Archives for posts with tag: F1

There’s been a lot made about the return to F1 of Mercedes as a constructor in its own right this season for the first time since it pulled out of motorsport at the end of the 1955 season following the Le Mans tragedy earlier that year.

Of course everyone, including the team itself, is dubbing the former Tyrrell, former BAR, former Honda, former Brawn team “the Silver Arrows,” and the parrallel between the team line-up of that 1955 season and the 2010 campaign is a rather lovely hark back to the days of old: the legendary multiple world champion (Fangio / Schumacher) being linked up with a young buck with bucket loads of talent and potential (Moss / Rosberg Jr).

With the chat coming out of Norfolk suggesting to me that Lotus’ return to F1 will be marked with a classic livery of British Racing Green and a single yellow stripe down the centre with those thin accent lines in white running alongside the yellow, it is thus heartening to see that on the ultra sleek and very 21st Century Mercedes GP W01, the team has payed homage to its history and is continuing a design trait it carried on its cars 55 years ago.

A silver car, with its drivers’ numbers in a deep red, outlined in black, on a simple white circle.

Stirling Moss - Mercedes W196
c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Mercedes GP W01 c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Is it just me, or is that class in its simplest, purest form?

Vitaly Petrov © GP2 Media Service

The Renault F1 Team is set to unveil Vitaly Petrov as their number two driver for the 2010 Formula 1 season, after the Russian today concluded a deal in which he will bring an estimated €10 million to the squad.

Sources close to the team have told me that Petrov, who finished runner up in the 2009 GP2 Series to fellow 2010 F1 graduate Nico Hulkenberg, had a seat fitting yesterday (Friday) at Enstone, and put pen to paper to ink the deal which will see him become the first Russian F1 race driver in history, this afternoon (Saturday.)

As such, I would expect him to be officially announced as a Renault driver and Robert Kubica’s team-mate at the launch of Renault’s new yellow and black car, the R30, at Valencia tomorrow. Doing the deal early is good news from the perspective of both the team and driver, as it will allow the rookie some much needed testing mileage.

The Vyborg Rocket, as he is known in Russia, (because he comes from Vyborg and is pretty quick) or Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” as he is called by others (because he looks like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange), began his racing career in 2001 in the Lada Cup championship in his homeland before making the switch to European-based single seaters in 2003 when he took part in the Formula Renault UK Winter Cup. He continued in various Formula Renault championship in 2003 and 2004 for EuroNova Racing before returning to Russia for a bit more Lada action in 2005.

Come 2006, Petrov was back in Europe and back with EuroNova, winning a race in the Euro3000 championship before making a mid-season switch to complete the 2006 GP2 season with DPR, making his debut in the F1 feeder category at Hockenheim.

For 2007 he linked up with Campos Racing in GP2, partnering Giorgio Pantano and the duo helped turn the back-of-the-field team into a regular points scorer and, by season’s end, race winner. Petrov took his first GP2 win at the season finale in Valencia.

In 2008 Petrov stuck with Campos but struggled to find form. Many suggested he had only shone the season before due to Pantano’s input at the team, and it took the mid-season arrival of Lucas di Grassi to turn the team’s fortunes around. Petrov again won in Valencia, this time at the new street track, but although only taking part in half of the season it was di Grassi who finished the season as the best placed Campos driver.

Last season, Petrov was again racing for Campos, this time as the re-named Barwa Addax team following the squad’s purchase by Alejandro Agag as Adrian Campos went off in search of his F1 team dream. The Russian was teamed with championship favourite Romain Grosjean, and the duo appeared evenly matched in the opening rounds. When Grosjean was promoted to a full-time f1 race seat at mid-season, Petrov became the team’s main challenger and duly took the fight to Nico Hulkenberg at ART. Although Hulkenberg was quite clearly in a class of his own, Petrov had some impressive races, once again looking majestic in Valencia.

It does seem interesting that in his last three seasons in GP2, Petrov has been teamed with three drivers who were not considered good enough for Renault, but who all beat him in equal machinery. Pantano tested for Renault in its former incarnation as Benetton but was never given the shot at a race seat, di Grassi was a long suffering RDD reserve but never afforded the opportunity with the big boys and was passed over for both Piquet and Grosjean, and finally the aforementioned Grosjean, who was collateral damage in Renault’s disastrous 2009.

What, then, stands Petrov out? Well, there are probably about 10 million very good reasons why Renault should have picked Petrov. I have heard that his sign on fee was in the region of $15 million, which equates to around £8 million or €10 million. He has long been backed by the Russian government, and stories over the last few weeks also linked Gazprom (a one-time Minardi sponsor) with Petrov’s push for an F1 seat, alongside some other pretty heavy-weight Russian companies.

But I don’t think this is all about cash, although I’m sure it can’t have hindered his chances. Petrov is quick. Whether he’s super quick I’m yet to really figure out, but I know for sure he’s not Hulkenberg quick. As such I doubt very much that he will set the world on fire. Then again, I didn’t think Kobayashi looked much cop in GP2, and look how exciting he was in his first F1 races! Make no mistake, however. Petrov is no idiot. He’s not some Take Inoue who is going to tool around half a week off the pace and crash into the safety car. He’s a racer, and a hard one at that.

Petrov does represent one of the largest nations on earth, and with Bernie known to be keen on a Russian Grand Prix, Vitaly’s move into F1 won’t harm things on that front.

He’s also a really good guy. His English was pretty stunted for his first few years in GP2, but over the last season he really came out of himself. He has a wicked sense of humour and if he’s allowed space to flourish, he’ll be a great addition to the F1 field.

Martin Whitmarsh © http://www.sutton-images.com

McLaren’s Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh has pledged that Formula 1 will do all it can to help the sport’s new teams succeed, as the financial and sporting future of at least half of F1’s new entrants looks to be in jeopardy with a matter of days to go until pre-season testing gets underway.

His comments come just a day after Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo reignited the discussion surrounding the provision of customer cars to new teams in order to aid their transition to F1.

“I think we, as McLaren and myself as chairman of FOTA, recognise that we will do all we can to demonstrate that new entrants are possible in F1,” he said at today’s launch of the McLaren MP4-25.

“It is clearly tough for the new teams to come into the sport. We know how difficult it is, with all the experience and resources we have, to be ready for the start of the season. So it must be very difficult for any new team. I don’t think we should apologise for that. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and if it was easy for anyone to get out their chequebook and go motor racing at the highest level next year, then we would really not have been working as hard as we should have been as established teams.

“We don’t want any team to fail, we should be doing all that we can within the F1 community. I think FOTA has been a coming-together of all of the teams for the first time in the history of F1. The spirit that exists in F1 is unique now, certainly in my 20 years of experience in the sport. So I think we will do what we can, but ultimately if there are teams that just don’t have the capability or resource or underestimated the task of being at the highest level of motorsport in the world, then some you can help and some you can’t.”

Whitmarsh maintained that McLaren remained open to the possibility of supplying customer cars, but expressed his surprise that none of the new teams, save for the as yet still mysterious Stefan GP, decided to take up the option of buying Toyota’s completed 2010 racer.

“I think philosophically McLaren believes that it is important F1 entrants develop their own cars, however, we are pragmatists and we have demonstrated in the past a willingness to provide customer cars. We remain willing, but I don’t know we are ready to do it quite before Bahrain if a team needs it.

“Ironically quite a lot of these teams had an opportunity to acquire a Toyota chassis. Toyota built two cars that were available from Christmas, and I am rather surprised that some of them did not do that – they rather looked a gift horse in the mouth. That was, perhaps, the wrong decision but nevertheless they had their own reasons for that decision. We have to see in the coming weeks or months whether we can help those new teams to be there to add to the flavour and diversity of F1.”

Quick post today, as I’ve got two little snippets of rather interesting news.

First up, I was in Barcelona yesterday to see Mr Felipe Massa who was testing the F2008. He was on great form, as always, and was clearly enjoying being back behind the wheel. However it was something about the man who had been running at Barcelona for the two days before Felipe took over at the wheel that I thought you might find interesting. According to the Ferrari Corse Clienti chaps, Mr Valentino Rossi was so fast that he equalled Kimi Raikkonen’s best 2008 qualifying lap in the same car around Barcelona. Sure Rossi had slicks at his disposal rather than grooved tyres, but the track was still pretty moist and slippery, although drying rapidly, on Thursday when he set his best lap.

Impressive? You bet your ass that’s impressive, and it’s little wonder that stories of Rossi wanting to cross over to F1 have resurfaced again since the end of the test.

Second up are the rumours I am hearing coming out of Enstone which say that Russia’s Vitaly Petrov is very close to the second race seat alongside Robert Kubica in 2010. There were reports earlier in the week that Petrov was in consideration for the job, but as things stand I understand it’s now between just him and an F1 driver with recent experience. (Recent being 2008, so that appears to wipe JV off the list of candidates.)

My sources could be wrong, of course, but from the lay of the land it looks as though F1 may get its first Russian next season, no doubt with a huge amount of backing from both the Russian government, which has backed Petrov for many years, and through current Renault F1 sponsor MegaFon.

Pedro de la Rosa's testing pitboard © http://www.sutton-images.com

One down, five to go. Pedro de la Rosa’s confirmation this morning as a BMW Sauber driver has completed one further piece of the 2010 jigsaw, leaving just five vacant seats on this season’s grid: one at Renault, one at Toro Rosso, one at Campos and two at USF1.

Pedro’s return to a race seat had been expected for some time, although his ultimate destination remains a relative surprise. Until very recently a move to the new Campos squad had been mooted, for it was under the guidance of Adrian Campos that de la Rosa reached F1 back in the late 1990s. Campos himself had held out tremendous hope of signing his former young charge but recently admitted he had given up all hope after finding Spanish sponsors to be fairly non plussed about the idea.

De la Rosa’s abilities as a test and development driver in Formula 1 are pretty much unrivalled in this modern era, with only the likes of Montagny and Davidson in my opinion coming close. Thus what he brings to a team in his technical ability to deliver a quick car makes him an almighty asset. The intensity on Martin Whitmarsh’s face in conversation with Campos towards the end of the season certainly gave the impression that McLaren did not want to let the Spaniard go without a fight, but with limited testing agreed for 2010 there would have been little chance for de la Rosa to have made an impact on the MP4-25.

His worth to BMW Sauber, or Sauber or whatever it’s going to end up being called, is therefore vast. After a season of immense under-achievement in 2009, Sauber needs to get back on the right tracks this year and with the inexperienced Kamui Kobayashi in the second car, the team needed a man with experience to head up the team. In de la Rosa they have experience and class and if Kamui is smart he will learn all he can from Pedro.

Spare a thought however for Nick Heidfeld and Christian Klien. Heidfeld, as a BMW Sauber driver for the last four seasons and a Sauber driver for three seasons before that, will have been hoping that the vacant Sauber seat would be his. Today’s news thus forms the second massive disappointment for him in the last month, following his rejection by Mercedes in favour of Michael Schumacher. His racing options for 2010 are running out. And fast.

Christian Klien will be distraught. A dedicated tester for BMW Sauber for the last two years, he had hoped to be taken on by the team as a racer for 2010. With no racing experience in F1 since 2006, his sole realistic option of a race seat this season has also now gone.

Campos will also be gutted. De la Rosa was exactly the kind of driver the team needed to push the development of their new car in testing, and his experience would have benefitted Bruno Senna, thus far the team’s only confirmed driver, immensely. Speaking with Bruno a few weeks ago when I went to see him in Brazil, I know how much he was hoping to have Pedro as a team-mate so this news will come as something of a blow for the whole Campos outfit.

The big question now is who will fill the remaining five seats in Formula 1.

Renault is by far the most sought after seat. Nick Heidfeld would have to be considered to be in contention at the team given his experience and working relationship with Robert Kubica, but to my mind he doesn’t fit the bill. He’s not part of the dynamic young breed and his results don’t stand him out as one of the experienced drivers you’d break your back to sign. Yes he’s speedy, but is he speedy enough? Two rejections in a month say he’s not. Jacques Villeneuve’s links with Gravity Management and the team’s new owners make him an enticing possibility and the PR from bringing another champion back to the sport would be pretty handy. But is it realistic?

Then there’s the aforementioned Montagny. It is worth remembering Renault hasn’t won a championship since they dumped him as their test and development driver and to my mind that is not a coincidence. He’s currently racing for Peugeot at Le Mans, so a move to Renault would make waves in France, too. All in all it makes perfect sense.

There are also the former Super Aguri boys. Takuma Sato is still hungry and superbly fast, and is a huge draw in Japan. His return to F1 would be big news and a popular move by the team. Anthony Davidson made a spectacular shift in jobs last year, becoming one of the most entertaining and insightful commentators in F1, but he is a racer and deserves a seat if there is one in the sport. And just as with Pedro and Franck, his car development skills are phenomenal.

Toro Rosso’s a strange one. Alguersuari wasn’t abysmal last season and it would be good for the team to give him another shot, but it is a foolish man who tries to second guess what Red Bull is going to do with its young drivers. By that token, Daniel Ricciardo could get the job and from his testing form he’d be an exciting prospect. But with Ferrari engines in the back, might we also see the Scuderia’s tester Giancarlo Fisichella in a Toro Rosso? It’s not out of the realms of possibility but would not fit in with the general ethos of the team.

It seems that the other three seats will fall down to budget. Kazuki Nakajima has been rumoured to be close to the second Campos seat with a budget of around $10million, while Vitaly Petrov and Pastor Maldonado have long been linked with the squad. From what I understand of the situation the latter two became so embroiled in a fight for the seat that the battle to outbid each other put both outside their realistic budget, thus setting the whole process back.

And as for USF1… your guess is as good as mine. Heidfeld? Klien? Maldonado? Jose Maria Lopez is understood to have a pre-contract in place that will give him the seat if he can raise $8million, but that remains to be seen. By leaving their decisions to the very last minute however, the team may yet be able to land themselves a couple of pretty nifty drivers at bargain basement prices because if they leave it much longer, they should have the only two seats left in the sport.

Michael Schumacher in the MercedesGP wind tunnel © MercedesGP

It’s official, then. Michael Schumacher WILL be making his return to a Formula 1 cockpit in 2010 with MercedesGP. The nay-sayers believed, right up until the last minute, that it wasn’t going to happen but we’ve got the confirmation in black and white and with some pretty pictures from the good people at the team formerly known as Brawn, formerly known as Honda, formerly known as BAR, formerly known as British American Racing, formerly known as Tyrrell.

We’ve now got the opportunity to witness something truly incredible. We’ll have the very best of the new generation taking on the man who many consider to be one of, if not the single greatest driver of all time. Schumacher himself never really got to compete with the greats whom he’d watched race as a kid. OK he got a few seasons against Senna and Prost, but that was it. Prost retired at the end of 1993 and Senna was ripped away from the world early in the 1994 season, and so there was never really that passing down of the mantle.

Similarly, Schumacher’s retirement at the end of the 2006 season meant we never got to see him take on Hamilton or Vettel, or to compete against the Kubicas or Rosbergs of the world in decent cars and with sufficient experience under their belts. Now we have Alonso in a Ferrari, the youngsters with the benefit of experience and with decent cars, and the old master making a return to a championship-winning team. The ingredients are all there for an amazing 2010 season.

There are still those, however, who say it’s a bad idea, that he’s on a hiding to nothing, that he’s too old… that it’s all one horrible mistake.

I couldn’t disagree more, however. And I’ll tell you why.

Last night I got to witness something I never thought I would see. A Beatle, and not just any Beatle but my favourite Beatle, live, in concert. Sir Paul McCartney rocked out the O2 in London last night, and my wife and I had managed to get tickets. It was, without question, the best gig I have ever been to.

Me... at the gig... and very, very excited!

That McCartney would be so superb however was not a given. I may be an almighty fan, but I’m not naive enough to have gone along believing that time would not have taken its toll on the performance. But, incredibly, it really hadn’t. He didn’t miss a beat all night. His voice was clear and strong and he nailed every note… even the high ones. He turned his hand from his classic Hofner violin bass, to rhythm and lead guitar, ukulele, mandolin and piano. He looked amazing, bounced around the stage, and almost lifted the roof off the venue.

And here’s the thing. He’s 67 years old. He’s been writing and performing music pretty much constantly for the past 50 years. He, along with the Beatles, changed the face of modern music. They were the first band to break the mould of writing their own music rather than being given songs to sing. With their show at New York’s Shea Stadium they pretty much created the modern stadium gig, and when they realised they couldn’t be everywhere at once and started sending promotional videos to TV stations when they released songs, they pretty much invented MTV and the music video.

And there he was. On stage. Still giving it all he had. The old songs sounded amazing, but the new songs sounded just as incredible. He remains relevant (one of his new tunes has just been nominated for a Golden Globe) and at 3 hours in length his show put the likes of MUSE (90 minutes) and Kings of Leon (an hour) to shame. And they’re supposed to be the best live acts in the world right now!!! McCartney was called back on stage three times for encores. Three times. It blew me away.

Paul McCartney @ the O2

It’s funny though, because with today’s news that Mr Schumacher is making a comeback to F1, I see something of a parallel between the two.

Both have changed the way we view the worlds to which they have dedicated their lives. They’ve both been through the mill and done things that, in hindsight might be considered to have been ill thought through. For Michael there’s Adelaide ’94, Jerez ’97 and good old Rascasse in Monaco, while for McCartney there’s the Frog Chorus and a couple of dodgy duets with Michael Jackson. Neither one of them is as young as they used to be, or as young as the majority of people who now rule their industry.

But they’re both the very best at what they do. They are inspirations as much today as they ever have been, and their desire to keep working at the very top level only adds to their mystique and their legend.

For me, I’m just delighted however. I never thought I would get to see McCartney in concert, but I have. It was a truly awe-inspiring event and one I will remember for the rest of my life. Similarly, my journalistic career has been such that I never really got to sink my teeth too deeply into Formula 1 when Schumacher was around and racing. I was still very young, and very green. His comeback gives me an opportunity I thought had slipped away forever – to watch and write about one of the all-time greats.

I had waited 28 years for last night’s concert, and it could have been one almighty let down. But it wasn’t. It was completely the opposite. And that’s the barometer of class. That kind of talent never falters, never gives any less than 150%, and always leaves you wanting more.

I hope that when Schumacher comes back next year for his encore performance, we are left on our feet, applauding something tremendous. And something tells me he wouldn’t be coming back at all, if he didn’t have some great memories to leave us with.

Michael Schumacher © http://www.sutton-images.com

There’s a lot of noise at the moment following a report in Britain’s The Mirror newspaper, claiming that Michael Schumacher is on the verge of conducting a test in a GP2 car in Abu Dhabi, as part of his preparations for an incredible return to Formula 1 in 2010 with Mercedes.

The article was written by Byron Young, all round epic bloke and bloody good journo, and given how far ahead of the game he’s been on this whole Schuey comeback thing, you’ve got to take this story seriously because his sources thus far have been utterly impeccable.

With recent quotes from Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo stating that Schumacher had told him there is a “very, very, very strong possibility” of him coming back to F1 with Merc next year, it seems that the German’s presence in the sport in 2010 is all but a formality… or is it?

Let’s not forget that it was only a matter of months ago that we were last talking about a Schumacher comeback; one which, ultimately, was curtailed by injuries the German had sustained in a bike racing accident. The basal skull fracture he picked up meant that his vision became impaired whenever he went over a bump in his test at the wheel of a Ferrari F2007. And when you consider that at racing speeds an intolerance of a few millimetres in the road surface will feel like a speedbump, his entire F1 test must have been one blurred nightmare.

His need to test before agreeing on the Merc contract, therefore, must be for safety and medical reasons for if his injuries have not healed to the extent that both he and his manager Willi Weber hope and believe, this comeback ‘aint going anywhere.

But is he going to be testing a GP2 car? To be honest, it is not as simple as it might at first seem.

GP2 regulations are quite clear in regard to testing. Teams may only run their cars in group test sessions, and the next one of those isn’t until March, one month after F1 testing resumes. What about the old cars, then? Well they’re also a no go. The 2005-2007 iteration of the GP2 car is now the GP2 Asia car, and as such is subject to the same testing regulation. The next GP2 Asia race is in February…again, after F1 testing resumes.

All of which leaves one option… a special, one off test, organised by the GP2 organisation itself for Schumacher to drive the GP2 development car. Interestingly, Schumacher would be following in the footsteps of one of his oldest rivals, as GP2 organisers placed 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill in the original GP2 development car back in 2005.

Damon Hill tests GP2 © http://www.sutton-images.com

Of course, I am sure that the guys over in Abu Dhabi would love to have Schumacher test out there, but the logistics don’t quite stack up for me. To my mind, putting Schumacher into the GP2/08 development car at Circuit Paul Ricard is by far the most sensible and achievable option. The car is probably the closest to F1 speeds available at such short notice, and I can’t see GP2 organisers turning down the opportunity of putting Schumacher into the car. The PR potential is staggering. The car is kept at the Oreca base around the corner and could be ready to run by this afternoon if required. Plus, at Ricard it is possible to alter the track to replicate different types of circuit – low downforce runs with long straights, high downforce runs with multiple corners and fast changes of direction… if Schumacher wants to test out the strength of his neck on differing tracks, there’s nowhere better in the world than Ricard.

Michael’s own people told me that they have “given up commenting on rumours” and a spokesperson for GP2 said that the current story was “a really nice rumour.” Nobody’s saying no, which suggests to me that talks are happening.

This Schumacher comeback really is on, then. The wheels are in motion. That said, just as his mid-season comeback was ultimately curtailed by ill health, so might his full time 2010 return. Personally, I really do hope that his injuries have healed and that this GP2 test,if indeed it happens, simply confirms rather than concludes this incredible story.

There have been a few internet reports today which have included some words attributed to Virgin Racing’s tech chief Nick Wirth laying into Williams boss Patrick Head at yesterday’s Virgin team launch. Well you’ll be pleased to hear that he didn’t just have a go at poor old Patrick… oh no. He also took time to have a pop at recently crowned 2009 F1 constructors’ champions BrawnGP.

On a day in which Sir Richard Branson had referred to BrawnGP’s 2009 season, in which his Virgin brand logos appeared on the BGP001 cars, as “David versus Goliath,” Wirth could not help but chuckle when I asked if Branson was expecting the same sort of giant killing form from Wirth’s car in 2010.

“I’m laughing because that’s one of the things I find most annoying about last season because it was Goliath versus Goliath. That was the car that had more money and more resources spent on it than any other 2009 car, possibly [more than any F1 car] in history, so it’s an absolute PR coup for them and it’s laughable. They might want to perceive it that way, and believe me they did a magnificent job in surviving and all the stress they went through, and all credit to those guys and Ross and the whole crew, but it was not a David against Goliath story.”

Wirth’s comments reflect opinions voiced during the 2009 season itself by former Honda and early BrawnGP reserve driver Alex Wurz.

“The car was taken in three different directions in the wind tunnel,” he said earlier this year. “Two directions were found to be wrong, so the team could just switch. The Brawn is probably the most expensive car with the lowest operating budget ever.”

The BGP001, which would have been the Honda RA109, benefitted greatly from 18 months of design work undertaken at Leafiled by the Super Aguri F1 Team which had begun in 2007, a year of design work at Honda in Brackley and Tochigi during 2008, and, it is understood, additional work at the Dome base in Maibara, Japan. The double decker diffuser concept, which would prove so pivotal to the success of the BGP001, is believed to have come from either Super Aguri or Dome. At times it has been claimed that anywhere between four and six wind tunnels were in operation, through the various different arms of the development chain, at one time.

Such benefits will not be afforded to Wirth’s Virgin racing car in 2010, which will be the only car on the grid next season designed solely by Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and without the use of a single wind tunnel.

The Virgin Racing 2010 Line-up © Virgin Racing

For me, one of the most interesting things to come out of today’s Virgin Racing launch in London was an admission from some of the team’s leading managers that it was their intention to create an Academy to nurture driver talent for the future.

“We’re hoping to have some kind of Academy that Marc Hynes will be directly responsible for,” Sporting Director John Booth admitted when I quizzed him on the subject. “It probably won’t happen next year [2010] but that’s our direct aim: to develop our own drivers for the future.”

Hynes, who won the British Formula Renault and F3 title with Booth’s Manor squad, has been a driver coach for the Yorkshireman’s outfits for some years and Booth indicated that, while it has yet to be finalised, there is a plan in place for the Virgin brand to extend its reach to the Manor GP3 squad.

Virgin Racing’s new Team Principal Alex Tai confirmed the plans for the racing academy.

“We have got plans to do that,” he replied when I put the question to him and Sir Richard Branson. “We don’t want to announce them now, [as] there’s [already] a shelf load of information that’s being thrown out there. We want to make the sport more accessible and we don’t want to just make it accessible as a sport, as a participant sport, for people who are rich kids. That’s not a democratisation of the sport. We’re looking at ways now to try and open up that to give the ability for drivers from all backgrounds, and from all sexes and from all countries, to be able to access the sport, we want to be able to provide that opportunity. Now this is something that every new team says when they come in to the sport, so before we start talking definitively how we’re going to do it, we’re going to pressure test the system and make sure it works and then we’ll come out with these plans. But this is a young driver academy for both sexes and for all economic backgrounds.”

With Booth seemingly under the impression that the Virgin brand could extend its reach to his new-for-2010 GP3 Manor team, and with Virgin Racing’s testers Alvaro Parente and Luis Razia both admitting today that they were hoping to compete in the 2010 GP2 Series with some form of backing from Virgin, this could be the “pressure test” of which Tai spoke.

It is also worth mentioning that with Durango recently revealed to be out of the 2010 GP2 Series, there will be at least one team slot in GP2 up for grabs for the 2011-2013 championship, which could yet be completed by a Manor/Virgin team if its GP3 plans and link to its 2010 testers pays off. With the Virgin Racing Academy due to come into being in 2011, the timing could be perfect.

The 1Malaysia Lotus F1 Team is due to announce its 2010 driver pairing in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, and today’s internet pages have been filled with the sad news that Takuma Sato is out of contention for the second seat at the squad.

I say sad because Taku is a talented driver, an incredibly nice chap, and a racer with the most recent experience of what it takes to lead a start-up team from scratch. He would have been the perfect choice from a sporting as well as commercial point of view, but Lotus has made its decision and, for whatever reason, Taku doesn’t fit the bill.

All of which seems to have cemented opinion that it will be Heikki Kovalainen who is unveiled tomorrow as a Lotus driver alongside Jarno Trulli, who is known to have been Lotus’ preferred number 1 driver from the outset.

However, my sources are telling me that all is not as clear cut as at first thought, for Heikki is not alone in the running for the second seat. With the Michael Schumacher / Mercedes saga showing no sign of abating, I have it on good authority that Lotus are still trying to decide between Heikki and one other driver… Nick Heidfeld.

Nick was always thought to be a shoe in at Mercedes, but in recent weeks has slipped further out of contention for the seat as both Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica’s names have been heavily linked to what is increasingly becoming the critical seat of the winter period. With Taku no longer in the running for the Lotus job, and Jarno Trulli all but confirmed from the off, it now seems the second seat is a straight fight between Heikki and Heidfeld.

I understand that a decision is yet to be taken over exactly who will fill Lotus’ second seat. Kovalainen, however, is the favourite.

It is also interesting to note that neither of Lotus’ drivers will be asked to bring funding with them.