Return to full speed will take 'a while' - Raikkonen
There was much excitement in the F1 world on Monday when Kimi Raikkonen returned to a circuit at the wheel of a Grand Prix car.
813 days after he stepped out of his 2009 Ferrari for the last time, the former world champion began a two-day re-acclimatisation test at Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit.
Returning to the sport with Lotus in 2012, the 32-year-old Finn on Monday did about 300 kilometres at the wheel of the team's 2010 Renault car equipped with demonstration Pirelli tyres, enjoying a loophole in F1's now tightly-limited test regulations.
"There is a lot to get used to," a media statement quoted him as saying. "I'm happy because I was pretty quick to get back in the groove."
And Raikkonen is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport: "Of course it will take a little while (longer)."
Added Lotus' trackside operations engineer Alan Permane: "Kimi was on the pace we expected straight away."
18-time race winner Raikkonen, the 2007 title winner and twice the championship runner-up (2003 and 2005), spent the last two years in the world rally series after Ferrari replaced him with Fernando Alonso.
"We had several options for this year," the Finn revealed.
"I did a bit of Nascar in the past year and since I had a lot of fun racing other people again I decided to go back.
"And if you want to go racing then formula one is the highest level and so that's where I wanted to go the most," added Raikkonen.
He said he is not worried about coming back to motor sport's premier category after two whole seasons away.
"If you compare 2009 with the coming season, probably the biggest difference will be the tyres," said the Finn, whose last experience in F1 was on Bridgestone's control tyre.
"I don't think there is a big difference with the cars."
When asked how he has changed himself since 2009, he replied typically: "I don't know - I was two years away."
New Toro Rosso duo admit Red Bull seat target
Toro Rosso's new drivers have admitted a seat at senior team Red Bull Racing is an obvious target for the future.
Mark Webber's contract expires at the end of this season.
For 2012, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have replaced Red Bull rookie team Toro Rosso's former lineup of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.
"Of course I'd be happy to drive for Red Bull - that's the big goal of all the Red Bull juniors.
"If we do everything right and we get the right results, then perhaps we will succeed in a year or two or three," Australian Ricciardo told Austrian Servus TV.
He admitted his half-season with HRT is an advantage over Frenchman Vergne, whose first GP will be the Melbourne season opener in March.
"I think it will be perhaps a little easier for me to get into the season, but the advantage will not last long.
"I'm sure it will help me but there is a lot of testing before Melbourne and we'll both be prepared," said Ricciardo.
On the plus side for Vergne, he is known for having an extremely feisty racing style and is highly rated by Red Bull's influential Dr Helmut Marko.
Known in the paddock as 'Jev', Vergne said he will not lose focus by eyeing Webber's seat prematurely.
"Since my karting days I've always had the philosophy to think only of the present. For example, I've never thought about Formula One, but only the season I was in.
"In 2012 I drove for Toro Rosso; 2013 does not interest me now. I will give my best and then we'll see what comes up."
Details of 2012 Ferrari emerge in Italian press
Details of Ferrari's unlaunched 2012 car have emerged in the pages of Italian specialist publications.
On Tuesday, Autosprint publishes drawings by technical illustrator Giorgio Piola of Maranello's latest creation, with some parts - including the sidepods - reportedly "inspired by (the) McLaren" of last year.
The weekly said the car, to likely be named F12 or F2012, also has "many other features that should make it really extreme", as ordered by Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali last year.
"Some people called it (the car) bad after seeing the shapes, probably because of the hump on the nose," read a report at Autosprint's auto.it website.
"But the final version should be smooth."
The magazine also says Ferrari has innovated to exploit the safety regulations for crash structures, producing a wing-like aerodynamic effect with the sidepods.
Another all-new feature for Ferrari - breaking a philosophy of more than a decade - is the Red Bull-style pull-rod suspension, and an engine cover rear 'hole' also similar to Adrian Newey's title-winning 2011 design.
The car's exhausts reportedly exit even higher than the new regulations dictate, possibly so the gases flow onto the main element of the rear wing.
This feature may not be seen - possibly for reasons of secrecy - on the initial launch version displayed by Ferrari on 3 February.
La Gazzetta dello Sport, meanwhile, said the 2012 Ferrari has "long, low and narrow" radiators and sidepods, with a lower seating position for the drivers.
Report - 2012 Marussia car 'not revolutionary'
Marussia's 2012 car is "not revolutionary", according to a German-language report.
The former Virgin team will not give its new single seater its official track debut until Barcelona -- the second winter test of the forthcoming 2012 pre-season.
That news raised expectations that the car, headed technically by the highly rated former Renault man Pat Symonds, could be a radical departure from the cars that finished the 2010 and 2011 seasons dead last.
Writing in the German-language Speed Week, Peter Hesseler cited Symonds in saying that the 2012 Marussia "will have little in common" with its Virgin predecessor.
But Symonds reportedly thinks the team's spot at the very bottom of the constructors' standings means the priority is a new car with "high quality" rather than innovation.
The goal for 2012, therefore, is to move into the midfield.
International media reports, meanwhile, say the former Renault team - now Lotus - has got its 2012 single seater through the FIA's mandatory crash tests.
The news means the car is now ready to make its official track debut in Kimi Raikkonen's hands at Jerez early next month.
Ecclestone committed to Bahrain's 2012 return
Bernie Ecclestone sounds fully committed to F1's highly controversial return to Bahrain in April.
The 2011 pre-season test and race were cancelled due to unrest within the island Kingdom, and some insist those troubles are not yet over.
But the event's return this year has been definitively scheduled, and F1 chief executive Ecclestone sounds committed.
"Lots of people are talking badly about that part of the world," he told Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper, whilst attending the Kitzbuhel downhill skiing event in Austria.
"But Bahrain is the country in the Arab world in which there are the fewest problems," the 81-year-old insisted.
There are a cluttered 20 events scheduled on the 2012 calendar, but Bahrain is not the only one with a question mark hanging above its race date.
There are fears Korea's organisers are already losing interest, doubts about construction of the new Austin venue, and European races in Spain, Germany and elsewhere facing economic problems.
Ecclestone does not seem worried.
"We could do deals today with five new promoters," he revealed. "The demand is high - there is great interest from Mexico.
"But more races costs more, also for the teams who probably would have to increase their staff a lot. But we could find solutions," said Ecclestone.
Spanish hosts begin talks for alternating plan
Jan.23 (GMM) Valencia and Barcelona - F1's two Spanish race hosts - are now in "informal contact" about alternating a single annual date on future calendars.
According to the Spanish-language news agencies EP and EFE, it was the Valencian government's vice-president Jose Ciscar who made the comment last Friday.
A day earlier, the president Alberto Fabra confirmed he had a meeting in London last week with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, asking to keep the Spanish port city on the calendar but with "different conditions".
Ciscar said Fabra passed on to Ecclestone the "economic difficulties" being faced within Spain, and the need for "major events like formula one" to become "less burdensome" to the region's coffers.
He said there would be "more news in the coming weeks".
Ecclestone, meanwhile, told Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper: "I have tried to get Barcelona and Valencia to alternate, but the Spaniards have not wanted to discuss it.
"We should not have two races there," he added.
Ecclestone hopes Red Bull's dominance ends in 2012
Bernie Ecclestone has admitted he is hoping Sebastian Vettel's rivals break the world champion's run of dominance this season.
The F1 chief executive is an avowed fan and friend of the 24-year-old Red Bull driver, but for the sake of the sport he wants the German to be chased down in 2012 after two consecutive successful championship campaigns.
Asked by Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten at the Kitzuhel skiing event if Vettel will dominate this season, the 81-year-old said: "I hope not!
"Of course, Red Bull are still going to be there. I would much prefer a fight for the world title right to the end of the season."
But if Vettel does dominate again, Ecclestone said the most important thing is that the individual races are exciting.
"The TV viewers care more about the tension of the race than the championship," he insisted.
It is very possible that Red Bull designer Adrian Newey has penned yet another field-beater, so in that case Ecclestone will be cheering for Vettel's teammate, Australian Mark Webber.
"I don't want Red Bull to dominate in the same way but I fear that's what will happen. That's why I put my hopes on Mark Webber's shoulders.
"This year we will see a situation where he can show his talent much more," said the Briton.
Ecclestone is also crossing his fingers for Red Bull's rival teams.
"I would be surprised if Mercedes don't win a race this year. As for Ferrari, I can only hope they improve significantly.
"Alonso is super-talented and deserves a perfect car," he said.
And as for the occupant of the other Ferrari, 1964 world champion John Surtees said the pressure is on the team's Brazilian "weak link" Felipe Massa.
"He'll either have to perform consistently well, or make way," he told the Sun.
Petrov promises news about 2012 'very soon'
Vitaly Petrov is promising news about his future "very soon".
Caterham's Jarno Trulli last week played down rumours the well-sponsored Russian Petrov, a refugee of the former Renault (now Lotus) team, could be set to replace him.
"Very soon is all I can say," Petrov answered his Twitter followers when asked when official news about his plans for 2012 can be expected.
"My friends, be patient," he added in Russian.
Meanwhile, Finland's Turun Sanomat said it has not yet been decided if Trulli or his teammate Heikki Kovalainen will give Caterham's new CT01 car its track debut at Jerez on 7 February.
The newspaper reported rumours that the matter will be resolved with the toss of a coin.
The former Team Lotus' 2010 and 2011 rivals, Marussia (nee Virgin) and HRT, will not be taking their new cars to the opening test of the pre-season.
McLaren, F1 'need Hamilton back' admits Paffett
Team test driver Gary Paffett has admitted McLaren is hoping Lewis Hamilton has "sorted himself out" after a tumultuous 2011.
F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone told Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper that the fact Jenson Button beat the 2008 world champion was the "biggest surprise" of last year's world championship.
Fellow Briton Paffett admits 2011 "was a hard year in lots of respects" for Hamilton.
"Lewis wasn't himself on track or off track," the 30-year-old told the Sun. "He had various problems with his personal life or whatever.
"Hopefully he has had a chill-out over the winter. We're all hoping he has gone away and sorted himself out a bit and will come back to his best - because at his best Lewis is as good as or better than anyone.
"And he can definitely fight for the championship," added Paffett.
"He wants to be back winning races. We didn't see the Lewis we all love last year and we need him back. I think F1 needs that, too."
McLaren, meanwhile, declined to comment on reports Hamilton has been summoned to appear in Munich at next week's assault trial of his friend Adrian Sutil.
According to Auto Motor und Sport, McLaren did not want to comment until Hamilton actually receives in the mail the court's formal summons.
Buemi to race Le Mans with Toyota in 2012 - report
Former Toro Rosso racer Sebastien Buemi will contest this year's fabled Le Mans 24 hour sports car race.
After losing his F1 race seat and being signed to become Red Bull's official reserve driver for this season, the 23-year-old Swiss admitted he would also like to contest Le Mans.
The famous endurance race will take place between F1's Canadian and European Grands Prix in mid June.
"Ideally I would couple F1 with a different (series), such as endurance - I like the Le Mans 24 a lot," Buemi said earlier in January.
"There is no grand prix on that (Le Mans) weekend, so it would be possible. The big teams will start their testing soon, so I could participate as well.
"I will probably be able to announce the details of what I will be doing in 2012 fairly soon," he added recently.
The Swiss newspaper Blick, whose veteran F1 correspondent Roger Benoit is close to Buemi, said Toyota will imminently announce Buemi as one of its Le Mans drivers.
"French sources say the Japanese (Toyota) will announce their teams on January 23," read the media report.
Buemi's grandfather Georges Gachnang raced at Le Mans in the early 60s.
F1 must brace for tough times admits Ecclestone
F1 "must be prepared for problems" as Europe and the world suffer economically.
That is the admission of the sport's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, when asked if Peugeot's withdrawal from Le Mans sports car racing could also indicate tough times ahead for F1.
Amid the world's last financial crisis, F1 lost multiple carmakers including BMW, Toyota and Honda.
"They had good reasons to go and save their money because they just weren't successful enough and didn't get the media coverage they wanted.
"Simple as that," Ecclestone told Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper.
So, with Peugeot pulling out of Le Mans and grand prix promoters considering the future of their races due to the costs, Ecclestone was asked if he is worried F1 could now lose more of its marques and sponsors.
"Due to the length of our contracts, we are almost immune," he insisted.
"But if the situation does not change globally, we must be prepared for problems," admitted Ecclestone.
A report in the UK newspaper Express said every one of F1's twelve competing teams unusually failed to pay their bills on time last season.
"The findings ... show that the recession has hit the motorsport", wrote journalist Christian Sylt.
"The five slowest paying teams all have backing from carmakers, which could indicate that in the current economic climate F1 may not be sustainable for them," he added.
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