Latest F1 news in brief – Sunday (UPDATED)

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.


  • Lewis Hamilton

    Hamilton happy to prove critics wrong

  • Ecclestone tips Ferrari to win title
  • Missing Alonso quali coup not important – Massa
  • Red Bull's 2014 interest 'flattering' – Raikkonen
  • Marko says Webber fuel conspiracy 'nonsense'
  • Protests brew in Bahrain as motor racing takes a back seat
  • Webber handed and Gutierrez handed grid penalty New
  • The pace was not there, admits Hamilton New
  • I had more pace in my pocket – Alonso New
  • Pirelli's take on how their tires have taken driven skill out of F1 New

Hamilton happy to prove critics wrong
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton has admitted pole in China is one step closer to confounding his critics after leaving F1 grandee McLaren.

Less than delighted team orders handed him his maiden Mercedes podium in Malaysia, the 2008 world champion was however delighted to dominate qualifying in Shanghai one race later.

"I can't answer (the critics) with one result," he said in China, "but bit by bit, as we progress and improve, they will have to stand corrected."

Some have expressed surprise not only at Mercedes' relative strength versus struggling McLaren in 2013, but also at how quickly Hamilton has settled in to his new surroundings after six years with the same team.

"I was worried about Hamilton," former F1 driver Patrick Tambay told France's RMC Sport. "I thought it would take a year for him to get everything in place."

Mercedes' Niki Lauda, however, said he is not surprised at all.

"Because he is good. From day one he has done a perfect job," the plain-speaking Austrian told Sun newspaper.

"I worked hard to get him and I am happy now he is really achieving what I knew he can do.

"Taking a driver, who is a top guy who people look up to, is the quickest way to get a team going."

On the other side of the coin, McLaren might now be missing the driver it groomed from boyhood.

"Congratulations to Lewis," team boss Martin Whitmarsh said in Shanghai. "He is a good driver in a good car, so it was inevitable."

Hamilton is happy with the decision to quit McLaren for the more competitive Mercedes, but he is not gloating.

"Naturally, I still have a real soft spot for McLaren," the 28-year-old said in a BBC column.

"They got me to F1, there will always be a place for them in my heart and I would never wish anything negative on them.

"It is sad for me to see they are struggling this year and I have no doubt they will improve and get back to the front," Hamilton added.

Ecclestone tips Ferrari to win title
(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone has tipped Ferrari to win the 2013 title.

"I think they are much better this year," the F1 chief executive told Italy's Sky broadcaster.

He is referring to the great Italian team's struggle for pace last year despite Fernando Alonso's strong championship challenge, and the much better single seater for 2013.

Felipe Massa and Alonso are, however, just fifth and sixth in the drivers' standings so far, but Ecclestone insisted: "I'd be surprised if they didn't win the title."

More broadly, amid criticism of Pirelli's highly degrading tires, the 82-year-old Briton insisted he is happy with the 'show' at present.

"I think the last three years, regarding the races, have been very positive.

"The same with the beginning of this year," he added.

Finally, Ecclestone chimed into the 'Multi-21' debate, insisting team orders are not good for F1.

"Maybe they are having problems with the tires, but they will have to deal with them — no one should be giving orders," he said.

"No team has to tell the drivers what to do — they should be giving them information, then it's up to the driver to decide what to do."

Red Bull and Mercedes have said they will limit the use of team orders from now on, and Ecclestone commented: "I hope so. They should be racing."

Missing Alonso quali coup not important – Massa
(GMM) Felipe Massa has played down being outqualified by his teammate Fernando Alonso in China.

Had Brazilian Massa earned a better grid position than his Spanish cohort on Saturday, it would have been the first time in Alonso's entire career he was outqualified five times on the trot.

The statistic riled Alonso earlier in Shanghai, when reporters asked the double world champion if Massa's form was a worry.

"I haven't slept since Australia. I only like to eat white rice. I'm losing my hair," Alonso said sarcastically.

He then qualified third, two places ahead of Massa.

When told he had missed out on the five-times-on-the-trot coup, Massa insisted: "You (reporters have) talked all week about it, but what really interests me is winning races and fighting for the championship.

"That's my target," he is quoted by Spain's EFE news agency, "not beating a record or Alonso.

"I don't think you get a trophy for that.

"To be honest, I want to be faster than him in every race, every practice, every qualifying, but I also want to be faster than everyone else as well."

Massa continued: "Anyway, race strategy is now much more important than two or three places on the grid, so let's concentrate on that."

Red Bull's 2014 interest 'flattering' – Raikkonen
(GMM) Kimi Raikkonen has hinted moving to Red Bull could be an option for 2014.

Rumors are swirling in the Shanghai paddock that the Finn, who is Sebastian Vettel's closest friend in F1, has been earmarked as the successor to Mark Webber.

"There is so much talk that I've agreed a contract for next season," Raikkonen exclaimed to Germany's Bild am Sonntag.

"First I'm trying my best at Lotus, then I'll think about my future.

"It is of course flattering, what Red Bull have said, but why is there all this talk if there is nothing (signed) on paper?" the 2007 world champion added.

The answer, of course, is that given Red Bull's obvious interest, Raikkonen's move would make sense.

He would work harmoniously with Vettel, and it would also be a good next move for the 33-year-old, who won 19 grands prix for McLaren and Ferrari before taking a two-year sabbatical in world rallying after the 2009 season.

"About the future, I am clear," Raikkonen said. "I want to work with a good team and sit in a good car.

"Red Bull is a good team, they have been world champions and won everything in the past years.

"Basically, there are not many top teams to think about. With Lotus, we are not yet where Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull are."

Speaking against the move, however, are equally-heard rumors in the paddock that Raikkonen is no longer serious about his trade: that he only returned to F1 for the money.

"Do you really think I would be here if it was just about money?" Raikkonen hit back. "I do enough fun things in my spare time than to have to listen to this bullshit.

"And I'm not exactly broke," he added.

Marko says Webber fuel conspiracy 'nonsense'
(GMM) Dr Helmut Marko has given short shrift to F1's latest conspiracy theory.

Inevitably, after Mark Webber ran out of fuel in qualifying and was sent to the very back of the Shanghai grid, the rumor-mongers connected the dots to the ongoing 'Multi-21' affair.

Germany's Bild newspaper summarized the conspiracy theory by saying some fans suspect Red Bull planned the move to "show Webber that he is the number 2".

Another theory could be that Red Bull wanted to cool the on-track drama by clearly separating the warring Webber and Sebastian Vettel on the grid.

Marko insisted: "Nonsense!"

Webber commented: "I can't be disappointed about my performance."

Protests brew in Bahrain as motor racing takes a back seat
Long before the Chinese Grand Prix started here in Shanghai, Formula One was once again reverberating to the jungle drums of Bahrain, where last year's controversial race aroused worldwide condemnation. Little may have changed outwardly, but talks have been going on for months between the ruling Sunni factions and pro-democracy Shi'ite protesters. While the dialogue is seen as a small step towards progress, protesters have continued to foment unrest in the out-lying villages of Sitra and Sanabis, where it is claimed up to 20 arrests have recently been made.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, said last week: "Bahraini authorities are arbitrarily detaining opposition protesters in advance of the Grand Prix. This suggests officials are more concerned with getting activists out of circulation than with addressing the legitimate grievances that have led so many Bahrainis to take to the streets."

Bahrain's public security chief, Tariq Al Hassan, countered: "We deny that claim and have clarified that only four suspects were detained in connection with a recent Molotov attack on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building."

Politicization of the race is inevitable given F1's global reach. Last year it crassly allowed its logo to be used in an unjustified proclamation of unification. This year, protesters' banners bear slogans such as: "Our blood is your car fuel" and: "Our skulls are crushed under your wheels."

Separating fact from fiction is delicate work, as both sides are highly adept at manipulating public relations propaganda to prove their disparate points. F1 remains divided as to whether the sport should allow itself to be treated this way. Following a recent briefing held by the Labour MP Richard Burden, who has long argued that the sport should avoid the troubled nation, former world champion Damon Hill was quoted as saying: "The question is whether Formula One going to Bahrain would be enabling or furthering brutal repression, by appearing to endorse the treatment being meted out. There is a perception that the sport is being used."

But in Shanghai he explained: "I don't deny a word, but I was there as a journalist expressing a view while Richard Burden was making his points. What I said was not by nature a statement by Damon Hill on Bahrain, and it would be unfair for it to be seen as such.

"I believe it would help if the sport made it clear that it takes no sides when going there. The FIA [motorsport's governing body] should be making it abundantly clear that its presence does not represent alliance to any political faction."

Burden said: "If I was Jean Todt, the FIA's president, I would not want to run the race in the absence of the proper benchmarks and milestones. Based on what I hear from the opposition forces, F1 will be even more of a focus for discontent this year, and the demonstrations will increase."

Formula One's ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, yesterday reiterated his belief that there will be fewer problems. "I haven't had any negative reports from anybody there," he said. "Somebody who actually lives there said everything's very normal."

The Independent's investigations during last year's events revealed an often-overlooked point: many Sunnis and Shias agree that the race is crucial to the Gulf kingdom's economic wellbeing, and that without it the already inflamed situation would only be exacerbated.

On track here yesterday, Lewis Hamilton took the first pole position of his Mercedes career as the troubled Red Bull team stumbled.

"I had to make sure the radio was off after my engineer told me I had pole, because I was so excited," Hamilton said. "None of us expected this level of performance at this stage of the season and it's a real bonus." The Independent

Webber handed and Gutierrez handed grid penalty
Following the stewards' decision to dock Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez five places on the Bahrain Grand Prix grid, Mark Webber has also been hit with a penalty. The Australian, unlike his rival, approaches the next race with a three-place drop.

Webber has been given the penalty after colliding with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne at the Turn 6 hairpin in the early stages of the race. Vergne expressed confusion over his rival's actions, with the stewards also deeming the Red Bull driver to be at fault.

A selection of drivers are still under investigation for the use of DRS under yellow flags, including Kimi Räikkönen and reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

The pace was not there, admits Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes still has work to do if it is to secure the second Grand Prix victory of its return to Formula 1 as a works team, with the Briton unable to hold onto his pole position advantage at Shanghai on Sunday afternoon.

Having led the early stages of the race, Hamilton fell back and only just held off Prime-tire starter Sebastian Vettel for third. With race-winner Fernando Alonso over ten seconds clear, the 2008 World Champion says improvements need to be made.

"I’m not really sure where we’re losing out," said Hamilton. "Today the overall pace was just not there. There are definitely a couple of areas we can focus on. We have some updates and need to keep improving. We have to work out where we are losing the time, try and zone in on that and improve."

Despite targeting victory ahead of the race, Hamilton expressed that he was satisfied with another podium result.

"I am quite happy with third, though I would have loved to win," explained Hamilton. "They [Alonso and Raikkonen] were a little bit too fast for us during the race."

In the sister Mercedes, Nico Rosberg retired with a suspected suspension issue.

I had more pace in my pocket – Alonso
Fernando Alonso has sent out a warning message to his rivals after securing his first victory of the season at the Shanghai International Circuit on Sunday afternoon, explaining that he had more pace available throughout the 56-lap Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver, who put together a near-perfect strategic performance with his team after starting on the Soft compound tire, finished more than ten seconds clear of Lotus rival Kimi Räikkönen, but believes he had lap-time available if required.

"It was a fantastic race for us, from the start to the end," Alonso explained. "We’ve made good progress with car and the tire degradation was better than expected.

"We had some pace in the pocket but it’s difficult to know when to use it. I had more potential which hopefully we can show in Bahrain. I expect a tough race there again. We will see different conditions and who knows how competitive everyone can be. The car seems to be able to be on podium so we hope to be on podium again."

Alonso says he felt slightly relieved to bounce back so emphatically after his early retirement in Malaysia and is feeling 'very optimistic' ahead of the next round.

"The result feels great after Malaysia; we’ve finished two races this year with one second place and a victory," Alonso explained, who sits third in the championship standings. "The start of the campaign is looking good so we’re very optimistic."

Pirelli's take on how their tires have taken driven skill out of F1
Here is Pirelli's take on how tire strategy played out in the Chinese GP. One thing is clear, they are clueless to realize that they have made F1 all about a team's tire strategy and almost zero about driver skill. A very sad state of affairs that we no longer know who the best driver is.

Paul Hembery: "Strategy played a key role in today's race, with the medium tire proving particularly effective at the beginning of the grand prix on full fuel. This initially rewarded the drivers who started on the medium tire, and also meant that those who started on the soft tire completed a short first stint in order to move onto the medium as quickly as possible.

"As a result we saw plenty of overtaking, with many of the strategies reliant on the drivers passing as many cars as possible to gain track position before their next stops. It was degradation, rather than actual wear, that dictated the strategy but we still saw consistent lap times from the medium compound, even on a long run of 15 laps or more.

"Once more we saw a very wide variety of race strategies, with Button and Vettel opting to run on the soft tires at the end. This gave us a thrilling finish, with a battle for the final podium place between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel that went all the way to the checkered flag. This is the third winner out of three races held so far this season; with five world champions in the top five places today…

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