Latest F1 news in brief - Friday (Update) UPDATE Updates shown in red below.
Silly-season spotlight shining on Ferrari
|Spotlight now on Ferrari|
- Next races to determine 2013 title outcome
- Hulkenberg not worried about Spa tire danger
- Former 'nutcase' Grosjean better in 2013 - Webber
- Bitter Sutil tells Hamilton to 'grow up'
- Kovalainen admits mind on F1 race return
- Whiting refuses to allow more practice starts New
- Suzuka signs new F1 contract through 2018 New
Silly-season spotlight shining on Ferrari
(GMM) Amid F1's 'silliest silly season', even Fernando Alonso - with a long Ferrari contract - is being asked by reporters to reveal his cards for 2014.
The Spaniard on Thursday played down a spat with president Luca di Montezemolo, but the question was still posed -- did his boss ask him to re-commit to the Maranello team beyond this season?
"I think the president is a very intelligent man who is very well informed about everything," said Alonso.
"In this respect there was no need to ask me this question," he is quoted by Speed Week.
But given the scale of the paddock intrigue at Spa-Francorchamps, that Alonso did not give a categorical answer will not be lost on many.
In reality, however, Alonso simply spoke out of turn in Hungary, was slapped on the wrist by Montezemolo, and the team's beloved number 1 was doing some media damage-control on Thursday.
The real question is who his teammate will be in 2014.
Reports suggest Felipe Massa has been given two more races - Spa and Monza - to prove he should get a new contract.
Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Jules Bianchi, and perhaps even Jenson Button are being linked with the seat.
But team boss Stefano Domenicali told Brazil's O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper on Thursday that Massa is "absolutely yes" still at the top of the Ferrari shortlist.
The Italian played down the other rumors.
"We have had Hulkenberg, di Resta, and many, many others (linked to Massa's seat)," said Domenicali.
"Without wishing to be repetitive, we are not going to say now that we are deciding who will partner Fernando next year.
"We are calm, as our priorities are elsewhere."
Even so, the questions were still being posed to the major players. Like Alonso, who made clear he is "not afraid" of being paired with Raikkonen next year.
But the Spaniard also insisted he thinks Massa is the best option.
"Felipe was better than him (at Ferrari) in 2008 and 2009," said Alonso.
Brazilian correspondent Livio Oricchio, however, said it is obvious that Massa's manager Nicolas Todt has been busy in recent weeks, lining up a 2014 alternative.
Massa doesn't deny that.
"It's good to have an idea of what is there for the future," he said. "I'm not ready to stop racing. It's also logical that Ferrari is looking at some options."
Many in the paddock think the time has definitely arrived for Ferrari to make a change.
"Felipe is a great guy," British commentator Martin Brundle is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport, "but I would be disappointed if Ferrari keep him for another year."
Fellow broadcaster Johnny Herbert agrees: "Felipe is quick, he's just not consistent enough."
Massa responded: "What some others say, I don't care.
"I care what I believe and what people in the team say to me."
Next races to determine 2013 title outcome
(GMM) The 2014 'silly season' may be hogging the headlines, but arguably more important is the imminent battle for this year's world title.
After his dominance from pole in Hungary, many believe Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton is now a real challenger to Sebastian Vettel's clear points lead.
Vettel's Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, however, is not so sure.
"Lewis is always special in Budapest," the Australian is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
"So I wouldn't read too much into it in terms of how Mercedes is going.
"You have to look at how consistent Lotus is," said Webber, referring to the fact that Kimi Raikkonen is actually closest to Vettel in terms of points.
"Mercedes and Ferrari are more up and down," the veteran added.
Many question, however, if Lotus can keep up its form, given the superior resources of the title rivals, and the fact a smaller team risks seriously compromising its 2014 program if it continues to intensely develop its 2013 car.
Webber said: "Because we have the best infrastructure, we can delay the complete move from 2013 to 2014 the longest. Whoever knows Adrian Newey knows that he does not give up.
"He's also used to dealing with the coming season later than the others," he added.
It is for that reason that, realistically, Red Bull's rivals will make one final development push this year and then assess if sticking with 2013 still makes sense.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso agrees: "The next four races will be crucial.
"Spa is medium downforce, at Monza you run with minimum downforce, and Singapore is maximum (downforce).
"After that we will know where we stand," he said.
Hulkenberg not worried about Spa tire danger
(GMM) Nico Hulkenberg has denied he is feeling nervous about racing at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.
F1 supplier Pirelli reacted earlier this year after the tire-exploding British grand prix, held at high speed Silverstone.
The sport has subsequently raced at the Nurburgring and Hungary without incident, due to tire structure changes and strict new operating guidelines.
But Spa is the first real high-speed challenge since Silverstone.
"I suspect Pirelli engineers have travelled to Belgium with some concerns," technical expert Gary Anderson told Speed Week, explaining that the extra load on the tires through the infamous Eau Rouge will be "enormous".
Indeed, Auto Motor und Sport reports that Pirelli has redoubled its efforts to ensure teams will follow the new strict guidelines for pressure and camber this weekend at Spa.
So is Sauber driver Hulkenberg worried?
"Why?" the German said in an interview published by Speed Week.
"No, I have no concerns. I have heard nothing about that from the engineers.
"Pirelli has given us precise values in terms of the camber and pressure, so I expect no problems," added Hulkenberg.
Former 'nutcase' Grosjean better in 2013 - Webber
(GMM) One year ago, Romain Grosjean was F1's 'first lap nutcase', and soon to serve a rare race ban after his latest crash at Spa-Francorchamps.
But Mark Webber, the author of the 'nutcase' jibe, said on Thursday that the Frenchman has turned it around.
"Yes," the Australian is quoted by the Russian website f1news.ru.
"But he had no other choice. This year he is coping with the problems better, but let's face it -- after last season, it (improving) wasn't too difficult.
"In Budapest he made a mistake in the situation with Jenson Button, but his overtaking of Felipe Massa was really good," added Webber.
So, with his Lotus teammate Kimi Raikkonen strongly linked with a move elsewhere, Grosjean is expected to stay at the team in 2014 -- perhaps as the new lead driver.
He agrees with Webber that he has been much improved this year.
"Well, a different state of mind, I think I've progressed a lot and worked on that and I think the 2013 starts prove that I did my duties," new father Grosjean said on Thursday.
Bitter Sutil tells Hamilton to 'grow up'
(GMM) Adrian Sutil has stepped up his rhetoric against former friend Lewis Hamilton, revealing the 2008 world champion is yet to come forward to make amends.
Amid Sutil's legal troubles of 2011, he branded Briton Hamilton a "coward" for refusing to step up as a witness in his assault trial.
The German duly sat out 2012 but returned to F1 with Force India this year, and Hamilton promptly vowed to put their broken friendship back on track.
But, months later, Sutil said the Mercedes driver has done nothing.
"He is not able to speak -- maybe he is scared of me, I don't know," he told The National newspaper on Thursday at Spa.
"There is a time when people have to grow up and he hasn't done it," added Sutil.
He speculated that Hamilton's personality might be the victim of his success, having grown up in a council flat but then, while still a boy, signed by McLaren mentor Ron Dennis.
"Maybe," said Sutil.
"You suddenly go from being not interesting to being at the top and everyone loves you. You get the best from everywhere, you have a lot of money suddenly and this all affects your life.
"Hopefully, you wake up early and then you can sort out your life to be successful. Some people don't get that.
"If you have only a lot of possessions and no friends, you will be a lonely and sad man," Sutil concluded.
Kovalainen admits mind on F1 race return
(GMM) Heikki Kovalainen has returned to the F1 headlines.
Caterham announced on Thursday that the team's former race driver will appear for morning practice at Spa this weekend and also in Monza.
Having previously driven the green car in April and May in Bahrain and Barcelona, Kovalainen's re-emergence now will trigger new headlines that his F1 career could be back on track.
He told Finland's Turun Sanomat newspaper at Spa that Caterham is fielding him again because engineers "want my opinion" about the latest upgrades.
But the 31-year-old confessed that, at least personally, his mind is very firmly on getting back on the grid.
"It has been a long year," said Kovalainen.
"Although I have not been driving, I have succeeded in creating a better relationship with the team," he revealed. "With Tony (Fernandes) and others now it is very good."
Kovalainen has also split with the management firm IMG, who many believe ruined his chances of continuing to race with Caterham in 2013.
"The most important thing," he continued, "would be to get back to racing. I cannot say whether the possibilities are good or bad.
"But if it's just about money again, then the return is not in my hands," said Kovalainen.
"Everyone knows my situation -- I do not come with money and, if I do get a sponsor, then I'll take the money for myself," he smiled.
Whiting refuses to allow more practice starts
FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting will not allow extra practice starts to be made during Friday practice at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, despite calls from various drivers.
The requests were made during the drivers' meeting on Thursday, with queries over the effect of drainage channels that have been cut along the opening 11 grid slots.
As rain is currently predicted for the final two days of the event, selected drivers were keen for the changes to be tested first-hand. But Whiting is unwilling to amend the regulations, which limit the completion of practice starts to the end of the pit lane.
Opening practice at Spa-Francorchamps begins at 10am local time (GMT +2).
Suzuka signs new F1 contract through 2018
(GMM) Suzuka has inked a new five-year contract to keep hosting the annual Japanese grand prix.
Speed Week reports that the extension, signed trackside at Spa-Francorchamps on Friday, will see the sport return to the popular track until at least 2018.
"We actually expected no other outcome from the negotiations," Japanese race promoter Masaro Unno told the correspondent Agnes Carlier in Belgium.
"Nevertheless, it is always a beautiful sight to really see Bernie's signature on the paper," he added.