Raikkonen takes first win of the season

Kimi Raikkonen Melbourne 2007

Kimi Raikkonen made a perfect start to the season with a dominant lights-to-flag win in Melbourne. The Finn has become the first Ferrari driver since Nigel Mansell in 1989 to win on his debut with the legendary Italian team on Sunday, driving faultlessly in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Kimi’s only problems were one minor off when he lost concentration on lap 46, and the lack of a radio throughout the race.

“The weekend has been very good, but today the race was not that easy,” he said. “Maybe it looked like it but I didn’t have the radio as it stopped working before the start, so it was quite complicated. But we had our plan so I knew what had to do even if it was not the ideal situation.”

As Kimi disappeared in the distance, setting fastest laps throughout the race, the focus of attention was the impressive display of Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren. Despite starting in fourth position behind his team-mate Fernando Alonso, he pulled off a superb move by driving around the outside of a fast-starting Robert Kubica (BMW-Sauber) and Alonso to take third. Lewis even led the Grand Prix for a short while when Raikkonen made his first pit stop.

To finish third in only his first race as a Formula One driver is hugely impressive. Lewis matches the remarkable achievement set by Jacques Villeneuve, when the French-Canadian finished his first Grand Prix on the podium back in 1996. There is no doubt that Hamilton could be a world champion in the near future, as McLaren’s CEO Martin Whitmarsh told reporters after the race.

“I think the truth is that the pressure that Lewis had on him, the media quite obviously take a phenomenal interest in Lewis and what he has achieved so far, but he still had to come here and deliver.

“If he had flopped today and made a mistake then we all know what the headlines would have looked like.

“To come through that, make a good start, be out-jumped by the BMWs and respond to that, react, have the presence of mind to react and get to the outside line, execute without taking risks the overtaking he did at the first corner was fantastic.

“Throughout the race he had enormous pressure, he didn’t let that tell and did a fantastic job. Anyone who is here now must know we are at the start of a career that is going to be phenomenal.

“He will be a world champion, it is just a question of time now.”

I suspect Hamilton is taking all in his stride and that first win will come soon enough. Hopefully by next year, with a full season’s experience under his belt, Lewis can challenge for title honours. As for now, he should be pleased by his result.

Even though McLaren didn’t win the race, Ron Dennis should be satisfied with the result with double world champion Fernando Alonso and Hamilton finishing in second and third respectively. It is clear that the Ferrari is the fastest car and it will be a fascinating if the team can improve the car’s performance in the next Grand Prix.

For the Spaniard, second place was the best he could achieve and although he was happy with the result, Alonso feels that the team will need to work hard to catch Ferrari.

“I think it has been a good weekend and now I think with the final result we have to be pleased,” said Alonso, whose fastest lap was over a second slower than Kimi Raikkonen’s.

“Ferrari were a bit too quick for us today but we have to take the maximum points from here, and second place is a good place to start.

“We need to work more if we want to win races, but we show today and proved that we are here to win and not just race and relax. We showed a good potential and I’m looking forward to the next one.”

As for the rest, Nick Heidfeld followed up to his second row start with a solid fourth in the BMW-Sauber, though it was a bittersweet result for the team as Kubica suffered mechanical problems when fifth was on the cards.

That place ultimately fell to Giancarlo Fisichella, but only just. The Italian finished ahead of the closing Felipe Massa by a small margin of three-tenths of a second. The Brazilian recovered strongly despite starting at the back of the grid after taking an engine change. He even suffered the embarrassment of being lapped by his team-mate Raikkonen during the race.

The final points position fell to Nico Rosberg and Ralf Schumacher, for Williams-Toyota and Toyota respectively.

Most disappointed drive in the race? Two drivers spring to mind – Jenson Button and Formula One rookie Heikki Kovalainen. The former struggled in that nasty Honda with a never ending problem of understeer. Plus it didn’t help that he received a drive-through penalty when speeding in the pit lane. To finish P15 was a major disappointment for the driver and team.

But at least he didn’t make any mistakes on track, unlike Kovalainen. The Finn had too many ‘wild’ moments and even had a high-speed 360 degree spin on the first corner. Team boss Flavio Briatore wasn’t impressed by his performance, telling reporters that he was “rubbish”.

Hopefully, by the next race Heikki can learn from his errors and improve on his performance.

But there is no doubt that the star of the Australian Grand Prix weekend was Lewis Hamilton. He may have finished on the bottom step of the podium, but greater things will come his way and don’t be surprise if the young Brit finishes ahead of everyone including the two championship contenders of Raikkonen and Alonso.

The championship now takes a three-week break but all the teams will use this free time in testing their cars at Sepang, the scene of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Can Ferrari continue with that impressive form by winning the next race? Or can McLaren challenge them for top honours? The battle continues on April 8th.

Race results from Albert Park

1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1 hr 25 mins 28.770 secs
2. ALONSO McLaren +7.2s
3. HAMILTON McLaren +18.5s
4. HEIDFELD BMW +38.7s
5. FISICHELLA Renault +66.4s
6. MASSA Ferrari +66.8s
7. ROSBERG Williams +1 lap
8. SCHUMACHER Toyota +1 lap
9. TRULLI Toyota +1 lap
10. KOVALAINEN Renault +1 lap
11. BARRICHELLO Honda +1 lap
12. SATO Super Aguri +1 lap
13. WEBBER Red Bull +1 lap
14. LIUZZI Toro Rosso +1 lap
15. BUTTON Honda +1 lap
16. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +2 lap
17. SUTIL Spyker +2 lap
R. WURZ Williams +10 laps
R. COULTHARD Red Bull +10 laps
R. KUBICA BMW +22 laps
R. SPEED Toro Rosso +30 laps
R. ALBERS Spyker +48 laps

Fastest Lap: RAIKKONEN 1 min. 25.235 secs

Kimi Raikkonen’s first pole position for Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Australian GP

Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen will start tomorrow’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix with a commanding pole position with his new Ferrari team.

The fastest driver in Formula One lived up to his expectation with a stunning time around the Albert Park circuit. The Finn recorded a time of one minute, 26.072 seconds, edging out his main championship rival Fernando Alonso by four-tenths of a second.

He thus became the first debutant Ferrari driver to take pole position since Juan Manuel Fangio back in 1956.

“Today we spent time getting a good set-up on car,” Raikkonen said. “For one lap it was still not ideal, not for me at least, but the main thing is it was quick enough. We have a good race package, so I am more confident for the race than for qualifying. This can be quite a funny race, but we’ll do our best and hope to win.”

Even though the double world champion was out-paced in both session one and two in the one-hour qualifying round, Alonso did the job to qualify his McLaren in second place, pushing the impressive Lewis Hamilton down to fourth – with BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld just in front of the GP2 champion with P3.

Despite that, Hamilton’s performance in his first weekend as a Formula One driver is superb. He has been the faster driver in the McLaren MP4-22 and he even forced his team-mate to push extra hard to stay ahead. A possible podium is on the cards in the race.

As for the Spaniard, he is still searching for that confidence in the car but is happy to line up on the front row. Alonso said: “I think at end we are there and to start where we are is fantastic news for the team. They have made a huge step forward since last year and we need say thanks to team. I really hope it will be a close race tomorrow, and it can be very interesting; we have been very competitive all weekend.”

It seems BMW Sauber are the major surprise in Formula One 2007, with Heidfeld in a fantastic third with Robert Kubica in fifth. It goes to show that the team’s impressive winter testing performance wasn’t a one off and it is a sign of genuine pace with the new F1.07 chassis.

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella will start in sixth ahead of hometown hero Mark Webber in the Red Bull. And against expectations, came the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher respectively. Both of them had initial dramas: Trulli inadvertently dragged a jack all down the pit lane and then on to the track when he first went out, for which the team were subsequently fined €2000; Schumacher had a tyre problem and had to creep back to the pits before getting going again.

And rounding up the top ten is Super Aguri’s Takamo Sato. Yes, the Japanese team and driver went though into the shoot-out pole position session beating the works Honda team in the process!

It is an amazing achievement by Super Aguri. A year ago, the team was lucky enough to make the grid and had to borrow a show car from a local shopping mall to take part in the event. Now, the Japanese team are more competitive, despite running a controversial ‘shared’ chassis based on the 2006 Honda car. Sato’s team-mate, Anthony Davidson failed to make through the third session. Nevertheless, the Honda B-team is faster and more balanced than the Honda A-team. Both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello struggled in qualifying and will line up in a disappointing P14 and P17 respectively.

As for Felipe Massa, in the other Ferrari, the Brazilian suffered a gearbox problem in the second session. It was a shame that he couldn’t challenge Kimi for pole position, as that would be something to behold! Instead, we will see an exciting charge from P16 in the Grand Prix.

So an exciting start to the first round of the new season with the two main championship contenders up front. Can Kimi Raikkonen win his first race for Ferrari? Can Fernando Alonso start off his championship defence in style or will his new team-mate Lewis Hamilton achieve the ultimate prize of winning his first Grand Prix?

The grid for the Australian Grand Prix

1. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1:26.072
2. ALONSO McLaren 1:26.493
3. HEIDFELD BMW 1:26.556
4. HAMILTON McLaren 1:26.755
5. KUBICA BMW 1:27.347
6. FISICHELLA Renault 1:27.634
7. WEBBER Red Bull 1:27.934
8. TRULLI Toyota 1:28.404
9. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1:28.692
10. SATO Super Aguri 1:28.871
11. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1:26.909
12. ROSBERG Williams 1:26.914
13. KOVALAINEN Renault 1:26.964
14. BUTTON Honda 1:27.264
15. WURZ Williams 1:27.393
16. MASSA Ferrari 1:26.712
17. BARRICHELLO Honda 1:27.679
18. SPEED Toro Rosso 1:28.305
19. COULTHARD Red Bull 1:28.579
20. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1:29.267
21. SUTIL Spyker 1:29.339
22. ALBERS Spyker 1:31.932

Loeb takes commanding victory in Mexico

Loeb Rally Mexico

Sébastien Loeb repeated his 2006 rally victory with a dominant display in his new Citroen C4.

The reigning champion finished with a comfortable margin (around 56 seconds) ahead of championship rivals Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen.

Loeb’s victory on the Rally of Mexico means that he and co-driver Daniel Elena have now notched thirty WRC victories.

“For Daniel and me, this is our 30th WRC win together. That’s obviously nice but I’m especially pleased with our run here this weekend and what it promises for the upcoming rallies.”

“The car was really good,” added Loeb. “Since Monte Carlo we were waiting for this event as the first gravel rally of the season. We have to wait for this rally to see how it performed. The car was perfect. No problems and a good feeling.”

Early leader Petter Solberg was disappointed to retire in the new 2007 Subaru, but the team were happy by the performance of the brand new Impreza, with Solberg’s team-mate Chris Atkinson running in the top three for most of day one.

The next round in the WRC is Portugal at the end of the month. Can anybody stop Loeb now that he is back in front?

Formula One 2007 Season Preview

Formula One 2007

A new Formula One season is upon us and with new drivers joining new teams; this year’s championship could be the most unpredictable in the 56 years of the sport. Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher has left Formula One after announcing his retirement late last year. His presence will be sadly missed on the grid this season but two likely drivers could take over the role as the greatest – Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Both superstars have switched teams for 2007, with the double world champion joining Team McLaren Mercedes and the Finn joining Scuderia Ferrari respectively. It will be fascinating to see how well these two drivers will get on racing in their new cars, the MP4-22 and F2007 in this 17-race calendar.

In addition, this year’s grid will look very different to 2006. Most of the top teams are welcoming new drivers, including some top driving talent from the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen and Adrian Sutil.

So what’s new in F1 2007? What are the new rules and regulations and who will come out on top? All this will be revealed in this in-depth preview to the 2007 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Read More

Unique ‘green’ livery for Honda F1

Honda F1 2007

The Honda F1 Racing team have unveiled a new livery for the 2007 season, a picture of the planet earth.

The Japanese manufacturer are moving away from traditional advertising featuring sponsor logos on the car. With this ‘green’ themed RA107, the team are hoping to raise awareness on the environmental issues facing the world.

A new website has been devised for those interested in supporting the idea adopted by Honda. By making a donation to myearthdream.com supporters can pledge to the ‘lifestyle change’ to be more environmentally friendly, and in return their name will be featured on the car and the Honda F1 website.

Music giant Universal Music and sports drink firm Gatorade are the first to sign up to this exciting new concept, while other companies – including Fila, IBM, Instron, Oliver Sweeney, Perkin Elmer, Showa Denko, TUV and GF Agie Charmilles – have also joined up.

“Climate change is probably the single biggest issue facing the global community and F1 is not immune from it,” said Nick Fry, Honda F1 team boss.

“On the contrary, we believe that F1 with its huge global profile and cutting edge technology can play an important role in not only highlighting the issues but also playing our part in developing solutions.

“In addition, the FIA recognises the opportunity for F1 to showcase innovative technologies for the benefit of society for the long term. For example, by 2009, devices for energy recovery will be in place on the cars.

“So we at Honda F1 are proud to dedicate our car to the environmental challenge. We believe that practical solutions can stem directly from engineers working on our F1 programme.”

Fry added that the team’s plan for the year would not only raise awareness of global issues but also encourage the general public to do more to help the situation.

“First and foremost, we are a race team and F1 is very much a team sport. We achieve our racing objectives only by working together, and parallels can be drawn with the way that we must all join together to address the environmental challenge.

“We hope that in raising awareness and highlighting the issues we will encourage members of the public to come together and help take on the challenge of climate change.”

Honda F1 Racing chairman Yasuhiro Wada added: “Honda constantly strives to be innovative in both its technology and its thinking and to sincerely respond to the demands of customers and society.

“Honda has always made great efforts to contribute to the preservation of the environment in its corporate activity.

“We hope this new initiative for Honda in F1 will help to further stimulate awareness and interest across the world for these important environmental issues.”

Hirvonen leads Ford whitewash in Rally Norway

Mikko Hirvonen

Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen led home the first Ford 1-2-3 finish since 1979 by beating Marcus Grönholm and Henning Solberg in the second round of the World Rally Championship.

Hirvonen dominated the Rally of Norway from start to finish – taking his second victory of his WRC career. His maiden victory came in Australia last year, when Sébastien Loeb was absent with a broken arm and Grönholm crashed on the first day, but this time the Finn had to battle against the former champions.

“It’s been a fantastic rally,” said Hirvonen. “I rate this higher than Australia, because we were leading from stage one and we were really fighting with Marcus and Sébastien.”

Grönholm now leads the world championship with his second place finish in the Ford Focus. As for Sébastien Loeb, the Frenchman finished in a disappointing 14th position, after making some mistakes in the event.

Finishing in third was Henning Solberg, who managed to hold off his younger brother Petter.

Grönholm takes first WRC win of the year

Marcus Gronholm & Sweden

Finland’s Marcus Grönholm has taken his first world tally victory of the 2007 season with a comfortable margin over Sébastien Loeb in the Rally of Sweden.

The Ford Focus cruised to victory once Loeb conceded defeat on day two. But the three times World Rally Champion still leads the drivers’ standings by only two points.

“It’s been a good weekend,” said Grönholm. “We’ve had no problems with the car, everything has been perfect.”

Sébastien has admitted that it would have been a difficult task to beat the Finn but overall he was pleased with the performance of the new Citroën C4 in only its second outing.

“To finish second behind Marcus here is a good result,” said Loeb. “I was happy to see the car had the pace to fight with him, and it looks like we will have a good battle all year.”

Mikko Hirvonen completed a good weekend for Ford with third place.

Williams aims for past glories with new FW29

Williams-Toyota FW29

British motor racing squad Williams have unveiled their new Toyota-powered FW29 in its bid to return back to winning ways after a disastrous 2006 season.

The AT&T-sponsored team finished in eighth position in last year’s constructors’ standings after a winless season and hopes that the new race car will help regain their past glories.

“Without question, 2006 was not our finest year but I am delighted to see how the entire Williams workforce has pulled together and redoubled its efforts over the winter,” said team boss Frank Williams.

“We begin this year with a completely new brand identity courtesy of our new partners AT&T, four new or upgraded sponsors including Lenovo, a wealth of new engineering talent and, of course, what we hope to be the focus of all these efforts and ambitions, the FW29.”

The FW29 will be powered by a Toyota engine and will be the same specification as the works Toyota team.

The new car certainly looks great and I like the dark blue and white colour scheme. As for the aerodynamics, it is quite aggressive-looking in particular the radical front wing.

Hopefully in the hands of Nico Rosberg and Alexander Wurz (who is making a return to racing after years as a test driver), the new car can reward the Oxford-based team with solid points finish and maybe that elusive win.

Red Bull – gives you wins?

Red Bull Racing RB3

Finally! A 2007 Formula One car that looks great thanks to the renowned top F1 designer in this modern generation – Adrian Newey.

The new Red Bull Racing RB3 was unveiled at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya and you can see the obvious Newey design touches with its narrow, sweepingly curved nose and triple-deck, bowed front wing. In addition, the beautifully sculpted sidepods that tightly wrapped around the new Renault engine.

David Coulthard and Mark Webber will race the RB3 this season and I expect a strong performance from the team. Consistent top ten finishes and a chance for the overall win will do nicely.

As for lively, I quite like it. The stripes running on the surface of the car gives the illusion of going quickly. Hopefully it does so on the race track.

Renault’s F1 new look

Renault F1 R27

French manufacturer Renault have unveiled their new lively for the R27 chassis. The new Formula One car will carry the orange and white corporate colours of Dutch financial firm ING, replacing the previous Mild Seven light blue.

Personally, the overall look on this car is hideous. I thought the old Winfield-sponsored Williams back in 1998-99 was horrible, but this is even worst.

Despite that I am exciting to see the driver pairing of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella this year. Kovalainen in particular, as the Finn is competing in his first season of Formula One racing (as a replacement over the outgoing champion, Fernando Alonso).

Team leader and Formula One’s most experienced driver Giancarlo Fisichella has said recently that he will be aiming for the ultimate prize – to become world champion. But during today’s Amsterdam launch, the Italian has admitted that this season could be ‘tough’.

I really hope the R27 is successful on the track, so that the team can win another championship double. And yet, I wished the Renault graphic designers could have done a better job than that livery…