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Horrific fire at Williams mars celebrations

Williams celebrations were brought to a premature end by this horrific fire

WILLIAMS first Grand Prix victory since 2004 was overshadowed yesterday by a terrifying fire that destroyed their pit garage after the Spanish Grand Prix.  Luckily, there were no serious injuries although 31 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation.  Seven mechanics remained in hospital overnight, bringing down a dark spell on the first European race of the season.

The fire began in the back of the garage and spread feriously, with black smoke billowing out of the front, sending panic across the faces of team personnel and the worldwide media.  It happened around 90 minutes after the race yesterday, with the team basking in the glory of Pastor Maldonado’s amazing win in Barcelona.

A Williams spokesperson said afterwards; “Four team personnel were injured in the incident and subsequently taken to the medical centre.  Three are now receiving treatment at local hospitals for their injuries, while the fourth has been released.  The team will monitor their condition and ensure they receive the best possible care.  The team, the fire services and the police are working together to determine the root cause of the fire.”

The team have confirmed that the blaze started in the fuel area.  Spanish police and the fire service are still trying to establish the cause today.  This is possibly through an explosion from a KERS unit as fuel leaked out of Bruno Senna’s car that was being dismantled following his early exit from the race on lap 14.  The fuel ignited and within seconds, the whole garage was alight.  Maldonado’s car was still in parc ferme at the time, having its scruitneering check but Senna’s car was gutted.

At the time, the Williams team had just been having a group photo to celebrate Maldonado’s victory with Sir Frank Williams giving a speech to the team’s joyous mechanics.  That joy turned to shock and although the fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, it is very fortunate that there wasn’t anything more serious that occured.  Sir Frank was taken to safety quickly, as confirmed by Williams third driver, Valteri Bottas who told BBC Sport; “I was there when Frank Williams was giving his speech to everyone, I felt an explosion from behind, somewhere from the fuel area, and everyone ran out quickly.”

Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz was at the scene when the fire started.  Reporting live on the channel, he said “I saw the fire take hold and it just absolutely erupted. We were talking to Alex Wurz at the time and we were just having a look [into the garage] and suddenly I saw this wall of flame erupt from behind the Williams garage divider.  It looked to be in the area where they store things like fuel and oil and gearboxes and computers and there will be an immense amount of damage to a lot of equipment.”

The Formula One fraternity came together with rapid help from the nearby Caterham, Toro Rosso, Force India and HRT teams to bring the blaze under control.  Some Caterham and Force India members had to have treatment also for smoke inhalation afterwards.  The Caterham garage also took damage in the inferno.  Teams have already announced that they will give Williams some spare parts should it be required for the Monaco Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.

In a statement on the team’s website, Caterham said; “Caterham F1 Team was involved in a fire that started in the Williams F1 Team’s garage after the end of the Spanish Grand Prix.  All the team’s employees have been accounted for and four people have been taken to the circuit medical centre for examination; one with a minor hand injury and three with respiratory issues.”

This is the second time there has been a fire in the paddock this season, as Lotus hospitality suite was destroyed in Malaysia following a refrigrator fire, which lost a significant amount of Kimi Raikkonen’s race equipment for the weekend.  There is likely to be a health and safety investigation into garage procedures and also, there will be question marks about the future of KERS in the sport, especially after an incident like this.

It is a sad and sorry end but fortunately not a tragic one to what had been an amazing result for the Williams Formula One team.  F1 today can breath a sigh of relief at one of the biggest escapes of recent times.

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Lotus protest Mercedes rear wing: Rejected by stewards

THE Lotus Formula One team has had a protest about Mercedes GP’s innovative rear wing thrown out by stewards at the Chinese Grand Prix.  Murmurings from rival teams including world champions Red Bull Racing relate to a system which combines the front wing with the rear wing DRS overtaking device.

Mercedes complex rear wing has been given approval to race in Shanghai (Planet F1)

Before the protest was made by Lotus today, the boss of Mercedes GP spoke out and protested the legality of the system.  Ross Brawn told BBC Sport; “It’s a very simple, cheap system, but not so easy to implement if you haven’t integrated it into your car.  This is at the heart of some of the frustration of some of our opponents.  If someone could put it on their car easily, I promise you we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But they can’t do it very easily which is why they’re getting so vexed about it.”

Some teams claim the system gives Mercedes GP half a second advantage and it might play a role in the team’s improved qualifying performances.  However the DRS system is only allowed to be used in one zone during a race and with just one point from two events so far, there don’t seem to be a great deal of benefits to the system.  It certainly doesn’t carry the similar benefits the double diffuser did in 2009, which Brawn innovated and gave his team a massive early and legal advantage over the chasing pack.

With this latest protest having been rejected, Lotus need to focus on their own efforts of moving their cars up the grid rather than complain bitterly about a system that barring a sudden u-turn from technical delegates at the FIA, is legal.

For those who want to understand more about the complex Mercedes GP rear wing, watch this video from Sky Sports F1 pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz during The F1 Show last week;

The F1 Show makes a promising beginning

ON FRIDAY, the hugely anticipated launch of Sky Sports F1 happened at 8pm, with a two hour preview to the 2012 season.  The F1 Show gave an indication of Sky’s determination to move coverage presentation to the next level.  There is still work to do, but the signs were promising.

For those like myself, there was the chance to catch-up with the show again through Freeview channel Pick TV last night at 10pm.  The show began with a promo of what to expect, followed by the brilliant new titles and music sang by Alistair Griffin.  Alistair’s ‘Just Drive,’ is a new version of his epic 2010 song which the BBC ironically used for their end of season montage that season.

Simon Lazenby presented this show, although he came across as lacking the confidence I feel that is required for an anchor presenter.  Considering it was opening night, nerves were to be expected especially when you have never presented Formula One before.  As the season will progress, I’m sure Lazenby will become far more confident like Jim Rosenthal did when he started out with ITV F1 in 1997.

I liked the use of the Sky Pad, which is the clever new touchscreen element.  Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, both having left the BBC to be part of the new adventure highlighted some examples of the new regulations such as defensive driving changes.  There were also some very intriguing shots of Red Bull’s new rear end that they brought to the Barcelona test recently.  Sky’s exclusive means I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the leading teams weren’t watching and attempt to copy this design, particularly if Red Bull start off in formidable form.  Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson also analysed Mark Webber’s stunning pass on Fernando Alonso in Eau Rouge during last season’s Belgian Grand Prix.  Watching how the move developed in slow motion was just wonderful and it actually made you appreciate the pass even more.  Kravitz also showed off some of the new technical changes to the car, including how the nose levels have increased in height leading to the 2012 models certainly looking more like a dog’s dinner than a masterpiece of beauty.  He did this using a virtual 3D car, another clever concept.

As ever, Martin Brundle came across as a top pundit and he was joined in the flashy new studio by 1996 world champion Damon Hill.  Both knew what they were talking about and the combination will know their stuff.  The only area I would want with Sky is chemistry and camaraderie between the pundits, commentators and reporters.  There will be elements there already – with five ex-BBC members on the new Sky team but it will take time to have the relationship that messers Humphrey, Jordan and Coulthard have developed on the other channel.

The features were excellent.  Natalie Pinkham’s interview with Mark Webber at Stamford Bridge was a great and unusual location even if by being a Liverpool fan, I have to question Webber’s taste in supporting Manchester United!  I loved the radio communication between Brundle and Paul di Resta when the Scot took his new Force India out for a spin on launch day at Silverstone.  Finally, there was a behind the scenes look at Mercedes GP and Georgie Thompson spoke to Jenson Button.  The depth of his interview was slightly disappointing though.  Surely last year’s runner-up deserved more than four minutes on the air.

Overall, it was a promising start and with other features lined up for next week, including Brundle driving a Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton giving Lazenby a thrill around the Top Gear track, Sky Sports F1 and the F1 Show are definitely here to stay.

Sky Sports F1 ready for launch

TOMORROW marks the beginning of a new dawn for broadcasting supremacy in Formula One.  Sky Sports F1 HD launches on all Sky and Virgin Media platforms, to start a battle for viewers and critic popularity with the BBC.  This scrap is bound to be just as dramatic as some of the battles on the track this season.  However, the competition levels might takes those who love their Formula One into the next dimension.  Before the launch, here is the lowdown on the new channel.

Content

Sky Sports F1 is the only place this season to watch live and uniterrupted coverage of every single Formula One race.  The channel will also have live coverage of every single practice and qualifying session too.  The BBC will only show ten races live (China, Spain, Monaco, Europe, Britain, Belgium, Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi & Brazil) with the other ten races being prime time highlight packages.  Sky will also take the fan closer to the action, with coverage for six days between each and every Grand Prix, incorporating both Sky News and Sky Sports News.  There will be a special magazine show which will run every Friday evening.  Plus, there will be plenty of programmes for those petrolheads who love the technical aspect of the sport.  Sky will also have access to FOM’s large archive, meaning there will be the chance to see extensive reruns of classic events from the past, believed to be from around the 1980s.  The champions will get their say to, in detailed programmes called the Legends series.  Emerson Fittipaldi, Alain Prost and Sir Jackie Stewart will be amongst the first to be profiled.  Sky Sports F1 will also have an eye on the future, with live coverage of every single GP2 and GP3 race during the season.

Miscellaneous Information

The channel can be found on 408 on the traditional Sky TV guide.  All programmes will be in HD for Sky subscribers, becoming the first ever platform to launch a channel entirely devoted to Formula One.  Those with Virgin Media subscriptions can get the channel, but only through a standard definition package.  Sadly, the channel is not avaliable through BT Vision or the TopUp TV service.  However, the channel will be available on-demand through Sky Go and those with an XBox Live Gold subscription can see Sky Sports F1 too.  This season, the races will not be covered through Sky’s 3D service, although talks are underway for this to be potentially trialled during the 2013 campaign.  For those asking, there will be no adverts during the races, so no return to the bad old days of missing the action for dog food commercials and insurance claims on ITV.  Through the red button service, there will be access to onboard cameras during races, but the rest of these features is being kept under wraps for now.  To follow the channel up-to-date, visit the Sky Sports F1 website, follow them on Twitter @SkySportsF1 and Facebook fan page.  The theme music is a reworking of Alistair Griffin’s magnificent song; ‘Just Drive.’  See below for video titles;

The team

Martin Brundle:  Martin Brundle is the voice of Sky Sports F1.  His knowledge of driving experience from his days at Brabham, Benetton and McLaren alongside his commentary duties for ITV and the BBC will be a major selling point for this new channel.  Unlike his main commentating position last year, Martin will return to his traditional co-commentating role for qualifying and the races in 2012.  He will also present a variety of technical programmes too, something he felt the BBC restricted him on in recent times.

Simon Lazenby:  Not many people will know of Simon Lazenby, but he has been part of the Sky family since 1998.  He has a wealth of experience presenting live cricket and rugby union in the past decade.  His role on the new channel will be to anchor the live coverage from every Grand Prix in 2012.

Georgie Thompson:  Georgie Thompson is one of the most well recognised faces on television, having been a main face behind Sky Sports News since 2001.  Georgie has also presented live coverage of the now defunct A1GP series, the Race of Champions and Goodwood Festival of Speed.  Her main role on the channel will be to co-host a new magazine show every Friday evening, plus interviews with the top names in the sport.  A great addition and significant gain for a fledgling channel.

Ted Kravitz: His reports on strategy have won him many fans in recent years, but Ted Kravitz actually began as a producer on the ITV F1 team in 1997.  He moved into the pitlane when James Allen replaced Murray Walker in the commentary box from 2002 onwards and has become a familiar name throughout both ITV and BBC’s tenure in the sport.  He moves to Sky this year and will co-host the F1 Show alongside Georgie Thompson every Friday evening during the season.  Other than that, he will keep his raving role as the voice of the pitlane in 2012 and is another excellent addition.

David Croft: ‘Crofty’ as he is best known has spent the last six years commentating on BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage of Formula One.  Together with Anthony Davidson, he has formed a partnership full of chemistry and energy which has made an often dull medium very exciting.  David will be commentating on every single practice, qualifying and race session in 2012.  He will be busy, but his enthusiasm for the sport means it will be never dull in the commentary box.

Anthony Davidson: Ex-BAR tester and Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson will dovetail his second job alongside competing for Toyota at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.  He has commentated alongside David Croft in the 5 Live booth for the past three years and the partnership will remain during Friday practice sessions.  For the remainder of the weekend, Anthony will become an expert analyst in the studio and his recent driver/car knowledge will keep Sky ahead of the game.

Natalie Pinkham: She’s appeared on everything from presenting MLS soccer in the States to heartwarming documentaries for Channel Five and even a brief role on the ITV skating show, Dancing on Ice in 2008.  Natalie Pinkham has never been afraid to try anything and her vast broadcasting CV makes her another key ingreident of the new team.  She was pitlane analyst for BBC Radio 5 Live in 2011 and in the same role, will partner Ted Kravitz in keeping the viewer abreast of the action and no doubt, driver disappointment.

Damon Hill: 1996 Formula One world champion, Damon knows everything you need to know about the sport and is Sky’s leading pundit for the 2012 season.  He won 22 races for Williams and Jordan between 1992-1999, along with a dismal year at Arrows during his championship defence.  Hill was also a pundit for the inadequate F1 Digital + channel in 2002 and his most recent role was as president of the BRDC at Silverstone, stepping down last summer after securing the future of the British Grand Prix.

Steve Rider: Steve Rider has experience stretching back nearly 40 years and knows everything required about motorsport.  He became a household name presenting Grandstand in the 1980s for the BBC and anchored ITV’s coverage of F1 between 2006-2008.  He has also fronted Sportsnight, Football Focus, Rugby League, Golf and most recently, the 2011 Rugby World Cup for ITV.  He will remain as anchor for the broadcaster’s coverage of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship.  However, he will combine that as the presenter of the Legends series on Sky Sports F1, where former champions will share their classic moments and experience with Rider.  A solid, trustworthy presenter who in recent years, has been overlooked but is fully experienced to present a detailed insight into the champions.

Although I will be staying loyal by watching the BBC’s coverage in 2012, I will be keeping an eye on Sky Sports F1 and how they get on.  There is little doubt that the added competition means the F1 fan is spoilt for choice in 2012 and they will take presentation to a new level.  I wish the channel the best of luck in its first season and welcome a new broadcasting era for Formula One.

Raikkonen the early pacesetter as F1 returns from winter hibernation

IT MIGHT have been a chilly start to proceedings, but Formula One 2012 breathed into life, as the cars took to the Jerez circuit this morning.  This is the first winter test of three before the Australian Grand Prix on March 18 and gives the drivers their first opportunity to drive the new cars, new Pirelli tyres and adapt to new technical regulations, such as the banning of blown diffusers.

Kimi Raikkonen was quickest in the early testing times (Planet F1)

This morning, it was the Lotus Renault of Kimi Raikkonen that set the pace.  The 2007 world champion, returning to the sport after two years away in rallying looked like he had lost none of his speed, with a time of 1 min 19.6 secs around the southern Spain circuit.  Lotus technical director James Allison told Planet F1 that the initial pace should be downplayed.  “The teams are doing a whole mixture of different programmes at the moment and we obviously don’t have any clear idea of what the others might be working on currently.  We will start to know where we stand as things unfold over the coming days and weeks, but it’s still very early doors and the real picture will only come together when we get to Melbourne for the first race.”

There has been some criticism about the new noses, especially the step, ‘boxer nose’ which has been developed by the likes of Ferrari and Force India to meet the regulations criteria.  McLaren are one of the only teams to go down the slope, more prettier route.  Sky Sports pit analyst Ted Kravitz admitted this morning on the channel that the beauty element has gone; “Unfortunately, they won’t look any prettier, apart from the McLaren, who seemed to have gone down a different concept.  The one that will be interesting is Red Bull, which was a strange online launch, so we only got a few pictures.  It will be interesting to see how good that looks on the track.”

Due to new components arriving from the factory in Milton Keynes, Mark Webber could only manage eight laps before lunch, but still set the fifth fastest time.  Paul di Resta was second fastest in the new Force India, 0.1 secs behind Raikkonen.  Nico Rosberg was an impressive third fastest in a modified version of last year’s Mercedes GP.  Mercedes won’t reveal their 2012 challenger until next week.  The German has handed the driving duties over to Michael Schumacher this afternoon.  McLaren and Ferrari had quiet mornings, with Jenson Button and Felipe Massa failing to trouble serious times.

All teams, excluding Mercedes are only running one driver per day.  Marussia Virgin are the only team not present at this test, with Mercedes GP and Hispania running modified models of last year’s cars.

It is very early to predict how the season or even the week will unfold, but there was certainly no sign of rustiness from the Iceman, Raikkonen this morning.

UNOFFICIAL TESTING TIMES FROM JEREZ THIS MORNING – THE TOP 7

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.19.670 (50 LAPS)

2. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes) 1.19.772 (52 LAPS)

3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes GP) 1.20.219 (56 LAPS)

4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.20.694 (40 LAPS)

5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.472 (8 LAPS)

6. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.112 (29 LAPS)

7. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.316 (22 LAPS)