Formula One - On And Off Track Week 44

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • The F1 Commission meets in Geneva
  • Kubica’s return still uncertain
  • 2011 Abu Dhabi Young Drivers Test

The F1 Commission meets in Geneva

A meeting of the Formula One Commission is scheduled this Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, and the meeting has a number of interesting topics on its agenda. The Formula One Commission has 26 members, including a FIA representative, FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone, team representatives, race promoters and engine and sponsor representatives. In fact, with the whole Formula One community represented, the Commission will determine the future of the sport, although decisions made by the Commission still need to be approved by the FIA World Motor Sport Council.

Team Lotus, Lotus Renault and Marussia Virgin will apply for a name chance during the meeting. Marussia Virgin have indicated they want to change their name simply to Marussia, as the Russian sports car manufacturer is not just a sponsor, but since the beginning of 2011 also has a major share in the team, and therefore it would be appropriate to name the team after its Russian owner.

Heikki Kovalainen in the Caterham 7
Heikki Kovalainen in the Caterham 7

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After the Lotus versus Lotus soap earlier this year, Team Lotus owner Malaysian Tony Fernandes has now decided he wants his team to be named Caterham after he bought the British sports car manufacturer earlier this year, and thus has decided to drop the name Lotus. A British Court has given their verdict about who was allowed to use the Lotus brand name in Formula One, a verdict that was somewhat nebulous, as both teams claimed victory and claimed they were the rightful owners of the Lotus brand name.

Lotus Renault is set to use the name Lotus next season, as Renault is no longer the major shareholder of the now Anglo/Malaysian/Luxembourg team that was taken over by Group Lotus and the Luxembourg Genii capital investment company earlier this year. All three teams need the approval of the remaining nine Formula One teams, whether they will get it remains to be seen, as especially Mercedes GP has hinted they would not back this proposal, as a result of the name change problems they encountered when Ross Brawn sold his 2009 Championship winning Brawn GP team to Mercedes and was given a hard time when he proposed a name change to that same Formula One Commission.

Also on the agenda is the 2012 calendar, especially the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix is under fire, as it has become clear the political unrest in the Gulf state has certainly not been solved, after a few weeks ago news emerged that 20 physicians who had helped injured protestors have been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by a Bahraini Military Court. Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding the 2012 US Grand Prix in Austin will also be on the agenda, as well as the 2012 calendar as a whole, as teams fear due to the tight schedule they will have to use alternating team crews -- which would be an extra financial burden.

Also on the agenda are the tyre regulations for Saturday’s qualifying sessions, as teams now stay in the garage during the last two sessions to save an extra set of tyres for the race, and this has sparked a discussion about the qualifying format. Tyre saving is a new trend and it is feared this could in the future become boring for spectators. Teams and Pirelli’s Motor Sport Director Paul Hembery have already discussed this during last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, and have come up with a few ideas; one of the solutions could be to drop the rule that says drivers who qualified in the top 10 must start the race on the same tyres they qualified on.

Tyre saving tactics are also on the agenda
Tyre saving tactics are also on the agenda

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Another important discussion will be the so-called third car, teams like Ferrari and Mercedes would like to sell their chassis to other teams, which is currently not allowed. Not only the third car, but also the technical partnerships between teams have become a hot topic, recently Marussia Virgin has teamed up with McLaren, HRT with Williams and Team Lotus with Red Bull, and Force India has a similar technical partnership with Mercedes. Plenty to discuss therefore, and although this is a first reconnaissance of the possibilities, the meeting could eventually lead to new regulations in the best interest of the sport.

Renault uncertain about Kubica’s return

After issuing several deadlines, Lotus Renault and Team Principal Eric Boullier are still uncertain about Robert Kubica’s chances to return to Formula One after his horrific rally crash in Italy early February this year. The talented Pole was lucky to survive the ordeal, but not without sustaining very serious injuries, his right hand and arm were partly severed and he has since then undergone reconstructive surgery several times to restore the mobility of his hand and arm. Also his right leg, shoulder and elbow were badly fractured, but his hand and arm have been the main concern.

His manager Italian Daniele Morelli has been looking after the Lotus Renault driver and in June reported it was possible he would make a return during the final race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix. But after that announcement Kubica underwent more surgery, again to improve the mobility of his hand and arm and it slowly became clear a return this season would be impossible.

Kubica has been working with Italian doctor Ricardo Ceccarelli and a team of surgeons since the accident and although progress has been made, he in August needed a final operation on his elbow. “With his elbow blocked, we haven't had the chance to work on a full recovery programme as we would do normally,” Ceccarelli said at the time. Although everyone involved would like the 26-year old driver to make a full return, Team Principal Eric Boullier started to become impatient and posed several deadlines that went by and it still remains a mystery when Kubica will be fit to race again.

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team and his manager, Daniele Morelli
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team and his manager, Daniele Morelli

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Also a very awkward situation for Lotus Renault and Boullier, as they, although this sounds very harsh, have a Formula One team to run, and the prolonged uncertainty has posed a number of dilemmas. Boullier soon has to make a decision about the 2012 driver line-up, but the ongoing uncertainty about Kubica’s recovery has made it very difficult for the Frenchman. Of course Lotus Renault wants Kubica back, he is a very gifted driver and a true team motivator, and if he returns to Formula One, Boullier recently said, “… then I want him to drive for us. So I have to give him a chance. We will be flexible to the point where we cannot.”

Last week one of his Italian doctors, hand surgeon Igor Rossello, revealed Kubica had in fact already driven a normal road car, and would soon be ready to try a single seater. In an interview with a Polish radio station Rossello stated Kubica has recovered from his last operation and ‘can move and lift with all his fingers’. Asked when he would be ready to drive a car, he replied: ”We can now think about getting him back as soon as possible into a car. Sorry, into a racing car, because he was already in a [road] car. His recovery is a miracle but the unknown thing is whether he will be able to be as fast.”

But Rossello still had some reservations and also hinted Kubica needs another operation, “We still have to do a small intervention for improving the mobility of his wrist, as with this type of accident the hand is never as flexible as it was before. Then it will take a lot of exercise. But he will be able to drive his Formula One car again and press all the buttons -- we're talking about a racing driver, not a pianist!”

The Italian doctor was also impressed with the progress Kubica made. “I look at him and I can't stop wondering how well it has all gone; all the breaks and the wounds have healed, the only question is whether he will drive as he did before. He will have some limitations; remember that we considered amputation,” said Rossello. Boullier therefore still faces a difficult decision, he has postponed the deadline several times, and is by now forced to examine other scenarios for a 2012 driver line-up.

Boullier faces difficult decision
Boullier faces difficult decision

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Unfortunately for Kubica there are plenty of talented young drivers to take his place at Lotus Renault. The team has announced that French driver Romain Grosjean, this year’s GP2 Champion, will be in the car during the Friday morning practice sessions for the Abu Dhabi and Brazilian Grands Prix, which further fuels the suspicions that Boullier is now forced to seriously considering signing another driver for 2012.

The French team boss also indicated he will not make a decision until he has seen Kubica racing and Lotus Renault has a 2009-spec car waiting for him to give the Pole a chance to show he is fit to race, but Boullier is still waiting for an answer from his manager Morelli.

Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello, Bruno Senna and Dutchman Giedo van der Grade have also been named to take the second seat in 2012. Grosjean commented, “I don't feel too much pressure going into this. I think it is too early to say anything, Robert is the key. We all wish him a speedy recovery.”

2011 Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test

After the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix it is traditionally time for the Young Driver Test, which will be held in the week after the Grand Prix, teams just stay a few days longer at the Yas Marina circuit and will give young promising drivers an opportunity to show what they are worth.

A few names have been confirmed, Jean-Eric Vergne, currently Toro Rosso test driver will test the championship-winning Red Bull RB7. “I'm extremely happy that Red Bull Racing has given me this opportunity, it will be a massive experience for me and to be driving the best Formula One car is something quite amazing,” the Frenchman said. And added, “I'm really looking forward to driving the RB7 in Abu Dhabi, I know the track already and have had some track time in a Formula 1 car this year.”

Monegasque Stefano Coletti has been confirmed to drive the Toro Rosso, after the 22-year old was sidelined for the rest of the season due to injuries he sustained during a GP2 crash at Spa-Francorchamps. “I'm happy to finally announce that I'll be testing with Toro Rosso in Abu Dhabi. I'm on my way to the Toro Rosso headquarters. Going to make my seat and meet all the guys,” he tweeted.

Swiss driver Fabio Leimer has been confirmed to test for Sauber, as well as current Sauber test driver Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. Leimer commented, “When I found out that I will definitely take part in the Formula One test I realized for the first time what this actually means. Being a racing driver, of course, you always dream of Formula One. That this dream is now coming true is almost unbelievable.”

Jules Bianchi, test driver, Scuderia Ferrari
Jules Bianchi, test driver, Scuderia Ferrari

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Also confirmed are Ferrari protégé Jules Bianchi, as well as Sergio Campana, winner of the 2011 Italian F3 Championship. Briton Gary Paffett will be testing for McLaren as he has done in 2010 as well, and it is possible his compatriot Sam Bird will test for Mercedes GP. Mercedes hasn’t published any names yet, but DTM drivers Christian Vietoris and Dutchman Renger van der Zande are possible candidates.

As highest placed Manor GP3 driver, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs will test for Marussia Virgin. Italian Mirko Bortolotti, who won the Formula Two championship, will be rewarded for his achievement with a drive for the Williams team, alongside Finn Valterri Bottas. Another option for Williams could be Dutchman van der Garde, who is not only fast, but also has an interesting sponsor portfolio.

And finally, Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli is also set to test their 2012 rubber compounds, as they so far only have been able to test the 2012 tyres on the 2009-spec Toyota Formula One car.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and off track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 43

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Rubens Barrichello , Ross Brawn , Heikki Kovalainen , Gary Paffett , Robert Kubica , Bruno Senna , Stefano Coletti , Sam Bird , Christian Vietoris , Renger van der Zande , Romain Grosjean , Fabio Leimer , Bernie Ecclestone , Esteban Gutierrez , Adrian Quaife-Hobbs , Jules Bianchi , Sergio Campana , Mirko Bortolotti , Jean-Eric Vergne
Teams Red Bull Racing , Team Lotus , Sauber , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams , Brawn GP
Tags abu dhabi, bouman, caterham, f1 commision, kubica, lotus