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

Mike Gascoyne would pick Button
  • Gascoyne would choose Button over Hamilton
  • Schumacher not expecting Sepang pole
  • Alonso has 'samurai' tattoo - report
  • Lotus' Lux reveals - 'I forgive Sutil'
  • F1 agrees new Concorde with 'majority' of teams
  • Paddock abuzz with Concorde intrigue New
  • Mercedes goal is 'third force' for now - Haug New
  • Austin F1 organizers hope to avert potential permit snag New
  • Street festival planned downtown during Austin F1 weekend New
  • Framing for main Austin grandstand at F1 circuit has begun New

Gascoyne would choose Button over Hamilton
(GMM)  If Caterham's Mike Gascoyne was in the market for a McLaren driver, he would sign Jenson Button.

The green-clad team's technical boss, Gascoyne, was at Renault in 2002 when it was decided to oust Button in favor of Fernando Alonso.

But a decade on, Gascoyne says the tables have now turned, as 2009 world champion Button now heads the 2012 points standings for McLaren.

"We weren't wrong (to replace Button), Fernando won two titles very quickly, but Jenson has developed into a hell of a driver," Gascoyne is quoted by the UK Express newspaper.

He said Button's advantage over Lewis Hamilton, his highly rated teammate, is his mental strength.

"The difference right now is that Jenson can handle it when Lewis wins, but Lewis really struggles when Jenson does," said Gascoyne.

Another of Button's strengths, he explained, is his smooth driving style, which better conserves Pirelli's highly-degrading tires.

"Lewis is struggling to match that and then with his attacking style, the more aggression he puts in the harder it gets for him in the race," said Gascoyne.

Comparing today's Button with the 22-year-old of 2002, Gascoyne concluded: "Jenson is still the same nice guy, same talent, but mentally so very strong.  Right now, Jenson would be the man for me."

In an interview with Spanish agency EFE, Pedro de la Rosa summed up Button with the words "finesse and intelligence".

Schumacher not expecting Sepang pole
(GMM)  Michael Schumacher has played down expectations he or Nico Rosberg could put their 2012 Mercedes on pole in Malaysia.

"I think we will be somewhere near the top," Rosberg is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.  "The race is more of a worry for us."

Last weekend in Australia, the W03 was strong in qualifying but faded in the race as it ate through the Pirelli tires.

Mercedes insists it is working on the race pace problem, but the Brackley based team could shine even brighter in Sepang qualifying, with the innovative W-duct working particularly well on the long straights.

So could Schumacher secure his 69th pole on Saturday?

"That would be too optimistic," said the 43-year-old German.  "I think the battle for fifth place is the maximum."

A really good qualifying for Mercedes, however, would be a problem for a team like Red Bull.

"With the (W-duct) system, the Mercedes will be very difficult to overtake," Dr Helmut Marko told Bild newspaper.

It is believed the reigning champions, despite insisting the system is illegal, are hard at work on their own F-duct.

But Marko admitted: "It is very difficult to recreate."

Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn believes all the fuss about the W-duct is a ploy by teams like Red Bull.

"They are bombarding the FIA with questions about our technology in the hope of finding out the secret," he said.

Alonso has 'samurai' tattoo - report
(GMM)  Fernando Alonso has kicked off the new 2012 season with a 'Samurai' tattoo on his neck and back, Marca sports newspaper reports.

Publishing a photo of the artwork on the Ferrari driver's neck, the Spanish publication said the tattoo features Japanese characters.

Marca said the Spaniard and two-time title winner was inspired by the Hagakure, the spiritual guide written by 18th century samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo.

The report said most of Alonso's tattoo is on his back.

Lotus' Lux reveals - 'I forgive Sutil'
(GMM)  Eric Lux has revealed he has forgiven Adrian Sutil for injuring him in a Shanghai nightclub a year ago.

Former Force India driver Sutil received a German criminal conviction and suspended sentence for the incident involving a broken champagne glass, and has been left without a seat on the 2012 grid.

"I forgive Sutil," Lux, a Lotus team executive, told Bild newspaper in Malaysia.

"I would even be happy for him if he came back to race and had a job to do.  For me, everything is past; I don't have emotions about it anymore," the Luxembourger added.

Lux still bears a sizeable scar on his neck.

"Whether the penalty was too much or not enough is not up to me," he continued.

"But if it had been one centimeter different, he would be spending the next 20 years in prison in China," added Lux.

F1 agrees new Concorde with 'majority' of teams
(GMM)  "The majority" of F1's teams have agreed a deal over a new Concorde Agreement.

The news was announced by the sport's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who remains in Europe, in time for Saturday's final practice session in Malaysia.

Previously, it was reported Red Bull and Ferrari were set to agree separate new deals for F1's future beyond the current commercial contract in 2013 and beyond.

But Ecclestone said on Saturday F1 has in fact "reached commercial agreements with the majority of the current formula one teams, including Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing".

It was not revealed which teams have not agreed the terms for the new Concorde.

Paddock abuzz with Concorde intrigue
(GMM)  As ever in the high-intrigue world of formula one politics, what is not said always has more value that what is freely revealed.

That is doubly true if the shrewd Bernie Ecclestone is at the steering wheel.

Firstly, while some interpreted Saturday's news as a 2013 Concorde Agreement being done and dusted, the F1 chief executive's short statement in fact merely said "the terms" of the next contract have been agreed.

And the major keyword was that "the majority" of the teams - including Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull - are on board.

"Bernie's used the word majority," McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh is quoted by the Mirror.  "If there are 12 teams, that's seven or more.

"I don't know any more."

The big missing domino is Mercedes, who according to multiple media sources are holding out for now.

Another is the famous British outfit Williams.

"All agreements between FOM and the teams are normally subject to confidentiality clauses," Red Bull's Christian Horner is quoted in German reports.

"So I can't comment."

Germany's Auto Motor und Sport reported that, in addition to the aforementioned top teams, also set to sign up for 2013 are Red Bull sister team Toro Rosso and Ferrari-powered Sauber.

Lotus and Force India are reportedly also part of that group.

That leaves just the three slowest teams Caterham, Marussia and HRT as the other teams remaining in the cold.

Mercedes goal is 'third force' for now - Haug
(GMM)  Michael Schumacher finally returned to the top three's inner sanctum on Saturday.

"Who would have thought it last year?" the seven time world champion smiled in Malaysia after beating the formerly dominant Red Bulls with his Mercedes.

But the fact he was only beaten by the dominant McLarens in Sepang qualifying does not mean Mercedes is now ready to take on F1's very best, boss Norbert Haug insisted.

Last weekend in Australia, the German team also performed well on Saturday before the tires degraded heavily in the race -- and in Malaysia, very high temperatures are an added factor.

"We are not equipped yet to take over from the likes of McLaren and Red Bull," Haug is quoted by Sky Deutschland.

"To be the third force is definitely on the timetable.

"In Australia and also now in Malaysia we were the second force in the qualifying lineup, but the race is what counts," added the German.

Austin F1 organizers hope to avert potential permit snag
It's a curious item on the lengthy punch list of things that the Circuit of the Americas group must accomplish to successfully launch the United States Grand Prix in November:

Apply for, and obtain, a mass gathering permit.

The state's mass gathering law can apply to events in unincorporated areas that attract, or are expected to attract, more than 2,500 people for five hours or longer. Austin's Formula One event — which will be held on a track that's being developed in Travis County, just southeast of the city — is scheduled over a three-day period and may draw 100,000 fans or more.

An application for the permit must be submitted to a county judge at least 45 days in advance of the event, with a hearing to be held no later than 10 days before the event.

Promoting a mass gathering without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, confinement in the county jail for not more than 90 days, or both.

"We're just going to apply to get one (a permit) and probably (apply to) get one for everything," said Richard Suttle, an attorney for the Circuit of the Americas.

The roots of the mass gathering law go back to the 1970s and the heyday of the Willie Nelson picnics. More recently the law has been invoked to regulate raves.

Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols said he knew of only a few instances in which the county has required a mass gathering permit, including the 2010 AquaPalooza on Lake Travis and two rave concerts. AquaPalooza drew 7,000 boats and 65,000 to 70,000 people, according to its sponsors.

Nuckols said he did not recall issues with AquaPalooza, but one rave concert resulted in litigation.

The law's purpose is to guarantee a certain level of sanitation, safety, traffic control and financial stability at such events.

Apparently, there were some at Circuit of the Americas who believed such a law would not apply to a $300 million facility that will have, among other things, its own medical building on-site.

Several Travis County officials said they had recently learned that Formula 1 officials may object to the application, but that they think it is necessary under state law.

"The statute on its face requires a mass gathering permit, and common sense would tell you that it is obviously a mass gathering," County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said.

The law does not have specific standards for such things as traffic control, but circuit officials say they have been working on such plans for months.

Steve Manilla, the county executive for transportation and natural resources, said what's at stake with the permit is an assurance that both the public and emergency vehicles can efficiently and safely get to the track site.

Manilla said the $8 million of road improvements pending on three county roads near the track are only peripherally involved in the wrangling over the mass gathering permit.

He said the county and circuit officials have yet to reach accord on a $6 million plan to widen to four lanes about a mile of Elroy Road on the north side of the track property, "but it's looking like they're coming around to agreeing with us on that."

Circuit of the Americas spokesperson Julie Loignon said, "COTA is securing the necessary county permits for construction and related site work as they are required. We have had discussions with numerous departments within the county regarding the mass gathering permit requirement and are getting together the necessary elements. With a project of this size and complexity, it takes some time to gather all of the requisite information. But we are working on it."

She added, "Should Travis County commissioners determine that COTA needs to file for mass gathering permits for the certain events that it hosts, we are happy to comply." The Statesman

Street festival planned downtown during Austin F1 weekend
A street festival is being planned downtown to run in conjunction with a Formula One race scheduled for November.

An event called Formula Fest has filed a four-page application with the city to close several downtown roads for a festival that would start Friday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. and run through that Sunday at midnight.

It’s not clear from the application what attractions festival organizers are planning, but the application states there will be sound equipment, suggesting a concert.

To make the event happen, festival organizers want to partially or completely close roads in an area bounded by Brazos, Colorado, Eighth and Eleventh streets. Inside that box, Congress Avenue and Colorado and Eleventh streets would be completely closed, while Eighth through 10th streets would be partially closed, according to the application.

There isn’t a whole lot more in the application.

Formula Fest organizers did not immediately return a call about what they’re planning, and the event’s website states it is “racing to completion.” Festival organizers are not affiliated with the race organizers, a spokeswoman for Circuit of the Americas said.

There will be beer, according to the application.

Formula One races are planned at a racetrack under construction in southeastern Travis County. The inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 16 through 18.

Parties and street festivals are not unusual at cities that host Formula One races. In Montreal, for example, Crescent Street is transformed into party central every year for F1 week. The Statesman

Framing for main Austin grandstand at F1 circuit has begun
As much as 270 tons of steel have been installed on the main grandstands at Circuit of the Americas, a race track under construction in southeastern Travis County that is scheduled to host its first Formula One race in November.

Steel for the main grandstands began going up March 12, and the structure is expected to be fully framed this summer, said Scott Kahler, a superintendent with general contractor Austin Commercial. The main grandstands will hold 8,000 to 9,000 people, Kahler said.

Circuit spokeswoman Ali Putnam said 550 workers are on the site on any given day, working six days a week, sometimes overnight. The overnight work is done to match conditions and materials, Putnam said.

The first shipment of windows for the pit and paddock building is expected in two weeks, Kahler said, and the exterior stone should be delivered in about 10 days. After the windows are installed, crews can begin working on the interiors, he said.

The roof of the medical building has been completed, and crews expect to have the roof of the media center finished soon, Kahler said.

Much of the excavation and fill of the race surface has been finished, including two shortcuts near the center of the track that will be used for shorter races, Kahler said. Crews are installing the base grade on the south parking lot, he said.

Putnam said a worker injured at the site Feb. 28 has been released from University Medical Center Brackenridge and is recovering.

Officials have said they expect to have the $300 million facility ready for the first race, which is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 16 through 18.

Circuit officials today also announced the creation of a host committee, a group of more than 30 people who will serve as a regional ambassador to incoming fans, guests and corporations. Officials did not identify the committee members but said it included members of the business community, government, academia, nonprofits and more. The Statesman

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