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Latest F1 news in brief
  • More F1 testing to come next week
  • Police raid McLaren bosses' British homes
  • Watson backs Hamilton in Alonso stoush
  • Ferrari clearly ahead says Niki Lauda
  • Third place unlikely for Williams - Rosberg
  • Renault 'not racing to win' - Piquet

More F1 testing to come next week
(GMM)  The final group test of the 2008 pre-season concluded late on Wednesday afternoon, but the cry of formula one engines in Europe will be heard again before - and while - the circus travels to Australia for the opening grand prix.

After Toyota's Jarno Trulli topped the times with a low-fuel dash in Barcelona, official Formula One Management freight - including the cars - is due to begin the journey to Melbourne next Thursday.

Ferrari's equipment, however, will apparently make its own way from Italy, with the Maranello based team confirming that Luca Badoer is due to shake down the Melbourne-spec F2008s at Fiorano on that very day.

McLaren will make the March 6 deadline, but only after some last-minute aerodynamic testing on the runway of the Spanish island of Menorca early next week.

Honda's Brackley factory, meanwhile, has completed four versions of its RA108 single seater, meaning that two will fly to Australia next week while the others clock up more miles at an exclusive test at Jerez.

At the Spanish circuit, the Japanese team's new car - dead last as Barcelona testing wrapped up on Wednesday - will finally be equipped with the definitive Melbourne bodywork.

"We have been doing a lot of work to overcome our handling issues but the pace and the lap times are not there yet," Jenson Button said.

Police raid McLaren bosses' British homes
(GMM)  Overseen by local police, the British homes of McLaren bosses including Ron Dennis were raided by Italian criminal investigators on Wednesday.

The Mercedes-powered team confirmed in a statement that the private dwellings of "a number of McLaren executives" - four in total - were swept by the Italians as Modena magistrate Giuseppe Tibis continues to investigate the transfer of stolen information from Ferrari, otherwise known as the espionage scandal.

As well as the raids in the homes of the McLaren bosses, a "similar process has been performed at the McLaren Technology Centre", the team added, including inside Dennis' own office.

The Guardian newspaper, however, reported that police "did not take anything away" from any of the McLaren executives' homes.

A source told the British publication that police said "there was absolutely nothing to worry about.  Nothing physical was taken".

Watson backs Hamilton in Alonso stoush
(GMM)  Former formula one driver and commentator John Watson has defended Lewis Hamilton, a day after the British driver was accused by bitter rival Fernando Alonso of provoking the racism scandal.

Alonso, 23-year-old Hamilton's acrimonious teammate at McLaren last year, pointed out that his Spanish supporters only abused F1's only black driver at a recent Barcelona test after Hamilton said he would use Alonso's behavior in 2007 as an example of "how not to behave" as a driver.

But Ulsterman Watson, who raced more than 150 times in the 70s and 80s, including for McLaren, refuses to condemn Hamilton even for the provocative comments.

"Whatever comments Lewis has made, he was entitled to make those comments - they were teammates for a year - and if he feels that Alonso didn't fulfill his expectations and behave like a world champion, Lewis can say that," he told the Irish sports broadcaster Setanta.

Watson also doubts Alonso's account that the badly-behaved fans at the Circuit de Catalunya only dressed up for fun while whistling and jeering.

"The information that we were getting was that it was very much a racist thing and not just the fans giving him the bird," he said.

Watson, however, acknowledges that Hamilton's supporters in Britain have been fed a particularly one-sided account of the Alonso stoush, as well as of the rookie's impact on formula one.

"Believe me, around Europe, not every country was so pro-Lewis as we were and, in fact, the Spanish media was very anti what they felt was going on at McLaren.

"All these (British) people thought that he was the magic ingredient that formula one had been looking for but they forgot that Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, had a Spanish press that was not quite so impressed by what was coming out of McLaren," Watson added.

Ferrari clearly ahead says Niki Lauda
(GMM)  With 17 days to go until Melbourne, triple world champion Niki Lauda believes Ferrari maintains a commanding lead at the front of the 2008 formula one field.

The Austrian legend and former Ferrari and McLaren driver told his local daily Kronen Zeitung that, contrary to speculation that McLaren has closed the gap in recent days, the Italian team is between "0.5 and 0.8 seconds per lap" ahead of all comers in full race trim.

But Lauda cautions observers to withhold their estimation of the true pecking-order until after the formula one circus has left Albert Park in just over two weeks' time.

"Melbourne is an atypical circuit, just like Monte Carlo.

"We will only know the true balance of power at the second race in Malaysia," he explained.

Veteran Renault engineer Pat Symonds, meanwhile, in the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, depicts a tantalizing prospect for the forthcoming battle behind Ferrari.

"According to our calculations, McLaren are part of the big second group to which BMW, Red Bull, Williams and ourselves belong.

"And depending on the circuit, there are only about three tenths separating the best from the worst," he added.

Williams' Sam Michael paints a slightly more common picture, by estimating that McLaren is clearly the next best team after Ferrari.

"Ferrari are about three of four tenths ahead of them (Ferrari), and seven or eight tenths before the group including BMW, Renault, Red Bull and us," he said.

Third place unlikely for Williams - Rosberg
(GMM)  German racer Nico Rosberg has played down Williams' hopes of emerging as the third force in formula one this season.

The Grove based team has enjoyed a positive winter period with its new Toyota-powered FW30, but 22-year-old Rosberg doubts that the single seater is yet ready to take on BMW Sauber for the 'best of the rest' honors behind Ferrari and McLaren.

"I think fourth in the constructors' championship is the main target; and that would be a great achievement," he told the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport.

Rosberg insists that only "luck" will deliver him a maiden podium placing in 2008.

"For that to happen, at least one Ferrari, one McLaren and two BMWs need to fail.  So it is going to need some luck," he said.

He does think Red Bull and Renault are firmly in Williams' sights, however, but confesses that he is "not ready to accept" that BMW can truly be challenged for third best.

Indeed, when asked by the German news agency DPA if Williams' true ambition for 2008 is third in the teams' title, Rosberg answered robustly: "No."

On the ksta.de website, he is quoted as saying he wants to be challenging for wins and the title in a few years, but that the big regulation changes for 2009 could give Williams a chance to get back in the hunt.

"Everything can be totally reshuffled then," he explained, "which is an opportunity not only for us, but for everyone."

Renault 'not racing to win' - Piquet
(GMM)  Renault will not be "racing to win" when the 2008 season commences in Australia next month.

That is the opinion of Nelson Piquet Jr, following three days in the formula one midfield at the final group test of the pre-season in Barcelona this week.

The Brazilian rookie is quoted as saying by the Spanish newspaper Marca that, even though he thinks some teams have been over-performing with light fuel loads in Spain, the leading McLarens have been a full second a lap quicker than Renault's R28 in even conditions.

"We are not going to be fighting with McLaren or Ferrari, we will be fighting with BMW, Red Bull and Williams," Piquet, who is 22, said.

"We are not racing to win," he added.

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