, but the Swede couldn’t quite
cut it and was already one-tenth behind Paffett in the first sector and lost more time in the last two sectors and crossed the line with a time of 49.369s and took fourth place on tomorrow’s start grid.

Leaving from second spot on the grid tomorrow is Green, “The Norisring just seems to suit me and our DTM Mercedes AMG C-Coupé has been running really well. I performed strongly in all the qualifying sessions, and the front row is an excellent platform for the race. I think I’m all set up for another good result in tomorrow’s race.”

Farfus was very happy with his third place, “It’s my first time driving the BMW M3 DTM on a street circuit, so this third place feels more like pole position. We were always running at the front, bud didn’t quite have the pace of the Mercedes guys, so third was the best we could really hope for.”


Cost cutting agreement for 2013 still divides Formula One teams


By Berthold Bouman

The battle about the RRA (Resource Restriction Agreement) is still dividing the Formula One teams. The definitive version of the 2013 cost cutting agreement still hasn’t the support of all teams despite countless meetings where team representatives together with the FIA and FOM have negotiated the terms of the agreement which should be in place before the start of the 2013 season.

Cost cutting important for the future of F1

The agreement should limit the spending of Formula One teams but teams are divided about how to police this agreement, and some teams even don’t want any restrictions at all. One of them is Williams, and team owner Sir Frank Williams has this week spoken out on the matter. Sir Frank is in fact against any ‘interference in teams’ finances.’

In an interview with the official Formula One website Sir Frank said, “There are 12 teams and each operates in different circumstances. We have several manufacturer teams. One of them is Ferrari, who seem to have a great deal of money and who are in effect subsidised.”

“But that is fine,” said Williams, “They are Ferrari. They are the core of Formula One and that is how it should be. That is fine with me. Take me, there are so many men in the paddock who have more hair than me and it has always pissed me off, but I live with it! You learn to get on with it.

I am against any kind of interference. I don’t want any third-party interference with one’s business, to have people sneaking around wanting to check this and that. It’s just like waiting for the taxman every day. Williams is not pleading for more restrictions.”

Vijay Mallya, Force India’s team owner, is in favour of the RRA. He called upon the other teams to put their signature under the agreement. “I think that the RRA is something that everybody agrees to, in principal. The concept of the RRA is a must-have if Formula One is to survive in the long-term.”

One of the problems is that several teams have left the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) and it will therefore be difficult to get all noses pointed in the same direction. “Even when FOTA was together – and active – all the teams agreed with the concept of resource restriction,” said the Indian entrepreneur.

“In fact I would go one step further and say that the RRA was one of the reasons why FOTA was created. And then one by one, teams went in their own directions so we never had the chance to agree,” added Mallya.

Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier has warned not to make hasty decisions, which in the end could cost even more money. “”We made some decisions already in the past which cost us money now; and may cost us more money in the future. So we need to make sure that we go the right way and don’t rush,” he said to Autosport.com.

He admitted cost cutting is very important for the future of the sport, “We are all in favour of making Formula One better, more sustainable and having a long-term plan. Cost cutting is part of the strategy, but we need to do it consciously.”

The deadline the FIA imposed expires on June 30, and FIA President Jean Todt is determined to get teams committed to the RRA. Until June 30, teams need a simple majority to reach an agreement, but if they don’t find a majority or the decision is postponed, they then need 100 percent unanimity to change anything regarding the rules for the 2013 season, which will make a decision concerning the RRA very difficult, if not impossible.

It seems two teams are not ready to sign the agreement: Red Bull and Italian sister team Toro Rosso. But after reading the interview with Sir Frank Williams, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Williams would become the third team to openly oppose the 2013 agreement.


Banker Gribkowsky sentenced to eight and a half years in prison


By Berthold Bouman

German ex-banker Gerhard Gribkowsky has been sentenced to eight and a half year imprisonment for tax evasion, bribery and breach of trust. A Munich court yesterday ruled Gribkowsky received a 44 million Euro bribe from FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone when the German BayernLB state bank sold its stake in Formula One to CVC Capital Partners. The bribe was to ensure the stake was sold to CVC and not to another party.

Bernie Ecclestone facing investigation by German Prosecutor

Judge Peter Noll said in court yesterday, “In this process we assume the driving force was Mr Ecclestone.” Therefore the court’s verdict is not just bad news for Gribkowsky, but also for Ecclestone who is already under investigation by the British tax authorities, the HRMC.

Ecclestone has always maintained his innocence and in fact stated in court Gribkowsky was blackmailing him as he threatened to reveal his tax affairs to the HRMC and he therefore paid the 44 million to the German who was the former Chief Risk Officer of the BayernLB bank. Ecclestone now also faces an investigation by the German State Prosecutor.

The 81-year old Ecclestone wasn’t really impressed and commented about the verdict, “I think Mr Gribkowsky told them what he thought he had to tell them. I don’t think I should [face further action] but you don’t know, do you?”

Last week Ecclestone told the UK Daily Telegraph Gribkowsky only had confessed to his crimes to get a more favourable sentence. “The poor guy has been banged up for 18 months. He would have said anything to save himself. He was going to be locked up whatever happens.”

But German State Prosecutor Christoph Rodler also thinks the Formula One boss is guilty of bribery, “Ecclestone was not a victim of blackmail, but a fellow participant in bribery,” he said in court yesterday.

Also read: Gribkowsky confesses: Ecclestone paid ‘giant amount of money’


Teams still struggling with Pirelli tyres


By Berthold Bouman

After the European Grand Prix at Valencia, it has become apparent most teams are still struggling to unlock the secrets and full potential of the Pirelli tyres. Even the top teams had to use an extra set of softs during Saturday’s qualifying to secure a position in the top ten, which also meant they only had one set of new softs left for the race.

Pirelli tyres

But according to a pit stop summary published by Pirelli, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel and Kamui Kobayashi didn’t even have an unused set of softs available for the race and it will therefore be no surprise they suffered from massive tyre degradation at the closing stages of the race. Paul di Resta was the only driver to finish on a one-stop strategy, the rest needed at least two or more stops to get to the finish.

But it is very difficult to assess who was struggling and who was not. True, winner Fernando Alonso won the race on two sets of unused softs, and one set of unused medium tyres, but Raikkonen finished just 6.4 seconds behind the Spaniard on two sets of used softs and one new set of medium tyres, so the advantage Alonso had with an extra set of fresh softs, wasn’t such a big advantage time-wise, both Alonso and Raikkonen made two stops. And to make it even more complicated, Vettel had, until the Safety Car came on track, already built up a gap of over 20 seconds to the number two — on his used soft tyres.

Lewis Hamilton (soft used, medium new, medium new) had to defend his second place during the final stage of the race and later commented it was like he was driving on ‘two flat rear tyres’. Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh explained, “It was a bad day in the office and I think we really struggled with the tyres. The inherent pace was where you were on your tyres. Lewis struggled on the first set and was better on the prime in truth, but ultimately it went away.”

Lucky winner Alonso said, “When I went into the lead after Vettel retired, we were all hoping the tyres would last to the end. I was always talking to my engineer who told me I was running the same pace as those following me: in the end, there was not much left!”

Second place man Raikkonen also had tyre problems, “The rear tyres were pretty bad, especially in the middle of the circuit where there were three or four corners that were quite tricky. I think everybody had quite old tyres by the end; I just didn’t have enough left in them to push any harder.”

Michael Schumacher (medium new, soft new, soft used) scored his first podium since his return, but had to change from a one to a two-stop strategy, and he commented, “We obviously had a late decision converting from a one-stop to a two-stop strategy, which meant we had good tyres towards the end of the race, when other people either did a one or an early two-stop strategy and therefore struggled by the end because they had no tyres left.”

Team Principal Ross Brawn said, “Our early strategy did not come together as the tyres behaved differently to our pre-race predictions. So we had to react, and we did so extremely well, leaving our stops as late as possible to give our guys fresh rubber at the end.”

Mark Webber, who finished in fourth place, wasn’t really sure his strategy (medium new, soft new, soft new) would work. “It was only towards the end of the race that our strategy came into its own,” said Webber. “In the middle section of the race, when I was fighting with slower cars and being held up, I wasn’t sure we’d got it right, but we did and it was a great effort by the team.”

Number five on the list, Nico Hulkenberg, also encountered problems at the end of the race, “The two-stop strategy worked well, but the last stint was very long and it was hard to hold off the cars behind me on fresher tyres in the last few laps.”

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes

Nico Rosberg who finished behind his compatriot Hulkenberg had converted to a two-stop strategy during the race, and for him it did work out. “Thanks to the strategy guys, we were on fresh tyres when everybody else was struggling. I was in P12 on lap 47 and P6 at the end, so it clearly worked and we are very happy with a good team result,” the German said.

Sauber’s Sergio Perez also ran into problems, “We risked quite a lot with our strategy and in the end the tyre degradation was huge,“ said the Mexican who finished ninth. And of course there were teams who had plenty of new rubber available, and therefore didn’t have any problems, like Toro Rosso, Caterham, Marussia and HRT, but they didn’t really play a major part in qualifying or the race.

Next race is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a completely different circuit from a tyre point of view, together with Monza the fastest circuit on this year’s calendar. For teams who have a car that works best in high temperatures, like Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus, it will be a challenge to get the tyres up to the right temperature.

Pirelli this time opted for a full step between compounds and the hard (silver marked) and soft (yellow marked) tyres compounds will be available for the British Grand Prix. With this choice Pirelli hopes different strategies will be possible, and it is even expected rain will play a role at Silverstone.

And Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner summed the current situation up like this: “I think that the [tyre] window is so narrow on this that it’s difficult. You can move the performance around: you can attack qualifying and maybe it hurts you in the race, or you can go soft in qualifying and perhaps be stronger in the race.”


Mercedes and Schumacher thrilled with podium place at Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Mercedes and Michael Schumacher were quite happy with third place and the first podium place of the seven-times World Champion after his return to Formula One in 2010. During a chaotic race at the Valencia street circuit during the European Grand Prix, Schumacher made good use of his experience and took his 155th podium place after starting the race from 12th position on the grid.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes

Schumacher was on a two-stop strategy, he started the race on a set of new medium tyres, changed to a set of new softs on lap 19, and on lap 41 pitted for a set of used softs. “I didn’t actually think about a podium at all at the end of the race,” said a happy Schumacher.

“It was crossing the line that I asked my guys ‘where did we finish?’ I saw Webber’s pit board and close to the end it showed him eighth and seventh and I knew I was one place ahead of that one. And then boys told me ‘that’s third, that’s podium’. I can’t believe that! It’s one of those moments that you enjoy deeply as a driver,” he said during the post-race press conference.

“I think that was the best answer to give to everybody who started doubting our work: get the car together and fight back; never give up, as anything can happen,” said Schumacher.

Tyres were again the key to success according to Schumacher, “We obviously had a late decision converting from a one-stop to a two-stop strategy, which meant we had good tyres towards the end of the race, when other people either did a one or an early two-stop strategy and therefore struggled by the end because they had no tyres left.”

Team Principal Ross Brawn was proud of his driver, “Michael demonstrated today that if we can give him the opportunities, he will get a great result. About the change of strategy he commented, “The early part of the race was quite difficult for us, and our early strategy did not come together as the tyres behaved differently to our pre-race predictions. So we had to react, and we did so extremely well, leaving our stops as late as possible to give our guys fresh rubber at the end.”

Mercedes boss Norbert Haug was also impressed, “A marvellous race from Michael with the right speed and the right strategy. Coming from 12th on the grid to third on the podium is a good achievement, which Michael truly deserves and he achieved that with a great drive.”

Schumacher’s third place moved him up to 13th place in the Drivers’ Championship. Just for a moment the FIA threatened to spoil the fun for Schumacher, as they announced they were investigating reports the German had used his DRS in a zone where double yellow flags were being waved.

This allegedly happened during the last lap at the spot where Lewis Hamilton had crashed after his accident with Pastor Maldonado, but the Stewards deemed it was not necessary to take further action.

A FIA statement read, “Having examined telemetry and video evidence, and heard from the driver and team representatives, the Stewards noted that the driver did make a significant reduction in speed on entering the double waved flag zone.”


Magic Alonso gives masterclass at Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Only yesterday Ferrari described their qualifying for the European Grand Prix at Valencia as a ‘cold shower’, today Fernando Alonso emerged as the victor of the race, a race that became hotter and hotter after each lap.

Fernando Alonso wins the European GP at Valencia

Alonso must be the happiest man in Valencia, as he is now leading the Drivers’ Championship with 111 points, 23 points ahead of his rival Lewis Hamilton, who crashed after completing 55 laps, and is now third in the championship. Mark Webber is currently second with 91 points, while Sebastian Vettel is now fourth with 85 points.

Of course Alonso had a lot of help from Lady Luck, as all his rivals were eliminated one by one. Fist victim was current World Champion Vettel, who had to park his car after being struck by technical problems after leading the race for 33 laps without a glitch. The German was not happy and was seen throwing his gloves onto the track.

Second victim was Romain Grosjean, who was like Alonso the star of the race until his Lotus developed an electrical problem while in second position, until that point the Frenchman was getting closer and closer to Alonso and he could have become the eighth winner of the eighth race of the 2012 season.

Next was Hamilton, who had inherited second place from Grosjean, but two laps before the end he clashed with the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Hamilton ended up in the tyre barrier, angrily banging his fists on the steering wheel. Kimi Raikkonen in the second Lotus then took over second place, but his tyres were gone and he could not pose a threat to the Ferrari and Alonso crossed the finish line first and won the race.

But, all this would not have been possible if Alonso had not once again demonstrated the complete Formula One fraternity how to win a race from 11th place on the grid. The Spaniard had again one of his famous rocket starts, he passed Nico Hulkenberg and Maldonado on the first lap, then overtook Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi during the first round of pit stops.

When the Safety Car came out after Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne had hit the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen, the leaders went quickly into the pit lane for a tyre change, Alonso was able to overtake Hamilton who once more had a disastrous pit stop, his car kept slipping of the front jack, and the Briton thus emerged from the pit lane behind the Ferrari of Alonso.

At the restart Alonso sneaked past Grosjean at the second corner and not much later he was unexpectedly leading the race when Vettel had to give up. So a lot of luck, but luck doesn’t help when you are in 16th position, Alonso was right there with the leaders to make good use of the misfortune of the others.

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo could probably not believe his eyes today, yesterday he was shaking his head in disbelief after his drivers had qualified in 11th and 13th place, today Alonso once again showed what a great driver he is, and tonight there will probably be a big party somewhere in Valencia … and if I was Montezemolo, I would pay the bill with a big smile on my face!


Bitter disappointment for Ferrari in Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Very disappointed faces in the Ferrari garage this afternoon after qualifying for the European Grand Prix in Valencia. Especially Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo couldn’t hide the disappointment on his face, he had travelled to Valencia to see how his drivers would do, but the result was unexpected, although he should have known better.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

It is actually a miracle Alonso is second in the Drivers’ Championship just two points behind leader Lewis Hamilton. It is a miracle the Spaniard won the Malaysian Grand Prix, and came home second and third during the Spanish and Monaco Grand Prix. It is a miracle Alonso’s worst performance was a ninth place in Shanghai, China. It is a miracle Alonso has scored points during all seven races this season.

In Valencia Alonso qualified 11th, and Massa 13th, which was actually not even their worst qualifying performance. Despite that, Montezemolo was disappointed. Very disappointed.

“Just a few thousandths of a second is all it took to prevent Fernando and Felipe from making it through to Q3 and it’s a real shame, because looking at the times in the final part of qualifying and the potential of our car, we could have been in the fight for the rows right at the front,” said the flamboyant Italian on the Ferrari website.

And added, “I am very disappointed, because I was hoping for something better: the positions on the starting grid definitely don’t reflect the worth of today’s Ferrari and on top of that, it has happened at a track where it is particularly difficult to overtake.”

“But,” he said, “tomorrow, we will try to at least make the most of the fact we have two new sets of softs: tyres are playing a decisive role in this championship and it’s up to us to make the best possible use of them.”

Unfortunately, Montezemolo missed a few facts. For instance, Force India drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta did find those few thousandths of a second and landed eighth and tenth place in a car that was designed and constructed with a budget approximately 35% of the budget Ferrari has. Romain Grosjean, who was responsible for bumping Alonso out of the top ten in Q2, was 0.218s faster in his Lotus than the fastest Ferrari. Even the Williams of Pastor Maldonado was two-tenths faster than Maranello’s prancing horses.

And when the President of Ferrari is disappointed, then according to good Italian tradition, the Team Principal must be disappointed as well. And of course he was. “We are disappointed and there’s no point in denying it. Q2 is the hardest part of qualifying, because this year everyone is very close and it only takes a mere nothing and you pay a very high price. And that’s what happened today to both our drivers,” said Stefano Domenicali.

And he couldn’t help ‘tweaking’ the facts a bit, “Given that with their times from Q2, Fernando would have started seventh and Felipe ninth: with a further two sets of softs to exploit, the times would definitely have been better and I let you draw the inevitable conclusion.”

Well, the inevitable conclusion is that other teams did use that second set of softs in Q2 and that is in fact the reason they made it into the last qualifying session, and Ferrari did not.

Alonso smart as he is, had apparently anticipated this inevitable conclusion and rebuked, “It’s easy to say now that with two runs on softs in Q2 we would have made the cut, but maybe now we would be here lamenting the fact that we did not have two for Q3: it’s always easy to judge things after the fact.”

Yes, that was of course possible, but we will never know will we? Therefore he changed his tune, “However, we were not quick enough to be in the top ten in the second part of qualifying and now the race will naturally be tougher.”

But there seems to be some hope as Alonso also said, “Let’s hope that, starting from the clean side of the track I can quickly make up a few places and then we will try to also make the most of the two sets of new softs we have left: that’s at least a small consolation after this far from positive afternoon.”

So bitter disappointment for Ferrari, but why? They have the magic Alonso, a double World Champion, a Spaniard who is famous for his excellent starts, his dogged determination, and his wisdom when it comes to race strategies. Many people wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a stellar start tomorrow, jumps the Force Indias and the Lotuses, and before you know it he will be chasing Hamilton and challenge him for the lead in the championship!


Vettel eases to pole position for European GP at Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Sebastian Vettel took his third pole position of the season for Red Bull during qualifying for the European Grand Prix at Valencia, Spain this afternoon. The German topped the time sheets with a lap of 1m38.086s after one single run during the third and last qualifying session. Vettel did have to use a second set of soft tyres to take pole, be he reckoned it was worth it, as starting from the first place of the grid is certainly a huge advantage on a street circuit.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

“I think it was a great recovery from Q1 and Q2 today, as I didn’t feel entirely happy in those,” said Vettel. And added, “It had been a good weekend leading up to qualifying, but conditions changed before Q1. However in the end we pulled it altogether. Everyone has worked very hard with preparing new parts for the car, which seem to be step forward.”

Team Principal Christian Horner was delighted with yet another pole, “After such a tight qualifying, where at stages the top seven cars were covered by less than a tenth of a second, for Sebastian to deliver a final lap that put him four tenths clear was a remarkable effort. It has earned him his 33rd pole, meaning he matches Jim Clark and Alain Prost, which are two extremely illustrious names.”

Certainly not a good day for Mark Webber who after he had experienced gearbox problems during the third free practice session this morning, during qualifying had hydraulic problems which meant his DRS didn’t work and the Australian had to throw in the towel in Q1 after taking a very disappointing 19th position on the soft Pirelli tyres.

Lewis Hamilton was the fastest McLaren driver this afternoon and took second place, 0.324s behind Vettel. “I’m extremely happy to be starting on the front row. To see other teams make big improvements to their cars this weekend, and yet still be starting from P2, is a surprise that I’ll happily take,” said Hamilton.

“We’d been struggling a little with set-up and front locking from the start of practice yesterday, so I went into qualifying really just focusing on getting a decent result and starting as high up the order as possible.”

Button again had problems with his front wheels locking and his car was as he said, ‘all over the place’ and the Briton was certainly not happy with his performance and didn’t get any further than ninth place, but at least this time he did make it into the top ten.

Pastor Maldonado had grabbed the first place for Williams earlier in Q3 but ultimately took possession of third place after beating Romain Grosjean who was fourth for Lotus with a time of 1m38.505s, the Frenchman was just 0.008s faster than his team colleague Kimi Raikkonen who will be leaving from fifth spot on the grid tomorrow.

Not a really good day for Mercedes who had high hopes ahead of qualifying, but although Nico Rosberg was able to clinch sixth place, Michael Schumacher, who was one of the favourites for this weekend, did not make it into Q3 and had to be satisfied with 12th position on tomorrow’s start grid. It seems Mercedes still hasn’t found the sweet spot when it comes to tyre performance during qualifying.

Even worse was the performance of both Ferrari pilots, Luca di Montezemolo’s presence in the Ferrari garage didn’t help very much. All Montezemolo could do was shake his head in disbelief after Grosjean had bumped Fernando Alonso out of the top ten in Q2. Alonso finished in 11th place on home soil, while a struggling Felipe Massa took 13th place.

It was a good day though for Force India, as Nico Hulkenberg grabbed eighth place and his team colleague Paul di Resta took tenth place at the Valencia street circuit this afternoon and were thus faster than both Ferraris.

Despite seventh place Hulkenberg had expected a bit more, “I think overall it’s a great result for the team to get both cars into Q3, but maybe we were hoping for a little bit more than P8 and P10, especially considering how we have performed so far this weekend.” And about the racehe commented, “we are still near the front and will take the fight to the cars around us to try and come away with some points.”

This time it was Kamui Kobayashi who made it into Q3 and landed seventh spot for Sauber with a time of 1m38.741s, while Sergio Perez had many problems and took 15th place lapping the circuit in 1m39.353s, almost one and a half second slower than the Japanese driver. “For me the car’s balance wasn’t good in qualifying, and the car felt a bit unpredictable. For the race I hope we can go at a consistent pace with a good strategy,” said Perez.

Also outside the top ten was Williams driver Bruno Senna who was 14th and was far off the pace of his Venezuelan team colleague.

Caterham had something to celebrate today, for the first time this season they qualified for the second session Q2 as Heikki Kovalainen did a great job and took 16th place beating both Toro Rossos, and thus it was all smiles in the Caterham garage this afternoon. Kovalainen attributed his progress to his hard-working team and the many upgrades they had brought for Valencia.

“Today’s performance was the result of a great effort by the whole team. This morning we weren’t sure if we could do it or not but both runs in Q1 were really good. As the temperatures went up and the track kept evolving my car just felt better and better and I really got the most out of it on that final lap on the softs,” Kovalainen commented.

Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were 17th and 18th for Toro Rosso, it was really the best they could do today. Vitaly Petrov was 20th in the second Caterham, while HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan once again beat Marussia and took 21st and 22nd place respectively.

Charles Pic was 23rd for Marussia, but the unluckiest man of the day was Timo Glock who didn’t even start qualifying as he was still suffering from a stomach bug and was way too ill to drive. Marussia will tomorrow morning announce whether the German will start the race or not.

It would have been an excellent opportunity for Maria de Villota to make her Formula One debut for a Spanish team in front of a Spanish home crowd, but unfortunately for the Spanish lady, the regulations say a driver cannot be replaced after qualifying.

The same weather conditions are expected for tomorrow, and with Vettel, Hamilton and Maldonado in the top three it will be interesting to see what happens at the first and especially the second corner, also keep an eye on Grosjean, Raikkonen and Rosberg behind them, as they are fast starters and could make up two or even three places.

The race strategy will be based upon the performance of the medium tyres, Pirelli expects at least two stops as the soft tyres will degrade very quickly at Valencia.


Vettel sets the pace for European GP at Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Pastor Maldonado was fastest for Williams during the first practice session for the European Grand Prix at Valencia this morning, but it was current World Champion Sebastian Vettel who set the fastest overall time today with a lap of 1m39.334s during the second practice session in the afternoon.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

The German had already been close to Maldonado in the morning, as he was just 0.083s slower than the Venezuelan in the Williams. Vettel today tested new parts, but wasn’t prepared to draw any conclusions regarding the expected effect of the upgrades. “The lap times have not really allowed us to have a fair conclusion of them yet. It was important to have a clean practice today and I’m happy with what we did,” said Vettel.

He also reckoned the weather on Saturday and Sunday will be quit different from today, “The conditions will change again for Sunday I think; it was a bit cooler today, which will make a difference. It’s close between the teams and it’s not yet clear what the right strategy is for Sunday, hopefully we can make a step forward tomorrow.”

His team colleague Mark Webber, who was third in the morning and ninth in the afternoon, agreed, “Regarding changes we’ve made to the car, we’ll know on Sunday if they’re working well for us. The circuit will get a bit quicker as we lay rubber down, and it will get a bit hotter as well, so let’s see,” said the Australian.

Mixed fortunes for McLaren duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, Button was fourth this morning and Hamilton eighth, but in the afternoon they were 12th and 14th respectively. Button has had quite a few problems setting up his car the past few races, but today tried a completely different set-up.

“We did a lot of work to improve the front [wheel] locking, but we’re also going to go back on a few changes in order to get a car set-up that we know feels reasonably good. There are a couple of other changes we’re also considering for tomorrow which could be quite interesting,” the 2009 World Champion explained.

Hamilton was less optimistic, “I wasn’t totally happy with my car today, but, being realistic, you can’t always get it absolutely right, can you? This year, we’ve usually got the balance spot-on during practice, but we perhaps didn’t run precisely the correct set-up today. I’m quite confident that we’ll have improved things for qualifying.”

Taking fifth place this morning and seventh place in the afternoon, Fernando Alonso was quite happy with his Ferrari, he also tested new parts. “Overall, it’s been a positive day, during which we tried various updates on the car; some worked well, others need some modifying and then they might be used at Silverstone,” he stated. Like others, he was a bit worried about the Pirelli tyres, “With the sky completely clear, the track temperature can easily go up by four or five degrees and change the behaviour of the tyres.”

Like all other teams, Mercedes also spent the major part of the day gathering data, the data will be studied tonight to find an optimal set-up for tomorrow’s qualifying. Michael Schumacher was also aware of the changing conditions which will have an impact on the tyre degradation, “Of course we are aware that it will be a challenge for everybody, especially to keep the rear tyres alive — but this is as expected. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow!”

Bruno Senna had to hand over the wheel to Valtteri Bottas in the morning, but in the afternoon he was fifth quickest with a time of 1m39.644s, while Maldonado was 13th in the afternoon. Mark Gillan, Williams’ Chief Operations Engineer, “We had a good day today and tested a number of new development items in addition to working on the car set-up and tyre management. All three drivers performed well with Pastor being particularly strong throughout the first session.”

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus

In the morning, Kimi Raikkonen was faster than his team colleague Romain Grosjean, but during the second session Grosjean was the fastest Lotus driver. However, both drivers think their qualifying pace is more important. “The E20’s strong point always seems to be its race pace but of course we are looking to make it quicker in qualifying,” Raikkonen said. Grosjean agreed, “Qualifying will be the big moment for us as we have seen that we need to find a little bit of improvement there.”

Force India’s Paul di Resta was sixth in the first practice session, but Nico Hulkenberg was faster and took second place in the afternoon, just 0.131s slower than his compatriot Vettel.

Kamui Kobayashi was the fastest Sauber driver today and landed third place in the afternoon, while Sergio Perez was 16th. Perez was not happy with the balance of his car, “On low fuel I struggled a lot, while it was better on a high fuel load. Kamui and I had different programmes for today and we now have a lot of data to be analysed and compared. I think we probably have found something today what could help us for tomorrow.”

For the remaining teams it was business as usual, Toro Rosso and Caterham were fighting for best of the rest, a battle won by Caterham as during the morning session Heikki Kovalainen was faster than both Toro Rosso drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo and took 17th spot, while Vitaly Petrov did the same in the afternoon and also took 17th spot ahead of both Toro Rosso drivers.

Timo Glock was fighting a stomach bug and only completed seven laps in the morning, and both HRT drivers were at their usual spot at the back of the grid.

Tomorrow the temperatures in Valencia will be about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius higher than today, and Pirelli expects teams will base their strategy on the medium (prime) tyres, and expect the soft (option) tyres will degrade very quickly, especially the rear tyres will go off very fast.


Is Formula One heading for the Great Eight at Valencia?


By Berthold Bouman

Is Formula One heading for the Great Eight, the eighth winner of the eighth race of the season? That is the big question ahead of the European Grand Prix at Valencia, Spain. Jenson Button won the first race for McLaren in Australia, Fernando Alonso surprisingly won the Malaysian Grand Prix, and Nico Rosberg was the surprise winner of the Chinese Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel made a come-back by winning the much bespoke Bahrain Grand Prix, his team colleague Mark Webber won the race in Monaco and Lewis Hamilton scored the second victory for McLaren in Canada. But without a doubt, the most surprising victor was Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado who gave Williams their first victory in eight years by winning the Spanish Grand Prix.

There are just a few candidates who could become the eighth winner of the eighth race at the street circuit of Valencia. Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn and Pirelli’s Head of Motorsport Paul Hembery have tipped Michael Schumacher, who has been without a win since the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, and very desperately wants to win a race after he returned to the sport in 2010.

Brawn said, “I’m thinking of Michael [Schumacher] in our car, but the Lotus is good and they haven’t won, while Sauber have put in some great results too.” Indeed, Lotus is also strong and especially Romain Grosjean has made very promising progress since his return to Formula One. The Frenchman was third in Bahrain and second in Canada and is currently seventh in the Drivers’ Championship behind another returnee: his team colleague Kimi Raikkonen.

Who is the third candidate as the Finn’s last win dates back to the 2009 Belgium Grand Prix, where he beat Giancarlo Fisichella who had stormed to pole position for Force India, a team still to secure their first Formula One win.

Team owner Vijay Mallya commented ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix, “The teams that we have been comparable with in the past few years like Sauber and Williams have been on the podium, and I’m sure our time will come, as long as we get things right.”

But whether Paul di Resta or Nico Hulkenberg would be able to win at Valencia remains to be seen. Valencia being a street circuit poses all kinds of problems even for the very experienced drivers, leaving from pole would be a huge advantage but Force India is at the moment simply not fast enough to take pole position.

Sergio Perez is also a possible candidate, but like Force India, Sauber is currently not fast enough to score a pole position.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus

Bruno Senna is also still ‘win-less’, Williams have shown they have a fast car, but (no offence intended), Senna is not ready for a pole position or a win at this stage of his career, but heck, that’s what they said about Maldonado as well!

I would put my money on Grosjean, despite the fact he retired from three races, he is still only two points behind Raikkonen, who did finish all seven races. He always qualified in the top ten, while Raikkonen only qualified in the top ten four times, and conquering a high position on the start grid is very important at Valencia.

But of course both ex-World Champions Schumacher and Raikkonen are also high on the list, and let’s not forget the other ex-World Champions Alonso and Hamilton, and current World Champion Vettel, who could easily score their second victory of the season and could simply turn this Great Eight story into a story of wishful thinking …


Massa much more happy with the Ferrari F2012


By Berthold Bouman

It hasn’t gone unnoticed, Felipe Massa was much more happy with his Ferrari F2012 in Monaco and Canada. At the start of the season the Brazilian had many problems taming the F2012, a car difficult to understand and even more difficult to drive, even for his team colleague Fernando Alonso. But the Spaniard is now in second place of the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa is 14th with only 11 points.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari

And that caught the attention of Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, who urged Massa to up his performance, or else…

Ahead of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Massa said, “It’s true, I’m much happier, because I can drive the F2012 much more in the way I like now. This means I am much more pleased with my driving, and with the balance of the car and the pace I can run at.

All the modifications and updates introduced on the car helped in this process, but also important was the way we worked on the set-up with my engineers. We changed many things in terms of the balance and found a good direction that suits me.”

And he explained, “Every driver has his own style, the way he turns the steering wheel, or uses the throttle pedal and if you don’t feel comfortable with something then it definitely doesn’t help. You know how it is with Formula One and in fact, not just Formula One but all sports at the top-level, it involves working on the very small details.”

Massa likes the Valencia track, as he won the first race on the Spanish street circuit in 2008. “I like the track and even if people say it’s a street circuit, it’s not, because the major part of it is more like a permanent circuit, quite wide and not too tight,” said Massa.

Asked about his chances this weekend, he replied, “It always puts you in a positive frame of mind coming to a place where you have won before. So, I hope we can have another good weekend this time, especially given the fact our car is now more competitive in the races and also in qualifying, because we know how important your Saturday afternoon performance can be for the Sunday.

You can overtake at Valencia, especially with the DRS, but starting from the front, being able to run at your own pace immediately right from the beginning, changes everything. It means you don’t get stuck behind cars that are quick in qualifying but slower in the race, which can carry a high price.”


Vijay Mallya: Force India needs to raise its game


By Berthold Bouman

Force India has to raise its game during the European Grand Prix at Valencia, team owner Vijay Mallya said this week. “We still need to lift our game, especially if we want to target fifth or sixth in the Constructors’ Championship. Yes, we’ve had one of our best starts to a season ever in terms of points scored, but the teams around us have also performed exceptionally well,” Mallya admitted.

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India

But he remained optimistic, “The teams that we have been comparable with in the past few years like Sauber and Williams have been on the podium, and I’m sure our time will come, as long as we get things right.”

Force India missed out on the points during the Canadian Grand Prix, Paul di Resta was in fifth place during the second part of the race, but near the end his tyres started to go off and the Scot finished in 11th place, while Nico Hulkenberg followed him in 12th place.

Di Resta about the Valencia circuit, “The main challenge is to be strong in the low-speed chicanes and also through the high-speed end of the lap. There are some big braking zones too followed by big traction zones, so the degradation rate is quite high, which is why it’s hard to manage the rear tyres through the race.” Di Resta further explains the Valencia circuit in a video at the bottom of the page.

Hulkenberg is looking forward to Valencia, “I like the track, even though we’ve seen how difficult it is to overtake there. The track has are a few special corners in the final sector of the lap and it’s enjoyable to drive. It’s also quite a long lap with 25 corners so it can be quite difficult to get a perfect lap together.”

Paul Di Resta is your guide to Valencia as he reveals his views on the challenging street circuit. Video: Force India


Caterham pin hopes on upgrades for European Grand Prix at Valencia


By Berthold Bouman

Caterham are looking to improve their pace with new car upgrades for this weekend’s European Grand Prix, and the next race at Silverstone, according to Technical Director Mark Smith.

Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham

“We have a couple of quite significant updates coming in Valencia and Silverstone — we will take a look at a number of new aerodynamic elements in Valencia as well as some minor modifications to the floor, and even though we will not know exactly what they will give us until we get out on track, we are cautiously optimistic they will help us keep edging ever closer to the midfield,” Smith explained.

Team Principal Tony Fernandes is optimistic ahead of the race in Valencia, “At the next two F1 races, in Valencia and Silverstone, we will see the fruits of the hard work being done by everyone at the factory with a number of important upgrades on the cars.”

Fernandes is aiming for a position in the midfield, but he knows it will not be easy. “We are honest enough with ourselves to know that these upgrades alone will not be enough to force our way into the midfield pack, we do know it is a statement of our intent to join the group just ahead that we are updating the car at the same rate or even more quickly than our rivals,” the Malaysian entrepreneur said.

Caterham’s aim this season is to score World Championship points, and Vitaly Petrov is adamant his team will succeed. “I think the Valencia race and the next one at Silverstone could be pretty positive for our team. We have a few updates coming onto the cars at the next two races, and we keep seeing how the gap to the teams ahead is closing, little by little. That is the aim this year – work as hard as we can to get to the point where we’re racing a couple of cars ahead and then see where we go from there,” the Russian said.

The Valencia track is hard on the brakes, according to Heikki Kovalainen. “The track surface is very smooth and the kerbs aren’t really an issue but it is pretty stop-start, so you need to quickly find a good rhythm to manage the series of long straights that end in tight turns, and pay attention to brake wear rates and cooling,” he said. Also tyre degradation will play an important role, “We’ll be looking closely at setup options that mean we can manage tyre degradation levels right through the whole weekend.”

Part of the progress Caterham has made season can be attributed to the Renault engine, also the engine of choice of Red Bull, Williams and Lotus. Kovalainen is currently 19th in the Drivers’ Championship, Petrov is 23rd and Caterham is 10th in the Constructors’ Championship.


Gribkowsky confesses: Ecclestone paid ‘giant amount of money’


By Berthold Bouman

A dramatic turn of events today as German ex-banker Gerhard Gribkowsky in court confessed FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone had paid him a ‘giant amount of money’ for the sale in 2006 of the stake the German BayernLB bank had in Formula One.

Bernie Ecclestone

After months of silence Gribkowsky finally decided to speak out about his part of the deal. Gribkowsky is currently standing trial for bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion. According to Gribkowsky, Ecclestone originally demanded $100 million as a ‘consulting fee’ for the sale, but the German banker managed to bring it down to $44 million and this was subsequently paid to Ecclestone by the BayernLB bank.

Again according to the German, Ecclestone in his turn paid Gribkowsky for his role in the transaction, the former board member of Bavaria’s state bank stated he received $50 million from Ecclestone, a ‘giant amount of money’ and more than he had bargained for as he today reckoned $10 million would have been a more realistic fee.

He then invested the money in an Austrian children’s cancer foundation, because as he said, he has a son who had cancer. “I will spare you the details,” Gribkowsky said today. The German Prosecutor didn’t think much of this story and called the investment in the cancer foundation a classic ‘tax evasion scheme’.

Gribkowsky has been jailed since early January 2011 for his role in this corruption scandal. More than 40 witnesses have been heard, including Ecclestone himself. The Formula One boss denies everything and has stated in court he actually paid Gribkowsky because he had threatened to tell everything to the British tax authorities, the HRMC, who are currently investigating the matter.

If found guilty, Gribkowsky could face nine years of imprisonment. So far Ecclestone was just a witness in this court case, but after Gribkowsky’s confession the 81-year old Briton might face a trial himself in Great Britain for bribery and tax evasion.


Raikkonen targets Valencia victory


By Berthold Bouman

Just like his younger team colleague Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen thinks a win at Valencia this weekend is certainly a possibility. The Fin has never won the European Grand Prix and a victory is high on his to-do list.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus

Raikkonen thinks Valencia is an altogether different circuit, “Valencia is a street circuit, but the layout is not like Albert Park, Monaco or Montreal. It’s definitely the fastest track of these four. It’s likely to be hot and we seem to go well in warm conditions so that’s what we’ll be hoping for.”

He also admitted Lotus needs to improve their qualifying pace, “Qualifying is going to be very, very important again here. Obviously, there will be an advantage to starting on the clean side of the track as the streets are only used as a circuit once each year. It’s not an easy place to overtake and we’ll have to see how much help the DRS will be.”

Asked whether he could become the eighth winner of the season he replied, “Valencia is all about being very consistent. It’s so easy to lose time with small mistakes. I love winning and that’s what I’m always trying for. I’ve never won in Valencia, so it’s a good target. Last time I raced in Valencia I finished in third after starting from sixth on the grid which was not too bad.”