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Latest F1 news in brief
  • Attention shifts to final winter test
  • Crisis puts F1 Paddock Club 'at risk'
  • Rivals clear of Red Bull pace - Webber
  • Drivers unmoved as F1 goes economy-class
  • McLaren calm amid rear diffuser saga
  • Career wasted, De la Rosa could leave F1 after 2009

Attention shifts to final winter test
(GMM)  On the Spaniard's last day of pre-season testing at Jerez, Fernando Alonso on Monday broke the recent shock dominance of the Brawn team.

However, on the second day of the final winter test outing, Alonso's Renault was only fractionally faster than the Mercedes-powered BGP001 driven mainly by Rubens Barrichello.

Moreover, it is believed that while the R29 was fuelled light for a qualifying simulation when it clocked its fast time, the Brawn was laden with fuel for the entire session.

"This has been the first time we have run on a really hot track and the information we have from today will be very useful for the first few races," said Alonso, whose winter program is now complete.

Jenson Button managed only 12 laps in the Brawn before a gearbox problem struck, but the Briton still managed to outpace the struggling McLaren driven by reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The MP4-24 was wearing a number of subtle aerodynamic changes, but the most attention centered on the rear of the car, where one side of the diffuser was notably fitted with what is presumed to be a device to record data.

Mercedes' Norbert Haug, however, admits that there will be no quick fix in the quest to return to contention for race wins.

"Expect us to fight back even if it takes some time," the German said.  "However, it might take us a few races to significantly improve."

Williams' Nico Rosberg brought up the rear at the wheel of the FW31, which after the advice of the FIA's Charlie Whiting no longer features the prominent cockpit cowling fins.

The other teams concluded their winter programs last week.

Crisis puts F1 Paddock Club 'at risk'
(GMM)  Bernie Ecclestone has downplayed the effect on his business of the global recession, but not all figures are as calm, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The sport's owners are heavily in debt, and facing dramatic declines in income, the business publication said.

Corporate hospitality - with the glitzy $3000 per-person, per-day Paddock Club the centerpiece - reportedly faces a difficult year.

One example is BMW, who has completely axed its regular corporate spend of nearly 500,000 euros for the forthcoming Australian grand prix.

Moreover, while remaining in the sport with Williams this year and next, the embattled Royal Bank of Scotland has similarly slashed its hospitality and trackside advertising bill.

"Such cutbacks threaten the whole profitability of the Paddock Club business model, given the vast overheads of transporting catering equipment around the world," the Financial Times report said.

An F1 debt-holder is quoted as saying: "Although this isn't the largest of F1's revenue streams, it is the most at risk."

FIA president Max Mosley said in January: "I cannot envisage that Formula One Management's (FOM) forecast earnings still hold in the economic crisis."

F1 chief executive Ecclestone is not talking openly about these issues, but he has undoubtedly shifted his attention from Europe in the quest for more lucrative markets.

"Asia is very important," he recently told Malaysia's Star newspaper.  "I have been working for the last 20 years to get F1 into as many countries as possible.  There should be no limit to where we can take and position F1."

In a new interview with the Guardian newspaper, meanwhile, he added: "I said a long time ago that the stock market would crash and that Europe would become a third-world economy.  And it will."

Rivals clear of Red Bull pace - Webber
(GMM)  After a promising birth for the RB5, the 2009 Red Bull car is reportedly now facing a midfield finish at next weekend's Australian grand prix.

At its early tests, the Adrian Newey-penned car looked set to join Ferrari, BMW, Toyota and Renault at the closely-fought front of this season's grid.

But as the reliability of the Renault-powered car improved, the development of its sheer pace was not as good, culminating in a mediocre showing at its last pre-Melbourne outing in Barcelona last week.

Among the most concerned is Australian driver Mark Webber, who has not looked a match this winter for his young teammate Sebastian Vettel.

After Barcelona, Webber told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport: "The car did not feel bad, and that is the most alarming thing.

"The others have developed (their cars) better than we have," the 32-year-old added, admitting that the basic setup of the car suits Vettel's driving style better than his own.

Webber, who at Barcelona returned to the saddle of a bicycle and did a lap of the Spanish layout, insists that his recovering leg injury is not the cause for his struggle with the RB5.

Drivers unmoved as F1 goes economy-class
(GMM)  The F1 world is dramatically tightening its belt, but most of the top drivers will be unscathed.

At Tuesday's meeting of the World Motor Sport Council, more radical cost-cutting is expected to be rolled out by the FIA, including possible budget caps, and further test limits and car standardizations.

F1 teams are also making their own cutbacks, including BMW, who is believed to have radically slashed its 2009 budget for corporate hospitality.

"I know that many in the team have for example had their flights downgraded, and also their hotels.  Obviously more attention is being paid to (expenses)," team driver Nick Heidfeld said in an interview with Germany's DPA news agency.

However, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel has revealed that while he flies economy, "at BMW even the test drivers are in business class!"

Heidfeld confirmed: "It doesn't affect me with the flights because my contract states which class I fly."

Moreover, cutbacks aside, team boss Mario Theissen insists BMW is committed to its F1 project.  "From a cost-benefit point of view, formula one is very positive for us," he said.

McLaren calm amid rear diffuser saga
(GMM)  Renault and Ferrari have made clear their concerns about rear diffusers, but McLaren has not followed suit in the same fashion.

It is believed that the respective diffuser designs on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars are controversial according to the spirit of the 2009 rules, but technically legal when exercising a loophole in the wording.

Renault's Flavio Briatore has accused "three teams" of producing illegal cars, while Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali recently admitted that some designers "took a different approach" with the rules.

When the controversy arose, FIA president Max Mosley said the teams involved had been "clever" in their application of the regulations but could not rule out a formal protest at scrutineering in Melbourne.

"We accept the rule interpretation of the FIA," Norbert Haug, Mercedes' competition chief in collaboration with McLaren, told Express.

"Therefore the solutions seen so far are legal," he added.

It is understood that Brawn's diffuser design with its BGP001 car has taken the Williams and Toyota concept to a new level.

However, it would be simplistic to boil down the team's performance to one element, especially as many paddock figures have spoken with high praise about the Mercedes-powered car's total aerodynamic package.

Team head Ross Brawn, likened to Albert Einstein in a caricature by the German newspaper Bild, said: "It will take the other teams some time to copy our ideas, if they manage to at all."

Career wasted, De la Rosa could leave F1 after 2009
(GMM)  Pedro de la Rosa has told members of the Spanish press that he will leave formula one at the end of 2009 if he does not return to a race cockpit.

The Spaniard, who at 38 is the oldest F1 driver, said the new test restrictions make a full-time test role untenable.  Essentially he has wasted his racing career waiting for a full-time ride in F1 that he never got.

It is understood his contract with McLaren runs out this year, and he admitted that there is only a "small" chance of a race seat in 2010 with Force India, despite the two teams' close collaboration.

"If I cannot race and I cannot even test, I will go to another category.  Life does not end at formula one," he told Spanish journalists at the team's Woking headquarters.

De la Rosa revealed that his schedule affords him only "a few days" of testing for the entire year.

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