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DATE News (chronologically)
Latest F1 news in brief
  • Alonso says title unlikely in 2008
  • Alonso happy to have left McLaren
  • Alonso not convinced after racism storm
  • Stewart predicts tough ride for Hamilton
  • Alonso-Hamilton feud now over says Briatore
  • Vettel happy after taste of future in RB4
  • RBR budget not on scale of works teams - Horner
  • Mallya questions FIA's racism reaction
  • Sutil thinks Force India can take on Honda
  • Bernie defends Kimi's party reputation
  • Spy affair 'damaged' Dennis - Ecclestone

Alonso says title unlikely in 2008
(GMM)  Fernando Alonso has downgraded his chances of winning a third world championship this year to just "30 per cent", but denies that he is being overly pessimistic.

"No, not at all," the former McLaren driver told Spanish radio Cadena SER whilst in Barcelona for the final test before Melbourne.

"To say that we will be between position seven and nine on the grid in Australia is not pessimistic, I just respond honestly to questions.

"The truth is that we simply lack a car to fight for the podium," Alonso, who returned to Renault at the end of a tumultuous 2007 campaign, added.

The Spaniard estimates the per-lap deficit of his R28 single seater to the front runners as about half a second per lap.

"The car is better than it was last year, but we continue to struggle with the Bridgestone tires," he explained.

Alonso happy to have left McLaren
(GMM)  Despite probably dropping out of the hunt for the world championship, Fernando Alonso insists that he is happy to have left the McLaren team.

The 26-year-old has returned to Renault, the scene of his drivers' titles in 2005 and 2006, but a team that is not likely to have him in contention for the crown this season.

Comparing Renault with McLaren, Alonso told the Spanish radio station Cadena SER: "There are fewer people, which makes you feel more comfortable and you know exactly who is in charge.

"Inside McLaren there were so many people that it was difficult to know who to turn to.  There is a much better environment here," he added, referring to Renault.

Alonso also denies that his new rookie teammate for 2008, Nelson Piquet, is simply a carbon-copy of Lewis Hamilton, with whom he clashed memorably in 2007.

"Not at all," he insists.  "I am quite calm, there is no troubles, it is quiet and smooth."

Alonso not convinced after racism storm
(GMM)  Fernando Alonso says he is still not convinced about the recent racism scandal involving some of his fanatical Spanish countrymen and Lewis Hamilton.

The Spaniard was asked by the radio station Cadena SER if he thinks the affair was exaggerated in the press following his falling out with his former McLaren teammate last season.

"I think so," Alonso, who is 26, answered.

F1's governing body condemned the acts of bigotry at the Barcelona test earlier this month, threatening to deprive Spain of formula one and promising to launch an anti-racism campaign at the grand prix there in April.

But Alonso dismissed the group that blacked out their faces as overzealous revelers of 'Carnival', and now expresses skepticism about the apparent verbal taunts directed at Hamilton.

"If you don't know exactly what happened, it is difficult (to comment on)," the Renault driver said.  "I have not seen any of that on video.

"If it turns out that it did happen, then of course it must be totally condemned," he added.

Alonso also makes a link between the abuse suffered by Hamilton in Barcelona, and the 23-year-old British driver's declaration one week earlier that he would be using Alonso's behavior in 2007 as an example of "how not to behave" in F1.

"One week after he said that, he was in Spain," Alonso observed.  "That is the other side of the situation.  If you talk like that it is normal that things can happen."

Alonso also said his relationship with Hamilton has not changed since he left McLaren last year.

"It is the same as before -- non-existent," the Spaniard remarked.

Stewart predicts tough ride for Hamilton
(GMM)  Sir Jackie Stewart has predicted a potentially rough ride this season for 2007 rookie of the year Lewis Hamilton.

The Scot and former triple world champion was a staunch admirer of the young Briton's feats for McLaren last year, but fears that 2008 could be a different story for the 23-year-old.

"It's not unusual for a new driver like Lewis to struggle a bit in the second season," Stewart told The Herald.

"He is no longer an unknown quantity.  He is in the position where people are expecting him to win every race he starts," he added.

Stewart also said that it is possible Hamilton will discover this season that formula one is more difficult than he encountered in 2007, when he won four races and narrowly missed the drivers' title.

"It's a curious thing: Lewis will think he can nail this year's championship, because he came so close last time around, but that can make you push too hard, and, before you know it, little things can start going wrong which make the difference," said the Scot.

"A lot of factors have changed this season and Kovalainen's arrival at McLaren could mean that the shoe is on the other foot," he said.

"Suddenly, here is another bright-eyed, bushy-tailed contender and, if Heikki makes a good start in the first few races, the publicity and press attention might revolve round him."

Stewart also thinks McLaren's preparations for 2008 will have been disrupted by the espionage affair.

"I wouldn't write them off, but it might be hard to build up that momentum again," he said.

Alonso-Hamilton feud now over says Briatore
(GMM)  Flavio Briatore is convinced that the feud involving Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton last year is now over.

The Renault boss says the animosity that developed between the pair in 2007 was the result of their competitive rivalry, the reaction of the British press, and bad management by McLaren.

Referring to 26-year-old Alonso, who has returned to Renault for 2008, Briatore told the Times: "He gets bad publicity in England because last year he was fighting with Lewis Hamilton, but it is always like this in England.

"There will be no problems between Fernando and Lewis this season because they are very intelligent.

"The problem between them was not personal animosity, it was competition and the fact Fernando felt McLaren were not treating him the same as Hamilton.

"For Fernando it was a team problem not a Hamilton problem," the Italian added.

Briatore, meanwhile, has revealed the extent of his closeness to F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, after the pair recently bought the London football club Queens Park Rangers.

"In the last 20 years I speak to Bernie at least five or six times a day.  We are in the same business, we travel together, he is my best friend.

"Whatever I do, Bernie is always part of it.  We have a very good understanding," he added.

Vettel happy after taste of future in RB4
(GMM)  Sebastian Vettel says he was happy with the opportunity to test Red Bull's new car for 2008, the RB4, on Tuesday.

The German youngster, called up to replace David Coulthard at Barcelona after the Scot trapped a nerve in his neck, completed 110 laps in the Renault-powered car.

Vettel will race a similar version of the RB4 later this year when Toro Rosso, the second Red Bull team, gets its STR2 up and running around the time of the Turkish GP in May.

"For me, this was a good opportunity to get a feel for what we can expect later in the season," the 20-year-old told Auto Motor und Sport.

Vettel added that he thought the RB4, and therefore Toro Rosso's new single seater, has "genuine potential".

Coulthard is expected to return to the cockpit on the last day of winter testing on Wednesday, but Vettel is standing by in the event that the Scot is not fit.

RBR budget not on scale of works teams - Horner
(GMM)  Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner has rubbished speculation that the team is currently enjoying one of the healthiest budgets in formula one.

The Briton branded it a "myth" that the wealth of billionaire team owner Dietrich Mateschitz means that the Milton-Keynes based outfit can compete dollar-for-dollar with carmaker rivals including Mercedes and Honda.

"We have a reasonable budget," Horner told the Swiss journal Motorsport Aktuell, "but it does not even begin to compare with what a works team has at its disposal."

Mallya questions FIA's racism reaction
(GMM)  Vijay Mallya, the owner of the new Force India team, has questioned the FIA's reaction to the recent Spanish racism affair.

The Indian billionaire roundly condemned the actions of the "oddballs" who taunted Lewis Hamilton at a recent Barcelona test, but reckons formula one's governing body was wrong to make too big a fuss about the incident.

"If you take protective measures, you are only acknowledging there is a threat," Mallya told the Daily Mail, amid reports that security has been tighter as the circus tested again at the Circuit de Catalunya this week.

The FIA also reacted strongly to the racial abuse of F1's only black driver, threatening to wipe Spain off the annual calendar and vowing to launch an anti-racism campaign at the Barcelona race this year.

But Mallya said of the alleged racism: "It should be rubbished.

"You can't punish a nation.  There are oddballs out there in every country.

"You can't begin to make the rules and regulations around racism.

"I think you are giving racism too much importance.  You take care of them locally.

"You can't allow it to escalate into a major international issue," he insisted.

Sutil thinks Force India can take on Honda
(GMM)  Adrian Sutil thinks Force India can race away from the back row of the grid this season with its 2008 single seater.

The VJM-01, essentially last year's Spyker car with mainly aerodynamic developments, is being tested for the first time by the team this week in Barcelona, where so far it has posted midfield lap times.

Renault's Nelson Piquet, however - who has been consistently slower than Force India's runners this week - insists that the Silverstone based team is not suddenly a competitive F1 player.

"We know that some teams are low on fuel.  It is not normal that two Force Indias are ahead of us," the Brazilian told Diario AS.

But while Force India may have been overplaying its hand, team racer Sutil insists that the VJM-01 is ready to take on some of the other F1 squads.

"It is certain that we no longer lag behind like we did last year.

"On long runs, we are on the same level as Honda, and sometimes even faster," the German told adrivo.com, also declaring that Super Aguri could be a close 2008 rival.

"If they race, we should have a chance to get at them too," Sutil added.

Bernie defends Kimi's party reputation
(GMM)  Bernie Ecclestone has defended reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen's reputation as a fast Ferrari racer who likes a drink.

"Every time I've been out to dinner with him," the F1 chief executive told the Mirror, "he has been as good as gold.  And he's even better when he's pissed.

"There's nothing wrong with that.

"He doesn't embarrass people to the extent they say: 'My God, he shouldn't be doing that'," the 77-year-old added.

Ecclestone also backs the Finn, who came from behind to pip Lewis Hamilton for the drivers' title last October, to be the "guy to beat" in 2008.

"And I think he'll take a lot of beating," Bernie added.

Spy affair 'damaged' Dennis - Ecclestone
(GMM)  As reports emerge on Wednesday that Ron Dennis' position at McLaren could be in doubt, F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that the espionage affair "damaged" the veteran team boss.

"He got all the stick, didn't he," Ecclestone, 77, told the Mirror.  "That's how it is."

Ecclestone thinks Dennis could have limited his personal damage, which reportedly could result in him being replaced for 2008 by deputy Martin Whitmarsh, by apologizing earlier.

"If he didn't know what was going on, perhaps he should have known.  And he should have apologized immediately.  If he did know what was going on, he should have apologized immediately, too," Bernie said.

Ecclestone also echoes the growing view that McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton's F1 honeymoon is now over.

"Last year, he could afford to be a little more relaxed.  Now he's got a lot of pressure to win.  He's the number one in the team for sure and people expect him to win.

"Having the world champion there last year took some of the heat off him.  He must have learned from him as well," the Briton added.

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