F-1 Notes: Testing Gets Underway

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VALENCIA, Spain — Formula One’s 2011 preseason testing began today with Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, Lotus, Sauber and Mercedes all running their new cars here at the Ricardo Tormo track on the outskirts of Valencia.

McLaren, Force India, HRT and Virgin are using interim versions of their 2010/2011 cars.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali warns that the test in Valencia will not give a real picture of the relative competitiveness of the teams for 2011.

“All of us will pursue different objectives,” he said, “and only in Barcelona [for the third test] will we understand something more. In the [final] Bahrain test we will have a better idea of the competitive situation. We will have a flavor of performance after Valencia and Jerez, but in the third test [in Barcelona] we will get a good overview.”

– Hispania Racing won’t have its new car ready until the fourth and final preseason test. While this is way behind the schedules of the other teams that all will be running their new cars by the second test, it’s considerably better than 2010 when HRT was still building its second car in the pit garage as qualifying got underway for the season opener in Bahrain.

– Force India’s lineup this season consists of something old and something new. Adrian Sutil, 27, returns to the team for a fifth-consecutive season while rookie Paul di Resta, 24, makes his F-1 debut. Williams refugee Nico Hulkenberg, 23, is the test and reserve driver as part of a long-term partnership with the team.

The loser in all this is the likeable Tonio Liuzzi, who is out of a job even though he maintains he has a contract for 2011. If it wasn’t for bad luck, “The Pirate” would have had no luck at all last season. Much of it wasn’t his fault, but the team has clearly lost patience and made no mention of him in its press release announcing its 2011 drivers.

According to the paddock grapevine, Force India will have to pay off Liuzzi’s 2011 contract and bonuses — somewhere in the region of $3 million. But he might seek additional damages because the team’s late announcement left him no realistic chance of getting another F-1 ride this season.

– Bernie Ecclestone is ready to pull the plug on the Australian Grand Prix if Melbourne does not want the race.

“If the mayor thinks I’m cranky, I will probably be able to help him by proving it,” Ecclestone said in response to concerns voiced by Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle about how much the event costs tax payers.

“If he’s not happy with the event in Australia, if he wants to cancel the contract, we’d be happy to talk to him about that,” Ecclestone told 3AW radio. “If he wishes to cease having the event in Melbourne, I am happy to discuss that with him. We have a contract. We don’t break contracts.

‘‘I haven’t dealt with this mayor [but] I bet I will be dealing with these things longer than he is going to be mayor of Melbourne.’’

Doyle never actually mentioned breaking the contract — he questioned the validity and cost of renewing it after it expires in 2015.

If Melbourne did pull out early it would have to pay Ecclestone a hefty contract cancellation penalty. So Ecclestone, who has also insisted he won’t give the city a discount on the current agreement, wins no matter what.

– South Africa’s Cape Town is the latest in the constant stream of cities and countries that say they want a F-1 race. Just how serious this bid is and where the organizers will find the millions to build up an F-1 event and a street track from scratch remains to be seen. What the Cape Town story does do is further strengthen Bernie Ecclestone’s negotiating hand because he can tell Melbourne or any other venue that if they won’t pay his fee demands that he has plenty of countries lined up that will.

– Sebastian Vettel’s contract with Red Bull will automatically be extended through 2012 if he finishes in the top three in the championship this season and earns a certain number of victories. That “option” clause of his deal was revealed by Red Bull’s magazine Speedweek.