Latest F1 news in brief – Sunday

  • Force India silent as Ecclestone justifies blackout
  • F1's Bahrain debacle leaves sport in the shadows
  • Massa's 'F1 future' at stake – Domenicali
  • Picking winner like spinning roulette wheel in Bahrain
  • Alonso hopes season 'starts again' in Europe
  • Schumacher demoted to 22nd on Bahrain grid

Force India silent as Ecclestone justifies blackout
(GMM) Force India is remaining publicly silent after its cars were excluded from television coverage of qualifying in Bahrain.

Paul di Resta raced into the decisive Q3 segment but, justifying the apparent black-out, Bernie Ecclestone said "nobody cares" about the cars that are not in the running for pole.

Rumors are intensifying that Force India was maliciously excluded from the sport's 'world feed' – controlled by Ecclestone's Formula One Management – because the Silverstone based team sat out a practice session over staff's safety fears.

The F1 chief executive told reporters: "I suspect it (the blackout) was more to do with the Bahrain laws on no alcohol advertising.

"They have a whisky company prominently on the car. They should have taken it off. The TV could not show that," said Ecclestone.

Force India's deputy team boss Bob Fernley, in charge this weekend in Vijay Mallya's absence, would not comment.

Indeed, McLaren and Sauber are not running their usual alcohol sponsors this weekend, but Red Bull was shown on television throughout the Bahrain grand prix weekend so far with its Singha beer brand signage.

And Force India's whisky sponsor Whyte and Mackay was seen on the world feed in Bahrain in Friday morning practice, before the team decided to sit out the second session.

Meanwhile, authoritative media sources have been briefed to the effect that Force India's current livery was approved well in advance of this weekend's race.

A team insider told the Guardian: "Everyone knows what happened. Bernie is giving Force India a slap on the wrist for missing Friday's second practice session."

F1's Bahrain debacle leaves sport in the shadows
(GMM) Bahrain's political situation has completely overshadowed the track action this weekend.

Drivers usually asked about tire temperatures, and team bosses normally pressed about technical rows, have instead been asked about civil unrest, security, and – most recently – the death of a Bahraini protester.

"I think it's always dreadful if someone dies, but I don't know what happened," an uncomfortable Sebastian Vettel said on Saturday after finally returning to pole position after a difficult start to his 2012 campaign.

Tom Cary, writing in the Telegraph, insisted: "In the circumstances, qualifying was almost an irrelevance."

In the paddock, it is clear that those representing formula one have had to take a side in the saga: either insisting life is continuing for the bulk of Bahrainis, or joining the intense criticism of the decision to press ahead this weekend.

Undoubtedly, outside the Sakhir circuit, Molotov cocktails have been – and are being – thrown.

And behind the guarded paddock gates, there are plenty of nervous faces.

La Stampa's Stefano Mancini relayed how, when a fireworks display began at the circuit in the early evening, the tension rose dramatically.

O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, however, insisted that Bahrain is no warzone, and he even agreed with FIA president Jean Todt that the international media has played a guilty role.

"There are a lot of irresponsible journalists in these moments, just as in any human activity, there are good and bad professionals.

"Life is going on here; the world is not ending."

Bahrain's horrific impact on F1, however, is undisputedly real.

Following the internet terrorist group Anonymous' attack on the sport's official website, at the time of writing the FIA website is also down.

The criticism is also real and justifiable, shining a spotlight on Bernie Ecclestone for pithily dismissing an issue important to the citizens of his grand prix host nation, and FIA president Jean Todt for his near silence.

The number one question being asked, therefore, is not who will win Sunday's race, but can it go ahead at all.

"There is no such thing as certainty," Frenchman Todt told RMC Sport, "but that's the same for everything.

"If you are asking if I'm confident we will have a good race, I say yes, without hesitation."

Todt's played down the damage the saga might do to F1's image, but it might also be said that his words amount to little more than damage-control.

"He (Todt) is a passenger," Cary wrote in the Telegraph. "Formula one is just crossing its fingers now".

For others, the damage is already done — even after Todt finally broke his silence on Saturday.

The Times' Kevin Eason has been highly critical of Todt's handling of the situation, but the FIA president at least attended Bahrain and met with selected journalists on Saturday.

"The Times … was not on the list of selected media outlets," revealed Eason. "Whatever justification Todt has for a race that has been mired in controversy and protest is, as a result, unrecorded."

The final battle for F1 will be to emerge from the fallout of the most controversial grand prix in recent history.

"We're here now," said frustrated Mercedes boss Ross Brawn on Saturday, "and after this event we need to sit down and discuss it."

Massa's 'F1 future' at stake – Domenicali
(GMM) Felipe Massa's future in formula one is at stake in 2012, Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali has admitted.

He said the struggling Brazilian driver, already fighting to keep his seat with the famous Maranello based team, "needs to improve" for the very sake of his "future in formula one".

Domenicali's latest interview in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo indicates therefore that not only Massa's Ferrari seat is in doubt, but that he might struggle to find any place on the grid next season.

Rubens Barrichello, once the great Michael Schumacher's number two teammate at Ferrari, recently advised his friend Massa to "relax" as he faces being destroyed by the Italian marque's new hero, Fernando Alonso.

"Felipe needs to accept," said Domenicali, "that he is facing a very strong teammate. If not, that hurts him.

"He needs to assume a clear role rather than trying to take advantage — you need to learn from Fernando, not challenge him.

"That (challenging) is the way to being destroyed by a teammate such as Alonso or Schumacher, who are real cannibals," Domenicali insisted.

Apparently justifying Alonso's dominant position, Domenicali said Ferrari has a "moral obligation to champion" the highly rated Spaniard.

And that influence will extend to the selection of his 2013 teammate, Domenicali hinted.

"He (Alonso) has a central role in the team, and he therefore participates in the important issues," said the Italian.

Picking winner like spinning roulette wheel in Bahrain
(GMM) It is a measure of the exhilarating 2012 season so far that the sport's battle-hardened experts were surprised on Saturday.

In the centre of the official post-qualifying press conference sat Sebastian Vettel, the reigning back to back world champion and pole master.

But Red Bull, and the formerly-dominant 24-year-old German in particular, have had a tough start to the new season, leaving him without a pole in 2012 until Bahrain.

It is clear he had stopped counting.

"31?" Vettel exclaimed as a reporter updated his pole tally. "Sh*t!"

On Sunday, he will also try to open his 2012 account of race wins, and if he succeeds he will be the sixth different grand prix victor in as many races.

Dating back to Abu Dhabi last year, when Lewis Hamilton won, the next four races were all won by another different driver — Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg.

Vettel hasn't won since India 2011.

"I have had a good feeling about the car from first practice (in Bahrain)," admitted Red Bull's designer Adrian Newey, who has watched the RB8 beaten by McLaren, Mercedes and even the struggling Ferrari since the new season began.

But, arguably, F1 on race-day Bahrain is less predictable than ever before.

"I wouldn't bet on anyone," Button, fourth on the grid, is quoted by Brazil's O Estado de S.Paulo.

"When the track conditions or the weather chances, it influences the performance of the cars like never before. It's almost like a game of chance," said the Briton.

Indeed – as McLaren has arguably the best car overall, Sauber has shown winning pace, Mercedes broke through in China and Red Bull is back on top in Bahrain – predicting Sunday's winner does seem like the spinning of a roulette wheel.

"He (Vettel) is pushing hard but the competition is tough with the McLarens, the Mercedes, the Lotus," former grand prix driver Patrick Tambay told RMC Sport.

"On Sunday I see six potential winners, and there will be surprises. It'll be a fight like that until at least the middle of the season," said the Frenchman.

"It's very open, with a lot of wolves in the pack of contenders," added Tambay.

Alonso hopes season 'starts again' in Europe
(GMM) He may be in Bahrain, but Fernando Alonso's mind is thinking firmly ahead to Europe as the Spaniard prepares to struggle on Sunday yet again.

Ferrari's number one driver squeezed into Q3 with the struggling F2012 on Saturday, and is targeting some minor points on Sunday.

"The two McLarens and the two Red Bulls are at the front, and there's (also) Rosberg," Alonso is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport, predicting how Sunday's race will unfold.

"We're not going to go past them. For us, we are racing behind the top five."

He is hoping it will be his latest and last experience of life as a midfielder in 2012.

For Barcelona, the first European race of the season mid next month, Ferrari – so disappointed with its start to the season – is planning a major upgrade for the F2012.

An added bonus is that it can be tested at Mugello in early May.

"Despite our problems I am in third place in the championship, and tomorrow (Sunday) I have a chance to score well. That's more than we expected.

"Next is Barcelona, a most important race for us. I hope the season starts again for me (there)," said Alonso.

Schumacher demoted to 22nd on Bahrain grid
He was 17th after a qualifying disaster in Bahrain, but Michael Schumacher has now been demoted to 22nd position after changing his gearbox and incurring the five-place penalty which goes with it. His challenge is now to rise through the field.

Tipped by many for a front row start on Saturday, Schumacher was badly hindered by a DRS failure and then knocked out of Q1 as Heikki Kovalainen improved his time for Caterham. Although Pastor Maldonado has also received a gearbox change penalty, he starts ahead of Schumacher because the Williams drop was applied first.

Mercedes has confirmed to that Schumacher will be setting off from the grid, as opposed to the pit lane. Teammate Nico Rosberg starts from fifth place.

New Grid

Car No. Driver Team Grid
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1
4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 2
2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 3
3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 4
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 5
16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 6
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 7
15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 8
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 9
11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 10
9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 11
14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 12
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 13
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 14
19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 15
20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 16
17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 17
21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 18
25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 19
22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 20
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 21
7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 22
24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 23
23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 24

Note – Maldonado qualified 17th, Schumacher 18th. Both dropped five grid places as penalty for an unscheduled gearbox changes.

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