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Rosberg won’t team up with Lewis Hamilton

Leading the charge of a bright crop of twenty-something Formula One drivers, Lewis Hamilton named Nico Rosberg as a possible team-mate next season, replacing Fernando Alonso at McLaren.


Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

However, Rosberg insists he is happy at Williams, where his father Keke won the 1982 World Title. “I’m not going anywhere, at least for another season, and hopefully for longer than that,” he said.

“What Lewis achieved last season has got all us younger drivers thinking. If he can do it, then so can we. It’s a big positive for me. I certainly compare to him. In karting we beat each other all the time and I know I can compete with Lewis.One year he finished up as European champion with me as his team-mate in second and Robert Kubica third. And we all know that Heikki Kovalainen is a top driver, too.

“Of course, it looks like Lewis has a better car than the rest of us at the moment. Next season will still see the McLarens and Ferraris dominate, but I’m hoping the rest of the next tier of teams can push them harder, and that Williams can compete consistently with BMWSauber. We should have beaten Renault in the constructors’ championship last season, so our plan in 2008 is to be up there challenging for third place.

“I’m really excited because I believe F1 will come to be dominated by my generation very soon. I was the first of us to arrive in the sport, and Lewis is now ahead of the rest of us, but I believe there will be a great rivalry in the next few years involving Lewis, myself, Robert and Heikki, with maybe Sebastian Vettel, too, joining us because he did really well when he started racing midway through last season.

“The sport needs these sort of rivalries and I hope people will come to talk of us one day like they used to talk about the great rivalries involving Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.”

The new season promises to be one characterized by new talent coming through, although Hamilton must be favourite to take the title this time.

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Williams Want Their Ball Back

Having seen how close Red Bull are to making the breakthrough to the front with their RB3, it must be said that there is another team that could do the same, if they can overcome their reliability problems. That is Williams, of course.

Nico

Nico Rosberg in the FW29

In contrast to the Red Bull car, the FW29 has looked good from the moment it turned a wheel and, more often than not, it has made better use of the Toyota engine than the factory team where lap times are concerned. But the Toyotas are finishing the races whereas the Williams tend not to.

This is Williams we are talking about, however; a team with more history and experience in F1 than most. It is a safe bet that they will have improved reliability by the next GP. Much depends on how quickly they can wring more performance from the tires and the chassis therefore.

Everyone will be using the four-week gap to Barcelona as an opportunity to sort out the cars and make them quicker. Those who can wring that little bit extra from their machine will be the teams that move forward – and Williams ought to be amongst those, building on their knowledge and understanding of racing. In fact, all else being equal, one would expect them to emerge from the chasing group before Red Bull do so.

At that point, everything will hinge upon the driver pairing of Rosberg and Wurz. It’s a strange line-up in some ways, the promising youngster allied with the solid but unpredictable returning veteran, but it is looking good so far. Nico Rosberg is obviously quick and has the same level head that we admire so much in Lewis Hamilton; Alex has lost none of his ambition, as demonstrated in his drive from the back in Bahrain. Both have a lot to prove but are unlikely to make too many mistakes along the way.

So things look good for Williams at the moment and I cannot explain the nagging doubt that lingers in my mind. I want the team to return to competitiveness but something prevents me from predicting podiums for them this season. They will score points, yes, and I confidently expect them to finish the year ahead of Toyota; but to get to the level of Ferrari and McLaren or even BMW? I just can’t see it.

In writing these articles on each team thus far, I have been struck by how close a season it is. There are such tiny differences in the performance of so many teams that it is hard to see just who will move forward and who will fall behind. It will only take a suddenly-discovered tweak in one of the chasing teams for them to leap into contention – and that could easily happen.

For Button’s sake, I have to hope that it’s Honda that makes the jump; but far more likely is that it will be Williams.

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A Few Malaysian Points

Apart from the first lap, there was not a great deal of overtaking in this Grand Prix. And yet it was very interesting. Perhaps most importantly, it illustrated that McLaren have closed the gap to Ferrari. Even had the McLarens not got the jump on Massa and Raikkonen at the start, they clearly were as quick and would not have been left behind if the Ferraris had grabbed the lead. When the Italian cars had nothing in front of them, they went no faster than they had been going behind Alonso and Hamilton.

Alonso

Alonso’s race

Naturally, Jean Todt denied that this had anything to do with the tightening of the test for flexible floors, that it was merely that McLaren had found more improvements since Melbourne than Ferrari had, but I think there is more to it than that. The BMWs were able to run at Ferrari pace, as shown by Heidfeld keeping Massa at bay, and there was a string of cars just behind this pair; did everyone improve more than Ferrari?

Some of the loss of Ferrari’s advantage can be explained by Kimi’s reliability worries. He was obviously content to hold station rather than risk the engine and would have been better advised to take the penalty and show us the true pace of the Ferrari with a fresh engine, I think. In spite of his determination to pamper the engine for points rather than a win, he was able to stay with the McLarens; with a new engine, he could have bullied his way through to fight for the lead.

The Finn’s face in the post race press conference spoke volumes – he is with Ferrari to win the championship and, if that means sometimes he has to go a little slower and let Massa have the glory, he is prepared to do it. And the glow around Felipe is beginning to fade; this was a race that he expected to win but threw away in frustration when he lost his lead at the first corner. It is Raikkonen, not Massa, that Alonso will have to fight for his third championship in a row.

A little further back, Williams entertained us with a great drive from Rosberg that deserved better than retirement and a charge through the field from Wurz. Hopefully, the car will get even better and we can enjoy the sight of a Williams battling for the lead again.

The performance of the Renaults and Hondas was interesting, both racing much better than they qualified. This would indicate that their main problem is in adjusting to the Bridgestones, rather than fundamental flaws in the design of the cars. If they can get on top of the tire problem, they will leapfrog into the top ten, I think.

And give Fisichella his due: he is doing a far better job than his much-hyped Finnish teammate, driving the car as fast as it will go without drama and taking the points on offer.

Toyota performed their usual disappearing act, Trulli circulating anonymously in the final points positions while Ralf managed to find his way back to keep the tailenders company. If anyone drives like Fisichella’s reputation, it is the Toyota team!

Note that Super Aguri were not so impressive in Malaysia – they have slipped a little and now run with their natural competitors, the Toro Rossos. This is a trend that is likely to continue, since their car becomes ever more out of date as others develop their later designs and get them to work with the tires. Expect Toro Rosso to get better and better, however, as Red Bull get the RB3 sorted out and drop a few hints to their second team.

Finally, I have to say it: Scott Speed finished well ahead of Liuzzi. Yes, tell me that Vitantonio had a little argument with Sato that spoiled his race – the point is, Scott didn’t. He ran consistently with a gaggle of allegedly better cars throughout the race and brought it home in the end. Staying out of trouble is part of racecraft too, Gerhard…

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Helmet Design

Williams quietly unveiled their FW29 today and kept the hype very low key – the car must speak for itself on track, they advised. It is visibly a Williams with colors not much changed in spite of their new sponsor, Lenovo, but it appears to have grown a splendid mustache this year, the upper component of the front wing assembly curving up and away from the lower element. Messing around with the nose of the car is almost becoming a Williams tradition.

Helmets 1

As I was looking through the photographs, I came upon the standard portraits of the drivers and was struck by the complexity of their helmet designs. Much of this is caused by the profusion of advertising, of course, but there does seem to be a trend towards increasingly confusing designs. These days it isn’t easy to identify the drivers as they whoosh past, hunkered down between their high cockpit sides and its shoulder bulges, and these modern helmets don’t help with their profusion of colors and strange shapes.

Even a driver as recently arrived as David Coulthard has a clear and simple design for his helmet, based on Scotland’s flag without embellishment and instantly recognizable as a result. Compare this with Kathikeyan’s, also inspired by his nation’s flag but managing to appear similar in its spiky Indian wheel to Wurz’s red and white zigzags. Considering how much of the helmet is obscured by adverts, it hardly seems worth going into such detail with the design.

Helmets 2

Back in the good old days (said the old fart) things were much simpler. Nelson Piquet’s red and white teardrop and stripes were easily identified and Senna stuck with an even plainer theme of green and blue stripes on a yellow background.

Speaking of yellow, it does seem to be the in color of the moment – most new drivers use it somewhere on their helmets and Lewis Hamilton favors it almost to excess. I wonder if this is a subconscious hope that Senna’s magic might have come partially from his helmet colors. Don’t laugh – the F1 drivers are a pretty superstitious bunch.

Take green cars, for instance. There is a tradition going back over fifty years that green is an unlucky color in racing. That might have come from the fifties, when all the British cars were green and were routinely thrashed by the Italian red, and it should really have been exorcised by Lotus in the sixties and Benetton in the nineties. But I suspect that the myth lingers on, perhaps given new life by Jaguar’s brief return to F1.

To return to helmets, the fashion for complex designs certainly doesn’t help commentators and could make Murray Walkers of them all. Which is bad news for young drivers trying to make a name for themselves. If I were a driver just entering F1, I’d buck the trend and go for the simplest helmet design imaginable.

Oh, wait a minute – wasn’t Mark Webber wearing an unadorned white helmet in one of the recent test sessions…?

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