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Behind the scenes in Bahrain – Thursday
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Behind the scenes in Bahrain – Thursday
Posted By:   |  23 Apr 2009   |  5:08 pm GMT  |  0 comments

Today has been a very interesting one here in the Bahrain paddock. There is plenty going on, as usual, with many teams bringing new parts to the cars, news coming through of lawsuits at Donington, making the 2010 British Grand Prix an ever more diminishing possibility and discussions of what might happen at McLaren’s FIA hearing next week.
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A lot of people feel that Shanghai was a bit of a one-off and that the picture at top will be a little more predictable this weekend, with Brawn dominant, Toyota stronger than in China, especially in qualifying where they may have a shot at the front row if they go aggressive, Red Bull, Williams and maybe Renault as well looking better again.

McLaren seems to have taken a conscious decision to project a very different kind of image this weekend, with their awkward date with the FIA world council coming up very soon. Their office here at the track has a bar set up outside it and there is an ipod with a very cool playlist, pumping out tunes which reach just far enough into the paddock for you to be aware that there is a good vibe going on, but not too much to be obtrusive. We’ve been invited for a ‘mocktail’ (a non-alcoholic cocktail) tomorrow evening and I can’t help but feel this is some hitherto hidden part of the McLaren psyche saying, “Don’t worry, be happy, ” as the executioner sharpens his axe.

It certainly would never have happened when Ron Dennis was team principal.

I saw new TP Martin Whitmarsh deep in discussion with the FIA’s Alan Donnelly this afternoon, both were smiling, albeit the smiles were a little strained. I know that many experienced McLaren people are quaking in their boots about what might happen on April 29th, when they face the world council over the lying incidents in Melbourne and Malaysia, but the only music they are facing here is very easy on the ear..

However there are stories going around that Mercedes is having some internal difficulties over what might be around the corner, rumours of the board questioning their involvement in F1. These were doing the rounds a couple of months ago and it may be a bit of positioning ahead of Wednesday, as mush as to say, “Don’t be too heavy on us, we might lose out mandate to be here.” I’ll find out more as the weekend goes on. Remember they are the largest shareholder in the McLaren team.

Sebastian Vettel was on very good form this afternoon. The two time Grand Prix winner has always had star quality, but his press briefings have not always been that well attended. I remember one last year where only Ted Kravitz and I turned up. But today he was mobbed. He seemed more serious than normal, there is usually an ironic smirk on his face when he speaks English.

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You will have noticed that Bernie Ecclestone has been championing him all season, saying he is better than Lewis Hamilton and generally building him up. He’s a gift from heaven for Bernie, who was worried about how F1 would replace Michael Schumacher as a big draw in Germany. Christian Horner said today that Bernie calls Vettel “My boy” and says to Christian, “Now you have got the right strategy for my boy today, haven’t you?” as if he had become Vettel’s unofficial manager. In fact one of the amazing things about Vettel is that he doesn’t have a manager, he handles all the negotiations himself with his lawyer and has as much feel for a deal as he does for a wet track.

People are saying that Ferrari are falling apart but I don’t really see it. They have had a bad start to the season, with some mistakes and some unreliability issues in the opening races, but they just need to stay calm. I went to see Felipe Massa this afternoon and asked him about the leadership a driver can give to his team at a difficult time like this. Michael Schumacher was always very strong in this area and Massa has learned a lot from him. Massa acknowledged that he had taken on that role.

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“Kimi is not the kind of guy who talks a lot so it’s difficult to share opinions with him. But I’m talking a lot with the team and trying to improve the situation. I grew up a lot inside the team and now it is even more important to show that you can be a good leader and everyone trusts me.”

There is also plenty of chat about the budget cap. Max Mosley has written to teams giving them until next Wednesday’s world council to come up with a figure which they believe is workable. Some teams are very unhappy about being rushed into something so huge. There is talk of doing it with a ‘glide path’ whereby the budget goes down gradually over several years, rather than jumping straight to £30million. It’s hard to lay off 300 people in one go, not to mention expensive in redundancy payments.

But as I posted this morning, I sense a big fight coming over this issue between the teams and Mosley. that fight will take place between next Wednesday’s world council meeting and the next world council meeting in June.

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  1. knoxploration says:

    James: Interesting post as always, it’s nice to get the feel from inside the paddock. Any chance you’d make your images a little larger (or make them click through to bigger versions), though? On my screen, they’re barely two inches diagonal and you can hardly make out faces, let alone expressions…

  2. jw1980 says:

    James,

    I am beginning to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of no British GP for 2010. Can you encourage us by stating with any confidence that it will go ahead? At the start of the year Max Mosley did say that FIA may protect the “crown jewel”events such as Britain if certain promoters asked. It would be quite ironic if Jenson Button was to be world champion this year (following Lewis Hamilton last year) and there being no British GP in 2010.
    Which GP would you recommend attending if there was no British GP? Prefer Europe. I have been to many countries. India is fantastic but you visit this country to trek in the Himalayas or see wild tigers or be amazed at the religous ceremonies!
    Bernie Ecclestone is very keen on Vettel at the moment. Is this just business talk? At the start of the year Hockenheim were making noises about the cost of holding a gp.
    If the budget cap is introduced would the cost of holding a gp come down as well? May fans benefit?
    I look forward to an in-depth article from you James soon on the future of the British GP. It is a very important subject.

  3. James says:

    Although Massa may want to think it, he is not a team leader at all. He’s too mistake prone and isnt comfertable setting up the car, not when compared to Kimi.

    Kimi is quiet, but he knows what works and how to get the job done when he has the car beneath him (which he doesnt have).

    Massa is getting a little big for his boots. He was world champion for all of 10 seconds, whereas Kimi is a world champion and a far better racer. The radio transmission broadcast in Malaysia backs this up when he was demanding a clear visor from the team. Ferrari need to bring Massa down a peg or two, sooner rather than later.

    And this is coming from a Ferrari fan!

  4. yos says:

    I like your energy Allen, you are the number one F1 news source even for people like me who don’t live in UK. As for McLaren i don’t think F1 affords to lose them and especially Lewis Hamilton, i will boycot F1 and i wonder if i maybe the only one.

  5. phil says:

    The FIA and Bernie will be the death of F1. Budget Caps, new regs constantly changing and kers all they are doing is costing people jobs (which are important in this time), and teams million and millions of dollars. I think Max has done his time and his thought process is not fit for f1 anymore. Budget caps are fine, but at the end of the day it is to difficult to manage. How can you compare McLaren’s Facilities to Ferrari’s and put a cost on them. The best way to save money in f1 is consistency in rules and restrict development. Standard floor, brakes, tyres, rims, of the shelf products, standard materials for constructions etc etc.
    The new regs have only cost millions. KERS is a joke and the new tyre rules are a joke, it promotes artificial racing that is something you would see in America or the A1 series not in F1.
    In addition to this Bernie needs to pass on more $$ to the teams. The teams are the show not Bernie. Bernie is not the one turning up on Sunday the teams are, 90% of revenue should go to the teams.

  6. Paul says:

    What a mish mash of emotions and events.

    On the one hand the spontaneous thrill that is Brawn and Button and Red Bull and Vettel grabbing the headlines. On the other McLaren, Hamilton and the Donington Ding Dong also making the news but for all the wrong reasons.

    I am no fan of McLaren, but I have concerns for them. They have erred again it would seem, but the sword that is being readied for them in the wings is worrying for the sport as a whole.

    I watched the recent BBC Jim Clark documentary the other day and was immediately taken back to my childhood in the 60′s, a Phil Hill Ferrari and Jim Clark Lotus in my Scalextric set at the time. Those pictures of Clark in peaked helmet, goggles and scarf are simply the most evocative and dazzling pictures of an F1 driver ever. It was an excellent program and brought on spontaneous nostalgia.

    There is an echo of that type of joie de vivre in the Brawn and Red Bull camps right now. Here’s hoping that this is what 2009 will be remembered for and not some possible foot shooting penalties levied by the FIA. Moderation in all things apparently. Unless of course you are Jim Clark and you win a lot.

  7. pSynrg says:

    What do you mean about McLaren’s lying incidents in Melbourse and Malaysia. Or have I forgotten something?

  8. Pete says:

    I agree, I think Felipe needs an ego check if he thinks he can “lead” the team out of their current woes. Michael Schumacher was totally different. When he moved to Ferrari, the team was absolutely nowhere and he brought talented people to that team.

    I think Kimi’s comments in the press conference sums up his position clearly. He said he would be at the factory if needed, otherwise, he has faith in the team that they will be working to the absolute maximum to improve the car. This is right. The last thing the engineers need is a driver pestering them.

    I hope the new updates coming from most of the teams in Spain mix things up a bit. Brawn domination is rather boring now. You cant always expect rain to mix it up and even Webber says that the Brawns are miles ahead in the dry.

  9. john g says:

    bernie has made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t care if there is no british F1 which is quite shameful. most of the teams are based here, there is a massive fan base. he probably knew donny couldn’t make it and so he gets to fill the slot with another fancy but dull tilke drome in india or russia, VIP’s go and enjoy their day out hob-nobbing with apparently famous racing drivers, bernie gets his money. oh, and the races are shifted to align with the european audience…

    as for vettel, he maybe doesn’t have such a good eye for a deal given that he is one of the 6 lowest paid drivers! then again he says that as soon as money becomes your primary objective then you’ve lost it (kimi take note?). vettels stock will only rise and rise – he will be a WDC one day i reckon (maybe bernie should set about attempting to rescue the struggling german GP’s?). i hope F1 doesn’t make him too serious tho, he’s one of the very few drivers with any personality.

  10. Dada says:

    Massa is a much better leader than Raikkonen. Raikkonen has no technicaly ability to push the team where as Massa is more likely to sit with engineers, Raikkonen will run home. Some say Massa can’t set uo his car, no thats Raikkonen, how many times did k.r complain of poor set up, so Ferrari changed Race engineer, when they should have changed driver.
    Raikkonen has no leadership or motivationaly skills.
    Massa led the team last year, even when they were loosing him the championship.

  11. Phil says:

    Re: Ferrari team leadership

    I think maybe people are confusing driving ability with leadership ability. Which of the two Ferrari drivers is the best in the car might be debatable (depends which Kimi & which Felipe turn up on the day, in my opinion) however, when it comes to providing a focal point for the team, making them feel motivated, spurring them on, it’s clear Massa is the guy.

    Trusting the team to sort things out without your input is all very well and I think it very unlikely that Ferrari will be out of it for long, but that’s not the point. Kimi could no more lead that team than I could. He’s a fine driver but driving seems to be pretty much all he’s interested in doing. He turns up, does his best, and then goes away again. Felipe looks to me to be very different – no less serious about the driving but more affable & approachable, eager to spend time with the team discussing problems & solutions. His driving and general attitude have matured immensely in the last year or so and I think he now feels ready to be team leader – something I would never have said about him 18 months ago.

    For all the team’s professionalism (of which I am in no doubt), having an inspirational figure never hurt. Felipe looks to me to be stepping into that role through growing maturity and, quite simply, the absence of Kimi from it.

  12. Ben G says:

    Fascinating – thanks.

    With Donington in trouble, Bernie suddenly has a chance to leave a legacy in Britain befitting his achievements. I hope he takes it and creates the best F1 track in the world in Britain. He would transform his reputation overnight.

  13. Alastair says:

    I think Kimi will be more than happy to let Massa ‘lead’ the team… as long as he doesn’t have to stop and wait for him to catch up, like he did last year.

  14. Duncan says:

    Re: Ferrari team leadership

    Surely Ferrari should be looking at their whole F1 package at the moment from aero and strategy to management and drivers.

    They have a world champion on their books in Raikkonen who is now a very experienced racer yet they have Massa coming out saying he’s leading the show because Kimi doesn’t speak very much.

    I can understand (although don’t agree) him not wanting to speak to the media but in-house it should be a different story.

    If I was in a senior role at Ferrari I’d be looking around the paddock seeing how the likes of Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Trulli lead their teams and then see Kimi on mega bucks apparently doing very little other than driving the car.

    I’d then be looking around the garage and seeing Schumacher and thinking “this guy was a great racer but he also knew how to galvanise the team when times got tough.”

    Look back at Senna and the number of bad cars he had to contend with but he pulled everyone together and got the best out of it.

  15. Spike says:

    Wow. Massas comments. Yet again he uses an opportunity to front and present himself as a real “team” guy and a leader to the press. It smells of manipulation technique from miles away. If you ask me, he has some serious insecurity issues towards Kimi that he feels he must use every opportunity to pathetically boost himself.

    Like Pete said above, Felipe Baby is dreaming if he thinks he is a leader of the Scuderia. That he is not.

  16. rpaco says:

    Saturday:
    Bridgestone guy during Prac3 (301 with R5Live commentary) said that high air temp has affected downforce. Air is less dense and this is resulting in maybe 5-7% less downforce. This means that there is insufficient load on the harder of the two tyres to heat it up to working temp, seems odd that this is the case, v intreresting.
    Also remember that the DDD was supposed to give an extra 5% downforce at the rear which equated to 0.5sec/lap at Sepang, what it means here is unknown but perhaps James you can get one of the tech guys to calculate it for us.
    McLaren’s DDhalf seems to have improved things for Lewis greatly, but less so for Kovi.

    More mention of spinners this morning as one fell of a Williams, they are said to be brake cooling aids.

    Look out of the Infra-red camera which I asked for a few weeks back, it appeared during Prac3 this morning but only in the pits. (No I don’t really claim credit, but I did ask for it here and James did say that some important people read this blog)
    Brakes will be as important as tyres at Bahrain and the infra-red camera shows them up a treat. Lookout also for KERS heat.

  17. Peter says:

    Agree. …..2006 Bahrain, Kimi started from the very last place (22nd) and finished 3rd! ….Give the guy a car that suits him and he will be unbeatable. He has lost two championships because of unreilable Mclarens, now Ferrari can’t build him the right car, why wonder his motivation is not on the top. He has come back so many times.

  18. Grabyrdy says:

    I think you’re a bit hard on him. Isn’t he just filling the Kimi-shaped vacuum ?

  19. Suzie says:

    And how exactly is Kimi leading the team right now? Hmm?

  20. Calum says:

    Hi James,

    First of all I miss you now the coverage has mived to the BBC and you have been seperated from Martin Brundle.

    What are the chances of Lewis getting to the front row if the grid? If so, how soon could this be?

    Also, I don’t like the way people say it’s all about the car. It isn’t. That is like saying Manchester United only have Wayne Rooney, they are a team and so are F1 competitors.

    Not that anyone on here says that, it’s just some people use that as an argument agaisnt F1 which I hate (the argument of course).

  21. ROBATCLAXBY says:

    I can see them alright on my pc, what are you using Knox a mobile phone.?

  22. Richard Mee says:

    I agree with you but it’s unlikely to stay the same for long if all the Alonso and now Vettel rumours are correct. No point in gelling with a team when it’s all going to be a temporary set-up.. (I think this is part of the problem with Ferrari – not only do they now have a decent chap for a Principle, with the connected sensation that the foot has come off the gas, but they also know it’s going to be all-change again pretty soon – will be hard to settle into this season)

  23. F1 fan says:

    Nobody is leading the team at the moment. That’s why they are behind. If there was a leader there wouldn’t have been all the dodgy decisions.

  24. F1 fan says:

    Well Vettel and Alonso won’t want to go to Ferrari at this moment in time. I do agree that later on at least one of them will go to Ferrari.

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