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F1: European GP Valencia

Fernando Alonso on top in Valencia

21/08/09 15:58


A little opposite lock as Alonso pushes hard in Spain
The stands may not have been brimmed with Spanish fans this afternoon in Valencia, but local favourite Fernando Alonso set the Friday pace around the 5.419km European Grand Prix street circuit, a cool eight-tenths of a second clear of the field.

Alonso proved rapid for much of the 90 minute session and despite an error that saw him plunge into the side of a rival with 15 minutes remaining, was able to take a new front wing on the Renault, resume and vault to the head of the timesheets in what is the Spaniard’s second home race of the season.

While Renault may be able to afford a little showboating at the head of the field, one team that cannot afford such luxuries is Brawn Mercedes. Under pressure from the gains made by rivals Red Bull Renault, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello spent much of the day evaluating various setups on the BGP 001 as well as the requisite option tyre running.

After the disappointment of Hungary, the team will be encouraged to see Button and Barrichello second and third fastest having shown good pace throughout the afternoon session.

Nico Rosberg is the quiet man of the 2009 season but continues to pick up points with Williams Toyota. Today the German racer was a solid fourth fastest, albeit a second off the ultimate pace, with team-mate Kazuki Nakajima close behind.

Force India has a new aero package available this weekend on its VJM02 challenger with Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella recording the sixth and eighth fastest times respectively. While such positions are unlikely to be achieved when it really counts, it is an encouraging start to the weekend for the Silverstone-based squad.

Robert Kubica led the BMW Sauber challenge with the seventh fastest time while team-mate Nick Heidfeld was forced to sit out the final 15 minutes of the session after being struck by Alonso. Heading into the final turn, the German veteran took his normal racing line while Alonso – front wheels all locked up – slammed into the side of the F1.09.
Heidfeld was tipped into the air and out of the session while Alonso was able to resume after minor repairs and set the Friday pace. “Plain Stupid,” the German veteran told the team over the radio.

Red Bull Renault did not show much pace this afternoon with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ninth and 14th respectively while Heikki Kovalainen was effectively the only McLaren Mercedes driver on duty as he set the tenth fastest time. Hungarian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton survived a lurid high speed spin early in the session in which he was fortunate not to make heavy contact with the barriers. However, light wing damage ensured that he was unable to take further part in the session.

Kimi Raikkonen was 11th best in the leading Ferrari with ‘new recruit’ Luca Badoer 18th as he stands in for the injured Massa. Badoer was way off the pace on his return this morning but this afternoon was able to pick up speed somewhat to finish the session ahead of Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari and Hamilton.

Another driver learning fast in Valencia is Romain Grosjean as he makes his debut in place of Nelson Piquet at Renault. Despite a few wide moments, the Frenchman made a solid start to his Formula One career and was 13th fastest just behind Jarno Trulli in the leading Toyota and ahead of Webber and Timo Glock.

With the overnight bragging rights, Fernando Alonso will headline the sports pages ahead of the third practice session in Valencia on Saturday morning and then the all-important qualifying hour.

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21 Aug 2009 FIA Friday press conference - Europe GP

The Official Formula 1 Website
21 Aug 2009
Part 1 FIA Friday press conference - Europe GP

Reproduced with kind permission of the FIA

Team principals: Ross Brawn (Brawn GP), Flavio Briatore (Renault), Mario Theissen (BMW Sauber) and Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren).

Q: To start with a couple of questions to you all. What is the situation coming here? What upgrades do you have on the car? How much are you working on this year’s and next year’s car?
Mario Theissen: We have brought an upgrade package here to Valencia. Two major issues: one is aero, including a new diffuser, and the other one is a lightweight chassis. It didn’t look bad today. The drivers especially think it is a significant step forward. I hope we can turn that into results tomorrow and on Sunday. On the future, obviously we are looking for investors to take over and continue with the team and as long as we are doing so, we will continue with next year’s car, F1 10, so the development programme is ongoing as planned.

Q: Flavio, any developments here?
Flavio Briatore: The normal step. We had a big step at the last race but unfortunately we had this accident and it was not possible for us to have a good result and we continue every race to add a little bit. It is not a big step every race. We have another development the next race just for Monza and obviously after that we are thinking about the new car and we will push very hard for the 2010 car. What we try to do is have a podium in the next two or three races. That is our goal for this year and maybe a victory as well. We try very hard to improve the car and we believe the car is much better in the last six or seven races. But for some reason we did not have any result. It is a frustrating situation, especially for the people working in the factory and for everybody at Renault, for us, for the sponsors. This is what happened this year. We try every race to do something but everybody is doing the same.
Ross Brawn: We have a reasonable aerodynamic upgrade package here. We had one in Hungary. The last couple of races have been a bit messy for us. We did have some quite good upgrades in those races and hopefully today and this weekend we can take the benefit of those upgrades as we have not had some good races recently. Primarily another aerodynamic upgrade here. We are working hard on the 2010 car. I think we had a good FIA technical meeting on Wednesday which clarified some open issues to enable us to proceed properly with the new cars and we have got a balanced approach between what we are doing for 2010 and what we are doing still for this year. We will be working hard this year all the way up to the last race.
Martin Whitmarsh: Like everyone we have had a shut-down between the last race and this race, so that has given an extra challenge to everyone at all the factories. Everyone has been working hard, I am sure in all the teams, certainly in ours. We have got a series of upgrade packages as evident from today, though maybe not a sufficient number of those parts. But we had a new front wing package here that we tried with Heikki (Kovalainen) this morning. We have had some floor modifications which we tried with Lewis (Hamilton) and we were running a shorter wheel-base version of the car with Lewis today, really something that we are looking for the higher speed circuits, probably frankly for the benefit of Spa and beyond. We are still pushing hard on this year’s car. I think everyone is. That is just how competitive Formula One is today. You have to continue to improve every race but clearly we are in a slightly different position from Ross and Red Bull as we have got to concentrate and make sure that we come out of the box next year with a quick car. There is a tremendous amount of effort to do that as well.

Q: We spoke with some of your drivers yesterday and there was a certain lack of clarity as to what their plans were for next year. Perhaps you could give some indication as to what the situation is with your drivers next year.
MT: The only thing I can say is there is a lack of clarity because we don’t know what we can pull off for next year. We are working on it and apparently it will affect the drivers as well.

Q: Flavio, your drivers for next year? Do you have anybody under contract?
FB: Work in progress.

Q: Do you have neither of them under contract?
FB: You have asked me this from the first race in 2008. When we are ready to announce the names of the drivers we will announce it.

Q: But you are not saying if one is under contract?
FB: I just told you. We are a work in progress. We are working on that.

Q: Ross, what is the situation with your drivers?
RB: It is a work in progress. I am sorry but we are in discussions with our drivers. We are obviously very happy with their performance this year and it is not appropriate for me to talk about what we are doing with our drivers at the moment. But we will announce it in good time what is going to happen.

Q: Martin?
MW: Well, I think we are very happy with the two drivers we have got. There is lots of speculation. We are not actively pursuing drivers outside our team at the moment but some people know the contractual situation but it is like others here it is not appropriate to talk about driver’s individual contracts. But we have two very young, very committed drivers working well within the team. We are here trying to do a decent job this weekend and we will start worrying about Spa on Sunday night. Our drivers feel they can do a competitive job here and we will encourage them to do so.

Q: Mario, could you just summarize the situation with what happened and what is happening at the moment?
MT: Well, what happened was a decision by the BMW board three weeks ago to pull out of F1 at the end of this season. Unfortunately, it happened during the factory shut-down, so we were able to discuss with our people, with the team, only this week. We are working on a solution for the team. The top priority is to find an investor to step in and take over the team and continue. As a consequence of this, the team has applied for an entry for next year, in time, last Monday. Now we are working and trying to come to a solution.

Q: Is it literally just trying to find investors to take over BMW’s shareholding?
MT: It is clear that BMW does not want to be involved any further. Apart from that any solution is possible.

Q: And obviously the engine-side of things would close down altogether?
MT: Yes.

Q: Flavio, obviously a new driver here. Can you just run tell us you got rid of the old one and your preferences and your reasons for choosing Romain Grosjean?
FB: For the young driver it is very difficult now. For me it is only performance. We had Nelson (Piquet) for one year, 2008-2009, and at the end of 2008 he had three or four races that were good and there was no reason to change. But it was not only me, it was everybody that was disappointed about the 2009 results. It is only the result. What happens in this business is that people judge you on the result and everybody is very aware that the result is the fundamental and we were not happy at all with the results. In the meantime, the fact that we didn’t have any time to test a young driver, so to see how good Romain is, there was only one way to put him in the car for the last seven races. It is a very strange situation at the moment in Formula One. We don’t know how good the young drivers are as they don’t have any mileage in testing and this is something we have to work with FOTA to put right this situation. If not, it is very difficult for anybody to arrive in Formula One. This is the reason. With seven races to go I think it was good to give the opportunity to Romain. He did very well in GP2 last year. He is very talented. Let’s see. Obviously when Hamilton arrived from GP2 to Formula One his performances for me were completely outstanding and we hope with Romain we have the same situation. At least we try. With Piquet we know where we are.

Q: Ross, we heard a little bit yesterday what the plans were for today. How have you actually got the car back up to being competitive after the last couple of races?
RB: Well, to be frank it is just tyre temperature. Obviously in these sorts of conditions we have no problem generating the tyre temperature. We did some scans of set-ups we have used in the last few races and all of them to be honest were very bad. Some were better than others. We did a couple of aerodynamic comparisons on pieces which we have tried and I think we have seen some differences, nothing that would necessarily be the reason why we have struggled the last few races, so I think the main issue is that here we are generating tyre temperature and the car feels good. The car feels as we have had at previous races. We have just struggled at the last few with tyre temperature which is still an issue which we will have to find a solution for as we have got Spa coming up and we have got some races towards the end of the year. But we are very pleased with today. We did some very good race work and both drivers are happy with the cars. It was a good Friday but we had a good Friday in Hungary but then it got a bit more difficult the rest of the weekend. But I think the reason there was the drop in ambient temperature on the Saturday and Sunday whereas here the forecast is for it to stay hot or perhaps even hotter for Sunday. That’s the predominant reason. No magic switch has been turned. There was nothing horribly wrong with the car. We had a logical programme today and I think we have understood some things and we are pleased with what we did.

Q: But you do really need a high ambient temperature then as well as high track temperature? Let’s face it, Hungary wasn’t cold.
RB: No, we are in an unusual situation with having one tyre supplier as there is no longer a tyre war where the tyre is developed towards the car. It is a slight distortion in a way in that you have these tyres and you have to make the best usage of them. Those teams which make the best usage of the tyres that we have will succeed. Our strengths are consistency and ability to use the tyres in hot weather. We have got to work out how we can get the tyres to work in cold weather and how we can generate tyre temperature. We have got some things planned for Spa which I think may help. That is the conundrum we are trying to solve.

Q: Martin, in a way a return to form for you as well. What sort of effect did Lewis’s victory in Hungary have on the factory and the team?
MW: Well, as you can imagine for a team that is used to winning, it is very difficult when you are not. You realise it is not so much fun going motor racing when you are not going there with the prospect of being able to win. You can’t always go there and win but I think if you can go to a race believing you can win that is a very different frame of mind than going to race with the confident knowledge that you can’t. So it was fantastic. I think it has been a tough year for everyone. I am delighted for everyone in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart who put their heads down and worked hard. I think a lot of people had written this car off and written us off and I think everyone realises that it was not a fluky win. On that circuit and in those conditions we were very strong. I think we will be strong here and I think it is where we should be, towards the front and pushing hard, but everyone is improving their car. Everyone is pushing very, very strong and we have got to keep doing that. At least for the factory it was a better shut-down than it might have been.

Q: You have said you have brought some parts here. How many of those have you got? How many sets?
MW: It varies from part to part. What we were doing with Lewis’s car today was we were experimenting with wheel-base. We knew that if you change the wheel base you have to change the floor, the nose and the front wing assembly as well as we had moved the front axle position. In doing that we had insufficient parts. Lewis damaged the nose cone at the start of P2 and we have got parts that are literally in transit here. I don’t feel embarrassed about it. I feel frustrated. There are some issues in Formula One for all the sensible prudent reasons that we have progressively cut down testing, the number of things that result from that, is that one we have got to be concerned about developing young drivers in the future. I think within the teams we have got to look at how we can do that. The other reason is on a Friday it is an engineering day and you actually have the cars in different specifications. You are doing back-to-back runs and you are gathering data and it is a very different day to what we have been used to. The dilemma is what do you manufacture. In the good old days you would have two cars and to cover you for the weekend you would have six sets of wings for instance. You would have three per car and if you lose one early on you still had one and a spare. You cannot justify that, so you take some risks. Doubtless there will be people who want to say that this cannot be right, you damage a nose cone and you cannot go out for the rest of the session. We are just pushing hard to develop the car, use Fridays as a test day and on this particular situation we were unfortunately left not being able to run. It is frustrating as I say, not embarrassing but I think both drivers are fairly comfortable where the car is and I am sure tomorrow the circuit will have evolved a little bit more and I think we can be competitive. But it is not nice having to sit there for nearly an hour-and-half not being able to run the cars.
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 08-21-2009, 12:30 PM Thread Starter
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Part 2

Q: (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine) Question to Mario: in Brazil they said that Nelson Piquet, the father, would buy the BMW Sauber team. I know you can’t say much with everything going on but did anyone have any kind of conversation between you guys and Nelson?
MT: I only know that from the press. That’s it.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) For Martin and Ross: you brought up the Technical Working Group meeting. I understand that there was at least one area where there wasn’t agreement which was KERS and that the vote to remove KERS from the technical regulations next year wasn’t unanimous. Could you tell me what your reaction to that is, please, and what it means for whether KERS will still be in Formula One next year?
RB: I think that one of the important points of the new Concorde Agreement is that there’s governance and there’s procedures and the procedures in the Technical Working Group now are that majority decisions in the Technical Working Group go forward to the F1 Commission, and the F1 Commission votes on whether they want the recommendations or proposals from the Technical Working Group to become regulations. So it’s just part of the process. The majority in the Technical Working Group felt we should have same clarity on KERS because the FOTA teams have agreed not to use it but you’re left with this awkward situation where it’s still in the regulations but people have agreed not to use it and not everybody is in FOTA. But it was a majority decision, it will go to the F1 Commission and it will go through the normal process now and we will see where it goes.
MW: There’s been a lot of discussion about KERS and it was a good initiative at the outset but it perhaps came at the wrong time. The way in which it’s been implemented meant that it’s been very expensive for a lot of teams. McLaren supports the concept of KERS and Mercedes Benz has put a lot of effort into developing a KERS system but I think you’ve got to be a responsible member of the Formula One society and if it is clear that the financial situation in Formula One is such that it’s in the best interests of the sport to volunteer not to use it, then that’s the right thing to do, and that’s what happened within FOTA. For our engineers who have worked pretty hard on that system, it’s pretty frustrating for them for me to tell them that we’ve undertaken not to run it. Inevitably, within Formula One, there’s a range of politics and machinations, a lot of them hopefully will become of lower amplitude now that Concorde is signed and that we at least have a platform where I hope that the teams, the FIA, CVC, FOM, can work together to develop the sport, but we have a few outliers and we’ve got to sort some of those issues out. I don’t think Formula One should turn its back on KERS but I think at the moment it’s very clear that we’ve got to be prudent, there are other priorities. In any business you’ve got a range of priorities. I think the concept of KERS is good, perhaps in the coming years we can find a lower cost way of having KERS in Formula One but at the moment, certainly for the small teams that aren’t manufacturer teams, it’s not a particularly attractive option to develop KERS.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Question for all of you. One of FOTA’s mission statements is to improve the show. In recent years, with different fuel loads in qualifying and the race, it has had the effect of constantly jumbling the race order throughout the race. Next year, basically all we are going to see is the fastest cars at the front disappear and the only factor will be tyre wear. Surely it is a mistake to not have refuelling next year?
MW: The answer is it may be a mistake and I think we have to accept that. I think Formula One can be viewed from many different perspectives. I think for the aficionado, for the likes of many of us here, who take an interest in issues such as fuel load and its impact on performance, I think it’s a very interesting dimension of Formula One racing, but I think for quite a lot of the more occasional viewers of Formula One, the fact that the cars appear to be jumbled, they’re not in a natural order. They don’t understand that at the end of qualifying some people who haven’t qualified quickest potentially have the quickest package and I think all those things confuse, so there are pros and cons and we will see during the course of next year, I think fuel stops will look different. There are those who feel that it’s more complex with refuelling, obviously it’s more dangerous. Without them then fuel stops will be a lot shorter, they could be more dramatic, there’s much more emphasis on the changing of the tyres. At the moment, there are many times when there are problems during refuelling stops which aren’t seen because the pacing item is the refuelling as opposed to the changing of the tyres. I think again, Formula One has to try and control costs. We’ve got to balance what we’re doing technically, for instance, with KERS, the cost of refuelling and the like, we’re got to work harder now. I think FOTA has achieved a lot to reduce the cost of being competitive in Formula One. We haven’t frankly achieved everything we want to achieve in terms of the show and the spectacle. I think we’ve been distracted by things that weren’t predicted at the outset of FOTA. I think the environment pre-Concorde was problematic because I’m sure there were those that saw FOTA in some adversarial role which was never intended. And I think now we are hopefully smoothing out the bumps and bruises post-Concorde. We’ve got to get all the teams involved, plus the FIA, plus the commercial rights holders and we’ve got to improve the spectacle and that’s a balance. If you want the pure spectacle, no one does it better than NASCAR, NASCAR is a fantastic show, it doesn’t do it for me, but it does for lots of people. I don’t think we’re trying to turn Formula One into NASCAR, so we’ve got to be creative but I think there’s a clear recognition within FOTA that we’ve got to be bold, we’ve got to be creative and now that perhaps we’ve got some stability, perhaps we’ve got the processes in place, the governance that Ross has spoken about, we’ve got a more measured way in which we can work together and make some change to improve the spectacle.
RB: Like Martin, I agree there’s pros and cons. There’s criticisms aimed at refuelling because drivers don’t have to overtake on the track, they can wait until their strategy kicks in, so there’s been criticisms. I don’t think any system is perfect. I think we can try it and see what happens. I think there will be quite a lot in the way that the tyres are used, getting the car to the end, and I think that will be quite interesting. Tyres will be more stressed, we’ve got a smaller front tyre next year. So there’s going to be some interesting aspects next year and again, certainly at the beginning of the year, we will see some teams have got it right and others need to catch up. In terms of improving the show, I very much hope and think that now we’ve got stability, we’ve got stability for at least the next three years, we can all build together something that is stronger but it needs doing in a measured way. We need to study it carefully and make sure the moves we make have got… there’s clear evidence that they’re an improvement. Because if we keep chopping and changing, then all we will do is confuse the public. I think there are a lot of things we can do that will improve our show and FOTA and the other teams and the FIA and the commercial rights holder are now going to work very hard to improve it.
FB: I believe the stopping of refuelling is not negative for the show. I believe it’s positive as well because it’s more pleasure for the team to change tyres. Changing tyres is between three and four seconds, now it’s always seven or eight seconds because of the amount of fuel you put in the car takes that time. I also believe that in the last few months, few years, we have been working for stability but we never cared about the public because in the end, we never ever had a serious discussion to improve the race and I think now is the time to sit together in FOTA to try and improve the race. We need more energy, we need more fun, we need to change a lot. If you look at the last month, the only positive news has been Schumacher coming back into Formula One. Everybody was talking about Schumacher, it was very positive, because for the first time, in the last six or eight months, we have been talking about sport. In the meantime, what we should have been doing is talking more sport and more races and more results and not like it was before in the last period of Formula One. But now FOTA is together, it’s a reality. When we’re working together, we’re working together with television, with the media, with everybody to improve their event. Again, when somebody has a new event, you think about the Cirque du Soleil arriving in any town and performing twice, three times a day. We arrive in one place, we perform once in five days and the rest of the time we are talking about politics in the paddock. We need to be more orientated around the race not around politics. Now it’s possible because FOTA is together and I hope all the teams will join FOTA for the future of Formula One. The relationship with CVC is great, with Bernie (Ecclestone) and Max (Mosley) as well, so I believe that at the moment we have a strong base to think about the future of our business. Sure the future of any business is coming through the consumer, our consumer is the public, the television, it’s the fans. We have fifty percent of the tickets sold here because there is no energy at the moment. We need to establish energy and the appeal of Formula One, the image of Formula One, but I’m pretty confident because this is something which is only possible if we do it together and everybody understands that, going in the same direction but I’m confident, I’m very optimistic for the future of Formula One, for the future of the sponsors who want to join Formula One and the partners who want to be part of Formula One.
MT: I don’t expect any significant negative impact on the show from the refuelling ban. As Flavio said, the pit stops will be even shorter, will be quite exciting and on the track, the impact of the… or the way the car handles and copes with the tyre and different tyre conditions has a much bigger impact than the fuel load. So I don’t think it will change much. On improving the show, there are certainly lots of ideas. We have discussed this about a year ago within FOTA or less than a year ago. Apparently it’s become second priority up to now because there were so many things to be sorted but now it can get priority one. Flavio is our expert on that and he is eager to take off.

Q: (Bob McKenzie – The Daily Express) Flavio, were you appealing to the consumer today when Renault kept up their interesting habit of popping to the top in Spain in practice? What causes that, is it inspiration or light fuel loads? Would you expect to be on top for the rest of the weekend?
FB: Like everybody, I believe – if you ask Martin or Ross, they are in the same position and Mario – we are improving the car, we are improving the car and we will see. We already had a good car in Budapest. Unfortunately, it was not only the tyre, we had a problem with the fuel pump. We will see. We believe we are very close but if you see one ten, two ten, you have a seven eight ten car. It’s very tight and it depends if you’re a little bit lucky or not. We try to do our best performance here in Spain, not only because Fernando is Spanish but because the car is good, you know? The driver is doing the performance because he has a good car, because if the car is no good, whatever country you are in, I think the performance is not possible. Our car is pretty much in good shape at the moment and we hope to do well here.

Q: (Andrew Benson – BBC) Flavio, this morning on the BBC, Martin Whitmarsh referred to what he called the ‘Fernando/Ferrari move’ as a given. Are you as sure as he is that Fernando will move to Ferrari next year?
FB: I think so. Fernando is in my management company at the moment, he’s not in Martin’s. Maybe something has happened overnight. We are just waiting for McLaren to line up their drivers and after we will decide what we’re doing.

Q: (Jonathan Legard – BBC) Sort of following on from that, Flavio, you’ve signed the Concorde Agreement, Renault have, can you guarantee that Renault will definitely be there for next year? There are no issues at all, there won’t be a BMW-like sting anywhere?
FB: I don’t understand why this question is always put to Renault. In the last five years, Renault is still racing and a lot of people are not any more. There’s no problem at all. From day one, we’ve never had this kind of discussion at Renault anyway. It has never happened. In the end, I don’t understand it because every time the Renault name is mentioned. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Normally we race until 2012. Why 2012, Renault wants to stay in Formula One for a long time and the Concorde Agreement is only signed until 2012, and then we will be looking for 13, 14, 15, 16.

Q: (Rodrigo Franca – VIP Magazine) Question for Flavio: you once said that if you want a friend in Formula One you should buy a dog. Do you think this is why Nelsinho Piquet didn’t go so well in his second year? Do you think he felt the pressure or was it just performance?
FB: I didn’t say it was any dog. I answered before: for us it was performance. It was not a question of liking somebody or not liking somebody. The performance of Nelsinho was not what we expected. The reason why I said it exactly before is that it’s really difficult to test young drivers at this time and the only way to test is to put the driver in the car now, during the last seven races. Anyway, I have three dogs!
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