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Mike Stevens | Mar, 21 2012 | 0 Comments
  • Webber 'wary' of late rain in Malaysia
  • Coulthard worried Hamilton already beaten
  • Insiders insist no writing off Red Bull yet
  • FOTA complaints led to 'special deal' report axe
  • Praise and scorn for Williams' Maldonado

Webber 'wary' of late rain in Malaysia

A typically hot, humid and thundery weekend is forecast for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Championship leader, just one race into the season, Jenson Button travels to Kuala Lumpur eyeing a weather forecast of possible rain for all three days of track action.

And as ever in tropical Malaysia, the highest chance of rain is always in the late afternoon.

"Bernie (Ecclestone) loves a late start," said Red Bull's Mark Webber, "and, once again, the race has a late kick-off."

Indeed, qualifying and the race are not scheduled until 4:00pm local in Malaysia, ensuring a more civil early morning wake-up for F1's bulk live audience in Europe.

"Late afternoon is usually when the rain comes in Malaysia, and when it comes you know about it," said Webber. "It's something to be wary of."

Even more nervous about the rain forecasts will be HRT.

After sitting out almost the entire winter whilst rebuilding the struggling Spanish team following Colin Kolles' departure, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan failed to qualify in Melbourne.

"In Australia we were only able to complete seven timed laps so I need to get more track time, get to know the car better and improve the set-up," said de la Rosa.



Coulthard worried Hamilton already beaten

After putting his tumultuous 2011 season behind him, Lewis Hamilton has kicked off this year's world championship in downbeat mood.

The 2008 world champion had put his well-documented personal problems and on-track struggles behind him with a positive approach to his sixth season in F1.

His teammate Jenson Button beat him in the 2011 standings, and, when the 2009 title winner beat him to the first corner in Melbourne before going on to win the race with Hamilton third, pole-sitter Hamilton could not hide his disappointment.

"I just struggled out there," he said afterwards.

David Coulthard, the former long-time McLaren driver and now paddock analyst, expressed concern about Hamilton's "striking" post-race body-language and "stony-faced" performance on the podium.

"Has it (Button's win) knocked Lewis?" he wondered in his Telegraph column.

Many in F1 are astonished by how Button, described as having entered Hamilton's "lion's den" at McLaren two years ago, is now being described by the famous British team as its title-winning hope.

"People underestimate him," said team boss Martin Whitmarsh. "He's such a calm, mature and easygoing fellow that people don't realise necessarily the hunger that's in him to compete and to win.

"He must now believe he's in a good chance of a proper title run this year and providing we can continue to improve the car, not make mistakes, be reliable there's no reason why he can't do that," he added.

On Hamilton's side of the garage, meanwhile, is a downcast driver and an expiring contract.

"On his day, Lewis is unbeatable, and yet I suspect McLaren are wondering whether or not they want to keep him, because he brings so much baggage with him," another former McLaren driver-turned commentator, Martin Brundle, told April's Motor Sport magazine.

As for Whitmarsh, McLaren's team principal insists there is no concern yet that Hamilton has already re-entered another spiral of despair so early in 2012.

Downplaying Hamilton's post-race mood in Australia, he said: "When he starts getting happy with being third, or beaten by his teammate, then he won't be the Lewis we all love and admire."



Insiders insist no writing off Red Bull yet

Paddock regulars insist the formerly-dominant Red Bull team cannot be written off after a single defeat in Australia.

On paper, reigning back-to-back champion Sebastian Vettel's second place on Sunday doesn't look bad.

But Melbourne was in fact the first race since before either of the German's title-winning campaigns in 2010 and 2011 that a Red Bull car failed to lead a single lap.

"You cannot discount them, they (Red Bull) are always there," said Albert Park winner Jenson Button, "but it seems that the tables have turned."

After not winning a title since 2008 with Lewis Hamilton, Button's McLaren colleagues will hope that is true.

"Red Bull needs to dress warmly," German racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck told Sport1, "although I see McLaren on an equal footing only."

He warned against over-analysing the Melbourne result.

"This is not a benchmark for the rest of the season - the Malaysia circuit is much more meaningful because who is good there is good everywhere."

However, McLaren hinted after Melbourne that it could actually have performed more strongly last weekend.

"We were more than marginal on fuel," boss Martin Whitmarsh is quoted by Kleine Zeitung newspaper. "There is no question we could have been faster (in Australia)."

But so could Red Bull, Vettel insists.

"In Melbourne, we learned a lot about the behaviour of our car, which has great potential," he said.

"We need to make it harder for McLaren in Malaysia."

Triple world champion Niki Lauda agrees: "Red Bull will catch up quickly."

Team advisor Dr Helmut Marko insisted: "We have not brought everything out of the car yet. So we are very optimistic about the next races."

He is also dismissive of Red Bull's other rivals.

"Only McLaren are on par with us," said Marko, who scorned at Mercedes, the team who fared strongly in Melbourne before suffering in the race.

"They were more like a chicane," the acid-tongued Austrian added, according to laola1.at.



FOTA complaints led to 'special deal' report axe

Rival formula one teams complained when Sky News published a report suggesting Ferrari and Red Bull will receive special deals for the next Concorde Agreement.

There has been speculation the Bernie Ecclestone-headed Formula One Management ordered the article be pulled from the internet because it divulged secret plans about the teams' deals and a $10 billion stock market floatation.

But the Financial Times (FT) reports that it was parent company BSkyB's chief executive Jeremy Darroch who intervened because the article "had upset formula one racing teams".

The producer of Sky's new dedicated F1 channel reportedly "called his bosses from Melbourne", where the broadcaster was making its debut as Britain's new full-time live host.

He said "the article had caused a strong negative reaction from some F1 teams", people familiar with the situation reportedly told the FT.

"The piece was withdrawn for further review," a BSkyB spokesman confirmed. "We stand by the story and, following that review, took the decision to re-publish on Monday."

The teams alliance FOTA, which no longer involves Ferrari and Red Bull, reportedly met in the Melbourne paddock on Sunday "to discuss how to respond to the (Sky) report", the FT continued.

The fact the Geneva-based body no longer features two of the major top teams apparently gives Bernie Ecclestone the opportunity to agree deals with them, forcing their rivals to follow suit.

"FOTA can't sign anything with anyone," Ecclestone scorned, before declining to discuss the reports of Ferrari and Red Bull's special deals.

Ferrari and CVC also declined to comment, but an unnamed senior team executive dismissed the apparent deals as "a pipe dream".

Another said the story was a typical example of Ecclestone's "divide and conquer" tactics.



Praise and scorn for Williams' Maldonado

Pastor Maldonado attracted praise and scorn from high places after his performance in Melbourne.

As far as Lotus team boss Eric Boullier is concerned, the Williams driver cost Romain Grosjean a place on the podium after their clash during the season-opening Grand Prix.

Asked when the promising black and gold E20 will make its first drive to the rostrum in 2012, Frenchman Boullier told Helsingin Sanomat newspaper: "When Maldonado doesn't crash into us."

Venezuelan Maldonado, often criticised for being Williams' lead pay-driver, had another crash at Albert Park - on the very last lap - which ended his stirring push for a solid fifth place.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who initially admitted to being relieved when Maldonado was no longer hounding him in his mirrors, also said he felt sorry for the 27-year-old.

"He was much faster than me and in the end I might have had problems to defend my position," he told AS newspaper.

"I think he did a good drive and I felt some sadness when I saw that he had gone from my mirrors because he was about to earn the fifth, sixth, whatever (position)," added the Spaniard.


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