- F1: Raikkonen Could Be 'Serious' Title Opponent - Vettel
- Hamilton 'disappointed' with 2012 McLaren - reports
- Mercedes late to 'hide something special' - Red Bull
- Vergne predicts strong season for Toro Rosso
- Ecclestone wants new contract for Nurburgring race
- Team unity can survive FOTA turmoil - Whitmarsh
- Toro Rosso to give new drivers more than one season
F1: Raikkonen Could Be 'Serious' Title Opponent - Vettel
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel has flagged his friend Kimi Raikkonen as a potential pretender to his throne in 2012.
After becoming friends prior to Raikkonen's rallying switch two years ago, German Vettel has stayed in contact with the Finn, occasionally meeting in their domiciled Switzerland to play badminton.
They did not manage to catch up at the Jerez test last week, but Red Bull's Vettel admitted the pace of Raikkonen's new Lotus caught his eye.
"If it's as good as it seemed at Jerez, then Kimi is a serious opponent," he is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
Not trying to play down Lotus' impressive debut for the black and gold E20 car is the team's technical director, James Allison.
But the Briton also urged against getting carried away, with two tests at Barcelona still to run before the Melbourne season opener next month.
"We all try to know what is happening with the other teams, but in any case, we won't know anything definite until Melbourne," he is quoted by L'Equipe's website.
"The most important thing is that the car runs well, not just from a mechanical standpoint, but also in terms of how the drivers feel, which is also important."
Hamilton 'disappointed' with 2012 McLaren - reports
Behind the scenes, Lewis Hamilton is quietly concerned about McLaren's early progress with its 2012 car, according to media reports.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport reports that the first whiff of the Briton's worry emerged last week, when the MP4-27 was tested over four days at Jerez.
"When I saw that all the other cars are high at the front, it did make me wonder if we had done the right thing," the 2008 world champion, referring to the 'step' nose trend that McLaren has sidestepped, is quoted as saying.
Hamilton was quicker than his teammate Jenson Button at Jerez, with his 1.19 laptime set on Thursday close to Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull pace on the same day.
The previous day, however, Vettel's teammate Mark Webber had been the quickest of the 2012 car runners in the RB8.
And when referring to his 1.19, Hamilton admitted that the lap was set while McLaren was being "aggressive", implying that he was light on fuel.
If so, the MP4-27 is at least a full second off Lotus' Jerez pace.
There are more clues: asked about the change in blown diffuser rules, Briton Hamilton said the MP4-27 is "difficult to control in the fast corners".
That contrasts with Vettel's comment that, "In the fast corners I don't feel very much difference to before (in 2011)".
Moreover, Spain's Marca sports daily claims Hamilton confided to his former McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen at Jerez that he is "disappointed" with his new car.
On the record, he said: "I feel quite positive about where the car is at the moment and I'm confident that the guys can push it forward.
"You've got to remember that everyone is just focusing on their own programmes. It's not a contest for who's the fastest at the moment," Hamilton insisted.
"Over the coming weeks we'll get a better indication of where everyone is."
Mercedes late to 'hide something special' - Red Bull
Five days before the W03 is publicly revealed, Mercedes remains highly secretive about its 2012 car.
The German squad went a different path than all of its main F1 rivals by opting to keep its new machine at the Brackley factory rather than debut and test it last week at Jerez.
Michael Schumacher will do the first laps in the silver car next Tuesday, as the first of eight days of Barcelona testing kicks off ahead of next month's season opener in Australia.
Mercedes leaked out some 'teaser' images of the W03 this week, but all carefully masking the detail of the single seater, including the 'step' nose solution.
"I assume that they want to hide something from the competition," surmised Red Bull designer Adrian Newey, according to Germany's Sport Bild.
"It must be something that can be copied quite quickly, otherwise they wouldn't try so hard to keep it secret."
Agreed Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko: "They seem to have something special at the front of the car."
Ferrari is reportedly likening the situation to when the team - then called Brawn GP - arrived late with the famous 'double diffuser' and duly went on to win the title.
The Corriere dello Sport website cited a Ferrari official in recalling Brawn was "like Cinderella" in sweeping in at the last moment and keeping her trick secret.
"It's a calculated risk," team boss Ross Brawn, quoted in Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, insisted when contemplating the 2012 car's late reveal.
Vergne predicts strong season for Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne has predicted a good season ahead for Toro Rosso.
Along with Daniel Ricciardo, French rookie Vergne makes up the Red Bull junior team's new driver lineup, following the ousting at the end of last season of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi.
Perhaps because their prize could be Mark Webber's seat at the senior team in 2013, Ricciardo and Vergne set almost identical laptimes last week at Jerez as the new STR7 was tested for the first time.
And according to 21-year-old Vergne, the Ferrari powered car showed promising form overall.
"We hope to be one of the strongest teams in the middle of the classification," he is quoted by the Italian website Tuttosport.
At the same time, Vergne is not getting carried away ahead of eight pre-season test days in Barcelona, starting next week.
"Barcelona could be different as Jerez was rather cold and the surface is very abrasive. I don't think there's much difference between the teams."
Vergne is quoted by France's L'Equipe: "What Jerez showed us I think is that we have a good basis."
Ecclestone wants new contract for Nurburgring race
Bernie Ecclestone insists he wants to sign a new race contract with beleaguered German venue the Nurburgring.
At present, the future of the biennial event looks grim, after the Rhineland-Palatinate state cancelled the circuit operator's lease, and Nurburgring Automobile GmbH hit back by threatening legal action against the government.
Perhaps because F1's current world champion Sebastian Vettel is German, and because Hockenheim only wants to host one race every two years, the sport's chief executive Ecclestone sounds keen on a solution.
"If the government finds a new partner who agrees to have the race, then I am more than happy to agree to a new contract," the 81-year-old is quoted in the Rhein Zeitung newspaper.
"What we can make possible, we will make possible," added Ecclestone.
The relevant state government minister Roger Lewentz told the same newspaper that he is prepared to meet with Ecclestone.
"We want to continue with Formula One at the Nurburgring, but at a reasonable rate," he said.
Ecclestone commented: "So far I have not heard from him (Lewentz)."
Team unity can survive FOTA turmoil - Whitmarsh
Lotus could become the next team to withdraw from the F1 teams association FOTA.
Already departed are HRT, Sauber and Toro Rosso and also the top teams Red Bull and Ferrari, leaving fellow grandees McLaren, Mercedes and the others on the wrong side of their competitors' former unity.
Now, this week, team owner Gerard Lopez has been quoted as admitting that Lotus is contemplating pulling out.
The reasons for the withdrawals appear different, with Red Bull having been accused of breaching the gentleman's Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) and Ferrari rumoured to want to use its individual power to shape the future of the sport's rules and structure.
The formerly BMW-owned Sauber, however, insisted that recent cost-cutting in F1 has not made it easier for smaller teams to survive.
"The RRA was a step in the right direction, but now other steps must urgently follow," he told F1's official website.
"It definitely has not become easier for the smaller teams."
But beneath the surface, unity has not broken down completely, argues McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh, who doubles as the FOTA chairman.
It is true, for example, that the new non-FOTA members will continue to respect aspects of the body's agreements, such as the summer factory closure.
"I'm not too hung up on the brand 'FOTA'," Whitmarsh said recently.
"I think what's important is that the teams realise there are critical issues within this sport where it will be better if we cooperate and take sensible decisions, and I hope and believe that we'll continue to do that."
He added last month: "Relations between McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari remain very good indeed."
Toro Rosso to give new drivers more than one season
Toro Rosso's new drivers look set to be given longer than just a single season to prove they can step up to the senior Red Bull team.
Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have replaced the Faenza based team's 2011 lineup and are tipped as likely contenders to oust the Australian veteran Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing next year.
But Franz Tost, Toro Rosso's team principal, said a 2013 promotion for either Ricciardo or Vergne is unlikely.
"I have no idea. But I doubt it, as the level of Red Bull Racing is extremely high," he told F1's official website.
"So my guess is that they will have to wait a little more. So far Mark has not given any hint that he is thinking of retirement."
Tost said Red Bull will only be looking for a driver with the 'wow-effect' to replace Webber, so 2013 could be too soon for Australian Ricciardo, or the French rookie Vergne.
"In general I would say that this wow-effect is not so easily manageable in a first season," said the Austrian. "But it definitely has to be delivered in the second season.
"I don't have a problem when a driver has a good race and at the next race he has a shunt -- that's part of the game. Both drivers will have a 'crash period' but that is part of their development phase," he insisted.
"It was the same with Sebastian Vettel. But at some point they have to get their game together -- and the question is who will be better at doing that? Let's wait and see."