- Ecclestone hopes Vettel's dominance ends now
- Experts expect 2012 to be close fight in F1
- Mercedes hiding new 'double diffuser' concept - reports
- No 'step' on new Marussia car's nose
- Vettel, Alonso cautious on 2012 title prospects
Ecclestone hopes Vettel's dominance ends now
They are famously close on a personal level, but for the sake of his sport Bernie Ecclestone wants to see Sebastian Vettel suffer in 2012.
The Red Bull driver has won the past two championships on the trot, including last season when the title battle was over long before the finale.
"It wasn't good. The only person that would say no to that would be Sebastian, but I think everybody else would agree with it," F1 chief executive Ecclestone told reporters on Thursday.
He had just announced a new connectivity deal for F1 with Indian multinational Tata's communications subsidiary.
The aim is to modernise F1 in that area because, as the 81-year-old puts it, he is "getting old" and was "asleep" to the world's new digital era.
But more immediately important to Ecclestone is a better show in 2012.
"I'm surprised we survived with (the TV ratings) we got right at the end," said the Briton, referring again to Vettel's dominance. "We need to see everybody else wake up."
Another element he hopes is in place this year is a fully-firing Lewis Hamilton, but Ecclestone admitted the 2008 world champion might have to farewell McLaren.
"I think if he doesn't perform this year, he'll be looking maybe to move on, and the team may also be looking for him to move on," he said.
And yet another golden egg for Ecclestone would be a winning Michael Schumacher, but he admitted the seven-time world champion might need to sit at the wheel of a Red Bull for that to happen.
"I don't think Sebastian would mind," he said.
"I'm not saying I don't want Mark (Webber) around, I'm just saying it would be nice to see him (Schumacher) in the car where you know that if he doesn't win it's his fault, not the car."
Less important, Ecclestone argues, is the rare absence in F1 of a single Italian driver.
"If Ferrari is winning," he insisted, "it doesn't make any difference."
Indeed, there are bigger fish on the F1 supremo's plate: the thorny issue of Bahrain's return in 2012, and a looming fight with the teams over the next Concorde Agreement.
On Bahrain, he joked: "Pity I'm not going to be there myself but don't worry. No, I shall be there, don't worry."
As for the teams wanting a bigger share of F1's revenue pie, Ecclestone answered: "I think they are right. If they don't ask they are not going to get (it), are they?"
But when asked to rate their chances of success, the Briton replied typically: "Slim to none."
Experts expect 2012 to be close fight in F1
The precise pecking-order is clouded, but one thing is clear: 2012 looks set to be a highly competitive season in F1.
"There are a lot of cars out there that look competitive," said McLaren's Jenson Button, on the day Williams' Pastor Maldonado set the quickest time in the midst of the second group test in Barcelona.
Earlier this week, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was the pacesetter, causing Mercedes' Norbert Haug to tell Bild newspaper: "That's great."
"I didn't expect that," agreed world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Hulkenberg smiled: "'Test champion' gives me nothing. But I am in good shape."
Vettel continued to Kleine Zeitung newspaper: "This year everything is closer together", he said, after his teammate Mark Webber admitted there is "no question" Red Bull needs to keep working on the pace of its new RB8.
According to Die Welt newspaper, Vettel continued: "Most of the competitors are difficult to assess. It's the same old game."
He is referring to unknown fuel levels, tyre age and differing approaches and programmes - and teams' deliberate sandbagging or 'show-run' efforts.
"I never paid too much attention to direct comparisons on headline laptimes," said David Coulthard, "but on the longer runs you can start to build a picture."
Williams engineer Mark Gillan told Auto Motor und Sport: "It seems as though the entire field has moved much closer together. It will be a tough fight."
An early assessment of the pecking order might have Red Bull and McLaren at the front, and Mercedes and Lotus possibly ready to join the fight.
"It looks like Red Bull are fairly stable," Coulthard agreed to Russia's Ria Novosti news agency, "(and) McLaren and Mercedes maybe closer than they were.
"Ferrari is a bit of an unknown but I wouldn't write them off. Let's be patient, another three weeks of tweaking and then we'll find out," said the former McLaren and Red Bull driver.
Mercedes hiding new 'double diffuser' concept - reports
The recently revealed 'W-duct' aside, another technical secret has been discovered aboard Mercedes' newly launched W03.
Rumours insist the German squad was the last to reveal and test its 2012 car because it boasts a few highly innovative ideas that could drive Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to the middle of the podium.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport reports that mechanics working for the Brackley based team are making more efforts than usual to hide the front and rear of the car, and erecting huge screens in front of the pits between test runs in Barcelona.
But a big secret is now out of the bag, and it's located beneath the rear rain light and being described by insiders as "like a double diffuser".
Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport said the feature is believed to produce an effect similar to the one pioneered by Mercedes' predecessor Brawn GP in 2009, which resulted in the championship for Jenson Button.
And according to Auto Motor und Sport, the concept differs to the banned double diffuser because the air is channelled through holes at the rear of the engine cover.
The concept, despite complying with the FIA's blown diffuser clampdown, also reportedly involves the clever redirection of exhaust gases.
And yet another innovation on the Mercedes could be a passive 'F-duct'-style addition to the car's new rear wing, working alongside the 'DRS' system.
When asked about the 'ducts', Rosberg and Schumacher played it coy: "What's that?" Rosberg answered, while Schumacher joked that it sounds like something that should go "quack!"
"They are a good team," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Sky when asked about Mercedes.
"They have some good people so it would be foolish to underestimate them."
Meanwhile, TZ newspaper in Germany reports that the FIA could be set to clamp down even harder in the area of exhaust blowing.
There are rumours Renault and Mercedes-powered teams are still using clever engine mapping techniques for aerodynamic effect.
No 'step' on new Marussia car's nose
Marussia's new car for 2012 does not feature a 'step' on its front nose.
Every team on the 2012 grid, including HRT who are yet to release their 2012 car, responded to the FIA's new height regulations by designing an awkward 'step' between the monocoque and the tip of the nose.
The one exception, until now, was McLaren.
But Germany's Auto Motor und Sport reports that the 2012 Marussia, which will be seen for the first time in Barcelona next week, also has a clean aerodynamic line at the front.
The former Virgin team works closely with McLaren, including using the famous British team's test rigs and wind tunnel.
"In fact, there was little difference in theory between the two solutions. So why take risks with something that we do not know?" a Marussia team source is quoted as saying.
Timo Glock has already driven the new step-less Marussia in the McLaren simulator.
"We don't have too much experience with the simulator so we hope that it's right, but we will not be too optimistic - that's not to say that I'm disappointed," said the German driver.
"I think we have a good base to build upon," added Glock.
"We have been focusing for a long time on finding the errors with the previous car and getting over them," he is quoted by Speed Week magazine.
Vettel, Alonso cautious on 2012 title prospects
F1 grandees Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have refused to predict they will be in the running for this year's world title.
An early analysis of the winter test running in Spain might have Red Bull and McLaren at the front, with Mercedes and Lotus possibly challenging Ferrari for the position of F1's 'third power' in 2012.
"I think it's too far away," back-to-back world champion Vettel, referring to the three week gap until Melbourne, told German reporters.
"At the moment we do not know where we all are, which is why I don't want to talk about the first race or the championship."
Agreed Alonso: "I think it's wrong to try to figure out in February if you are going to have a successful season or not. We don't know," he is quoted by AS newspaper.
"The feelings I have are that we are faster than the Giulietta," he smiled, referring to the Alfa Romeo road car.
"I don't know. Red Bull seems to be strong but we will not know how much until we get to Melbourne," said Alonso.
According to Finland's MTV3, McLaren's Jenson Button added: "I don't think Red Bull will have the same kind of head start they had at the beginning of last season.
"But Sebastian is of course the favourite, as he should be - he won the past two championships."