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F1: Australia Still The Opener, Tyre Saga Builds, Webber Replacement Unclear Photo:
TMR Team | Jul, 02 2013 | 1 Comment

Australia may retain the opening slot on the 2014 calendar.

Earlier, it was thought likely the sport's highly-controversial Bahrain race could steal Melbourne's thunder as the scene of next year's championship opener.

But Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker was in London last week for talks with Bernie Ecclestone.

"We will be the first race (in 2014)," Walker told the Australian Financial Review afterwards.

"Everything is going to plan for that."

The situation was expected to be cleared up late last week, when the World Motor Sport Council met at Goodwood.

But, unusually, a provisional calendar was not published.

F1 chief executive Ecclestone, however, has backed his friend and ally Walker's claim that Australia will still host the opening race next March.

"No, we aren't making Bahrain the first race next year," the 82-year-old told F1 business journalist and Formula Money editor Christian Sylt last week.

"I think we will keep it as it is. It is just a rumour that it will change."



2013 season in tyre-exploding crisis after Silverstone

Formula one's tyre-dominated 2013 season has shifted into an even higher gear, as drivers threaten to go on strike unless immediate action is taken.

Crisis struck the Silverstone paddock on Sunday, after Pirelli's already-controversial tyres inexplicably exploded while others deflated or showed visible damage, in a safety car-interrupted and almost red-flagged British grand prix.

There is talk of a drivers' boycott ahead of the weekend's Nurburgring race.

"Well, for sure we are going to discuss about that," said Felipe Massa, who almost died in 2009 when debris struck his helmet.

The retiring Mark Webber was furious.

"It's not December yet, so I'll stay quiet," said the usually outspoken Australian, but he did admit that F1's authorities have displayed "deaf ears" to the drivers' concerns since Pirelli entered the sport.

But even FIA race director Charlie Whiting admitted after the race that he came "quite close" to waving the red flag on Sunday on safety grounds.

"I would have understood that perfectly," Massa agreed.

The Ferrari driver said the situation cannot be left to chance, particularly with circuits like Spa and Monza looming.

"These things cannot occur on these circuits," said the Brazilian.

Lewis Hamilton, who was leading on Sunday when his tyre spectacularly exploded, revealed: "That's the first time in my whole career that I've felt the danger.

"I was thinking of stopping (retiring from the race)," he claimed.

"I don't know why I have to put my life at risk for these damn tyres," the 2008 world champion told broadcaster Sky.

Niki Lauda, the triple world champion who was almost burned to death in 1976, and now Mercedes' F1 chairman, said: "If that (tyre) tread hits you on your face, it would break your neck off."

FIA president Jean Todt was at Silverstone, and according to Germany's Bild newspaper, he summoned Whiting and Pirelli to an immediate crisis meeting late on Sunday.

The Frenchman has also called a more formal emergency meeting with Pirelli and the F1 teams for Wednesday.

"Our priority is the safety of the drivers," said Todt. "We must make the right decisions and not react emotionally," he told France's Canal Plus television.

One mooted solution, albeit suggested most loudly by those who have often struggled competitively on the 2013 tyres, is to simply revert to Pirelli's 2012 tyre.

"I don't know if that will happen," said Mercedes' Toto Wolff, "or whether the structure can be changed, but it is a fact that it is very dangerous."

Lauda, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, rubbished suggestions Silverstone's kerbs were to blame.

"We have kerbs at every circuit and everyone drives over them," Lauda blasted. "That's what they're there for.

"If the tyres cannot handle the kerbs, then you don't change the kerbs, you change the tyres," he told German broadcaster RTL.

Alonso agreed: "I think the kerbs were perfectly ok."

Already in Pirelli's pocket is a new internally kevlar-belted tyre that was designed to stop the delamination problems seen earlier this season.

Teams like Lotus and Force India vetoed the change, but only because Pirelli insisted the problem was merely aesthetic rather than a pressing safety issue.

Now, safety, danger and looming death are the words on everyone's lips.

"If Pirelli says the tyres are not safe, then we would not stop the necessary changes from coming in," Lotus engineer Alan Permane told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

Speaking to Canal Plus television, team boss Eric Boullier agreed: "Now that we are talking about safety, it's a different thing.

"We will all sit around a table and do everything we can to help Pirelli."

The biggest problem, however, is that the FIA meeting is taking place only on Wednesday, where two days later practice will kick off at the Nurburgring.

"For Germany you can't do anything," Lauda acknowledged.

But beyond that, according to Brazil's O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, some teams are proposing that the forthcoming young drivers test at Silverstone become a full-blown tyre development test, with race drivers allowed to run.

"It's an idea that should be discussed in the coming days," said Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali.


F1 begins to respond to tyre-exploding crisis

The world of formula one has already begun to respond to the crisis triggered by Sunday's tyre-exploding British grand prix.

Earlier this year, because Pirelli insisted the problem was merely aesthetic rather than a matter of safety, a few teams blocked moves to introduce a new tyre to stop delaminations.

Red Bull designer Adrian Newey, hitting out at those resisting teams including Lotus, Ferrari and Force India, blamed the Silverstone chaos on their "short-sightedness".

"It's a sad state of affairs but such is the nature of formula one, really," he is quoted by the Telegraph.

However, Lotus team boss Eric Boullier has reacted immediately to Silverstone by insisting that because it is now a safety issue, the team will no longer block any changes.

And Telegraph correspondent Tom Cary said on Monday that Ferrari and Force India have also now acknowledged "that safety came before their own competitive interests".

Nonetheless, Force India owner Vijay Mallya has been quoted as questioning the seriousness of the tyre explosions, while Lotus' Alan Permane told Auto Motor und Sport that Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean had no problems at all on Sunday.

Force India sporting director Otmar Szafnauer added: "We had no problems.

"Maybe it's because we adhere strictly to Pirelli's guidelines regarding tyre pressures and camber."

The most immediate issue for F1, however, is how to react to the Silverstone crisis just days ahead of the next race at the Nurburgring.

A step in the right direction is the immediate decision to relax F1's strict testing ban for Pirelli.

Sir Jackie Stewart is quoted by the Daily Mail: "They've got to open up the regulations and do as many tests as they need to drive in order to feel comfortable their (Pirelli's) tyres are durable."

Indeed, Germany's DPA news agency said the most powerful men in F1 - Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Jean Todt - met at Silverstone and arranged for Pirelli to be able to conduct two three-day tests.

F1 chief executive Ecclestone said Pirelli can even use 2013 cars, even though the Italian marque's recent test with Mercedes was scolded by the FIA.

"They can use what they like," said Ecclestone. "No restrictions. None at all, so they can do what they want."




Red Bull snub would make Raikkonen 'a wimp' - Lauda

Two F1 legends fundamentally disagree about Kimi Raikkonen's best next move.

It is rumoured the 2007 world champion is the hot favourite to replace Red Bull's Porsche-bound Mark Webber next season.

But Sir Jackie Stewart, a triple world champion turned consultant for Lotus team owner Genii, thinks becoming Sebastian Vettel's teammate would be a bad move for the Finn.

"I wouldn't want to go into the garage next to another top driver who for many years has established his place within that team," the Scot told Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat.

Typically bluntly, however, fellow triple world champion Niki Lauda thinks 33-year-old Raikkonen should make the jump to Red Bull.

"If Kimi doesn't go," the Austrian legend told German newspaper Bild, "he's a wimp Yes, he might have to do a few more working days, but all that means is a few less drinking days!" Lauda added.

Meanwhile, Webber has tipped fellow Australian Ricciardo to replace him at Red Bull, pointing to the young driver's strong showing with the less capable Toro Rosso machine.

"I think he's in the box seat...he deserves it and he's done the yards over here in Europe early doors. He's been on the canvas a few times and got back up and that's part of the rules," Webber told the BBC this week.

Ricciardo himself remains positive of his chances for a promotion, but said this week that he's not letting it get the better of him.

"As Mark said, let's see what happens. I'm not going to get my hopes up. I've still got to perform and produce what I've got to do and if it all works out then that will be exciting."



'Test-gate' whispers remain as Mercedes speeds ahead

As Mercedes speeds ahead in formula one, tempers remain frayed and fingers are still pointing in the wake of the 'test-gate' scandal.

Many in the paddock believe Mercedes' dramatic turnaround - two wins in three races - since its secret Pirelli test is because of the unfair advantage gained by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton over those 1000 highly controversial kilometres.

Asked if he still would have won at Silverstone if not for the Barcelona test, a defiant German Rosberg said on Sunday: "For sure. Definitely."

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali, however, is not so sure.

"We have nothing to say," he is quoted by Spain's AS newspaper. "We avoid controversy and stay calm."

Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda, however, blasted the paddock insinuations.

"I cannot hear this nonsense. Everything was finished with the court (tribunal) ruling. So we are concentrating on racing," said the Austrian legend.

Relations between Mercedes and Red Bull, who along with Ferrari filed the original protest and have been highly vocal about the Barcelona test, are particularly fraught.

Mercedes director Toto Wolff is believed to have made some crass comments about the Red Bull company in the German press last week.

He justified his counterpunch by insisting to Tagesspiegel that "there is a limit and Red Bull exceeded it", and admitting his comments might have made Dietrich Mateschitz "spit out his cereal".

"Eloquent. Very eloquent," Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko hit back. According to Kleine Zeitung, Marko has vowed only to deal with Lauda in the future.

"At least he (Lauda) is a man of character," said Marko.



Hulkenberg not paid by struggling Sauber

Nico Hulkenberg is the victim of a financial crisis at Swiss team Sauber, the German newspaper Bild reports.

We reported on Sunday that, as the Hinwil based team runs out money, development of the uncompetitive C32 has stopped, and suppliers' bills are going unpaid.

The Swiss newspaper Blick said Sauber is desperately waiting for a new sponsor, believed to be Russian natural gas giant Gazprom, to sign up.

Bild correspondents Helmut Uhl and Nicola Pohl claim Hulkenberg is yet to be paid for May.

Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn confirmed: "It's true, we're in trouble at the moment.

"But we will get out of it again, and in any case will still be here at the end of the season."



Domenicali backs Alonso, Ferrari car getting 'worse'

Stefano Domenicali has refused to rebuke Fernando Alonso for questioning the lagging development of Ferrari's 2013 car.

Spaniard Alonso qualified tenth but finished the British grand prix in third place, taking a bite out of Sebastian Vettel's championship lead after the leading Red Bull broke down at Silverstone.

"We saw this weekend that the pace is not good enough," he said afterwards.

Earlier, Alonso had pointed a finger at a trend of backwards development coming out of the Maranello factory.

"Fernando's analysis is one that I share," team boss Domenicali told the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "We have made the car worse.

"Now we need to analyse all the data to find the reasons for this step backwards, and make a solution.

"The drivers are in a difficult position psychologically, so it's important to reassure them," he added.

Domenicali also put his support behind Brazilian Felipe Massa, who has suffered multiple crashes in recent races, including yet another in Silverstone practice.

Some have suggested the accidents are denting Massa's chances of a 2014 contract.

"He needs to feel the confidence of the team, so that everything can be perfect in the next races," said Domenicali.

"Adding pressure serves neither the driver or the team."



Ferrari could adapt 2014 F1 engine for Le Mans

Stefano Domenicali is not denying speculation Ferrari might enter prototype sports car racing, including fabled Le Mans.

The rumour first emerged mid last week, after Renault hinted its new 1.6 litre turbo engine for F1 next year could be adapted for Le Mans.

Asked if Le Mans might also be an option for Ferrari in the coming years, the Maranello based F1 team's boss Domenicali said: "The new turbo engine for introduction in formula one next year would allow some interesting projects.

"At the moment I cannot say more," he told Italian newspaper La Stampa.


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