Latest F1 news in brief – Friday (Update)

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

03/13/15

  • Kimi Raikkonen not able to keep pace with his new teammate Sebastian Vettel

    Alonso mystery rolls on as Melbourne practice begins

  • Lauda slams Sauber 'negligence' amid van der Garde crisis
  • Manor not up and running in Melbourne
  • Williams also rejects wind tunnel ban
  • Hamilton says newspaper report 'piece of rubbish'
  • Magnussen 'surprised' after Melbourne crash New
  • Judge tells van der Garde, Sauber, to be 'sensible' New
  • Sauber silent amid van der Garde saga New
  • Red Bull slams Renault in Australia New
  • Kaltenborn has no intention to quit New
  • 'I was not driving very well' – Kimi Raikkonen New
  • Mercedes is out of reach – Sebastian Vettel New

Alonso mystery rolls on as Melbourne practice begins
(GMM) As the cars begin to roar in Melbourne, the uncertainty about Fernando Alonso's return to action at McLaren-Honda remains.

The Spaniard tweeted a 'selfie' showing off his muscular form in the gym and promising he will be back to work "soon".

But team boss Eric Boullier on Friday morning said that whether that actually happens or not in Malaysia or beyond will be up to "FIA doctors".

Indeed, the mystery about what caused Alonso's Barcelona testing crash – a car fault or a pre-existing medical condition – is just as unexplained some 20 days later.

"I can't comment on that," teammate Jenson Button said in Australia.

Fascinatingly, McLaren is no longer claiming it was definitely just a "normal" accident caused by a gust of wind.

"We can't say exactly what was the cause," Boullier acknowledged.

So there is a feeling of slight nervousness among Alonso's fellow drivers. Spain's El Mundo reports that some of them have even tried to contact the 33-year-old to talk about the bizarre incident.

But Button got up and running in the MP4-30 on Friday morning at Albert Park, having said hours earlier "I will not get into a car unless I am 100 per cent sure it is safe."

However, he also confirmed that he had told boss Ron Dennis that Alonso's telemetry and video replay appeared "strange".

"I spent hours going through the data with the engineers and talking to them about the incident," said Button.

"When you are driving a formula one car at the limit you need to be sure," added the Briton.

Lauda slams Sauber 'negligence' amid van der Garde crisis
(GMM) Giedo van der Garde is still in the Albert Park paddock on Friday, even though Sauber's two other contracted race drivers were seated in the cars.

But Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr went nowhere in Friday practice 1, highlighting the depth of the legal crisis at the struggling Swiss team.

Earlier, Dutchman van der Garde had pulled on Ericsson's race overalls and had a seat fitting in Nasr's car.

But it is understood the team was simply complying with the local supreme court's order, amid the threat the cars could be seized and team boss Monisha Kaltenborn arrested.

Kaltenborn made her first appearance of the week on Friday, but is believed to have then left the paddock shortly afterwards.

Sauber has not issued a single 'tweet' since Monday.

The team is reportedly not fully cooperating with the van der Garde camp, amid rumors the 29-year-old's wealthy backers made a $8 million upfront payment last August.

As recently as Thursday evening, Sauber informed the FIA its drivers for the weekend are Nasr and Ericsson.

Van der Garde had to obtain a guest pass simply to enter the paddock, and the FIA has accommodated him for the day in its offices.

"I'm staying here," van der Garde said after taking off Ericsson's overalls as he walked through the Melbourne paddock in casual clothes.

The paddock rumor is that the FIA is helping him to fast-track his application for a super license, which could be ready in time for Saturday practice and qualifying.

"I don't know," van der Garde said when asked about that. "We'll see later."

Indeed, court proceedings will resume in Melbourne on Friday afternoon.

Van der Garde's lawyer says Sauber is refusing to sign a document so that his super license application can be formalized.

"Sauber simply refuses to complete the paperwork," the lawyer said.

Around the paddock, although there is sympathy for the plight of F1's struggling smaller teams, many are unimpressed with Sauber's handling of the affair.

Niki Lauda told the Swiss newspaper Blick the team's methods amid the crisis have been "strange".

"Agreements must be complied with," said the Mercedes team chairman and F1 legend. "To put it politely, negligence is the same in any business around the world."

Manor not up and running in Melbourne
(GMM) The 2015 season is off to a stuttering start in Melbourne, with only 8 of the 10 teams actually firing up their engines in Friday practice.

Sauber is embroiled in the Giedo van der Garde chaos, while the engines at resurrected Manor stayed silent for entirely different reasons.

After its computers were wiped clean for sale amid administration, Manor is now in frantic talks with engine supplier Ferrari to re-install crucial data that will allow the complex 'power units' to even be fired up.

"Just because we're here doesn't mean you just turn the key and go," boss Graeme Lowdon told Britain's Sky.

It is rumored Manor's operational issues are so complex the team may not be ready to turn a wheel for several races.

"We just have to keep working through methodically," said Lowdon, who said Manor will do its "absolute best" to be able to qualify and race in Melbourne.

As the other cars practiced on Friday, Manor confirmed: "Today is effectively our first day of testing".

So even if the software problems can be resolved, the team is facing a shopping list of other problems. There are rumors the British government is still pursuing the team for unpaid taxes.

Other speculation suggests Ferrari is also pushing for bills to be paid.

And then there is the matter of the hurriedly-modified 2014 car, powered by the similarly year-old Ferrari engine.

Asked if the 107 per cent qualifying rule might be a problem, driver Will Stevens admitted: "It depends how much faster the guys at the top have become."

Winter testing suggests the field has moved forward by a factor of at least two seconds per lap.

"We're going to do the best job we can," said Stevens, "but whether that's within 107pc or not I don't know."

Williams also rejects wind tunnel ban
(GMM) Williams has joined Mercedes in hitting out at a proposal to ban wind tunnels in formula one.

The proposal, admittedly "extreme" and "controversial" in the words of boss Christian Horner, has come from the Red Bull camp.

He says the sport's enormous costs need to be cut, but it should also be remembered that Red Bull is trying to rekindle the interest of its now part-time designer Adrian Newey, arguably the most intuitive aerodynamicist in F1 history.

Dominant Mercedes, who kicked off their campaign with a one-second advantage over the rest of the field in first Melbourne practice, slammed the idea.

"This is formula one," said boss Toto Wolff, "not GP2 or a single car series like Indycar."

But now, even Red Bull's cost-cutting argument has taken a knock as Williams – the giant-killing British team on a mid-grid budget – also rejected the proposal.

"We have invested heavily in wind tunnels," deputy boss Claire Williams is quoted by Italy's Autosprint.

"We have two and the second one cost us millions. We will not support a ban," she insisted.

World Champion Lewis Hamilton was not happy about the speculation regarding his contract status

Hamilton says newspaper report 'piece of rubbish'
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton has slammed a newspaper report that suggested he was demanding $1.5 million per week to sign a new Mercedes deal.

Boss Toto Wolff has already rubbished the claims, telling a reporter "You must question where you get your drugs from".

The original report, labelled as exclusive by the London newspaper The Times' correspondent Kevin Eason, cited sources who said Hamilton "has decided that he must be the best-paid man on the grid".

Indeed, Hamilton's negotiations with Mercedes – which he is conducting only with the aid of his long-time lawyer Sue Thackeray – have been protracted, and the outcome continually delayed.

But the British driver insisted in Melbourne: "There is nothing unusual going on.

"We are basically there, there's just a few teeny little bits that we will probably iron out over the next few days and I'd be hopeful that we will have it sorted," Hamilton told the BBC.

As for The Times' claims of $1.5 million a week, he said that was "completely nonsense".

"I heard about one story that I had been asking for a million pounds a week. That is the biggest piece of rubbish that has been written for some time," said Hamilton.

Magnussen 'surprised' after Melbourne crash
(GMM) Kevin Magnussen swiftly took responsibility after crashing his McLaren-Honda in Melbourne practice 2.

The Dane is filling in for Fernando Alonso this weekend, as the Spaniard continues to recover from his mysterious Barcelona testing crash.

After returning to the paddock, Magnussen initially told Sky's pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz he was "surprised" to have lost control of the MP4-30 at turn 6.

He vowed to "look at the data".

Lotus reserve Jolyon Palmer agreed with Magnussen that it was a "slightly strange incident".

But Magnussen promptly 'tweeted': "The crash was my mistake.

"Just lost the rear on the entry and unfortunately hit the wall and damaged the left front."

Judge tells van der Garde, Sauber, to be 'sensible'
(GMM) The Giedo van der Garde saga will continue into yet another day on Saturday.

While Sauber race duo Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr finally took to the track in Melbourne, the local supreme court confirmed that Dutchman van der Garde's legal case will resume on Saturday morning.

The judge "urged (the) parties to have very sensible discussions," the court revealed.

Early on Friday, van der Garde had a seat fitting in the C34, but the atmosphere in the Sauber garage was icy, according to Auto Motor und Sport correspondent Michael Schmidt.

He said that after the Dutchman finally managed to secure a guest paddock pass, the bulk of Sauber's mechanics walked out as a skeleton crew fitted his seat.

The driver's lawyer was busy telling the court that Sauber is actively blocking van der Garde "from getting a (super) license to drive".

It comes amid rumors the van der Garde camp is in fact not trying to secure the Melbourne seat, but force Sauber's collapse so that his backers can invest.

So as court bailiffs waited outside the Albert Park paddock, van der Garde's lawyer urged the court to seize Sauber's race cars and equipment.

"Sauber will leave the jurisdiction on Monday and one of the orders we seek is sequestration today or tomorrow of the racing equipment," he confirmed.

However, Sauber's nominated drivers for Melbourne, Ericsson and Nasr, ventured onto the circuit for the second Friday practice session, having sat out P1.

Van der Garde's lawyer confirmed that "constructive discussions" have taken place late on Friday.

Sauber silent amid van der Garde saga
(GMM) Buried in the Giedo van der Garde saga, Sauber is silent.

The embattled Swiss team has not issued a 'tweet' since Monday, and while it is usually one of the first to publish post-session statements to the media, nothing was immediately forthcoming after Friday practice.

And when the release finally did emerge, Sauber did not mention the legal shenanigans that have cast a pall over the 22-year-old F1 team's very future, other than to say it "did not participate in the first free practice session".

Boss Monisha Kaltenborn did, however, attend the FIA press conference on Friday, despite van der Garde's lawyer earlier calling for her to be arrested and jailed.

Reporters asked if she has considered stepping down from her post.

"I have not considered that," Kaltenborn, herself a contract lawyer, answered.

She would not comment at all on the specifics of the case, but did admit: "It has had a very, very negative impact on the team".

"There's nothing much more I can really say."

The saga resumes in the Melbourne supreme court on Saturday morning.

Helmut Marko unhappy with Renault…again.

Red Bull slams Renault in Australia
(GMM) Red Bull has slammed its engine partner Renault, after a difficult start to the 2015 world championship campaign in Australia.

Star driver Daniel Ricciardo could not run at all in Friday's second practice session due to an engine problem, and in the morning had been just tenth fastest.

It emerges that the team will be able to repair the 'power unit', but Red Bull official Dr Helmut Marko indicated that the relationship with Renault remains fragile.

"The engine is broken after 50 kilometers," he bluntly told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.

"We have a meeting on Wednesday in England. Those in charge of Renault are not yet here, they're coming tonight," Marko said in Melbourne, "but it cannot be like this."

He continued: "We are promised again and again 'Next time it will be better, the test results are encouraging'.

"But if you have an engine failure after 50 kilometers, that is incomprehensible," Marko insisted.

"With all the engines, drivability is significantly worse than in testing. We wanted an improvement and we have taken a step back," he said.

"The gap to the top now is frightening," added Marko.

Also openly angry after Friday practice in Melbourne was Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

"The actual power is the same as we had in Abu Dhabi last year," he is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.

Kaltenborn has no intention to quit
Monisha Kaltenborn has no intention of quitting as team principal of Sauber despite being mired in legal controversy this week.

Kaltenborn's position has been drawn into sharp focus after appearing to have signed three drivers for the new Formula One season, but with naturally only two seats available.

The case with reserve driver Giedo van der Garde is to continue at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne on Saturday, just a few miles from the Albert Park circuit.

Kaltenborn, a trained lawyer, was naturally unable to shed any light on the case given it remains ongoing.

But asked whether she was still competent to run the team, Kaltenborn replied: "I don't see it (the case) having any effect.

"We have a very clear view of what we did. We took action after thinking about it for a while.

"For us that was very clear, but the outcome is different, and that's all I can say to you."

Pressed on whether she had considered resigning, Kaltenborn added: "I've not considered that.

"This whole matter does not have any effect on the way we work, the way the team works."

Kaltenborn conceded, however, the past week had affected morale with the team's name dragged through the courts.

"It's had a very negative impact on the team because the situation was, for a while, unclear," added Kaltenborn.

"We now have certain actions taken against the team, and we are acting accordingly. There's nothing much more really I can say to that."

'I was not driving very well' – Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen admitted he was not driving at his best during Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix after finishing the session 0.430s shy of Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari finished the day second fastest behind Mercedes, but Vettel was the only one of the team's two drivers to get within a second of Nico Rosberg's best time. Raikkonen said he was not at his best and has work to do to get the most from the Ferrari before qualifying on Saturday

"Not an ideal day, [I was] not driving very well or putting the lap together," he said. "We chased the car a little bit on the longer runs and it seems to work a bit better, it was just tough to put things together.

"We know where we expect ourselves to be and it's only Friday. We still have work to do. I just have to put things together and drive a good lap and we should be OK."

However, Raikkonen is adamant Ferrari has made a step forwards this year.

"In testing it was a big improvement already and the team has done a good job over the winter. There is still hard work to do but we have to start somewhere and if you compare it to last year it is a big step."

Mercedes is out of reach – Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel says “Mercedes is out of reach" following the first day of practice ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg topped the times during both of Friday’s practice sessions, with Lewis Hamilton never more than 0.1s slower. Vettel was third quickest in FP2 but 0.7s off the pace and despite strong race pace he doesn’t believe Mercedes can be challenged.

Asked if Ferrari has a top five car, Vettel replied: “Let’s hope so.

“I think it was today and, tomorrow, we will see. For what we did, we should be happy.

“It would be nice to stay in front of as many people as we can. I'm sure Mercedes is out of reach. You have to be realistic and as I said the most important thing today is that we ran and didn't have any problems. It was a very, very smooth day – I don’t remember the last smooth Friday I had like this from that point of view."

Vettel highlighted the reliability of the SF15-T as one of the most pleasing aspects of Friday’s running from Ferrari’s point of view.

“Of course it was a good day. We didn’t have any issues with the car, reliability was good and the hard work we did over the tests was positive and we had a smooth day. In terms of performance, for sure the higher you are the better it is, but it's Friday and having been in F1 for quite a while, I know Friday is not important for lap times."

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