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ING to withdraw from F1 in 2010

Fernando Alonso in Renault R29 at Algarve

It was announced yesterday that ING will end it’s participation with Formula 1 when the 2009 season draws to a close. The Dutch financial giants are the title sponsors for both Renault and the Australian, Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix, but after being hit hard by the global financial crisis, and receiving 10 billion euros from the Dutch government, the group have been forced out of their involvement with the sport.

A statement released by ING yesterday said: “ING’s participation in Formula One was the company’s first global sponsorship project aimed at delivering revenue and raising the global brand awareness. Over the past two years, ING has successfully achieved its objectives for the F1 sponsorship, raising its overall global brand awareness by 16%. F1 remains a powerful business driver even in a difficult economic climate. Whilst ING has cut the F1 sponsorship costs by 40% in the final year, revenue generating opportunities will be a continuing focus through 2009. ING has enjoyed the relationship with Renault F1 and will continue to work closely with the team during the final year of the partnership.”

Regardless of this announcement, the Renault F1 team were already the subject of heavy speculation about their future, as the French manufacturer struggles to cope with the slump in the car market. Team boss Flavio Briatore remains confident, however, that with cost-cutting measures coming into force, Renault have a secure future in the sport. “Drastic cost reductions have been on FOTA’s agenda as one of the first priorities and with the ongoing programme of measures we are confident we can guarantee a solid future for our team and for Formula One,” said Briatore.

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Anthony Davidson in Super Aguri SA08 at Melbourne

Super Aguri refugee, Anthony Davidson, has confirmed that he will join BBC Radio 5 Live as a full time commentator for their coverage of the 2009 F1 season, alongside David Croft.

Davidson has made two appearances in the commentary box for 5live last year, as well as commentating on the Hungarian Grand Prix of 2006 on ITV, where he saw team mate Jenson Button take the win. Speaking about the decision, he said: “Commentating gives me the chance to explain what it feels like to drive an F1 car to the limit, and to share the inside view on all of the demands that a driver faces over the weekend.”

Davidson has admitted that he was close to signing for Honda before the team collapsed, but his sights remain set on a future F1 drive, saying last August: “I am hopeful of remaining in F1. If that doesn’t work out, there are many other options outside of F1 and I know there is life outside of F1. But right now I am focused on remaining in the F1 world and I feel I have got a load to offer.” The Briton has not yet announced whether he will compete in any other racing series this year.

Kimi Raikkonen in Ferrari F60 at Bahrain

The four day tests at Jerez and Bahrain concluded on Friday, with the Bahrain running resumed after a two day sandstorm, and all teams starting to set some competitive lap times. In Spain, Sebastian Bourdais set a 1:17.472 in his 2008 car, whilst Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso battled it out for the fastest time in an ’09 car.

It was McLaren and Hamilton that came out on top, again by a small margin, but not quite as small as the previous day. His 1:19.632 was two tenths of a second faster than the R29’s best time. Alonso did a lot of work in the Renault and said afterwards: “Overall, we have to be very happy as we managed to do lots of laps and the car responded well to the set-up changes we made, so I think we’ve found some good solutions. Every day the driveability of the car is improving and although we still have a lot of work to do before the start of the season, we are definitely moving in the right direction.” Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber were having their own battle for third place. Rosberg put his Williams ahead by two tenths after Webber’s RB5 stopped out on track and brought out the red flags. Kazuki Nakajima was also out for Williams but, despite completing 34 laps, he failed to set a time, by driving through the pit lane on each attempt.

Meanwhile, Ferrari, BMW and Toyota were back in action at Bahrain, after being forced to sit out for two long days. Kimi Raikkonen posted a 1:33.325 in the F60. Of the days running, he said: “I immediately had a good feeling although it’s still too early to say where we are compared to our competitors. The car is improving and there are no especially critical areas. We used the KERS also today and I’m happy with how it works, apart from some minor childhood disease.” Jarno Trulli was out for Toyota and just a tenth down on Kimi’s time, whilst BMW’s Christian Klien was a further couple of tenths behind. Another four day test at Bahrain kicks off this Monday.

Fernando Alonso in Renault R29 at Jerez

The four day test at Jerez continued into Thursday, with newly re-signed Sebastien Bourdais taking over the running of Toro Rosso’s 2008 car and, of course, setting the fastest time.

Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton was back in the cockpit and only just managed to keep the McLaren MP4-24 ahead of the other ’09 cars by the very smallest of margins. Sebastian Vettel was back for Red Bull and just 0.001 seconds away from Hamilton’s best time. “Today’s test gave me the first opportunity to drive MP4-24 in warm, dry conditions – and I’m very encouraged by what I felt. The car feels strong, very similar to last year’s car, in fact. It doesn’t take long to get used to the new buttons in the cockpit [KERS and front wing flap adjustments] but the real test for everyone now is to understand the slick tyres ahead of the first race in Melbourne next month,” said the Briton. Kazuki Nakajima was also out for Williams and over half a second faster than than the Renualt R29 which continued at the back of the time sheets, this time in the hands of Fernando Alonso.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, testing was completely stopped as the sandstorm continued at the track. All three drivers (Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Timo Glock) could only complete 1 installation lap each, before packing away and hoping for the weather to clear on Friday.

Felipe Massa in Bahrain during sandstorm

The four day test in Jerez and Bahrain continued on Wednesday as, to nobodies surprise, Sebastien Buemi took to the top of the time sheets in his 2008 Toro Rosso at Jerez as he completed a full race simulation, whilst Heikki Kovalainen improved the pace from the previous day, and set the fastest time in an ’09 car.

Mark Webber took over from Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and was just over half a second behind the McLaren in his first appearance in an F1 car after breaking his leg. Of the days testing he had this to say: “I’m very relieved of course. It has been a tough few months for me, but I’ve had good people around me and the team have been fantastic as well. There were a lot of questions asked going into today, but I answered some questions for myself and it turned out to be okay.” Nelson Piquet Jr once again sat at the bottom of the times, behind Williams and Kazuki Nakajima, who had taken over from Nico Hulkenburg and did the most running of anyone in a 2009 racer.

Meanwhile in Bahrain an unexpeted sandstorm severly reduced testing in the desert, where teams had headed to avoid bad weather, albeit rain, in the first place. Felipe Massa was fastest, but was only able to complete 14 laps. Robert Kubica and Timo Glock were out for BMW and Toyota, but all three now have some catching up to do.

Sebastian Vettel in Red Bull RB5 at Jerez

Tuesday saw the latest pre-season tests begin with Toyota, Ferrari and BMW moving to Bahrain in the hope to avoid rain, and Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams, McLaren and Renault sticking in Spain. Sebastien Buemi added to his huge amount of mileage in last year’s Toro Rosso, and finished top at Jerez with his 3 second advantage, whilst things were a whole lot closer in the desert.

Fellow Seb, this one named Vettel, was busy giving the Red Bull RB5 it’s first few runs after the car was launched earlier that morning.  He set the fastest time of all the ’09 contenders before he was forced out of the car early due to a gearbox problem. Nico Hulkenburg was a busy man as he put the Williams Fw31 just three tenths behind Vettel’s shiny new Red Bull. Heikki Kovalainen put his McLaren half a second ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr’s Renault, with rain only making a brief interruption in the day’s running.

Meanwhile at Bahrain, Timo Glock put Toyota’s TF109 on top, just 0.1 seconds ahead of Felipe Massa and the F60, who was in turn just 0.1 seconds ahead of Robert Kubica and the F1.09.

Red Bull reveal the RB5 at Jerez

Red Bull RB5 Launch Photo

Red Bull Racing unveiled their 2009 car, the RB5, at Jerez on Monday, ahead of this week’s four day test at the circuit. Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who has just about recovered from his broken leg, were present as Adrian Newey’s take on the 2009 regulations was presented to the media. The car features a typically narrower front nose, featured in many of Newey’s designs, and the front wing is higher of the ground then in previous seasons. The car, however, is missing the shark fin that Red Bull pioneered last year.

Along with many other teams this year, Red Bull’s hopes for ’09 are high. For the past 4 seasons the team have been steady midfielders, but having watched the Red Bull junior team take a win with their car last year, the team feels they are ready to take the top step of the podium themselves. One of the Austrian teams major problems in the past has been reliability, but 2008 saw a big improvement, and team boss Christian Horner is confident the improvement will continue into ’09. Speaking of the cost-cutting regulations, Horner said: “The changes caused few interruptions to our work flow and they will also assist the larger manufacturer teams in cutting costs, in terms of manpower. Over the past year, we had invested strategically, and therefore, with the rules as they now stand, we are in a good position to capitalise on them, as they present an opportunity for teams to compete on a more level playing field.”

Sebastian Vettel took the car out for it’s first runs but, perhaps rather worryingly, a gearbox problem, a frequent past issue for the team, stopped their running after just 14 laps.