Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

Valtteri Bottas to drive on Friday in place of Senna


  • 'Everybody or nobody' to race in Bahrain
  • Red Bull to run split setup strategy in China
  • Hamilton must resist 'VIP' pitfalls – Lauda
  • Bottas to practice even in Shanghai rain
  • Proton has rights to buy into Lotus team
  • Ferrari still 'one step below' leaders – Alguersuari
  • "Visit Mexico" brings color into play
  • New clashes mar lead up to Bahrain Grand Prix
  • 'No reason' to axe Bahrain – FIA
  • No pole for Hamilton after gearbox change
  • Ali Mushaim: Bahrain will not be safe for F1 New
  • Vettel admits to car troubles New
  • 'I want to race in Bahrain' – Webber New

'Everybody or nobody' to race in Bahrain
(GMM) The vast majority of the 12 F1 teams have declined to comment on the sport's deepening Bahrain crisis.

With uncertainty surrounding the staging of next week's race at Sakhir by the controversial Bahraini government, CNN contacted every one of the competing teams.

Nine declined to comment, but world champions Red Bull said the decision about whether or not teams attend belongs to the governing FIA.

"It's not up to the teams to pick and choose which races we take part in," said a spokesman.

Red Bull's other team, Toro Rosso, left open the possibility of an eleventh-hour cancellation.

"I certainly don't think it will be a case of some teams going and some not going," said a spokesman.

"It will be everybody or nobody."

Some media outlets, including the BBC as well as London's Daily Telegraph, are now reporting that most F1 teams are expecting the race to be called off.

And the Telegraph has quoted Bernie Ecclestone as admitting he is now "unsure" if it will go ahead.

But in the UK Express newspaper, the F1 chief executive said: "I have my people out there and they are walking around enjoying life just as they would here in London."

The latest reports in the mainstream press, however, do not bode well, with AFP news agency claiming protesters "wielding knives and sticks" attacked villagers on Wednesday.

Oksana Kosachenko, who is Caterham driver Vitaly Petrov's manager, said the F1 teams have "divided into two camps" over the Bahrain issue.

"If Bernie Ecclestone guarantees us safety and tranquility and promises the race won't become an instrument of any political manipulations, we will come," she told the Ria Novosti news agency.

She added that "extra security of the teams is necessary in the hotels, and the spectators should be guarded as well."

Typically for the current FIA president, Jean Todt has been conspicuously silent on the Bahrain issue, but the Guardian newspaper said the Frenchman will tell the teams this weekend in China that the race is going ahead.

And during the same scheduled meeting in China, Ecclestone will deliver a similar message, the British newspaper added.

But even Barack Obama has waded into the Bahrain situation, issuing a statement revealing the United States' "deep concern" about violence in the Arab state.

"I think I don't know more than you know," world champion Sebastian Vettel told reporters in Shanghai.

Red Bull to run split setup strategy in China
(GMM) Red Bull will split in two directions this weekend in China, as the defending champions seek to return to the pace.

After a less than satisfying start to the 2012 season for the previously dominant energy drink owned team, Dr Helmut Marko said this week that Red Bull has "a plan" for how to get back on track in Shanghai and beyond.

"Mark (Webber) will test an evolution of the setup used in Malaysia," RB8 designer Adrian Newey is quoted by the Portuguese language, "while Sebastian (Vettel) will run with a specification from the preseason.

"Then we will compare the results," revealed the Briton.

Vettel, just sixth in the drivers' standings at present, admitted this week that McLaren is the "team to beat" so far in 2012.

"I still don't think the pecking order has settled down yet," insisted Lewis Hamilton on Thursday in China.

Vettel agrees: "The first two races it looked extremely tight and I think it's not yet clear what is the right order," said the German.

Hamilton must resist 'VIP' pitfalls – Lauda
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton can match Sebastian Vettel's achievements, if he learns to resist the "VIP bullsh*t".

That is the typically blunt assessment of legendary triple world champion Niki Lauda, who hailed reigning double champion Vettel as a "very balanced person".

"His head is not disturbed by all this VIP bullsh*t," he is quoted by the Sun. "He is not disturbed at all."

In contrast, Hamilton – now at the wheel of arguably the best car for the 2012 season – had a dire campaign last season as his professional and personal lives collided and steered off-track.

"Lewis is as good as Sebastian in terms of pure speed and talent," agreed Lauda, "but sometimes (Hamilton) gets disturbed through his different lifestyle.

"If he gets his head in order again and is not disturbed, then he will be a strong competitor."

Arguably a bigger threat this year will be Jenson Button, the cool-headed 2011 runner-up who last year beat Hamilton in an identical McLaren.

"Jenson was the number two driver in the team but he has done a perfect job," said Lauda.

"He has stayed stable and improved and today it is interesting to see the battle between him and Lewis because that is the strongest lineup in F1."

But if they get a sniff of the championship, their personalities could collide and result in an all-out Alonso-Hamilton style war, warns former F1 driver Johnny Herbert.

"It has the recipe for that to happen," said the former Sauber and Jaguar driver.

Bottas to practice even in Shanghai rain
(GMM) Valtteri Bottas will return to practice action in Bruno Senna's car on Friday, even if the Shanghai skies open.

English-language television weather reports in the Chinese metropolis on Thursday are predicting a close to 100 per cent chance of rain for the opening day of action.

Finn Bottas, Williams' reserve driver who is managed by team shareholder Toto Wolff, is scheduled to drive Senna's FW34 no matter what the weather brings, according to the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat.

"The rain will not affect me, at least not in terms of how the program is drawn up," the 22-year-old driver said.

On Wednesday, the Oxfordshire based team announced that Susie Stoddart, who has now taken the surname of her new husband Toto Wolff, has become Williams' development driver.

The Scottish-born DTM driver will work on the driver simulator, conduct aerodynamic testing, and enjoy a "full track test in the coming months", team boss Sir Frank Williams said.

"Susie will also attend a number of races with us," he revealed.

"I should add that, as Susie is married to Toto Wolff, a director of Williams, her appointment was carefully considered and then approved by the board, with Toto recusing himself from the process," added Williams.

F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone welcomed the news.

"If Susie is as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car then she will be a massive asset to any team," he said.

Proton has rights to buy into Lotus team
(GMM) Proton, the Malaysian carmaker, has an option to buy 10 per cent of the F1 team that bears the name of its sports car marque Lotus.

Rumors about Group Lotus' health ramped up this week after it emerged that its title sponsorship of the Genii-owned Lotus team has been "terminated".

Group Lotus responded angrily to the subsequent speculation, albeit admitting it is grappling with "problems".

The Proton-owned carmaker pointed the finger at Caterham's Tony Fernandes, who was previously at the centre of a bitter F1 naming dispute with Lotus.

And also blamed for pedaling the rumors was Joe Saward, a British journalist who is also a Caterham director.

"And unlike some, we don't want to get too personal, so we'll leave it to you to judge how 'independent' his stories about Lotus are," Group Lotus said in a media statement.

The truth, Lotus claims, is that Proton has loaned Genii $47 million, with the Enstone based team's assets used as collateral.

"In addition Proton retains the rights to purchase 10 per cent of the F1 team," said Group Lotus. "Another 10pc share option will be activated if the team default on their loan obligations with Proton."

Ferrari still 'one step below' leaders – Alguersuari
(GMM) McLaren and Red Bull are the teams to bet money on after the early phase of the 2012 season.

That is the view of Jaime Alguersuari, the former Toro Rosso driver who is now a commentator for British radio as well as Pirelli's new test driver.

The Spaniard told Europa Press news agency that Ferrari, whose Fernando Alonso won the rain-marred Malaysian grand prix three weeks ago, remains "one step below" the current pacesetters.

"If it (Sepang) had been a normal race, the (Ferrari) car would not have been at the level of a McLaren or Red Bull," said Alguersuari.

At the same time, however, the 22-year-old insists that the 2012 title race remains "very open".

"Alonso was only the winner (in Malaysia) because he did a great job in choosing and managing the tires," said Alguersuari.

"But Ferrari have the potential to develop the car in a short space of time because the top teams are capable of gaining a second, a second and a half, which is what I think they're lacking.

"And I think what happens in the end is what matters to Fernando Alonso," he added, also explaining that the 2012 field is tightly bunched together.

"The FIA has done a great job with the regulations and I think we should be grateful," said Alguersuari.

"Now we can see a Sauber that really can be ahead, and that's because there is much less difference between the first and the fifth (best) car."

"Visit Mexico" brings color into play
Just as colorful as the country it represents is the logo “visit Mexico“, which from now on will again travel with the Sauber F1 Team around the world. The North American country is promoting itself with the individually colored letters during 12 of the remaining 18 Grands Prix in the prominent position on the back of the rear wings of the two Sauber C31-Ferraris. At all championship rounds the nation’s name will be present on the cars’ nose cones, on the racing overalls and helmets of drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, as well as on the team’s equipment.

Team Principal, Peter Sauber, said: “We are very happy that this partnership is continuing. We can assume that our good results in the first two Grands Prix have contributed to the renewing of the agreement, and, of course, Sergio’s second place finish in Malaysia has once again ignited pride in his home country."

New clashes mar lead up to Bahrain Grand Prix
Bahrainis wielding knives and sticks attacked Shiite villagers overnight, witnesses said on Wednesday, as pressure grew for this month's Formula One race in the Sunni-ruled state to be cancelled over the unrest.

A day after a gasoline pipe bomb injured seven policemen, men from Sunni neighborhoods who answered an Internet call to avenge the attack converged on Shiite-populated villages near Manama late on Tuesday, according to witnesses.

"I saw hundreds of men carrying knives, sticks and other sharp objects," on the outskirts of several Shiite villages, said one witness who identified himself only as Hussein.

"They were stopping cars and asking passengers where they lived in order to determine what sect they belonged to," he told AFP by telephone, referring to the Sunni and Shiite communities in Bahrain

Al-Wefaq, the Gulf kingdom's largest Shiite opposition group, said the attackers were in civilian clothes and "beat up" the residents of Shiite villages.

A statement by the group accused security forces of failing to stop the attacks.

"The security forces did not carry out their duty. They did not disperse the (assailants) or prevent them from attacking citizens," the statement said, adding that the authorities must "deal with these militias."

But Bahrain's interior ministry said police "prevented" a group of unidentified assailants from entering the Shiite village of Al-Nuweidrat on the outskirts of the capital..

In a statement, the ministry said assailants "attacked 24-hour shops and destroyed two cars," after holding an "illegal gathering," without mentioning the reported attacks by Sunnis on Shiite neighborhoods.

'No reason' to axe Bahrain – FIA
(GMM) In the Shanghai paddock on Thursday, the message was clear: next week's Bahrain grand prix is still on.

Bernie Ecclestone said in China that the only ones who could cancel the Sakhir race are the Bahrain sanctioning bodies, who are reportedly determined to return to the sport after a two-year absence.

"Absolutely nothing has changed," an FIA spokesman, addressing the latest speculation about the Bahrain situation, told the German news agency SID on Thursday.

"At the moment, there is no reason for us to depart from our decision taken before the season to include Bahrain on the calendar," he added.

It is believed F1 chief executive Ecclestone will meet with teams on Friday, but FIA president Jean Todt has not yet arrived in China from Taiwan.

No pole for Hamilton after gearbox change
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton's perfect qualifying score in 2012 is over.

It has emerged that the highest the McLaren driver can start Sunday's Chinese grand prix is sixth, due a five-place grid penalty.

"Just spoken to Lewis Hamilton," The Times correspondent Kevin Eason wrote on Twitter, "who discovered 30 minutes ago that (he) has been penalized five grid places for (a) gearbox change."

Briton Hamilton won last year's Shanghai race.

"I'll be heading to China looking to win," he said this week, "but it's just as important to pick up some good points if, for whatever reason, a win isn't on the cards."

Ali Mushaim: Bahrain will not be safe for F1
UK-based Bahraini pro-democracy campaigner Ali Mushaim said the Bahrain area will not be safe for Formula 1.

"The people are very angry. I don't think that the area will be safe," he told the Independent. "If the Bahraini people don't feel safe in their country, they cannot give any foreign people guarantees to be safe when Formula 1 comes to Bahrain.

"The Bahraini people are peaceful. However, if Formula 1 comes to Bahrain, I don't know what will happen – but I don't think everything will be peaceful."

"Last year Formula 1 didn't come to Bahrain for the same reason," he added. "There are still human rights abuses, many hundreds of Bahrainis are in prison, and still the villages are being attacked, Bahrain is occupied by Saudi troops. Nothing has changed."

Vettel admits to car troubles
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel admitted on Thursday he was having problems with his Red Bull, but insisted that his rivals should read nothing into his mediocre start to the season.

The German is going for his third world title on the bounce, a rare feat that would propel him towards the top bracket of all-time racers, all at the tender age of just 24.

But after his and the Red Bulls' supreme dominance of the last two campaigns, he has endured an indifferent start to the new season by his high standards, finishing second in Australia and a lowly 11th in Malaysia.

"Last year I had a better start, but it's only two races so far," he said ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on Sunday.

"It's not ideal, but the car has a lot of potential, only we have not got to it yet.

"Malaysia was chaotic and things didn't go as planned. The car has different problems (from last year) and bigger problems. But it's only two races.

"The problems this year are very different, maybe bigger," the German said, without going into details.

"We have a very competitive car, we just need to get it working properly," he added.

"We can't get to the real potential of the car and we can't get the balance of the car quite right.

"When we get this right, we will be in a much better position."

'I want to race in Bahrain' – Webber
Red Bull's Mark Webber has gone on record saying, it is his wish to travel to Bahrain for next weekend's planned Grand Prix.

"If I have a choice, then I want to race," Webber said in China on Thursday. "That's what I want to do. But saying that, you cannot ignore the fact that in the back of your mind there are a lot of good people in our sport and all of them want it to go down smoothly.

"We don't want to be involved in the situation that is out there, but the people that support our race are on one side and that's why it is so sensitive."

Webber added that the paddock is placing 'an immense amount of trust' in the FIA:

"We can only go on what the FIA are reading into the situation," he commented. "We are putting an immense amount of trust in them in going to and from the track each day, competing at the track and having a normal grand prix weekend.

"There are some massive decisions to be made. It is a difficult decision now because we are a week away. Now it's topical, there is a lot more pressure involved in the decision-making process and it's on the FIA as the teams and Bernie (Ecclestone) have stated.

"There are measures in place and there is added security. But we also accept that not everybody can have that and that doesn't make me feel comfortable. Let's hope that it (the safety measures) is complete overkill. We need to trust that the people taking the decision know how these people are going to operate. I don't know."

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