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.
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.
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.
“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.