Latest F1 news in brief – Friday

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.


  • Wolff replaces Fry

    Wolff replaces Mercedes' departing CEO Nick Fry

  • Hamilton denies considering 2013 sabbatical
  • Alonso not fazed by Raikkonen's winning pace
  • Tester Frijns to focus on Sauber test role
  • Kubica turned down DTM offer for 2013
  • Massa denies 'team orders' strategy to favor Alonso
  • Vettel: We need to take a step forward
  • Hamilton is positive over Mercedes' race potential
  • Red Bulls angered by tire situation in Sepang New
  • Button becomes a GPDA director New
  • Williams car still a dud New

Wolff replaces Mercedes' departing CEO Nick Fry
(GMM) The latest subject of Mercedes' radical formula one shakeup is Nick Fry.

A stalwart of the Brackley based team since its days as BAR, 56-year-old Briton Fry, 56, is vacating his role as chief executive, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.

He will be replaced by new shareholder and director Toto Wolff, who many regard as the new main 'boss' of Mercedes, despite Ross Brawn still being team principal.

Fry's departure is the latest major move at the team in the recent past, after Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Niki Lauda arrived, Paddy Lowe looks set to join, and Norbert Haug and Michael Schumacher departed.

The Guardian report, written by correspondent Paul Weaver from Malaysia, said Wolff's new responsibilities will involve the "mostly commercial activities" that had been Fry's chief domain.

Fry's exit, to be completed by the end of the month, "is an amicable one," the journalist added.

Press Release
The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One team today announced that Nick Fry, the team's Chief Executive Officer, will step down from his current position at the beginning of April. He will continue to assist the team's commercial operations as a consultant until at least the end of 2014.

Toto Wolff, the team's new Executive Director and 30 per cent shareholder, will therefore take a greater role in the day-to-day running of the team alongside Team Principal Ross Brawn, assuming the areas of responsibility previously held by Nick.

"I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to work with our team for the last 11 years and remain extremely proud of the fact that we took the team to its first race win and especially the double World Championship in 2009. Equally important is the success of our commercial activities as we have managed to gain the support of some of the most important companies in the world, thereby building a strong foundation for the future success of the team," said Nick Fry. "I believe that MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS offers the best sponsorship proposition in Formula One and I look forward to continuing to assist the team and its partners over the coming years."

"I would like to thank Nick for more than ten years of service to the team in Brackley," commented Toto Wolff. "MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS enjoys a strong network of global, blue-chip partners who want to be associated with Mercedes-Benz in Formula One and we will work hard to retain our loyal partners while also attracting new names to the sport in the future. I am pleased that Nick will remain close to the team to support us in achieving these targets."

Hamilton denies considering 2013 sabbatical
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton has denied Bernie Ecclestone's claim that he would have preferred a sabbatical in 2013 rather than stay at McLaren.

Referring to the 2008 world champion's soured relationship with McLaren as he considered a move to Mercedes last year, Ecclestone said: "Lewis told me that he would have rather taken a year off.

"In fairness to Lewis, he didn't leave McLaren over money," Ecclestone told business journalist Christian Sylt.

When Ecclestone's claims were put to Hamilton in Malaysia on Thursday, the 28-year-old driver responded: "I don't remember that.

"I don't think I would leave this sport unless I didn't have a good feeling about it, or a smile and an energy when I got in the car. I love racing, so there is no need to stop.

"I am happy — I think Bernie has a better memory than me," he is quoted by the Telegraph.

Given McLaren's early crisis in 2013, many now see Hamilton's move to Mercedes as inspired.

But although outwardly happy with his new challenge, team and 2013 car, Hamilton said he does not feel quite ready to win races or push for the title.

"I don't feel 100 per cent yet, and I think that showed in practice in Australia in the wet," he said.

As for the weekend's challenge at Sepang, the Briton admitted: "I don't think I am quick here.

"Fernando (Alonso) beat me on this circuit in 2007, in only my second grand prix, and since then I have not had a spectacular race here."

Alonso not fazed by Raikkonen's winning pace
(GMM) Fernando Alonso on Thursday said Kimi Raikkonen's winning pace in Australia a week ago is not a worry.

Both the Spaniard and Raikkonen's Lotus managed to finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel in Melbourne, after the Red Bulls dominated qualifying.

"The (race) pace of the Lotus was very good, but nothing we cannot do," Alonso is quoted by Spanish media reports including El Confidential newspaper.

"They (Lotus and Raikkonen) had a very clean race with no traffic, and I think this time (in Malaysia) we can be closer to them," added the 31-year-old, who counts Sepang among his very favorite layouts.

As for the pace of his 2012 championship rival Vettel, who qualified on pole in Melbourne but finished just third, Alonso said: "Their pace was very different from qualifying to the race.

"For them this will be a very important weekend to see what happens, but that's not our problem. We will just try to do our best and then see what the others have done."

According to reports by Finnish broadcaster MTV3, Lotus could even take a step forward in Malaysia, after a new passive double-DRS system was spotted on the black and red E21.

The broadcaster's Ossi Oikarinen noted: "A few teams tested it in the winter, but there is a question mark because it is quite a complicated system.

"It would be quite useful in Malaysia, China and Monza."

Tester Frijns to focus on Sauber test role
(GMM) New Sauber tester Robin Frijns will focus solely on his formula one role in 2013.

The 21-year-old Dutchman had hoped to split his time between the Swiss team's garage and a race cockpit in the GP2 series this year.

But a report in De Telegraaf newspaper said that while Frijns was made 'several' offers by GP2 teams, he turned them all down.

"Two reasons," he is quoted as saying. "We did not have the budget to race the full season, and also the seats with the best and most experienced teams were already occupied.

"We do it right or not at all," added Frijns, the reigning Formula Renault 3.5 series champion.

"I am staying positive and want to prepare as best I can for formula one. The focus is now completely on the test job with Sauber."

Kubica turned down DTM offer for 2013
(GMM) Robert Kubica has revealed he turned down an offer to return to premier circuit racing in 2013.

The Pole, preparing for his first event of 2013 as he gears up to contest the second-tier world rally championship this season, tested Mercedes' DTM car over the winter.

It was expected that a DTM race seat for the former Renault and BMW driver, seriously injured in an early 2011 rally crash, could pave the way for a return to F1 for the highly rated and popular 28-year-old.

He told Spain's AS sports newspaper: "I had an offer to race in DTM, but I chose rally even though it's a hundred times more difficult.

"I made the decision late because I wanted it to be right and, hopefully, later this year I will be happy with my choice.

"DTM is a very difficult championship, with a very high level, and maybe for me it would have been easier to race on circuits, as it's what I know."

When asked if he has therefore shelved his F1 dream for now, Kubica agreed: "I don't think much about formula one.

"Definitely the easiest choice would have been to do the DTM. But today my limitations mean I cannot drive formula one on some of the most physically demanding circuits.

"I also have limitations to do the rallies and so I will work hard this year and if I can overcome my limitations, I'll have time to think about returning to formula one," he added.

Massa denies 'team orders' strategy to favor Alonso
(GMM) Felipe Massa has denied suggestions last Sunday's 2013 season opener was clear evidence he is still Fernando Alonso's 'number 2' at Ferrari.

Despite qualifying right on Spaniard Alonso's pace in Melbourne and then running ahead of him in the race, Brazilian Massa was not called in first for service when the second round of pitstops took place.

"Felipe should not be at all happy," former Renault boss Flavio Briatore was quoted as saying.

After the race, Massa admitted: "Yes I was upset when Fernando got ahead of me. That was the only problem of my race, where I lost two positions."

One week on, preparing for round two in Malaysia, the 31-year-old Brazilian insisted he is happy to be back on top form in 2013, having slumped so badly last year.

But when asked if he thinks Ferrari deliberately moved against him in Australia, he told Brazil's Totalrace: "I was not penalized or disadvantaged.

"When we were in a group of cars, Fernando came in earlier … it's always easier when you take more of a risk.

"It looked like it was going to hurt him, but it ended up working out.

"Of course, if you're fighting for the best and that happens, you're upset, but of course it was not a disadvantage or even team orders. Not at all.

"I was part of that strategy and it didn't work out. It was not easy to understand the tires with such little practice," Massa added.

Vettel: We need to take a step forward
Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel says his Red Bull team needs to take a step forward after the opening two practice sessions in Malaysia, having struggled to get a handle on tire degradation throughout the opening day of track action.

The German, who finished second fastest to Kimi Räikkönen despite his under-par feelings with the RB9, says his team will experiment overnight in a bid to improve.

"I think it was unusual today as in the second session one part of the track was pretty wet and the other was dry – but it all dried out quite fast, as it was so hot," said Vettel.

"This afternoon we couldn’t do so much due to the weather, but this morning it looked okay, although the tires don’t last very long! We need to try a couple of things now overnight to improve and take a step forwards."

Mark Webber, who ended the day fourth on the combined timesheets, echoed his team-mate's sentiments and says tire degradation is still a massive challenge.

"It was a pretty smooth run for us, but we need to improve and keep finding pace," said Webber. "The tires are still the most important thing – it’s all about those!"

Hamilton is positive over Mercedes' race potential
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton approaches the remainder of the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend in a positive frame of mind over his team’s long run pace, with the Briton focusing on race simulations during the pair of Friday practice sessions at Sepang.

Despite the interruption of a rain shower in the second 90 minute session, the 2008 World Champion completed just six laps shy of a full race distance throughout the course of the day and insisted that short run performance was not the focus.

"We made some positive steps with the set-up over the two sessions today," explained Hamilton. "I had a good long run in the dry which has given us a lot of information to look at tonight. We didn't learn too much in the wet this afternoon however as the conditions were quite mixed when I went out.

"We focused mainly on longer runs today so I haven't done a quick lap yet on either set of tires; that will come tomorrow. I'm happy with the direction that we're going and let's see what the weekend brings."

Nico Rosberg, whose program was also focused race simulations in the second Mercedes, reiterated that tire management will be the ‘key to success’ this weekend.

"We worked a lot on our long run pace today, rather than being quick over one lap," said Rosberg. "As we saw in Melbourne, tire management will be the key to success, so that's our focus. The conditions were tough out there and the heat is unbelievable. We learnt a lot today but we still have some homework to do tonight and tomorrow."

Rosberg finished slightly higher than Hamilton in this afternoon's second practice session, with the pair ending up seventh and ninth respectively on the timesheets.

Red Bulls angered by tire situation in Sepang
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber could both be accused of losing their grip on Friday after the Red Bull duo launched scathing attacks on what they perceive as tire wear becoming too dominant a factor in Formula One.

The pair took their customary positions near the front of the pack during the first free practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix but rather than waxing lyrically over a job well done, the drivers took pot shots at this year's Pirellis.

"The whole category is geared around tires at the moment," Webber fumed despite topping the timesheets in the morning session ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus.

"Everything is around tires. Tires, tires, tire, tires, tires," the Australian added, while noting the wet track following a downpour in the second session was "the only conditions the slicks work in".

The Red Bulls locked up the front row in last week's season-opener in Melbourne but their one-lap speed was negated by tire degradation in long runs as Raikkonen took full advantage to romp to victory.

Vettel dropped from pole to third at Albert Park and while the German clocked the second fastest time of the day in Sepang on Friday behind Raikkonen, the triple world champion was less than enthused by his own battle with the Pirellis.

"It looked pretty OK but it was quite a mess if you look at how long the tires lasted," said Vettel, who complained over his team radio that the car was vibrating badly after 16 laps on the hard tires in the morning.

"Today, tire wear was pretty severe for everyone, so obviously you drive way under the potential of the car.

"I hope we have enough tires to survive the race and it is not a lot of fun and that is how it is."

Button becomes a GPDA director
Jenson Button has become a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA), AUTOSPORT can reveal, replacing Felipe Massa.

The vote was taken in a meeting of drivers' body at Sepang on Friday.

Sebastian Vettel remains in his role as the other director alongside Button, while Pedro de la Rosa keeps the chairman's seat despite swapping his HRT race drive for a Ferrari development role.

"It's good for the GPDA as we have two world champions as directors now," de la Rosa told AUTOSPORT.

The GPDA also discussed the current issues over superlicense fees and penalty fines, and agreed to leave the matter with the FIA to resolve for now.

There had been surprise among GPDA members in Melbourne when drivers were fined for offences such as pitlane speeding, which the GPDA had believed would no longer be the case now that superlicense fees had been increased.

Williams car still a dud
Williams were disappointed after putting in another woeful performance during Friday's practice for the Malaysian GP.

The Grove-based team's season did not get off to a good start in Australia with Pastor Maldonado labeling his FW35 as "undriveable."

The Venezuelan driver, though, was confident that his team would fix their problems at Sepang, however, that was not to be.

Maldonado was down in 16th place at the end of Friday's practice, 2.2s off the pace, while his team-mate Valtteri Bottas was even edged by a Marussia.

"We haven't made the progress we had hoped for today," said technical director Mike Coughlan.

"We need to look at the data we have from both sessions to maximize the package we have."

Coughlan did not sound hopeful of find a solution this weekend saying the team will "work on some improvements ahead of Shanghai."

Maldonado, though, is refusing to give up despite lacking pace.

"We didn't have the pace today unfortunately," he said. "We need to analyze the data tonight to see what we can do.

"We have a lot of work to do but we'll be pushing hard to see what we can achieve tomorrow."

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