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Latest F1 news in brief
  • F1 'boycott' row fires up on season eve
  • Branson due in Aus to confirm Brawn deal
  • Bernie still hoping for Aus night race
  • Diffuser plaintiffs send case to FIA court
  • FOTA open to budget cap concept
  • Fisi admits he needs good season in 2009
  • Rosberg says fuel tanks 'not empty' on Friday

F1 'boycott' row fires up on season eve
(GMM)  A row between Bernie Ecclestone and the F1 teams' alliance FOTA stepped up a gear on the eve of Australian grand prix action.

After F1 chief executive Ecclestone leaked to the press that Renault and McLaren chiefs recently threatened to boycott the Melbourne race, FOTA hit back by insisting that Flavio Briatore and Ron Dennis had "presented the unified views of all FOTA members".

In a statement, the teams' body said the dispute with Ecclestone is about money "owed" for the past three seasons, with the matter needing to be settled before a new Concorde agreement can be signed.

Ecclestone's Formula One Administration (FOA) replied with its own statement to correct FOTA's "inaccurate and misleading statements".

FOA denied that "any amount" of money is owed to "any team", because the existing Concorde "expired at the end of 2007".

Some teams, however, have penned individual contracts with FOA, while others have been paid "substantial payments ... on account of future prize fund entitlements they will have when they sign a contract".

78-year-old Ecclestone has not travelled to Australia for the 2009 season opener.

Branson due in Aus to confirm Brawn deal
(GMM)  Sir Richard Branson has begun to appear on guest lists at the Albert Park circuit, intensifying speculation his Virgin brand is set to sponsor the Brawn team.

An announcement is expected on Saturday.  "I've heard the rumor, we'll find out tomorrow," team chief executive Nick Fry told the BBC in Melbourne.

"Virgin and Brawn have come to commercial terms which he (Branson) thinks are viable," F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone confirmed to the Times.  "Both he and the team are happy."

The 78-year-old billionaire said he was so keen on bringing Branson into formula one that he would even have proceeded without Brawn's support.

"I've been pushing, pushing, pushing and pushing.  If they hadn't done it, Richard and I would have done it anyway.

"But I am delighted they have just got going on it and have a deal in place.  It's good for the team, it's good for formula one, I'm very happy with it," Ecclestone added.

Bernie still hoping for Aus night race
(GMM)  Bernie Ecclestone on Friday said he had not given up hope that Melbourne will switch to become another formula one night race.

Essentially on the grounds of the cost of expensive floodlighting, Australian grand prix promoter Ron Walker ruled out the night race concept.

But to better accommodate European television audiences, he did agree to 5pm starts for qualifying and the grand prix, dubbed in the media as 'twilight' racing.

Ecclestone told local Fairfax Radio on Friday that he was hopeful it will stir Walker's interest in taking the twilight concept even further.

"Let's see how this twilight event goes.  Let's have a good look at it.  Maybe Ron then will have a look at it and think 'my God' and it (a night race) may suit him from a marketing point," the Briton said.

Diffuser plaintiffs send case to FIA court
(GMM)  With the stewards rejecting the diffuser protest, the main controversy at the scene of the Australian grand prix got set to take its next steps.

Hinting at yet another protest against Brawn, Williams and Toyota after Sunday's checkered flag, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo told the La Repubblica newspaper that he "can't rule out an angry gesture" at the end of the season opener.

The three teams' diffuser designs, while technically legal according to the regulations, contravene the "spirit" of the rules, the protesting teams argued in detailed protests numbering dozens of pages.

In first Friday practice, Williams was first and second fastest, while both Brawns were also within the top six.

Germany's Auto Motor und Sport publication, meanwhile, reports that the protesting teams - Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault (BMW's protest was not allowed) - are indeed intending to now send the case to the FIA Court of Appeal.

They have already informed the stewards of their intention, which must be backed up with letters within two days.

FOTA open to budget cap concept
(GMM)  Leading lights of the FOTA team movement do not object to the concept of budget capping in formula one.

Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA are championing a two-tiered system, where the bigger teams can keep spending according to the current regulations, while small teams adhere to a 33m (euro) cap but enjoy more technical freedom.

Some analysts predict that the position is designed to put the big teams off the idea of unlimited spending, while the parties compromise on a more realistic budget limit.

"We could imagine a budget cap, although the cap size has to be agreed between the teams and the FIA," BMW's Mario Theissen told F1's official website.

The German said he objects to the two-tiered concept, however.

"We absolutely do not like ... the thought of a 'League A' and a 'League B' in formula one," said the Swiss based chief.

"To split formula one in two different categories would definitely not help a manufacturer justify their engagement," Theissen added.

The topic is likely to get mileage in the forthcoming meetings of the FOTA body, which according to Ecclestone and the FIA's Max Mosley may feature members who actually back the small-figure cap concept.

"So far we have achieved unity between all the teams on all issues, but this would be a tricky one," Theissen acknowledged.  "But I am confident that we would come to a conclusion which would be feasible."

Fisi admits he needs good season in 2009
(GMM)  Giancarlo Fisichella admits he needs a good season in 2009 to safeguard his place on next year's formula one grid.

The Roman on Friday officially kicked off his fourteenth consecutive F1 campaign, meaning that after Rubens Barrichello, he is the most experienced active driver in the sport.

But Fisichella, now 36, lost his top Renault seat at the end of 2007, and failed to score a single point when he drove for Force India last year.

In 2009 he is back in action with the independent Silverstone based squad, admitting that the pressure will be on him to have better results.

"It is quite important for me to have a good season, score points and keep the motivation high to ensure I keep running in the future," he told the Indian news portal Rediff.

The early signs were positive in Australia on Friday, Force India managing to stay away from the tail of the pace, despite Adrian Sutil beating Fisichella to the best times with the VJM02.

"I'm not 100 per cent comfortable just yet," he said in Melbourne on Friday evening.  "We're in better shape than last year for sure though."

Rosberg says fuel tanks 'not empty' on Friday
(GMM)  Nico Rosberg on Friday evening admitted he was surprised to be leaving Albert Park the fastest driver of the opening day of the 2009 championship.

His teammate Kazuki Nakajima was also quick in Melbourne, raising the prospect that Grove based Williams could be set for a return to top form following several years of struggling without manufacturer support.

The obvious observation, however, was that the Toyota-powered FW31 - among the so-nicknamed 'diffuser 3' group - may also have been running low on fuel.

"I am a bit surprised," German Rosberg, 23, said after emerging with the best time from both 90 minute practice sessions.

"It is difficult to know exactly what to think, but it's not as if we were driving (with an) empty (fuel tank).  We are looking much better maybe than we had expected.

"What happens from now on, we will have to see," he added.

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