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Latest F1 news in brief
  • Seven teams in race for Melbourne win - Webber
  • FIA must rubber-stamp Brawn engine deal
  • Rubens suffered critics amid winter silence
  • Button had 'options' to leave Honda - spokesman
  • All ten teams set for final group test
  • Webber not worried about lagging pace
  • Haug plays down McLaren pace fears
  • Hamilton names Vettel as 2009 rival

Seven teams in race for Melbourne win - Webber
(GMM)  Mark Webber admits he has never encountered such a close pre-season as the winter of 2009, with as many as seven teams in the reckoning to win in Melbourne in less than 20 days.

"It is really difficult to read who is doing what," the Australian driver said in an interview with Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper.

"I think it is too close to call," the Red Bull driver explained while at home in Britain.

32-year-old Webber said the F1 community expected the sweeping rules changes for this year to leave bigger than usual gaps between teams.

But the opposite is true, according to analysis of recent tests, and Webber reveals that several teams have shown race-winning pace over the crucial 'long runs'.

"It is literally us, Toyota, Williams, Ferrari and BMW.  We have all, at certain times, done the business," he explained.  "And the Renault as well.

"You would expect McLaren maybe to have done a bit more, going by the testing over the last few years.  But apart from that, we all know they are more than capable of turning up in Melbourne and spanking everyone," said Webber.

Webber's young German teammate Sebastian Vettel was the quickest of all in qualifying trim at the Jerez group test last week, and deeper analysis has shown the new Ferrari to have a slight edge with race levels of fuel.

FIA must rubber-stamp Brawn engine deal
(GMM)  Norbert Haug has let slip that F1's governing body is yet to formally rubber-stamp Brawn GP's customer engine deal with Mercedes-Benz.

Vijay Mallya, head of the newly Mercedes-powered Force India team, revealed last week he could have objected to the Brawn arrangement because of FIA rules limiting each manufacturer to working with just two teams.

"The FIA, I believe, have given special dispensation to Mercedes to supply an engine only to the former Honda team for one year," the Indian billionaire had said.

Haug, in charge of Mercedes' motor racing programs, confirmed the news but clarified that the dispensation is yet to be put in place officially.

The matter will presumably be on the agenda for the World Motor Sport Council meeting on March 17, which takes place less than ten days before official scrutineering in the Albert Park pits.

"Hopefully the (Brawn) team will get the approval of the FIA," Haug is quoted as saying by Auto Motor und Sport.

Rubens suffered critics amid winter silence
(GMM)  Amid a winter of uncertainty, Rubens Barrichello has revealed he preferred radio silence to addressing the speculation about his waning hopes of continuing his formula one career.

The 36-year-old Brazilian last year broke the all-time record for grand prix race starts, but even after the withdrawal of the Brackley based team's owner Honda, rumors favored Bruno Senna to take his seat in 2009.

"My friends, the last four months I preferred silence," he wrote in Portuguese in his official website column.

"There were people saying I was finished, saying nobody wanted me, and even someone who said Bruno Senna signed for three years, an absurd attempt of a desperate (reporter) to write without any basis or source," the Brazilian said.

"What is important is that I relied on my faith, I worked hard physically and only talked with the team's staff.

"To say now that I was sure that the (2008) Brazil GP would not be my last race is too much, but something told me that it was not.

"I admit that I had to do a lot of listening, but it only left me stronger.

"I am starting the year very anxiously, we only have a couple of tests before the first race, but the car is going to be fast and with a great Mercedes engine," said Barrichello.

Button had 'options' to leave Honda - spokesman
(GMM)  Jenson Button chose to drive for Brawn GP this season instead of exploring options of higher pay because he believes in the Brackley based team, a spokesman for the 29-year-old British driver insists.

The Independent newspaper claims Button, who gave the new Mercedes-powered BGP001 car its track debut at Silverstone last Friday, voluntarily forfeited "more than 50 per cent" of his contracted Honda retainer because the team's new guise can not afford to pay him that much.

With the English driver and his continuing teammate Rubens Barrichello now preparing for a four-day test at Barcelona, Button's spokesman insists other options for 2009 existed "in theory".

"But after pushing so hard to get Ross (Brawn) to join Honda, and then working so hard with him throughout a very difficult 2008, he (Button) was determined to show his solidarity with, and faith in, the team," his spokesman said.

"We had some other options in theory, but he told me that money isn't everything.  There was no way he was going to do anything but drive that car.

"He didn't want to give up on a team he believes in so strongly," the spokesman added.

After a difficult two seasons with Benetton/Renault, Button headed to BAR/Honda in 2003 where he cemented his reputation as one of the sport's most highly paid drivers, achieving Honda's only race win of its recent foray in 2006.

Button and Barrichello's confirmation completes the 2009 race grid, with Brawn becoming the eighth team to retain the same lineup as in 2008.

Only Red Bull (replacing David Coulthard with Sebastian Vettel) and sister team Toro Rosso (replacing Vettel with Sebastien Buemi), are fielding tweaked lineups.

All ten teams set for final group test
(GMM)  All ten teams will be present this week for the final group test of the 2009 pre-season.

Including Brawn GP and its drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, the entire field has congregated for a four-day session at the Spanish grand prix venue Circuit de Catalunya, located about a half hour drive from the Barcelona CBD in the Montmelo suburb.

According to Spanish media, a large crowd is assured due to the confirmed presence of Fernando Alonso, and the outstanding questions that remain about the likely pecking-order for the season that begins in 20 days.

Rain is considered only a remote possibility for the four days through to Thursday, local weather reports suggest.

Webber not worried about lagging pace
(GMM)  Mark Webber has played down suggestions he might struggle to match the strong pace of his highly-rated young teammate Sebastian Vettel in 2009.

Australian Webber, 32, is regarded as perhaps the quickest qualifier in the entire field, but he came nowhere close to Vettel's best lap of the Jerez test last week.

The Australian media is predicting another season in the wilderness for the Red Bull driver, but Webber - still limping following his broken leg of last November - insists his preparations are more or less on track.

Fears rose further when he commented last week that, despite Vettel's apparently front-running pace, Webber admitted he needs to "get a bit more performance" from the car.

"I feel I'm driving well," he said in an interview published on Monday by the Melbourne newspaper Herald Sun.

Webber admits he is still grappling with a less than ideal setup for the Adrian Newey-penned RB5, but he insists that analysis of test times means nothing when the pitlane opens in Melbourne.

"I've never been overly concerned about the pace because I know race weekends is when it matters," he said.

By the same token, he warns observers not to write off 2008 drivers' champion McLaren, who similarly looked off the pace at recent tests.

"You would expect McLaren maybe to have done a bit more," Webber said, "but apart from that, we all know they are more than capable of turning up in Melbourne and spanking everyone."

Haug plays down McLaren pace fears
(GMM)  Norbert Haug has played down concerns about a less than shining pre-season for McLaren's Mercedes-powered MP4-24 car.

Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 title with its predecessor, but the new single seater seemed off the pace at recent winter tests, while McLaren set tongues wagging by switching between specifications of rear wings.

But Haug, in charge of Mercedes' racing programs, said appearances of a lack of pace are the frustrating results of only minor problems.

"Whenever the track conditions were the fastest and the best times were set, our car was always in the box (pits)," the German insisted to Auto Motor und Sport after last week's Jerez test.

Meanwhile, while rivals including Ferrari, Toyota and Red Bull have particularly impressed this winter, title-chargers BMW-Sauber have been more difficult to read.

Red Bull's Mark Webber observed last week: "Last year they went to Melbourne and 'bang' were very, very quick, but they didn't show much in testing."

Hamilton names Vettel as 2009 rival
(GMM)  Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has flagged the coming of a new rival for the 2009 season.

On a visit to the German capital Berlin, the 23-year-old Briton admitted to the country's major Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he counts Sebastian Vettel as very much a dark horse for the forthcoming championship campaign.

Red Bull's new Renault-powered RB5 has been a standout of the pre-season tests, and last week at Jerez its 21-year-old driver set the fastest lap of the five-day session during a low-fuel run.

"Sebastian is on the way to being a star," Hamilton, who drives for McLaren, said.

"He proved it last year by winning in Monza that he is a winning driver.  This year he can mix it at the front and I am expecting him to do so," he added.

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