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

  • Force India boss Vijay Mallya
    Aerolab ruling to cost Force India millions - report
  • Caterham's midfield bid not dead yet - boss
  • Mercedes could speed ahead in Malaysia
  • Stewart tips Schumacher to race beyond 2012
  • No F-duct yet on dominant McLaren
  • Horner says no to Ferrari switch
  • Malaysia not committed to F1 beyond 2015
  • Ferrari denies Massa axe reports
  • Button, Alesi tip Lotus to shine at Sepang
  • Mercedes has breached teams' agreement - Red Bull New
  • Massa tries to ignore axe rumors New

Aerolab ruling to cost Force India millions - report
(GMM)  Force India has been ordered by a British court to pay over a million dollars.

With team boss Vijay Mallya already in financial strife over his collapsing airline Kingfisher, his Silverstone based team must now pay Italian wind tunnel Aerolab.

The high court judge on Wednesday said the amount, which according to the Daily Telegraph will skyrocket to over $6 million once legal costs are added, is for unpaid fees following a copyright dispute with Aerolab and Caterham.

The newspaper said the bill could be the final straw for struggling Mallya, who may now cede control of Force India to 42.5 per cent shareholder Subrata Roy, another Indian billionaire.

But Force India hit back in a media statement on Wednesday by revealing that Aerolab and its client Caterham were found "liable for copyright infringement".

"Some parts created using Force India confidential information were used on the Team Lotus race cars in the early part of the 2010 season," it read.

Force India said it has referred the court's ruling to the FIA.

Caterham's midfield bid not dead yet - boss
(GMM)  Caterham's hopes of pushing into the midfield in 2012 are not dead yet.

That is the claim of team owner and boss Tony Fernandes, despite the former Team Lotus looking to have once again emulated the pecking-order of the past two years by outpacing only Marussia and HRT in Australia.

"We have obviously improved our pace relative to our 2011 speed," the Malaysian businessman said.

"But the teams ahead have also improved, so even though we are closer than this time last year we still have work to do to bridge the gap in qualifying," he added.

Fernandes insists, however, that the race pace shown by Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov in Melbourne last weekend was "on a par" with some other teams.

Former F1 driver and Finnish commentator Mika Salo, however, is not impressed.

"The Caterham car is neither fast nor reliable," he told MTV3.

Mercedes could speed ahead in Malaysia
(GMM)  After all the pre-season hype, the Melbourne paddock banter about its clever F-duct system and a strong showing in qualifying, Mercedes failed to shine in last Sunday's season opener.

The situation has many paddock regulars confused as to just how good the new W03 really is.

"Good question," Michael Schumacher told Bild newspaper at an event this week in Malaysia.  "We don't know yet."

Agreed Finnish commentator and former F1 driver Mika Salo: "It's going to be interesting.

"Malaysia requires a lot more from a car aerodynamically than does Australia.

"I am sure McLaren will still be at the front, but Red Bull and Mercedes will probably be closer."

So what happened to Mercedes' early promise in Australia?

"In the race we had some problems, especially with the tires -- they degraded too quickly," revealed team boss Ross Brawn.

But for Sepang, "We have an idea about how we can get it under control," he added.

If that is true, then Sir Jackie Stewart is looking forward to seeing "the old Michael Schumacher" for the first time since he initially retired in 2006.

"He is driving well again," the famous Scot told Kolner Express newspaper, "but so too is Nico Rosberg.

"They have a much better car than last year, and Michael is finally showing what he is capable of.

"I don't know if that will be (good enough for) victories, but for sure we will see him again on the podium," added Stewart.

Stewart tips Schumacher to race beyond 2012
(GMM)  Sir Jackie Stewart has tipped fellow multiple world champion Michael Schumacher to keep racing beyond 2012.

"He has had a lot of criticism," the triple world champion told Kolner Express newspaper, "including from me."

Triple world champion Stewart, 72, said the famous German has taken a lot of time to get back up to speed since returning in 2010, but the final piece of the puzzle is a strong Mercedes in 2012.

"He has had a hard time.  So why should he stop now that he knows he can still keep up with the boys?

"I think he wants to collect the fruits of the work that he has been doing with Mercedes," the Scot added.

No F-duct yet on dominant McLaren
(GMM)  Contrary to recent speculation, McLaren does not yet have a Mercedes-style new F-duct on its dominant 2012 car.

When boss Martin Whitmarsh said in Melbourne that he would not be joining a theoretical protest against the Mercedes innovation, many suggested it was because the MP4-27 is already hiding something similar.

Not yet, although the FIA did take a long look at the silver car in Melbourne.

"If they were looking for an F-duct, we don't have one," Whitmarsh smiled to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

In fact, the scrutineers were checking and then re-checking the height of the MP4-27's front wing.

But the F-duct might be coming.

"All the teams are going to be trying to extract the maximum within the permitted regulations," confirmed managing director Jonathan Neale in a media teleconference this week.

But he also revealed that McLaren doesn't yet "understand well enough" how the Mercedes system works.

Melbourne winner Jenson Button and his teammate Lewis Hamilton will therefore race a basically unchanged McLaren this weekend in Malaysia.

But Hamilton's downbeat mood has been picked up with the news that he was beaten by Button from pole last Sunday due to a minor clutch issue.

"It wasn't my fault," said the Briton, "but we now understand and know how to improve in the future."

As for their differing race performances, Hamilton insists he now understands "the reasons" for Melbourne "and it puts me in a really positive frame of mind" ahead of this weekend's Malaysian grand prix.

Horner says no to Ferrari switch
(GMM)  Christian Horner has told British newspapers he is not switching to Ferrari.

As Red Bull looks to have its fourth consecutive championship-contending car on its hands for 2012, F1's most famous team Ferrari has kicked off its new title campaign in stark contrast, with a car not yet fit for the podium.

Designer Adrian Newey has already said no to a switch to the Maranello marque, and now Horner - Red Bull's 38-year-old team principal - has scotched similar speculation about his own future.

"Ferrari is a great team but my future is committed to Red Bull," he is quoted by the Sun.

"You can see what the appeal is at Ferrari but you can also see the pitfalls."

And the Briton is quoted by the Daily Mail: "Dietrich Mateschitz gave me the chance as a 31-year-old to step into formula one and entrusted me to build a team for him.

"I feel very much part of the team and I have no burning desire within me to go and work at Ferrari.

"I am happy where I am.  I have a multi-year commitment," Horner insisted.

Malaysia not committed to F1 beyond 2015
(GMM)  Malaysia is not yet committing its future to the formula one calendar beyond its 2015 deal.

Sepang was Hermann Tilke's first full creation that made its grand prix debut in 1999.

But Razlan Razali, the Kuala Lumpur circuit's chief executive, said on Wednesday he is unable to say if there will be a race in 2016.

"We can recommend all we want, but as (the) prime minister announced last year, the decision will be made by the cabinet," he told the New Straits Times.

Sepang commissioned consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) last year to study the economic impact of the Malaysian grand prix.

"PWC advised us to have another study on this year's event," revealed Razali.

He also pointed some criticism at the lack of enthusiasm from some parts of the government, particularly when it comes to promoting the annual race.

"Not all ministries seem interested," Razlan admitted.

Ferrari denies Massa axe reports
(GMM)  Ferrari has swiftly denied reports Felipe Massa could be dumped even before his 2012 contract runs out.

Among the Italian press' hypothetical candidates for the struggling Brazilian's seat are Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and even the out-of-work Italian Jarno Trulli.

But according to O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, Ferrari spokesman Luca Colajanni dismissed the reports as being "without foundation".

Colajanni added that Ferrari is fully supportive of Massa's situation, and has built up a new F2012 chassis for him to race this weekend after underperforming in Australia.

Oricchio quoted Massa as having said after Melbourne that he believed there was a problem with his original chassis.

"My setup was not very different from Alonso's," said the 30-year-old, "but my tires were gone after five laps."

Button, Alesi tip Lotus to shine at Sepang
(GMM)  Two experts have tipped Lotus to shine this weekend at Sepang.

The black and gold E20 car was a standout of the winter pre-season, but Kimi Raikkonen qualified poorly in Australia while Romain Grosjean was punted into early retirement by Pastor Maldonado.

Seeing the checkered flag first in Melbourne was McLaren's championship leader Jenson Button, but he said he is expecting a "strong fight" this weekend.

"Of course we're not relaxing," said the Briton.

"Both Red Bull drivers were very quick in the race (in Australia), and I think we can expect further strong challenges (in Malaysia) from Mercedes and Lotus," added Button.

Also anticipating a Malaysian push by Lotus is team ambassador Jean Alesi, the former Ferrari race winner.

"The car should suit Sepang well," said the Frenchman.

"In testing in Jerez and Barcelona it was particularly good in the fast turns, which is what defines the Malaysia track.

"Lotus appear to be quicker than everyone except McLaren," added Alesi.

He is worried, however, that the former Renault team might not be able to keep up its pace throughout 2012.

"Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari have much bigger budgets," said Alesi.

"They have a brilliant team at Enstone but it is really tough to match the development pace of the biggest teams, and I think that will be Lotus' challenge this year."

Mercedes has breached teams' agreement - Red Bull
(GMM)  Red Bull has stepped up the technical row with Mercedes by accusing the German team of breaching a gentlemen's agreement.

Red Bull and Lotus last weekend threatened to protest the results in Australia, due to Mercedes' innovative new 'F-duct'-like solution.

"They are not complying with the agreement of the technical working group," said Christian Horner.

Adrian Newey also told Auto Bild Motorsport: "The FIA has allowed the system, but Mercedes has gone against the gentlemen's agreement of the teams."

He is apparently referring to a meeting last year in which teams informally agreed not to pursue certain technical directions.

Massa tries to ignore axe rumors
(GMM)  Felipe Massa's Ferrari seat is a big talking point in the Sepang paddock on Thursday.

Following a dire performance in Australia for the Brazilian, the Italian press has named Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil and even Jarno Trulli as possible candidates to immediately oust Massa.

Mexican Perez, the cream of Ferrari's development program and already at Ferrari-powered Sauber, said in Malaysia: "It's very early to say that or speculate."

Very keen for a chance like this, however, is Force India refugee Sutil, who has been left without a job in the wake of his criminal conviction.

"I am very motivated and I'm training hard to stay fit," the German is quoted on Thursday by Auto Bild Motorsport.

All eyes will be on Massa this weekend, as Ferrari has agreed to build him up a new F2012 chassis in the wake of his lackluster performance in Melbourne.

"I really don't care," he said in reaction to the rumors, "I have a job."

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