Latest F1 news in brief
- Honda says Suzuka revamp on track
- No night racing until 2015 - Sepang
- More stray dogs disrupt F1 test
- Berger tips Red Bull for '09 form
- Haug admits Merc's eye on Vettel
- Mere tenths divide seven teams - Gene
- Branson admits interest in F1 bid
Honda says Suzuka revamp on track
(GMM) Suzuka is on track to returning to the calendar this year, despite the withdrawal from formula one as a competitor of the circuit's owner Honda.
After an absence while the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway hosted the Japanese grand prix, Suzuka is scheduled to host October's race as the two circuits now annually alternate.
Suzuka has been busy renovating its ageing facilities in the interim, and those works are nearing completion, with a re-opening set for April 12, Honda said in a statement.
"After a break of two years, the grand prix of Japan, round 15 of the formula one world championship, will be held on October 2-4," Honda confirmed.
No night racing until 2015 - Sepang
(GMM) Sepang will not go down the route of night racing for the foreseeable future, a spokesman for the Malaysian circuit has confirmed.
Like Melbourne's grand prix, the Malaysian event will move to a 'twilight' start time in 2009, to better serve the European television audience.
But the spokesman told the Associated Press: "There are no contracts that we have to do night races."
He said Sepang looked into the night race option, pioneered last year by Singapore, but concluded that the cost of the lighting was too high.
The existing contract, now amended for a later 5pm start, runs until 2015.
Track chairman Datuk Mokhzani Tun Mahathir is quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency: "(The 5pm start) is another way of saying that there will be no night race until 2015."
He said the "economic crisis" was the leading reason for the decision to decline the night race route.
More stray dogs disrupt F1 test
(GMM) Another pair of stray dogs disrupted formula one testing as the two-week Bahrain session wound up on Thursday.
A similar incident affected Tuesday's running at Sakhir, after two dogs found their way from the surrounding desert to the track verge.
The local newspaper Gulf Daily News said the animals entered a run-off area on Thursday, compelling marshals to wave yellow flags for the circulating Ferrari, BMW and Toyota cars.
The marshals then chased the dogs out of the venue.
"They came very near the track and it was a dangerous position," confirmed Bahrain Motor Federation operations officer and course clerk Jassim Ebrahim.
He suggested the dogs are entering the circuit from under a fence.
Berger tips Red Bull for '09 form
(GMM) Gerhard Berger says he is expecting Red Bull to enjoy a memorable year in formula one.
The Austrian former grand prix winner, also a close friend of the energy drink company's Dietrich Mateschitz, was trackside with his countryman at the recent Jerez test.
"I'm going to stick my neck out a little bit and say Red Bull Racing is my quiet tip for third in the constructors' championship," Berger is quoted as saying by Speedweek.
The 49-year-old, who after the 2008 season sold his half share in the junior squad Toro Rosso back to Mateschitz, said the new RB5 "impresses me", as do the drivers.
With Sebastian Vettel, Berger mounted the Monza podium last year as a winning constructor. The young German's teammate in 2009 is the Red Bull regular Mark Webber.
Berger continued: "I am enthusiastic about the RB5, my compliments to Adrian Newey. With the new rules he has really been able to show his abilities.
"In 2008 Red Bull was already getting its stability well under control. Additionally they have top drivers. These facts in combination with a motivated team point to a good season.
"But it is important to remember that the others (teams) are not asleep," said Berger.
Haug admits Merc's eye on Vettel
(GMM) Norbert Haug has admitted his desire to unite a German formula one driver with a Mercedes-powered cockpit.
Haug, the German marque's competition chief in collaboration with McLaren, told Bild newspaper that "our desire and goal is to see a top German driver in a McLaren-Mercedes in three to four years."
McLaren currently fields a British-Finnish driver combination, and the closest a German got to a silver car in recent times was the failed bid to lure the now retired Michael Schumacher.
However, Haug has never hidden the fact that, when Fernando Alonso created a vacancy at the end of 2007, unfruitful efforts to sign Germans Nico Rosberg or Sebastian Vettel were made.
"We are very, very happy with our drivers at the moment; we have a very strong pairing," Haug said of reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.
Haug admits, however, that he has been impressed by 21-year-old Vettel, the 2008 Monza winner who this year is commencing a two-year tenure with Red Bull Racing.
"I think he is very genuine and already a very, very strong driver," the German said.
"He combines his talent with his work in a way that very few do. There is certainly a similarity with Michael Schumacher."
Mere tenths divide seven teams - Gene
(GMM) 2009 looks set to be a very close season at the top of formula one, according to Ferrari test driver Marc Gene.
It was predicted that the sweeping regulation changes for this year might spread out the field, but the Spaniard thinks the indications of the winter test tracks show otherwise.
Ferrari most recently tested alongside BMW-Sauber and Toyota in Bahrain, and Gene told Diario AS that "we were a little quicker than BMW but it was very even.
"They are very close and (Christian) Klien has told me that they are also optimistic.
"We are pleased with our work but the championship looks more equal than ever. Apart from Ferrari and BMW, I see the fight for the title as also including McLaren and Renault.
"Alonso was much quicker (than before) at Jerez and I do not rule him out at all. Red Bull, Toyota and Williams are also close; there are seven teams within three or four tenths."
Gene believes the March tests will give an even better indication of Melbourne form, particularly when he thinks there are some teams "working to change their rear diffuser".
Branson admits interest in F1 bid
(GMM) Sir Richard Branson has admitted interest in bringing the Virgin brand to formula one, but suggested he will only buy the Honda team if some of the sport's "faults" are mended.
By the BBC's Radio Four, the British billionaire was asked about reports that his company is poised to rescue the Brackley based team whose future was thrown into doubt by the withdrawal of owner carmaker Honda Motor Co.
He did not actually confirm the link, but seemed to list conditions that would clear the path for Virgin to enter the sport.
"We'd need to be sure that Bernie Ecclestone is running it, that the teams can make ends meet and we'd need to be sure that he's on a path to turn formula one in to a sport that is championing green technology," said Branson, who according to Forbes is the world's 236th richest person.
He welcomed Ecclestone's comments earlier this week that Branson is "exactly the type of person" F1 is seeking.
"I'm delighted he said it and it would be great fun," Branson said, "and subject to those two provisos maybe something might be able to get sorted out."