Friday, 8 May 2009

Ferrari reveal their new 'F60B' for the first time in the practice sessions in Barcelona, while several other teams also bring in upgrades.

Team Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro bring in their heavily upgraded car to the first European race weekend of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. Dubbed by some as the 'F60B', the upgrades include a lot of aerodynamic changes among which are competely new front wings, new sidepods, a new underfloor of the car also resulting in a new diffuser. Ferrari still haven't got a full double deck diffuser like the Toyotas or the Williams for instance, but the diffuser they have brought in to Barcelona is definitely upgraded from the one they had in the first four races. That upgrade, in the simplest of terms, is a big hole in the diffuser and a more sweeping shape at the bottom connected to the car's underbody, overall increasing the downforce of the car. Although Ferrari would not give any official numbers, there is a lot of talk going around that the two Ferraris are the ones that have brought in the biggest upgrades in Barcelona. So everyone is expecting Ferrari to make some big inroads up the grid.

In the practice sessions though, none of the Ferraris were exactly flying around the track. Obviously given all the changes they have made to the car, it was more like that they used the first and second practice sessions as test sessions, to find out the optimum set up of the car with all the new packages. Both the Ferraris are using KERS, and according to Ferrari, the team have worked on their KERS system over the last couple of weeks to make it more reliable. On top of that, Kimi Raikkonen who is the heavier of the two Ferrari drivers, gets a new lighter chassis from this race onwards. This would enable Kimi to use KERS more effectively, as there will be more ballast weight available to play with, to get the balance of the car right. So throughout the practice sessions, Ferrari just kept on trying different sorts of set ups on the car to find the optimum balance and this meant that they never really pushed hard enough get close to the top of the time-sheets. Although Kimi and Felipe finished the 2nd practice session in 10th and 15th position respectively, by my reckoning both of them will be a lot faster in qualifying and the actual race itself.

Further up the field, not much of a surprise though. Along with the Brawns, Red Bulls and Toyotas, the Williams as usual continued to post some great lap times just like in the previous practice sessions this season. Brawn-Mercedes' Jenson Button topped the time-sheet in 1st practice, while Williams-Toyota's Nico Rosberg set the pace in the 2nd practice. Although once again, like I have said before, the Friday practice sessions never reflect the true pace of the cars because every team runs with a different set up in the practice sessions. These different set ups include different fuel loads, different tyre strategies such as the hard tyres versus the soft tyres, and so on. So tomorrow's qualifying session should provide a clearer picture of where each of the cars stand in terms of race pace. Qualifying tomorrow starts at 1:00pm (British Summer Time) in the UK with coverage on BBC One and BBC Sport Online starting at 12:10pm, to be broadcast live from the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Among off the track news, there has been a lot of politics going on in Formula 1 over the last couple of weeks. Since the FIA President Max Mosley announced the new regulations for 2010, including the controversial £40 million budget cap, many teams have shown their discontent over such a low and unrealistic budget cap. Although most teams realise that Formula 1 needs to cut down on costs during such hard economic times, most manufacturer teams agree that such a cap needs to be agreed by all the teams with the FIA. The teams also fear that the voluntary cap could lead to a two-tier championship, with teams operating under the cap having a lot more technical freedom than the teams spending more than the cap. So when the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) met in London on the 6th of May, they all agreed that they need to talk to the FIA on an urgent basis to discuss the viability of the new regulations. What also concerns FOTA about the new regulations is the fact that the FIA have also included the controversial medal based winning system for the Driver's Championship from next year, without highlighting this point as one of the changes in regulations. This new system would mean that the driver with the most wins would be awarded the World Driver's Championship next year, instead of the driver with the most points like it has been for so many years. The FIA wanted to bring in this medal based winning system for this year, but intense criticism and vetoing by the FOTA forced the FIA to hold back its introduction at least until next year. The FIA did agree back then that it needs to consult the teams more and give them more time before making such a dramatic change in regulation, but once again that's exactly what the FIA did not do. President Max Mosley even went as far as saying that if any teams were so dissapointed with the new regulations that they were considering leaving the sport, the FIA would regret it but would not actively do anything about it. This statement arose from the fact when he was asked by a journalist that Ferrari are very dissapointed about the budget cap and were threatening to leave the sport.

Now almost all Formula 1 drivers have publicly stated that if Ferrari were to leave the sport, it would be almost impossible for Formula 1 to survive in its current state. All of Ferrari's opponent teams and most Formula 1 fans from the around the world also agree to this. Even the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone understands Ferrari's importance to the sport. This is not just because they are the biggest or the richest team in Formula 1, it's partly because they are the only team that have taken part in every single Formula One World Championship since its inception in 1950, it's partly because through the years Ferrari have helped shape Formula 1 to bring to what it is today and also because Ferrari do have the biggest fan base in Formula 1. The FIA and Formula One Management (FOM), the commercial rights holder, know very well how much they earn from Ferrari merchandise sales. Which is why Bernie Ecclestone would never let Ferrari leave the sport, and he has publicly stated that he will do everything in his powers to make sure that Ferrari remains in Formula 1. Although Ferrari have denied any such rumours of this threat of leaving the sport, and the FOTA have also said that none of its members consider leaving an option. Instead the FOTA members agree that they have to stay united and work through this together.

The way I see it is that the FIA and FOM are doing this to get the teams to renew the Concorde Agreement, which expired a couple of years back. This agreement is basically a guarantee that a particular team will remain in Formula 1 for a certain number of years in the future. So this gives the FIA a solid base to form its revenue forecasts and such. Ever since the Concorde Agreement expired, the FIA have been trying to get all the teams to sign it, but most of the manufacturer teams have refused to sign it so far. So it will be interesting to see how the FIA versus FOTA showdown play out eventually. But for now we have got a full race weekend to enjoy ahead of us, firstly with the 3rd practice session on Saturday morning, followed by Qualifying and then the Race on Sunday for the Spanish Grand Prix, which is Round 5 of the 2009 Formula One World Championship.

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