Questions of Qatar

Having insisted earlier this year that it definitely has a spot on the 2016 Formula 1 schedule, Bernie Ecclestone dropped a big hint that Qatar will in fact not be hosting a round of the championship next year.

Seemingly on a quest to establish itself as the world's 'sporting hub' having attracted the Football World Cup in 2022 (accusations of dodgy dealings aside), high-profile tennis and golf events, as well as rounds of MotoGP, World Superbikes and the World Touring Car finale in recent years, it is no surprise to find F1 on Qatar's immediate radar.

A country where the prestige and notoriety of hosting such an event is arguably of greater importance than the people it attracts (it pays top dollar for a night-time MotoGP season opening event that attracted just 17,000 people over 4 days in 2014), and in January the noises coming from Qatar suggested it had certainly sealed a spot on the schedule.

However, on the weekend Bahrain - which is largely opposed to a third Middle Eastern event - hosted its 11th F1 race, Ecclestone appeared to side with the kingdom, putting the question back to journalists by saying 'I think we have enough here, don't you?'

Perhaps the powers that be in Bahrain were in ear shot, or perhaps Bernie understands that having two Middle Eastern races just a 30min plane hop away will prove more detrimental than beneficial, but though Bahrain's current contract ends after next year's race, it seems Bahrain is here to stay and Qatar will have to wait in the wings... unless it stumps up with an offer Bernie simply cannot refuse.

Big it up, play it down

Journalists have long memories. Back in February when McLaren was struggling to string a handful of laps together with its temperamental MP4-30, Eric Boullier made what he probably considered to be a throwaway statement that the car would be competitive from the European rounds. However, as the countdown to that event - the Spanish Grand Prix - continues, no-one is letting him forget that statement.

It's no secret that McLaren is using - like most teams - the first 'closer to home' race of 2015 as a chance to introduce a raft of updates, the most notable being a new specification of the Honda engine, which in its current guise remains down on power and, based on Bahrain, still lacking in durability.

However, its significance is steadily being played down as its arrival looms, as demonstrated by a visibly irked Fernando Alonso when he mentioned 'Barcelona' four times in one breath as he sought to play down some of the significance.

"We cannot put all the expectations into Barcelona if we start talking about Barcelona. We talked already in China, now in Bahrain we are talking about Barcelona. Then we have three weeks to Barcelona and we arrive there and people will think we will win the race."

Indeed, Eric Boullier has deferred his prediction to 'definitely by the end of the season' and though there were glimmers of promise from McLaren in Bahrain as it broke out of Q1, the way many were hailing its ability to get one car into Q2 as the other sat parked at the side of the race track is a somewhat sad indication of how little we expect from the car at this time. Even worse when you consider Jenson Button managed just 27 laps all weekend and didn't even start the race.

Nonetheless, though it certainly hasn't been smooth, the MP4-30 Honda's development curve has at least been on an upward trajectory. Speak to other drivers and they will tell you the McLaren is as fast as any in the corners, but losing too much in a straight line.

Though Button insists 'more power' won't immediately solve make the MP4-30 a front running car, talk to team members and the so-called B-spec Honda engine set for Spain is generated plenty of excitement.

A big deficit in one glaring area will always be considered better than marginal gains and will make improvements more noticeable, but while McLaren seek to play down the significance of the coming event, its importance for the embattled team cannot and shouldn't be underestimated.

Crazy... like a terrace!

Question:
Maurizio, do you feel that Ferrari is breathing down Mercedes' neck right now?

Answer:
If I'm going to tell you that we are going to win the championship, you think that I am out of my mind, like a terrace in the house.

Lost in translation? Maybe... A popular phrase in Italy? Not sure... Nonsensical? Erm...

There is little doubt that Maurizio Arrivabene's presence in the paddock has been a breath of fresh air, not just for his openness with the media, his effortlessly suave demeanour and the team spirit that comes from his pleasantly humble attitude... but also because of his knack for entertaining sound-bites.

Naturally, English isn't Maurizio's first language, but his quotes this year have been a thing of joy to behold, from his description that banning wind tunnels would result in 'Flinstone-style' hammering cars out of rock, to suggesting that the team is working like a 'perfect Italian watch' (if there is such a thing), to joking that Kimi Raikkonen did in fact once smile.

Given Ferrari is a team formerly known for being something of a closed-shop with the media in the past, the Ferrari of 2015 - complete with its amusing Twitter account and stage props (as demonstrated below) - isn't just proving fast on the track, it is fun in the paddock too!

Winning the F1 title is one thing, but at worst Ferrari is certainly winning us over...

 

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