- Button a favourite for Vettel's crown - Salo
- Hamilton not bothered as Red Bull says no
- Politician slams Ecclestone's 'bogan' daughter
- Red Bull admits eye on 'shrewd' Mercedes
- Schumacher admits test ban led to F1 comeback
- Ferrari crisis is exaggerated - Lauda
- Force India not ready for 2012 podiums - Hulkenberg
- Petrov insists Alonso also a 'pay-driver'
- After rally test, Kubica drives kart
- Vettel names new Red Bull 'Abbey'
- Schumacher admits test ban led to F1 comeback
Button a favourite for Vettel's crown - Salo
Jenson Button is an outright favourite for the 2012 title, according to former F1 driver Mika Salo.
The Finn, Salo, will be a regular in the paddock this season with the MTV3 broadcaster, except for this weekend's season opener for which he is detained to test last year's Ferrari at Suzuka.
Asked however in a pre-season interview to name some likely challengers to Sebastian Vettel's crown, the 45-year-old answered: "Jenson Button is not necessarily the quickest driver, but he is able to collect points consistently.
"I would not previously have put him as a favourite, but when Hamilton had his personal problems, Button was immediately on the case."
Behind Vettel and Button, Salo predicts Hamilton and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg to be on the favourites' heels.
"It will depend on Hamilton, and whether or not he splits with his girlfriend every other weekend.
"Nico will be strong, if he has a good car. Webber, I think, is a bit past it, especially if Red Bull is no longer as dominant as they have been," he added.
Hamilton not bothered as Red Bull says no
A few days ago, Red Bull's team boss said Jenson Button - not the other McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton - is a more likely championship challenger for 2012.
On the eve of the new season, Christian Horner has now told British reporters that - with Hamilton's current contract expiring this year - it is "difficult to envisage Lewis in our team".
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion who had a tumultuous 2011 and was famously beaten by Button in the drivers' points standings, insists he doesn't mind.
"It's the first time I've heard of (the remarks) but they definitely don't wind me up," the Briton is quoted by the BBC.
"There are a lot of opinions, and everybody has their right to an opinion, but it doesn't really affect me.
"It doesn't really matter at the end of the day when I go out and do the job."
In fairness to Hamilton, he sounds confident and refreshed heading into the new season, has patched up his relationship with his girlfriend, and appointed Didier Coton to look after him in the paddock.
"Lewis was a child prodigy -- this is the problem," 1996 world champion Damon Hill told the Sun. "When you have been brought up from an early age to be a product, at some point something will crack."
Another pundit, former McLaren driver David Coulthard, urged Hamilton not to be put off by Red Bull's apparent lack of interest in his services.
"I don't think Lewis will ever be out of demand for the top teams," said the Scot.
"What are Lewis' other options? I don't think Mercedes are waving around a cheque book -- I'd be surprised if Michael (Schumacher) and Nico Rosberg are in the top-four earners in formula one.
"You also want a competitive car and if McLaren give him that, then he will probably stay," said Coulthard.
Federal Pollie slams Ecclestone's 'bogan' daughter
Federal ALP member Kelvin Thomson has argued Melbourne's Grand Prix should be axed because it bankrolls "Bernie's billionaire bogan".
Kelvin Thomson told parliament that much of the fee paid by the Victorian state government to F1 ends up in the deep pockets of F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone's eldest daughter Tamara.
After watching a documentary about 27-year-old Ms Ecclestone, he said she uses a million-dollar bathtub, an elevator for her Ferrari road car, crystal balls for her bowling alley, and a massage parlour for her dogs.
"One thing I am absolutely sure of," said Thomson, "there are better ways to spend $50 million, year in and year out, than bankrolling Bernie's billionaire bogan."
This weekend's Australian Grand Prix will be the seventeenth at Albert Park.
Red Bull admits eye on 'shrewd' Mercedes
With an eye on the usual suspects McLaren and Ferrari, Red Bull mogul Dietrich Mateschitz thinks yet another team could be a real challenger in 2012.
Referring to Mercedes, he told the Austrian newspaper Kurier that the Ross Brawn-led team seems to have come up with "very good improvements" and "a major development".
He is believed to be referring to clever new systems on the W03, with the latest discovery said to boost top speed significantly by combining 'DRS' with a new and legal F-duct solution.
Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko agrees that the Mercedes idea is "shrewd", adding that there is not time to fit a similar system to the RB8 before Melbourne.
Triple world champion Niki Lauda told Germany's RTL television: "I think the McLaren and the Red Bull cars are on par.
"Mercedes is the big question mark -- I think they are also really fast."
Finally realising Mercedes' apparent speed, a newspaper recently crowned the Brackley based team the 'Bluff champion' of the 2012 winter.
Michael Schumacher, however, insists it has not been a deliberate strategy.
"Formula one is just so complex that we simply don't know much about how the other teams are going. Clearly, the W03 is a step forward," he told Bild-Zeitung.
"The question is how big our step has been compared to the others. We really need to wait until the first race."
Schumacher admits test ban led to F1 comeback
Michael Schumacher has revealed he would not have returned to F1 if not for the sport's strict testing ban.
Two years after his record seventh title, the famous German retired in 2006, but then came back with the new Mercedes GP venture in 2010 and is now deciding whether or not to extend his contract for 2013.
But as a multi-millionaire and 43-year-old father of two, he was asked by the German newspaper Bild-Zeitung why he was not content to simply "enjoy your family" in the wake of his unprecedented success.
"Because racing is my passion," he insisted, "and anyway it doesn't mean I have to stop enjoying my life with my family.
"When I came back again, one of the reasons (for the decision) was that Formula One is much less time-consuming as it was in my 'first career'.
"Then, we had testing after each race, now - during the season - there is not. I have plenty of time for my family," said Schumacher.
"Otherwise, clearly, there would have been no comeback," he admitted.
So, Schumacher is now deciding whether or not to stay in 2013 and beyond.
Would he consider returning to Ferrari, to once again take on the challenge of pulling the famous Italian squad out of a crisis?
"Let's just say this," the German answered. "The probability that I will end my career with a team other than Mercedes is so exceedingly low that I don't need to even think about it."
Ferrari crisis is exaggerated - Lauda
It is already being described as a 'crisis', but former Ferrari driver Niki lauda is sure Ferrari's situation in early 2012 is not that bad.
"The Italians always exaggerate," the triple world champion, who won two titles with the famous Maranello based team in the 70s, is quoted by German RTL television.
"Everything is either great or everything is negative. I don't think the Ferrari is as bad as it's being made out.
"I do know that the McLaren and Red Bull are very similar and Mercedes follows closely behind. Then comes Ferrari - but things can change very quickly," added Lauda.
As ever in Ferrari's high-pressure Italy, however, the stakes are high and every episode is amplified - such as when comments made by Felipe Massa apparently contradicted Pat Fry's prediction that an early podium is unlikely.
"In my head is the thought that we can fight for the podium," Brazilian Massa insisted after landing in Australia this week, "but that doesn't mean that I don't agree with what Pat Fry said in Barcelona."
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, admitted Ferrari has no choice but to initially "grit our teeth" until the F2012 improves.
"First of all, we have to see exactly where we are in terms of being competitive and then give our all to bring home as many points as possible in this early stage of the championship," said the Spaniard.
Force India not ready for 2012 podiums - Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg has played down claims Force India could be a podium-getting 'dark horse' of the 2012 season.
Behind the top battle involving Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes, there appears a closely-packed midfield, with potential challengers including Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India.
German Hulkenberg is returning to F1 with Silverstone based Force India this season, after being ousted by Williams at the end of 2010.
Asked what his goals are by Germany's Sport1, the 24-year-old answered: "First I want to establish myself (in F1), after the bad experience of 2010.
"A couple of points would also be great," he smiled.
Some pundits, however, are predicting that podiums may be possible for Hulkenberg - the 2010 Brazil GP pole sitter - and his highly rated teammate Paul di Resta.
"Clearly this is a dream," the German admitted.
"But at the moment I don't think that's our goal. Of course if we should be in that situation in a race, then we will try everything for it."
Hulkenberg conceded that Force India is not ready to challenge F1's frontrunners.
"I think Red Bull have their nose in front again, and McLaren are the closest to them. I have no idea what Ferrari are doing at the moment and Mercedes is also difficult to assess because they haven't shown much."
He said countryman Sebastian Vettel's crown, however, may be challenged.
"It's clear that he is the man to beat," said Hulkenberg.
Petrov insists Alonso also a 'pay-driver'
Vitaly Petrov has hit out again at his 'pay-driver' label, insisting even the highest paid driver on the grid has a similar arrangement with his team.
"I see no difference between myself and Alonso," said the Russian, who has moved his lucrative backing from Renault (now Lotus) to the Caterham team for 2012.
His new appointment is controversial, given he has ousted the experienced veteran and former Monaco winner Jarno Trulli, who was the last Italian in F1.
Comparing himself with Alonso, Petrov told La Stampa newspaper: "Everyone knows that he is funded by the money from (Ferrari sponsor) Banco Santander.
"Anyway, you only get to F1 because of talent."
And Petrov, 27, insists he does not feel sorry for Trulli.
"Life is hard," the Italian newspaper quotes him as saying.
He admitted that having friends in F1 is impossible, whilst making some comments that will also not endear him to the sport's Italian followers.
Asked to explain the rare absence of Italians on the grid, Petrov criticised the country's junior categories and added: "Your drivers lack the passion."
And as for Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo's complaints about the dramatic role being played by aerodynamics in F1 at present, he answered: "When you're not winning, it's easy to complain."
Petrov, however, lived in Italy in his past, revealing that his favourite elements of Italian life are "the food and the girls".
But on the latter, he does not expect to be wheel-to-wheel with the opposite sex any time soon.
"They do not have the physical ability and also are not prepared for the high speeds. But everything in life is possible," said Petrov.
After rally test, Kubica drives kart
Robert Kubica is back on track yet again, according to the latest reports from Italy.
It emerged a few days ago that the Pole had moved his recovery from serious injury forwards by returning to the wheel of a Skoda Fabia rally car in Liguria, Italy.
La Gazzetta dello Sport now reports that the former BMW and Renault driver has tested a kart at a circuit in Montecatini-Terme, Tuscany.
Former Renault boss Flavio Briatore advises Kubica not to rush his return to F1.
"I have seen him a few times and have told him not to hurry back. You cannot lose your talent, but first you should focus on your health. 100 per cent," he told Italy's Sky Sport 24.
Briatore recalled former Benetton driver Alessandro Nannini, who badly injured his arm in a helicopter crash in 1990.
"He hurried back and we all know how that ended," said Briatore.
"I think Kubica will succeed, but he needs to plan to come back in two years. You can't be in F1 if you're not 100 percent."
Vettel names new Red Bull 'Abbey'
Sebastian Vettel has named his new 2012 Red Bull chassis 'Abbey'.
With the Adrian Newey-penned RB8, the 24-year-old German will push to become F1's third-ever triple consecutive world champion, after Juan Manuel Fangio and mentor Michael Schumacher.
Recently, the highly-superstitious German has given his F1 cars a female name - the 2010 winner was Luscious Liz, and last year's dominant RB7 'Kinky Kylie'.
So superstitious is Vettel that - as in 2011 - he has waited until the Wednesday before the season-opening Australian GP to decide the new name.
Germany's Bild newspaper said Vettel's 2012 mount is 'Abbey' - perhaps after his favourite band The Beatles' album Abbey Road, or the Silverstone corner?
"Neither is true," he insisted, "it's just a cool name."