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

  • Ross Brawn
    Brawn plays down 'new F-duct' hype
  • 2012 'tea-leaf reading' to race on for now
  • Red Bull isolated as rivals push for cost-cut rules
  • Protest threat hangs over Melbourne qualifying
  • Red Bull creator dies at 89
  • Frank Williams hands over team leadership to daughter
  • Alonso: There’s no point getting angry New
  • HRT applies for dispensation to race New
  • Perez penalized for changing gearbox New
  • No season opener for HRT, Marussia qualifies New

Brawn plays down 'new F-duct' hype
(GMM)  Ross Brawn has moved to play down the hype surrounding Mercedes' new so-called 'F-duct' solutions.

The active F-ducts of 2010 are banned, but clever 'passive' and therefore legal solutions have emerged not only on Mercedes' car this year.

It is the talk of the paddock, and in Friday's second practice session, Michael Schumacher topped the times with the W03 car, featuring front and rear F-ducts.

When asked about the new 'F-ducts', team boss Brawn said in Melbourne: "I'm surprised they (people) are calling it that, because I don't quite know what that means.

"We have an interesting system on the car and it's not complicated at all, so I'm sure other teams are looking at it and they need to decide if it's worthwhile or not."

It is such a big talking point this weekend because, in 2009, the Brackley based team - then Brawn GP - raced to the title as the first to perfect a double-diffuser.

And last year, it was the now-banned blown exhausts that set the pace.

But Brawn insists that the new F-ducts are "not in the same magnitude" as those title-winning innovations.

"It's obviously helpful," he admitted, "that's why we're doing it but it's not a massive performance gain."

Nonetheless, the arms race has begun.

"That's going to cost a lot of money," Sauber's technical director Matt Morris told Auto Motor und Sport.

2012 'tea-leaf reading' to race on for now
(GMM)  Official track action in 2012 has now begun, but the pecking order is still totally unclear.

"The tea-leaf reading will go on until after the third practice session (on Saturday)," Peter Sauber told Switzerland's Blick.

Only after that one-hour session will Melbourne qualifying be looming, but many paddock insiders believe Malaysia - a more 'normal' circuit - will be a better barometer.

The confusion is greater in 2012 because the field is apparently so tightly packed.

"I've never known it as open as this," said McLaren's Jenson Button, who set Friday's fastest lap time.  "Never."

Lewis Hamilton agreed: "I'm convinced that Red Bull, Mercedes and us are equal."

Red Bull, however, is widely believed to be the frontrunner, but Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber said they were unhappy with the balance of the RB8 on Friday.

"We still have a lot of work to do," said Webber.

Also unclear is just how good the new Mercedes is, after Michael Schumacher in second practice returned to the 'P1' position he had become so familiar with in his first career pre-2010.

"When I saw the (W03) car on track I immediately sent a text to Norbert (Haug)," Alex Wurz revealed to Sport1, "(saying) 'looks very good'.

"I honestly have to say they are not yet on Red Bull's level, but they are not too far away," the former F1 driver, who is in Melbourne as Williams' new driver mentor, added.

It seems clear that Ferrari ranks somewhere beneath the top trio, and Spain's Marca newspaper reports that a substantially-redesigned chassis will not get up and running until the European season begins in mid-May.

"We definitely haven't seen the real picture yet," Fernando Alonso is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, after going fourth quickest in both of Friday's sessions.

"Vettel is not as bad as tenth," he insisted, "and Kovalainen is not as good as eighth."

Red Bull's Christian Horner admitted: "Qualifying will be the first time we have driven with empty tanks."

Team advisor Dr Helmut Marko added: "We are satisfied, it looks quite good.  But McLaren is very strong, and the Mercedes (cars) will be in the top five."

Triple world champion Niki Lauda told Germany's Speed Week: "I am sure the championship this year will be decided later that it was in 2011.

"The top cars and the whole field appears to be closer together -- it could be a great season."

Red Bull isolated as rivals push for cost-cut rules
(GMM)  Red Bull has been isolated from F1's other teams, as the FIA is asked to step in and police their cost-cutting efforts.

Last year, there remained suspicions the energy drink owned team - the winner of the past two world championships - flouted the 'resource restriction agreement' (RRA).

But the agreement was only an initiative of the teams' trade union FOTA, which has now essentially collapsed.

Moreover, the agreement includes only financial sanctions for breaches, and Red Bull was never penalized anyway -- Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo said recently he didn't push the issue "Because I didn't want it to be an excuse for our performance".

A letter has now been addressed to FIA president Jean Todt requesting that the governing body step in and make the RRA an official sporting regulation.

Breaches would therefore carry a sporting sanction, such as the loss of points, or race bans.

"Yes, it (the letter) was unanimous.  Most of the teams have signed it," said Lotus team boss Eric Boullier.

He would not, however, confirm the identity of the teams that did not sign.

But a report in the Kolner Express newspaper claims "only two teams did not sign: Red Bull and the sister team Toro Rosso".

Protest threat hangs over Melbourne qualifying
(GMM)  Rumors are swirling in the Melbourne paddock that Red Bull and Lotus are preparing to lodge a post-qualifying protest.

"I've heard something like that," confirmed Mercedes' motor sport director Norbert Haug to German Sky television.

They are reportedly unhappy with the new 'F-duct' solutions seen on the W03 car.

British television Sky confirmed that team boss Eric Boullier has confirmed that Lotus will protest the outcome of Saturday afternoon's qualifying result.

"The FIA has its opinion and so do we," Haug added.

"I remember the noise made about the double diffuser; a noise, incidentally, that came from the same place," said the German.

Red Bull creator dies at 89
(GMM)  The original creator of the Red Bull energy drink has died.

Chaleo Yoovidhya formulated the drink - Krathing Daeng, which translates to 'Red Bull' in English - in the 70s, before co-founding a company with Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz in 1984.

Thai state media MCOT on Saturday said billionaire Yoovidhya, 89, died of natural causes.

Billionaire Mateschitz owns the Red Bull and Toro Rosso formula one teams.

Frank Williams hands over team leadership to daughter
Frank Williams has been a integral part of one of Formula One's most successful teams since forming it 35 years ago, but he is now starting to pass on his legacy.

The Williams F1 boss, who turns 70 this month, announced on Friday that he is standing down from the British team's board and that he will be replaced by his daughter Claire.

Williams, who is tetraplegic and has been confined to a wheelchair since a car accident in 1986, said the time had come for him to hand control over to the next generation. However, he will remain as team principal and keep his majority shareholding.

"I have decided to signal the next stage in the gradual but inevitable process of handing over the reins to the next generation by stepping down from the board at the end of this month," he said in a statement on Williams' website.

"It is no secret that Claire is my daughter but I am proud to say that she has fought hard to earn this appointment and, of all the battles she has had to fight, the prejudices of her father were not the least challenging.

"I shall be looking to Claire to represent the Williams family on the board and I know that she will work tirelessly."

As well as her board role, Claire Williams will start work as director of marketing and communications on April 1 in the place of the departing Dominic Reilly.

Alonso: There’s no point getting angry
Fernando Alonso’s post-qualifying feelings at Albert Park did not reflect the way the Spaniard was feeling after spinning out in Q2. He and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa will start the 2012 season from lowly positions of 12th and 16th.

Pushing over the limit in a car which has been unstable since the start of pre-season testing, Alonso spun at Turn 1 after approaching the corner with two wheels on the grass.

“It went like this: I got a bit on the grass under braking, the car took off on its own and I found myself in the gravel,” he explained. “I had managed to keep the engine running and was hoping the marshals would be able to push me back on track. Tomorrow we will be racing defensively and will try and do what we can, hopefully making the most of having four sets of new tires.

“It’s true our target at the start of the year was to fight for the win right from the beginning, and we have not managed that, but this will be a long season and all we can do is work on improving performance…there’s no point getting angry as it does not serve any purpose.”

Massa echoed his team-mate’s sentiments, having struggled all day:

“I am very disappointed; this is not the start to the season I was expecting or hoping for. It was difficult right from the start of FP3 - the balance of the car was never what I wanted and I never managed to get a clean lap. I was always lacking grip, both on the Mediums and the Softs, and I suffered with oversteer on entry and understeer on exit. I don’t know why, but the car seemed to be worse than in winter testing, maybe down to the characteristics of this circuit.”

HRT applies for dispensation to race
HRT has put forward an official request to take part in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, despite both of its cars missing the 107 cut-off time for the second consecutive year.

As Lewis Hamilton recorded a pole lap of 1:24.922, HRT’s best was 1:33.495 with Pedro de la Rosa – almost two seconds slower than the Marussia of Charles Pic.

“It’s obvious that we still have a lot of work ahead to be where we should be and even more to improve on that potential, but today was the first time we were able to complete both sessions with both cars and that is positive,” says Luis Pérez-Sala, HRT Team Principal.

“Although today wasn’t the result we desired, we’ve fixed some of yesterday’s issues and were able to spot out the weakest points. Now we can work on them and find a solution. These solutions aren’t immediate but with every day and every session we’re in better conditions. Time is precious and next week in Malaysia we’ll have another four sessions to prepare for the next race.”

Between seasons, the Spanish team has undergone a significant technical reshuffle.

Perez penalized for changing gearbox
Sergio Perez has been handed a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after Australian Grand Prix qualifying. The Mexican will now begin Sunday’s race from 22nd position.

Sauber managed 13th and 17th places on Saturday, with Kamui Kobayashi leading the charge, but the Pérez gearbox issue was located shortly after the session ended at six o’clock.

In accordance with FIA Sporting Regulations, gearboxes must last for five race weekends before being changed without a punishment.

No season opener for HRT, Marussia qualifies
(GMM)  Narain Karthikeyan was unequivocal as he walked through the paddock gates on Saturday.

"I have to qualify.  There are no two ways about it," said the Indian.

It had been a difficult winter and an even more difficult season opener so far for the struggling Spanish team.

Saturday would be even worse, with Karthikeyan and his teammate Pedro de la Rosa indeed failing to get within 107 per cent of the fastest time in 'Q1'.

Often, the FIA allows drivers who fail to qualify to start the race anyway, but the new F112 has simply not merited a free-kick in Melbourne.

"We did everything we could," de la Rosa is quoted by EFE news agency.

"In the end, we have so much room for improvement and it is true to say that we have to change many things, we know what they are, so all I can say is that we all have to be patient.

"I said when I arrived in Australia that this is a test for us; this is our preseason.  The downside is we are doing it in front of all the cameras.

"It should be done already but it was not possible for us, so what we do now is work for Malaysia and the following races and focus on the areas that are important to make the car better."

A report in AS newspaper said the biggest problem with the F112 car is the hydraulic system, which cannot be repaired in time for next weekend's Malaysian grand prix.

"I am proud of this team -- you cannot ask for more than 24 hours a day of work from people," said de la Rosa.

On the brighter side, fellow straggler Marussia did manage to qualify on merit in Australia.

"We've all had a great lift but we have a long way to go and plenty of hard work to do to make the car quicker," said Timo Glock.

He told Auto Motor und Sport that it will some time.

"Over the next few weeks we will do the little things first," said the German.  "Unfortunately we don't have the capacity of someone like Red Bull so we would rather work a little longer on a big update."

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