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Latest F1 news in brief - Monday
  • Villeneuve predicts the Red Bull lemon won't even finish the race
    Owners worried demise will hurt F1 - Ecclestone
  • No Vettel title in 2014 'for sure' - Villeneuve
  • Massa 'impressed' with Mercedes power
  • Kovalainen's F1 career is over - Vilander
  • Renault says Red Bull car 'extreme'
  • Melbourne-spec car different on inside - Vettel
  • Every car may retire in Melbourne - supplier
  • Gerhard Berger injured in skiing fall
  • F1 Prepares For Season Of Uncertainty Beginning In Melbourne
  • Ron Dennis: Red Bull's problems are partly 'self-inflicted'
  • Ecclestone reminds us of his importance
  • Prosecutors escalate F1 corruption investigation

Owners worried demise will hurt F1 - Ecclestone
(GMM)  F1's owners are scared Bernie Ecclestone's demise could hurt the sport.

That is the claim of the diminutive Ecclestone, who remains the F1 chief executive and 'supremo' even amid a corruption scandal that could see him jailed.

The 83-year-old likened his situation to that of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, whose retirement last year coincided with a decline in the great football team's form.

"I have got a sneaking feeling our board are probably football enthusiasts and saw what happened when they got rid of that guy from Manchester United," Ecclestone told F1 business journalist Christian Sylt, writing in the Sunday Express.

Meanwhile, McLaren's returning supremo Ron Dennis has said he does not think Christian Horner - reportedly Ecclestone's personal pick - should succeed the 83-year-old.

"Personally, and I have nothing against either Christian or any other team principal," Dennis told British Sky television, "I don't think it would be a wise decision to put any former team principal into the position of running formula one.

"There's too much conflict," he insisted.

No Vettel title in 2014 'for sure' - Villeneuve
(GMM)  1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve says Sebastian Vettel's run of titles is definitely over.

"He's not going to win this year for sure," the French Canadian, who is set to return to the Indy 500 this year at the age of 42, is quoted by Italian publications including Autosprint and La Repubblica.

"To me, Renault seems completely lost and unable even to finish a grand prix.

"Even if they (Red Bull) are making a new car for the European races it won't change anything -- maybe they'll do 30 laps instead of 15.  It's not the car but the engine.

"I'm joking, but why bother going to Australia?  They can't do half a grand prix and are slower than most.

"Williams now has the Mercedes and it's only because of that they're doing so well.

"It's good for (Felipe) Massa, because he was finished and for a few years didn't even seem like an F1 driver.  I think that shows just how good his car is.

"We'll have to see if they also have the money to develop."

Beyond that, however - and Mercedes' obvious advantage - the former Williams and Honda driver is not entirely sure what will happen in 2014, as F1 undergoes its technological revolution.

"I don't know if it will be a great championship.  It could even be funny," said Villeneuve, "because in Australia we could see a Marussia on the podium."

He thinks Kimi Raikkonen's move from Lotus to Ferrari for this year, even though he will be partnered by the excellent Fernando Alonso, was a good one.

"For the first time, I see him working seriously.  Maybe his year without pay was good for him," said Villeneuve.

"Alonso is a fighter from the first lap and so he might use too much fuel," he explained.  "It also depends on the attitude that he (Alonso) has.

"The Alonso of 2012 could win this year, but not the Alonso of 2013."

Villeneuve also predicted a tough season for confused spectators, and thinks F1 has missed some obvious opportunities to spice up the action.

"The fuel limit is a good idea," he is quoted by La Repubblica, "but it should be the drivers saving fuel and not the electronics."

Villeneuve admits Mercedes is the obvious 2014 favorite, but said the Brackley squad's weakness is the driver lineup.

"Hamilton and Rosberg are not friends," he said, "but to me it seems entirely too flat, without a spark.  It has to be tougher than that between teammates."

And unlike Red Bull, Villeneuve says Ferrari cannot be written off yet.

"At the moment it's not the best car, but it's not so far back," said Villeneuve.  "They can recover.  We'll know much more after five races."

Massa 'impressed' with Mercedes power
(GMM)  Felipe Massa has admitted he has been "impressed" with his switch to Mercedes power for 2014.

It is the first time in his F1 career the diminutive Briton has not been powered by a Ferrari engine.

The Mercedes team, and its customers McLaren, Force India and Massa's new employer Williams, are tipped to lead in 2014 with a superior 'power unit' for the new turbo V6 regulations.

"I went to the (Mercedes) factory and I was impressed," Massa is quoted by Italy's La Repubblica.

There are rumors Mercedes has come out so strong in 2014 because the German carmaker has invested four times more money than Ferrari.

"I don't know whether it is four times," Massa said, "but definitely to see them at work made an impression on me."

However, he denied that he deliberately shopped for a Mercedes-powered team for 2014.

"No, but with a regulation change that is about the engines, you know that they (Mercedes) know what they are doing.

"And from the moment I arrived at Williams I felt very wanted, which is a fantastic feeling."

Massa's last comment suggests that he no longer felt loved at Ferrari.

"I will not speak badly of Ferrari," he insisted.  "I was there many years and I lived some beautiful moments.  And some very bad ones as well."

He does not hide that Hockenheim 2010, when he was told 'Fernando (Alonso) is faster than you', was the low point.

"They did not let me win a race that I deserved," said Massa.  "It was not just the team order that hurt me, but the fact that I had come back from a very bad accident.  It would have been very important to me."

Asked if he often behaved 'too loyally' to Ferrari, he admitted: "Yes, maybe I did.  But now it's the past and it doesn't matter.

"I remember the wonderful years at Ferrari, and the friendships with many people."

Massa, 32, said he thinks Mercedes has the best 2014 car, and when asked 'Hamilton or Rosberg', he answered: "(Nico) Rosberg."

But when asked who he would put money on for the title, Massa grinned: "I don't like talking about myself..."

Kovalainen's F1 career is over - Vilander
(GMM)  Toni Vilander thinks his Finnish countryman Heikki Kovalainen's F1 career is over.

Having lost his Caterham seat, Kovalainen looked to be putting his career back on track when he secured the Lotus seat for the last two races of 2013.

But Kovalainen struggled, and despite Caterham wanting an experienced non-pay driver at the wheel this year, that job went to Japanese Kamui Kobayashi.

"I think it's quite a difficult situation for Heikki now," Vilander, a Finnish sports car and former GP2 driver, told Finnish radio Nova.

"If I had to say yes or no, then I would say that formula one is now in the past for him," he added.

"The Lotus seat at the end of the season was not good PR for Heikki.  We know that jumping into a new car at the end of a season is difficult, but he should at the minimum have scored points," said Vilander.

Renault says Red Bull car 'extreme'
(GMM)  Renault F1 chief Jean-Michel Jalinier insists the struggling French supplier should not be written off in 2014.

Many believe Renault's early-season problems with the all-new turbo V6 'power unit' have made winning races and the title almost impossible for world champions Red Bull.

But a bullish Jalinier hit back even at claims Renault is concerned it has already had to 'freeze' the specification of its engine for 2014.

"I am convinced that we have designed a good package," he is quoted by Italy's Omnicorse.

"We have to work on the software but that is outside the freezing.  On the engine we worked until the last second to be sure we reached the right level of power and torque, and in this aspect we believe we are right."

Jalinier suggested some of Red Bull's problems have been exacerbated by the design of Adrian Newey's RB10 car.

"Red Bull have always made very competitive cars and we worked well together," he said.

"Maybe theirs is a bit more extreme at the level of their project, but we are working closely together to make it competitive," Jalinier added.

He denied rumors suggesting Red Bull and Renault could be set to split, with Lotus to take over as the 'premier' Renault team.

"At the moment," Jalinier insisted, "our team of reference is Red Bull and we have three other customers.

"Among them is Lotus, who have certainly proved to be a very competitive team, but our principal team remains Red Bull Racing.

"We still have a long-term agreement with the team in Milton Keynes ... there is no separation," Jalinier said.

Melbourne-spec car different on inside - Vettel
(GMM)  Crisis-struck Red Bull is taking a vastly different car to Melbourne for the first race of 2014.

That is the claim of reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, even though the German is not expecting to be competitive this weekend after a disastrous winter for the team and engine supplier Renault.

"Only in the comic book world do such processes (to improve) work that quickly and immediately," he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"But only in Melbourne will we know how far away from the competition we actually are."

Renault's Jean-Michel Jalinier has now admitted that Renault-powered cars will not be in a position to win in Melbourne, but he expects the picture to change significantly within "three to five races".

And Vettel said Red Bull is also working hard.

"The car we will use in Melbourne will only be the same as the one we tested in the winter on the outside," he said.

"Inside, it will be different," added Vettel.

"It's hard to say where we are, but we are certainly not among the favorites to win," he admitted.

New teammate Daniel Ricciardo, already in his native Australia, said the first challenge will be getting the RB10 to the checkered flag.

"We don't really know if it will last the distance," he told Fairfax Media, "because we haven't proven it (in testing)."

Every car may retire in Melbourne - supplier
(GMM)  It is possible every single car will fail to finish Sunday's season-opening Australian grand prix.

That is the claim of Roberto Dalla, the head of F1 electronics supplier Magneti Marelli.

He told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport that the electronics of the cars have become so much more complicated in 2014, without a corresponding increase in the amount of pre-season testing.

"Last year," said Dalla, "there was a single unit made by McLaren that was the brain of every aspect.

"But now it only has control of a portion, and the underlying challenge is to be able to operate like an orchestra the engine, the turbo, the recovery systems.

"To find the right solutions will take another two to three months," he claimed.

"Doing it during three winter sessions with only 12 days in total was a real mission impossible.

"In Melbourne, it could happen that all the cars do not see the finish line, because every team experienced serious problems in testing," Dalla added.

Gerhard Berger injured in skiing fall
(GMM)  Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger has crashed whilst skiing in the Kitzbuhel district in his native Austria.

Ten weeks into Michael Schumacher's coma, Austrian reports including the Kronen Zeitung newspaper said former Ferrari and McLaren driver Berger was hospitalized late last week after crashing at the Skiwelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental resort.

APA news agency said the 54-year-old was released from the St Johann hospital on Sunday, where he had been airlifted from the scene with a broken upper arm and operated on.

"He's very good.  He is on the road to recovery," a hospital spokesperson said.

Reports said Berger tripped on a forest road and struck a concrete drainage pipe.

F1 Prepares For Season Of Uncertainty Beginning In Melbourne
In the 64-year history of F1, the beginning of a new season "has never been met with anything like the extreme anticipation now gripping teams and fans" as the series prepares to open its '14 championship next weekend at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, according to Brad Spurgeon of the N.Y. TIMES.

With the introduction of regulations aimed at producing cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars and engines, the question for many F1 observers is "whether this attempt to keep pace with the environmental thinking of our times will mark the 2014 season as a technological fiasco for a series that truly has no technological peer."

After years of technological stability "new regulations have forced teams to build a type of racing car that has never existed before." Virtually all of the teams "had problems during winter testing." Environmental concerns "have led to fuel limits."

Cars will be allowed to use only 100 kilograms of fuel during a race, compared with about 150 in recent years. The stakes "are high for the teams, sponsors and engine manufacturers in this global sport that is constantly under the glare of the media."

Given the size of the investments by the involved parties, "it seems certain that every effort will be made to do everything to ensure that the show not only goes on, but that it thrives."

In the end, the main beneficiaries of the coming season’s unpredictability "are likely to be the spectators, who have endured one or two seasons too many of highly predictable Formula One racing." N.Y. Times

Ron Dennis: Red Bull's problems are partly 'self-inflicted'
Ron Dennis only publicly returned to the fray at McLaren a few days ago, but he has already stuck the boot in to struggling Red Bull, claiming that some of their troubles ahead of the new season are “self-inflicted”.

The 66-year-old, who warned McLaren this week they must expect some “pain” before a resurgence in the team’s fortunes, suggested the four-time reigning champions were facing problems in part of their own making.

Dennis, who deposed Martin Whitmarsh in January to regain control of the Formula One operation, also said “there is nothing more certain” than McLaren returning to the front of the grid.

“Some of what Red Bull is experiencing is self-inflicted”, Dennis said.

“Some of it is in any new regulations - if it involves engines, someone is going to be at the top, someone is going to be at the bottom.

“I’m sure Red Bull have their concerns, however, they have other issues too.”

Ecclestone reminds us of his importance
Bernie Ecclestone has likened himself to former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson and suggested that Formula One's performance could crash without him at the wheel according to an article in the Sunday Express written by Christian Sylt.

In January Ecclestone stepped down from the board of F1's parent company Delta Topco following the announcement that he is due to be put on trial in Munich in April on bribery charges. As Pitpass has pointed out, his board exit doesn't change his power in F1 and he still runs the sport on a day to day basis. He says there is good reason why he is sticking around.

In a reference to the declining fortunes of Manchester United, following the retirement of Ferguson last year, Ecclestone says "I have got a sneaking feeling our board are probably football enthusiasts and saw what happened when they got rid of that guy from Manchester United."

His legal trouble has been sparked by a $44m payment made by him and his Bambino family trust to Gerhard Gribkowsky a former banker for German lender BayernLB.

Gribkowsky was responsible for selling BayernLB's 47.2% stake in F1 in 2006 and German prosecutors believe that the $44m payment to him was a bribe to steer the sale to the private equity firm CVC as it had agreed to keep Ecclestone in the sport's driving seat.

Ecclestone denies paying a bribe and says Gribkowsky threatened to make false allegations about his tax affairs to H.M. Revenue & Customs if he didn't get the $44m.

Last month he won a related civil case in London's High Court in which he was accused of undervaluing F1 through the alleged bribe because other bidders may have paid more than CVC. Although Ecclestone won, the judge, Mr. Justice Newey, ruled that "the payments were a bribe...Mr. Ecclestone's aim was to be rid of the Banks. He was strongly averse to their involvement in the Formula One group and was keen that their shares should be transferred to someone more congenial to him."

Mr. Newey added "I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness."

Ecclestone says the judgment contains numerous inconsistencies. The judge said he disliked the banks so much that he paid a bribe to get rid of them yet two of them are still shareholders as they reinvested after CVC took control of F1.

BayernLB had the same opportunity and Ecclestone says "Gribkowsky wanted to get them to reinvest." It reflects comments made by the judge who said that "BayernLB also had the chance to reinvest, but chose not to take it, and the evidence indicates that this was a decision taken against Dr Gribkowsky's wishes rather than because of them." If Gribkowsky was paid a bribe to get rid of BayernLB then it raises the question of why he wanted the bank to reinvest. It will all come out in the trial. Pitpass

Prosecutors escalate F1 corruption investigation
German prosecutors have accelerated their investigation into alleged corruption in the sale of Formula One to the private equity firm CVC in 2006. On the receiving end of their wrath is Stephen Mullens who is the former lawyer of Bernie Ecclestone's Bambino family trust and has been charged by prosecutors according to a report in the Sunday Telegraph written by Christian Sylt.

Mullens has been charged in connection with an alleged $44m bribe paid by Bambino and Ecclestone which is said to have steered the sale of a 47.2% stake in F1 to the private equity firm CVC in 2006.

Mullens is the fourth person to be charged by German authorities in this investigation. The first was Gerhard Gribkowsky, the banker responsible for selling the 47.2% stake which was owned by German lender BayernLB (BLB). Gribkowsky was convicted for receiving the alleged bribe in 2012 and, since then, his former lawyer Gerald Toifl has also been charged along with Ecclestone who is due to be put on trial in Munich in April.

Margarete Noetzel, spokesperson for the Munich court, confirmed that "the public prosecutor has charged Mr. Mullens with an indictment from the Munich Regional Court dated 29 October 2013. The indictment was translated and delivered in the middle of November. The trial chamber has not yet decided on an opening date."

The claim against Mullens is different to the one against Ecclestone. Prosecutors believe that Ecclestone bribed Gribkowsky to steer the sale of F1 to CVC as it had agreed to keep him as the boss of the sport. Inherent to the case against Mullens is the claim that Gribkowsky was paid in return for him helping Bambino to be paid a $313m loan which F1's parent company SLEC had used in 2001 to pay to the FIA to buy the commercial rights to the sport for 100 years.

Bambino provided $78m of the loan to SLEC in line with its 25% stake in the company with the remaining $235m coming from the German media firm Kirch which controlled 75% of F1 through its subsidiary Formel Eins Beteiligungs (FEB). Kirch went bankrupt in 2002 and its principal creditor happened to be Gribkowsky's employer BayernLB. Kirch had transferred the right to repayment of the $235m from SLEC and it ended up being held by a Swiss company called Kamos. Accordingly, there was a question over whether SLEC should have paid the $235m to Kamos or whether it should have ultimately gone to Kirch's creditor BayernLB.

This question had not been answered by the time that CVC bought F1 and since it didn't want the company to have any outstanding debts it deducted $313m from the purchase price and paid the money to Bambino so that it could be held in escrow pending the decision on whether $235m of it should ultimately go to BayernLB or to Kamos.

As Gribkowsky worked for BayernLB at that time, it would have been a serious breach of his duty if Mullens really had arranged for him to be paid in return for helping to get Bambino named as the legal recipient of the $235m. Both Ecclestone and Mullens deny doing this. It is at the heart of the charge against Mullens as explained in the German indictment against Ecclestone which states:

"Mr. Mullens requested Dr. Gribkowsky to support collection of the loan receivables due from the FEB-SLEC loan on the part of Bambino, including the share of $235 million accruing to the former SLEC partner, FEB (Kirch Group), not only Bambino's share of $78 million. With regard to the $235 million share of the loan, it was in the sole interest of BayernLB that this claim for repayment of the loan be collected by the receiver appointed for its former debtor, namely the lawyer Dr. Jaffe, in favor of Kirch's insolvent
estate and consequently to the economic advantage of its principal creditor, BayernLB."

The repayment of this loan was outlined in the initial agreement, dated November 2005, between Bambino and an Austrian company connected to Gribkowsky. Bambino was listed as the 'Client' with the Austrian company being the 'Consultant'. The agreement stated that "the Consultant has agreed to advise the Client in connection, the acquisition of debt claims against SLEC Holdings Limited other than those of the Client with a view to motive a profit."

This was covered in detail in last year's civil case against Ecclestone, Mullens, Bambino and Gribkowsky in London's High Court which had been brought by German media rights firm Constantin Medien. It claimed to have lost out as a result of the alleged bribe because it had an agreement to get 10% of the proceeds if the 47.2% stake sold for more than $1.1bn. As CVC paid $814m Constantin got nothing which is why it sued. The lawsuit said that the 47.2% stake was undervalued as other buyers may have paid more than CVC. However, the judge, Mr. Justice Newey, disagreed and ruled that "no loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused."

Although he ruled against Constantin, the judge's conclusions were far from uniformly favorable to Ecclestone and Mullens.

Ecclestone was handed the November 2005 draft agreement with Gribkowsky in an envelope at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2006 but he said he had no knowledge of its contents. There is good reason for this which is that he says the envelope was marked for Mullens' attention. However, without explaining why, the judge said "I have to say that I find that evidence implausible."

The judge also ruled that the November 2005 draft agreement appeared to have been faxed to Gribkowsky from Mullens' office. In response, Mullens said that he was not sure whether in fact it had been faxed from his office. He added that he had no recollection of producing the November 2005 draft agreement and that it contains a number of errors which indicate it was produced by someone else who is possibly a non-native English speaker. However, the judge ruled "I do not accept evidence Mr. Mullens gave about the November Draft Agreement" and he added that "contrary to Mr. Mullens' evidence, he drafted all or part of the November Draft Agreement."

Ecclestone and Mullens deny that the $44m was a bribe. They say that Gribkowsky threatened to tell the UK's tax authority H.M. Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that Ecclestone controlled Bambino if the money was not paid.

Bambino is based offshore whereas Ecclestone is a UK resident so he would be liable to pay tax on the $4bn in the trust if he was found to be in control of it which he strongly denies. He says he paid Gribkowsky even though the allegation was false as it could have triggered a lengthy and costly investigation if it had been reported to HMRC.

Mullens declined to comment to the Telegraph and Ecclestone says he is "annoyed the judge said I bribed Gribkowsky. I tell you why it is ridiculous. I had a contract with BLB where they couldn't fire me. In the contract I have with CVC, they could have fired me the day after I signed it, paid me a year's salary and put me on gardening leave so I couldn't work anywhere else. So I would hardly have paid to get that contract for a start."

It is understood that Mr. Newey will hear arguments on costs in the Constantin case on March 27. Constantin will then have 21 days to appeal the ruling and it has announced that it plans to do so. Ecclestone has already welcomed the decision saying "it will allow more witnesses to be cross-examined which will again prove that the shares were not undervalued." Pitpass

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