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Latest F1 news in brief - Thursday UPDATE #2 More updates shown in blue below.

03/21/13 Updates shown in red below.

  • Laughing at his critics.  At just 25 Vettel has won more poles and more races than Villeneuve and Coulthard combined
    Villeneuve, Coulthard, say Vettel not great
  • Red Bull too focused on qualifying - Marko
  • Salo doubts Williams can bounce back in 2013
  • Massa wins record for longest Ferrari drought
  • Mercedes yet to finalize Lowe role
  • Renault and Alain Prost extend partnership
  • Jenson Button says 2013 McLaren will not win a race without radical change
  • CNN and Caterham F1 Team Renew Multi-Year Sponsorship Agreement New
  • Marussia confirms Caterham merger talks collapsed New
  • Williams' daughter shaping up as new team boss New
  • McLaren begins task to improve flawed 2013 car New
  • Ferrari actually fastest in Australia - Brawn New
  • Montezemolo: La Speranzosa is living up to our expectations New
  • Domenicali: No room for complacency as nothing is set in stone New
  • No regrets despite McLaren crisis - Perez New

Villeneuve, Coulthard, say Vettel not great
(GMM)  Two former drivers have questioned whether reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel weighs up against his highly rated rivals.

David Coulthard, who made room for German Vettel's Red Bull debut at the end of 2008, said the jury is out as to whether the 25-year-old can be considered a 'great', despite dominating formula one at the wheel of his Adrian Newey-designed car.

"Do I think he has to move (teams) to cement his legacy?  Yes, I do," he wrote in the Guardian, amid reports elsewhere that Vettel may in fact have signed a contract extension through 2016.

"Seb is a good driver, a world-class driver.  But he hasn't overcome adversity yet in terms of being with another team or being up against a teammate who was already world champion.

"If it appears as a magic carpet ride, none of us like to see that.  We like to see people overcome a bit of adversity," added Coulthard.

Typically much more outspoken on the matter is Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion and, like Coulthard, now an expert television pundit.

He told Germany's Auto Bild that Vettel is: "Super fast but makes mistakes under pressure.

"If he's in front, all is well, but otherwise he does not control his nerves well.

"The difference with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton is that they are always fighting, regardless of their place and whether their car is good.  They always give everything.

"On this level, Vettel does not impress me."

Red Bull too focused on qualifying - Marko
(GMM)  Red Bull might need to tweak its focus if it wants to win in 2013.

That is the admission of the energy drink-owned squad's forthright management figure Dr Helmut Marko, on the eve of round two of the newly-commenced world championship in Malaysia.

In Melbourne last Sunday, Sebastian Vettel continued his reputation for mastering a single lap by dominating qualifying, while his teammate Mark Webber was second.

But Vettel ultimately finished just third, while Kimi Raikkonen eased to victory from seventh on the grid, in a victory credited on the Finn and his Lotus best handling Pirelli's heavily-degrading Pirelli tires.

Marko told Austrian broadcaster Servus TV: "Kimi Raikkonen did not simply make a pitstop less than us, he was also consistently faster without suffering from the high tire wear with which we struggled.

"We do need to master the tires better," he admitted, saying the secret is in the setup.

"Mark Webber had slightly different settings (in Australia) and that was a little bit better," said Marko.

"What we have learned is that we should not be fixated on qualifying.  There are more important things than being fast on a single lap, such as being fast over the whole race distance.

"That's what we are going to focus on more now," he added.

Salo doubts Williams can bounce back in 2013
(GMM)  Former F1 driver Mika Salo has questioned whether Williams has the ability to recover from a bad start to the 2013 season.

In a similar slump early this year is McLaren, but Finn Salo - a former Toyota and Sauber driver - tipped the great British team to bounce back soon.

"I think we will see an improvement from them (McLaren) as early as the next race," the 46-year-old pundit told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3.

"With those resources you can improve, as we have seen before.  If they've had a bad start, very quickly they have improved and started to win races," he added.

Salo, however, questions whether Oxfordshire based Williams can stage a similar turnaround, given its comparatively inferior size and resources.

Referring to his countryman Valtteri Bottas' Melbourne debut, Salo said: "He handled things well, but it was miserable.  The car is not good.  Almost the last of all the teams.

"Williams has a lot of work ahead now.  Yes, it is an experienced team, but do they have the resources to improve when the car is this bad?"

Massa wins record for longest Ferrari drought
(GMM)  Felipe Massa is enduring the longest victory drought in the history of all Ferrari drivers, according to an analysis by Italy's Autosprint.

Dating back to his title-losing win in Brazil 2008, Melbourne last Sunday marked 68 consecutive races in which the Brazilian has entered a grand prix but failed to triumph.

Massa therefore takes the unenviable record from Jean Alesi, who failed to win a grand prix for the fabled Maranello marque between his Ferrari debut in 1991 until Montreal 1995 (67 races).

31-year-old Massa, however, is quoted by Brazil's Globo as characterizing the start of his 2013 campaign as "10 times better" than last year.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo agrees: "I'm satisfied with Felipe Massa's performance (in Melbourne) -- he was very fast in qualifying and delivered a brilliant race."

Next on Autosprint's list of drought-stricken Ferrari drivers are Michele Alboreto (55 races), Eddie Irvine (49), Clay Regazzoni (34), Stefan Johansson (31), Rubens Barrichello (30), Chris Amon and Gerhard Berger (both 27).

But there were others in F1 history who waited even longer for a win and never achieved it, led by Andrea de Cesaris (208 grands prix), Nick Heidfeld (183) and Martin Brundle (158).

And Jarno Trulli holds the record for a winning driver who tried in vain the longest to try to add to his tally.  After winning at Monaco in 2004, he raced another 135 times but never stood on the middle of the podium again.

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso on Wednesday began his preparations for his 200th career grand prix this weekend by road cycling around the hot Sepang circuit.

Mercedes yet to finalize Lowe role
Mercedes insists that it has not yet finalized the role that Paddy Lowe will take when he arrives at the team next year. 
Lowe is currently serving out the remainder of his contract at McLaren but, once that runs out later this year, he will move to Mercedes.

Although the long-term plan is for Lowe to move into a senior management position at Mercedes alongside its motorsport boss Toto Wolff, that scenario depends on current team principal Ross Brawn moving aside.

It is understood that Brawn's future situation remains fluid, and that he has not yet made a decision on whether he wants to continue beyond the end of this year or not.

A final call on Brawn's situation is also hugely dependent on the pace of this year's W04 car, with it more than likely he will remain on board if Mercedes delivers on its early season progress.

The uncertain situation means Mercedes cannot yet finalize its plans for Lowe, which is why for now it remains focused on a future with Brawn.

Speaking about the situation in Australia, Wolff said: "Obviously the situation is not perfect, but we have discussed it.

"We've said that Ross is the team principal, he is running the race team and this how it is going to stay.

"We haven't even started the 2013 season so I think we feel right working together and we have a good spirit internally. Paddy Lowe coming or not is just so far ahead that it makes no sense to talk about it now." Yahoo Eurosport

Renault and Alain Prost extend partnership
The Renault Group and four-time Formula 1 world champion, Alain Prost, are delighted to announce the prolongation of their relationship for the coming year.

Alain has been the Brand Ambassador for Renault since 2012 and will take on an enlarged consultancy role within Renault Sport F1 this year. In addition to his current duties promoting the brand in press and marketing activities, the Frenchman will assume an advisory role within the Renault Sport F1 Executive Committee.

Within the scope of this role Alain will attend a selection of races over the year, plus events outside the F1 calendar, including the World Series by Renault and various other competition activities.

Alain and Renault have a long working history. Alain raced for the Equipe Renault Elf in the early part of his F1 career, from 1981 to 1983. Over this period he won nine races, only missing the drivers’ title in 1983 by two points. He resumed his relationship with Renault in 1993 after joining Williams. The Frenchman went on to dominate the championship with seven wins, thus securing his fourth and final world title.

Speaking of the partnership, Renault Sport F1 President and Managing Director, Jean-Michel Jalinier, commented, ‘Alain’s experience of F1 personnel and politics combined with his sharp intelligence and retained enthusiasm for the sport has already been of great benefit as we consolidate our position as an engine supplier to four teams. We will continue to draw on his knowledge this year, particularly as we prepare for the technical challenges of the 2014 engine regulations.’

Alain Prost added, ‘Renault has a long history within F1 and everything it has done in the sport has ultimately been a success. Indeed I have achieved some of the greatest results of my career with Renault power. Over the past year I have seen that it has kept the same passion and rigor for F1, and it has stayed true to these values as it prepares for the new V6 power unit in 2014. I will use my experience and knowledge of the sport to advise on strategic and technical challenges – it’s a very exciting time for everyone and together we represent very strong potential.’

Renault and Alain Prost extend partnership
Jenson Button says 2013 McLaren will not win a race without radical change
Britain’s Jenson Button says his new McLaren is not capable of winning a grand prix in its current spec after he trailed home ninth in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

The 2009 world champion, who had tasted victory at Albert Park in three of the last four years before Sunday’s race, lacked the pace to contend with the likes of Lotus, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.

Kimi Raikkonen went on to take victory for Lotus, ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel while Button took ninth and his team-mate Sergio Perez finished outside the points in 11th.

The 33-year-old said the team need to make radical changes to their 2013 challenger, although there will not be much time to do so before the next race which takes place at Sepang in Malaysia this Sunday.

Button said: “The way the car is at the moment, this package that is sat in the garage right now, is not going to win a race.

“We need to bring updates and move this car forward. That is the only way we will see good results and wins. We can definitely do it. We have been in bad positions before and come back strong.

“It is just a pity we have lost out so much at the start of the year. There have been non-stop meetings and discussions and we are doing everything we can to improve.

“We are going through every single piece of information we have collected this week and over the winter. It is going to be flat out and the team are going to be working non-stop. Everybody is a bit down. A team like this is used to winning.”

Perez, who made his debut for McLaren in Australia, added: “We’re lacking downforce, we’re lacking stability. It’s not only one thing. I think we’ve got a lot of problems. The car is not quick enough and this is our reality.

“We have to keep our heads up. The car has the potential so we have to understand and put it together so we can be fighting for good positions.” James Allen on F1 http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2013/03/jenson-button-says-2013-mclaren-will-not-win-a-race-without-radical-change/

CNN and Caterham F1 Team Renew Multi-Year Sponsorship Agreement
CNN International and Caterham F1 Team have announced today that the leading international news network has renewed its multi-year partnership deal with Caterham F1 Team. The sponsorship will see CNN’s logo on both of the Caterham F1 Team cars as well as the drivers’ overalls and signals the fourth year that CNN has sponsored the growing Anglo / Malaysian F1 Team.

“Our partnership with Caterham F1 Team provides CNN with a powerful worldwide marketing platform and we’re delighted to continue the alliance of two aspirational global brands;” said Rani R. Raad, Chief Commercial Officer for CNN International. “As a forward thinking company this sponsorship plays to the heart of what CNN is all about, engaging new audiences and exploring new affiliations beyond the traditional or the expected.”

Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team: “This partnership will provide us with a comprehensive platform allowing us to deliver additional exposure for the team and its sponsors through CNN media platforms worldwide. We also look forward to welcoming CNN and their partners to the races to further promote F1, Caterham F1 Team and develop real B2B opportunities."

Marussia confirms Caterham merger talks collapsed
(GMM)  F1 backmarkers Marussia and Caterham held talks over the winter about a possible merger.

The surprise news emerged as F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone attempted to explain why Marussia is the only team without a commercial deal for 2013.

"I have everything prepared here for them to sign," he told the Times.

"It is not a problem.  But they have not been happy and they almost merged with Caterham, so that made me wondering what was happening," said Ecclestone.

The newspaper claimed Caterham and Marussia contemplated the merger to "guarantee survival", but the talks "foundered and the two teams are now in a dogfight for tens of millions of pounds in prize money".

Marussia chief executive Graeme Lowdon confirmed the merger talks.

"I wasn't involved in them (the talks) and as I understand it, the conclusion was unacceptable to our shareholders.  So nothing happened," he told British broadcaster Sky.

Williams' daughter shaping up as new team boss
(GMM)  Claire Williams could be shaping up to take over at the helm of her father's famous British team.

When Claire's mother, Ginny Williams, died in the days preceding the recent 2013 season opener, it emerged her father Sir Frank Williams would also not travel to Australia.

As technical boss Mike Coughlan stepped up to stand in as acting team boss, he declared in Melbourne that he was only running the team for one race "until Claire is able to come back".

The comments triggered reports that Claire, 36, is already the team boss.

Officially, she is head of marketing, having quickly gained a few promotions at the Oxfordshire based team in the past 18 months.

A report in the Telegraph on Thursday said Frank Williams, 70, has already declared that a succession plan is in play.

"It really freaked me out when he said that," Claire, whose boyfriend is Pastor Maldonado's engineer, said.

"When I first came here, he was not keen on the idea at all.  He didn't want to be seen to have his children working at Williams."

But things have changed.  Last year, Frank stepped down as a director on the board of his own team and was replaced by Claire.

She admitted things have been speeding ahead "quickly".

"People have been speculating, whispering 'that will be your role one day', and as I keep making these steps up I suppose it is becoming a deeper conversation.

"But Frank is still our team principal," said Ms Williams.  "At the moment I'm very content to work alongside him, learning as much as I can.  Whether I take over one day is yet to be seen."

McLaren begins task to improve flawed 2013 car
(GMM)  McLaren is pressing ahead with plans to improve the new 2013 car, as suggestions last year's winning model could be resurrected begin to fade.

Despite struggling markedly with the radical new MP4-28 in Melbourne, the flawed silver machine is parked in the Sepang garage this weekend and will not be retired any time soon.

"It's better to stick to the plan in terms of developing what we have to improve what we have -- that's always the way forward," Jenson Button told Sky.

Indeed, the Woking based team is known as perhaps the best team in F1 at continual car development, and the need for all those skills is now greater than ever.

It has already begun.

Sporting director Sam Michael told reporters on Thursday that previously unscheduled developments for the car have arrived in Malaysia for experimental testing.

"All our energy is going into the current car and understanding it," he said.

Pulling out the winning 2012 car might seem like an easy and obvious solution, given the fact that most teams on the grid simply evolved their existing cars for the new season anyway.

But Anthony Rowlinson, editor of F1 Racing magazine, said it's not quite that simple.

"They would have to re-crash test the MP4-27, have a new front wing that's compliant with the new technical regs, have a new underfloor that's compliant with the new technical regs.

"That in itself is a big job and then they'd arrive, say in Spain for the Spanish GP, with a car they hadn't tested, they hadn't run, so they'd probably be in no better a situation than they are now," he explained.

Ferrari actually fastest in Australia - Brawn
(GMM)  The headlines in Australia last weekend were that Red Bull dominated qualifying, before Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen eased to victory.

But Ross Brawn, boss of the Mercedes team, said the standout performer at Albert Park was Ferrari.

"On average, of all the lap times in Melbourne without traffic, Ferrari had the best race pace," he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

"If they had done a two stop race, they would have won," added Brawn, the former Ferrari technical director.

Actually, Spaniard Fernando Alonso made three stops compared to Raikkonen's two, and finished 12 seconds adrift.

Montezemolo: La Speranzosa is living up to our expectations
Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has declared his contentment with the way the opening round of the Formula 1 season panned out for the Maranello squad.

He has dubbed the F138 ‘La Speranzosa’ (the hopeful one) and declared after the race in Melbourne, “La Speranzosa is living up to our hopes. We did what we expected to do. We raced a good race, particularly against Red Bull and Vettel, whom I consider our strongest rival.”

“Our goal was to make it to the podium and we did that. That’s definitely a positive start to the Championship and will be good for the team psychologically: for the mechanics, the technicians and the drivers. It was important to start the season well as that hadn’t happened in the last two years.”

He added, “We have more development to do on the single-seater. We know we don’t have the fastest car but we have a lot of irons in the fire too. And obviously, developing an intrinsically good car is a much easier thing to do.”

“I’m satisfied with Felipe Massa’s performance – he was very fast in qualifying and delivered a brilliant race. Fernando Alonso also did very well. He looked motivated and happy to have seen the first good responses to the tests confirmed on the track. So now, it’s feet back on the ground because there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Montezemolo. (Apex)

Domenicali: No room for complacency as nothing is set in stone
Although Ferrari endured a far better start to their season in Melbourne last week, than they did at the same time last year, team boss Stefano Domenicali is taking nothing for granted and declared that there is no room for complacency for the team and drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Speaking ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, “The first Grand Prix weekend of the season in Australia was a positive one for us as we had previously stated that our objective was to finish on the podium and that target was achieved. However, there is no room for complacency as nothing in terms of a pit lane hierarchy is set in stone. We have witnessed a weekend that was very unusual, with qualifying on Saturday and Sunday delivering a snapshot of the order that proved to be completely different come Sunday evening after the race.”

“It was important to see both our drivers deliver strong performances, as it provides a great basis on which we can build a competitive season and I’m pleased for both of them. Seeing Ferrari heading the Constructors’ Championship is a great reward for the people who have been working so hard, both here at the track and back home in Maranello. But it’s only the first step in a very long season and now is the time to analyze and evaluate all the data from Melbourne in order to be immediately ready for this coming weekend in Malaysia.”

Monsoon-like tropical storms are likely to play a role in proceedings at Sepang, but conditions will be unlike the cold and wet which characterized the Melbourne weekend. Although in Kuala Lumpur rain is a given just about every afternoon, it will be hot and humid at the same time which when coupled to the notoriously abrasive Sepang surface will impact tires and their durability.

“Sepang is a very different track and our plan is to make the most of the package that we have,” maintained the reds’ team principal. “We need to wait and see how our car will behave in what is a totally different environment: the track will make different demands on the cars to the ones we experienced in Australia, with a change in track surface and the unique weather conditions, very hot and humid, will also impact on everyone’s performance this weekend. We know what is required here and we will need the usual compromise in terms of downforce levels to deal with both the tighter section and the two long fast straights.”

Last year Alonso won the race starting eighth on the grid. Rain affected the entire race – including a 50 minutes stoppage after eight laps – and thereafter we witnessed an epic duel between Sergio Perez (in a Sauber at the time) and Alonso. In the end the Spaniard prevailed to score his third triumph at Sepang. He also won in 2005 as a Renault driver and 2007 with McLaren.

The race on Sunday will be Alonso’s 200th Grand Prix start.

No regrets despite McLaren crisis - Perez
(GMM)  Sergio Perez insists he has no regrets about joining a McLaren team in crisis.

The young Mexican admitted on Thursday that when he signed to replace Lewis Hamilton for 2013, he expected to be seated in a highly competitive silver car.

"I thought I would be fighting for the front rows but we are far from there," Perez is quoted by the AP news agency in Malaysia.

Even so, the 23-year-old said he has no regrets.

"If they would have told me before I signed I would be in this position, I would have signed (anyway)," he said.

"I prefer hundred times to be in this position with McLaren than with any other team and winning."

Perez said he has confidence McLaren can emerge from its slump, even though leading team figures Martin Whitmarsh and Jenson Button have said it could take some time.

Reviving the competitive 2012 car has been touted as one possible solution, and Perez sounded open to the idea.

"I think the (new) car has potential and we have to try to understand and take the maximum out of it," he said.  "But we want to win this year and we will do anything in our hearts to go back to winning."

Sporting boss Sam Michael, however, said the focus at the moment is on the MP4-28, even though he hinted radical changes could be on the way by actually referring to the car during a media teleconference as the "28A".

"That (developing the 2013 car) is what we think will offer us the best chance over the course of the season and at this point in time that's where all our efforts are going," he added.

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