- STR to be in '08 midfield – Vettel
- Head wouldn't respond to night race pressure
- Bernie refuses to back McLaren over 2007
- Ralf marvels at Hamilton attention
- Boss Dennis set to arrive in Australia
- Hamilton let 'ego' sour title tilt – Briatore
- 5pm race won't appease Bernie – Stoddart
- Montoya predicts tough 2008 for rookie Piquet
- No spy story effects, McLaren tester says
STR to be in '08 midfield – Vettel
(GMM) Toro Rosso will be among the midfield fight in formula one this year, German driver Sebastian Vettel says.
The Red Bull sister team, to commence the 2008 season with its older car before receiving the new single seater in a few races' time, logged lap times among teams including Williams and even Renault in the winter period.
"It looks as though we have closed the gap," Vettel, 20, confirmed to Eurosport.
"We are in the big midfield group," he added. "And when you consider where we started from, it is almost sensational when you think about it — no matter how the actual balance of power turns out to be."
Vettel, however, is also keen to get his hands on Red Bull's Adrian Newey-penned RB4 – to be called the STR3 in Toro Rosso's hands – later this season.
He said the development and potential of the current STR2-B has been "exhausted".
Head wouldn't respond to night race pressure
(GMM) Patrick Head, the veteran co-owner of the Williams team, has indicated that he would not be willing to compromise with F1 officials over the night racing debate.
Amid Bernie Ecclestone's threat to scrap the Melbourne race, Australian grand prix chiefs this week proposed to delay the start time from 2009 for the benefit of television viewers in Europe.
But to the BBC, Head indicated that he would not be willing to similarly back down, let alone give in completely to the push for expensive floodlit races.
F1's first ever night race will be held on the streets of Singapore later this year, and Malaysia is tipped to follow suit for 2009.
"If I was Singapore, I'd be saying, 'well, we're putting up all this money, why don't we have a grand prix at the time that suits us?'," Head said.
"I'd be rather 'nose out of joint' if I was told the only reason you're having the race on at that time is to suit Europe, or someone else," he added.
Bernie refuses to back McLaren over 2007
(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone has refused to take McLaren's side over the espionage affair, or the British team's narrow failure to win the world championships in 2007.
In an interview with Germany's Sport-Informations-Dienst agency, the F1 chief executive refused to confirm claims that Fernando Alonso last year attempted to 'blackmail' his McLaren bosses with the famous spy emails.
"That is speculation," the 77-year-old F1 chief executive said.
"We don't know what he was promised when he left the (Renault) team. Maybe he was promised number one status (by McLaren) and it never happened," the Briton added.
When asked if the Spaniard was right to split with the Mercedes-powered team at the end of last year, Ecclestone answered: "Yes, sure."
Meanwhile, when Bernie was asked for his opinion about why Lewis Hamilton failed to win the drivers' title despite an earlier huge points lead, he argued: "That was the (fault of the) team, not him."
Ralf marvels at Hamilton attention
(GMM) Departed F1 veteran Ralf Schumacher has marveled at the attention Lewis Hamilton has commanded since he made his grand prix debut one year ago.
For the first time since 1996, F1 will this weekend kick off for a new season without at least one of the famous Schumacher brothers on the grid.
But to Auto Motor und Sport magazine, 32-year-old Schumacher points out that the German duo is unlikely to be too badly missed.
"One year in, everyone talks about Lewis Hamilton nearly as often as they did about my brother after seven world championships," Ralf said.
Boss Dennis set to arrive in Australia
(GMM) Mere days before the new season kicks off, McLaren boss Ron Dennis appears no closer to stepping down.
It is now widely agreed in motor racing circles that the 60-year-old veteran's days as the Mercedes-powered team's principal are numbered.
But Dennis insists that the decision to stop and hand over to his deputy Martin Whitmarsh will be his alone.
"I'm not sure when that will be," the Briton told the Independent newspaper this week.
Dennis is due to arrive in Australia for the 2008 season opener on Thursday or Friday, but it is clear that he will not be making too many more trips to grand prix circuits as team boss.
"There are things I have to sort out in my life and I am in the process of doing that. I am 60 years old, and there are many other things I want to do outside formula one," he added.
Hamilton let 'ego' sour title tilt – Briatore
(GMM) Lewis Hamilton wasted his opportunity to learn from a double world champion, and lost the 2007 title because his inflated "ego" got the better of him.
That is the assessment of team boss Flavio Briatore, who for 2008 has reunited his Renault team with Fernando Alonso after the Spaniard fell out with McLaren last year.
The Italian equates Hamilton's narrow defeat in becoming the first rookie world champion with his failure to get along with Alonso, the drivers' title winner of 2005 and 2006.
"Hamilton had a very good possibility to learn. When you are a rookie you need to take that opportunity. He had the chance to drive with somebody very special in Fernando.
"Hamilton is very young and the talent is there but he lost this opportunity," Briatore told the Guardian newspaper.
"As a rookie you should work for the team. Your team consists of 1000 people working together to put two cars on the grid. You need to respect these people behind you — and not only your ego."
Briatore suggests that the infighting, and the resulting loss of the titles, was an insult to McLaren's other workers.
"I feel sorry for the employees of McLaren — it was terrible. It was important for McLaren to win the drivers' championship but they missed the opportunity. Because of this fight they finished with nothing," he said.
Briatore does not agree that Hamilton's inflated ego last year can be compared to Alonso's, who complained throughout his short McLaren stint that he was not fairly treated.
"When you want the world champion in your team, and you fight to take him away from Renault, you then need to protect him when he joins you," he said.
Briatore insists that McLaren blatantly favored Hamilton last year.
"(Hamilton) was born in this team. He has been driving 10 years with McLaren so that is normal.
"But what is less normal is when you see Hamilton in pole position and everyone at McLaren is jumping like crazy. If pole was for Fernando then everyone was like this (claps politely)."
Briatore even denies that the events of a recent Barcelona test, where Hamilton – F1's only black driver – was taunted by Alonso's supporters, was a case of racism.
"It was four imbeciles in the middle of 30,000 people," he said.
5pm race won't appease Bernie – Stoddart
(GMM) Former Minardi boss Paul Stoddart doubts that Australia will retain its grand prix beyond 2009.
Prompted by Bernie Ecclestone's insistence that Melbourne floodlight the Albert Park circuit for a night race, Australian Stoddart said Albert Park organizers' proposed compromise is unlikely to work.
The AGPC has offered to meet Ecclestone half-way with a twilight race at 5pm next year.
But Stoddart, in Melbourne for this weekend's race, told the local Herald Sun newspaper: "The only thing that's going to appease Bernie is a total night race.
"I think it's a night race, or (that's) it. This (proposal) is a halfway house. I can't see it improving the ratings, if that's what it's about."
Stoddart suggests that Ecclestone is under pressure to scrap races because of the increased interest of potential grand prix hosts around the world.
"There are plenty of countries happy to spend $50m on a sanctioning fee. It's hard to fight those economics," he said.
Montoya predicts tough 2008 for rookie Piquet
(GMM) Juan Pablo Montoya has predicted a difficult rookie season in 2008 for his fellow South American, Nelson Piquet Jr.
Montoya, the Colombian and former race winner for McLaren and Williams, says 22-year-old Piquet – a Brazilian who was actually born in Germany – faces a tough task at Renault alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso.
"Piquet is a fast driver, but he doesn't have a lot of experience and he will be in Alonso's shadow," the NASCAR driver told the Spanish news agency EFE.
"That, I think, will be his biggest problem. He will have to find a way to overcome these obstacles," Montoya added.
Late last year, McLaren boss Ron Dennis branded Montoya "a fool" for leaving formula one in the midst of a problematic 2006 season.
The 32-year-old now replies: "People in Europe think that formula one is the only thing. They're wrong, because NASCAR races are much tougher, and more fun."
No spy story effects, McLaren tester says
(GMM) Pedro de la Rosa has revealed that there have been no recriminations within McLaren despite his role in the imposition of the espionage penalties last year.
Email traffic between the British team's veteran test driver and his Spanish compatriot Fernando Alonso last year brought the spying affair back onto the FIA's radar, resulting in the $100m fine and championship exclusion.
But 37-year-old de la Rosa told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that McLaren has put the whole affair into the past.
"The atmosphere is still good. There is no side-effect," he said.
"My role remains the same as last season," says de la Rosa, who is set to arrive in Melbourne as McLaren's reserve driver.
"I have to thank the team for the support they gave me after the espionage story. They have always supported me and we have stayed together.
"That (support) is something that some people might not have noticed, but I did," de la Rosa added.
He also jokingly revealed that the entire spy affair taught him a valuable lesson.
"Now I hardly ever send emails," de la Rosa smiled. "I prefer much more to discuss things face to face!
"You always have to learn from things in life — even the bad ones," he added.