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Latest F1 news in brief - Friday UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

  • Lotus E20 best of new cars?
    Jerez paddock impressed with 2012 Lotus car
  • Vettel admits doubts over F1 grandees' 2012 pace
  • Kovalainen relieved after Briatore 'battle'
  • Mercedes fast with radical 2012 'F-duct' front wing
  • Money a 'side issue' in latest Raikkonen deal - Lopez
  • Work racing ahead at 2012 US GP site
  • Failed crash tests stall 2012 HRT's Barcelona debut
  • Dark cloud still hangs over 2012 Bahrain GP
  • Webber to have equal status in 2012 - Mateschitz New
  • Toyota confirms Buemi for Le Mans New
  • Strong baseline with new car, says Hamilton New

Jerez paddock impressed with 2012 Lotus car
(GMM)  After step noses and clever exhausts, the latest buzzword in the Jerez paddock is 'Lotus'.

The former Renault team is turning heads with its new black and gold E20 car, which has been consistently the quickest 2012 car throughout the opening test of the pre-season.

"I am one of the happiest guys in the world right now," said Romain Grosjean on Thursday after easily outpacing Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

The reigning GP2 champion was also quicker than the 2012 McLaren, steered for the first time on Thursday by Lewis Hamilton.

"The Lotus looks quite impressive," said Briton Hamilton.

Drawing conclusions based on test results is an unreliable practice, but the body language in the Lotus garage so far is confident.

"At the moment they are quicker and more consistent.

"There are more question marks about us, Ferrari and McLaren," said Vettel.

"For the first test it looks good," team boss Eric Boullier admitted to Finnish broadcaster MTV3, "but still you can't really speculate on anything.

"Between here and Melbourne, all the cars will change a lot.

"It is true that today we have a good car, we are able to drive a lot of laps and that is why we are at the front," he added.

After watching the action trackside from a corner, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg told Auto Motor und Sport that the E20 is "a missile with an incredible amount of grip".

"The Red Bull and the Lotus make the best impression," agreed 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg, who is also at Jerez.

Hamilton described Grosjean's best time - 1.18.4 - as "good", while Red Bull's Webber wanted to know what compound of Pirelli tire was fitted to the Lotus.

Told it was the medium, the Australian admitted: "Then it was a very good lap."

Grosjean smiled: "The car is easy to drive and predictable everywhere, especially in the fast corners, and when you go over the limit it is easy to get back."

Said Webber: "If Grosjean can do those lap times then we will all have to watch Kimi (Raikkonen)."

Vettel admits doubts over F1 grandees' 2012 pace
(GMM)  While the smiles in the Lotus pits are obvious at Jerez, the same cannot be said of 'grandee' outfits Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton had his first try of the MP4-27 on Thursday and said the new McLaren felt "pretty good".

"My initial feelings are pretty positive," he added.  "The car feels reasonably quick."

But with every other 2012 car featuring a radical 'step' in its front nose, some reports believe McLaren may have missed a trick by opting for a conservative solution.

"It is not a trick or a loophole that we did not spot," said McLaren's technical director Paddy Lowe.

"Some people have some interesting ideas around the use of that step, and we are looking with interest at all of that stuff," he told the Mirror.

Actually, the McLaren was not far off the pace of Sebastian Vettel's new Red Bull, but the pair were a long way from Romain Grosjean's impressive Lotus E20, and the 2011 Mercedes driven by Nico Rosberg.

Vettel, also getting his first taste of his 2012 machinery on Thursday, admitted there are "question marks" about all of F1's regular pacesetters.

Nevertheless, "We are where we want to be," the reigning world champion smiled.  "It feels fine and as we expected."

Agreed team owner Dietrich Mateschitz on a rare paddock visit: "It looks quite good but anything else would have been a surprise as the car is a development."

Much more worried is Ferrari, after the aggressive 2012 Ferrari on Thursday looked no more impressive in Fernando Alonso's hands than it had under Felipe Massa's control earlier this week.

Britain's Daily Mail said the F2012 is "ugly in more ways than one".

"I can only say that it is going to take a lot of analysis to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together," said Ferrari's British technical director Pat Fry.

"I am not happy with where we are at the moment."

Arguably even less happy on Thursday were Force India's Jules Bianchi and Nico Hulkenberg, after the French test driver crashed the new VJM05 before setting a lap time.

There were not enough parts to repair the car and so Hulkenberg's scheduled track debut was postponed.

"I'm very sorry," said Bianchi, "because my mistake has cost the team a lot of time and effort."

Kovalainen relieved after Briatore 'battle'
(GMM)  Heikki Kovalainen has admitted to relief after signing on with well-known management stable IMG.

The Finn has been handling his own career on and off the tracks since splitting in 2009 with Flavio Briatore in the wake of the 'crashgate' affair.

According to the broadcaster MTV3, Briatore did not give up Kovalainen without a fight.

"We have had a battle with Flavio for a couple of years," revealed the 30-year-old Caterham driver.  "In the meantime, we had to take care of things ourselves."

Kovalainen admitted that with his current contract up at the end of this year, his future for 2013 and beyond is open.

"Either we continue with Caterham or pursue at some other place, so in either case this (signing with IMG) is the right solution," he said.

Mercedes fast with radical 2012 'F-duct' front wing
(GMM)  Alongside step noses, clever exhausts and Lotus' surprise pace, another point of interest in the Jerez paddock this week is Mercedes' radical front wing.

Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said the German team, albeit still running its 2011 car, tested a new front wing featuring a passive F-duct style system.

In Nico Rosberg's hands, the W02 was quickest of all on Thursday, just as it had been when Michael Schumacher was driving earlier.

The German report said air enters Mercedes' revolutionary nose at the tip, where it is rechanneled onto the front wing.

Auto Motor und Sport said McLaren Whitmarsh estimates the top speed benefit of the system, which first appeared on the Mercedes in prototype form late last season, to be around 5 and 8kph.

"For the front wing, there are no (F-duct) rules," said the Auto Motor und Sport report.  "It is legal."

Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz was in the Jerez paddock on Thursday, checking out his team's progress and also the new cars fielded by rivals Ferrari and McLaren.

"Now we are all waiting for Mercedes," he said.

Money a 'side issue' in latest Raikkonen deal - Lopez
(GMM)  Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez insists he is delighted with Kimi Raikkonen, despite earlier negotiations to secure the Finn's services having foundered.

After a two year break to drive rallies and in Nascar, the 2007 world champion is back in formula one this year with the former Renault team.

"We had some contact with Kimi in 2010," revealed Lopez, according to Finland's Turun Sanomat newspaper.

Reports in 2010 linked Raikkonen with the Enstone based team, but the talks apparently soured after becoming public knowledge.

"I think (in 2010) he was still enjoying the challenge of rallying, giving the impression that he wanted to do it and F1 at the same time," said Lopez.

He also hinted that 32-year-old Raikkonen considered money as a crucial element in the 2010 talks.

"This time everything was different," he said.  "I can assure you that Kimi came back because he wanted to race and that money was a side issue."

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, joked on Thursday when he was asked if he had seen his friend Raikkonen at Jerez after the Finn's two days of running.

"I haven't.  I think he went straight to the bar," Vettel laughed to the MTV3 broadcaster.

Work racing ahead at 2012 US GP site
(GMM)  450 workers are pushing to enable Austin's new Circuit of the Americas to be ready for the US grand prix later this year.

After the Texas project's earlier hiccups, the roofs and walls of the paddock and medical buildings, media centre and main grandstand are now taking shape.

Another recent setback, however, was 2 inches of rain in the last ten days.

"We've got a lot of dry weather we know is going to be coming, and are hoping to be gaining some time," said a contractor spokesman.

He revealed that the first layer of track asphalt will be poured around April "so we can get other elements, the tire barriers (and) the FIA fence going on", he told the local Austin American Statesman.

The report said construction is scheduled to be essentially completed two months before the November 18 race.

Failed crash tests stall 2012 HRT's Barcelona debut
(GMM)  HRT team members had their fingers crossed this week that the 2012 car would pass the FIA's mandatory crash tests.

Most of the Spanish team's rivals have already begun testing their new single seaters, but at Jerez Pedro de la Rosa had to be content with the outdated 2011 machine.

"If it (the new car) passes (the FIA tests), we will have the car at the next test in Barcelona," said the Spanish driver.

"It is very important that we pass the tests even though we know it's not easy given that some top teams failed at the first attempt.

"We need every mile," de la Rosa was quoted in Spanish reports.

But bad news about two of the crash tests emerged late on Thursday, meaning de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan will not get their hands on the 2012 car at the forthcoming Barcelona test.

New rules in 2012 mean teams cannot test their new cars until they are fully homologated by the FIA.

Dark cloud still hangs over 2012 Bahrain GP
(GMM)  A dark cloud continues to hang over Bahrain's scheduled return to the F1 calendar in 2012.

In the UK - where eight of the twelve formula one teams are based - the violent attack of a British man by Bahraini youths is making waves.

News that the man had his fingers severed by a sword came on the same day as a letter in the Times newspaper signed by several influential Lords called on Bernie Ecclestone and the governing FIA to cancel the race.

"Given the current dire situation, with daily street protests and the deaths of more civilians, we do not believe that the time is right for formula one to return to Bahrain," the letter read.

Webber to have equal status in 2012 - Mateschitz
(GMM)  He may share a garage with the reigning double world champion, but Mark Webber will still have an equal chance to win in 2012.

That is the news of Red Bull's low-profile mogul Dietrich Mateschitz, who made a rare visit to a formula one paddock this week at Jerez.

Asked if Sebastian Vettel's Australian teammate will have equal status this season, the Austrian billionaire insisted: "Absolutely.

"Both get the same equipment," he told Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper.

"The only change is that Mark has a new chief mechanic."

Mateschitz, 67, said the obvious target for Red Bull in 2012 is to win again.

"We really have no choice except to defend our two world titles," he insisted.

"Also Toro Rosso will have to improve; the team should be in the midfield and fighting for fifth place with Force India, Sauber and Lotus."

Toyota confirms Buemi for Le Mans
(GMM)  Sebastien Buemi has added Le Mans to his 2012 calendar, it was confirmed officially on Friday.

It was expected the former Toro Rosso driver, who has been signed as Red Bull's full time reserve for this season, would also join Toyota's new Le Mans sports car project.

Also to drive the Japanese giant's new hybrid will be former F1 driver Anthony Davidson, Toyota said.

"This is an exciting driver lineup for our additional car," said team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita.

Strong baseline with new car, says Hamilton
Despite a current lack of rear end grip, Lewis Hamilton is confident that McLaren can begin the 2012 F1 season with a strong package. The 2008 Champion first tested the new car in Jerez on Thursday and he continues in Spain today.

McLaren stands out from the rest of Formula 1’s teams, as it is the only outfit to have introduced a new car minus a ‘platypus’ nose; however, team head Martin Whitmarsh has already said that a number of changes will be introduced before Melbourne.

“Today felt pretty good, considering it was my first time in the new car,” Hamilton said in Jerez on Thursday. “My initial feelings are pretty positive despite going through a long, tough program of initial tests – there were no nasty surprises, which is pleasing.

“This year’s car feels a bit different from last year’s: in 2011, we had so much stability from the rear end, particularly in the high-speed corners (due to the exhaust-blown diffuser, which is now banned) – but we’re now having to find that grip elsewhere or, at least, take grip off the front and somehow offload it at the rear.

“This car’s baseline is something we can really work with. I know the men and women back at the factory will take a lot from this test and translate it into something new and even better for the next test. The car feels reasonably quick – and that’s a nice feeling.”

Since 2007, Hamilton’s Drivers’ Championship finishing positions are as follows: second, first, fifth, fourth and fifth.

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