F1: February round-up

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarTuesday, February 26th, 2008

 
 

It’s been a surprisingly active month in F1, despite the fact that there’s been no actual racing. And not always in a good way, either. Here’s our handy guide to what’s happened:

Trouble in Barcelona
The first round of Barcelona testing, taking place from February 1 onwards, was overshadowed after some Spanish fans treated Lewis Hamilton with not just hostility but overt racism too. The McLaren star was booed and insulted on his way to and from the track and had to put up with behaviour from some crowd members with blacked-up faces that would simply be unthinkable at a British venue. This has started a row about racism that’s been rumbling on all month, with the FIA leaping into action with an anti-racism campaign and threats to cancel the Spanish Grand Prix. But not everyone’s been so proactive – according to BBC Sport, Fernando Alonso made the following helpful contribution: “The less we talk about what happened 15 days ago, the better, because that’s a completely isolated case.” He also described the FIA’s stance as “laughable”. And Bernie wants to play it down too: “All it does is give attention to people who want attention.”
But what happened on track?
While the racism row was running away with fans’ attention, testing went on apace. The first day saw track temperatures down to just 4 degrees Celsius, delaying teams and disrupting their programmes. Once out on the track Lewis Hamilton pulled out a fastest lap, closely pursued by Renault’s Fernando Alonso and BMW’s Robert Kubica. On day two Toro Rosso drivers made headlines by unexpectedly topping the rankings while simulating low-fuel qualifying while BMW announced it had signed Christian Klien as a tester. On the last day of the weekend Red Bull’s Mark Webber topped the time charts, closely followed by the McLaren Drivers.
Bahrain interlude
From Barcelona the F1 roadshow moved on to Bahrain on February 4. Only two teams were testing – but one of those was Ferrari and the chance to get a feel for world champion Kimi Raikkonen’s performance was keenly anticipated. He managed a fastest lap time of 1:30.595 – a second and a half on both team-mate Felipe Massa and the two Toyota drivers also testing. He was, however, floored by reliability problems later in the week. Renault also unveiled Sakon Yamamoto, who raced briefly for Spyker and Super Aguri, as a tester at this point.
Silverstone plans approved
On February 5 Silverstone took another step towards its planned upgrade after a local council agreed to adopt its development brief. Ideas for the sustainable development of the circuit include a new pit and paddock area, a manufacturer test centre, a business park, two hotels, a university campus and housing. This is an important step towards the £25 million revamp going ahead – and in finally persuading Bernie Ecclestone to stop moaning every time he turns up there. Personally we rather like the feeling of being back at a second-division football ground in the 1970s, but we can understand how that doesn’t necessarily fit F1’s preferred image…
Not the bloody spying row again…
On February 7 the Ferrari/McLaren spy row percolated back up to the surface like a bad smell thanks to Nigel Stepney getting his day in an Italian court. His lawyer reportedly denied any secret technical information had been passed to McLaren, but acknowledged that her client had been in touch with McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan. Apparently Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh and McLaren’s engineering director Paddy Lowe are all due to appear in the coming weeks, as well as Coughlan himself. Oh, joy…
Will Super Aguri make the Melbourne grid?
Some much-needed good news for Super Aguri fans and British driver Anthony Davidson came on February 9 with the FIA announcing that the car had passed all necessary crash tests this time around. But financial woes mean the outlook really isn’t great for Honda’s poor relations. It has since had to postpone its car launch, cancel planned tests and neither of its drivers are yet firmly contracted for this year despite the first grand prix being less than a month away. However, the perennial Russian and Indian investors are said to be taking an interest, and things were every bit as unpredictable in 2006 and 2007. We hope they make it.
Blustery Jerez
On February 12 testing got underway at Jerez with Lewis Hamilton making his first visit to Spain since the Barcelona race row – this time much less controversial, and the abuse was not repeated. Hamilton topped the standings on the first day with nine teams present, beating McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa by slightly more than half a second . BMW’s Robert Kubica and Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima also put in good showings. On the second day windy weather caused problems, making several teams modify or even abandon their schedule. And the FIA unveiled its plan for Racing against Racism – to be introduced at the Spanish Grand Prix in April. On the third day the emphasis was back on speed, with Heikki Kovalainen topping the rankings in the McLaren car. And David Coulthard showed some of the youngsters who’s boss by slotting his RB4 in second, just over half a second behind him. Following them were Nakajima, Hamilton and Kubica.
Where on earth is Jenson Button?
A notable feature of February has been the incredibly low profile maintained by Honda. After Ross Brawn’s arrival in a blaze of headlines and hyperbole about the team’s prospects, and unkind speculation about the viability of the Earth Car livery, we’ve seen little of a team which has been either not present at testing or so far down the standings that no-one noticed it anyway. On February 15 a story popped up on the official F1 site explaining how Button and fellow driver Rubens Barrichello were ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the coming season and describing progress as productive. Really, this sentence tells you all you need to know about Honda at present: “Despite finishing over three seconds down on fastest man Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren on Thursday, the British driver was also satisfied as he left Jerez.” Oh well – Brawn said he’d need more than one season to turn things around…
Make room on the sideboard…
On February 18 it was announced that Lewis Hamilton had won yet another piece of silverware – this year’s Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year award, in recognition of his incredible first season in F1. On this occasion Hamilton did manage to beat Kimi Raikkonen – the world champion had been nominated for a Sportsman of the Year award but was pipped to the post by tennis star Roger Federer, picking up the trophy for the fourth consecutive year, more than even Michael Schumacher could manage.
Barcelona rematch
On February 19 it was back to Barcelona where, we imagine, the stands were being policed considerably better than on F1’s previous visit. On a rainy and uninspiring first day that attracted just four teams out to set times, Williams’ Nico Rosberg put in a fastest lap of 1:30.675 while David Coulthard put his RB4 into the wall. On day two the weather got even worse and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa had the most success in coming to terms with it, setting a fastest lap of 1 minute, 30.673, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber managed 1:31.213 and Ferarri’s Luca Badoer was less than a tenth of a second behind. Coulthard, in better form, was fourth. On day three the sun came out – particularly for Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima who managed to top the standings with a fastest time of 1:22.153, keeping McLaren’s Kovalainen and de la Rosa just behind him.

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