Friday, 31 July 2009

The legend begins the preparations for his return

Seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher has began his preparations to mark his return to the Formula One track with the next race in Valencia.

The legendary German travelled to Ferrari's factory at Maranello yesterday to work at the Ferrari simulator, to check the functionality of the steering wheel and also presumably to learn the layout of the Valencia street circuit, where Schumacher has never driven before. Steering wheels in F1 cars are very different to the ones found in ordinary road cars. There are all sorts of buttons on the steering wheel to control different aspects of the car - everything from the pit radio to the pit-lane speed limiter and so on. As this year's regulations mean that cars now have KERS and movable front wings, all these functionalities are also controlled via buttons on the steering wheel.

Today, Schumacher is testing at the Mugello race track in Italy with the F2007 (Ferrari's 2007 Formula 1 car). Because the current in-season testing ban means that the teams are not allowed to do circuit testing with their 2009-spec cars, Schumacher opted to get some mileage in with the old car. The F2007 was borrowed from Ferrari's customer division F1 Clienti - one which offers wealthy enthusiasts the chance to drive old Grand Prix cars. Schumacher said on his website that although he cannot drive the F60 due to the testing ban, he still wants to get as much mileage in as possible. From next week onwards, he will continue to work on his physical fitness.

Although Schumacher has remained in top shape since retiring from Formula 1, he injured his neck early on in the year while doing a test session with a German Superbike team. Formula 1 drivers need to have very strong neck muscles to sustain the sheer amount of G-forces they encounter while driving, especially during breaking and cornering. However, it can be safely assumed that the 40-year-old German, who is statistically the best Formula 1 driver ever, is wise enough to have made a sensible decision on his come back. In other words, Schumacher would not have decided to come back to Formula 1 if he thought that he would not be fit enough, or that he would not have a chance to win. One thing is for sure, in spite of all the upgrades, Ferrari may not have the most competitive car this season, but with Schumacher at the wheel there is no doubt that he will be going flat out for a win. So once again, Ferrari may look towards Schumacher to get them their first victory of 2009.

Ferrari has also written to all their current rival teams and to the FIA to allow them to do one full day of official testing with the F60, in spite of the in-season testing ban. They argue that Schumacher has not driven in a competitive race since retiring in October 2006, and it is important that he gets to grip with their 2009 Formula 1 car before going into Valencia for the European Grand Prix. It remains to be seen whether the FIA, and the teams will allow Ferrari to do this.

It is 21 days to go to the start of the race weekend for the European Grand Prix, and me along with millions of other Schumacher fans around the world, cannot wait to see our idol/hero/God back on the track. As Germany's Bild newspaper had their headlines on Wednesday: "The God of racing is back. The legend will drive again."

I will leave you all with that. Drive safely everyone!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Michael Schumacher is coming back to Formula One, while the injured Massa continues his recovery

Amid mounting media speculation and rumours, Ferrari confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher will come out of his retirement to stand in for their injured driver Felipe Massa. In spite of the fact that Schumacher's manager Willi Webber continually denied the media speculations, Schumacher met with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team principal Stefano Domenicalli on Tuesday to discuss the matter. At the end, after talking to Massa on the phone as well, Schumacher agreed to come out of his retirement to temporarily replace Massa until the Brazilian is fit enough to come back to racing again.

Over the next few days, Schumacher will undergo a very specific training programme to get him fully back to shape and to ensure that the motorbike injury he suffered early on in the year is not a problem anymore. His first race back will be the next round of the World Championship, which is the European Grand Prix in Valencia on 23rd of August. Although Schumacher has never driven in the Valencia street circuit, neither has he driven the F60 (Ferrari's 2009 Formula 1 car) before, it can be safely assumed that after winning 7 World Championships and 91 Grands Prix, it will not take him long to get fully back up to speed. Although because of the testing ban, he will not be allowed to do any test sessions with the F60 until Valencia, he can still take part in some straight line tests to get a feel of the car. Also the regulations do allow him to do a full testing session with the F2008 (Ferrari's 2008 Formula 1 car) to try and get fully back up to speed in a Formula 1 car. The last time Schumacher drove a Formula 1 car since his retirement was in April 2008, when he did a testing session with the F2008 in Barcelona.

This great news comes on the back of a remarkable recovery from Felipe Massa. His condition has been improving so well and so rapidly, that he has been taken out of the intensive care unit and may be even released from the AEK military hospital in Budapest by the end of the weekend. It was also confirmed by his doctors yesterday that he has now opened his left eye and there are no problems with it. They did some tests and the results showed that the vision in his left eye is intact. Massa also asked about who won the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend, and also where did he qualify before the crash. When he found out that Hamilton came first, his reaction was: "But that was my race!" Just shows his true spirit and his competitive nature. Although the doctors did say that he could not remember anything about the crash, that is only a short term memory loss and nothing major.

Ferrari team princpal Stefano Domenicalli met with Massa again yesterday and told him that his red F60 will wait for him until he is ready to come back to racing again. The fact that Ferrari waited to make the announcement of Schumacher replacing Massa until he came out of intensive care, just shows how much the Brazilian is valued at Maranello.

For me, this is like my birthday and Christmas presents all wrapped up in one! I never imagined that I would ever get to see Michael drive for Ferrari in a Formula 1 race again. This is made all the more pleasant by the fact that Felipe is recovering so well and so quickly after such a horrendous crash. Until he returns to Formula 1 again, there could not have been anyone better to stand in for him on the track. Get well soon Felipe, and welcome back to Formula One Michael!

The street circuit of Valencia in Spain is hosting the next race of the World Championship, which is the European Grand Prix on the 23rd of August. I cannot wait! Until next time, drive safely everyone!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

BMW to quit Formula One at the end of 2009

At an extraordinary press conference called early morning on Wednesday at BMW's headquarters in Munich, the German automaker's bosses confirmed that the company will be pulling out of Formula 1 at the end of the current season. On the back of a dissapointing campaign for the BMW Sauber F1 team, Dr. Norbert Reithofer, chairman of the BMW board of directors, said that this difficult decision was taken in line with the company's "strategic realignment".

Having been in Formula 1 for almost a decade now, first as an engine supplier to the customer Williams and then the Sauber F1 team, BMW took over the Sauber team to launch their own works F1 team at the beginning of 2006. But coming into their third season, the German auto giant, having spent hundreds of millions of euros on their Formula 1 operations over the years is yet to see a Grand Prix victory. With no remarkable turnaround in sight in the short term future, there has been talk from the beginning of the current season that the company might pull out at the end of this year if they do not show any clear progress.

BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen said that although it was a difficult decision, he fully understood the reason for the withdrawal. He said that although the employees at Hinwil and Munich would have like to continue this ambitious operation, he does understand why this decision was made from a corporate perspective. Theissen also said that they will continue to fight for some good results in the remaining few races to bid a good farewell to Formula 1.

BMW's director for development, Dr. Klaus Draeger, said that this season's poor results played a key part in the move to quit Formula 1.

It now remains to be seen what BMW decides to do with the BMW Sauber F1 team and its employees. They have a big F1 operation based at Hinwil in Switzerland and the fate of all those staff is hanging in the balance now. Although there might be several potential buyers interested to take over the operations and continue the team, perhaps with a new name and a new engine supplier.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Massa's condition now stable, doctors say full recovery is possible

Doctors at the AEK military hospital in Budapest, Hungary told reporters on Monday that Felipe Massa's condition is continuing to improve as he has been taken out of sedation and is now able to sleep on his own. Several CT scans have been performed on him since Saturday evening, and the results of all the scans were consistently negative which means that there were no inherent damage to his brain. His overall condition is now "still serious but not critical", which means that he is now out of danger.

Massa's family continues to be with him at his bedside, and he has been able to communicate and speak to them. His wife and his father talked to reporters on Monday and told them that Massa is being real strong and is fighting hard, because his condition has been improving every hour. They also thanked the millions of fans worldwide for the huge support shown towards Massa, and they said that the love and support of all his fans will definitely help him to recover fully. As the official websites of Ferrari and that of Felipe Massa continue to be inundated with tons of get well messages, Massa's wife Rafaela said that he will recover fully and get back to racing before long.

Although there were some press reports yesterday that Massa's left eye may have been permanently damaged during the accident which may result in the end of his racing career, doctors said that it is too early to confirm anything about that. Peter Bazso, the hospital's medical director, said that Massa is still unable to open his left eye which is why they have not been able to examine the vision yet. He said that it may take them several days before they can determine if Massa had suffered any form of lasting injury. Although he did say that a full recovery is very much possible.

Dino Altmann, the Chief Medical Officer of the Brazilian Grand Prix and Massa's private doctor, confirmed that Massa was now able to speak. He said that Massa wanted to know what happened to him and that he had some other questions as well. Altmann also said they haven't asked Massa yet if he was able to remember the accident. He then explained that the emergency surgery done on Saturday evening was "life-saving" for Massa, and that the surgery was done due to the skull fracture and not brain swelling.

The Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver is no longer artificially ventilated and is able to breathe on his own. He has also been able to sleep without the help of sedatives since yesterday. At this point in time, it seems that all of his injuries are now superficial and nothing internal. So hopefully, in due course, he will be able to recover fully without any lasting effects of that accident. Whether and when he is able to get back to racing, if at all, is a different matter altogether. Although his return to Formula One has not been ruled out by anyone, that is in no way the primary concern now.

Felipe Massa continues to be in the thoughts and prayers of millions of his fans worldwide. Forza Felipe, siamo con te!

Monday, 27 July 2009

Hamilton shines at the Hungaroring while Raikkonen gets Ferrari their third podium of the year

After a very dismal start to the season, reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton finally seems to have turned around his fortunes as he took the top step of the podium at the Hungaroring. Before the last race at the Nurburgring, McLaren-Mercedes introduced a host of new upgrades to the car and those upgrades did seem to be working. It was only an unfortunate tyre puncture in the opening moments of the German Grand Prix that spoiled Hamilton's race. However, that would not be the case in Hungary as the Briton drove a beautiful race to get his first podium and race victory since the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix.

Starting from 4th, Hamilton made very good use of his KERS to get into 3rd place and then pull a brilliant overtaking move on Webber on lap 2 to move up to 2nd. Sebastian Vettel, who started from 2nd, was immediately jumped by his team mate and then by Hamilton followed by Rosberg and Raikkonen as well. By the time Vettel was approaching turn 2 on the opening lap, he was down in 7th place. The young German eventually was forced to retire at around lap 25 due to a front suspension failure.

Up front though, Fernando Alonso made a good start from pole and because he was very light on fuel, he was pulling away from the rest of the field at almost half a second per lap before Hamilton started catching him. The McLaren was managing the tyres very well while Alonso was struggling with graining. That meant by lap 6 or 7, Hamilton had already made up about 3 or 4 seconds and was now right on Alonso's tail.

The lone Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen also was managing the tyres very well and was by then up into 4th place. Raikkonen, like Hamilton, also used his KERS well to get a very aggressive start. After that, he continued to put in some blistering laps and was catching up with Webber in front of him. Mark Webber's Red Bull was the only car among the front runners to have started with the prime (soft) tyres on, which are the harder of the two tyre compounds. All the other cars around him were on the super-soft option tyres, and were thus posting faster lap times.

With his rear tyres now graining badly, Alonso had to make his first pit stop very early on lap 11. This was another very quick pit stop, indicating that the Spaniard was on a three-stop strategy. However, coming out of the pits, it was shown on the television replays that his front right wheel had not been attached properly. About halfway around his outlap, the wheel came off entirely and that pretty much meant race over for Alonso after starting from pole. His front suspension was damaged which forced him to retire at around lap 13. It was this incident because of which, after the race, the race stewards felt that Renault had breached the safety regulations by failing to take any action once they found out about Alonso's loose wheel. As a result, Renault had been banned from the next round of the World Championship at Valencia, which is hosting the European Grand Prix.

Raikkonen and Webber both made their first pit stops at the same time, at around lap 19. A little mistake by the Red Bull Racing pit crew allowed Raikkonen to get ahead of Webber in the pits. However, when Raikkonen was cruising down the pit lane after finishing his pit stop, Webber was released right in his path and Raikkonen had to take evasive action to avoid a collision. The Ferrari driver however came out in front which meant that he was able to finish the race in 2nd place, in front of Webber. This was Raikkonen's 2nd podium finish of the year, the first one being at Monaco. This was also Ferrari's 3rd podium finish and their best result so far this year, after Felipe Massa's 3rd place finish in Germany.

Mark Webber should be relatively happy with his 3rd place finish, because the guys in front of him, Hamilton and Raikkonen, are not the Championship contenders this season. Among his main contenders for the Driver's Championship, his team mate Vettel did not even finish the race while his BrawnGP counterpart Jenson Button only managed to finish in 7th place. Because of this result, Webber has been able to leapfrog Vettel in the Championship to go to 2nd in the standings and is not too far behind Button.

It was quite surprising to see BrawnGP struggle so much during the race on Sunday. Although they had decent pace throughout the practice sessions, during the race Button particularly was struggling with graining. So his car was not working well, he did not have enough grip and the car was oversteering as well. Overall, Button was very dissappointed with the way the car was behaving. This is in stark contrast to the early part of the season where the BrawnGP cars were managing their tyres better than anyone else in hot conditions. Here in Hungary though, their main Championship rival Red Bull Racing were not only faster than them but were also managing the tyres better. So BrawnGP seems to have taken a step backwards while many other teams including Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and even Williams have improved the performances of their cars by a big margin since the start of the season. It will be interesting to see that in the last part of the season, given their limited budget and resources, if BrawnGP are really able to keep up in development with their big spending rivals such as Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari. Although Ferrari and McLaren are not the title contenders this year, they can easily knock BrawnGP off the points in the remaining few races this season while Red Bull goes on to win several of those races. So if BrawnGP wants to defend its lead in the Constructors' Championship and for Button in the Driver's Championship, they really have to get their act together and very soon.

This has been a pretty strange race weekend at the Hungaroring. Although it was really heart-wrenching to see Felipe Massa's garage empty during the race on Sunday and his pit crew sitting idle, the good news is that he is responding really well to all the treatments he is getting at the AEK military hospital in Budapest. It was really touching to see Massa's pit crew, led by his race engineer and close friend Rob Smedley, put up a message on his pit board just before the race which went like this: "Forza Felipe, siamo con te". Translated from Italian to English, it means "be strong Felipe, our love is with you".

Throughout the day, almost all the drivers sent their best wishes to the Ferrari driver. Commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone visited Massa twice, once on Saturday evening and then again on Sunday morning to check on his progress. The Ferrari team has obviously been with him constantly to show how much they feel for him, and at the end of the race weekend his race engineer Rob Smedley stayed back in Budapest to be with him. Smedley looked absolutely devasted since the accident and quite understandably so, as him and Massa had been working closely for quite a long time now. Team principal Stefano Domenicalli, speaking to reporters after the race, praised Kimi Raikkonen's 2nd place finish in such difficult circumstances for the team and dedicated the result to Felipe Massa.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo also flew in from Italy today to visit Massa. He told reporters that Massa is not just a part of the Ferrari team but is more like a member of the Ferrari family. Di Montezemolo said that Ferrari's primary concern now is Massa's full recovery, no matter how long it takes. In the mean time, they will have to decide on a secondary driver to temporarily replace Massa but the Ferrari president said that they will take that decision in due course. Doctors say that the Brazilian may take anything from several weeks to months just to fully recover let alone get back to racing. So it is a dilemma for Ferrari as they have to choose someone to take Massa's place until he is able to come back to racing. Although some sensational media reports have suggested that 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher may come out of his retirement to replace Massa for a few races, I personally think that the more likely replacement will be one of Ferrari's two test drivers - Spaniard Marc Gene or Italian Luca Badoer. Above all that though, me and I am sure every other Ferrari fan all around the world are primarily concerned with Massa's full recovery and nothing else.

Formula One now takes a break which means all the teams will shut down their factories for two weeks, to let their workers relax a bit and get some well deserved rest. The next race, Round 12 of the World Championship, is the European Grand Prix at Valencia in just under four weeks' time. Until then though, I will be keeping a very close eye on Felipe Massa's condition and hopefully he will continue to improve. He has got his whole family with him in Budapest now including his parents, his brother and his pregnant wife Rafaela. On top of them though, he is in the hearts and minds and thoughts and prayers of millions of his fans around the world and like them, I wish him a speedy and full recovery. Forza Felipe, siamo con te!

Until next time, drive safely everyone!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A horrendous crash for Massa and shock pole position for Alonso sums up Qualifying at the Hungaroring

It was a bright sunny Saturday afternoon around the Hungaroring circuit, just 12 miles north-east of the Hungarian capital Budapest. Being the last race before the mid-season break, everyone was looking forward to a cracker of a race weekend. But who knew it will end up like this?

Qualifying at the Hungaroring has always been very important. Overtaking is very difficult at this tight and twisty technical circuit, which in some ways resembles the Monte Carlo circuit without the barriers. So in order to be able to challenge for victory on Sunday, every driver ideally want to be on pole. Last year's race was defined by a one-two qualifying from the McLarens with Hamilton on pole. Although Ferrari's Felipe Massa had a brilliant start to overtake both the McLarens going into turn 1 and taking the race lead from there. Massa was then on course to a beautiful victory when, just 3 laps from the Chequered Flag, his Ferrari V8 engine let go. That was a very rare and a very unfortunate occurance because Ferrari engines are known to be one of the most reliable on the grid, and that incident is what probably cost Massa his world championship last season. So put it simply, the 28-year-old Brazilian never had the best of lucks on this track.

In qualifying, the first big shock was that both the BMWs of Heidfeld and Kubica were knocked out in Q1. Toro Rosso's debutant driver Jaime Alguersuari also failed to go through to Q2, which was not just because he was really slow but due to the fact that he had a hydraulics problem half way through the session, which meant that he had to settle for the last place on the grid. But given that this was his first ever qualifying session in a Formula 1 car, he did relatively well and never got into any trouble. He did a lot of laps in the practice sessions, more than a 100 altogether, to try and learn the circuit and the car. Before this weekend, the 19-year-old British Formula 3 champion has only done a couple of straight line tests in a Formula 1 car. The current ban on in-season testing means that teams can no longer try out new drivers on the test track first before making their grand prix debuts. The only testing that is allowed in the current regulations is a total of eight days of straight line tests, which makes it really hard for new drivers to come into Formula 1. But Toro Rosso say that they are not expecting too much from Alguersuari for the first few races, and just want to give him the time to learn the car properly and the tracks, before going for a full season next year.

Going into the second part of qualifying Q2, everyone was stunned to see BrawnGP's Rubens Barrichello only managing to get the 13th fastest lap on the board. That means for the first time this season, one of the Brawn-Mercedes cars has failed to make it into Q3. But while everyone was trying to find out what happened with Barrichello, Ferrari's Felipe Massa had a nasty accident when he went straight off the road and into the tyre barriers at turn 4. At first there was a lot of confusion as to why the accident happened, with many people thinking that he must have had a brake failure or something. While the on-site medical team attended Massa and the track marshals were trying to move his car from the crash site, the start of Q3 was delayed by Race Control.

At this time it was not quite clear to everyone as to what Massa's condition was, and he was taken to the circuit's medical centre immediately. Just as Q3 was getting on to a delayed start, Massa was then airlifted to the nearby AEK hospital in Budapest for further checks. What the doctors did confirm by then that he was conscious and talking, but that he had been struck on the helmet by a flying piece of debris which caused the accident.

That is when the video replays started to show that it was actually a piece of spring from the back of Rubens Barrichello's BrawnGP car that got separated from the car and was jumping along the track at a high speed just as Massa was on a flying lap not far behind. It then bounced off the edge of the F60's cockpit and hit at the top left corner of Massa's helmet. Such a blow at about a 125 miles per hour can be a very nasty one indeed, and even could have been fatal.

When Q3 ended in a load of confusion as the computerised timing system malfunctioned, none of the drivers knew what position they qualified in. It was only 9 drivers taking part in Q3 however as Massa did manage to get into Q3 before the crash, but was obviously out of the action for the remainder of the race weekend. When race control was finally able to confirm the times, Renault's Fernando Alonso shocked everyone by taking pole ahead of the Red Bull Racing duo of Vettel and Webber. McLaren-Mercedes also showed some good pace when Hamilton qualified on 4th and Kovalainen on 6th, split by the Williams of Nico Rosberg. The only Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen qualified on 7th ahead of championship leader Jenson Button. Williams' Kazuki Nakajima qualified on 9th while Ferrari's Felipe Massa was unable to take part in Q3. The Scuderia's team principal Stefano Domenicalli later confirmed that Massa will not be taking any more part in the racing this weekend.

Above all this though, the most important thing now was Massa's condition. Just last week, at a Formula 2 race at the Brands Hatch circuit in England, Henry Surtees - son of former Formula 1 World Champion John Surtees - died when a flying wheel hit him on his helmet during the race. Massa's accident happened in eerily similar circumstances, but this time everyone will be praying with their heart and soul for a more positive outcome.

Soon after he was taken to the hospital, the doctors performed an emergency operation on Massa and later told reporters that at one stage he was in a "life threatening condition" due to a fracture on his skull and concussion. The surgery, however, was successful and Massa was later put into induced coma to relieve some stress from his brain. He will be kept under intensive care for the next few days, but before that the doctors plan to bring him out of the coma sometime this morning and run a brain scan. The scan will then help them know the exact effects of the crash and what, if any, damage has it done to his brain. The key thing now is to ensure his well being and a full recovery. It does not matter when he comes back to racing, as some reports suggest that he could be out for the rest of the season, but all that matters now is that Massa recovers fully.

Latest press releases from Ferrari say that Massa is now in a serious, but "stable" condition. I personally, do not care about today's race anymore and I am hoping and praying with my heart and soul that he gets well soon. Whatever team you follow in Formula 1, even if it is our arch rivals McLaren, please join all of us today in wishing and praying for a full recovery for Felipe Massa.

You are a strong lad Felipe, and just know that we all love you more than ever before. All our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family, your pregnant wife, your brother, your parents. I am sure that anyone who has ever followed any form of motorsport, will join me in saying that we are all behind you Felipe - you will get through this.

This is why I always say, drive safely everyone!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Chief Aerodynamicist Iley to leave Ferrari, Maranello now shifting its focus onto 2010

Italian publication Gazetta dello Sport reported this morning that 41-year-old Englishman John Iley, who has been chief of aerodynamics at Ferrari since November 2003, is to leave the team at the end of this year when his current contract expires.

After a very difficult start to the season for the Maranello outfit, which was mainly due to the poor aerodynamic properties of the F60 (Ferrari's 2009 F1 car), Iley came to an agreement with the team at the end of last week to leave his day to day job with immediate effect. His job mainly concentrated on the likes of windtunnel development, and Gazetta dello Sport is quoted as saying that a "serious" design flaw in the aerodynamics of the F60 has been identified as the root cause of the car's lack of performance.

During the weekend of the German Grand Prix, team principal Stefano Domenicalli was quoted in several media reports as saying that Ferrari are now starting to shift its focus on to the 2010 car, because we are now half way through the 2009 season and the championship is clearly out of reach. The best place Ferrari can contend for in the Constructors' Championship this year is 3rd place. So the bosses at Maranello want the team to start early development work on the 2010 car to ensure that Ferrari can start challenging for both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles again. In light of the poor aerodynamic properties of the F60, the decision was taken not to involve Iley in the development work of the 2010 car. Instead, chief designer Nikolas Tombazis will take on greater responsibility for the aerodynamic development of the 2010 championship contender.

What remains to be seen is if Ferrari can really bounce back to its winning days next year. The legendary Italian marque is clearly going through a transition period right now following the departure of Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and of course Michael Schumacher - all within the last two or three years. So it is no doubt that the Prancing Horse will eventually go back to its glory days of dominating both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships throughout the season time after time, it is just a question of when rather than if.

The next round of the World Championship is this weekend at the Hungaroring circuit near Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Until then, drive safely!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Toro Rosso parts company with Sebastian Bourdais

Scuderia Toro Rosso, a sister team of Red Bull Racing, confirmed yesterday that they have sacked French driver Sebastian Bourdais with immediate effect. The 30-year-old debuted in Formula 1 with Toro Rosso at the beginning of the 2008 season and was overshadowed by his German team mate Sebastian Vettel. This year he has been completely outperformed by Swiss rookie Sebastian Buemi, while Vettel has moved up to Red Bull and is now contending for the Driver's title.

Toro Rosso has said that despite a promising start, the Frenchman has failed to live up to the expectations as he has scored just six points out of 27 races in his career so far. Before coming to Formula 1, Bourdais dominated in the United States by winning four successive Champ Car titles between 2004 and 2007. But that probably shows the difference in an ordinary open wheeled car racing, such as Champ Car, and the pinnacle of world motorsport that is Formula 1.

Although not officially confirmed yet, it is widely expected that the current Red Bull reserve driver Jaime Aluersuari will be taking Bourdais's seat from the next round of the world championship, the Hungarian Grand Prix. If that does happen then the 19-year-old Spaniard, who is the current British Formula 3 champion, will become the youngest ever Formula 1 driver. The current GP2 championship leader Romain Grosjean is then expected to become Red Bull's reserve driver.

Sebastian Bourdais has however threatened legal actions against the Toro Rosso team. He said that he was unfairly sacked, and that also happened just before Toro Rosso is scheduled to introduce a whole host of upgrades for the next race in Hungary. Bourdais said that if he was given a chance to drive with that upgraded package on the car, he could have provided a more satisfactory result. So he has asked his lawyers to look at all the contractual arrangements to review the possibility of issuing legal proceedings.

In my opinion though, his time in Formula 1 is over. He may not have had the chance to drive a competitive car, but in his one and a half seasons in Formula 1, he almost always got outperformed by his rookie team mates. He never could prove his talent with what he was given, and if he cannot show it after 27 races, he probably never had that talent. That is exactly why I always say that Formula 1 is not just another open wheeled racing series, it is the pinnacle of world motorsport. So only the best drivers in the world can truly master those enormously powerful beasts that are Formula 1 cars.

Until next time, drive safely everyone!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Max Mosley reaffirms his decision to stand down in October, backs Jean Todt as FIA presidential candidate

The president of the FIA, Max Mosley, has confirmed that he intends to stick with his plans of not seeking re-election for a fifth term in October this year, when his current term ends. In a letter written to all the FIA member clubs on Wednesday, the 69-year-old said that despite pressure from several members to run for re-election he has decided to step down after 16 years at the helm of world motorsport's governing body. He said that he now plans to spend more time rearranging his family life, after his son died earlier in the year due to a drug overdose.

Mr. Mosley has chosen to back the former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt as his successor. Even after standing down as FIA president, Max Mosley will still remain a member of the FIA Senate as all other former presidents. Although the new FIA president will be voted in by the FIA member clubs, as the outgoing president, Max Mosley has the power of making a recommendation as to who he thinks will be his best successor. Although former world rally champion Ari Vatanen has confirmed his decision to stand as an FIA presidential candidate in October's election, if Jean Todt were to stand as a candidate as well he would have a much stronger chance of winning with the current president's backing. The important thing is though, all around the paddock, Vatanen is clearly the more popular choice among the teams as they do not want someone with a former connection to a team to take over from Mosley.

Behind the scenes, Max Mosley suddenly going all soft and back-tracking on his comments of seeking re-election in October has a much deeper story. Some of the news media are reporting that Formula One's commercial rights holders, CVC Capital Partners and Bernie Ecclestone, were furious with all the debacle that was going on between the teams and the FIA. When an agreement was reached in Paris on the 24th of June, one of the deals of that agreement was that Mosley will not stand for re-election in October. However, after a couple of days, Mosley came out saying that he is now reconsidering that decision since he is angry with the way that FOTA outlayed the terms of the agreement to the media, and the fact that Mosley felt that the FIA's authority was being seriously challenged by FOTA. Then earlier this month, in a meeting between the FIA and all the current and new Formula 1 teams to discuss next year's regulations, the FOTA teams were told that since they were not officially part of the 2010 World Championship, they could not apply any voting rights to change the published regulations. This created another fall-out between FOTA and the FIA, bringing back the threat of a breakaway championship.

Now, simply put, what it seems like is that if FOTA were to break away from the current Formula One World Championship, they probably would not mind having Ecclestone and CVC on board with them. This is because CVC already owns the commercial rights to all the current tracks and also the television rights, thus making it easier and cheaper for the teams to launch their own championship. On CVC's part, it also makes sense for them since the massive investment they made in Formula One will still be recouped, may be just from a different named series. Also there is the fact that this potential breakaway championship would not have to be governed by the FIA, so the teams were pretty much free to do whatever they like as far as the regulations were concerned. Legally, if the teams and CVC got together and did decide to go through with this plan, the FIA could not do anything to stop them. That is what, I think, caused Max Mosley to take an about-turn on his stance he held firmly during this entire political saga. It is probably the same reason why he is now saying that he will not be standing for re-election.

For us fans though, I think it is safe to say that all this political bickering is now really over. The FIA presidential election will be a very interesting one to watch, as whoever will be taking office will be in charge of shaping up Formula One for the next several years. Before that though, we have a lot more racing to enjoy, the next one being at the Hungaroring in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix in just over a week's time. Until next time, drive safely!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Mark Webber completes a dream weekend in Germany by securing his first ever Formula One victory

He has waited a long time for this and although many people believed that he has the necessary talents, he never quite got to drive a race winning car. This year though, his Red Bull RB5 has been a Championship contending car from the beginning of the season, which is why everyone saw it only as a matter of time until Mark Webber finally gets that coveted first F1 victory. It is something that every newcomer to Formula 1 always dream of, and something that all successful Formula 1 drivers always cherish because no victory can ever be sweeter than the first. And it finally happened for this Australian born UK resident, after a wait of 8 years and a 130 Grands Prix. Mark Webber has, finally, won a Formula One race. It is also the first time in 28 years that the Australian national anthem has sounded on an F1 podium, making this a very memorable weekend for Australian motorsport fans.

When Webber took a sensational pole position on Saturday, his job seemed to have been about half done. The remaining part of the job would be to ensure that he got a clean start off the line, maintain his lead into the first corner and then build up a gap from then on. Although the weather forecast predicted a wet race for Sunday, the weather update on Sunday morning at the Nurburgring indicated that the race will most likely be a dry one.

Off the line, Mark Webber made a decent start but alongside him, Rubens Barrichello in the BrawnGP made an even better start which was also helped by the fact that Webber was running with quite a bit of more fuel onboard, making the Red Bull heavier than the Brawn. There was a lot of action happening going down to turn 1 on the opening lap. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, starting from 5th, used his KERS power really well to overtake 3 cars straight away. Going into turn 1, Hamilton, Webber and Barrichello were three abreast and someone had to give way. Webber, being stuck in between with Barrichello on his inside and Hamilton on his outside, kind of drifted over towards the inside line before lightly hitting Hamilton's rear-right tyre. That incident punctured Hamilton's rear-right tyre but also caused irreparable damage to his car's diffuser and floor. He then made a pit stop straight way which put him all the way to the back of the field. The Briton was never able to recover from that and eventually ended up in last position, being the only car in the grid to have been lapped.

Out of turn 1 however, Barrichello took the lead with Webber close behind him. That was not necessarily bad for Webber as he was running much longer than Barrichello before his first pit stop. The two Ferraris also made an astonishing start and had already moved up several grid places. By now, Ferrari's Felipe Massa was in 3rd ahead of Button and Vettel, with Massa's team mate Raikkonen behind in 6th. Button's Brawn however, was clearly faster than the Ferrari and he soon overtook Massa. Thanks to the KERS though, Massa was able to fend off a charging Sebastian Vettel who was eager to make up some positions following a pretty ordinary qualifying for him on his home turf.

At this point, Race Control announced that the incidents involving car numbers 14 and 23 were being investigated, effectively meaning the incident between Webber and Barrichello coming into turn 1 on the opening lap. Although Webber slightly drifted off towards the inside line forcing Barrichello to weave as well, it did not look like the Australian was intending to push Barrichello off the track or anything. So it was a bit of a surprise to some people when Race Control announced that car number 14 - Mark Webber - will have a drive through penalty. A drive through penalty basically involves the car entering the pit lane at the pit lane speed limit, then driving along the pit lane without stopping for fuel or tyres and rejoining the race. In simple words, it costs quite a bit of time for the driver involved. So this was unlucky for Webber. However, his Red Bull team strategists played this brilliantly. As soon as race leader Barrichello made his first pit stop on lap 13, Webber also entered the pits with him to take the penalty. Ferrari's Felipe Massa then took the race lead at this stage, as Button who was ahead of him had already made his first pit stop and was now a few places behind Massa.

Mark Webber then made his first scheduled pit stop about 3 or 4 laps later. Following the stop, he rejoined the race in 6th position staying with his pre-planned two stop strategy as opposed to BrawnGP's three stop strategy. This is the time when Webber absolutely floored it. Barrichello soon took back the race lead as Massa and Vettel both pitted. However, Webber was on a long middle stint and with the BrawnGPs struggling for front end grip, he soon caught up with the race leader. That is exactly when Barrichello made his second pit stop handing over the race lead to Webber. By the time he made his second and last pit stop, he had built up a comfortable gap that helped him maintain his lead. From then on, it was a cruise to the finish line for the Australian.

Behind Webber, his team mate Sebastian Vettel finished in 2nd to complete yet another one-two victory for Red Bull Racing. Ferrari's Felipe Massa, starting with a very heavy fuel load, really drove out of his skin to bag his first podium of this season. It was a well deserved 3rd place for the Brazilian taking him to 5th on the Driver's Championship, which also helped his team Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro consolidate 4th place in the Constructor's Championship. His team mate Kimi Raikkonen was a bit unfortunate though, because following an incident with Force-India's Adrian Sutil, Raikkonen was forced to retire on lap 36 with an engine problem. The incident basically happened when Sutil came out of the pit lane and Raikkonen was charging down the start/finish straight. They went side by side into turn 1 and Sutil's front wing clipped the back of Raikkonen's F60, which put some debris into the Ferrari's radiator causing engine cooling problems. That also meant pretty much race over for Adrian Sutil, who until then, was running in the points and was looking good for Force-India's first ever points finish. Following this incident, he had to make an unscheduled pit stop to replace his front wing and that put him way back down the field.

It was not a real surprise that the two Brawn-Mercedes cars only managed to finish 5th and 6th, as they had been having problems with grip and tyre temperatures throughout the weekend. Although Barrichello started the race ahead of his team mate, a brilliant in-lap from Button just before his last pit stop enabled him to overtake Barrichello. So Driver's Championship leader Jenson Button finished in 5th with his team mate just behind him. Williams' Nico Rosberg, who started from 15th place, also had a brilliant drive on his home race to finish in 4th position. The German driver started with a heavy fuel load and used the turn 1 debacles on the opening lap well to his advantage. Double World Champion Fernando Alonso also drove the socks off his Renault R29 to finish in 7th place after starting from 12th. Apart from Kimi Raikkonen, the only other retirement of the race was Toro Rosso's Sebastian Bourdais, who it seems like, has just driven in his last Formula 1 race. There are strong rumours going round the paddock that Toro Rosso will be replacing him with Red Bull's reserve driver Jaime Alguersuari.

But the entire weekend belonged to one man only, and he is Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber. After he took the chequered flag on lap 60, he was very emotional when his team principal Christian Horner came on the team radio to congratulate him. He thoroughly deserves this victory based purely on merit, because he was quite simply the fastest man on the track throughout the weekend.

So from the Nurburgring in the Eifel Mountains in Germany, Formula One now heads off to the Hungaroring circuit in Budapest in two weeks' time for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Because it has been such an exciting race weekend, I have not talked about any of the political matters in the last couple of days and I am glad that I got to enjoy one of the most exciting races of the year without worrying about politics. However, a few problems still remain in Formula One off the track but hopefully, they will all be resolved within the next few days. Until next time everyone, drive safely!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Mark Webber storms through a chaotic Qualifying session at the Nurburgring to snatch his maiden pole position

Set in the heart of the Eifel mountains in western Germany, the 14-mile long Nurburgring Nordschleife is one of the longest, most fearsome and most demanding purpose built race tracks in the world. Just adjacent to the Nordschleife however, is the "new" Nurburgring which is a 3-mile long modern grand prix race track that currently hosts most of the major racing events including Formula 1. Although nothing like the Nordschleife, the new Nurburgring (also known as the Nurburgring GP-Strecke) is still a pretty demanding and interesting race track and is one of the favourites among drivers and spectators alike.

So approaching the halfway mark of the season, Round 9 of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship has brought us to this legendary race track for this year's German Grand Prix. In recent years, this race has been dominated by Michael Schumacher which has also meant that the grand stands were always filled with people wearing Ferrari red, supporting their home hero. This season, we have five drivers with German origin including Force-India's Adrian Sutil, BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, Williams' Nico Rosberg, Toyota's Timo Glock and none other than Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing. Although Ferrari still has a big fan base here in Germany, as a legacy of the Schumacher days, this year we have already seen a lot of Red Bull fans in the grand stands cheering for Sebastian Vettel who has been tipped by some to be a legend in the making, the next Schumacher.

Three weeks ago, Sebastian Vettel led a dominant Red Bull one-two finish at Silverstone in what was his Championship rival Jenson Button's home grand prix. So everyone expected Vettel to continue the run in front of his home crowd. The only problem though, could be in the form of Vettel's team mate Mark Webber. Although the Australian driver is a lot more experienced than Vettel, he has never qualified on pole or achieved victory in his entire Formula One career. Vettel however, in only his second F1 season, has already got three victories under his belt with two of those coming this year. So the pressure was on Webber to deliver some good performances to ensure that his team does not start favouring Vettel to challenge Jenson Button's lead in the Driver's Championship. Now it seems like Webber can prove that he can be just as good as his hyped up team mate, because on Saturday afternoon in a very chaotic Qualifying session, the Australian got pole position for the first time ever in his career.

The weather has been playing hide and seek all throughout the weekend, and there are heavy rain shower forecasts for Sunday's race. But who could imagine that it will make the Qualifying session so exciting? The first part of qualifying, Q1, went without much drama and was a dry session. Most of the cars did a few laps on the medium hard prime tyres before switching to the super-soft option tyres to post some fast lap times. Among the front runners were the two Red Bulls but also Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, the two BrawnGPs and the two Ferraris as well. But it was Q2 that would turn out to be absolutely crazy. Just as the pit lane lights went green, indicating the start of 15 minutes of Q2, all of the 15 cars came out with the option tyres on to try and get a lap or two in. Rain was due very shortly however, and most of the cars could not even complete their outlap before it started raining. Formula 1 cars are pretty useless in the rain with the slick tyres on, so all the cars went back to the pits to change to the intermediate tyres. Now it seemed like although it was raining, the track was not wet enough for the intermediates to work properly and most of the cars were still struggling for grip. As the rain started to subside a little bit, BrawnGP's Rubens Barrichello took a gamble and changed back to the slick tyres again. This gamble paid off big time as the Brazilian gunned in a couple of storming laps. Seeing this, all the drivers who were on intermediate tyres went back to the pits to change to the super-soft slick tyres as well. However, by the time these cars came back out, it had started raining pretty heavily again and now it was time to really use the intermediates. Most of the front-runners were still able to go back to the pits, change to the intermediate tyres and get a lap or two to get through to Q3. Jenson Button got through to Q3 in the last minute, because in all the rain-tyres debacle, he had been pushed into the knockout zone. Double World Champion Fernando Alonso however was not lucky enough and had to settle for 12th. The big surprise here was that Alonso's Brazilian team mate Nelson Piquet Jr., who has had a very dismal season so far to say the least, out-qualified the Spaniard for the first time this season.

By the time Q3 started, the rain had stopped but the cars did not come out straight away as all the teams wanted the track to dry out a little bit. When they did come out, all the cars came out on slicks and although they were struggling for grip in the cold and wet conditions, they were still able to post relatively decent lap times. Towards the end of Q3, Lewis Hamilton, whose McLaren has had a raft of new upgrades introduced for this weekend, got provisional pole. He was soon pipped by fellow Brit Jenson Button, before Rubens Barrichello moved to provisional pole. But at the death of Q3, Red Bull's Australian driver Mark Webber produced a brilliant lap of 1:32.230 to snatch his maiden pole position. His team mate Sebastian Vettel only managed 4th. So behind Webber, Barrichello, Button and Vettel is defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton in 5th with the Briton's best qualifying this year and he is ahead of his team mate Heikki Kovalainen. In 7th place is perhaps the biggest surprise of the day; it is German driver Adrian Sutil taking his Force-India team into Q3 for the first time ever in the their history. Sutil is ahead of the two Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, with Nelson Piquet Jr. in the Renault completing the top ten. The two Ferraris are probably running with a fuel load heavier than that of everyone in front of them.

So Sunday's race is going to be a phenomenal one, with the weather playing a particularly big part. What promises to make it even more interesting is that we probably will see the rain coming on and off, or only coming for a while in the middle part of the race with dry conditions on either side of it. That could potentially mess up the race strategies for most of the front-runners, particularly the ones that are light on fuel. Who will win the race? It literally can be anyone, and we will find that out in a few hours' time. My heart wants Sebastian Vettel to shine in front of his home crowd and of course for Ferrari to get some decent results as well. For UK viewers, coverage of the German Grand Prix starts on BBC One and the BBC Sport Website live from the Nurburgring at 12:10pm. Until then, drive safely!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

FOTA at loggerheads with the FIA again on the eve of the German Grand Prix

Just when we thought that the political row in Formula One has really come to an end, that all parties seem to be agreeing with each other more or less and that after a three-week summer break, we all head to the legendary Nurburgring in the west of Germany for a race weekend where everyone can concentrate only on the racing and not politics, we are thrown right back into the middle of the stormy seas that once again sees Formula 1 teetering on the brink of collapse. Who do we have to thank for this? You might have guessed it - it's motorsport's world governing body, the FIA. This new episode in this "epic" political saga started when FOTA walked out of an FIA meeting at the Nurburgring on Wednesday.

The FIA and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) finally came to an agreement last month in Paris after a long political row that, at one point, saw the teams threatening to set up their own breakaway championship. The row seemed to have been finally settled however, when the FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) agreed to meet most of the teams' demands and revert the technical and sporting regulations for next year to the 2009 regulations. That meant that the controversial new budget cap regulation, and all the other new technical changes that came with it went out the window. So promises were made by the FIA that the technical and sporting regulations would remain the same for the next three years. Although the regulations will be based on this year's regulations, there will be minor changes to bring in some cost reductions and all of that will happen according to FOTA's proposals.

Following that, the FIA set up a meeting with the eight FOTA teams - Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BMW Sauber, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and BrawnGP - and also Williams and Force India, to discuss the regulations for next year. The three new outfits - USF1, Campos Meta and Manor GP were also present in the meeting, which took place at the Nurburgring on Wednesday. However, the eight FOTA teams were told by the FIA that they were not entered into the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship and therefore had no voting rights in relation to the technical and sporting regulations. This came a day after the FIA said in a press statement that all teams signed up for next year must unanimously agree for the FIA to be able to change the published regulations for next year. FOTA was under the impression that they were included in the "accepted" entry list as endorsed by the FIA World Motor Sport Council and confirmed by an FIA press statement on the 24th of June. In light of these developments, FOTA representatives requested for a postponement of Wednesday's meeting which was rejected on the grounds that no new Concorde Agreement would be permitted until a unanimous approval of the 2010 regulations have been achieved. As a result, the FOTA representatives at the subsequent Technical Working Group had no opportunity to exercise their rights and therefore they had no other option but to walk out of the meeting.

Before going any further, I just want to clarify a couple of points. First, the Technical Working Group is formed of representatives of the teams and the governing body to meet and discuss changes in regulations and how to bring about new regulations most effectively. This is how historically, or at least for the last couple of decades, new regulations have been introduced into Formula 1. It is only since 2007, when the last Concorde Agreement expired, that the FIA has been unilaterally imposing new regulations on to the teams without consulting them first. The second point I want to clarify is the Concorde Agreement. I have talked about it a lot in my last few posts but never really explained what it meant for some of the more casual F1 viewers. The Concorde Agreement is basically a legally binding document signed by the FIA, all the participating teams and the sport's commerical rights holder Formula One Management (FOM). It determines how the sport is governed, how the revenues are shared and how the changes in regulations are made. The last Concorde Agreement, that expired in 2007, was signed in 1998. That is why lately the teams, in their own interests, have been pushing the FIA to sign a new Concorde Agreement to bring back the stability in the sport.

Anyway, later on in the afternoon, FOTA issued a statement explaining why they had to walk out of the meeting, and put the blame entirely on the FIA to have thrown Formula 1 into jeopardy once again. FOTA said that they were keen to sit down with all the existing and new teams to discuss the regulations for next year, and that they came out of Paris last month in good faith that the FIA was equally eager to put an end to this political bickering once and for all. Since then, Max Mosley, president of the FIA, have already broken part of the Paris agreement by reconsidering his decision to not seek re-election in October for a fifth term as FIA president. Mosley standing down at the end of his term in October was part of the deal given to the teams in Paris last month, but Mosley later said that efforts by FOTA to undermine the FIA's authority has forced him to reconsider his decision to stand down.

Several news sources have been saying that owners of F1's commercial rights, CVC Capital Partners, are furious with this latest development. They, along with Bernie Ecclestone, will intervene to ensure a solution to this row but until that happens, we have a lot more posturing on our hands. I personally am so sick and tired of all this, that I am starting to grow indifferent to it now. I love Formula One as much as ever before, and always will, and I know very well that politics and ego have always been an integral part of this sport but this time, it is just getting too much. I sincerely hope to see a solution to this very soon, once and for all. Until next time everyone, drive safely!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Strong rumours in Spanish and Italian press suggesting that Fernando Alonso may be employed by Maranello next year

Yes, it's that time of the year again and the press is bored. We have a three week break between the British and German Grands Prix, and the political war between the FIA and the teams seem to be over in spite of some recent comments by Max Mosley, the FIA president, and the teams have not responded and are instead continuing with their plans to shape up the regulations for next season's FIA Formula One World Championship. All this means that at this moment, motorsport journalists have got nothing to write about as far as Formula 1 is concerned. So what can they talk about in such a situation? It is of course the potential driver line-ups for next year.

Ever since double World Champion Fernando Alonso left McLaren at the end of 2007, after just one season with the Woking based team, there has been rumours going around of Alonso joining Ferrari. Before the end of the 2007 season however, the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team - who are based in Maranello in Italy - confirmed that they have extended the contracts with their current drivers Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen to keep them at least until the end of 2010. Since Raikkonen won the World Driver's Championship by 1 point in 2007, there has been a real lack of performance from him that has caused many of his critics to even doubt his motivations and his commitments towards Formula 1. That has meant that the Spanish media, who are seen by some to absolutely worship Fernando Alonso, have been reporting about an alleged contract that guarantees Alonso a drive for Ferrari from 2011 with a certain clause in the contract that apparently allows Alonso to join Ferrari a year earlier in 2010. Although even many Spanish Formula 1 fans question the validity of such rumours, what has kept these rumours fuelled all along is the fact that they have never been denied nor confirmed by Maranello.

Along with Alonso's native Spain, the Italian media also had a part to play in all these rumours. Famous Italian motorsport journalist Pino Allievi, who writes for La Gazetta dello Sport, is known to have good trustworthy contacts in Ferrari. Allievi has been saying since the end of last year that Alonso will be driving for Ferrari from 2011, and may be even a year earlier from 2010 if any of the current Ferrari drivers underperform. This is crucial because long before Ferrari officially confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen (who used to drive for McLaren-Mercedes before) will be replacing Michael Schumacher from 2007 following the legendary German's retirement at the end of 2006, Pino Allievi did say that Raikkonen will be joining Ferrari. Just like with Alonso now, back in 2006 those rumours of Raikkonen joining Ferrari was never denied nor confirmed until the official announcement came from Maranello. Given that since winning his one and only World Championship with Ferrari in 2007, Raikkonen has been outperformed by his younger Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa time and time again, rumours are suggesting that it is the Finnish driver who will have to make way for Alonso. So from next year onwards, we could potentially see a Felipe Massa-Fernando Alonso pairing for Ferrari.

Now it is a fact that Ferrari traditionally announces its driver line-ups for the following year at every year's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, that being Ferrari's home race. If rumours are anything to go by, then apparently Ferrari will officially announce the contract with Alonso on the Friday of this year's Italian Grand Prix weekend. What is fuelling this rumour even more is the fact that Spanish banking group Banco Santander has signed up a sponsorship agreement with Ferrari starting from next year. The last time Santander sponsored a Formula 1 team was in 2007, and the team was McLaren-Mercedes. When Alonso left McLaren, Santander also ended their sponsorship arrangements with McLaren. On top of all these, the fact that Kimi Raikkonen is seen to be getting interested in rally racing more and more rather than Formula 1, it will not come as a big surprise if he does announce his retirement from the pinnacle of world motorsport at the end of the current season. Although his contract with Ferrari runs through to the end of 2010, if he so chooses, he could still drive for Fiat (Ferrari's parent company) in the World Rally Championship!

Only time will tell who is driving for the legendary Italian marque next year. For now though, we can look forward to Round 9 of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship that will take us to the Nurburgring in less than a week's time for the German Grand Prix. The last time Formula 1 visited the Nurburgring was back in 2007 and it was a very eventful race with lots of rain, then a red flag, then a re-start of the race and lots of incidents in between. But guess who won the race eventually? It was none other than McLaren-Mercedes and their Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. It is going to be a very exciting race weekend and whatever you do, do not miss it! Until then, drive safely!