Latest F1 news in brief - Sunday UPDATE Updates shown in red below.
Di Grassi in Pirelli test talks
|Lucas di Grassi|
- 2012 start 'couldn't be worse' - Italian press
- End of an era as McLaren puts 'normal nose' in front
- 2013 France GP comeback weeks from collapse
- Brawn scolds rivals as protest threat lingers on
- Hulkenberg denies Mallya crisis to sink Force India
- Ecclestone admits Bahrain concerns
- Korea to pay less for F1 race New
- Massa blames Ferrari's balance for 'poor' weekend New
Di Grassi in Pirelli test talks
(GMM) Lucas di Grassi is in talks about returning to the role as Pirelli's official test driver.
The Brazilian worked with F1's official supplier last year at the wheel of its Toyota test car, after losing his race seat at Virgin.
Pirelli has now acquired a 2010 Renault for its private development this year.
Di Grassi is "in advanced talks with the manufacturer" for a deal that could be "announced shortly", Brazil's Globo said.
The first Pirelli track test of 2012 is scheduled for May.
2012 start 'couldn't be worse' - Italian press
(GMM) Ferrari has made a "devastating start" to the 2012 season, the Italian sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport has blasted.
"The new season could barely have begun worse," said the report.
Felipe Massa qualified sixteenth for Sunday's Australian grand prix, while Fernando Alonso also failed to make the 'Q3' cut when he spun into the gravel.
"There are deficiencies with the aerodynamics, with the tires and the speed," the Spaniard is quoted as saying.
Added Massa: "I have the impression that the car has deteriorated compared to winter testing."
Looking on the bright side, however, Alonso said Ferrari's situation is actually better than it was a year ago.
"In 2011 we started with a deficit of 1.4 seconds, so we have recovered four tenths. Last year our first victory was in July, so this year we need to do it before."
La Stampa, a major Italian daily, sees it differently.
"A year ago there was one car (Red Bull) clearly stronger than Ferrari, now there is McLaren in front, Mercedes and Lotus as well, and Toro Rosso and Force India improving ..."
Massa agrees: "We were more competitive in 2011."
Alonso, however, is staying positive for now.
"The tests in Barcelona were worse (than Australia), so it means that we have chosen the right path. We must improve and we must do it quickly," he said.
End of an era as McLaren puts 'normal nose' in front
(GMM) So far in 2012, McLaren stands all alone -- with not only the fastest car, but also the best-looking one.
With almost every other team fielding an 'ugly' stepped nose, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button dominated qualifying in Melbourne with their sleek silver machine.
A report in the Mirror suggested McLaren's rivals have all made "a design blunder".
"We felt it (the conventional nose) was the right decision and we're pleased it looks good and it's reasonably quick as well," smiled team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
As for the direction taken by McLaren's rivals, including Red Bull who pioneered the 'high nose' philosophy for the now-past blown exhaust era, Whitmarsh insisted: "It's not a question of right or wrong.
"But there's no doubt which one looks best. Ultimately, it's which one is quickest."
Writing in Autosprint, Alberto Antonini wondered if Saturday in Australia marked "the end of an era", after Red Bull dominated the past few seasons in formula one.
"A new era in F1 has begun," agreed Marca newspaper's Marco Canseco.
At least for now, there is no obvious signs of panic at Red Bull, with Mark Webber telling Speed Week: "There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the car, we just haven't got everything out of it."
As for Sunday's Melbourne opener, former driver and RTL commentator Christian Danner predicted: "I think the McLarens are unbeatable.
"Behind them we will see a wonderful fight for third place, with Grosjean, the two Mercedes drivers and, of course, Sebastian Vettel."
2013 France GP comeback weeks from collapse
(GMM) The race to put the French grand prix back on track will be over in three weeks.
That is the claim of Nicolas Deschaux, the president of the country's motor sport federation who admitted concern the deal to put Paul Ricard on the 2013 calendar is not yet done.
France has been missing from the calendar since Magny-Cours last held a grand prix in 2008, but efforts have been made to annually alternate a race between Paul Ricard - a track in Le Castellet, near Marseille - and Belgium's fabled Spa Francorchamps.
Deschaux told RMC the project needs to reach the finish-line within three weeks.
"We have always been working very hard," he said. "We have arrived in the home stretch, where either we come to finalize within three weeks, or we will go on a path that forces us to postpone."
Brawn scolds rivals as protest threat lingers on
(GMM) Ross Brawn has scolded Mercedes' critics as a protest threat continues to hang over the Australian grand prix.
Lotus is concerned the silver W03 features illegal aerodynamic solutions, and on Saturday raised the prospect of post-qualifying or post-race protests.
"It's an option," boss Eric Boullier is quoted by the Sun.
"All I can say is Red Bull and ourselves do not believe the Mercedes system is legal."
Asked about the prospect of an official protest, Mercedes' Brawn is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport: "That would be very disappointing.
"If someone believes a car is illegal, then he should protest before the weekend, not afterwards."
Brawn's argument is that a pre-event protest gives the FIA a chance to respond and, if necessary, request a team make changes to its car before official results are filed.
He continued: "We have always informed the FIA about what we are doing.
"On Wednesday of this week they took a close look at the system in our garage and found it to be legal.
"As long as the FIA has this opinion, we will use the system," said the Briton.
Brawn, in fact, smells diversionary tactics, amid earlier speculation about the legality of some exhaust solutions -- notably Red Bull's.
"The discussion about our system has diverted the focus from the exhaust issue," he agreed.
Interestingly, McLaren has stayed out of the debate so far, stating simply on Saturday that it will not join a Lotus and Red Bull protest.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh has now revealed his designers are working on something similar.
"We think we know what to do," Auto Motor und Sport quotes him saying. "In general it is difficult with the limited space in a formula one car to integrate systems at a later date.
"But I don't think we are going to have problems," added Whitmarsh.
Hulkenberg denies Mallya crisis to sink Force India
(GMM) Nico Hulkenberg has played down the link between Vijay Mallya's struggling Indian airline Kingfisher and the billionaire's formula one team Force India.
According to mainstream media reports, debt-ridden and loss-making Kingfisher is on the brink of collapse.
And new speculation swirling in the Melbourne paddock this weekend suggests the situation could affect Silverstone based Force India.
"The rumors are nothing new," the team's new race driver Nico Hulkenberg told Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
"The problems (with Kingfisher) have been there for over a year. But it's nothing to do with us, it's another business -- this is formula one, not an airline," said the German.
"I can't judge what is happening to his business. I just know that he (Mallya) is still motivated and for sure will be here for many races," added Hulkenberg, who qualified ninth for Sunday's Australian grand prix.
India's Economic Times this week reported that Mallya has pumped an extra $32 million into Force India via his personal investment company Watson and the sponsorship of Kingfisher's beer and spirit arm.
Ecclestone admits Bahrain concerns
As F1 got down to business in Melbourne on Friday, there were fresh calls for the sport not to head to Bahrain.
The Coalition Youth of the 14 Feb Revolution has called Ecclestone to scrap the April 22nd race saying the situation in Bahrain has "not eased but exacerbated."
And although Ecclestone has maintained several times in recent months that F1 will race in Bahrain, the F1 supremo admits he is wary of it coming a PR nightmare.
"They (the protesters) don't need to resort to violence," said the 81-year-old.
"All they need to do is stand on the road on the way to the circuit, with placards, and they would get their message out there. Nobody's going to shoot them.
"If I was the organizer I would wait until 4pm, or whenever the race starts, blocking the road, a few thousand of them, and then go home.
"And if they successfully delay the race then they would get more coverage than they could dream of.
"There are always people threatening. I don't believe the organizers would take a risk if they thought there was a risk. Let's see." Planet F1
Korea to pay less for F1 race
(GMM) The future of the embattled Korean grand prix looks safe for now.
The Korea Herald reports that organizers of the Yeongham event have reached a deal with Bernie Ecclestone to reduce the race fees.
Completing its bespoke circuit at the last minute, South Korea joined the calendar in 2010 but soon bemoaned the huge costs.
Sunday's media report said organizers will save more than $20 million this year by successfully negotiating a reduced race commission and annual television license fee.
The new deal will last until the end of Korea's race contract, in 2016.
The Korea Herald said organizers paid almost $40 million to Ecclestone's Formula One Management last year -- a 10 per cent rise on 2010.
The new deal will see the 10 per cent increase scrapped, the report added.
"With the successful negotiation, we'll be able to save a significant amount of money this year," said organizer Kang Hyo-seok.
"It's a still difficult situation, but we're trying hard to improve it."
Massa blames Ferrari's balance for 'poor' weekend
Felipe Massa blamed his dismal performance at the Australian Grand Prix on excessive tire degradation caused by a poor balance in his Ferrari - i.e. another Stefano Domenicali poorly designed car.
"This has been a really poor weekend for me," Massa admitted. "Already yesterday I suffered because the car was badly balanced and today, it was probably even worse, because after a few laps I was struggling with the tires. I had got a great start and had managed to make up a few places and I was hoping to finish in the points.
"We tried to bring forward the first stop, but also on the second set of soft tires we had the same problems: the car was sliding and the degradation was much greater than for the others. I would not say I was driving aggressively and I was actually trying not to be hard on the tires, but there was nothing I could do. Even on the mediums, the situation did not change. We must work to understand why we could not reproduce the right balance on the car, as we had for example at the Barcelona tests."